Tuesday, January 22, 2008

"Someday soon I'll make him mine, then I'll have candy all the time..."

I like to believe that I, as a reasoned, mature individual, am immune to advertising. I like to think that there is a plexiglass shell encasing my body which TV commercials can’t penetrate. My protective little bubble deflects banal and inane marketing ploys like a dodge ball bouncing off a nerd. Hell, I don’t even see much advertising these days, thanks to that little electronic lover known as the DVR.

So I’m feeling a little duped right now. Well, maybe “dupe” isn’t quite the right word. How about deceived? Tricked? Hoodwinked? Ah now, hoodwink is a great word, but not exactly befitting my circumstances.

You know the old saying, “A sucker is born every minute”? Well today must be my birthday, because I got suckered into buying something I didn’t need, thanks to seductive advertising.

Now I know what you are thinking and no, I didn’t race out and buy a can of Pedigree dog food, although David Duchovny’s disembodied voice hinted that it was a good idea, and Justin Long hasn’t convinced me to buy a Mac (yet), even though he is hella sexier than poor, stodgy PC touting John Hodgman.

No, I got suckered into – of all things – a candy bar. Let me rephrase that: I got suckered into the IDEA of a candy bar. Specifically the new 3 Musketeers Mint with Dark Chocolate. Oh yes. I happened to be surfing away in the lounge while keeping one eye on Mmm Mmm Good Joel McHale on The Soup, when my husband decided to wander into the kitchen, leaving the remote out of my reach. Not that I can figure the damned thing out anyway – especially since he went and got an “All-In-One” remote that stores the functions of five remotes in one handy dandy little package. I was just starting to get the hang of the five remotes that this one replaced; now I’m back to square one, frantically pushing buttons that do everything but the stuff I want it to do, such as pause the picture or lower the sound. I’m pretty sure that I’ve rang the neighbor’s wireless doorbell with it a few times, and rumor has it that the remote is a suspect in an ongoing investigation involving flight interference at the airport.

So if I’d have been able to work the remote, I might have been able to fast forward through the commercial, but I couldn’t, so I didn’t, and by the end of the ad I was already daydreaming about biting into fluffy, minty goodness.

In my mind, the 3 Musketeers Mint bar was going to taste just like the Nestle UK Aero bar, only fluffier. It was going to have the fluffy whipped center of a 3 Musketeer, but the mint-chocolaty goodness of the Aero. I could almost taste it.

And today I finally did.

It ain’t all that. In fact, it tastes suspiciously like a bar-shaped York Peppermint Patty.

Not that that’s bad, mind.

Friday, January 18, 2008

"You're in the movies now and I'm in your cartoons..."

Sometimes the anticipation of Saturday Morning Cartoons was more than my little brother and I could bear. We’d be up before dawn, ensconced a mere six inches from the massive wooden console TV, the snowy white fuzz of an off-the-air station flickering softly in the dark living room. Just before 6 a.m. the three network stations crackled to life with a vibrant test pattern, which morphed into the morning sign-on of a waving flag and arousing version of the National Anthem, followed by commentary from a man in a suit sitting at a desk. His appearance signaled a mad scramble to the kitchen to scarf down a quick bowl of Franken Berry and glass of Tang (the drink of astronauts!) before the fun began.

And what fun it was! We absorbed animated versions of The Jackson 5 and The Osmonds, surreal live action shows from Syd & Marty Krofft’s bizarre world of Lidsville, HR Pufnstuf and Sigmund and the Sea Monsters; motorhead cartoons like Wheelie & the Chopper Bunch and Speed Buggy; and tons of “spooky” shows including The Groovy Ghoulies, Scooby Doo Where Are You?, The Funky Phantom, Goober and the Ghost Chasers and The Addams Family. We got our first glimpses of different cultures with The Amazing Chan & the Chan Clan, Fat Albert & The Cosby Kids, and Johnny Quest, and even endured space-age versions of Josie & the Pussycats in Outer Space and The Partridge Family in 2200 A.D.

Of everything we watched on Saturday mornings, however, my favorite was Bugs Bunny. I couldn’t get enough of the wise-cracking rabbit and his motley band of antagonists. Even with the daily dose we got weekdays after school we’d still eschew other Saturday morning cartoons in favor of Bugs & Co.

1. The Rabbit of Seville

As difficult as it was to choose favorite Warner Brothers/Merry Melody cartoons, I narrowed it down to two: both, incidentally, directed by Chuck Jones. The first is The Rabbit of Seville - a break-neck operatic production of the classic hunter vs. hunted set to the music of Rossini’s overture to “The Barber of Seville.” The story begins with bumbling hunter Elmer Fudd chasing Bugs into an opera house, where he is tricked by the rabbit into going onstage. Over the ensuing 6 minutes the pair race through a series of barbershop gags, mostly entailing Bugs giving Elmer brutal shaves and haircuts. It made me laugh as a child of six, and it still makes me laugh thirty some odd years later. The Rabbit of Seville was one of several WB cartoons that introduced me to classical and operatic music, for which I am forever grateful.

