Thursday, April 30, 2015

Not Alone in the Backyard

Sometimes you’re working late in the office you made out of your backyard garage. And sometimes the security light suddenly just blinks on. You can see it through the side window that allows you a look at a few measly square feet of the yard. Nothing is moving, at least within your view of the big, bad world outside. But something is clearly moving somewhere out there, because why else would the light have turned on?

So you sit there at your desk, but turned away from the computer to see if whatever tripped the light will make itself known. But even this is pretty dumb, you realize. Were it a skunk or a raccoon or a possum or a cat or whatever other four-legged creature wants to think that there’s something delicious buried beneath your geraniums, you wouldn’t be able to see it. The only thing you would see in through that window would be a person.

This is not a comforting thought.

The light turns off. Whatever was moving has left. Or it simply stopped when the light turned on and is waiting.

You can hear Highway 5 in your little garage. Does that seem odd? It’s not as if the highway runs through your backyard, but you can hear vehicles rumbling on by.

You can hear a train pulling out of the Glendale station. You’ve never actually seen the train, but the horn sounds often enough to remind you that it’s there.

You wonder if you even turned on the security light. Someone clearly did, but you cannot remember doing it. You usually don’t. It’s bright and you think it might annoy the neighbors. How considerate of you.

With the backyard light having blinked off, the only thing you can see in the side window is your own face, illuminated but the light of your monitors. If someone were looking in right now, you wouldn’t be able to tell. But they’d see you in a goddamn spotlight.

You remember that you looked down at the floor today and thought someone had spilled water. But the marks weren’t quite round, and upon closer inspection, they turned out to be the footprints of a cat that had walked through the dust. You followed the prints, and they went into Glen’s room, not yours, thank God. How long had that cat been here? When had it ventured inside?

The light blinks on again and you really wish it were windy tonight, because then you could say that the wind was blowing that big sage bush you have outside the garage. But it is not windy tonight, and you know that you will only find out what it making the light blink on by opening the door and checking yourself.

But you will not do this.

Wednesday, April 29, 2015

Imagining a Universe Without Bob Saget

Earlier this month, I wrote about how Empire quietly, subtly, maybe accidentally has created a universe in which Courtney Love doesn’t exist. Today, something similar: a parallel version of Full House in which there is no Bob Saget.

Gaze upon these bizarre, Saget-free opening credits!

See the Not-the-Danny and think “Oh, hey, he’s decent looking, by sitcom dad standards, in a Guttenburgian sort of way.”

These opening credits preceded the unaired pilot, which featured actor John Posey in the role of Danny Tanner. Posey went on to have a busy TV career anyway. He played Dr. Conrad Fenris on two episodes of Teen Wolf, and I point this out only because it amuses me that a character was given this name. “Hello, I am Dr. Conrad Fenris. I have a normal-seeming name for humans, because I am one.” He is also the father of series star Tyler Posey, which I guess makes him DJ Tanner, figuratively speaking.

Is it odd if it seems somewhat sinister to me that after re-casting the role and giving it to Bob Saget, the show re-filmed the scenes of Danny enjoying a daddy-daughter day out at Fisherman’s Wharf?

I realize that’s the logical thing to do when you re-cast your lead actor, but seeing the scenes side-by-side, there’s this whiff of “John Posey who? See, no, it’s always been Saget. Saget is the father. Look, Saget loves his daughter-children. They are family. Do not remember John Posey.”

Finally, your Full House experience can be complete.

Overthinking TV, previously:

Sunday, April 19, 2015

My Personal Life as Viewed by My Neighbor Maria

Two things to know: I have a roommate, and he is my Glenfriend, Glen. Importantly, Glen and I live together platonically. He is just my friend who is named Glen. I also have a neighbor named Maria, who is my “She everywhere” neighbor. She knows me about as well as you can know someone who you live next to for less than a year, to whom you don’t ask investigative questions and who is separated from you by both a language barrier and a generation gap.

roommates! (not pictured: maria)
Today I was fighting the hopeless, endless battle against the purple nutsedge in my front yard when Maria appeared over the fence.

