Spores, Molds and Fungus

February 3, 2009

Over the years, I’ve fallen madly in love with many fictional nerds. Special Agent Dale Cooper, George McFly, Dennis Kucinich. Some people think I’m too intellectual, but I think it’s a fabulous way to spend your spare time. My first mad hardcore nerd god crush was on Egon Spengler, Ph.D. I couldn’t have been more than six or seven when I wrote him a love letter in which I expressed my desire to grow up to be a Gohstbuster [sic]. If I had known there would be math on the test, I wouldn’t have been so excited. Still, I grew up wanting to move to New York. I wanted to eat Chinese food bought with petty cash. I wanted to get kicked out of Columbia for my bizarre research. I’ve never been inside the New York public library ’cause every time I walk by I get the urge to run away. I even forced my parents take me to see Ghostbusters 2 in the theater, during that heady summer when I ate a pound of those hard sticks of Batman card gum, which is probably still somewhere in my body. After seeing the trailer for the new video game (with real, actual jokes!) and holding out foolish hope that a new team of smart-ass comedians might strap unlicensed nuclear accelerators to their backs, my love for Egon has awakened like Cthulhu. Ray is the true believer, but Egon is the brains. The kind of guy who would ignore you for weeks, and you’d come downstairs and find him asleep in his lab with a page of Tobin’s Spirit Guide stuck to his face.  He’s the brilliant, basement-office-dwelling, obscure-degree-holding heartthrob that really gives me a case of total protonic reversal.



Sometimes its a comic

January 14, 2009


Obama Of Nine

December 6, 2008

Star Trek does more than just clog your DVR. It also sometimes determines the leader of the free world. In 2004 Barack Obama ran for US Senate in my home state of Illinois. For those of you who, like me, own his books but haven’t read them, he had previously been a thrice-elected state senator, having lost one contest in between when he ran for the House against Bobby Rush (and giving Michelle Obama a million told-ya-so points). After sailing through the Democratic primary for the Senate seat, where he slew many foes with his 18 for charisma, he entered the larger contest against Republican opponent Jack Ryan, who used to be married to Jeri Ryan, who you all know as Seven of Nine. Ryan’s campaign fell apart over the summer when certain spicy details about their sex life (definitely worth looking up) came out in their divorce papers. After losing Ryan, the Republicans called up notable old crank Alan Keyes, who it turns out wasn’t busy and offered to step in. Obama went on to trounce Keyes, which is basically like beating your Dalmatian at Scrabble. I realize it’s silly to think that Jack Ryan’s crappiness alone led to Obama’s victory, because a month after Ryan dropped out, Obama gave that kickass speech at the DNC. You know, the one that made everyone believe again. But still, any chance to mention Star Trek while talking about the presidential election works for me, because nothing is more fun than alienating people at Manhattan cocktail parties.



Mr. Column

October 27, 2008

I’m really a Spaceball. I know that. When I was a kid we watched our tape of it constantly. My siblings and I ruined countless adult dinner parties with our insistence on reciting lines and doing voices from the movie. The first string of words my little brother ever uttered was “Hot…Too Hot”. Swear on a stack of Bibles, that is true. Ask my mom. You won’t be surprised to hear that his second sentence was a mangled version of “Hello my name is Inigo Montoya. You keel my father prepare to die”.
I realize now it’s a little embarrassing to harbor this secret love of Spaceballs, especially because my favorite movies as an adult are Mel Brooks’ good movies. I’m not delusional about its objective quality, but at least Spaceballs has more jokes than High Anxiety, which has precisely three. And one of them is just a gag from Blazing Saddles. Spaceballs has a metric ton of goofy, lowest common denominator appeal. The bits are all so childish and sincere. And it has a lot of swears.
It makes sense that the new cartoon would be lowbrow and raunchy, but I was hoping for more of a silly and sweet “Virgin Alarm” deal rather than a boob-centric Tripping the Rift type of humor. I mostly hate the show, but I admit I genuinely cracked up at a couple of jokes. I can’t see why adding Yogurt’s wife and another -arlene helps things, but hearing Mel Brooks recite the Konami code was pretty thrilling. The animation is so crummy and weird, and Dark Helmet is so stupidly tiny as to render the whole thing unfunny. But if I look on the bright side, maybe now we’ll get Spaceballs the Cereal.


September 18, 2008

I’ve recently re-discovered The Critic on this crazy cable channel called Reelz. They play one episode over and over again for a week, then switch to a new episode which they play nonstop for a week. Its odd for sure, but its worth the unruly DVR list to rekindle my romance with that show and see the amazing writers’ credits which include a handful of Simpsons geniuses and Judd Apatow. The Critic captures just the right combination of highbrow and lowbrow references. I can’t think of any other show that could get away with a throwaway reference to a movie like Picnic at Hanging Rock, nerdy law school trivia and Supreme Court justices, all while finding a way to rhyme “genitalia” with “Australia”. Sure, one can sometimes tell they wrote some jokes at the last possible moment cause the lip sync doesn’t really work out, but we can forgive such things when they have Jay’s dad drive a monster truck into Picasso’s masterpiece and scream, “Take THAT, Guernica!” The episode with the extended appearance of an animated Siskel and Ebert brought tears to my eyes. By the by, there’s a great clip of the two on their real life show critiquing the first three episodes of The Critic as being too sitcommy and not focused enough on the fascinating life of the movie critic. I’m pretty sure they were being serious.

