Triple Jeopardy

There are times when your dream doesn’t seem to be coming true no matter how much you work toward it and how hard you wish for it.  You can pray about it, and sometimes the answer is not a resounding rejection, but simply a “not now.”  It may not be the right time yet.  And everyone knows that good things are worth waiting for.

However, I find it much harder to deal with an answer to prayer that appears to be “too late.”  It’s  one thing to have to wait for years to achieve your goal, but it’s quite another to realize that your time has passed.  “Could have beens” are rather sad, which likely accounts for the popularity of YOLO and “no regrets.”  Indeed, it can be difficult to watch someone slogging away at something that might have been achieved years ago but no longer has any reasonable chance of coming to fruition.  Most painful of all is when the person whom you’re watching struggle in vain is none other than yourself.

Then there are those of us whose motto seems to be “never say die.”  Fool that I am, I count myself among them.

Thus, a couple of weeks ago I went merrily off to register to take a test to become a contestant on the TV quiz show Jeopardy!  Um, for the third time.  I told you, some people just don’t know when to quit.

A famous saying posits that taking the same unsuccessful action time and again and expecting a different result is indicative of insanity.  So call me crazy.  I am one of those suckers who appears undeterred by the statistical unlikelihood of winning the Power Ball, video poker in Reno and a place as a contestant on a well-known quiz show.

The first time that I took the Jeopardy! test was years ago, in person, at a road show event held at a giant car dealership in Placer County (coincidentally, the same place I recently went to deal with a recall on my car).  This was back when we lived in California’s Central Valley, involving a fairly lengthy drive on freeways with which I was then quite unfamiliar.  For my trouble, I had the privilege of standing on a long, snaking line in the hot sun until I reached a tent where I could sit at a picnic table and complete the test.  Fifty questions on an orange sheet of legal-sized paper, both sides.  I turned it in to one of the judges, whom I could tell had graded these papers a few thousand times.  The smirk on his face showed me that he knew perfectly well that I hadn’t a chance.  He went down the page with a pencil, making marks at each of my errors.  He shook his head as he handed me back the page.  Dejected, I began the long drive home.  I didn’t even come close.

I didn’t bother trying again for another decade or so.  By then, personal computers had become ubiquitous and I learned that the Jeopardy! test was given online each January.  I knew a few of the answers, but I remember calling out a number of the questions to my wife for assistance.  Between the two of us, we got nowhere.

At least when I took the test in person, I learned that I had failed immediately.  When one takes the test online, it’s a case of “don’t call us, we’ll call you.”  Of course, they don’t call you (because you did so poorly).  Months go by and you forget about it.  Until, after a few more years go by, you hear that it’s time for the online test again.  Except now it’s being offered at the end of May instead of in January.

What makes me think that I will do any better this time than I did last time?  I have no idea, other than to say that hope springs eternal and that there will always be fools like me.  Just call us “live bait,” as Frank Gilbreth did a century ago.  Or, in the immortal words of P.T. Barnum (even longer ago), “there’s a sucker born every minute.”

I actually think I improved a bit this time.  Not by much, and certainly not enough to make a difference, but a little.  So is it “third time’s a charm” or “three strikes, you’re out?”

Decidedly, the latter.  The problem, I soon realized, is that I am not as quick on the trigger as I once was (not that I ever was).  As much as I admire octogenarian and nonagenarian marathoners and ironmen, the fact remains that most of us eligible for the senior discount are a bit slower now than we were in days of yore.  Then there are some like myself who have always lagged a step or two behind.  Although I have amassed a great deal of knowledge in the course of my lifetime, I have never been accused of being the sharpest tool in the shed.  And now that I’ve strayed into AARP territory, I find myself playing the part a little too well by forgetting words at inconvenient times and wracking my brain to recall a name or fact that I know I know.  Dictionaries, both the online variety and the thick bound ones on my shelf, are my best friend.  Take it from me, the “senior moment” is a real thing.  So I suppose it’s kind of crazy for me to think that I’d have any chance at all in such a fast-paced competitive environment as Jeopardy!  Never mind trying to come with the questions to their answers, but how would I even press the signaling device fast enough?

Taking a trip down memory lane brings me back to my days as a senior in high school, when I competed against other schools as a member of our quiz bowl team.  Even at the tender age of 16, I was more of a liability than an asset.  As much as I was into trivia, I rarely knew the answer to the question asked.  And if I did, someone else would beat me to the buzzer almost every time.

You’d think I’d give it up by now, wouldn’t you?  Oh, no.  Knowledge of my limitations in no way dissuaded me from taking the test a third time.  I should probably pay attention to Alex Trebek himself, who (when not hawking life insurance) admits that, even after years of working with endless streams of facts, he’d have no chance against a sharp, young competitor.  I believe his words were “he would clean my clock.”

