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Thoughts on that Mandalorian Finale

Everybody’s been gushing about the second season finale for The Mandalorian.  After all, it’s got CGI! Behold, a tick to make Hollywood actors more attractive than they are in real life! What more could one want as a going-away present to get us through the long, dark offseason that before it is filled with WandaVision and seven other temporary fulfillments of the vacant holes in our souls. Character agency? Pshaw.

So, y’know, spoiler warnings and whatnot. But you clicked through on something that clearly referenced what I was reviewing. If you didn’t want to know about the menage-a-trois between Mando and Captain Kirk and Harry Potter, it’s kinda your own fault now.

And honestly, I’m at least a year behind the times on this, but Mando the Mandalorian? Really? Maybe it’s a good thing they waited a year and a half to name Baby Yoda. It gave us time to name it Baby Yoda instead of, I don’t know, Bob, which is probably the name they would’ve given it if they’d been forced to come up with one. Fighting alongside Humo the Human.

And yeah, I know Baby Yoda has a real name now. But sorry, producers, ya done waited too long and he’s forever gonna be Baby Yoda now.

I’m probably not the best person to review the second season finale of The Mandalorian, considering I’ve been a whole lotta meh on the series as a whole. One of the reasons this is coming a month after the series ended is because I wasn’t planning to watch season two at all, until I heard about the ending. 

Some of my friends incessantly gush about the show. They’ll note that the red hat in the background of one scene was an homage to an outtake from Episode II wherein Jar Jar Binks shoved a red hat up his hoo-ha only to find out that he was color blind. Meanwhile I fixated on asinine things like there’s no way the little kid Boba Fett in Episode II could grow up to be the old dude Bob Fett in this show. I feel like he switched ethnicities. Maybe being pooped out by the Sarlacc changes your accent. Or maybe he’s a character that never shoulda taken the helmet off. Or, you know, returned at all. 

Cue Poe Dameron. Somehow, Boba Fett returned. If the answers disappoint you, perhaps you should stop asking questions. About anything.

“It’s like a Western,” my friends say. “Like Kung Fu.”

People called the Han Solo movie a western, too. Amazing how many westerns take place in space. Ironically, I really liked the Han Solo movie. I don’t know if it was because of any Outlaw Josie Wales motifs. The best part of the movie was Donald Glover doing a spot-on impression of Billy Dee Williams, circa 1979.

I’m not a huge Western fan, but I’ve seen my fair share of Bonanza episodes. I even visited the Ponderosa up at Lake Tahoe when it was a kinda, sorta amusement park/homage to the show. You could get there early and have a pancake – sorry “flapjack” – breakfast, complete with whiskey in your coffee and I was only 22 and shit, howdy, while I loved me some Baileys and coffee, I don’t know that I was quite ready for whatever rotgut they were throwing in there.

Regardless, I never once say the Mandalorian call for Hop Sing, nor ride his horse into Carson City, so I don’t quite think it’s a western.

But fine, let’s pretend that both Solo and The Mandalorian are westerns. Let’s pretend they’re both Kung Fu. You know what was great about Kung Fu? You didn’t have to watch every episode.

Back in the 1970s, we didn’t have every Disney movie and show, except for Song of the South, available whenever we wanted. Your options for “children’s programming” were Saturday mornings or afternoon syndications or PBS mid-mornings. 

And if you wanted Star Wars content on TV, good fucking luck. Far too valuable of a commodity to sell TV rights for. Your only option was the now infamous Holiday Special with Bea Arthur, who played a hideous tentacled alien species who reside with their Sicilian mothers in Miami retirement communities.

What’s that? Bea Arthur’s character was a human bartender? If you say so. 

But we can all agree that Golden Girls was thinly-veiled tentacle porn, right?

We also didn’t have Netflix dropping an entire season of a new tv show all at once in the 1970s. “Binge Watching” meant not getting our asses off the couch to change to one of the other five channels. Because we had no remote control, so might as well keep the TV tuned to this station and see what’s on next. The Jeffersons? Sold!

Heck, most homes didn’t even have VCRs until well into the 1980s. So if you weren’t going to be home for your favorite show, you were more or less fucked. There was a chance said episode might rerun during the summer, but not every episode did. A typical season might have 20-some episodes, but only about ten weeks of reruns. And really, who wants to be inside during summer evenings? Nobody. That’s why TV networks ran reruns.

The first serials, like Dynasty and Dallas, didn’t hit the market until after VCRs were around. So if, say, wife was going into labor, they didn’t have to decide between calling in a midwife or never finding out who shot J.R.

Then again, waiting till your wife is in labor to figure out how to set the clock on the VCR was a really bad idea.

Obviously, TV has come a long way since then. Most shows are designed to be watched back-to-back. Season-long storylines are now the norm. There’s no reason to ever “miss” an episode. Even more so with subscription services. 

So I was a little disappointed with the utter lack of continuity in the first season of The Mandalorian. I spent the first few episodes trying to follow every little plot thread, keeping track of all of the hints at what had happened in the five years between Return of the Jedi and the start of this show. But I was hard pressed to find any through-lines. 

After a few episodes, I saw someone refer to The Mandalorian as a video game. Each episode was a different level, with a boss fight at the end, after which he leveled up with a fancy new weapon. That explanation crystalized my nagging, unfulfilled feeling while watching it. 

During season two, I saw a much funnier explanation of the same thing.

Again, it wasn’t that I thought The Mandalorian was bad. It was fine. It just didn’t give me a reason to want to tune in. It’s Kung Fu and I’ve got a whole slew of Falcon Crests on my plate. I’m talking The Boys  and Witcher. WandaVision was on the horizon and I still hadn’t finished Daredevil. Hell, even sitcoms like The Good Place and Schitt’s Creek have continuing plotlines now. How can a Star Wars property be so episodic?

I resolved not to watch season two. Maybe “resolved” is a bad word. It wasn’t a boycott. It was asking myself if I cared enough to tune in. and answering with a resounding. “meh.”

I heard about Boba Fett. I shrugged. Never cared too much for a character with a whopping ten minutes of screen time in the first trilogy. The Mos Eisley saxophone player showing up wouldn’t have me running either.

Then came the announcement about the finale.

God damn it. 

Fine.

So again, if you haven’t heard about the ending now, approach with caution.

A de-aged Mark Hamill shows up.

Which ruined everything.

Let me back up.

I’m not opposed to the idea. We were all hoodwinked into thinking there was no way any of the original characters would show up, other than those in masks, although we probably shoulda seen it coming. After all, they had already done that with Carrie Fisher in Rogue One. Then, to one up themselves, they put her in Rise of Skywalker after she was dead. 

My problem with the Luke Skywalker cameo wasn’t the obvious “gotcha” quality of it, nor that I was duped into watching the entire second season for it. And yeah, it was dramatic as hell. Impressive. Even knowing what to expect, my heart raced when that lone X-Wing came out of hyperspace to board the ship.

But from a storytelling motif, it’s totally bullshit. Deus ex machina, anyone?

The second half of season two was actually fixing a lot of the problems I had with season one. There was a cohesive plot, a through-line of getting Baby Yoda to “the jedi.” And after Baby Yoda got kidnapped by Gus the Los Pollos Hermanos dude, there was actually momentum building toward the finale. Even a wee bit of character development, if I dare say.

Seriously though, Giancarlo Esposito has been sorely underused in this show. Anybody who can steal scenes in a show like Breaking Bad should be running circles around an MMA fighter and a dude in a mask. Dude can play cold-blooded sociopath, and y’all got him playing Dr. Evil.

Unfortunately, Gus the Chicke Dude and the MMA fighter and the dude in a mask who the fucking show is named after, those characters I finally got to know over the episodes leading up to the finale, were thrown to the sideline  in the culminating scenes, so Luke could come in with his fancy lightsaber. Like whoever the old Tampa Bay quarterback was when Tom Brady decided he wanted to move south for the winter. Maybe they need to change the title of The Mandalorian to include the character we’re actually supposed to care about. Season three’s working title: Hey maybe they can get a Han Solo cameo, too.

Okay, so they set the scene in the finale by showing us the Terminator. They called them Dark Troopers or Storm Shadows or something, but they were basically the Terminator. Or Ultron. Basically, half storm trooper, half robot, so we shouldn’t worry about the moral qualms about murdering them. Not that we’ve ever had any issue of mass slaughter of bad guys before. Weren’t the stormtroopers understood to be clones, anyway? Although, let’s be honest, that wasn’t established until the fifth movie. We went at least the entire original trilogy assuming those were real people.

Speaking of which, why did they clone a guy that was such a shitty shot with a blaster?

In typical superhero stuff, they show us that one fight with one of these fuckers was almost too much for the hero. Mando the Madalorian used up all of his weapons to no avail. He was finally able to defeat dude using a one-time weapon that he wouldn’t be able to use again. And now they’re showing Mando and his friemds, trapped in the bridge of an imperial cruiser, about to face twenty of them. How ever shall our hero make it out of this quandary?

It’s a standard motif in the fantasy/sci-fi/superhero genres. Our hero is shown being totally outmatched by his opponent only to finally discover the way to beat them later. Sometimes said hero discovers a weakness and exploits it. The James Bond route. Other times, a la Rocky III, the hero realizes he wasn’t taking the fight seriously the first time. More often, it’s done lazily. I guess all Superman had to do to beat Zod was level half of Metropolis. Too bad he didn’t try that the first time.

Even when it’s done poorly, though, there’s still some payoff. Some conclusion. Ultron could beat all of the Avengers with barely a thought, but once you’ve got a city flying in the air and the Avengers are simultaneously saving civilians AND fighting Ultron, well then, that’s how they win. Divided attention always makes us stronger. 

So how did Mando and his pals finally overcome this threat? One took everything he had, and now he’s facing an army! Perhaps the three episodes they’ve been together will culminate into working together as a team, each member intuiting the others movements. Perhaps the imminent threat on his only father figure will finally push Baby Yoda beyond the threshold, resulting in a focused blast of force power he’s never manifested before. Perhaps Mando goes all MacGyver and creates twenty of those spear things he used earlier.

Or maybe they’ll all just stand there and watch it play out on a fucking screen.

Really?

Look, I know Jon Favreau is a better plotter than I’ll ever be. He’s as much to credit as Robert Downey, Jr. for the entire MCU existing. But that was utter bullshit. Would we have been happy if, in the final battle against Obediah Stane in the first Iron Man movie, the Hulk randomly showed up and beat the shit out of the bad guy, with Tony Stark unconscious on the sidelines? 

But if it’s Luke Skywalker instead of Bruce Banner, all bets are off. As the “debate” over The Last Jedi proved, Skywalkers are the only beings in the entire Star Wars universe who are EVER allowed to resolve ANY conflict. Or maybe the Emperor.

There were ways to bring Luke back without being the deus ex machina, without stealing all agency from the main character. They could’ve gotten out of the situation then delivered Baby Yoda to Luke, similar to the Rogue One Princess Leia scene. I even would’ve been fine with Luke showing up to help Mando, who was already fighting back on his own. But the title fucking character should not be a fucking bystander for the ultimate battle. 

How’s season three gonna go? Is he just going to stop trying to get out of situations? I mean, the more dire the situation, the more likely Zeus will fly in to save the day, right? Just tell Baby Yoda (who we all know will still be prominently featured in season 3 despite “leaving” with Luke) to call for Papa. 

Or maybe they’ll just wait for Han Solo this time.

Man Grooming as Nature Intended

Despite being a lifelong suburbanite, my wife has a few granola-crunchy tendencies. Her uncle isn’t quite aware the 1960s ever ended and splits his time between espousing the benefits of a government-based economy and deriding said government for controlling our minds through chemtrails or flouride or blah, blah, blah, because by this time I’m on my seventh glass of wine at Thanksgiving dinner (Thank you, 2020!). He also thinks cats are spying on us and reporting back to aliens keeping tabs on us. And I’m dead serious on that last one.

Wife doesn’t go that far. She’s way too consumerist. But for somebody who thinks camping is an abomination, you can certainly grab her attention by calling your product all-natural or organic or hormone free. So if you want her to buy your bacon, you might put on the packaging that it comes from pigs not treated with vaginal testosterone.  Even though there’s no such thing, so technically every pig in existence. But if you wanna get sold at Whole Foods, you gotta say every madeup bullshit thing isn’t in it.

I’m looking in your direction, rBST.

Occasionally, Wife gets stuck on conference calls at work and orders me some all-natural self-grooming shit. It’ll show up on our doorstep one day and she’ll kinda, sorta remember seeing something, like a Vietnam Vet trying to recall the fogs of war. Amazon told her that people who ordered Tom’s Toothpaste might also like toilet paper with the consistency of poison oak. 

But whatever. As long as she isn’t going paleo or anything, I guess I can splash some essential oils on my nether regions. It turns out I actually like some of them. Others are nothing more than snake oil.

So here are my reviews of products you might be pondering at the next Ren Faire.

Dr. Squatch Soap. 

Of the three products she bought me, this is the only one I’d heard of beforehand. It would seem to be a product custom made for me. Its name alludes to Bigfoot and they cuss in the commercials that my robot overlords at Google and Facebook show me. 