2. Feed the Kitty

Many may not be aware of this tender gem, which doesn’t include any of the famous WB clan. “Feed the Kitty” is a simple twist on the ole dog/cat cartoon rivalry: a gruff bulldog named Marc Anthony unexpectedly falls for a fluffy little black and white kitten named Pussyfoot. It’s a simple enough concept, and there is gentle humor in the bulldog’s clumsy attempts to keep the kitten a secret from his owner - pretending the kitten is a wind-up toy, a powder puff and a doll in a toy car - but it is the range of emotion shown by the bulldog that proves what a stunning animator Jones was: he brought the dog to life in such a way that the viewer knows exactly what the dog is feeling, and those feelings reverberate to the viewer, tugging at the heartstrings like no other cartoon can. It is one of the most sublime bits of animation I have ever seen, and I absolutely love it.

3. Schoolhouse Rocks

American kids watching Saturday Morning Cartoons in the 1970’s weren’t just bombarded with commercials for Funny Face Fruit Drink and Evil Knievel action figures, we were also treated to fun, educational cartoons that taught us grammar, math, science, history, and politics in song form.We learned our times tables (“Three is a Magic Number”), how bills are passed into law (“I’m Just a Bill”), that “A Noun is A Person, Place orThing,” how our solar system works (“Interplanet Janet”) and the Preambleto the Constitution. I can distinctly remember my third grade class having to recite The Preamble, and the stunned look on the teacher’s face when we all began singing it instead. After thirty years the fashions and terminology are somewhat dated - kids today probably have little idea what a “record machine” is, for example - but the cartoons and songs are still relevant educational tools that make learning fun.

4. The Beatles - Yellow Submarine

Not every cartoon I watched as a youngster was shown on Saturday mornings, however. The first time I ever saw Yellow Submarine it was shown during prime time on one of the big three networks; in 1971 we only had three networks and channels, unless you counted PBS, which kids generally didn’t. I remember watching it with my older sister and being struck by how different it seemed than the cartoons I was used to. Parts of it didn’t seem like a cartoon at all, appearing more to be cut’n’ paste photos that had been hand-tinted in deliberately bold, strange colors. The feature length cartoon tells the story of how a music-loving paradise called Pepperland falls prey to the music-hating Blue Meanies, and how one escapee in a yellow submarine seeks help and finds The Beatles. The band agrees to help battle the Blue Meanies and travels back to Pepperland via a series of alternate universes. It amazed and scared me at the same time; I loved The Beatles and the whole idea that their music could triumph over evil, but the images in the Sea of Monsters section of the movie frightened me, as did the blue glove that chased and crushed fleeing Pepperland residents. This was the cartoon that expanded the limits of my already overactive imagination.

5. Ren & Stimpy “Space Madness”

Although I never outgrew my love of cartoons, I despised the politically-correct movement of the 1980’s which heavily edited out anything considered taboo, violent or bad for children. I was appalled and shocked at how lame these edited monstrosities were, and how the cartoons of my childhood had been ruined. Which is why, in the early 1990’s, I was completely wowed when I tuned in to watch The Ren & Stimpy Show and got a heady dose of violence, taboo and crazy situations, all in one episode. It was obvious that creator John Kricfalusi had soaked up every Tex Avery directed cartoon ever made. Of all the early Ren & Stimpy episodes, none pay homage to Avery quite like Space Madness, which combines the geekiness of Star Trek with an unparalleled, over-the-top anxiety born of being cooped up with your crew mates too long. It’s got all the hallmark Avery touches -extreme close-ups, oversized facial features, neurotic tics, riotous moodswings, hysterically funny - and like all the best of the golden age cartoons, it doesn’t dumb down while it’s cracking you up.

Monday, January 14, 2008

"It's the little things we do..."

Another quirk we endured at The Record Store was The Things List. The Sav claimed it was his inherent right to make lists because he was a Virgo, which simply confirmed his ensconcement within the Me Decade’s post-hippie mysticism of horoscopes, garish satin shirts, creepy porn mustaches and white powder-fueled paranoia.

He certainly managed to get his zodiac on every morning writing out the daily Things List for us to follow, putting our initials in a tiny circle next to the chore he wanted us to do. He drew a line next to each “thing,” on which we had to sign upon completion. If by some chance we had indeed done the chore but had failed to sign the line next to the chore, The Sav treated it as an uncompleted chore, and you’d hear about it the next day.

