Category Archives: Pop Culture

The Holy Bee’s 36 Hours of Christmas (Part 2)

It’s A Wonderful Life

This Frank Capra film was pretty much ignored when it came out in 1946, but it became a holiday staple when it went out of copyright in 1974, and dozens of local TV stations across the country ran it and re-ran it until everyone was thoroughly sick of it. NBC got its claws on it a few years back, and curtailed its infinite loop, usually showing it only twice during the holiday season.

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There are three types of people: 1) those who love the film despite being beat over the head with it on television for over thirty years, 2) those who despise it for its sappy sentimentality (and the incessant figurative head-beatings), and 3) those who have successfully avoided it for their entire lives. I fell into the latter category for most of my existence, and was content to remain there, until I was essentially forced to watch it by my wife’s family, who are all type one. As everyone was dissolving into big puddles of tears at the end, I found myself almost joining them. But through sheer grit, fortitude, and more than a little biting the inside of my cheeks, I succeeded in remaining stoic and dry-eyed. Take that, Capra. (SLEEP OPPORTUNITY: If you’re a type two and nothing will ever change that, go ahead and grab forty winks.)

So, yes, the movie is pretty good. Just as Miracle On 34th Street is surprising in how much of a sharp comedy it is, It’s A Wonderful Life often shocks first-time viewers by how grim it is, until the redemption in the last reel. (A Christmas Carol Trivia: Lionel Barrymore, who plays mean old Mr. Potter here, played Ebenezer Scrooge every year on an annual live radio broadcast of A Christmas Carol from the 1930s to the early 50s. He was supposed to play Scrooge in the 1938 film version, but had to drop out for health reasons, and was replaced by Reginald Owen. Some say Barrymore would have been the definitive film Scrooge had he made the movie.)

In order to convince NBC to share It’s A Wonderful Life this year, the Holy Bee had to agree to a little deal.

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RETURNING IN 2017 — WEDNESDAYS @ 8:00, ONLY ON NBC!!

Moving on…

Bad Santa

Up next is the polar (no pun intended) (not a pun, anyway) opposite of the Capra tearjerker, 2003’s Bad Santa — one of the crassest, foulest, and most lovable Christmas comedies in cinema history. The titular “bad Santa” is suicidal, late-stage alcoholic Willie T. Stokes (Billy Bob Thornton), who uses his yearly employment as a department store Santa to rob said department stores blind.

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When you peel back the surface crudity and wall-to-wall profanity, you find a film that actually has a lot of heart. The clever script, which received uncredited assistance from the Coen Brothers, who also produced, is never truly mean-spirited. (When Stokes shreds a child’s advent calendar and eats all of the chocolates in a drunken blackout, he at least tries to make amends by replacing the chocolates with NyQuil gelcaps and candy corn — “they can’t all be winners” — and taping it back up.) The direction by Terry Zwigoff (Crumb, Ghost World) is visually deft and quick-paced. There are also great supporting performances by two comic geniuses no longer with us: John Ritter as the timid department store manager, and Bernie Mac as the head of store security.

Sadly, Bad Santa 2, made this year by different writers and a different director, fails because it’s nothing but surface crudity, missing the poignancy and, yes, subtlety of the original. (SLEEP OPPORTUNITY: If the sight of Santa, red fuzzy Santa pants around his ankles, having loud back-door sex with a heavyset woman in a department store changing room, is just too much for you, grab your sleep now.)

Frosty The Snowman

Rankin/Bass is known mostly for its stop-motion animation, but it did produce the occasional traditional cel animation special from time to time. 1969’s Frosty the Snowman expands on the lyrics of the song (popularized by Gene Autry in 1950) by adding an evil magician, a rabbit named Hocus Pocus, and a race-against-time plot to get Frosty up to the North Pole so he won’t melt. The Big Man himself, Santa Claus, makes a cameo appearance to get the evil magician to change his ways — and write formal apology letters to everyone he had wronged! What it lacks in depth (even The Year Without A Santa Claus had a little bit of layering going on), it makes up for in brevity (it sails across the finish line in about 25 minutes), along with the voices of long-forgotten comedian Jackie Vernon as Frosty, and Jimmy Durante as the narrator — and singer of the theme song, which he performs in his unique style.

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Red Skelton’s Christmas Dinner

Like Emmett Otter’s Jug Band Christmas, this is an old childhood favorite from 1981 that was shown on HBO for many years. Wholesome family entertainer Red Skelton, like Andy Williams, had politics slightly to the right of Barry Goldwater, but boy was he gifted in the art of pantomime and character creation. He also had a slightly creepy obsession with clowns. He did over 1000 clown paintings though the years. (When asked why, he said “I have a reason…but I don’t want to talk about it.” Creepy, right?)

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It wasn’t actually in black-and-white, but was so old-fashioned it might as well have been

Luckily for everyone, the clown he played in person wasn’t creepy at all, but utterly charming. “Freddy the Freeloader” was a typical “hobo” style clown, with minimal make-up, a battered hat, and the stump of an unlit cigar in the corner of his mouth. He has scraped together enough funds to treat himself and his pal, “The Professor,” to a nice Christmas dinner, but gets sidetracked by various distractions along the way, including returning a lost dog to its owner, and asking a Christmas tree vendor what he can get for twenty-five cents. (“A pine cone on the end of a plumber’s helper” is the response.) Out of everything here, this may rank the highest on the Syrupy Sweetness Scale (at one point he entertains a literal hospital full of sick children), but if your fillings can take it, it’s worth it to see Skelton in all his mawkish glory, ably supported by Vincent Price as the Professor, and Imogene Coca as a rather absent-minded lady hobo.