Maybe you’ve seen the ads. They tell guys that the soap you’ve been washing with is bullshit. Okay, you’ve got my attention. The commercials also imply that our junk, which smells horrific, yet is dainty, ain’t never gonna be cleaned by some industrial soap that’s half comprised of something pussy like, I don’t know, lotion or aloe or smurf handjobs.

Personally, my soap of choice is Irish Spring. The dude in the Dr. Squatch commercial calls it mass-produced and docile and bovine excrementy. But I’m assured by its mid-1980s advertisements that Irish Spring is made beside a bucolic river outside of Kilkenny, and if I use it, I’ll be whistled at by the comely lass also seen dancing in that Men Without Hats music video. 

“Manly, yes, but I like it, too!”

But Dr. Squatch Dude has a well-groomed beard, ergo I must pay attention. And they sell such manly flavors of soap, like Grapefruit IPA and Pine Tar and… Aloe. I guess ya can’t make a rub-over-skin product without the base aloe model. 

Come to think of it, pine tar? Isn’t that the stuff they put on baseball bats to make them sticky? I don’t know if I want that on my giblets. Is the ghost of Billy Martin going to come measure my cock to make sure I didn’t add too much pine tar? The last thing I need is a scruffy looking, powder-blue wearing George Brett screaming out of the dugout like a whirling dervish.

The first one I tried was the aloe bar. Baby steps, people. I’ve been trained by years of consumer culture and if it ain’t green, it shouldn’t even call itself soap. The Dr. Squatch was fine, I guess. Nothing really to write home about. Other than its clunky square shape, the clarion call of all “natural” products, it pretty much felt like soap. It didn’t quite get the lather up that I like. Wouldn’t want to shave with it, that’s for sure. 

That square shape also makes it hard to get into some of my nooks and crannies. In fact, it feels a little like being bludgeoned. I didn’t know I was supposed to be in pain while showering. And that was before I tried their second “flavor,” Chinese Water Torture.

No, it’s not named Chinese Water Torture soap, but it might as well be. It’s called Cold Brew Coffee soap. Should be perfect for me. I already smell like coffee all day. Or at least until 2:00, after which I smell like a distillery. 

What’s that? Dr. Squatch has a rum soap, too? Maybe I’ll have to investigate. 

Or I can just have some rum. Because if the rum is anything like the cold brew, I’ll pass. 

Sure, the coffee bar smelled nice, even if I had to adjust to the unnatural brownness of it. 

The problem came in its consistency. I’m not sure if Bigfoot’s ever had coffee, but when I get an iced coffee from Starbucks, I don’t have to take the coffee grounds out of my mouth. At home, I occasionally have a filter catastrophe that results in a crunchy cup o’ joe, but that’s not supposed to be the norm. And I know the hipster in the commercials doesn’t brew his own.

The coffee soap, however, is inundated with scratchy coffee grounds. And not the Folgers or Maxwell House ground coffee variety. More like whole beans thrown for ten seconds into a hand grinder cranked by an arthritic octogenarian. 

The first time I used it, I thought maybe it was just an outer layer authenticity thing that would go away as I used it. I once splurged on an Irish Spring “Sport” bar that had little bubble things on the bottom, but they only lasted a couple of washes. Surely, once I got past the outer layer of this cold brew, it would work like normal soap. Or like fancy, all-natural, doesn’t-really-wash-you soap.

But no! That shit stayed through the whole bar. I get the whole “exfoliating” concept, but this wasn’t some John Cougar “Hurt So Good.” It was just straight-up jagged-ass scratching. I suppose I could’ve used a wash cloth, but c’mon, Bigfoot. Your commercials talk about being a manly-man and now you want me to use a wash cloth?

Eventually, I found that it worked best if I lathered up in my hand, then went to the body. 

That felt more like a little bit of gritty exfoliating, similar to the little grains inside some of those soft soaps. Speaking of which, did you know that Bath & Body Works has “manly man” soaps, too? They’re usually hidden amongst the cinnamons and lilacs and Lakeside Estrogens. You can usually tell which ones they are because they’re blue. My favorite also had a fox wearing a blue sweater on the front and had a smell named “musk.” That’s the manly triumvirate right there.

But the blocky coffee soap wasn’t the same as a granulated soft soap. Like its aloe brethren, the cold brew block couldn’t lather worth a shit. So lots and lots and of scrubbing the hands meant the bar didn’t last longer than a week or so. At seven bucks a pop, I feel like the soap should last, I don’t know, a year or so. It’s kinda like paying for a single beer at the ballgame that costs more than a 12-pack of that same beer at home.

And for seven bucks, you get the added benefit of doing a twice over before exiting the shower to make sure you don’t look like a damned leper when you step out. The soap’s supposed to clean me, not leave me looking like I missed the trash can when dumping the coffee filter. Took me so long to shower, I was late to work. Good thing we live in a patriarchy and I can just ask for a raise to make up for the time lost.

Ha ha, just kidding. I’m a teacher. We don’t get raises.

Still, maybe I should stick with the rum bar. Although maybe not on the day I ask my principal for a raise.

Somerset English Shaving Oil.

What the hell is an essential oil anyway? Are there non-essential oils? Do the essential oils tease them? Like the Catholics who say Protestants go to Purgatory, which they think is heaven, but isn’t really heaven. I assume the Catholics spend all of eternity mocking those Protestants in their fake heaven. Something to look forward to.

Although if this is English shaving oil, it probably isn’t Catholic. They leave that for the Irish Spring next door.

Come to think of it, I don’t know if English is really the operative adjective for olde tyme rituals. Sure, compared to us young pups in America, England’s been around forever. But if I really want to be shaving like I’m some grizzly middle ager, how about some Saxon Shaving Oil. Or Mercian. Although that’s too close to ‘Merican. And we all know ‘Merican shaving oil would be buffalo chicken sauce with ranch.

But I’m getting ahead of myself. Or behind myself. Where the fuck was I? Oh right, shaving.

I’m fortunate enough to not have much facial hair. It takes me a month to go from clean-shaven to something approximating a goatee or beard. 

It’s the perfect amount of hair growth, because I don’t have to shave every day. If I shave Monday and Wednesday mornings, nobody will be any the wiser. If I then let it go the rest of the week, I might get some comments around closing time Friday afternoon that I’ve got a couple gristles. Not a five o’clock shadow yet, just some noticeable follicles. Actually, I never get a five o’clock shadow. Even if I let it go a week, it comes in scraggly and splotchy like I sent my cheek through chemotherapy. 

So when it comes to the best options for shaving, I never really established a consistent ritual. Through most of my thirties, I gravitated toward the gel that magically turns into foam on your skin. Unfortunately, anything that defies the laws of nature that much wreaks havoc on your pipes. 

And no, that’s not a reference to either my penis or my asshole. There’s a first time for everything.

It was literally my pipes. That gel ends up sticking to everything and clogging the shit out of my drain. It certainly wasn’t the millimetres of follicles going down there. So I switched to shaving in the shower, but the gel doesn’t do well in the wet steam. 

Enter Somerset’s Essential Whatnot and So-forth. You massage it into your skin at the beginning of the shower, then let it work its way in. It starts tingling, feels  like a zesty aftershave, except it’s a slick pre-shave. When the time comes, you lather up a little soap, just not the Dr. Squatch type. I said lather, not leather.

What can I say? The shit works. It’s a weird feeling for someone who thought shaving required a force-field of white goop. It also helps that soap lather is more see through. Who woulda thunk that it would be beneficial to actually see the face while shaving? 

Again, your mileage may vary, especially if you actually grow hair between your neck and ear. But the Somerset’s worked even after No-Shave November when I had an unruly weed-patch growing there, so long as I trim it first.

It doesn’t seem to help after No-Nut November. Although if I needed help with that, I’d feel safer using this than Dr. Squatch’s pine tar. Plus, it tingles!

Lume Deodorant.

Before even trying this product, I was predisposed to hate it.

First of all, it’s named Lume with a fancy little accent on the e. That means it’s either made by a French person or someone who thinks adding random accents to a product make it sound fancier. Like whatever asshole threw that “olde tyme” into his description of shaving oil.

Even worse than its name, this deodorant is goopy, a viscosity reminiscent of snot. When it smudges through three little slivers on top like vomit through your fingers as that last-second dash toward the toilet comes up woefully short. And they expect me to put that on my underarms? Gross. I’m trying to make that area LESS moist, why the fuck would I rub a used handkerchief there.

Handkerchiefs don’t seem to exist anymore, and that’s a good thing. My grandpa always used one. I’ve never understood why we should want to deposit our snots into our pocket for removal later. I’m sure it’s better for the environment than Kleenex, but if I promise to recycle my beer bottles, can I keep the Kleenex? Do earth-hugging communes allow tissue paper? What about toilet paper? I know way too much of our modern society is disposable, but I hope we never have to debate the trade-offs of those two paper products.

Anyway, for ninety percent of my life, I’ve liked precisely one style of substance under my arms: Bone-ass dry. Don’t give me those sprays. Don’t give me those roll-ons. If the process of applying deodorant doesn’t remove some hairs and skin, it’s probably not doing its work.

I also can’t abide by deodorants with smells. I don’t want fresh scent or forest morning or scorched earth. Not even “evergreen musk,” which was the magical manly smell that Bath and Body Works put into my sweater-wearing fox soap. Again, the purpose of deodorant is to remove smell. Replacing it with a different smell doesn’t make sense to me. I’m not fooled by the taxicab air freshener, either.

In fact, most of those scented ones give me a rash before long. Maybe I’ve got sensitive skin. Maybe I’m allergic. For a good portion of my teens and twenties, I used Ladies’ Speed Stick. It’s okay, you can judge. But maybe that’s where my hatred of smells come from, because trust me, the types of scents assigned to most of the Ladies’ Speed Stick varietals aren’t smells a nineteen-year-old dude wants wafting out of his pores. What the fuck is a Pampered Lilac, anyway? Does that mean the flower’s living a cush life? Or is it wearing diapers?

In my adult years, I settled on Arm n’ Hammer. It fits my desire for both lack of smell and dryness. If I could rub actual baking soda on my armpits and be done with it, I would. Preferably with a sweater-clad fox on the front.

Then along came Lume.

“It’s organic,” my wife told me. “It’s hypoallergenically designed by medical professionals.”

“Did they design it to have all the comfort of the Sahara desert?”

“No, but it’s professional OB-GYNs.”

Ummm…. What?

Look, I’m not the manliest man ever. The closest I ever come to standard toxic masculinity is when we’re drafting fantasy football. I prefer mini golf to real golf. When I visited Minneapolis, I took my picture throwing my hat into the air right next to the Mary Tyler Moore statue. I like my beer more nutty than hoppy. I can’t figure out whose ass was more impressive in Demolition Man– Sandra Bullock’s or Sylvester Stallone’s.

Seriously, in those tight-fitting pants, that movie is a monument to two of the best-sculpted asses on the planet. 

With all those facts in her corner, maybe Wife didn’t think I’d blink an eye at a deodorant developed by a gynecologist. The left side of my brain gets it. There are a lot of similarities between the armpit and the crotch. Dank. Moist. Hair for no damned reason. A man’s taint is the only body part that smells worse than his armpit. 

And yet…

There’s a reason things it’s called feminine hygiene. I don’t think I need to give my armpit a morning-after pill.

Although, in all honesty, I’m only showering three times a week during the quarantine. So maybe my armpit DOES need a morning-after pill.

Let’s see, goopy substance with the consistency of snot, designed for vaginas, in my armpits? Sorry, Wife. I tried your all-natural soap with poor results. I tried your olde tyme shaving oil with mixed results. But I think I have to draw the line at…

Whoa, what’s that comfortable tingle? And that pleasant smell? Why are my pits feeling so fresh? And… dry?

Holy crap, y’all. This Lume shit is as pleasant as… okay, maybe not pie, because that wouldn’t really be appetizing. But the goop rubs in as simply as my Arm n’ Hammer, especially if I’ve just gotten out of the shower. Even on day two, it rubs in seamlessly. Sure, in these COVID times, you also might wonder what happens on showerless days three and four? Truthfully, I hit a limit around day three, when I switch back to the baking soda. Lume works great at preventing the funk from happening. When it’s already there, it’s not quite as effective. Sure, I could shower more often, but this is Quarantine Time, baby!

So I guess I stand corrected. The KY works great on my manly-man armpits. But the manly-man soap was unfulfilling. Meanwhile the nonessential but quintessentially British oils are workable and don’t clog my drains. 

Snotty lube is a good deodorant, but coffee grounds should keep their asses in the kitchen. Bare foot and pregnant, yo!

While I’m at it, I’d like to admit one other earlier mistake. 

Sly’s ass is far better than Sandra Bullock’s. 

2020 Virtual Concert Review

Last week I wrote about the two aborted concerts that I hoped to attend in 2020. One was from Billy Joel, a tried-and-true entertainer I saw once before when I was in college. The other was Vampire Weekend, a band I wasn’t even aware of a year ago. For obvious reasons, neither concert happened.

But 2020 wasn’t completely devoid of live music. As long as you were willing to watch it on a screen.

So although I didn’t see the two concerts I intended to see, I did manage to watch two concerts in their entirety. Again, one featured old performers that I’ve already been throwing money at for decades, while the other came from a newish band that I’ve always been curious about seeing live.

Preservation Hall. 