I suppose I’m feeling the pull of early nineties New York nostalgia. You know that Mighty Aphrodite, Dream On, early Seinfeld milieu, when the city still seemed to hold a soupVon of danger. The Critic was a great platform for cut away jokes about Arnold Schwarzenegger movies, but it also managed to be a warm, sweet little view of city life. The show is full of Woody Allen, cab driver and doorman jokes and uses some beautiful watercolory images of Manhattan. But I do go on too much about New York. I romanticize it all out of proportion.


Follow That Bird

August 26, 2008

At karaoke recently I finally noticed the writer’s credit on the Three’s Company theme song was one Joe Raposo, whose name I revered even as a little kid. He wrote all the classic, dark and jazzy tunes from Sesame Street’s best years like C is for Cookie and Sing. My personal favorite is Everybody Sleeps, which immediately conjures up fuzzy images of friendly hobos and snuggly kittens. It made me think about the olden days of The Street, before the green screen reign of the soulless Elmo. I tried to watch some clips of Elmo and that peppy orange one, but the sound of their voices cuts through me like a knife.*
Recently I also caught Cookie Monster on The Colbert Report, who threw out some hip jokes to win over the young crowd of Manhattanites, who initially made hostile murmurs at the mention of “Veggie Monster”. We’re hostile because we all grew up watching those millions of cookies come spilling back out of his black felt mouth, and we turned out OK. They did make sure we knew not to bring cookies into the library though. I feel like Sesame Street didn’t always have such an obvious, annoying agenda. A kid could just chill with a juice box and watch a rolling rubber ball do its thing. And find me someone who doesn’t love that crayon factory. The Street was at its best when it was ponderous and abstract.
Also, can they cool it with the hipster guest stars? Don’t preschoolers know how to count to four already by hearing that Feist song on incessant ipod commercials? Back in the day we had classy guests like Madeline Kahn and Cab Calloway. Not one hit wonders with bangs. Now if they had Smokey Robinson running from that giant floating U parent groups would freak out cause it probably fosters stalkerist tendencies.
And anyway I think it’s clear that I still haven’t gotten over Mr. Hooper.
*Secret trivia: One of the fiery things in Labyrinth has Elmo’s voice (Kevin Clash), which bumps them up into a cosmically annoying level.

Me Like Commercials

July 10, 2008

I defy anyone to prove they grew up with better local commercials than those of us who grew up in the Chicagoland area. We expatriates, sprinkled across this land like ambassadors of meat, harbor secret knowledge about how that old car is worth money, where you can always save more money, and what to do if you’re unemployed or underemployed (or out of high school or soon will be). Nobody would jump in their car to rush over to the Calumet Meat Company, but that company joined the rare crew of the catchy and adored once they changed their name to Moo & Oink and got a guy in a pig suit to wave for catfish! and screeeam for ribs!
Eagle Insurance gave us the gold standard for crummy but hilarious. Two women out for an afternoon drive, possibly on their way to Aaronson Quality Furniture (home of the credit connection), are shocked when something large lands on the roof. Upon exiting the vehicle, they gasp in amazement at Eagle Man, who informs them of the low rates they can get from Eagle Insurance to fix their car, which Eagle Man has just ruined. It was a brilliant scheme that kept Eagle in business all through the nineties when they could afford to hire irritating local shock jocks to be in their commercials.
Chicago’s greatest claim to fame is Empire carpet.  The creepy yet lovable Empire carpet guy helped to sear that number jingle into our young Midwestern brains from birth. I still shudder to hear the national commercials, with that awful 800 tacked on to the 588-2300 like a swear word inserted into a beloved nursery rhyme.
Now of course, they live on in memory and to be sung in rousing chorus in the drunken company of other locals. At home in Queens I have to settle for the new, weird East Coast commercials like Bob’s Discount Furniture and Nissan of Manhattan. In that little gem, people on New York streets turn in horror, looking up at the sky expecting yet another Cloverfield, but instead see a giant Nissan dealership, growing to the size of half a borough, uh, cause Nissan of Manhattan is big, or something.