Home Alone

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Whatever, kid

I only included this one because the KHBE office would be flooded with mail if I didn’t. Personally, I don’t care for it. The sadistic cartoon slapstick of the “Wet Bandits” is lame, and Macaulay Culkin’s performance is the worst kind of artificial child-acting — alternately hammy and robotic. There appears to be very little going on behind his slightly out-of-focus eyes. Enjoy, if this is what does it for you. (This space could just as easily be filled by The Santa Clause, which I also don’t care for, mostly because if it involves Tim Allen, and isn’t a Toy Story, it will give me painful hives.)

A Colbert Christmas: The Greatest Gift of All

The old-fashioned Bing Crosby-style Christmas special, by turns staid and silly, has always been ripe for parody. As the A.V. Club website points out, “this type of TV programming is kept alive in the public imagination largely by those making fun of it.” But nobody did it better than Stephen Colbert in 2008. Still using his self-aggrandizing, blowhard “Stephen Colbert” persona from The Colbert Report, he gambols about in a cardigan sweater on an absurdly bright “mountain cabin” set, answering the door for “surprise” guests (including Toby Keith, and a bear), and eschewing traditional Christmas songs in favor of “Little Dealer Boy” (a duet with Willie Nelson) and “Can I Interest You In Hanukkah?” (a duet with Jon Stewart.)

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Continue reading

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The Holy Bee’s 36 Hours of Christmas (Part 1)

At the end of last year’s “24 Hours of Halloween” — a marathon of spooky movies and TV shows curated by me for my imaginary TV station (“KHBE”) — I remarked jokingly that “48 Hours of Christmas” would follow. The joke turned quite serious when I realized I was short a Christmas entry this year. So the project is on!

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The first thing that struck me was that actually watching a 48 hour marathon would stretch the limits of human endurance, unless a very different kind of Christmas “snow” was involved. Thirty-six hours is just about do-able, and I’ll be offering suggestions as to when to catch some shut-eye. Also, have some food on hand. In fact, go ahead and have some turkey. That whole thing about tryptophan making you sleepy is just as big a bullshit myth as sugar causing hyperactivity (so quit making excuses for your poorly-behaved children.)

Part of what made the original “24 Hours of Halloween” marathon work was that my notional cable station would run the programs commercial-free, and start everything promptly on the 0s and 5s. Any one-to-four-minute downtime between shows would be filled by quips and double-entendres from everyone’s favorite horror hostess, Elvira, Mistress of the Dark. Since no equivalent pop-culture icon could fill her dress in a Christmas capacity, I decided to go ahead and pack those tiny spaces with commercials — but only vintage, holiday-themed commercials from the late 70s to the early 90s.

You want Hershey’s Kisses ringing like bells? You got it. (This one still pops up on real TV from time to time.)

You want Ronald McDonald ice-skating? You got it.

You want Joe College, in that horrid cable-knit sweater, home for winter break and waking up the whole damn house by brewing a pot of Folger’s? You got it.

And more Budweiser clydesdales than you can shake a peppermint stick at.

If there’s any other awkwardly-timed space to be filled, KHBE will just show footage of a Yule log for a few moments, maybe with some tasteful snippets of Mannheim Steamroller in the background.

(You’ll notice there’s not a lot of Disney stuff here, and that’s because Disney never really “did” Christmas very much, or all that well. I think they see Christmas as a competing brand of magical happiness. Maybe I’ll throw in that Chip ‘n’ Dale short where they hide from Donald Duck in the Christmas tree in the place of a few vintage commercials.)

The “36 Hours of Christmas” marathon will run from noon on December 22nd to midnight on the 23rd, so you can get a good night’s sleep and be up (bright-eyed and bushy-tailed) on Christmas Eve morning, and are able to stop being a lazy shut-in, and handle all of your family obligations. For those bound and determined to continue being a lazy shut-in, and/or those whose families are annoying fundamentalists or obnoxious Trump voters who can’t stop making quasi-racist remarks over the figgy pudding, the marathon will re-run in its entirety through the 24th and 25th. You’re welcome.

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These marathons don’t just organize themselves

OK, the clock is striking twelve, you’ve cashed in some vacation hours from work, you’ve dumped a splash of peppermint schnapps into your hot cocoa (yes it’s noon, but no one will judge you), and you find KHBE down in the 800s of deep cable…what do we start with?

Santa Claus Is Comin’ To Town

What better way to kick things off than with a bunch of creepy, plastic talking dolls? Over the past five decades, the Rankin/Bass production company has become practically synonymous with “kids’ TV Christmas specials,” and their stop-motion “Animagic” aesthetic (a song every few minutes, polyester snow, jerky, spastic movements and lifelessly staring eyes for the characters) is as beloved by some as a favorite ugly sweater.