So as I log into the Jeopardy! test website after work on a Thursday evening, I remain hopeful even as I know quite well that I am on a fool’s errand.  I would estimate that I knew about half the answers, more or less guessed at another quarter, and came up entirely emptyhanded on the final quarter.  Inevitably, there were questions that I was sure I knew the answer to, but couldn’t come up with on short notice.  The senior moment again.

For example, the northern extension of the Appalachian Mountains in Pennsylvania.  Ah, geography, my strongest area!  A map of the Keystone State pops into my head.  Pittsburgh?  Altoona?  Uh, the Monongahela? Bloop!  The question disappears from the screen.  Time’s up!  Oh, well.

That night, I woke up suddenly from a dead sleep.  The Alleghenies!  Of course!  Duhhhh . . .

And then it happened again.  The next morning, in the shower.  I simply could not come up with the name of the director known for his work on Titanic.  But, sure enough, while shampooing my hair, it struck me like a lightning bolt.  “James Cameron!” I yelled.

The next day, of course, I again was unable to remember his name.  I had to Google it.  (Uncle Guacamole takes the walk of shame.)

Let’s put it this way:  I am not expecting a call from Sony any time soon.  Uh, or ever.

Clearly, I don’t know when to give up the things of younger people.  If I were truly committed to competing on Jeopardy!, shouldn’t I have done it years ago?  So why can’t I say “too late,” admit that my time has passed, and move on?

I guess I just can’t take no for an answer.

So what do you say, shall we go for number four?



I Don’t Need to Be Reminded

Friday night.  Just chillin’.  I just made a fresh batch of guacamole, I’m flipping through blogs and a song in Japanese wafts through my headphones from my Spotify feed.  I don’t understand a thing the singer is telling me, but her plaintive voice is lovely and the horns, bells, flute and strings backing her up send me into a state of relaxation that seems perfect for the end of a busy week.

The Net is rife with stories about comedian Garry Shandling, who died this week of a heart attack at the age of 66.  For reasons not entirely clear to me, the coverage irks me beyond all reason.  My Zen-like state is gone.

I’ve never been much of a television watcher, so the first time I ever heard of Shandling was during a visit to the old NBC Studios in Burbank back in the 1980s.  (Side note:  I found it somewhat sad to learn, while performing research for this post, that NBC’s TV broadcast operations have since moved to the roller coaster, Harry Potter schmaltz of Universal Studios.  And today’s so-called studio tour?  Its “video host” in Hollywood is Jimmy Fallon, who actually records The Tonight Show a continent away at NBC’s 30 Rockefeller Center studios in New York).

Thirty years ago, I lived in New York and was visiting California for the first time.  I stayed over a few nights with cousins who lived in a gorgeous San Fernando Valley home that was destroyed by an earthquake just a few years later.  They even lent me one of their cars, which turned out to be a comical experience.  For one thing, this was my first time driving the LA freeways.  In the days before GPS and smart phones, I depended on a road map to navigate the labyrinth of freeways that seemed to weave in and out, over and under in a tangled web.  As if that weren’t enough, I quickly realized that my cousins’ speedometer was broken!  So there I was, whizzing along with the high-speed traffic, not really knowing where I was going and trying to drive fast enough to keep up with the flow but slow enough to avoid a speeding ticket.  Somehow, the parking lots that are the Long Island and Cross Bronx Expressways seemed tame by comparison.

I made it to Burbank and participated in the NBC studio tour.  Naïve yokel that I was, I found it thrilling to sit in Studio 1 where The Tonight Show was recorded, before the famous multicolored curtain and the star on the floor where Johnny Carson stood to deliver his monologue.  The group was told that we could return at 4:00 pm to be in the studio audience for the taping, but that Carson would not be there that day.  In his place, I learned, was someone named Garry Shandling (who?).  “He’s very funny,” the tour guide assured us.

Well, excuse me, I didn’t come here from New York to see some Garry Shindig or whatever the heck his name is!  I left extremely disappointed and did not return for the taping.  Today, of course, I would have checked online in advance and determined the proper day to go.  But back then, being a tourist was largely a hit or miss proposition.

While rabid Shandling fans would undoubtedly disagree with me, he will never be on the “A list” in my book.  Yeah, yeah, I know he had a couple of shows of his own.  Call me a meanie if you will, but to me he is not in the same league with comedians such as Carson, Leno, Fallon, Robin Williams and Jerry Seinfeld.

But I digress.  Depending on which website you visit, you’ll see that Shandling was in good health or that he had medical problems.  Pick one.