“Is your car or no?” she asked, motioning to the Glenmobile on the street.

“Oh, that is Glen’s car,” I said.

“Glen, he is… tu amigo?” I think she wanted to be clear that we were talking about my roommate and not a different person, but I do wonder if “amigo” is a Spanish euphemism for the domestic partnership that dare not habla su nombre.

“Yes, Glen is my friend who lives here. Is his car in the way?”

“Can you ask for him no to park so close? When I back up, I no want to hit his car,” she explained, “because, you know, I am a woman.”

“I’ll have to check to see if he left his car keys, but Glen is gone for a while.”

“He move out?”

“No, he will come back, at least I think, but he’s visiting family.”

“Oh, you have fight,” she said, as if that were the only logical conclusion to me saying that my roommate was temporarily gone.

I kind of laughed. “No, no fight.”

“I think it’s good for you to have someone with you.”

“I think so too. I… like having a roommate. It’s been good to have Glen here.”

“I see you and you always in the yard working and working and you are by yourself. You spend all weekend here.”

I had, in fact, spent the vast majority of this weekend in the yard. But that was by design. The past few weeks had been a lot, and I needed some think time. “Well, with this weekend, I’ve just needed some quiet,” I began.

“No, is no good,” she said. “You need people. You need someone. You tell Glen he should come home.”

I tried to think of a way to convey the reality of the situation. I could not.

“You tell Glen come home, and he help in yard. I think he is… strong?”

So many corrections to make. “Yeah, Glen is pretty strong…”

“The man who live here before, he no have no one,” Maria continued. “He sad so he leave. But with Glen, you fix it. You should not be alone.”

In case you want to fully imagine the power dynamic in this scene, she was leaning over her fence and the late afternoon sun is directly behind her, causing me to tear up as this exchange happens. I was kneeling in the dirt. My clothes and most of my skin were covered in dirt. I’m not sure what my response was, but it came our more or less as “Okay.”

She bid me goodbye and went inside. I continued digging. Later, while I was still digging up the nutsedge, tuft by tuft, I saw her leave. She was dressed up and I think she was going on a date.

Saturday, April 18, 2015

The Puppy Who Dreamed of Being Food (a Terrible Fable)

Author’s statement: No, I don’t why.

dog sandwich

A knock sounded at the door and the children raced to greet it, for today was the day they’d received this year’s dogs. When the elaborately wrapped box was opened, out stepped three dogs, each slender as javelins and just as pointy.

These perfect canine specimens each bore a nametag. The black one's read “Caesar.” The white one’s read “Kaiser.” And the brown one’s read “Tsar.” Clearly, this was the best batch of dogs yet. But the horrible daughter crossed her sausage-arms in dismay.

“This is only three dogs. One, two, three. Every other year we got four,” she proclaimed in her peculiarly baritone voice.

It was then that the fourth dog emerged from behind the phalanx of Caesar, Kaiser and Tsar. He was a round little thing, the color, shape, size and density of a potato, and he had a tongue that would always be slightly too large to fit entirely within his mouth. He walked cautiously to the center of the room. Stuck to his back was a post-it note stuck to his back that read “Durrangelo.”

The horrible daughter clomped over to the fourth dog and plucked off the post-it. “His name is Durraneglo,” she said, but by then everyone else had already read the note when it was still on the dog, and they all resented the daughter for talking.

The father shrugged. “Maybe he snuck into the crate,” he offered as an explanation how Durrangelo came to be in his house.

By then, it was time for lunch, and the dogs followed the family to the dining room, where an extensive sandwich bar had been prepared by the family cook. It had both salami and salumi. Soon, everyone had assembled a sandwich to their liking and sat at the table, save for the second-youngest son, who sat on the floor to be near the new dogs. The three pointy ones stood in a row, with perfect posture and without any indication that they wanted the family’s sandwiches. But little Durrangelo felt differently, and as the son looked at the various sandwich elements he’d collected, momentarily boggled by the act of assembling them into food, Durrangelo hurried over to the plate and plopped himself onto the bottom half of the bread.