Not that The Sav EVER confronted us to our face. He was too passive-aggressive for that! Instead, he’d scribble a scolding little diatribe on the Things List which we’d all have to initial - to prove that we’d read and understood. It was very bizarre.

Some of the items on the Things List were logical, like straightening the racks, refolding the T-shirts tidily, cleaning the glass showcases and running routine stock checks. Other items were frankly puzzling, especially those that went into great detail on how we needed to accomplish the goal. In particular, he always specified that we were to “use free newspapers to clean showcases & door,” which I suppose is understandable, and perhaps even environmentally commendable, since the shop had racks of alternative newspapers that no one seemed to ever pick up. But then there were gems like “with scotch tape, pick up bits from back of showcases” which just cracked us up.

The Sav was a maniacal penny-pincher and wouldn’t buy paper towels for cleaning the showcases or for stocking the dispenser in the office toilet – apparently the rarely laundered moldy green hand towel was ample - yet he’d instruct us to waste an entire roll of scotch tape pulling up bits of dust and fluff basking in the florescent lights inside the jewelry showcases. It didn’t make sense, and no amount of working the term “mini hand-held vacuum” into conversations made a difference. He could have saved hundreds of dollars per year in scotch tape fees by investing twenty dollars in a mini-vac, but it would have also meant saving the staff some time and effort – picking up bits took a mighty long time, after all – and he couldn’t fathom the idea of us standing around, doing nothing, although nothing is a relative term, because his “nothing” was our elaborate cut’n’paste sessions, overly complicated hacky-sack games, smoke breaks, and general piss-taking and one-upmanship with other local music nerds. Plus it cut into our magazine reading time. Oh, the horror.

Oftentimes he’d try to be sneaky when adding certain items on the Things List, thinking that he could trip us up for not doing what he expected of us. For instance, he’d specify that Reynolds was to go through and re-alphabetize the CDs from A-G, which actually meant “I’ve hidden a stray CD somewhere that needs to be returned to its rightful spot.” Now I’m not saying that things didn’t get mixed up in the racking, because they most certainly did, especially on Saturday nights. But unlike our customers, who hid things they wanted to buy in the hopes that it’d still be there when they got paid, The Sav never wanted to hide anything he thought we might be able to sell. Nine times out of ten we’d find a dusty Nana Mouskouri hiding out somewhere in the racks, usually around Deicide. We can only imagine how relieved she must have been to be rescued and returned to Easy Listening.

Another sneaky Things List nugget was dusting the CD spinners. The store used to sell a multitude of storage units, including four-sided, spinning black CD towers made of wood or (less often) plastic. Because he regularly burned incense right next to them, the towers seemed to be coated with a permanent layer of grime, hence the need for a good scrub every other day. This was habitually one of my duties, since The Sav was sexist enough to deign cleaning a woman’s job - which was fine by me since that meant we girls never had to take out the trash or empty the vile waste barrel outside the front door – and I quickly cottoned onto the fact that hidden somewhere on those dusty spinning shelves would be a small “X” for me to wipe away, proof that the spinners had been cleaned. I never had the balls to go through with it, but I used to fantasize about dusting off the shelf with the “X” but leaving all the others untouched, just to see if it would be noticed.

We could always tell when something we’d done – or more often failed to do – would fire up The Sav, as the number of misspelled or completely omitted words on the Things List would increase tenfold, as did the overabundance of words in all capitals and an exuberant use of exclamation marks. Like the time TC forgot to collapse and recycle the cardboard boxes The Sav had tossed into the back hallway after a stock shipment had been unpacked. The criticism went something like this: “SINCE SOME ONE NOT BRAKE DOWN CARBORD BOX THE BACK HALWAY YESTER AS INTRUCTED, IF FIRE MARSHAL VISIT & SEE BLOCK EXIT WED BE FINE AND FIND WOULD COME OUT YOU’RE PAY CHECK!!!!!” And of course there would be a tiny TC with a circle around it, and a line next to it for TC to sign and admit he’d neglected an important duty.

These diatribes never made us feel hurt or ashamed—which I suspect was the intention— because we were too busy being amused by them. We took great pleasure in fishing a discarded Things List from the waste bin and taking a red pen to it; sometimes correcting the mistakes, sometimes diagramming the sentences to demonstrate the pitiable subject and verb agreement. It wasn’t that he was an uneducated man – he could be quite brilliant at times – but when agitated he morphed into an English teacher’s worst nightmare. Looking back on it now, I suspect that perhaps We were HIS worst nightmare, which makes him all the more commendable for keeping us on the payroll for as long as he did. We couldn’t have been good for his blood pressure.