One of our local television station’s news programs used his death as an opportunity to educate viewers about the dangers of being out of shape as we age.  Obesity, diabetes and high blood pressure are killers, the anchor intoned solemnly, and the average age of fatal heart attacks has now lowered to 60.  The big mistake people make, he continued, is in thinking that controlling conditions with pills is the answer instead of exercising, eating right and losing weight.  So, I guess this means that I am going to die shortly and join Garry Shandling in that great beyond.

Thank you so much for reminding me.  I’d better get my affairs in order, call a lawyer and make out my last will and testament.  Time to buy that cemetery plot.  And, by the way, shame on those nasty doctors for making me take all those pills for nothing!

Apparently, the fact that a lot of us have been fighting (and losing) uphill battles against these conditions since the days of our youth isn’t sexy enough to make it onto TV.  Believe me, we are all aware that we are ticking time bombs and that our days are numbered.  We’ve been to a million doctors, had a million tests, taken oceans of pills.  Meanwhile, we try not to dwell upon our conditions so that we can live some semblance of a normal life in whatever time remains to us.

I’m just glad that I’m not a public figure.  This way, the media circus can’t make an example of me when I’m gone in a misguided effort to educate us regarding health conditions that we are either intimately familiar with or else don’t give a damn about.

Garry, you’ve really made my day.


That’s Disgusting!

chatter teeth

I am a second-hand television watcher.  By this, I mean that it is extremely rare for me to turn on the TV with the intent of watching a show (except an occasional dose of ANW, which counts as a guilty pleasure).  My tube watching generally consists of what I happen to see while sitting in restaurants or what I notice out of the corner of my eye while online at the kitchen table.  My wife, who works from home, generally keeps the TV on for background noise; I do my writing and reading while plugged into ear buds, lost in my own world of the finest music of the ‘70s and ‘80s.

Recently, however, while visiting my niece’s house for one of the kids’ birthdays, I found myself plopped on the sofa in their living room, directly in front of their big screen TV tuned to, of all things, Food Network.

While munching on chips and salsa, I got to witness the spectacle of three Chopped! competitors making their best efforts to prepare an “impossible” dessert out of a food basket filled with four wildly incongruous items.  In this particular case, the laughable basket contained:

  • “apple teeth”
  • gum drops
  • durian cookies
  • nacho cheese flavored chips

I must admit that I had never heard of apple teeth before.  They look somewhat like a cartoon rendering of a pair of dentures, perhaps the kind that wind up with a key to set them a-chattering.  I had to look this up online to find out whether they are really made of apples, and it turns out that they are!  I have no idea why the basket couldn’t have just included a few nice looking Red Delicious or Jonagolds.  Then again, I suppose that would not have been weird enough for this show.  Like any other reality show, the idea appears to be spectacle.

I know what durian fruit is, but I had never heard of them made into cookies.  The package shown looked just like regular vanilla wafers to me.  However, I know better.  Durian is a popular fruit in many southeast Asian nations, including Thailand, Indonesia, Malaysia and Singapore.  Known for its thorns and its odor, the durian has been called the smelliest fruit on earth.  I will spare you the gory details, but if you’re interested, you can read some graphic descriptions of the durian’s odor here. Let’s put it this way:  The durian is banned from hotels and public transportation in most of Asia.  The odor of a ripe durian is known to linger long after the fruit is consumed and the husk discarded.

In consideration of the above, I came to the conclusion that the producers of Chopped: Impossible were truly putting the screws to the competitors.  Hopefully, the excessive processing that goes into the manufacture of a commercially produced confection left the infamous odor far behind.

Which leaves us with sickly sweet gum drops and cheese flavored chips.  All in all, a rather disgusting combination.  I wasn’t surprised to see most of the contestants crushing and crumbling everything from the chips to the durian cookies to the apple teeth.

All three dishes came out looking roughly like a manic version of an apple crisp or brown betty.  I can only imagine what they tasted like.  I thought of my father, who always enjoyed apple pie with a slice of cheese on top.  Perhaps this is the general gist of apple teeth and nacho chips.  Assuming the durian smell was long gone, it may even have been edible.

I believe the point of this show is to highlight the resourcefulness and creativity of the competitors.  Accordingly, if the producers are reading this, I’d like to suggest that the basket for their next impossible dessert challenge contain (drum roll, please): dill pickles, Laffy Taffy, Oreos and lutefisk.

I’ll be running away now, thank you.

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I drove down to the Central Valley to visit my octogenarian parents for a few days recently.  They live out in the country and generally spend their evenings watching TV, my father in the pitch dark of the spare bedroom, volume turned up to deafening decibels, my mother in the family room with all the lights on.  Sometimes they even watch the same show from opposite sides of the house.  Most often, however, my father is watching a documentary or drama (the more violent, the better), while my mother contents herself with BBC reruns or whatever reality show beams in clearly enough on one of the four over-the-air channels that my parents can pull in.