“I’m going to need a new sandwich now!” the son cried, and all the family members turned to see why. The father erupted in a hearty laugh. “Why, that little dog wants to be food,” he said. And soon the entire family was laughing and continued to do so for roughly five minutes, because humorous moments were hard to come by in this house. The laughter only ceased when the horrible daughter spoke. “Yes, I’d say he certainly wants to be food!” she said for no reason. The family glared at her. “We tell people you are our niece,” the mother hissed.

Eventually, the son did get a new plate of sandwich fixings, but what neither he nor anyone else knew was that the father — and to a negligible extent, the daughter too — was right: Durrangelo truly did want to be food. It was the only wish he carried in his little heart, which was also potato-shaped.

Five full minutes of laughter proved taxing to a family unaccustomed to the act, and when lunch ended, they agreed that they might as well just turn in for the rest of the day, to sleep the clock around.

Durrangelo knew that this provided him a second chance at realizing his dream. “Surely,” he thought (because he was not a talking dog), “if I can crawl into the snaggletooth maw of that horrible daughter, she will instinctively eat me.”

Before long, each of the family members retired to their sleeping quarters upstairs — and the daughter downstairs, to the doorless storage room where a futon mattress had been slung on the floor for her. And Durrangelo was off, plip-plopping his little feet away as the three superior dogs watched, not comprehending his scheme.

The daughter’s “bedroom” smelled unpleasant, even to dogs, but Durrangelo steeled himself and crawled onto the daughter’s chest, which heaved mightily as she snored. “If I can just clear those tooth-like protrusions,” he thought (again, he didn’t talk), “I can fling myself down this creature’s gullet, and finally realize my dream of becoming food.” Struggling to maintain his footing while atop the dozing thing, he carefully watched how long her mouth opened each time when she sucked in more air. Alas, her incurable apnea made her breathing irregular, and when Durrangelo dove toward his dream, her mouth shut suddenly. He crashed into her full moon of a face, and the daughter snorted herself awake.

“Durrangelo! You’ve come to sleep in my bed with me because you like me best!” she cried, although at this point, even she knew that she was making a lot of assumptions. But regardless, she churned over onto her side and cradled the hapless puppy in her arms, where he would spend an agonizing sleepless night.

When the family rose the next morning, they noticed none of familiar, breakfasty smells, and when they ventured to the kitchen, they found only Caesar, Kaiser and Tsar, already standing at attention, and a note on the icebox. It was from the cook, and it read as follows: “Dear sir and madam, though I have the utmost respect for you both, I cannot continue in this household any longer. You know why. Sincerely, Cook.” After the mother and father read this, they glanced down at the daughter, who was still wearing her burlap sleep-sack. Yes, they did know why. It had been harder and harder to keep help for long with that monster toddling around their home’s bottom story, smearing everything she touched with her jammy fingers. Where was she getting the jam, anyway?

“I suppose I can fetch my gloves and drag that futon mattress into the cellar,” the father offered.

“That won’t solve this breakfast problem,” the wife responded. “We’ll need something to eat.”

Durrangelo stood up on his hind legs and twirled about in a vain effort to get the family’s attention. The daughter also stood up on her hind legs. “Sometimes when I feel hungry I go to Mother’s art studio and steal some of the modeling clay. It’s quite filling. Shall I go fetch it?”

The mother rubbed the side of her head. “Oh, just don’t say anything,” she pleaded.

“I know Cook left the potato room well-stocked,” said the father. “We could eat potatoes for breakfast.”

“I suppose we could,” said the mother, worriedly. “I mean, I’ve heard of people eating potatoes. Surely one of Cook’s books can direct me how to make a potato-breakfast.” With that, it was decided, and while the father collected thirty of the largest potatoes into a pot, the mother collected endive, cloves and hickory chips to toss into the pot in her best attempt at re-creating a recipe she’d had explained to her as a child.