I couldn’t make it to New Orleans to watch Vampire Weekend, but at least I could watch a streamed version of a concert for the New Orleans Jazz Preservation Hall. Or maybe it was on PBS. I can’t remember.

Seeing as New Orleans is one of my favorite cities to visit, I’ve watched a few concerts at Preservation Hall. It’s fun to stop in on an afternoon jaunt down Bourbon Street to hear jazz combos similar to my high school jazz band That’s not knock. My high school jazz band was pretty kick-ass. I love me some saxophone, trumpet, and trombone combos. Play me a simplified arrangement of a Count Basie tune, and I’ll happily put off my next hand grenade for twenty minutes or so.

At least I thought it was Preservation Hall I’d frequented on those trips down Bourbon. But now that I looked it up on Google Maps, it might actually be Maison Bourbon, a half-block away from the actual Preservation Hall. Oops.

Regardless, I was happy when they had a benefit concert online, with some really big names. I’m talking Dave Matthews, Elvis Costello, Paul McCartney. Unfortunately, it was in typical telethon fashion, where they wasted twenty minutes in between each song with interviews and “call in now” and shit. At least I could pause and skip ahead, something my grandparents could’ve only dreamed of back in the Jerry Lewis Labor Day snoozefests. 

Those big-name benefit songs had a very, very pre-recorded feel to them. There were a few, like Dave Grohl and Nathaniel Rateliff, who seemed to take it more seriously, picking their jazzier numbers and talking about the importance of either live music or of preserving olde tyme music. Others seemed to send in whatever promo song they had recorded for charity write-offs. I was looking forward to Elvis Costello and was disappointed when he just played some “songs off his newest album,” aka the part of the concert containing the Great Restroom Exodus.

Everybody on the comment box was pining away for McCartney. Where’s Paul? When will Paul be here? Clearly they haven’t sat through proper telethons. It was obvious he was going to be last, and it was obvious to be as non-specifically for Preservation Hall as it gets. He might’ve done “Hey, Jude.” I don’t remember. And he might or might not have looked two decades younger. At least Elvis had the decency to half-ass a newer song so we knew it was recorded this decade. 

I ended up liking the actual jazz band, who played an occasional song in between the big acts, better than the names that brought me there in the first place. Even so, I didn’t donate. 

I’ll drop some money at Maison Bourbon next time I’m in NOLA and we’ll call it good.

Nathaniel Rateliff. 

Later in the pandemic, Red Rocks in Colorado did an online fundraising concert, as well. Again, a place I’ve been to and enjoyed. And a band I like, as well. Tune me in.

And this was legitimately live. They were literally playing on the stage in front of an empty Red Rocks Amphitheater. You could switch cameras to watch the rocks instead, something I found myself doing when I went there, too. Although I didn’t have to switch cams then, I only had to pivot my neck.

Nathaniel Rateliff has been on my short list for some time. He wasn’t some unknown to top ten skyrocket like those Vampire Weekend upstarts. 

Of course, my first introduction to him was “S.O.B.,” the best drinking song this side of “Tubthumping.” Although neither of those songs should be considered happy drinking song. Maybe thinking enough about booze to want to write a song about it predicates a certain bipolar dependency. But then just when you’re about to commiserate with the artist, right there on the precipice of singing the blues, they bang the door down with a grandiose “fuck it, let’s get blotto.”

With a first song like that, one could understand my hesitation against full-throated bandwagon-jumping. If your initial hit is reminiscent of “Tubthumping,” you’ve gotta worry about being the next Chumbawumba. And how many other Chumbawumba songs have you ever heard? Unfortunately, I’ve heard others, and they need a drink. Holy crap, that’s a bad album.

At least Rateliff seemed to have some musical talent going for him, which was always missing from even the acceptable Chumbawumba song. Something similar could be said about Fun., which you must properly pronounce as “Fun period,” another band with a song that, at first, sounds like a fun (period) song about hanging out with your friends at the bar, something I did the majority of my twenties (and thirties). But on closer listen, it’s closer to a creepy “Every Breath You Take,” with the dude hoping to swoop in on an ex (whom he beat) when she’s drunk at the end of the night. At least Fun. had some good musical talent, but it was all based on something approaching ten-part harmony. Rateliff gets there by himself. With apologies to the Night Sweats.

But still, if you take one look at him, you don’t think rockstar. Or at least not young, eager, carpe-diem rock star. In his first music video, he looked like someone who’s been touring for forty years. Tore up from the floor up. Rode hard and put away wet. Whatever phrase you wanna use, he was no Justin Timberlake.

So somewhat gimmicky song about drinking and looking like he might be dead by the end of the week. I spent most of the last decade on the fringes of fandom. Perhaps appreciation would be the best descriptor. I heard some of his other songs and they all showed promise. What I was waiting for was the staying power. It’s so much easier when the band already has four full albums before I discover them.

Similar to Vampire Weekend, Nathaniel Rateliff’s most recent album (actually his third album, not his second as I originally believed) came out shortly before the pandemic, so I was able to hear the songs as they received copious amounts of radio play. I enjoyed “Baby It’s Alright.” Very bluesy. A ballad. Some vibrato in the voice. Polar opposite of “SOB,” although not really, because you’ve still got the mournful voice, the hurt. There’s a lot lying there underneath the surface. This was no Chumbawumba. This wasn’t even a repeat of Fun. (Am I supposed to put another period if Fun. is at the end of a sentence?).

The final hurdle I needed to pass (aside from buying his albums because that’s what YouTube is for) was to see him live. He definitely seemed to have the vibe of a good live act. I tend to like the acts whose songs are equal parts emotion and talent. Those tend to make the best shows as opposed to, say, a band that’s more concerned with choreography or pyrotechnics. In all honesty, I’m a little worried my current fascination with Vampire Weekend might wane after seeing them live. They seem a wee bit aloof, a sconce “we wrote good songs, so we don’t need to put any emphasis into it. Sing along if you must.”

So the last thing I needed to become a proper Nathaniel Rateliff fan, to finally determine if he’s talent or hack, was to see him live. And if I can see him for free, all the better. 

Oops, was I supposed to donate to Red Rocks while watching the free concert?

And yeah, the dude is solid. He feels every song. He emotes. And he’s no slouch on the guitar, either. I could see him being the kind of guy who would play for three or four hours if the crowd and venue allowed it. With “S.O.B.” it’s clear he’s got some inner demons. It feels like the stage is where he exorcizes them, and he’s all too aware of it.

One oddity was that he appeared to be playing through his entire new album, track by track. I tuned in late, so I don’t know if this was explained or if the first half of the concert was some old stuff. So he never played “S.O.B.”

I bet a lot of artists wish they could do that. After all, the new songs are the ones that mean the most to them. It’s our fault that they keep having to bust out “Freebird.” If we aren’t in the crowd then we can go fuck ourselves if we’re only tuning in for his one hit six years ago.

The weirdest part of the whole concert was that he DIDN’T come out for an encore. What the fuck? Were we not cheering loudly enough at our homes thousands of miles away? What do you want us to do? Pay to get you to…

Oh…

Oh, I think I get it now.

My bad.

2020 Aborted Concert Reviews

This is the time of year I usually review the concerts I attended over the past twelve months. I don’t see why this year should be any different.

Except for the fact that every concert on the face of the earth was canceled in 2020. Along with the movies and holidays and amusement parks. We literally had Disneyland booked for about five days after it shit down. You didn’t get that post, so I might as well tell you about a couple of great concerts that almost happened.

Billy Joel. This one wasn’t as imminent as Disneyland, but tickets were bought, timeshare was booked, and flights were very seriously vetted.

My daughter’s favorite musician is Billy Joel. Her favorite days of the year, in no particular order, are 1) her birthday, 2) Christmas, and 3) the day Billy Joel Radio returns to SiriusXM. It makes her so much fun to hang out with amongst all her other first-grade companions.

The temporary SiriusXM station was the first one we could play in the car to break the monotony of those Fisher Price CDs that formed the soundtrack to her third year on the planet. Which was far more exciting for Mom and Dad than it was for Daughter. Compared to “Wheels on the Bus” for the hundredth time, even “When in Rome” shines.

I don’t have anything against “When in Rome.” It’s Billy Joel who hates it. He claims he throws a couple shitty songs on each album because he’s tapped out after ten or eleven new songs, but the record labels require thirteen. If you wanna have a hit, you gotta make it fit.

Then again, Billy Joel also thinks “Piano Man” is just a silly limerick, so what does he know? (Even if he’s right)

Daughter’s favorite song is “Movin’ Out (Anthony’s Song),” but not for any nascent desire to warp forward twelve years so she can leave her own Mama Leoni peace-out note for her parents. Nope, she likes the motorcycle sound in the final chorus. Right after one of the final “I’m movin’ outs,” there’s a few revs and then a squeal for emphasis. So maybe she hasn’t made it far from “Wheels on the Bus,” after all.

I think it was the variety that her young ears and mind enjoyed the most. Billy Joel’s got a great catalog if you aren’t in the mood to listen to one style. If we tell Alexa to play Mumford and Sons or Jimmy Buffett or even the Beatles, artists she knows plenty of songs from, it starts to get redundant a lot sooner than if we tell her to play some Billy. 

Yes, she knows a few modern songs, too, but with no school this year, she’s still stuck in 2019. Aren’t we all? Still, the songs that really get the “Ooo, I know this one” going are “Piano Man” and “You May Be Right” and “Only the Good Die Young.” Good thing I’m not raising her Catholic.

So we figured what better first concert for her than Billy Joel? If we wait too long, we might be waiting too long, if you know what I mean. The same could be said for Jimmy Buffett, but a) it doesn’t look like Jimmy Buffett’s going to stop touring anytime soon, and b) we might get arrested when half of her blood is second-hand ganja. Maybe when she’s a teenager I’ll make her my designated driver to a Mumford concert. Is sixteen too young to have the super important “British and Aussies don’t consider cunt offensive” talk? Because last time I saw Mumford, that word came out a lot. So it’s either when she listens to Mumford or watches “The Boys.”

The added benefit of taking her to see Billy Joel was the locale. He doesn’t really tour anymore, maxing out at one big stadiums every month or so. This year, the plan was Notre Dame, Detroit, and Fenway Park, none of which are within a couple time zones of us West Coasters. I know he had a really lousy experience when he lived in LA, but c’mon Billy, that was fifty years ago.

Other than that, he has a “residency” at Madison Square Gardens. I put that word in quotes because most of the residencies I know of are in Vegas, where you play every fucking night and twice on Saturday. His residency at MSG is one show a month. Sounds more like a “recurring guest star” than anything involving the word “reside.”

When we came back from New York a couple years ago, Daughter was enamored with New York, commenting every time it popped up on anything. That’s waned a bit, but she’s still fascinated by the Statue of Liberty, something we intentionally avoided when it was just the two of us. We opted for the 9/11 museum instead, since I wouldn’t call it the most kid friendly spot in New York. 

So let’s see, daughter’s “favorite” musician (one I haven’t seen live since 1993, and who Wife has never seen) playing in New York. Add in some timeshare points that were going to expire and our Summer Vacation was set. We had tickets right behind the stage which, if nothing’s changed since 1993, is a great place to see Billy Joel, as he puts synthesizers on the back and plays a few songs to the nosebleeds.

Of course, assuming everything works the same as it did in 1993 isn’t always a sure bet. Just ask my back.

I still don’t know what’s happening with those expiring timeshare points. Back in April or May, they sent us a notice about extending all deadlines by three months to account for that “short” shutdown. Haven’t heard anything since said shutdown is at LEAST into “medium” length, right? 

So yeah, in some alternate universe, that July 25 concert was great! Daughter loved “Movin’ Out (Anthony’s Theme)” and sang along heartily to “Piano Man” when he magically returned to the stage AFTER the concert was over ONLY because our raucous applause convinced his stone-cold, New York heart that he just couldn’t finish yet.

When she’s a teenager, I’ll explain the whole pre-planned encore thing. 

Vampire Weekend. 

Earlier this year I made a list of my ten definitive albums. Not necessarily the best albums, not the dreaded desert island discs, but the albums that best defined my musical development. In the “also deserving recognition” addendum, I mentioned my newest find, Vampire Weekend. They were kinda disqualified from the album list based on the fact that I didn’t actually own any of their albums. Hard to call it one of my definitive records, or even one of my favorite bands, if I’ve never given them a penny of my money. Unless they get ad money from YouTube.

Note: Wife bought me some of their CDs for Christmas, so I suppose I can call myself a fan now. 

Regardless, bands don’t make shit off of albums anymore, which makes 2020 a particularly brutal year for recording artists. The father of my daughter’s best friend is in a band and they are reeling this year. Their European tour was canceled. He went to Nashville for two months where the band could quarantine and record a new album. I commented that at least they would have some income. He only laughed, and it wasn’t a funny kind of laugh.

What did elicit a funny laugh, at least from me, was when Daughter was on Zoom with her bestie. They play Roblox and Animal Crossing and other various games while talking on a computer screen to each other. It’s the 2020 equivalent of that quaint, outdated “going over to a friend’s house.” During one of their conversations, Daughter referenced holding a guitar, then said, in that six-year-old way, “You might not know how to hold a guitar, but my Daddy has one.” 