To my surprise, on this particular occasion both of them were sitting on the couch with their visitor.  And to my total shock, they settled on watching “American Ninja Warrior” on the Esquire Network.  At the same time.  In the same room.

For those who are not familiar, the show features well-muscled contestants who run an impossibly difficult obstacle course that seems to involve a lot of hanging upside down by the fingertips.  “Upper body strength” is what they call this skill.  Contestants get to shimmy up the salmon ladder one rung at a time, run up the warped wall and get clonked in the head by the propeller bar.  Losing one’s grip involves splashing down in the lagoon and then swimming for that Pom Wonderful towel.  This torture comes in four increasingly difficult levels, with no one having reached Level 4 until this year, when two contestants managed to make it all the way to the end.  The finale was thrilling, with Geoff Britten beating the clock in his long rope climb to hit the button.  After proudly announcing that he is the first American Ninja Warrior (which comes with a million dollar prize), Isaac Caldiero duplicated the feat, but even faster, causing Britten to lose his million.

As the hosts often mention, ANW is a United States version of the Japanese sport of saskei.  The Las Vegas finals course at the MGM Grand is known as Mt. Midoriyama, after the original Japanese location.  Someone needs to tell these people, who obviously don’t know the first thing about the Japanese language, that it is embarrassingly duplicative to call the place “Mount Midori Mountain.”  I write it off to ignorance.  What I don’t understand, however, is how the American version of this obstacle acquired the word “ninja” in its moniker.  My guess is that some manga fan decided that ninjas are cool, so why not?

So what the hell is a ninja anyway?  A Japanese warlord bearing a long, curved sabre?

The first time I ever heard the word “ninja” was in 1989 when one of my writer friends from New England informed me that the hottest new thing to hit the consumer market was called Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles.  Books, movies, licensing deals for toys.  The whole nine yards.

Seriously, Dan?  Teenage?  Mutant?  Ninja?  Turtles, for God’s sake?


Yep, and they’re all named for Italian painters.

Wha?  Talk about mixing metaphors!  Reptiles, Tokyo and the Renaissance — you gotta know someone is getting rich.

I have to admit, however, that I still know as little about ninjas now as I did back then.  Then, while out to brunch the other day, I spied a little girl, maybe five or six years old, stalking the buffet tables in a pink T-shirt that proudly declared “I’m a ninja!  That means like you can’t see me!”

Despite being familiar with this particular pejorative speech pattern, I detest adding the word “like” to a sentence in willy-nilly fashion, particularly when it isn’t even surrounded by commas.  Once an English major, always an English major.

So, ninjas are supposed to be invisible?  I had to check this one out.  Wikipedia informs me that, in feudal Japan, the functions of the ninja included espionage, sabotage, infiltration and assassination.  Now I’m starting to see the mass appeal of larger-than-life military figures from the 14th century.  Apparently, the ninja captured the Japanese imagination hundreds of years ago just as it has done in America today.  Reading on, I see that, at least in folklore, the ninja had special powers, including invisibility, walking on water and control over the natural elements.  These types of super powers have been popularized in many cultures, with the latter two well-known by readers of the Bible.

A few weeks ago, one of my coworkers informed me that my workspace blatantly violates the tents of feng shui.  Why is that?  Because I face a wall and am unable to see people walking into my cubicle behind me.  I need to get a mirror, I was informed.  Then, if a ninja sneaks up behind me, I will see him and can quickly turn around and dispatch him with a throwing star.

Say what?

You guessed it:  I had to look up that one, too.  Apparently, a throwing star bears no relation to a shooting star.  While I’ve witnessed the latter zip across the night sky on many occasions, I now know that the former is a type of shuriken, a hand-held weapon designed more to injure than to kill.  Wikipedia tells me that the throwing star was intended to be a nuisance or distraction that injured the enemy when it was thrust at his eyes, face, hands or feet.

So it looks like, wherever I go and whatever I do, I’m going to have to get used to ninjas and their weapons, particularly since they’ve now infiltrated my workplace, my favorite restaurant and even my parents’ living room.

Note to self — Add to Christmas list:

  • Mirror
  • Throwing stars
  • Little plastic stand-up reptile kids with tortoise shells on their backs

No, Santa, I haven’t lost my mind.  Really.  It’s just that 14th century Japanese warlords are taking over my life.

Tomorrow:  The hazards of faking it in Spanish

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Greek Intervention, MTV Style

Paging Howie Mandel… You’re needed in Brussels!

The leaders of Europe spent the entire weekend playing the Euro version of “Deal or No Deal.”  When the moneymen couldn’t decide on whether and how to bail out bankrupt Greece, the heads of state took over, although they fared no better by Sunday night.