What the family didn’t know was that Durrangelo had already escaped, unseen, to the potato room and hopped into the pile, where he could be collected into the morning’s ingredients. Oh, how his heart quickened as he was dumped into the pot and covered with the endive and the cloves and the hickory chips. Durrangelo felt true joy as the mother poured a bottle of gin into the pot — “Sometimes people cook with the alcohol, I’ve heard” — and in minutes he felt the potatoes beneath him begin to warm. “Soon it will be my turn!” he thought.

The father, however, was not convinced of this plan, and he noticed that the pot wasn’t smelling like anything Cook had ever made. “Here, wife, I’m going to make sure the potatoes are all bursting in good time,” he said as he moved the contents around with a wooden spoon that he’d seen Cook use before to perform this action. “I just want to see if the potatoes are heating evenly and — well, I’ll be. Family, come here and have a look at this: That little scamp of a dog has hidden himself in our breakfast!” He plucked Durrangelo by the scruff and held him for all to see. “He really did want to become food!”

“Durrangelo!” the family said altogether (though the daughter was a beat late). “Here you go, little fellow,” the father said as he sat Durrangelo down. “You’ll enjoy the floor more. You can play floor games.”

But no! This was too much for poor Durrangelo. He felt in his tiny potato-shaped heart that he would he would be forever foiled in his attempts to live out his dream. And as the daughter and her jam-covered hands lurched toward him, he raced out of the kitchen, down the hall, past the potato room and the ladder room and the stuffed panda room and the one-and-three-quarters bathroom. He skidded into the foyer and then leapt with all his might into the front door mail slot, which he squeezed through with minimal effort. The family raced after him, but by the time they opened the front door, he was already on the far side of the lawn, past the lesser gazebo. Potato-shaped though he might have been, he could motor like a motherfucker.

“Family, I fear Durrangelo has left us,” the father said. (Everyone on some level presumed that this was the daughter’s fault.)

Little Durrangelo raced and raced across the property, though the game preserve and past the retention ponds, until he arrived at the estate’s private beach, where he could go no further.

“What will I do?” he thought. “When and where will I get to become food? Why do I have this dream? Is this, perhaps, a foolish dream? Well, Durrangelo, let’s think about this. You’ve not really examined why you’re so dead-set on becoming food. It could be that this isn’t the best possible life plan. Maybe I should become a racing dog! Yes, that’s it. I’m a good enough runner that I can probably make a decent living at the dog track. Hmm… I wonder where the bus picks up.”

But just then, a hawk swooped down and snatched up little Durrangelo. In mere moments, he was high in the sky and could see lands far beyond the family’s estate. “This will do,” he thought. “Yes, this hawk will surely take me somewhere fun and exciting. That’s where I’ll find out what I’m supposed to do. I guess that was a pretty dumb plan. Ha! Becoming food. Durrangelo, you’re a knucklehead.”


As you may have guessed, Caesar, Kaiser and Tsar ended up being spies, for the family was collaborating with the enemy forces. The next day, soldiers ransacked the place and put the family in prison for the rest of their lives. However, because the soldiers did not suspect that anyone would be living the storage room, the daughter remained undetected. She finally got to go upstairs, and sitting in her parents’ beautiful, canopied bed, she ate all the modeling clay.