That’s right. Explaining to the daughter of the bass player in a band with multiple top-20 hits and a Grammy that HER Daddy owns an acoustic guitar he hasn’t played regularly since college. Maybe I can talk to her daddy about the complexities of the A-chord.

Anyway, Vampire Weekend is one of my new faves. It turns out they’ve been around for more than a decade, with four albums, but I’m in my mid-forties and can’t be bothered with this newfangled shit. Like Douglas Adams said about technology, any music that comes out after you’re thirty years old is devil-spawned racket that wouldn’t know  talent if it bit them in the ass. But when it’s a pandemic year and I can listen to music for the eight hours a day I’m usually in front of and amongst students, I might discover some music this side of the Foo Fighters.

I actually heard Vampire Weekend before everything shut down. After hearing “This Life” on the radio a few times, I had to track down who they were and the name of the song so I could play it for Wife. Better to frontload the spouse with the fact that the song currently stuck in my head has the refrain “You’ve been cheating on, cheating on me; I’ve been cheating on, cheating on you.” That’s not a phrase you want to absentmindedly be muttering to yourself without forewarning.

And of course, once I’ve played that song on YouTube, I get suggested toward their back catalog. Uplifting, catchy guitar riffs, bouncy tempo. Pretty sure I remember hearing some of those early songs a decade ago, most prominently “A-Punk,” but they didn’t distinguish themselves from a bevvy of bands like the Lumineers or Of Mice and Men.

Their lyrics are great, too. Intellectual, extended metaphors, not the normal rhyming riff-raff. One would thing I’d be predisposed to disapprove of them, starting off one of their hits with the line, “Who gives a fuck about the oxford comma?” How dare they! You know who gives a fuck about the oxford comma? Me! You know who else? Adolf Hitler, my grandfather and the man who invented internet pornography.

“This Life” wasn’t actually the first single off of their newest album. First came “Harmony Hall,” which, despite being released in 2019, contains quite possibly the definitive lyric for 2020 – “I don’t wanna live like this, but I don’t wanna die.” I hear ya, Ezra. 

So once I find a new band, and knowing that I gotta see them live to support them, I checked out their tour schedule. And what’s this? They’re going to be in one of my favorite cities, New Orleans? During my school district’s Fall Break? People with a fancy vocabulary like Vampire Weekend might call that serendipity. 

Doubt I would’ve taken Wife to this one, seeing as October is the start of her busy season at work and New Orleans isn’t as high on her list as it is on mine. Definitely not taking Daughter to NOLA until I’ve practiced that whole “cunt” speech more. In April, when we were told “three weeks to flatten the curve,” I broached the subject with a couple fellow teachers, since they’d also be off that week. Their responses ranged from “Who the fuck are Vampire Weekend?” to… “Who the fuck are Vampire Weekend?”

So I countered with hand grenades, the wondrous grain alcohol & melon concoction from the Tropical Isle on Bourbon Street. They grew intrigued. So maybe I would’ve had two people accompany me on the trip but still gone to the concert alone. 

The band canceled their May and June dates. Then July and August. I stopped checking. For all I know, Vampire Weekend ended up playing a wonderful show to a sold-out crowd, tens of thousands of fans crooning about oxford commas and cheating on, cheating on you.

Although Vampire Weekend are younger than me. Do kids still sing along at concerts? I’ve been told I can use my cellphone instead of a lighter on ballads these days. 

While I’m at it, can we do something about that 8:00 p.m. start time? That’s usually my bed time.

But it wasn’t all cancellations and catshit. I actually managed to see some concerts in 2020! If you can’t get both “live and in person,” you might as well settle for one. Again, one featured artists I saw when I was a much younger man, and another from a band I’m new to.¬†Check out my virtual concert reviews.

Getting Older All The Ti-yime

A couple of recent anniversaries really have me feeling my age.

You’d think, as a high-school history teacher, I’d be immune to the “Holy crap, that happened HOW MANY years ago?” Teaching teenagers, you’re quickly dispelled of the notion that things you remember quite clearly are still in the zeitgeist. deemed “might as well have been George Washington.” Hell, I had to explain to a FELLOW HISTORY teacher who Geraldine Ferraro was after she showed up on a standardized test. Somehow losing vice-presidential candidates from before you were born don’t come up in casual conversation often.

Did I mention a former student now teaches in my department? I had him as a sophomore. 

Sometimes it’s hard to “make things relevant” to students unaware the world existed before 2015 or so. In another couple years, President Obama might as well be George Washington to them. When teaching imperialism, I used to start with a great introduction comparing it to the Iraq War. That stopped working a decade ago. Fortunately, Trump then got butt-hurt because he couldn’t buy Greenland. Why Greenland? Same reasons we invaded Iraq: natural resources, popularity, and to give a giant middle finger to our rivals. Now that he’s soon gone, that reference has maybe three years of legs before new students are only vaguely aware of our foreign policy being run by the Fool on the Hill.

At least I’ll have the pandemic. I’ve done the math. I’m set to retire right around the time this year’s kindergartners graduate high school. So I SHOULD still be able to reference this societal moment for quite some time. Even better than 9/11, it doesn’t matter how young you are, you’ll remember how fucked up 2020 was.

So next year, when all y’all are shocked at the TWENTIETH anniversary of 9/11, I’ll shrug. 

But there are still some things that sneak up and smack me in the ass. For instance:

The Berlin Wall. This one shouldn’t have hit me this year. After all, last year was the big 3-0 since the fall. But that was back in the happy times of 2019, when we had outside lives and friends to visit and restaurants to dine at. Who’s going to take a solemn moment to memorialize thirty years since a bunch of Euros with lousy haircuts and even worse fashion senses decided to answer the Scorpions open-call for video extras?

Although the thirtieth isn’t the one that’s bothering me, either. My discomfort goes all the way back to 2018.

After all, 1989 does seem like an awfully long time ago. I too had a lousy haircut and even worse fashion sense. Remember Day-glo? For my entire teaching career, I’ve explained to my students that I was their age when the Berlin Wall came down and my German teacher was hungover for a week. 

The reason the 29th anniversary is more earth-shattering for me is because the Wall was built in 1961. Eighty-nine minus sixtyone equals twenty-eight. So sometime in 2018, the Wall had been down longer than it had ever been up. Maybe that feels weird to me because I never knew a world without a Berlin Wall. It was only thirteen years old when I was born, but in my mind it had always been there. And always would. Now it’s a footnote, like the Stuart Restoration.

Here’s another one:

The Beatles.

Last week marked the fortieth anniversary of John Lennon’s death. December 8, 1980, although it was only a little after midnight on the east coast, so it was still 12/7 here on the west coast. “A date that shall live in infamy,” indeed!

But John’s not the one that bothered me.

George died in November. 2001. Only two months after the Twin Towers, so maybe that’s why I don’t remember it being such a big deal.

I remember it, to be sure. Kinda shocking. I think I knew he was sick, but not that sick. Kinda like Chadwick Boseman. Although nothing like Chadwick Boseman because George Harrison was never, in his wildest dreams, fit enough to play either the Black Panther or Jackie Robinson, let alone both.

Plus nobody wants to see Jackie Robinson swing like he’s playing cricket.

But still, one day he was here, the next day he was gone. All things must pass. Too soon?

The Beatles channel on SiriusXM did a nice tribute to him on the nineteenth anniversary of his passing. Meaning its been almost two decades since you’ve heard the tacky “three more bullets” joke.

(For those too young to remember it, the question was what it would take to get a Beatles reunion. “One more bullet and one more cancer” doesn’t have the same ring, I guess)

But lets do some math: 1980 to 2001 is 21 years. 2001 to 2020 is 19. So we’re two years (and two healthy musicians) away from living longer with two Beatles than we did with three. How crazy is that?

I think we’ll get there. The remaining Beatles don’t appear to be going anywhere. Sure, McCartney’s aged a bit based on the photo shoot for that quarantine album he recorded. Then again, he just recorded a solo album while in quarantine! And some of us have grey hair by the time we’re half his age. Although, in our defense, at least we’re wise enough to know that nobody wants to hear creepy old dudes singing, “If you come on to me, then I’ll come onto you.” Really, septuagenarian? Aren’t you ejaculating dust these days?

As for the other surviving Beatle, holy hell. I know there’s really good hair dye, but Ringo looks the same now as he did in 1990. Did Barbara Bach steal some MI-6 de-aging formula when she teamed up with James Bond in Egypt? 

Seriously, what demon did Ringo make a deal with? I’m not opposed to a diet of fresh baby blood if it’ll thicken up my hair a little. But I’ve listened to “Yellow Submarine” forward, backward, and on super slow speed, and I’ve never found instructions to life everlasting.

So yeah, despite the fact that Paul is 78 and Ringo is 80, I think they’re both destined to outlive George longer than George outlived John.

All in all, it’s just another Beatle in the Wall.

(No Pink Floyd anniversary this month, but that’s never stopped Floyd fans from lighting one up.)

I’m trying to figure out why the Berlin Wall and George Harrison are freaking me out. The Quiet Beatle being dead for nineteen years shouldn’t trump the fortieth anniversary for the… the… shit,  I only know the cute one and the quiet one. Which one was John? The full-of-himself one? Probably the serious one, even though that’s pretty much the same thing. What was Ringo, the deal-with-the-devil one? The drummer one? The pahrump-pah-pum-pum one?

Regardless, 9/11 being twenty years ago is fine with me, but George Harrison two months later is bothersome. We just passed the fortieth anniversary of Lennon’s death. Big whoop. But the wall came tumbling down nine years later, and that bugs the shit out of me.

Although again, it isn’t the fact that the Wall fell, it’s that it really wasn’t up for very long. Twenty-eight years? I have t-shirts that old. 

(That wasn’t a joke – My Eric Clapton/Elton John concert is from 1992. I don’t think I’ve worn it in twenty years, but ya gotta keep the concert tee from your favorite concert.)

Growing up, the Berlin Wall was deemed as permanent as the Great Wall of China. East and West Germany seemed destined to outlast North and South Korea. After all, East Germany was backed up by the everlasting Soviet Union, while North Korea was only propped up by that upstart China. 

By extension, Lennon died when I was six years old,  which pretty much means he’s been dead my entire life. Allegedly my mom told me when he died, and I responded by asking who he was. “One of the Beatles,” she answered. “What are the Beatles?” I asked. I didn’t have the good sense to ask her if Stu Sutcliffe might rejoin the club now. If it was two years later, she might’ve told me he used to be in a band with the “Ebony and Ivory” guy. But not Stevie Wonder.

So Lennon being dead for forty years is the same as Teddy Roosevelt being gone a hundred. Their deaths were equally as impactful to my life. Okay, maybe not Teddy Roosevelt, since they’re in different arenas. But Lennon might as well have been Richie Valens or Buddy Holly. Or Louis Armstrong or Elvis Presley. Artists that made good music, but who were dead before I knew what good music was. 

So in my estimation, Lennon’s always been dead, but Harrison is recent. When the remaining three Beatles recorded “Free as a Bird,” it felt like a time machine, stretching back to the beforetimes. If Ringo and Paul recorded an unreleased George demo tomorrow, I’d shrug. Sure, I know “Free as a Bird” was different because of the vitriol they shared after the breakup. The key number wasn’t the fifteen years since Lennon recorded it, but the twenty-five years since the breakup. But even that’s a big nothing burger these days. Bands are always getting back together to record one more song after twenty years off. Guns n’ Roses figures if they never finish a tour (or a concert, for that matter), then they each tour can be billed as the reunion tour.

The technology of “Free as a Bird” seems ho-hum now, too. It came on SirusXM the other day, and man, it’s not a good song. John’s demo was seriously shitty sound quality. I know he has some unfinished songs on “Milk and Honey.” You can always tell “Grow Old with Me” wasn’t intended to be the final recording for that song, but “Free as a Bird” sounds like a few bars on a tape recorder. Then the other guys come in, each singing the same crappy lyrics (thanks, Paul). It’s not even verse then chorus, it’s chorus then one line from John at the other end of a 1999 cell phone, followed by a repeat of the chorus. 

If Princess Leia can appear in “Rise of Skywalker” (and you know Chadwick Boseman will show up in “Black Panther 2”), then singing with a dead guy isn’t all that impressive. Natalie Cole did it better. And with all the deepfakes these days, isn’t there enough recording of John Lennon singing to make a legitimate “new” song with his voice? A clip from here, a snippet from there, and maybe we can hear him roll his eyes performing, “If you come on to me, then I’ll come onto you.”

Maybe I need to ask some Baby Boomers if the Berlin Wall being so long ago is weird to them. After all, they had a point in their life where there was no Wall, then it was there, and then it was gone. They had a time when there were four Beatles, then there were three, and now there are two. There were two Vietnams. Now there are two Sudans.

Life finds a way.

Holy shit, WHEN did “Jurassic Park” come out?

Finished Book Two

I just won NaNoWriMo! Woo-hoo!

Unfortunately, it was NaNoWriMo 2018. Do they still have badges for that? 

Whatever. For only the second time in my life, I finished a novel last week.

Writing, that is. If I only finished reading the second novel of my life at the age of 46, I doubt I’d be trumpeting quite so loudly.

Although sometimes, when looking at the drivel I put onto a page, one might presume I’ve never actually learned how to comprehend the English language anywhere beyond “See Jane barf. See Dick dick.”