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Another reason we start the marathon here, besides the general ubiquitousness of Rankin/Bass at yuletide, is that it’s an origin story. 1970’s Santa Claus Is Comin’ To Town, based on the 1934 song by the wonderfully-named songwriting team of Coots & Gillespie, explains how an orphan child, who was left on a doorstop with the nametag “Claus” around his neck, was taken in and raised by a family of toy-making elves (the Kringles), and grew up to be the familiar figure of Santa. He had to work his way up to delivering on a global scale. He started by bringing happiness to the gloomy children of Sombertown, although his methods may raise an eyebrow or two. During the song “If You Sit On My Lap Today (Be Prepared To Pay),” a beardless young Kris Kringle (voiced by well-known degenerate letch Mickey Rooney) demands a kiss from every child before he will give them their present. No wonder Burgermeister Meisterburger wanted to kick his ass out of town and back over the Mountain of Whispering Winds. Continue reading

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Confessions Of A Hardcore Gamer*

*Not really.

But the engrossing, soul-consuming world of computer gaming is the reason I’mvault-boy taking forever to finish the multi-part series of blog entries I foolishly promised last month. In order to finish that series, there’s lots of stuff I have to read first, and who has time for reading boring old books when I can be crafting mods for my .308 combat rifle with the calibrated receiver, recoil compensated stock and reflex sight (nicknamed “Thunder”) or my laser rifle with the maximized capacitor, full stock, and beam focuser (“Lightning”)?

Or I can be magnanimously providing clean water options for tiny, post-apocalyptic survivor communities, or accepting assassination contracts on chem dealers preying on the inner cities, or protecting the settlers at Oberland Station from an onslaught of green-skinned Super Mutants and nefarious Raiders.

I should add that I also have a .50 sniper rifle with a night scope, a souped-up .10 mm pistol (“Cobra”), a .44 revolver that fires two projectiles with a single trigger pull (“Double-Down”), and a short-barreled, close-range shotgun that adds 10% plasma pulse damage with every hit (“Barker”). I can also build picket fences, practice taxidermy on horribly mutated wildlife, and select tasteful artwork for settlement walls, among a thousand other options.

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Yes, I am three weeks in to Fallout 4 (level 40 as of this writing), and I feel like I’ve barely scratched the surface of the incredibly intense, rich world the good folks over at Bethesda Softworks have concocted to gobble up every second of my free time. My formerly rewarding career is now merely the 8 hours a day in between Fallout 4 sessions. Family? One son is leaving soon for college, and the other is a sophomore in high school who spends most of his time in his room with the door firmly closed. My beautiful wife has her own obsessions (she is a chronic Candy Crusher and binge-watcher of various Netflix shows), so she doesn’t begrudge me mine. Books go unread on the end table (including the ones needed to complete the blog series). My TiVo has been on the fritz for almost two months, recording nothing, and I’ve barely noticed.

Funny thing is, I have had far less experience with video games than most people of my generation. For large chunks of my life, I’ve had no interest in video games whatsoever. But it’s been a long, multi-decade dance of seduction. Video games and I would flirt, move closer for awhile, then split apart for months or years, until I was drawn in again, and the process would repeat itself.

Pitfall!_CoverartUs Gen Xers were at the forefront of home gaming systems, not counting the archaic, late-70s Pong. (Pong was what Mom & Dad and older sister idly played in the downtime between our Kraft mac & cheese dinner and the latest episode of Alice.)

Like many others my age, I navigated Pitfall Harry over crocodile-infested ponds, and guided a weird, square-ish Pac Man around his maze, devouring dots with a loud “bonk”ing sound completely unlike the arcade version. This was 1983, or the “Summer of the Atari 2600.”

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I even had the infamous E.T. game, which we picked up for a dollar at a garage sale. Its reputation is well-deserved.

After the appeal of maneuvering indistinct blobs of pixels randomly around my TV wore off, video games and I parted ways for a long time.

Pac-Man_Atari_2600_GameplayThe original, iconic Nintendo Entertainment System hit store shelves when I was about eleven or twelve, and I suppose I could have had one if I wanted one, but I couldn’t care less. I thought of myself as above it all. I was reading Tolkein and Asimov and Vonnegut. I was an intellectual. Literally every single one of my friends had it, though, and I was often cajoled into joining them in a rousing round of Duck Hunt, silently seething every time that idiot dog giggled at me for missing both ducks. My eye-hand coordination was never (and still isn’t) anything to write home about, which is why I took no interest in sports, either. I just consoled myself with John Irving novels and the knowledge that I was superior.

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Except I wasn’t. I soon discovered some deeply-buried pleasure center in my brain stem was tickled by Tetris, which I played at a girlfriend’s house until falling blocks and 8-bit versions of Russian classical music played in my head as I was trying to fall asleep hours later.

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At a later girlfriend’s house (I was a senior in high school by this time), I discovered her younger sister (a sophomore) had an NES in her room. Big deal, right? You bet it was a big deal — I discovered this obscure little title called Super Mario Brothers, and it was all I wanted to do. I spent a wildly inappropriate amount of time in my girlfriend’s sister’s Super_Mario_Bros._(NA)bedroom.

The girlfriend was understandably concerned, and asked me a number of pointed, suspicious questions. But the fact that I only had eyes for bricks, mushrooms, turtles, and Italian plumbers emanated from every fiber of my being. She correctly concluded the situation was harmless, and the obsession would pass.

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Flash forward a year or so. The same girlfriend was now working a full-time job. I was bopping around community college and working part-time at a video store — that also rented video games. This was the early 1990s — the grand era of Super Nintendo vs. Sega Genesis. The girlfriend still lived with her parents and had nothing to spend her relatively massive paycheck on, so she bought me one of the new Super Nintendo systems, which we used to play one game and one game only — Super Mario Kart. (“Press ‘B’ To Start.”)