Wednesday, April 15, 2015

Fifty Fun Trends for Spring 2015

Jump on at least one bandwagon!
  1. Shoes that fit weird
  2. Temporarily Jewish
  3. Ride a sheep to work
  4. Die on a wharf
  5. Tomahawks
  6. Narrate your every action
  7. Skip the coffee maker; just eat the coffee grounds!
  8. Jean Smart
  9. False concern
  10. Housecats with intact testicles
  11. Feathering your pubis
  12. Regional insults
  13. Cypress trees
  14. Genuflecting
  15. Shitbagging Daenerys during Game of Thrones screenings
  16. Leering
  17. Sneering
  18. Sneeze unapologetically
  19. Elective surgery for steel cranial plates
  20. Wasting food
  21. Talk like Sofia Vergara until your friends stage an intervention
  22. Inexplicable shaving
  23. Ranking the Koopa Kids
  24. Bubbles
  25. Constant cigars
  26. Trap doors
  27. Union suits
  28. Attendant ravens at dress-up parties
  29. American girls named Gemma
  30. Transcending the shitty birthstones you were stuck with
  31. Pedantry
  32. Zangief
  33. Whale noises
  34. That one episode of Full House where Stephanie forgets how to dance to "Motown Philly"
  35. Anti-abs
  36. Euro-mullets
  37. Smudged spectacles
  38. Power skipping
  39. "Mediterranean" gesticulations
  40. Ambiguous texts
  41. Pouting
  42. Sample scented markers to see if they taste how the smell
  43. Hats on dogs (they'll be all, "WHY AM I WEARING A HAT")
  44. Partial extremes
  45. The obvious homosexuality of Monterey Jack from Rescue Rangers
  46. Threatening messages on fogged-up bathroom mirrors
  47. The Manx Triskelion
  48. Cutting remarks directed at lesser college acquaintances
  49. Facial asymmetry

Tuesday, April 14, 2015

The Lonely Overworld

I spent most of yesterday humming a song from a video game I haven’t played in years. It’s the music that plays in Final Fantasy VI when you’re in the overworld — that is, the larger map that you travel around in to get to towns, dungeons and other locations. And it wasn’t until I’d mentally played and re-played the song yesterday that I realized it bears a passing resemblance to “The Lonely Shepherd,” the Zamfir song that plays at the end of Kill Bill: Vol. One.

I hear it, anyway.

The Final Fantasy song also happens to be the theme song of Terra, the game’s main character during the first half, which seems strange to me since there’s a more appropriately morose, contemplative version of song that plays during her scenes. In the second half of the game, Terra becomes more of a supporting character, and the lead character more or less is the game’s other female lead, Celes. (Terra? Celes? Terrestrial and celestial? There’s symmetry here, my English major brain tells me.) The overworld theme in this half starts out downright mournful, to the point that you’d sometimes just want to get the hell off the map screen to escape it. But there’s a pop song that reminds me of even this track: “In the Forest,” from The Coral’s 2003 album Magic and Medicine.

This seems relevant at the time.

Video game music, previously:

Monday, April 13, 2015

How Madonna Debuted Dick Tracy With an All-Male Kickline

It is weird, I think, to not have strong feelings about Madonna. She’s been a major pop cultural presence since I’ve known what pop culture was and she seems custom-designed to elicit reactions, but I don’t feel especially strongly about her. Most people either love or hate her, and all of those lovers and haters would like nothing better than to discuss those feelings at length. I take a pass on that. Play a track from She’s So Unusual, and I’ll have a profound emotional reaction. Play a Madonna song from the same period, and I’ll say, “Oh, this Madonna. She is an Italian-American singer, 1979-present.”

I had to write about her this weekend, however, because her Blond Ambition World Tour kicked off twenty-five years ago today. Not knowing a single thing about it, I had to do some research and even scheduled a sit-down with a friend who has an encyclopedic knowledge of Madonna’s career. Today, at the very least, I can say with certainty that I know a hell of a lot more about Madonna in her prime.

From my nerd perspective, the most interesting thing I learned has to do with Madonna’s role as Breathless Mahoney in the 1990 film version of Dick Tracy. Madonna incorporated elements of the film and her album I’m Breathless into the Blond Ambition tour. But while the tour opened on April 13, 1990, the movie Dick Tract didn’t hit theaters until June 15, when Madonna had already performed all but seven of her U.S. stops. Consequently, a good number of American fans got their first glimpse of the re-envisioned Dick Tracy at the tour.

That was great marketing for the film, of course, but it also meant that the first glimpse of Dick Tracy was unusual, sexy and overtly gay — in short, pretty on-target for Madonna.

