Archive for March, 2013

Looking Forward to The Next Three Days

Saturday, March 30th, 2013

Sorry I haven’t been blogging too much this week, guys.  I’ve been a little busy writing my next column for AutismAfter16 and getting started preparing a speech I’m going to give at a meeting of a local special education group.  I’ve wanted to write some more blog posts, but I also want to tighten up these other pieces of writing and they took a bit more time to work out than I anticipated.  I’m still looking forward to this weekend and this coming April Fools Day, though, because there’s a lot of other stuff coming up during that time which I am really excited about.  Here’s a few of the reasons why I’m so pumped for the next three days.  (And before you mention that Easter Sunday falls on this weekend, yes, I’m aware of that, and it is certainly very important to me, but I want to focus on some other stuff you might not know about.)

Syracuse is in the Elite Eight!

The NCAA men’s basketball tournament is in full swing, and heading into this weekend’s games, my hometown team, the Syracuse Orange, is in the quarterfinals.  I caught small portions of the team’s first few games on TV, but I haven’t watched a full game yet.  I intend to take a little time to watch their quarterfinal game against Marquette on Saturday and see how they do.  I’ve watched a few college basketball games in recent months, and I really appreciate how quickly they can go, unlike football and baseball games which, to me, seem to move at a snail’s pace and sometimes even slower than that.  I think the Syracuse game will be a fast and fun diversion for me, and I might check out the other Elite Eight games, too.

Two of my favorite game shows are doing special episodes on April Fools Day!

It’s been a tradition for the past few years for The Price is Right to air special episodes on April Fools Day in which things get a bit weird.  For instance, the 2009 edition saw everyone on the show from host Drew Carey to the models and even the contestants all wearing Groucho glasses, Drew’s friend Kathy Kinney making a cameo appearance as Mimi Bobeck, her character from The Drew Carey Show, to serve as a model, and one of the Showcases at the end featuring all of the items facing away from the camera, even the car!  The 2010 show , the first April Fools show I remember seeing, featured Kathy Kinney returning as Mimi to act as an executive producer for the day and going on the ultimate power trip; the highlight was probably the Showcase round with both contestants bidding on the exact same prizes, except that the second contestant’s version had an added Mini Cooper.  The 2011 show (here’s part 1, part 2, and part 3) was easily the weirdest game show episode I have ever seen, where just about everything on the show managed to go wrong in some way, and the special “ten thousandth thing” Drew kept saying was going to happen on the show never actually occurred.  It was one of the funniest shows I’ve ever seen, and I’ve wanted to see something like it again ever since.  I missed last year’s show, but I hope to see what they will do this year.  From it’s description, this year’s April Fools show sounds a little less weird to me; Drew and announcer George Gray will serve as models while the regular models take turns hosting the show.  I sure hope things will be stranger than normal.

On the same day, Let’s Make a Deal will have a special April Fools episode.  I don’t recall Deal ever doing an April Fools’ show before, so their first try should be very interesting.  Several contestants who got losing “zonk” prizes during past episodes will return in this show to try to get something better, and host Wayne Brady has promised to do a special group deal involving the entire audience.  If it’s as strange as the Price is Right April Fools shows have been, then I’ll be quite the happy camper.

Sale of the Century is coming to GSN!

A couple of weeks ago, I was perusing one of the game show news websites I have bookmarked on my iPad, when I saw a breaking news story on it that took me quite by surprise.  I thought it might be an early April Fools prank, although it was further supported by an ad that started airing on GSN (the name Game Show Network has gone by for the past few years) which said the same thing: Sale of the Century is coming to GSN on April 1st at 9:30 A.M. Eastern time!  I really hope this news is true, because over the past few months, Sale has become one of my favorite game shows ever.  It feels like Jeopardy crossed with Let’s Make a Deal.  Some general knowledge questions are asked with correct answers earning contestants a bit of money.  Every so often, the contestant in the lead has the opportunity to “buy” luxury items such as furniture or exotic trips at the cost of a portion of their earnings.  The contestant with the most money at the end gets a fabulous prize like a 52-day cruise, a ten thousand dollar check, or even a new car if they stay on the show long enough.  I’ve watched a few episodes of Sale on YouTube, and it looks like it could be a really fun show for me to play along with.  There’s also a bunch of new episodes of other classic game shows on GSN on April 1, so that could be a really good day for me to “call in sick,” at least in the morning.  I sure hope those new shows aren’t an elaborate prank.

These are a few things I’m anticipating over the course of the next three days, and I’m sure there will be a few surprises along the way.  Leave your thoughts in the comments, and have a great weekend, everybody!

Thomas the Tank Engine: A Sodor Sing-Along

Monday, March 25th, 2013
All aboard!