June 14, 2008

So I have a set of early 80’s reprints of the first twenty issues of X-Men. The Kirby covers and pages are all there, but instead of ads for model kits and x-ray specs, these feature Atari and CBS Saturday morning (which is how I learned there was an animated Happy Days show*). Mr. Lady Geek and I grew up during the Jim Lee years, and this early batch of X-stories were unknown to us until we got these X-reprints.
The first several issues offer little of note, except for a few phoned-in panels and the weirdness of “regular” Angel who can’t cut anyone up with his wings that don’t shoot missiles, and “regular” Beast, who in these stories seems to be little more than a short, obnoxious gymnast. 
However, I found one panel that reveals a disturbing abandoned subplot. After telling the kids to search out a new mutant he has sensed, Professor X calmly lights a pipe, and meditates on the fact that he can never reveal his love for Jean Grey, a minor recently entrusted to his care. When Jean arrives at the mansion for the first time, Beast, Angel and Cyclops immediately turn into drooling idiots, and most of the stories revolve around their attempts to get more face time with her. She mentions how she left the protection of her parents’ home to come to this mysterious school. Now she begins a new life of repeatedly fighting the Blob, while at “home” she is beset on all sides by weird, aggressive suitors, including her would-be mentor!
Also, Professor X’s logic sucks. He thinks; “Oh, if only I wasn’t her legal guardian and teacher, and she a confused teenager far from home…and surely no girl of her caliber would date a man in a wheelchair!!” Well, I got sour news for ya, Jack. If she’s so shallow that she wouldn’t date a handicapped guy, she’s definitely not going to overlook your baldness. And Beast, seriously. If Jean won’t date the differently abled rich fellow, she’s probably not going to hit the malt shop with you. Also, I think Scott looks so “grim” because he is wearing a blue plaid suit.
Actually I think this subplot might have been pretty juicy. As far as I know, Professor X’s secret love for Jean Grey is mentioned only fleetingly a few times in the history of the X-Men, but it gets a pretty high rating on the dirty scale. If they had seen it through til the seventies when Wolverine came around, we could have enjoyed a love X-rectangle. By the time Psylocke rolls up, it could have been an X-pentagon.
*Apparently, they had a time machine.


If You’re Not Into the Whole Brevity Thing

June 14, 2008

Frankly I’ve lost count of how many times I’ve watched my copy of The Big Lebowski, which is in my top five favorite movies of all time. I’ve done the Lebowski Challenge, have the extended unofficial soundtrack with every single song and bored many a friend with long, impassioned rants about Bill’s Castration Theory. You may not read the backs of your DVD cases, since you’ve already seen it and don’t need a synopsis to convince you of its merits. I feel the need to let someone else know what crime against art has been perpetrated by whatever opt-out housewife or dumbass intern wrote the piece of garbage synopsis on the back of the Lebowski DVD. I’ll reprint it in its entirety to prove to you how asinine it is:

“The Dude. One cool guy. Who one day comes home to find two thugs have broken in and ruined his favorite carpet- the one that made the room “hang together”. Thing is, they did it because he’s got the same name as one of the richest men in town. Lebowski. But hey, no problem. He’ll get even. At least he’ll get someone to pay for the carpet.”

Ignoring the poor grammar and sentence construction (I suppose we could write off “thing is” as being in the parlance of our times), this was written by either someone who has never seen the movie, or someone who has difficulty keeping thoughts in their conscious mind for more than five seconds.

The Dude isn’t even really that cool. Nor would he ever be concerned with something so petty and arbitrary as “coolness”. The Dude transcends childish labels. Also, he never refers to it as his “carpet”. Just placing quotes around a phrase that never appears in the movie is stupid enough, but reading on the back of the case that the Dude’s “carpet” made the room “hang together” made me lose faith in humanity. And he isn’t out for revenge, or to “get even”. The Dude just wanted his rug back.

You may think I’m being petty, or that this is insignificant in the face of modern war, famine and pestilence. You would be right. But this movie deserves better. Whoever wrote this DVD case synopsis, I hope you’re happy. You made me cry.


May 2008

April 1, 2008

Don’t hold this against me, but I am about to reveal the most normal, least nerdy phenomenon I have ever been a part of. But you must have sympathy for me: The New Kids on the Block were brilliantly designed to attack a chemical in the brains of little girls. They might well have been robots constructed and programmed by the evil genius producer Maurice Starr. Whatever their origins or motives, NKOTB consumed my life when I was nine. Donnie Wahlberg was my ultimate favorite New Kid. See, he was the tough one, Joey was the youngest one, Jonathan was the sensitive one, Danny was the ugly one, and Jordan was the fifth one. To me, the others were just filler. I had eyes only for Donnie. Using the little cardboard picture stand on the back, I would sometimes stand my giant Donnie button up on my third-grade desk and stare at him all day. Standing against a grey Glamour Shots canvas backdrop wearing a jean jacket and a massive gold peace sign necklace, his face wore a look that seemed to call; “C’mon with me, Girl. I’ll make all your dreams come true”. Then in red ink, Donnie (or some pimply-faced record company monkey) had written an inscrutable message. Above a peace sign and what I assume was his signature, he wrote: “Peace Out on the Strength”. I studied this inscription for hours, thinking it might hold the key to Donnie’s soul. I dreamed of the day when I would be able to crack the code, to fully understand what deep and troubled things went on in Donnie’s mind. Now my late-twenties malaise is compounded by the fact that not only am I not currently living with Donnie in the My Little Pony Paradise Estate, but also that his message turns out to be as meaningful as “Be Sure to Drink Your Ovaltine”. I may also never recover from seeing Donnie as the shivering maniac who shoots Bruce Willis at the beginning of The Sixth Sense. I think the New Kids should have been placed into cryogenic freezing chambers in 1991 so that they could be thawed out now, as their fans hit 30 and could really use a distraction from trying to choose a career while paying off their student loans.