Here is Madonna’s performance of the song “Now I’m Following You.” It features her first dancing — and lip-syncing — with a Dick Tracy dancer, yellow coat and all. (No, it is not Warren Beatty, the star of Dick Tracy and Madonna’s boyfriend at the time.) Around the five minute-mark, Madonna strips her Dick and then is joined by six more Dicks. They take the main stage in a choreographed dance, and around the six minute-mark, the Dicks pair off and dance together, pausing only to form a chorus line that kicks high enough to show that yes, they are wearing shorts beneath those tench coats.

I’m sure the implications of a Dick-on-Dick live show weren’t lost on Madonna or most of her fans.

Considering that Dick Tracy was a big-budget summer release with a PG-13 rating, surprised me that Disney would have permitted an eroticized take on the main character. Then it occurred to me that Madonna in 1990 was wielding the fullest-ever command of her Madonna-ish powers and could basically get away with anything. She maybe didn’t even ask permission to feature a gay Dick Tracy chorus line. She’s Madonna, after all.

Either way, Dick Tracy ended up making more than $100 million, so it seems unlikely that Madonna’s method of promotion hurt the film’s box office.

Oh, 1990, you were weird.

Side note: Is it odd if Madonna, blond sexbomb, inserted into a noir universe kind of makes me think of Harley Quinn?

Pop culture, previously:

Saturday, April 11, 2015

Upon Having Relatives Visit L.A. for the First Time

No, we shouldn’t eat at The Ivy.

No, I don’t have reason to come to Rodeo Drive ever.

No, I don’t know where Kim Kardashian is.

No, downtown Los Angeles is actually in a completely different part of town.

No, I can’t direct you to where all the celebrities hang out.

No, it’s not just one place.

No, they probably wouldn’t let me in if there were such a place.

No, the traffic isn’t that problematic for me.

No, I can’t just pop over in ten minutes, however.

No, I can’t direct you to somewhere nice that’s along the Walk of Fame.

No, I can’t tell you where Jennifer Aniston's star is.

No, you can’t sit in the Hollywood Sign letters.

No, you just saw that in a movie.

No, I haven’t seen Friends With Benefits. I just saw the trailer.

No, the neighborhood I live in probably hasn’t been featured in movies or TV shows you’d be familiar with.

No, I guess you wouldn’t have heard of the famous people I do see in and around LA.

No, I’ve never bought a star map.

No, I’ve never even thought about it.

No, Venice is not accessible by car from my side of L.A.

No, really — driving to Venice is actually forbidden by law here. The penalty is having to spend time in Venice.

Yes, I actually have gone to Lisa Vanderpump’s restaurant once, but I didn't really have a choice about it.

Yes, I actually do love living in Los Angeles.

Yes, in spite of all that.

Yes, actually, I'm glad you came, because this really helped define what about this city matters to me most.

No, that probably just looks like Kristen Bell. There's a lot of women around here who — oh, shit, that is Kristen Bell. Well, there you go.

(an un-famous view of los angeles)

Los Angeles, previously:

Friday, April 10, 2015

That Time Tiny Toons Made a Domestic Violence Joke

Sometimes you wake up and suddenly remember a single gag in a cartoon you haven’t watched for twenty-five years.

The Tiny Toons version of Tweety Bird is Sweetie Pie, a smug, pink little thing that is thoroughly unpleasant. There’s this one short, “Eating Between the Lines,” that’s solely about her efforts to eat Bookworm, a sort of non-speaking non-character that is a worm who likes books. It plays like a typical Wile E. Coyote short, with Sweetie trying repeatedly to catch Bookworm and then getting injured, but there’s this one gag that happens in which Bookwork drops a book on Sweetie. After she gets smashed on the head, you see that the title of the book is The Mike Tyson Story, and Sweetie says “Now I know how Robin Givens feels.”

No, really.

Looney Tunes, Tiny Toons and a lot of other cartoons throw in little winks to adults who may be watching — the character of Shirley the Loon is at least conceptually a joke about Shirley MacLaine, and that is also a weird thing to include in a children’s show — but is it surprising that people thought this joke was okay? I mean, it’s not that funny, for one. And Givens alleged Mike Tyson abused her in 1988, so the joke wasn’t even all that timely. It just seems like the kind of thing to which a censor would respond with, “Yeah, maybe we don’t need this joke about the lady who got beat up by her killing machine of a husband?”