I could barely contain my giggling in the background while listening to Daughter’s first grade class work on their vocab. “Don’t let the cat <Blank> you.” “Theo and Jana <Blanked> the sandwich.” And my personal favorite, “I decided to <Blank> to the finish line.”

(The answers were scratch, split, and sprint, you sicko!)

In my mind, Book Number One took five years to write, but I never bothered looking at the stats. It turns out I was overshooting. Or undershooting, depending on what one defines as “writing.” 

According to Microsoft Word, I began Book Number One on April 1, 2014. I thought it was a NaNoWriMo novel, but that start date implies it was Camp, not NaNo proper. Not that it makes a difference. I’ve never won any NaNo, whether April or July or November. While I could probably shit out 50,000 words in a month, I wouldn’t consider it “Novel Writing.” Nor would it be be a complete novel.

My daughter, by the way, was born one month later, in May of 2014. If I couldn’t finish a book in a month with no child and Wife mostly immobile, it’s safe to say it ain’t ever happening. One November, I had a student teacher, which necessitated me to  vacate my classroom and sit in the staff room with my laptop every day. It also gave me two fewer class periods to prep and grade. I still didn’t “Win” that NaNo.

To be fair, Book One wasn’t really my first attempt. I started a hot pile of puke for NaNoWriMo in 2013, a “semi-autobiographical” retelling of my trip to Mardi Gras as a wee lad. I say “semi” because said trip happened in 2000, thirteen years earlier, and I can barely remember what I taught yesterday. I was also rip-roaring drunk a substantial portion of Mardi Gras, so even if I’d woken up every morning and written down what happened the night before, it would’ve been half-accurate at best. One morning I awoke with my jaw hurting like hell. A day or two later I remembered taking a punch to the chin while trying to break up a fight. Whether or not I broke up said fight remains a mystery twenty years later.

So yeah, that “book” made it to somewhere in the 30-40,000 word and shall grow no more. NaNoWriMo might consider that 80% of a full book, but it ain’t. Not that any of my books are likely to see the light of day, but that one shouldn’t even grace my computer screen. There’s a reason weed journals aren’t on the New York Times bestseller lists, because none of our lives are quite so hilarious as we are led to believe. 

Still, it was probably a good first attempt. Write what you know, they say. If I was ever going to push anything beyond 5,000 words or so, it probably helped that I didn’t need to plot things out, or get to know my characters. Who knows, maybe I’ll salvage some of it for blog posts some February. After all, “embellished life stories” might as well be the subtitle here.

According to Microsoft, I “finished” Book One on June 8, 2017. So not five years. More like three and some change. But it still isn’t really finished, and it’s now been six-and-a-half years. If I split the difference on those two, it’s five years, give or take.

I remember writing the last line of that book. It was a “planned” book, as opposed to a “pantsed” book, but in reality it ended up being very little like the plan. The character that was supposed to die at the end of Act II lived until the end of Act III, while at least two characters who were supposed to survive the book didn’t make it that far. One because he swapped places with the “planned” Act II death, and another because I got tired of typing all the apostrophes in his accent.

But I knew the tentpoles of the plot. I always knew what major plot point I had to get to, and the next one after that. As such, that final line was pre-ordained for three years. I might not have enunciated it in the planning stage, but by the time I was 10K words in or so, I knew precisely how it would end. The month leading up to it was both exciting and scary. I remember the feeling that June afternoon, sitting in a pub while waiting for Wife and Daughter to meet me at a baseball game, as I wrote paragraphs leading up to it.

Is this it?

One more paragraph.

Is this it?

Nah, make him go around the bend, and then…

Is this it?

Holy shit, I just finished a book.

Now what?

I guess I’ll start Book Two.

To be clear, Book Two isn’t a sequel to Book One. I’ve heard that’s a big-time no-no. Because when the editor tells me not to kill off Character One, make it Character Two instead, that’ll make Character Two’s super-important arc in Book Four super awkward. Not saying you can’t teach an old zombie new tricks, but it requires a fair amount of backtracking. During a NaNo write-in, I once met somebody who was writing the SEVENTH book in an unpublished series. Man, I hope he never has to go back and edit book one. I’m guessing some character motivations have changed in the interceding six tomes. At least I hope so.

One of my characters changed quite a bit during this book. I know that because I wanted the last chapter to mirror an earlier chapter, so I did a bit of side-by-side writing. Wow, did I really start out the character that way? He’s always been crass, but by the end of the book he’s more crude jokester. On the re-read, he’s kind of a dick early on. He also seemed to have a son in Chapter Four, but it’s a daughter by the end. I’m not sure what her name is. I kept writing [Daughter] in the final chapters, certain that I named her at some point, and when I find said name, I’ll fill it back in. This might be the problem with taking six month breaks from writing throughout the course of the book.

Sorry, let’s double back to the statistics. Book Number Two’s file was created on October 10, 2018, but I don’t think I actually started writing it then. That sounds like prime “NaNo Prep” range. The first page still has a little preview blurb, again only covering the start of the book. So I can safely assume I didn’t start the novel proper until November 1, 2018. Oh, maybe October 31, because I’ve been known to fudge a little. If it’s past 9:00 PM in California, it’s already the next day on the east coast. Heck, 4:00 PM nets me midnight GMT. It’s not like I use the extra couple hours to push me across the finish line. I promise, if I ever start at 4:00 on 10/31, I will not accept a win after 4:00 on 11/30.

Regardless of whether I started on 10/10 or 10/31 or 11/1, the fact that I finished it in November of 2020 puts it at just about a two-year novel. Not quite half of my first one, but in that range. Maybe by the time I get to book five, I can cut it to a year. I’ll still never figure out how Michael Connelly and Lee Child (pre-retirement) can churn out 17 or so books per year. It takes me longer to read their books than it takes them to write them.

Writing the ending of Book Two was a lot less cathartic than Book One. I’m sure part of it is the law of diminishing returns. After all, Book One wasn’t only a 3.5-year journey, it was a 40+ year one. Finishing any book would’ve fired off endorphins. With Book Two, it’s a matter of been there, done that. And considering that Book One is still in the editing process, experience tells me that getting to the end is little more than a checkpoint. I feel sorry for Stephen King. Does he get any joy out of finishing a book?

On the other hand, he’s a multi-millionaire who gets a movie deal every time he has a bowel movement, so maybe I should hold off on my pity. It’s like when Billy Joel says he would’ve liked to have been a history teacher. I’m a history teacher, Billy. Wanna switch? 

I also wonder if my lackluster finish stems from the fact that this book was “pantsed,” not planned. I had a couple characters and an opening scene in mind when I started. Instead of wasting another six months creating a plot I wouldn’t follow anyway, I decided to just write that opening scene and see where it ended up. Turns out it ended up at a whorehouse.

As such, the final scene has probably only been in my head for a couple months. I had a vague idea of how the characters were going to get out of their final snafu, but I wasn’t entirely sure how they would get into it. And I sure as shit had no idea of what to do afterward. Y’know, you gotta have the requisite cool-down, level-up scene after the big blowout. I know we all think in terms of “Hans Gruber falls from Nakatomi Plaza, fade to black,” but the consumer wants to see some bullshit hug-it-out scene between John McClain and Al Powell.

The final line? I thought it up a week or so ago. Not convinced it’ll make it past the first rewrite. Instead of that bronze ring I’m getting closer to each time the 500-words-a-day carousel comes back around, it felt more like the decision point after my second beer. Do I add a little bit more or call it a night here? In the end, I decided to avoid the headache waiting for me tomorrow morning if I dragged the scene out any more.

So now what? 

Unlike with Book One, where I let it sit for a year, I think I’m going to do the second pass soon. Make the drapes match the carpet. No wait, sorry. Wrong euphemism. What I meant was “check the pubes for hair dye.” Nope. Still not it. 

Make the ass match the face! That’s it! Turn that son into a daughter, maybe finally discover her name. Decide whether I want to keep the character an asshole to make his growth more astute or maybe take a little off the edge at the beginning so readers don’t hate him before they find out his daughter’s name. I also remember some stuff I wanted to switch around at the beginning. I killed off one character earlier than I should have (again, unplanned, but I found myself liking her way better than the main characters, and I thought my readers might, too, so off with her head!). Turns out her death ended up having a major effect on the main characters. Who woulda thunk that when it popped in my head one day?

Then I’ll wait. It seems like the third draft is where the magic happens. Book One started at 127,000 words. After pass two, I got it down to just over 100,000. I was doing a small amount of ass-fitting-the-face, but also cutting large swaths of inner dialogue that, while necessary for my writing process, added little to the reading process. Then I found a couple of beta readers. Well, I found 7-10 people who said beta reading sounded fun, but only two ever responded to the opening 10K I gave them. So yeah, we’ll call that a couple beta readers. I’m hoping the others didn’t get around to it. If they read it and it was too horrible to enunciate, then I might be progressing on faulty logic.

Originally, I didn’t consider this pass a third draft. I was just cleaning up those first 10K words for the beta readers. I was planning to dump the extra 90,000 words on them all at once, with caveats that I would “clean it up” later. So if I used nicer verbs in the first batch, assume they’ll make it into draft three. Or, hell, if y’all like the shitty words, then maybe next time I’ll query the diarrhea first draft and pretend it’s stream of consciousness. 

Besides, I logicked, I’m going to make changes after their feedback anyway, right? 

Except the first beta reader to get back to me said he’d be fine getting it in more 10,000-word dribs and drabs. Less daunting for him that way. So then I figured I’d “clean up” batch two. Less daunting for me that way, too.

I also wanted to play around with a way to freshen up the book that I was bored with after 227,000 words over six years. Right before sending it off, I threw in  a couple of changes I’d been thinking about, some tongue-in-cheek references to add levity and to make it substantially less derivative. Both respondents liked it, so I’ve continued adding them to the new batches.

I’m now starting my sixth “batch,” finishing up Act II. I originally named this file “2.2,” it’s pretty obvious that it’s destined for “3.0” status once I put all the batches back together. 

Draft one is putting shit down on a piece of paper. Draft two, I’ve been told, is making those words less shitty. At least for my first book, I’m finding the third draft is where I’m actually focusing on writing some good words. It’s on pace to be around 80,000 words, which seems like a good spot for a novel with a little bit of world-building. Even better that the net -20,000 words is more like -25,000 less crap plus an extra 10,000 words of those added accoutrements. 

Who woulda guessed, after cutting close to 30K from first to second, I still had more than 20K to cut. First pass, I focused on cutting full paragraphs. Second pass is taking “He decided it was time to go around the corner” to “He rounded the corner.” Can that reduce the manuscript by 20%? Turns out it can.

Book Two stands “complete” at 110K. I’m a little worried that if it goes through a similar culling process, it’ll be down to 60K or so, which ain’t much of nothin’. But I feel like I need to add some to the first half while chopping the second half. When I was still figuring everything out, I didn’t have as much to say. Once I figured out what made the characters tick, I had to explain what made the characters tick.

So I’m a little in between right now. Finishing the last few beta batches of Book One while working on the reorganization, large swath cuts of Book Two. It won’t be easy since they’re drastically different. I occasionally ran into this problem over the past month. Book One is a fantasy/historical fiction, a hero’s journey with a studious main character. Book Two is set in modern-day Vegas with one main character obsessed with sports while the asshole is likely to bust out a Golden Girls reference at any given time. Did I mention Book Two took a detour to a whorehouse? Not an easy transition from that to a heroic stand of cavaliers in chainmail.

I wrote Book Two in the present tense. Not sure why, but it seemed to fit. One goes to a whorehouse, one has not gone to a whorehouse.

So yeah, maybe I spend the next couple weeks finishing the beta batches, then do the ass-and-face pass?

More importantly, when do I start Book Three? And which book shall that be? I’ve had a few ideas bumping around, one of which started out before Book Two was even a thought. Since I went serious then funny, maybe I’ll head back to a “Very Special Episode” again.

It would also send me back on the “Planned” road. I haven’t written word #1, but I’ve known where and how the final scene will go. I might even have the final line picked out. It’s the first line that’s proven to be a right asshole.

And I could totally fuck future me up by starting Book Three this week. When I post about finishing it in 2024 or so, watch how confused I am – December 1? WTF? Did I finish a NaNoWriMo and decide to keep the mojo going? 

Never mind. I’ll KNOW that wasn’t the case.

Passing on a Passion

I’ve been teaching Daughter some of the finer parts of sports recently. Y’know, “beyond the box score” stuff that gives you a deeper understanding of what it’s like to lace up them cleats and face the world like men.

But before I could get to the intricacies of ideal down and distance for a screen pass, I had to start with more basic fundamentals. Like “this is called football.”

Not that we’ve avoided exposing her to those various American pastimes, altogether. Wife and I met at a baseball game, so Daughter attended her first minor league baseball day (on Jimmy Buffett Night, no less) at about six weeks old. She’s been to three of the five major league stadiums in California. If we’re ever allowed to travel out of state again, she should finish the AL and NL West in no time. One trip to Seattle, one trip to Colorado, two places I love to visit!

What’s that? Arizona? Texas, too? During the summer?!?