Greece’s prime minister, Alexis Tsipras, is there, playing the prodigal son and offering to return to the fold by allowing the European Union to tighten the screws by imposing ever more stringent austerity measures to obtain the billions of euros necessary to prevent the Greek banking system from collapsing.  This repentant attitude is a total about face from Tsipras’ position just a week ago, when at his urging, the Greek people voted “no” to increased austerity, even if it means leaving the Eurozone and returning to the drachma.

So, Alex, what’s in your case?  Looks like you’ve pulled all the high dollar amounts off the board before you even got to Brussels.  Is that a phone I hear ringing?  Uh-oh, Howie is telling you that the banker, sitting up there in his booth, has slashed his offer yet again.

The two Jimmies (Fallon and Kimmel) and whoever it is that replaced David Letterman must be having a field day with this stuff.  I don’t watch late night television (all right, you got me, I don’t watch TV at all), so someone please tell me if I’m right.

So Europe is twisting itself up into more knots than a pretzel in a German biergarten in order to keep Greece in the family and thereby to continue the charade that the European Union is indestructible.  The clownish shenanigans in Brussels remind me of those intervention shows that they used to air on MTV back when I wasted my time on such things.

Can’t you just see it?  The family gathers in Brussels, each member with a somber look on his or her face, awaiting the arrival of the bad boy, at which point they intend to pounce.  The idea is to convince him to give up his wicked ways and go to rehab or else be expelled from the family, with no hope of further assistance of any kind.  As I recall, after much weeping and wailing and gnashing of teeth, the addict would realize that he or she has been ambushed and is now effectively trapped.

Oh, Mr. Tsipras — The limo is waiting at the curb to take you the airport.  Next stop:  Rehab.

The question, of course, is whether Greece is so far gone that it may no longer even be capable of being rehabilitated.  A third bailout in five years?  Where does it end?  Greece says it needs well over 50 billion euro (that’s a lot of zeroes) just to keep its banks going, but European finance ministers estimate that it will need a good 80 billion euro to prevent its economy from disintegrating.  Something tells me this rehabilitation will fail.  Either Greece will escape the rehab center in the middle of the night, or it will dry out and then go looking for another fix the second it graduates from the program.

In many respects, Greece reminds me of a rebellious teenager.  I remember once seeing a meme online that went something like this:  “Teenagers!  Tired of being hassled by your parents?  Get out now while you still know everything, get a job and pay your own bills!”  Hmm, come to think of it, I may have seen this on a greeting card at a truck stop on the I-5 in Santa Nella.

Greece proved its rebelliousness, much to the ire of European leaders, by putting further austerity to a vote of its populace.  Europe was not amused when 61% of Greeks backed their fearless leader’s resolve to go it alone if necessary rather than subject itself to another parade of horribles.  With the store shelves going empty, gas tanks going dry and only 60 euros per person per day available at ATMs (the banks have been shuttered for two weeks), many Greeks can’t blame Tsipras for backpedaling, begging for debt relief in return for more austerity.

But there are still plenty of Greeks who are burning up Facebook and Twitter urging Tsipras to stick to his guns, walk out of the Brussels talks and return home to Athens, come what may.  How far will this teenager go?  It’s possible that he may be willing to go couch surfing or even live on the street to avoid being told what to do.  Maybe this teen will end up hungry and cold, but at least it will be on his own terms.

The problem is that the parents are fighting with each other and can’t seem to decide what to do about their wayward child.  Meanwhile, the teen is milking the situation for all it is worth, doing his own thing even as he knows that his days under his parents’ roof are numbered.

My bet is that, despite Teen Greece’s open defiance of last week, its current contrite posture will win the day.  Looks like the teen has decided not to go homeless after all.

All that remains to be seen is whether he can follow through with his promise to abide by Mother Europe’s rules.

Runaway Squad

Lately, we’ve been watching episodes of the detective show “Runaway Squad” on DVR.  The way that the parents act on this show bugs the heck out of me, so today I am going to spout off about it.

The premise of the show is that families hire this elite group of seasoned investigators to find their children after they have run away from home and disappeared from their lives.  Often, the squad first begins ferreting out clues many months after the kid absconded.  Typically, the rogue teen is located somewhere in New York City, ground zero for the nation’s runaways.  While New York has become the destination due to the ease of blending into the city and the multitude of opportunities there, it is also a dangerous center of exploitation where both girls and boys often end up sucked into the sex trade.

Predictably, the squad gets their man (or woman) and sits down for a discussion with the newly reunited family.  What transpires never ceases to amaze me.  After the tearful hugs, the parent(s) begin raging with anger at the recovered kid.  How could you do this to us?  How could you not take our feelings into consideration and allow us to wonder whether you were alive or dead?