My take-away on this, I guess, is that 1990 was a very different place than 2015 is, in that if a kids’ show made a similar joke — say, with Rihanna and Chris Brown in place of Givens and Tyson — the internet would be instantly in a state of outrage about it. Twenty-five years ago, you could get away with more when you thought that no one was looking, or at least no one had a means to instantly, publicly tell the world that they were offended.

Sweetie’s voice may sound familiar if you watched Dexter’s Lab. It was provided by Candi Milo, who was the second actress to voice Dexter, and you can hear a little bit of Dexter in the way Milo voices Sweetie.

When cartoons were weird, previously:

Wednesday, April 8, 2015

The Parrot Story

A few Christmases ago, I spilled bouillabaisse on the one warm jacket I owned. I was doing New Year’s Eve in San Francisco that year, so was at my parents’ house and had to take the jacket to the cleaners in my hometown. I went to pick it up the morning of January 31, and when I handed the clerk my ticket, he returned with a woman’s jacket with a parrot embroidered on the back.

Allow me to elaborate.

If Dorothy Zbornak had a louche sister who frequented seedy Las Vegas bars, this would have been her trademark garment. I’m not even sure what to call it. It kind of looked like a bathrobe or smoking jacket, but the fact that it the embroidered thread sparkled made me think this was a piece of clothing that its owner would wear out, for the world to see and admire. It was also huge. It would have been too big for me to wear, in every possible sense. I imagine the owner took it to the cleaners because it had rosé stains or maybe kahlúa stains. Whatever booze had been soaked into this thing, its name had an accent mark in its name, for sure.

I searched the internet to try and find an example of this garment but found none. I imagine it was a one-of-a-kind. But here is something that approximates the parrot, at least. Just imagine it bigger and sparklier, and then make it even bigger and sparklier yet and you’re partway there.

via ebay

“That’s not mine,” I told the clerk.

He insisted that it was because it matched the number on my ticket.

“But that is a woman’s jacket. And also  I don’t think it would fit me.”

He seemed unwilling to factor in this evidence. To him, this was the jacket I was leaving with. I described my actual jacket at length — black, for a man, not having a parrot on the back — and he left again to see if he could find it. And there I stood, staring at this hideous, marvelous thing and wondering what kind of person would not only own it but want it to get cleaned for future use.

Then the door jingled. Then I heard a booming voice that kind of sounded like Ursula the Sea Witch’s. (I have styled her dialogue to suggest how she spoke it.)

WELL, I supPOSE that they KNEW that I was on my way OVER!

There stood the only woman who could own the parrot jacket. She was taller than I was. She wasn’t fat, but she was huge — a commanding physical presence. She had hands that looked like they could palm a basketball or my head. She looked like the kind of woman who addressed everyone as “darling.” She was wearing a blouse that had all the flowers on it.

“Is that your jacket?” I asked.

WELL, YES. They MUST have had a INKLING that I was COMING.”

I agreed that that must be the case. At this point she was leaning on the counter like she was waiting to order a drink.

I’M throwing a PARTY tonight,” she said, though that was probably the case more often than not. Did I mention that all her sentences ended in a chuckle? They did. Throaty laughter was her punctuation, and life, clearly, was this woman’s party.

The clerk came out with my jacket, which now seemed plain and sad compared to the parrot jacket and the woman who owned it. I had somewhere else to be, so I wished them both a happy new year. The woman responded with an “mmm” noise that I think meant to return my wish or at least agree that she would, in fact, have a good year. (How could she not?)

I never saw her again.

Now, my hometown isn’t exactly a village, but it’s still small enough that a person like that wouldn’t go unnoticed. People don’t just wear sparkly embroidered parrot jackets where I come from. So when I got home I asked my mom if she knew of a giant woman who acts like she’s always auditioning for Auntie Mame. “No.” my mother answered. “Why would you ask that?”