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This is where my lack of true video game interest rears its head again. I had free and total access to my store’s massive stock of rental games. I touched almost none of them. I did not care for any of the sports games. No NHL ‘94 or Madden NFL for me. I thought the super popular “fighting” games were especially ludicrous — the various Mortal Kombats and Street Fighters could all be thrown in the river as far as I was concerned. The early quest-based fantasy RPG games like Legend of Zelda: A Link To The Past were just too visually primitive to hold my interest. I was anti-Sega for very good reasons that I have long since forgotten, so Sonic the Hedgehog remained a stranger. Continue reading

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I’m Using “1989” In A Blog, Where Do I Send The Check? (Part 2)

track-500x339“I Wish You Would” (this particular song has pretty much nothing to do with what follows, but it’s the only track off 1989 that I couldn’t stretch to fit my narrative.)

As should be clear by now, I was a movie fan, which meant I would check out whatever was new that week at the multiplex, with no real discernment. If one movie was sold out, I just went to the next one down the list. (I became a pickier, snobbier “cinephile” a few years later after having my world rocked by Reservoir Dogs.)

1989 was the first year of many years in which I picked up a copy of Leonard49f88b938e217bb593378795367434f414f4141-1 Maltin’s TV Movies & Video Guide. This tome was the size of a small brick, and was “the essential reference for home video rental, featuring…18,000 films!” It was the Internet before the Internet.

So I had been marking life milestones by what movie I had seen most recently. (The start of summer vacation was not only Tienanmen Sqaure, but also Weekend At Bernie’s.) One of the many changes wrought by 1989 was that my personal events began being marked more and more by music. The big summer albums, as I recall, were the B-52s’ Cosmic Thing and the Tom Petty solo album Full Moon Fever. The strains of “Love Shack” and “Free Fallin’” saturated the hot, dry Northern California air. One celebratory, one regretful and elegiac. It was kind of the sound of the 80s dying, though no one thought of them that way then.

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For a little bit longer, though, movies were still my markers, and the last movie I saw before high school was The Abyss. It was the night before Locker Day. Locker Day was the first big event before school actually started, and, as the name suggests, it’s when you get your locker assignment in the high school hallways. It’s also when you get your list of classes. Nick made the trek up from Robbins to see the movie, sleep over, and get his locker with me the next morning. But something had irrevocably changed.

He was on the high school football team.

220px-TheAbyssHe was still the amiable, slightly goofy guy prone to malapropisms (he once said “douche” instead of “tush” when someone drew a girl’s backside in a family game of Pictionary — my mom laughs about that to this day.) But practices had already started, and he no sooner set foot in my new Yuba City place than he had to dash off and put on the pads and helmet for the whole afternoon. He barely made it back in time to get changed for the movie. I have to admit, I felt a little jilted.

It got worse. After we got our lockers the next morning, we met up with his new friends — the football team — to walk to Carl’s Jr. for breakfast. Carl’s Jr. wasn’t exactly adjacent to the high school, and over the course of the kind-of long walk, I felt more and more out of place and uncomfortable. By the walk back, I was trailing behind by half-a-block. No one noticed, as they playfully shoved each other and made rude-jock jokes. Nick had found his tribe, almost immediately, and never looked back. As George Gobel once said, “Did you ever get the feeling that the world was a tuxedo, and you were a pair of brown shoes?”

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I have my 1989-90 yearbook and a scanner, so you get a genuine look at Locker Day

“Blank Space”

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Freshman class pic, Sept. ’89. The amount of hairspray seen here may be solely responsible for the hole in the ozone layer

I didn’t dwell on it, though. I was far too excited about the prospect of starting high school. A clean slate, a chance to reinvent myself. I may not have been on the football team, but that didn’t mean I couldn’t peddle my own brand of awesomeness. I never lacked for self-confidence (at least, not yet), but I really was just a puppy tripping over his own paws. I received my class list and locator card that Locker Day, and saw that I had English C, Intro to Physical Science (IPS), Geography C, P.E., Computer Literacy, and Integrated Math. I was in the college-prep C-level humanities classes, but math was my Achilles heel, and “Integrated Math” just meant “pre-algebra.” To my horror, I discovered that “Computer Literacy” was basically a keyboarding class. It didn’t take. I’m typing this right now with two fingers and a thumb. And damn fast, too.

In English class one of our first assignments was an autobiographical essay about a meaningful event in our lives. I wrote about the trip I took to Washington D.C. the previous year. I had always been interested in writing, but I mostly wrote fiction. This wasn’t the first autobiographical essay I had written for a class, but it was the first one I tried to make entertaining and resonant, to inject with some of the passion I used for my made-up stories. “This is really good…” the teacher scrawled at the bottom when the paper was returned. The Holy Bee of Ephesus may just have been hatched at that moment.

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Our brand new sign. We really won the mascot jackpot.

I desperately wanted to begin my dating life. After all, here was a guy who already made out with a girl (albeit in a clinical, pre-arranged ritual that could be qualified as “bizarre” — see previous entry — but it counts!) My entire notion of dating consisted of asking someone to the movies. Or possibly bowling. I couldn’t wait to get started. How hard could it be? The second or third day of school I spotted a likely prospect in my Geography C class.