Um, excuse me?  First of all, after you’ve gone through the effort and money of hiring the Runaway Squad and then successfully recovered your kid, you think you’d act a little grateful that your kid is back at home?  Secondly, you know perfectly well why your kid ran away from home.  Either it was a difference of opinion about a boyfriend/girlfriend or about religion or about privileges or about lifestyle choices or about something. Parents, how could you fail to take your kid’s feelings into consideration on an issue that meant so much to them that they felt they had no choice but to run away from home?  You only see what your kid did to you, but you refuse to see what you did to your kid to cause him or her to leave home in the first place.

Wise up, parents, it’s not all about you.

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Great Pumpkin

Among the few things I still enjoy about Halloween is watching “It’s the Great Pumpkin, Charlie Brown” on TV.  They usually run it a couple of times, but this year I had my wife record it on DVR so that I could watch it on the weekend when I knew I would have time to enjoy it properly.  I know that I could have watched in online, but it wouldn’t be the same experience as seeing it on a big screen TV with a bag of potato chips and a tall iced tea.  All in all, I suppose it’s become one of my guilty pleasures.

We are now just a couple of years away from the fiftieth anniversary of this classic show.  I wish Charles Schultz had lived long enough to witness that milestone.  Not many performances, live or animated, on the big or small screens, can boast of that magnitude of longevity.

I was pleased to learn that ABC continues to bring in ratings and advertising revenue from “Great Pumpkin” (although not from my wife and I, as we fast forwarded through the commercials, thank you very much).  Well, duh, if it were otherwise, the show would long ago have faded into history and ended up as the subject of an obscure trivia question on Jeopardy.

I noticed the hash tag in the corner of the screen and then read online that the show received a fair bit of traffic on Twitter.  I don’t think anyone could have imagined Twitter, the internet, DVRs or big screen TVs back when the show first aired in 1966.  I am pleased to see that the best of popular culture survives the tests of time and technology.  And I hope that, generations from now, the great-great-great-great grandchildren of the Baby Boomers continue to have the opportunity to usher in the holiday season with “Great Pumpkin” and still find it to be a treat rather than a trick.

A few of the lines in “Great Pumpkin” strike me as rather forward thinking and ahead of their time.  I am particularly thinking of the scene early in the show when Charlie Brown can’t believe that Linus is actually writing a letter to the Great Pumpkin again.  When Linus describes his beliefs regarding the Great Pumpkin rising out of the pumpkin patch and bringing toys to all the girls and boys, Charlie Brown shakes his head and mutters “must be denominational differences!”  Remember, this was written a good forty years before the concepts of political correctness and multiculturalism entered into the public consciousness and vocabulary.

I get a particular kick out of the way that every major character in the show nurses his or her own favorite fantasy.  We may feel sorry for Linus spending the night in the pumpkin patch and having his most fervent hopes dashed once again.  But what about Charlie Brown?  He, of course, is the perennial loser.  He believes that:

  • this will be the year that Lucy finally allows him to kick the football (before falling flat on his face yet again)
  • he will collect lots of goodies when he goes out trick or treating with all his friends (and then ends up with a bag full of rocks)
  • he has finally come up in the world in that, for the first time in his life, he has been invited to a party (before Lucy disabuses him of this foolish notion, noting that his name must have been erroneously taken from the “list of people not to invite”).

But what of little Sally, who remains (at least for a while) loyal to Linus, as both of them freeze out in the pumpkin patch?  Just as Linus believes in the Great Pumpkin, Sally believes in Linus (and thereby loses out on both candy and the Halloween party).

And what about Snoopy, the World War I flying ace, who believes that his doghouse is a Sopwith Camel and that he can chase down the Red Baron?  (At least until he is shot down behind enemy lines in France.)

Even Lucy, smarter than all of them combined and forever cast as the villain, opines that one’s Halloween costume should be diametrically opposed to one’s personality.  The joke, of course, is that she dresses up as a witch.

I like the way that Schultz has Linus compare and contrast the Great Pumpkin with Santa Claus.  Just because GP isn’t as well known as the jolly man in red, he muses, doesn’t mean that the flying squash is any less deserving of his loyalty.

Let’s hear it for equal opportunity cultural myths.

I can hardly wait for the airing of A Charlie Brown Christmas.

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Uncle Chicken

Twice a week, we provide day care for my year and a half old grandniece from just about the time that the sun rises until well into the evening.  The other weekdays, and often on the weekends as well, we have her for part of the day.  It is fortunate indeed that Pastor Mom, my wife and myself are all available to share in the babysitting duties.  To put it mildly, that cute kid wears us out.