But I don’t inundate her with many televised sports. Wife and I both grew up in the 1970s and 1980s when every television in America was required to be turned on whenever anybody was inside the house or else the Russians were going to win. Nowadays we prefer to have music on instead of TV. With SiriusXM and Pandora and Amazon Music all streaming on our Alexa, it’s a variety that would’ve given me carpal tunnel system with that behemoth of a five-CD changer I spent a month’s salary on my senior year of high school. 

When we do watch TV, it doesn’t follow the same pattern as when my father only knew of two types of programming – news and sports. By contrast, our TV is tuned to Disney, Jr about ninety percent of the time. 

The times I absolutely need to watch a baseball or football game, I’ll go to another room or, since this is the 21st century, watch it on my laptop or phone on the couch right next to my daughter watching Bluey. Daughter actually thinks curling is as prominent as football, since it’s only on devices, never the TV, so I watch it more often. Use that for your 21st century communications thesis!

Ha-ha, just kidding. Communications majors never write papers longer than a paragraph. 

Sometimes I wonder if my relationship with my own father would’ve been improved if he could’ve watched his sports by himself. Or, more realistically with my dad, if he could’ve sent me to the other room to watch my cartoons because, goddammit, he worked hard to pay for that roof over my head and, goddammit, he only gets to watch sports on weekends and every evening, but not Sunday evening because that’s 60 Minutes time and…

Sorry, where was I? Oh right, if I hadn’t interrupted my dad’s sport-watching so much, he might not’ve hated me so much? Or vice versa? 

But due to a confluence of events over the past month or so, she’s had to cede a little bit of her television dominance to some live sports instead of the same episode of Vampirina for the sixth time in a row. And since I’ve commandeered the tele, the least I could do was explain what’s going on. It makes me feel less guilty about asserting my manorial rights. Plus if I don’t engage Daughter and she jumps all over Mommy, then Daddy’s sports-viewing time is going by the wayside regardless of the fact that they’re going for it on 4th-and-one.

The first sport to grace our television screen was the baseball playoffs. I couldn’t watch them on mlb.tv subscription, which I use during the regular season because I root for an out-of-town team. But somehow the 150 hard-earned dollars I spent for their product doesn’t extend to the postseason. Sheesh, talk about a rip-off! I only get to watch 162 games from my favorite team for that $150? Why, back in my dad’s day, he was able to watch something like seventy WHOLE games. But only for the local team. And only if they weren’t opposite Belle and Sebastian, which my dad referred to as “What’s-his-face and his dog.”

At least he knew there was a dog in it. During the Latchkey 1980s, that might’ve won him a nomination for Parent of the Year.

So, sitting next to Daughter for an opening-round Padres game,  I started trying to explain baseball to Daughter. And herein the problems began. Because, in case I haven’t made it clear, my relationship with my father wasn’t great, and it was even worse when it came to sports.  If you need more proof, his favorite teams were the Dodgers and the Raiders. I grew up (yes, even when he was in the house) an Angels fan. When I finally got around to noticing the football, I opted for the Broncos, probably because I’d heard my dad curse John Elway’s name many a time.

I wasn’t entirely a self-taught sports fan. My grandparents were in the Angels booster’s club and I’ve been going to games in Anaheim my whole life. But I was in my teens before I learned how to throw a baseball. I used a VCR to tape a Braves relief pitcher’s delivery on TBS, then played it back in slow-motion to copy the mechanics. To this day, I still can’t throw a football. I throw it like a baseball, which countless people tell me isn’t possible until they see me throw a football, then remark, “Holy shit, you throw that just like a baseball!” 

It’s a good thing Daughter’s name isn’t Son.

Most of my sports viewing came about in college, primarily so I’d have something to talk to “normal” people about. My interests revolved around history and classic rock and penis/fart jokes. Meatloaf says two out of three ain’t bad, but I was, at best, batting .333, and unless I could pick and choose my audience, most of the time it was a hat-trick of strikeouts. So I expanded my understanding of baseball, including the fact that there were, at the time, 23 OTHER teams not named the Angels. I also partook in the weekly dorm-floor football viewing on Sunday mornings. Sprinkle in a dabbling of hockey and basketball and, voila!, I don’t have to leave the room when my anecdote about Catherine the Great falls flat.

I’ve taught plenty of girlfriends and other nerd-friends about how to follow sports, but seeing as my own appreciation for sports occurred beyond the age of reason, I don’t know if those experiences translate to fathering. When explaining the game to a six-year old hoping for guidance and discovery, the differences between a two-seam and a four-seam fastball probably ain’t gonna cut it.

The only thing my mom ever told me about how she raised me to like baseball was that, when we went to a game, we couldn’t go get food until there was a number under the “4” on the scoreboard, meaning top of the 4th if the away team scores a run, otherwise we had to wait until the middle of the inning when the “0” pops up. In retrospect, that seems to predicate one toward rooting for the away team, but I guess she was more concerned with her wallet than my blooming sports interest. Perhaps that helps explain my disparate, heterodox sports fandom these days. I live in northern California and the short list of teams I root for include the Anaheim Angels, Tennessee Titans, Colorado Buffaloes, and Calgary Flames. Don’t ask. It’s probably worthy of blog post of its own.

And no, they’re not the Los Angeles Angels. California Angels is okay, but Anaheim Angels is ideal. It’s alliterative and appears first in the alphabet. You’re never going to win over L.A., Arte Moreno. People in Orange County hate L.A. Lean into it!

My dad is no longer alive, so I can’t consult him about how he tried (and failed) to pique my interest, or at the very least, how he explained sports to me. I assume it was something along the lines of, “Fuck off, kid, the game is on.” Not in so many words, but the message would’ve been clear.

So I started with the basics. Pitcher versus batter, the most pure faceoff in all of sports. Equal parts strategy and execution. Two warriors trying to out-think each other before resorting to natural talent honed by thousands of repetitions.

How did I translate this into Daughter-speak?

“The guy with the ball is trying to throw it through the little square on the TV screen.”

One thing is certain. I can guarantee that isn’t how my father explained it to me. 

The “little square on the TV screen” is, of course, the strike zone, which is digitally imprinted on most baseball broadcasts over the past decade. I’m usually not too big of a fan of it. It’s not the official strike zone, of course, because that’s only in the eye of the umpire. But if nothing else, it gives us verifiable proof of what we’ve all been yelling since “Damn Yankees” – “You’re blind, Ump. You’re blind, Ump. You must be outta your mind, Ump!”

As an aside, who the hell decided that Broadway musical and 1950s baseball was a good mix? Throw in the devil, too. I’d be curious to watch the “Mad Men” episode that analyzed exactly which cross-section of society they were aiming for with that one. And why, when they revived it in the 1990s, did they stick with the Washington Senators, a team which hadn’t existed in 25 years? It’s gotta be even more confusing now, with the new Washington team playing in the national league and, ergo, never losing a playoff spot to those Damn Yankees. Baltimore Orioles is the same number of syllables. Just sayin’.

So I managed to get a few basics through to Daughter. Four pitches thrown outside the little box means a walk. Unless the batter swings and misses. Until I told her, on a 3-2 count, that the next pitch was the one where it would all be decided, only to see it fouled off. Then again. Then again. 

And she was done. Maybe next season she’ll learn what a base hit looks like.

Since the World Series, we’ve been doing some mandated COVID home-improvement projects. At least I assume they are mandated, because everybody I know is building house additions and buying new couches and converting the kid’s bedroom into a dry sauna room even though the kid is still living in the house. 

Our particular project was getting new carpets. This necessitated moving a bunch of furniture around, and for about a week, we only had (shudder…) one TV plugged in. In the whole house! What is this, 1947?

To make matters worse, my Titans were on TV. Since they made the AFC Championship last year and have the best running back in the game, they’re showing up as the game of the week a little more often. This is difficult for me because I’m used to the years when they only show up on my TV once or twice a year, so I’ve attuned myself to watching every time they’re on. This year, I’ve already seen them four times and we’re only halfway through the season. Although one of those was a Tuesday game that was delayed due to COVID, so maybe it’s less about Derrick Henry and more about 2020 just being fucked up in general.

Anyway, the Titans were going to be on TV and we only have one TV in the house. Sorry, Daughter, but I’m going to do an impression of the grandfather you never met. Now pull my finger.

So Daughter plopped herself next to me and asked me what was going on in the game, what the teams were trying to accomplish.

And what did I tell her?

They’re trying to get to the yellow line. 

That’s right, the magical first-down marker which I mocked and reviled when it was first added to football games. I considered it the greatest dumbing-down in the history of sports. How the hell hard is it to figure out how far they have to go if it’s listed as third-and-four and, by the way, they’ve got a giant fucking orange stick glaring at you from the sideline. 

Yeah, THAT magical yellow line.

You see, Daughter, they have three chances to get past the yellow line, and if they’re successful, they’ll get a new yellow line. If they don’t make it, they have to kick it away to the other team, who will get a yellow line of their own. 

Fortunately, she didn’t watch long enough to see somebody go for it on 4th down.

So let’s chalk “teaching sports” up as one more thing I can’t conceive of doing before technology existed. I don’t know how we found random businesses before Google Maps. Nor how we coordinated schedules with friends. How the hell did teachers teach without googling “Russian Revolution lesson plan.” How did authors write without cut-and-paste functions? Did they really have to retype the whole fucking page to fix one typo? What happens if there’s a typo on the retype?

And now, sports. The pitcher is trying to throw the ball through the little square. A football team is trying to get to the yellow line. If I ever turn on a hockey game, I’ll have to tell her they all want possession of the glowing thing.

Well, at the very least, I can be sure of one thing. 

I’m certainly not approaching sports with my daughter the same way my dad did with me.

A Rose by Any Other (Same) Name

From what I hear, Chrissy Teigen has struggled with her pregnancy. In fact, I think she miscarried. A number of media types and people I know were super chagrined. 

Me, I kinda shrugged my shoulders.

I mean, any time a pregnant woman loses her baby is a tragedy. But on the flip side, what are we to expect when a woman her age tries to have a child? I think she’s in her fifties, at least. The very fact they could conceive, I assume through some in vitro test tube, is a miracle of science. Am I supposed to be shocked that it didn’t take?

Her husband, John Legend, we are told, sat by her hospital bed as complications took hold. A harrowing experience, to be sure.

Wait, John Legend? The guy that butchered a John Lennon Christmas song? He’s married Chrissy Teigen? Cougar much, Chrissy? 

But then I saw a picture of John Legend standing next to some young African American woman in a hospital bed. Is this a stock pohoto? Because that woman looks nothing likethe actress/model I remember from my youth. 

Wait a second… 

After weeks of hearing the story, I finally realized that Chrissy Teigen is NOT Cheryl Tiegs. Two ENTIRELY different people. 

Chrissy Teigen is only 34 years old, which makes a lost pregnancy all the more ghastly.

Cheryl Tiegs, it turns out, is actually 73 years old. So yeah, medical science or no, she ain’t getting knocked up by a wanna-Beatle any time soon.

I’m really bad at the whole “spot the celebrity” game. It bothers Wife incessantly. I can identify a Phil Collins drumfill in a random one-hit wonder from 1987, but ask me to find the similarities in pictures of Jane Foster and Queen Amidala and I’m at a loss. There’s no way it’s the same actress in each role. I mean, the one next to Hayden Christensen is the second coming of Katherine Hepburn, while the one in the MCU is being out-acted by Kat Dennings.

At least Natalie Portman kept the same hair style in those two movies. Nobody will ever convince me that the Laura Prepon who starred in “That 70’s Show” is the same Laura Prepon who has starred in… well, pretty much everything since “That 70’s Show.” After all, the former was a redhead, while the latter has been, predominantly, a blonde. East is east and west is west and never the twain shall meet. It’s not like L’Oreal makes a compass.

But obviously visuals weren’t my main issue with Chrissy Teigen and Cheryl Tiegs. Their names are way too close together. If this was a book, it would be the mark of a bad author. For instance, I made it 80,000 words into a WIP before realizing that two of the main characters are named Richard and Robbie. It wasn’t until they were in the same scene together that I realized how annoying it will be to read sentences in which they both appear. But unlike Chrissy and Cheryl, I’ll fix that in the second draft, where I’m pretty sure Robbie will become a Willie or a Billy. What are Chrissy Teigen and Cheryl Tiegs’ excuse for not fixing that shit in post-write?

I had a similar problem the first thousand or so times Daughter watched various installments of the “Hotel Transylvania” franchise. Selena Gomez voices the daughter, Mavis, which initially made no sense to me. She seems too professional an actress to be doing cartoon voiceovers, to say nothing of slumming around with Adam Sandler and his ilk. Aside from the fact that Mavis sounds like a legitimate twenty-something. And cartoons have done a good job of making the characters have similar visual characteristics as the actors that play them. Drac’s facial expressions totally match Adam Sandler, and Johnny has Andy Samberg’s weird sideways mouth.

Speaking of which, Andy Samberg and Adam Sandler in the same movie? Was Adam Goldberg unavailable? Fortunately, I’ve watched enough “Brooklyn 99” (and “The Goldbergs”) to know the difference between them, but only because Adam Sandler is about as distinctive as it gets for a guy who went to college in the early 1990s. Bob Barker once called when I was working in the state Capitol to ask my boss to vote for a spay/neuter bill and my first response was that I loved him in “Happy Gilmore.” He said he expected “Price is Right,” because, I guess, he he figured grandmas were the primary demographic for legislative aides. Who did he think I was, Chrissy Teigen?