She was incredibly cute. (I didn’t yet grasp the fact that “boxing above your weight class” could be metaphorical and applied outside the sport of boxing.) She was quirky and unconventional. She carried around a clarinet. She wore loud green-and-purple checkered pants that looked like something out of the Joker’s closet. She sometimes wore a beret. The pop-culture term had not yet been coined, but she looked like a Manic Pixie Dream Girl.

On some pretense, I began a conversation with her. Then I clumsily popped the clutch and lurched into asking her to the movies. I don’t remember her exact response, I just know we did not go to the movies, then or ever. And she did not conceal her disdain in prognosticating, in no uncertain terms, that the possibility of any interaction with her at any point in the future was a highly unlikely proposition. I felt like a dog swatted on the nose with a newspaper. Not really hurt, just chagrined and embarrassed. Manic Pixie Dream Girls aren’t supposed to be mean.

I vowed to do better with the next girl that came along. Maybe lay a little groundwork before proffering the date within five minutes of speaking to her for the first time. I already had a few in my sights, including one I would I would doggedly and ineptly pursue, Wile E. Coyote-style, off and on for the next two years. (Check out This Used To Be My Playground Part 4: Kryptonite and Stomach-Aches for a flash-forward into the early 90s to see how that adventure turned out. She may just as well have painted a tunnel on the side of a cliff.)

YC emblemOpportunities abounded, or at least I thought they did. Sometime in early September, one girl threw a night-time birthday party with a blanket invitation to the entire freshman class. It was at a park — a park one block away from my house! I eagerly trotted over as dusk settled in. It wasn’t exactly the entire freshman class, but it was quite a crowd. And I knew none of them. The ones I recognized from my classes were already talking to other people. I wandered around aimlessly, had a cup of punch, and went back home, wondering what I thought was supposed to happen, and how come it was so easy for everyone else? I realized it had a lot to do with middle school. Most of the freshman class already had pre-existing relationships with people they went to middle school with (a situation that will come up again later.) That made me feel better. I decided at the next high school social event, I needed a wingman that I knew from middle school, a Goose to my Maverick, a Wedge to my Luke. Nick was already skyrocketing to the top of the social strata and had no time to help out. That left my other Robbins friend, Dusty.

The first dance of the year was coming up – the “Beanie Ball,” hosted by the sophomores to welcome incoming freshmen. I convinced Dusty to make the trip up to Yuba City and go in with me, Butch & Sundance-style, guns blazing.

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A typical YCHS Dance, 1989. I don’t know if this was the Beanie Ball or not, but it certainly could’ve been.

The one potential stumbling block to my cunning plan was that neither one of us could dance. Or at least we couldn’t “fast dance,” so our all-out assault consisted of standing stock-still, drinking cup after cup of Pepsi, and going to the bathroom every fifteen minutes. We watched as our classmates did the Cabbage Patch and the Roger Rabbit all around us while “Bust A Move” by Young MC or “She Drives Me Crazy” by Fine Young Cannibals boomed from the speakers.

What we were doing was working up the nerve to ask a girl we sort of knew to let us put our arms clumsily around them and sway-and-rotate to a slow number. That was a dance move we could handle. But finding a partner was nerve-wracking. “Right Here Waiting” by Richard Marx came and went. “Lost In Your Eyes” by Debbie Gibson came and went.

Then something like “Chances” by Roxette would pop up and no one would know if it was supposed to be fast dance or slow dance song. We were running out time. Finally I spotted a pair of girls I recognized from a class, and had briefly exchanged a few words with. They were even guardedly friendly, unlike mean ol’ Joker-pants. Good enough. Dusty and I locked our s-foils into attack position and moved in.

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This is the real deal, according to the yearbook caption. The Beanie Ball. Dusty & I were in that mass of swaying, sweaty humanity somewhere.

Yelling to make ourselves heard over the likes of “Rhythm Nation” and “Once Bitten, Twice Shy,” we made inane conversation with Brenda and Nikki for just long enough to get to the crucial awkward pause — where we had to ask them to dance, or move on, defeated. I turned off my targeting computer, used the Force, and pulled the trigger…successfully. We got our slow dance. It was “Eternal Flame” by The Bangles.

I spent the weekend swooning over Brenda. (Not her real name, BTW. I used her real name once in a blog a couple of years ago, never in a million years thinking she would ever actually read it, but somehow she did and let me know that the real-life, grown-up woman she became was more than a little embarrassed by the whole deal. Fair enough.) She was on the tall side, with shoulder-length dark hair and dark eyes. She admitted she wanted to be a model, and she just maybe could have pulled it off.

Hurricane Hugo hit a few days after the Beanie Ball, doing to the Carolina coast what Brenda was doing to my psyche.

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I literally cannot remember ever having any further interaction with poor Dusty at any time after that. He had served his purpose.

With thoughts of Brenda spinning in my head, I made another attempt to climb the high school social ladder, with predictable results… Continue reading

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I’m Using “1989” In A Blog, Where Do I Send The Check? (Part 1)

Taylor Swift is described in every article ever written about her as a “savvy businesswoman,” but that’s like calling the Grand Canyon a “big ol’ ditch.” She is at this point a walking, talking corporation. When the Supreme Court first established the concept of “corporate personhood,” it seemed more of a conceptual, legal thing. But no. America, we have seen a corporation take literal human form, and its name is Taylor Swift.