“No reason.” I realized it was an oddly specific question.

Previous stories about me that I allege are funny:

Saturday, April 4, 2015

How Empire Proposes a Universe Without Courtney Love

I realize everyone else and their mom has already finished Empire — and that’s not just a figure of speech, because I know a few people who have discussed the show at length with their mothers. But I just finished it last week, and it occurs to me that Empire is a rather covert example of speculative fiction. It’s just that the show’s implicit “what if?” is “What if Courtney Love didn’t exist?”

There is this theory about movies that states that any movie starring, say, Tom Hanks exists a universe where there is no famous actor named Tom Hanks or who looks like Tom Hanks, because if Tom Hanks the actor existed in, say, the universe of Cast Away, then every minor character would be going up to the main character in that movie and asking, “Hey, has anyone ever told you you look exactly like Tom Hanks?” to the point that it would inhibit the plot of the movie. This 2010 blog post introduced me to the idea, and TV Tropes has an extensive list of of works that reference this Celebrity Paradox, including that awful scene in Ocean’s 12 in which Julia Roberts’ character tries to pass herself off as Julia Roberts.

The matter gets complicated considerably when the fictional universe in question revolves around celebrities and all the more so when those celebrities happen to be a mix of real-life ones and fictional ones invented for the show.

Like Empire.

Most of the celebrity characters featured on the show are fictional characters. However, some of them are played by people who are famous in our universe for being singers or musicians. Courtney Love, for example, plays Elle Dallas, a sort of Stevie Nicks by way of Madonna.

elle dallas courtney love empire

But the implication of this character existing on Empire is that Courtney Love probably doesn’t, but when you get into that, things get complicated. If Courtney Love doesn’t exist, does Nirvana? Does the Empire take on Nirvana go down a different route? Could they still be together? And who starred opposite Woody Harrelson in The People vs. Larry Flynt? I mean, If Hole never released a song called “Jennifer’s Body,” then what did Diablo Cody call her movie? Or did that movie just not happen over there? Good for them if so.

Jennifer Hudson also appears on the show playing a fictional character, so it’s presumable that in the Empire-verse, a woman named Jennifer Hudson probably didn’t rise to fame as a result of competing on American Idol. And Jennifer Hudson therefore probably didn’t perform at this 2009 tribute to Patti LaBelle, who played herself on the show.

The singer Estelle also plays a fictional singer on the show, and I’m probably the only one who’s wondering who is consequently voicing Garnet on Steven Universe, should it exist in the Empire-verse. (And why shouldn’t it?)

Of course, there’s some higher-ups who will probably say, “Yeah, it doesn’t matter,” when it comes down to the decision to nix a line or guest appearance just because it would seem to question the universe of the show. After all, 30 Rock created a fairly consistent alternate universe version of NBC in which Saturday NIght LIve didn’t exist, but it still featured Jimmy Fallon as the host of the The Late Show, even if he wouldn’t have had a reason to have become famous without SNL.

(Never forget the reality-bending implications of Jenna Maroney’s performance of “Fart So Loud.”)

Even The Comback threw off a reference to Matt LeBlanc, even if the Comeback-verse version of Friends probably didn’t star Lisa Kudrow. Maybe that Kudrow never went into acting, maybe never stopped using her science degree to study headaches. Maybe someone else played Phoebe. But then what of the episodes involving Ursula from Mad About You? It’s a headache that Dr. Kudrow could probably give medical advice about, if only she existed in this universe.

Raven-Symoné also appeared on Empire, so you have to wonder if someone else played late-in-the-series moppet Olivia on The Cosby Show. Then again, the character she played on Empire was also named Olivia, and one of the most significant things her character did on the show was to introduce a surprise moppet to the show’s central family. It could be a coincidence. It could be a knowing wink. Either way, it’s fun to think about how casting an actor to play a minor character on this kind of show can speak volumes about the world in which the show takes place.