I’m sure it shouldn’t shock you to know that, whoever I was thinking played the voice of Mavis, it sure as hell wasn’t Selena Gomez. I finally saw a behind-the-scenes video showing the actors do the voicework and Selena Gomez, would you believe it, is actually a twenty-something who looks a bit like Mavis, her character.

The problem is that I have no idea who I thought “Selena Gomez” was referring to. I’m pretty sure this was the first time I realized Selena Gomez existed as a human being. I never explicitly thought of anyone in particular, but had the general sense of a middle-aged Latina. Perhaps Salma Hayek, because their first names have a lot of the same letters, but I kinda got a Jennifer Lopez visual in my head, which of course looks nothing like Mavis. Or Selena Gomez.

Obviously I know who J-Lo is, and her name is nowhere close to Selena Gomez. But hear me out. She played the original Selena in her biopic. 

Okay, maybe you didn’t need to hear me out, cause that’s all I’ve got.

Obviously Selena Gomez isn’t that Selena, because she died long before “Hotel Transylvania.” But that at least gets me over the “Jennifer Lopez is Selena” hurdle. Add in the fact that Selena Gomez dated Justin Bieber, while J-Lo dated Alex Rodriguez, and I hate both of them. Incidentally, I thought it was Tom Brady that J-Lo dated, but a Google search told me it was the other overrated sports figure in the northeast that I stopped watching ESPN because of. And no, Salma Hayek never dated Tom Brady, either.

To be fair, unlike C. Teigen and C. Tiegs, I never explicitly thought Selena Gomez was Jennifer Lopez. I just had a general idea in my head that Selena Gomez was a fifty-something singer/actress who had been around since the mid-1990s. So maybe I really did just think she was the dead Selena.

Finally, let me head off the potential woke response of me being a typical white male who can’t distinguish between individual members of other ethnicities. Because I can’t tell white dudes apart, either.

Harry Styles is, allegedly, yet another singer and actor. Does anybody do one or the other anymore? I guess most actors stay in their lane, at least since the glory that was Eddie Murphy’s “Party All the Time,” but singers, it appears, must now become actors. I blame it on Justin Timberlake. Or Frank Sinatra. They might as well be the same person. 

Not that I get them confused.

For some reason, Harry Styles pops up in my news feed from time to time. Maybe he’s dating someone? Or has some political view that he needs to inform everybody about? I’m not sure and I don’t want to google it lest I get MORE headlines about Harry Styles – I’m already suffering from a slew of Selena Gomez info since I wrote the first part of this blog post yesterday.

If I had to guess, though, I think Harry Styles is some sort of fashionista. I don’t know if that’s a gendered word. A fashionister? Or maybe fashionisto? fashionistx? As an aside, I heard someone refer to a number of major league baseball players as Latinx, which confused me because I thought we were only supposed to use Latinx to refer to a group with both Latinos and Latinas. Is Latino offensive even if it’s a group of males of Latin American origin? Of course, I’m only asking the white people this, because no person of Latin American origin uses the phrase Latinx because it makes absolutely no fucking sense in Spanish.

Sorry, where was I? Right. Harry Styles. I couldn’t figure out why Harry Styles was making headlines for things like who he was dating or his new hairstyle. I mean, even when the dude was relevant, what, twenty years ago, I would never have called him hip. Hilarious, sure, but he’s tall and lanky, a goofy body frame perfect for physical comedy and not much else.

Have you spotted my train track yet? I was thinking of Ryan Stiles, the improv actor most notable for being on every single episode of “Whose Line is it, Anyway?”, both the English (good) and Drew Carey (bad) iterations. From this mid-40s perspective, he’s the far more important and influential of the Stileses, but I’m slowly coming to realize that he isn’t the ONLY of the Stileses.

It’s tough being me sometimes. Probably even tougher being my wife.

Now if you’ll excuse me, I’m off to research the subtle distinction between Jimmy Dean and James Dean.

Nostalgia on Rolling Wheels

A week or two before the shutdown, I found myself at the local skating rink.

In fact, it was literally days before society ended. Maybe the Friday before the Friday when the toilet paper ran out. I remember it clearly because the skating rink had hand sanitizer out and one of the local parents kept doing shots of that alcohol-based substance like we were experiencing a Friday night in our twenties, not our forties. How silly she’s going to feel, I remember thinking, when this whole thing blows over in a week or two.

And our kids still haven’t returned to school.

Sorry, I might’ve buried the lede on that story. Did I forget to mention that my town has a skating rink?

No, I don’t mean a skate park. I’m also not talking about some tennis court that’s been turned into a roller hockey court or a running track that’s been turned into a roller derby course. Nor is it ice skating.

I’m talking about an honest-to-goodness, slick wooden oval roller rink. Like with roller skates and shit. Straight out of 1978!

And let me tell ya, the decor is straight outta 1978, too. Check this out:

Can it be called retro if it’s the same it’s always been? You gotta give props to a company that keeps the same decor so long that it comes back into style again as a chic throwback. Imagine how much I’ll be crowing when those jean shorts in the back of my dresser come back around. Of course, it’ll all be moot if my 32-inch waist doesn’t come back at the same time.

My COVID hairstyle is looking suspiciously close to what all the hip dudes were sporting on MTV in the mid-1990s. Or how Keanu Reeves has looked his entire career. 

Keanu: the Jorts of Hollywood!

I actually went to the skating rink five times in the twelve months before lockdown. She became a kindergartner and all of a sudden we had to engage in spirit nights. And if skate nights worked to pass some cash the elementary school’s direction four decades ago, then they still serve that function now. The more things change, the more they stay the same. My daughter informs me on a regular basis that the floor is still hot lava! You’d think somebody would’ve done something about that since I was five years old. But nope. I’m sure the next politician running for office will promise to fix it during Infrastructure Week.

It’s not just for school, though. Only two of those five visits were supporting the school. One was for the girl scouts, the other two birthday parties. But I tie it all back to the elementary school, because without them leading the way with three or four fundraising nights a year there, I don’t think the girl scouts would’ve organically thought up a pastime from the early 1980s. Neither the six-year-old nor the seven-year-old could explain to me the finer points of trickle-down Reaganomics. 

The first time we went, Wife told me we were taking Daughter to her school’s skate night. 

“Ice skating?” 

“No, roller skating.”

Eyes narrowed, looking for TV cameras from a prank show. 

“At the school?” 

“No, this town has a roller rink.”

Blink. Blink.

“Do we have to buy…”

“Rentals.”

And before you ask, yep, they’re the same rentals you remember. Literally the same ones. Remember that one pair with the frayed shoelaces? I think I was wearing that exact pair in March.

Daughter had a great time and ended up asking Santa for a pair of skates for Christmas. Santa gave her what she wanted, which kept alive the streak of new wheels for every birthday and Christmas. I’m not kidding. Since she was two, every gift exchange has had some sort of wheeled travel item. It went from tricycle to balance bike to bike with training wheels to scooter to taking the training wheels of the bike. Last Christmas came the roller skates, which she promptly took out to skate on the street Christmas morning. She got a big-girl bike for her birthday this year, so I guess we’re up to car this Christmas? Is something else supposed to bridge the wheeled gap from six to sixteen?

I tweeted out a joke that it was also my fifth time at the skating rink in the past year, and also the fifth time at a skating rink since the Reagan administration. I was going for hyperbole, trying to be funny, but the more I thought about it, it might’ve been spot on. I remember roller blading a few times in college and beyond, but that was always done around the college campus, or on one of those aforementioned basketball-court-turned-hockey-rinks. Never did we go to a private entity designed exclusively for skating round and round in an oval.

So maybe in high school? But I don’t remember any skating rinks being open during high school. And my four years in high school matched the four years of the first Bush presidency. So yeah, snar-casm (snarky sarcasm) aside, I think it’s legitimately been since the Reagan administration since I’ve been to a skating rink. If I had to pinpoint a precise year for my last trip, I’d maybe say 1985. “Don’t You (Forget About Me)” seems like a good final song to red-light/green-light to.

Sorry, not “final” song, since I’ve now red-light/green-lighted to “High Hopes,” or maybe it was “Old Town Road” or “The Middle.” Or maybe “Don’t You (Forget About Me).” The DJ has to still have it.

In addition to red-light/green-light, they still play four corners. The DJ also referred to something as “bitchin’,” a word I haven’t heard since the last time I was at a skating rink. Now I know where it’s been hidden all this time. Jesus, this place really is like Goonies and Ghostbusters trapped in amber. 

Speaking of retro, the roller rink had an advertisement (on one of their 12-inch box TVs) for an upcoming “Retro Night.” I didn’t check at the fine print, but I imagine the date was listed as January 1-December 31. I don’t know what they could do to make themselves more retro. Except maybe clean up some of the dust. And put out lines of cocaine.

Unfortunately, my skating skills aren’t what they were in 1985. Gotta admit it’s a little wobbly. Plus I’ve gotten used to ice skating, where you can more or less stop on a dime by turning your feet sideways. If you turn your feet sideways while the wheels are still moving forward, you’re in for a crash course in Newton’s Laws of Motion. I’ve also become more used to rollerblades, where they’re smart enough to put the brake in the back. Roller skates still have the rubber brake knob on the front. This makes no fucking sense. If you’re moving forward and you have to lean farther forward to slow yourself down, you’re just going ass over teakettle. Back brakes slow you down. Front brakes work like a pole vault. 

One thing that’s different is the tweens out on the rink. Not the concept of tweens, because skating rinks have always been the haven for “too young to drive, but old enough to be dropped off by parents for two hours.” But the big difference between tweens now and tweens then (aside from Day Glo) is that nowadays they have phones. And they’re on said phones while they’re skating, which is an action they don’t perform all that often. Do you see where I’m going with this? They crash because they’re looking at their phones. It’s fucking hilarious. Plus, I don’t have to feel guilty about laughing at them as I speed past. I can justify that they’re learning valuable lessons before they have a car around them.

The birthday party was scheduled to wrap up at 8:00. I figured that was just a suggestion, but around 7:40, they mentioned that we only had twenty minutes left. They were kicking us all out. Ah, I figured. The place closes down at 8:00. Kinda makes sense if you cater to kids and birthday parties. Then let the teenaged employees out before its too late. Maybe they need to head home to start up their weekend homework. I’m sure that’s what all my students do with their Friday night. 

Just kidding, they don’t start their homework Friday night. That’s what third period on Monday is for. 

My assumption about closing time at the roller rink was just as off-base. They told us we needed to get all the rentals and crutches (they’ve fashioned PVC pipe into triangular “walkers” for beginning skaters, of which there are quite a few at a sixth birthday party) back to the front to be ready for their next session. Next session? You mean the skate rink is open past 8:00 on a Friday?

And boy howdy, they are. When we left, we walked past the line waiting to get in. There had to be at least fifty people. Maybe closer to one hundred. Many were those very same teenagers who were supposed to be home working on school work. But there were also twenty-somethings and parents. Some people even looked to be my age. Just like 1978, if the skating rink is ROCKIN’, y’all better come knockin’!

Makes me wonder why there aren’t more roller rinks around. Sure, they can’t pull like they did in their heyday. I remember at one point my little town of 20,000 or so had its own roller rink and there was another one in the town of 30,000 a few miles away. That’s a level of glut that golf courses are now trying to draw back from. When Tiger was big, every municipality wanted five new golf courses. Now they need to figure out what to do with acres and acres of manicured land. One of the ones nearby turned into a soccer golf course.

But most towns have room and demand for one golf course. And they probably could stomach a skating rink, too. The problem, of course, was that most of them didn’t make it through the 80s and 90s to the point where they became retro chic. I imagine if you found yourself at a roller rink in, say, 1990, it was skeevy as hell. Cocaine in the bathrooms is groovy, but hypodermics are just a drag, man. I imagine the one in my town must own the land it’s built on. There’s no way it made it through the Clinton administration if it was paying monthly rent. 

But now the few remaining rinks have come full circle to wholesome family entertainment again. The type of place where they have elementary school nights and children’s birthday parties. In 1990, the only children having birthday parties at roller rinks were probably giving freebase spoons away in their goodie bags.

The range of “cool in the 1970s, later a joke” runs the gamut. On one end, you have bowling alleys. Somehow they’ve survived in spades. Not that bowlers are hip these days. Were they ever? But if I started this blog by saying I went bowling last weekend, you wouldn’t be all that surprised. Nobody’s ever looked at me with an odd expression, asking, “Did you just say there’s a bowling alley opened near you? Like, with pins and shit?”

On the other end of the spectrum is the old drive-in theater. Those used to be in abundance and now they’re only remembered as shrines to date rape. 

Actually, Sacramento still has a drive-in theater. Not sure how, cause I’ve gone a few times and, unlike the roller rink, I wasn’t pleasantly surprised. I wasn’t curious as to why they never made it to Y2K. 

The only reason drive-ins have value (aside from the fact that blow jobs in crowded movie theaters are frowned upon) is for families with kids. The kid can fall asleep in the back seat and the parents are finally able to see adult entertainment without taking out a second mortgage to get three hours of babysitting. 