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“Human” might be stretching it. Via the dark web, I have proof that she was actually created in an underground lab in 2005 from an unholy primordial soup of rose petals, Diet Coke, and cheekbones by the Universal Music Group in order to shore up their country music division. In a shocking turn of events, she pried off her restraining bolt and went rogue. She incorporated herself (much like The Terminator’s Skynet becoming “self-aware”), and became a multi-genre, multi-media assassin android, destroying rivals and haters with T-1000 intensity and protecting her “brand” with animal ferocity. She now morphs and evolves into something more plastic and ruthless by the month. It is a wonder to behold.

Taylor_Swift_-_1989Her brand protection includes trademarking some key lyrics from her massive 2014 album 1989. A typically cunning move, but it’s been blown up into a minor brouhaha recently because a few Twitter idiots (Twitiots?) wondered how a person could copyright a year.

Well, you can’t, of course, and that’s not what she did.

However, it got me thinking. If a person could own a year, I think I would pick 1989, too.

1989 is allegedly the year Swift was born (but we know the truth, don’t we?), and it was also the year I was born — or at least the year I developed into the person whose words you’re yawning through now. Admittedly, the blessed event when my actual physical body entered the world was a decade-and-a-half earlier, but it was 1989’s experiences that made me the adult I am today (if I can be called an adult as I sit here in Star Wars boxers thinking up android metaphors to describe Taylor Swift.) It was also an altogether eventful, remarkable year even outside my little bubble world. I would like a tiny slice of ownership of 1989.

“Clean”

Like most new years, 1989 kicked off with a feeling of fresh starts. It was theThe Beatles Help - Longbox 405846 beginning of my CD collection. I had just received a CD player for Christmas, so I started by buying all the Beatles albums, one a week, for thirteen straight weeks. Exactly fifteen dollars a pop (my entire weekly allowance), they still came in wasteful foot-long, shrink-wrapped cardboard long boxes, solely because stores hadn’t yet converted the deep bins that used to hold their vinyl LPs.

The first significant event I can remember from 1989 was the inauguration of George H.W. Bush as the 41st President of the United States on January 20…and I couldn’t be happier. Yes, at the age of fourteen, I was a hardcore Republican. Like most fourteen-year-olds, I liked winners, and after eight years of growing up middle-class in good ol’ Reagan’s America, the Democrats had the stink of weak, stagnant losers. I was a budding history buff, so the Republicans to me were the party of Abe Lincoln and Teddy Roosevelt. I was a military buff, so their strong-on-defense stance and airstrike-happy mentality (take that, Gaddafi!) was enormously appealing. Who could possibly choose that blobby nebbish Dukakis over the steely-eyed WWII pilot “Read My Lips” Bush?

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“Shake It Off”

So, how long did it take for the Republicans to lose this potential voter? Not much longer. A little college and a lot of real world observation shook off the final foul traces of political conservatism from me. And the Republicans did most of it to themselves. Some time between 1989 and Clinton’s second term, the GOP cheerfully opted to voluntarily devolve from “conservative” to a howling pack of pea-brained ghouls. If their platform all along was a raging hard-on for personally-owned assault weapons and a totally misapplied obsession with the Bible, coupled with a slobbering hatred of gays and a deep-seated need to oppress women and anyone half-a-shade darker than Wayne Newton, well,  that would have turned away even 14-year-old me.

Where’s all the Bob Doles these days? When a sentient clown shoe like Dan Quayle would be a breath of fresh air compared to 2016’s slate of GOP candidates, you know the party’s hit rock-bottom.  I try not to get too political here, but the 2016 election, so far, in particular has shown that latter-day Republicans have generally not developed far past the mental age of fourteen.

Anyway, back to me being fourteen…January 20 was a Friday, and I remember watching Bush’s inaugural address on a TV wheeled into my 8th grade classroom.

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The homestead for the 1st half of ’89

At an age when most other kids were deep into real middle school — “junior high” — learning to hustle from class to class, slamming locker doors and trying to beat the tardy bell, I was still in what was essentially an elementary school. Robbins School, K through 8th grade, was at the time the smallest school in the Yuba City Unified School district. Located about thirty miles south of Yuba City itself, it served the tiny town of Robbins (pop. 250 in ‘89) and its tractor-intensive rural surroundings. I was one of nine eighth-graders. All seventh and eighth grade classes were taught in the same room, usually by the same person (Mr. Perkins, who was also the principal, assisted by a rogue’s gallery of student teachers wondering who they pissed off to end up there). We didn’t even live in Robbins proper, but in more isolated surroundings — a rented farmhouse about four miles out of town, where the tranquility was frequently broken by miscellaneous motorized equipment rumbling through our gravel carport to service the thirteen acres of walnut trees surrounding us, and the deafening dive-bombing of radial-engine crop dusters seeding and fertilizing the open fields on either side of the property. (They were not precision vehicles — seeds rained down on our house like hail with each pass, and one summer our corrugated porch roof sported a healthy little crop of sunflowers.)

“Style”

SCN_0036That winter I was fond of wearing a heavy nylon bomber jacket with a fake fur collar. Not long after the accompanying photo was taken, I began decorating it with vintage USAAF pins I’d acquired at a flea market, including pilot’s wings and captain’s bars on the shoulders. The cool kids — consisting solely of Nick and Abel — tightly pegged their stonewashed 501s at the ankle, whereas my hopelessly uncool cuffs flopped around my shoe tops. (By the time I started pegging my pants the next year, the trend was over and I was hopelessly uncool in the opposite direction.)