Needless to say, my grandniece must be fed and changed throughout the day.  Beyond that, however, we do our best to keep Little One entertained at all times.  Toward that end, she has more toys, books and stuffed animals than a child ought to know what to do with, songs and games on her Nabi Jr. tablet, kid videos on our cell phones and reruns of Sesame Street streamed continuously from YouTube through our TV set all day long.  And, of course, our personal attention at all times.  Failure to provide said personal attention for more than, oh, I don’t know, say about 30 seconds, results in Little One reverting to her preferred activities faster than you can blink your eye.  Among the activities to which I refer are dumping the trash onto the floor and rooting through the soda cans, vegetable peels and used paper plates, opening drawers and removing the entire contents thereof, sending lengthy character strings as text messages to my wife’s friends, repeatedly opening and closing the kitchen cabinets, and pressing the buttons on every remote control, laptop computer and electronic device in the house.  In the immortal words of Julie Andrews, “these are a few of my favorite things.”

We also take Little One riding in the car a lot.  To give you something of an idea of what I mean, today we:

  • drove to my niece’s residence (stopping at the post office to send out a job application on the way), picked up Little One and brought her home with us so that Niece could study for her exams;
  • an hour and a half later, we put Little One back in the car seat, drove back to Niece’s residence, picked her up and drove two towns up the freeway to drop her off at a meeting;
  • drove Little One back to our house, making a quick stop at the supermarket to pick up a few items on the way;
  • an hour and a half later, we put Little One back in the car seat, drove back up the freeway to pick up Niece from her meeting, then turned around and drove back down the freeway to drive Niece and Little One home;
  • drove from Niece’s residence back to our house, stopping for gas along the way because (surprise) our tank was just about dry.

This was actually fairly minor, as we had Little One for only about four hours today.  Tomorrow we have her for eleven.

My wife will start this show about 7:15 am, the time she leaves the house to drive over to Niece’s residence, pick up Niece and Little One, ferry Niece over to the college in the next town, and drive Little One back to our house.  As an inveterate night owl, I am forever grateful to my extraordinarily kind wife for not rousting me out of bed to join her on her morning rounds at that ungodly hour.

The days and the weeks go by as we zigzag across three towns to get Niece where she needs to be on time, with Little One secure in the car seat just behind us.  I find it quite a challenge to keep Little One entertained in the car while she is thus constrained with nothing to divert her attention other than some bite-sized pretzels and her sippy cup of juice.  As my wife is usually driving, Entertainment Committee duties generally fall to yours truly.

Let me just say that I am not good at this stuff.  Not at all.  In fact, I would go so far as to say that I don’t know what the heck I am doing.

Some things are pretty standard, such as the mandatory singing of “Frère Jacques.”  After that, however, I am at a loss.  Thankfully, however, Little One is ever ready to prompt me for what comes next.  “Boo!” she will intone (it actually comes out more like “Buh!”), which is the signal for me to turn around and keep her entertained, gosh darn it.  When we first started this little game, I would merely “boo” her back, and we’d keep going this way in call-and-response fashion until we reached our destination.  By that time, I will have a severe crick in my neck from turning around to face her every ten seconds or so.

Lately, however, we seem to have upped the ante.  It is, of course, all my fault for trying to be a show-off.  Never having been a parent myself, what I did not know is that once you go down this road, you can never go back.  I don’t know what possessed me to get fancy by booing up a regular storm, like the Pied Piper’s rodents, in fifty different sharps and flats.  Accompanied, of course, by appropriate facial expressions, including rolling my eyes, sticking out my tongue and clucking.  Said performance tends to result in Little One laughing her head off.  For that payoff, I’ll do anything.  God, I’m such a sucker.

After that, we get into the Sesame Street songs.  My wife’s favorite is the one that goes “la-dee-dah-dee-dah, la-dee-dah-dee-dah, what’s the name of that song?”  As for me, I usually stick to “Counting to Four.”  You know, the one that goes “One, two, three, four monsters walking ‘cross the floor, one, two, three, four chickens just back from the shore, bawk, bawk, bah-bawk, bawk, bawk, bah-bawk, bawk.”

Just call me Uncle Chicken.

Dorothy and the Nabi

elmo dorothy

Now I’ve seen it all.

At my age, there’s not a whole lot that surprises me anymore.  But thanks to my little grandniece, yesterday I had what is, for me, a new experience.

I have attended a birthday party for a goldfish.

If you have a child under the age of five, or if you are familiar with Sesame Street, you probably know what I am talking about.

Apparently, our Muppet friend, Elmo, has a pet goldfish named Dorothy.  And yes, you guessed it, she’s another year older.

The special day was celebrated by adding a birthday cake toy to Dorothy’s fishbowl and by having all the kids demonstrate how they wrapped their gifts for their favorite ichthyologic friend.  Behind the window shade, Mr. Noodle appeared in the cloud window to further demonstrate gift wrapping technique, but not before wrapping himself in orange paper and winding an entire roll of tape around his neck and body.  Silly Mr. Noodle!