But movies have gotten too good to be wasted on the shitty screen quality of drive-ins. Our TV screens are better. Our phones are better. And the only movies that we even bother to see in the theater anymore are the ones that are visually stunning enough to be wasted on our home screens. If my TV can’t do it justice, then the drive-in is straight-up insulting the director. Especially when some jackwagon drives up late to the movie, or leaves early, shining their headlights on the screen right when the boobs pop out CGI space-battle explosions reach their climax.¬†

I guess that sentence was going to end with a climax, either way.

Actually, the drive-ins managed to reopen long before the indoor theaters. It turns out the Sacramento drive-in is owned by a company that has seven or eight of them throughout the western U.S. I remember when they reopened in mid-May, making me ponder why a business where I stay in my car the entire time was closed to begin with. 

Of course, when they reopened, there were no new movies coming out. That’s been a problem for other movie theaters as they’ve reopened. Wasn’t “The Empire Strikes Back” the top grossing movie of April? I think when the drive-in reopened, it had a double-feature of two Spiderman movies – Tobey McGuire’s and Andrew Garfield’s. Or maybe it was “Goonies” and “Ghostbusters” trapped in amber.

But skating rinks should have gone the way of the bowling alley, not the drive-in theater. It’s a shame, because as I rediscovered over my daughter’s first year of public schooling, there’s still a place for zipping around in circles in this app-laden world. 

Maybe I should do something about that.

Right after I finish this petition to bring back lawn darts.

It’s a Holiday Trilogy, Charlie Brown

Trilogies come in all shapes and sizes.

Scratch that. They all come in the same shape and size, that being “three.”

What I meant to say was they have a variety of styles.

You’ve got “Back to the Future,” which has the same basic plotline, but in three different genres. Time is broken because someone’s driving the 1980s version of a Tesla, and Alex P. Keaton needs to fix it before midnight, when he turns into a Teen Wolf. But they tell it as a teen comedy, then dystopian sci-fi, then a western so we wont notice. 

There’s “Superman,” where they also played with time travel. No, I’m not talking about Superman spinning the world backward to save Lois Lane. I’m talking about how “Superman III” was so bad that it went back in time and made “Superman” and “Superman II” worse. As in, you would never set out to rewatch them as a complete saga, so as to avoid needing to watch the third movie. It also went forward in time, making sure “Superman IV” flopped so hard that I often need to remind myself that the original “Superman” trilogy was not, in fact, a trilogy.

Don’t forget “Indiana Jones,” which was three entirely unrelated movies. I’m pretty sure “Temple of Doom” takes place a decade before “Raiders” and nobody noticed. Yet still they stopped at three (not counting the geriatric sequel and newly-announced “Indiana Jones and the Artificial Hip.”).

More recently, there were three Iron Mans, three Captain Americas, there’s about to be three Spiderman movies for the third time. Except the second Spiderman 2 was so bad, they didn’t make the third. But you know they were planning to. Thor is filming its fourth, which feels wrong. Ironically, the MCU killed off all the characters who could have aged along with their actors, but is keeping the one who’s supposed to be immortal.

Three is the magic number. A trilogy is a great way to space out a story, making each entity distinct while still fitting an overall narrative and theme. If you go beyond three, you’re getting into James Bond territory. Don’t get me wrong, I love the Bond franchise. But prior to Daniel Craig, there wasn’t much cohesiveness from one movie to the next. We never questioned how the character went from a suave Scot in the 1960s to a pull-my-finger prat for most of the 1970s and 1980s. Come on, Roger Moore NEVER would’ve landed Ursula Andress. And I don’t think Sean Connery would’ve fucked Grace Jones.

Despite some lousy writing (and some pretty poor acting, to be honest), Star Wars is probably the definitive trilogy. Sure, sure, Fellowship of the Ring, blah, blah, blah. Let’s talk about Star Wars.

The first movie is a standalone. It’s a complete story of a terrorist whose home is destroyed by an uncaring empire, so he finds solace in an ancient religion. Han Solo redeems himself. Nary a midi-chlorian in sight. Nobody gives a second thought to Alderaan appearing to be both a democracy and a monarchy. If “Empire Strikes Back” never existed, we wouldn’t have given two shits about balance in the Force or chosen ones. Luke Skywalker was just an orphan farmboy, not a hugely-important lost son of a world-famous… orphan farmboy.

The second movie is the darkest one. It expands upon the worldbuilding, throws in some twists and turns, delves into the lure of evil. Han Solo being frozen in carbonite was quite possibly the cliffhangeriest of endings in cinematic history until “Avengers: Infinity War” came along. Of course, we all knew Harrison Ford would be back for the finale. What we really didn’t know was whether or not Darth Vader was lying when he said Luke was his son. I know this might shock anyone under the age of 40, or anybody involved with any of the subsequent movies except “Last Jedi,” but for three solid years, grade schoolers debated that question endlessly. It was never a forgone conclusion that two families, the Skywalkers and the Palpatines. were the only ones who mattered and everybody else should go fuck themselves.

“Return of the Jedi” gets maligned for being cheesy, campy, featuring too many characters chosen for their cute cuddliness moreso than their ability to add to the storyline. I speak, of course, of Jabba the Hutt. But seriously, the third part of a trilogy is supposed to be happy. It’s resolution. It’s catharsis. The heroes are fulfilling their journeys while the villains receive their comeuppance, at least until Episode IX. If that doesn’t call for some walking, talking teddy bears, then I don’t know what does. 

So while I might nitpick some of George Lucas’s character beats, for the most part he nails the proper emotional beats of a trilogy.

I don’t know why it was so tough for Charles Schultz.

What’s that? You didn’t know there was a Charles Schultz trilogy? Sure you did. You watch the three holiday episodes in the same order every year.

Much like Star Wars, the Peanuts holiday specials feature a cast of characters each moving through their own arcs. Charlie Borwn and Lucy go through their Han Solo and Princess Leia “will they or won’t they” tete-a-tete. Peppermint Patty and Marcy go through their… scratch that. The lesbians are the blossoming, unrequited love story. Charlie Brown and Lucy are C-3PO and R2-D2, incessantly bickering while having little impact on the plot.

But the true focus of this trilogy, the unassuming hero, is Linus. A little dab of Frodo and a vast heaping of Luke Skywalker, all rolled into one. He even has his own lightsaber-esque weapon nobody else comprehends in his blanket. And, again like Luke, he struggles with the meaning of purity, of life, against a myriad of ancient philosophies preaching right and wrong. 

Except the order makes no fucking sense. Schultz starts with “Empire Strikes Back.” 

We all know the plot of the Peanuts Halloween special. It’s even in the title. “It’s the Great Pumpkin, Charlie Brown.” Linus is a pagan who believes in plant gods, despite everybody around him arguing against it. He even drags Sally into his heresy, hoping to start his own Jim Jones-esque sex cult. Fortunately, she doesn’t drink the Flavor-Aid, and in the end, he’s the only one clinging to his pagan gods, staying in the pumpkin patch all night. Even after his sister rescues him, with a force-connection similar to Leia at the end of “Empire Strikes Back,” he’s unconvinced. As C-3POS whines about the Halloween Party, implying that getting rocks instead of candy is every part as bad as Linus’s near hypothermia and shaken faith, Linus still believes, shouting about the true meaning of Halloween. As he tests his new robotic hand and looks out the window to see the imposing phantom of Darth Vader. 

See what I mean? Totally should be the second story in the trilogy. Especially when you consider where his story arc is going.

In “A Charlie Brown Christmas,” Linus again takes center stage (literally) for his deep-rooted faith. Only this time, he’s quoting Christian scripture. “For unto you is born this day in the City of David a Savior, which is Christ the Lord.” He goes a little overboard, requesting a spotlight. Clearly his conversion never got around to the whole Sermon on the Mount shit. You know, “do not [pray] like the hypocrites; for they love to stand… at the street corners, so that they may be seen by others.” 

Then again, it’s been less than two months since he was a full-on pagan, so give him some time. I assume his Christian sponsor hasn’t made it to the Gospel of Mark yet. We’ll never know how his conversion happened, because the Jan Brady of the Peanuts holiday trilogy doesn’t give us shit for answers. 

I’m talking, of course, about “A Charlie Brown Thanksgiving.” Our hero doesn’t appear too much in this one. Maybe he’s off on Dagobah learning about the Easter Bunny. However, his brief appearance is profound, providing the plot linchpin. Peppermint Patty invited herself and others over to Charlie Brown’s for Thanksgiving, but he’s supposed to be at his grandmother’s house. In a Solomonic decision, Linus suggests he cut his Thanksgiving in half, giving the first half to his friends and the latter to grandma.

Is that why he can only quote parts of the New Testament come Christmas? Was he wasting his two-month crash course on the Old Testament? C’mon, man, the Ten Commandments are sooooo 4,000 BC.

He still has some fallacious understandings of the social sciences. Instead of whatever religious studies class he’d failed or sociopathic breakdown he was having at Halloween, this time he only exhibits a minor misunderstanding of history. Not surprising, considering he was likely a product of a jingoistic post-WWII education system with a tendency to hire teachers incapable of enunciation. 

What he espouses is the typical Thanksgiving bullshit. That the Pilgrims were kicked out of England because evil Anglicans didn’t allow Puritans, even though there were Puritan members of Parliament. Hell, twenty years after the Pilgrims, one of those Puritans raised a damned army and captured and killed the fucking king. Yeah, that sounds like a society where poor Puritans just couldn’t exercise any rights. In reality, the Pilgrims were seditious rabblerousers. Not only were they kicked out of England, but the Netherlands, too. Can you imagine being kicked out of Amsterdam? That’s like being banned from Vegas. And they weren’t even card counting! Oh, and the Dutch? They were Calvinists, too.  So the “religious freedom” the Pilgrims sought was freedom from their own fucking religion. Or at least the people in their religion who felt it was okay to live among other religions.

But whatever. Linus wasn’t spouting anything that the average American doesn’t still believe today. Like that the Pilgrims were the first British colonists, despite the fact that they’d been down in Jamestown for thirteen years already. Blame that one on old “Honest” Abe, who made Thanksgiving up during the Civil War. He couldn’t have the country originating from Virginia for obvious reasons. So he glorified the Pilgrims and pretended they came to America for freedom, something the North claimed to be fighting for. In reality, Jamestown was founded for money, that TRUE American ideal. While I may quibble with some of the claims of the 1619 Project, one thing I’m grateful for is that there is finally an official acknowledgement that there were non-natives in British America before the Pilgrims, who didn’t show up until a year later, in 1620.

Linus also chose to ignore the whole genocide thing. Y’know, the natives gave the Pilgrims a shit-ton of food and in return… well, there aren’t a lot of Native Americans left in the Boston area. They must’ve been so full of love, appreciation, and turkey that they all… they all… 

Hey, don’t forget! The Pilgrims killed all the witches in Salem, too. Who loves baseball and apple pie and racial co-mingling?

But like I said, I don’t understand the character progression.

Because much like Luke Skywalker’s conversion to the force, the Peanuts holiday trilogy is the story of Linus’s personal journey from paganism to the righteous might of Christ. It makes sense, given Schultz’s uber-evangelical Christianity, right? I mean, Schultz doesn’t even think Marcie and Peppermint Patty are lesbians. How d’ya like that? Wrote the best star-crossed lovers since the Capulets and the Montagues, but didn’t even realize it because they were both Juliets.

It’s only the order of the stories that’s missing. How does Abraham Lincoln’s errant, white-washed version of Thanksgiving serve as the middle chapter. Does it begin the transition? Like the Native Americans themselves, they once had pagan beliefs of Great Pumpkins, but after they shared some turkey (with a side of smallpox), their pagan beliefs magically disappeared. 

Along with their lives. 

But let’s focus on the gravy.

If Schultz wanted to tell a proper, and literal, come-to-Jesus trilogy, I feel like he shoulda put Halloween in the middle. Sure, it might be tough with that whole “calendar” thing, but hear me out.

Linus starts with some vague misconceptions about Thanksgiving. It shows he’s not a bad guy, maybe a little bit gullible, too trusting of dubious stories. Then in the second story, he follows those personal foibles down a deep path, finding himself outside, alone, praying to a pagan deity of autumnal squash. Doesn’t that make his “Return of the Jedi” conversion more triumphant? And the lord said, I give unto thee a jedi, like my father was before me.

Then he signs Marcie up for conversion therapy.

I know what you’re saying. It’s not supposed to be a trilogy. They weren’t written in the same order we watch them in.

But ready for me to blow your mind?

The Christmas special came first!

That’s right, Charles Schulz wrote Linus’s beautiful Christian soliloquy first. A year later, he decided that the only member of the Peanuts gang who could properly quote scripture should become a druid of the Great Sky Gourd. Is there some hidden message there that Chuckles was secretly tired of going to church every Sunday and would rather be home watching the Vikings game?

The Thanksgiving special didn’t come till a decade later. More “The Phantom Menace” than “Return of the Jedi.” And I suppose that makes sense. Less redemption, more Jar Jar Binks.

What a picture perfect portrayal of modern America. Both halves of the country think they’re speaking the True Word of Wisdom while the other half spouts gobbledygook that’s going to get them hurt. 

But they can all agree on one thing. 

A complete misunderstanding of history.