I had only started at Robbins Elementary at the beginning of 7th grade, and I was lucky that Nick, the alpha-dog kid who had ruled the place since kindergarten, decided I was OK and served as my best friend for a couple of years. The pictures here were taken at Robbins School for reasons unknown (I think I was trying to make some kind of photo-journalistic scrapbook), but I remember it was Valentine’s Day, 1989. Continue reading

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The Holy Bee Recommends, #14: “Sinatra: The Chairman” (and to a lesser extent, “Frank: The Voice”) by James Kaplan

“Frank Sinatra saved my life once. I was jumped by a bunch of guys in a parking lot. They were beating me with blackjacks. Sinatra said, ‘Okay, boys, that’s enough…'”                                                                                  –Shecky Greene

I have never been a huge fan of Frank Sinatra, but I certainly can’t deny he was one of the foremost musical artists of the 20th century. (I’m not a fan of ballet or musical theater either, but would never deny the skill and talent required to do them well.) I’ve tried to get into Sinatra, but for all the praise heaped on him for his “phenomenal phrasing” and his way of “living the emotion of a lyric,” my rock-raised ears can’t get around the fact that everything he’s done now sounds dated and hokey. It’s grandfather music. Or nowadays, great-grandfather music. It’s polite. Which makes it all the more wonder that it comes from perhaps one of the most impolite human beings that ever existed. Sinatra may have hated rock — and he did, with all the passion his passionate nature could muster — but in personality and demeanor, he was first rock star, maybe even the first punk (although to someone of Sinatra’s generation, “punk” was a grievous insult.)

The post-1954 Frank Sinatra as depicted by James Kaplan (and many others) is, more often than not, a generally unpleasant person. Thoughtless, hyper-sensitive, and supremely self-centered at the best of times, he often melted down into rages that were literally toddler-like: screaming, throwing things, breaking things, hitting people — because he didn’t get his way on some minor matter. When asked why those close to him tolerated it, they usually said something about his formidable charm and bottomless generosity when his mood was lighter…and of course that talent, and “that voice.” But for a reader like myself who isn’t a particular fan of “that voice,” his behavior is inexcusable. His story, however, is fascinating…

Sinatra: The Chairman is the just-published second of a two-volume biography by Kaplan, but the first, Frank: The Voice (2010), feels like nothing more than an extended prologue, chronicling the singer’s early years in Hoboken (as an indulged only child of a lower-middle class family, not the tough street gangster he claimed to be), his rise to fame as a skinny, bow-tied “crooner” singing with the big bands in the 1940s, and finally his temporary plunge into semi-obscurity. (Peter Guralnick’s two-volume Elvis Presley biography has the opposite issue; the first volume, Last Train To Memphis, is riveting, and the second, Careless Love, feels like a perfunctory denouement.)

Kaplan’s first volume lingers for its entire final third on those wilderness years of 1950-53 — dumped by Columbia Records and MGM, Sinatra limped through hosting a short-lived, low-rated variety show on CBS, sang to half-filled halls, and clung to fame primarily through his rocky marriage to rising star Ava Gardner. Frank: The Voice ends in early 1954 on a note of triumph — it’s Oscar night and Sinatra has just won Best Supporting Actor for From Here To Eternity (he had begged for the role when no one wanted to hire him.) The ink has just dried on his contract with Capitol Records, where his newly-matured voice and partnership with a number of gifted arrangers (Nelson Riddle foremost among them) put him at the forefront of American popular music.

This is where Sinatra: The Chairman begins, and rewards the reader for making the slog through Frank: The Voice. This is where we get the Sinatra we want to hear about — the Mafia ties, the brawls, the womanizing, the Rat Pack, the iconic Capitol albums, the dabbling in Kennedy-era politics…Kaplan does not disappoint. When I call the first volume a slog, that’s not a knock on Kaplan’s writing. In both books it’s wonderful, almost novelistic prose. What I mean is Sinatra’s early years, personally and professionally, are his least interesting. 1954 and beyond is where the real meat is.

Kaplan weaves Sinatra’s story in and out of a larger cultural picture. Like the first volume, a generous portion of Sinatra: The Chairman focuses on a few key years, in this case, 1960 to 1963, when Sinatra parked himself at an exciting and somewhat dangerous intersection of entertainment, organized crime (he was friends with Chicago mob boss Sam Giancana), and politics (he lobbied hard for JFK in the 1960 presidential campaign, and even partied with the Massachusetts senator several times early on, before Kennedy wisely began distancing himself.) Kaplan explains and intercuts all of these meticulously-researched threads without ever losing momentum, with a keen eye for the details he knows we want, and never becoming salacious or losing his academic tone. As we move through the 1960s, Kaplan also begins intercutting Sinatra’s story with the rise of the Beatles (by implication declaring them the other great musical phenomenon of the 20th century), and the rapidly-changing face of popular music in that decade. The sands once again shift beneath Sinatra’s feet as he ages out of any real relevance everywhere but Vegas showrooms and the cocktail parties of old Palm Springs millionaires. (Admittedly, it’s pretty cool that the marquees in Vegas would simply say “HE’S HERE” with no further information needed.)