Following a segment showing how birthdays are celebrated around the world, Elmo closes by singing a rousing chorus of “for she’s a jolly good goldfish.”

Please tell me that Dorothy doesn’t have her own fan page on Facebook.  Oh, she does, huh?

Unlike Dorothy, my grandniece is not celebrating a birthday this week (she turned one year old about three months ago).  But that didn’t stop us from buying her a present anyway.

Nabi Jr
We found a good buy on a kids’ tablet computer known as a Nabi, Jr.  Now, the Nabi website says this product is for children ages 3 to 7.  But we know Little One is going to have a grand old time with it, judging by the way she plays with all of our iPhones.  We have to keep an eye on our phones or she will swipe them and disappear before we know what happened.  The fact that they may be plugged in to charge will in no way deter her.  She will simply tug on the cord until the phone comes loose.  Once in possession of said phone, she will touch every part of the screen with reckless abandon.  My grandniece’s explorations have resulted in her sending texts to our friends, making phone calls and even deleting most of our apps.

I think I get it.  Our phones are a whole lot more fun than a birthday party for Dorothy the fish.

We figure it won’t be long before Little One will be speaking to us in an intelligible manner, and we know how that scene will go.  I fully expect her first full sentence to be “I want my own iPhone!  Now now now!”

We will cross that bridge when we come to it.  For now, however, we know that she will go crazy over all the colors, the games, the drawing and music — both kids’ tunes and classical (Mendelssohn, anyone?).  Most importantly, she will get to touch every part of the screen and making fun things happen.  At least until she throws it across the room (she likes to fling things).

My wife and I were playing around with the Nabi after we got it charged up today.  I accessed an app called ABC Color, where, after reaching the letter E, I used the drawing tools that appeared at the bottom of the screen to fill in an outline picture of an elephant with a gray colored pencil.  Like any infant worth his salt, I was unable to stay within the lines.  No problem there; I simply used the eraser tool to make the picture look perfect.

Well, I’d better sign off here and get myself to bed.  I want to make sure to be up in time to see the look on my grandniece’s face when we present her with the Nabi.  And to hear the crash when she flings it into a corner to go play with a spoon or hide behind my mother-in-law’s easy chair.

So good night, and uh, happy birthday, Dorothy!  Or, in your language, glub glub.


Olympic Anticipation


We’ve been spending the evening watching the Dew Tour (Ion Mountain Championships) on DVR.  Freestyle skiing and slopestyle snowboarding from Breckenridge, Colorado.

This is the first qualifying event for the Winter Olympics in Sochi, Russia, a little over six weeks away.  You could say that we’re getting psyched.

We are not a sports family.  That’s putting it mildly.  None of us have an iota of interest in watching televised sports.  In the current vernacular, you could say I’ve “lost my man card” in that I don’t care a whit about football and won’t even watch the Super Bowl.  Ditto for the World Series.  I simply don’t care who’s playing, much less who wins or loses.

To me, it’s just a bunch of sweaty guys running around a field in goofy-looking uniforms.  I have better things to do.

But all that changes every other year when the Olympic Games approach.  Suddenly, my wife and I are glued to the TV, checking out the broadcast schedules and recording as much as we can fit on the DVR.

I don’t think I could come up with the name of a single person playing in any professional sport today.  But I know that Shaun White opted out of the slopestyle at Breckenridge due to an aggravation of an old injury, not because of the fall he sustained in the halfpipe.

I know.  This makes no sense at all.  It’s totally ridiculous.  And I have to laugh at myself, because it’s so unlike me.

And yet, I find myself looking forward to the slalom, the downhill, the luge, the graceful figure skaters performing their triple axels, salchows and lutzes.  The spectacular falls and crashes as well as the breathtaking successes.  The interviews, the coaches, the platforms and medals, the strange-sounding national anthems from around the world.

I think back to the opening ceremonies of last year’s Summer Olympics in London, and remember how I stared open-mouthed and wiped a tear from my eye.  The whole historical sequence of British life from agrarian days through the Industrial Revolution to the modern service economy.  The children from Great Ormond Street Hospital jumping on the beds before drifting off to sleep and having Mary Poppins and Captain Hook dance in their dreams.  The Mister Beans guy playing the same note over and over in the Chariots of Fire number.

It still gives me chills.

So what will the opening ceremonies look like in Sochi?  I can barely begin to speculate.  Will the classic works of Tolstoy, Pasternak, Dostoevsky and Turgenev be represented?  Will Rachmaninoff, Rimsky-Korsakov and Mussorgsky show up in the musical numbers?  And how will Russia’s long, colorful history be portrayed?

I can’t wait to find out.

Only 52 more days to go.

Not that I’m counting or anything.