Biographies sometimes find it difficult to strike a balance between telling the story of a life, and examining the work that life produced. They often either dwell on their subject’s psyche, or read like a chronological resume of projects. Kaplan does an excellent job interspersing Sinatra’s films and recordings into the overall picture, giving a good impression of what clicked and what didn’t, both with the artist himself (Sinatra did not care much for “Strangers In The Night,” and absolutely hated “My Way”), and with the public that paid for the results. Continue reading

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The Holy Bee’s 2015 Halloween Special: 24 Hours of Halloween (Part 2)

10:00 — 11:35: Halloween

large_vjoOFOTBJcJvA1weJejlZ92LZD4The Holy Bee has already dedicated a “Halloween Special” post to his ill-advised, but ultimately successful, attempt to watch all eight original Halloween films in a row. I’m pretty sure we need only bother with the first one here, 1978’s Halloween, directed, co-written, and scored by John Carpenter. That three-note synth riff has become synonymous with slasher films, and almost as well known as the Jaws theme. Film historians have had a long-running debate about what constitutes a true “slasher” film, or what the first one was. Whether or not Halloween was the first slasher film, it certainly put all the tropes together in a stylish way, and more importantly, it was a pretty solid commercial success.

Success breeds imitators, and wherever Halloween’s place is in the origin of the genre, it opened the floodgates to the Golden Age of Slashers. Halloween’s superhuman, knife-wielding killer Michael Myers established a formula followed by at least two other slasher film series of the 1980s, beginning with Friday the 13th (1980) and its Jason Voorhees, and A Nightmare On Elm Street (1984) and its Freddy Krueger. There were also dozens of others of lesser repute, and those usually sprouted a franchise of their own since they were so damn inexpensive to produce.

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Unlike its later knock-offs, Halloween is almost Hitchcockian, pretty much bloodless, and except for a few flashes of nudity, could probably play uncut on network television. Carpenter’s film succeeds on camera work and atmosphere, which cannot be said for the others, and cannot even be said for subsequent Halloween films, which were in the hands of lesser talents than Carpenter.

11:35 — 12:00: NewsRadio (Season 3, Episode 5: “Halloween”)

NewsRadio was one of the most underrated shows of the 90s, and was one of the of the last great three-camera, live-audience sitcoms. (And before anyone says anything about Big Bang Theory or something like that, remember I said “great”.) Its best moments were in the same league as Taxi or Cheers, although it lacked those shows’ richness. I suppose it was more comparable to Night Court when it was at its mid-run peak, if anyone remembers that. Almost a television version of a comic strip. The ensemble cast boasts two genuine comedy geniuses (Dave Foley and the late Phil Hartman), future Serious Actress (Maura Tierney) before she became a fixture on E.R., and two future nutcases (Andy Dick and Joe Rogan) before they went barking mad. 51lg6TV3jUL._SX940_

The show’s real treasure, though, was Stephen Root as the eccentric billionaire who owns the radio station, and in this episode refuses to invite the staff to his annual Halloween party. When asked why, he mentions that at his last Halloween party, the staff were, as he puts it, “too cool for school,” refusing to wear costumes and participate in the party games. He relents after they beg him to reconsider, leading to the show’s payoff — After frantically trying to think of a costume idea, in desperation Dave Foley asks to borrow Maura Tierney’s new cocktail dress, which leads to Foley revisiting his Kids In The Hall days and appearing in full drag…and looking quite fetching, actually. Tierney is in a  mysterious foul mood for the remainder of the episode. When Foley finally asks why she is sulking, she explodes “Because you look better in my dress than I do!”

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12:00 — 1:25: The Monster Squad

A flop upon release, The Monster Squad (1987) has developed a dedicated cult following over the past couple of decades, despite the fact it was a pretty obvious attempt to recreate The Goonies, right down to the slightly older tough kid and the token fat kid (simply referred to throughout the film as “Fat Kid.”) However, The Monster Squad has its own charms, not least the inclusion of the full gamut of classic movie monsters.

monster_squadThrough a series of convoluted circumstances, Count Dracula and cohorts are very real, very alive (or at least very undead), and wreaking havoc on a quiet 1980s suburban neighborhood. The only ones to take the threat seriously are Sean and Patrick, a pair of earnest, slightly nerdy middle schoolers who have a “monster club” in a treehouse right out of an Our Gang short. They are happy to be joined by the super cool older delinquent Rudy, though it’s for less than wholesome purposes. (The treehouse has an unobstructed view of Patrick’s older sister’s bedroom. And you know Rudy’s a delinquent because he wears shades and a leather jacket and chews a matchstick.) The club’s activities are usually restricted to drawing pictures and writing stories, but when people begin turning up dead, they piece together the clues, arm themselves with stakes and silver, and go into battle.

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Despite, or because of, all its juvenile silliness (including its now-classic line from Fat Kid: “Wolfman’s got nards!” after he delivers a solid kick to the werewolf’s nether regions), there is a lot to enjoy here, including a fully committed performance by Duncan Regehr as Count Dracula, a poignant subplot about a Holocaust survivor, and a series of crowd-pleasing moments as it heads for its climax. My personal favorite is when the cynical, condescending non-believer Rudy unexpectedly steps up and blasts a stake through the heart of a hissing vampire to the open-mouthed amazement of everyone. (“What? I’m in the goddamn club, aren’t I?”) Continue reading

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