Rolling along the tracks of life…

I’ve been on a bit of a “Thomas the Tank Engine” kick lately.  Since the recent announcement of a new Thomas movie coming out in 2013, I’ve been hunting for Thomas videos and DVDs at garage sales and  bargain bins, looking to reconnect with a cherished piece of my childhood.  I’ve also tuned in weekly to the Thomas & Friends TV show to see what all the engines look like now that CGI is being used instead of the old model trains (I prefer the models, but the computer animation isn’t too bad).  I have rediscovered many wonderful friends on the island of Sodor, and I love seeing them all.  A couple of days ago, I bought a DVD full of songs from the TV show and spent a bit of last night appreciating just how good the songs were and the great memories they brought back.  Here’s a few of my favorite songs from the show along with links to YouTube videos featuring them.  Credit for most songs goes to series composers Mike O’Donnell and Junior Campbell who I feel gave just the right kind of lighthearted feel this series called for in terms of music.  The one exception is “Hear the Engines Coming” which was written by Robert Hartshorne.  Feel free to share them with your kids; I think these songs are too much fun to keep to yourself.

“Toby”

This song features one of my favorite engines in the whole Thomas universe (other than the big blue guy himself, of course).  It’s a three minute retelling of the story of how Toby the tram engine came to Thomas’s railway after being shut up in a shed for years.  That story almost always makes me cry a little at the thought of Toby being cut off from everyone for so long.  The song makes this thought even more unbearable for me because the kids singing it soon start wailing, “Toby, oh Toby,/What will become of you?/The world’s much nicer whenever we see you.”  I agree with them wholeheartedly: the whole world does seem a lot nicer whenever I see Toby’s big square body and cute little smile, and I’m glad that the song ends with him going out into the world again.  It also has a great melody taken from Toby’s signature upbeat musical theme which always precedes his appearances in the series and which I never tire of hearing.  No matter how old I might get, I’ll always cherish Toby’s presence in my life.  Like the song says, “Oldies but Goldies, we still care for you.”

“Sir Topham Hatt”

Please note that this is the 1994 song, not the 2010 rendition which covers virtually the same territory but with a light jazz motif which I really don’t like much at all, so, in my opinion, the lesser said about that one the better.  The 1994 song is a musical tribute to the big guy in the top hat and black coat who runs one of the most famous parts of the Sodor railway system.  Basically, the song covers Hatt’s rotund figure, his control of the railway, and recounts a few of his more iconic moments in the series.  It’s all sung to a melody that throws its weight around through heavy percussion beats and loud brass notes, just like the character it is dedicated to.  If you ever wanted to explain to someone who has never heard of the Thomas franchise who Sir Topham Hatt is, this song would be a good place to start.

“Hear the Engines Coming”

As I hinted at above, I generally don’t like a lot of the newer songs that have been written for the Thomas series.  Most of them tend to be written in Broadway, rock-and-roll, and light jazz styles which I think clash a lot with the old-fashioned setting of the series.  I do like this song from 2011, however.  It turns the puffs, whistles, clanks, bangs, and bashes of the engines’ work day into a fun, noisy song that made me smile the first time I heard it, possibly the first time I’d cracked a really big grin at anything I’ve seen during the CGI era.  I’ve always liked songs and stories that turn noise into a fun rhythm game, and this song hits that sweet spot for me.  I don’t think of it as a classic like the songs from when I was growing up, but it’s not half bad.

“Island Song”

I had actually never heard this song before (or at least I didn’t remember it from my childhood) until I picked up the DVD I talked about at the beginning of this post.  I felt myself crying a little bit as this song went on because it reminded me of why I fell in love with the Thomas the Tank Engine show in the first place.  In fact, that was pretty much how I felt after hearing the first verse: “Picture a land where the sky is so blue/A storybook land of wonder/A magical land just waiting for you/Island of Sodor will make your dreams come true.”  The show’s depiction of Sodor as a perpetually green in the summer (pristine white in winter) land full of talking train engines definitely left a strong impression on me when I was younger and has stayed with me for years.  As new generations discover Thomas for the first time, I feel compelled to join in with the chorus and tell those kids, “Children follow the dream/To the land of make believe.”  I am sure that dream will live on forever as long as kids care to dream it.

“Thomas’ Anthem”

We started with a song about one of my favorite engines, so now I’ll close with my absolute favorite song from the series, which coincidentally happens to be the first one ever featured in the series.  Like the title indicates, this song is pretty much the original Thomas theme song, using the music from the opening title sequence to back up its chorus, “Thomas the Tank Engine rolling along,/[whistling part – I don’t quite know how to do it all that well either for this post or in real life; you can hear it for yourself in the video, so bonus points if you can replicate it on your own]/All of his friends will be coming along/Thomas, we love you!”  I was actually surprised the original title sequence even had lyrics, but when I heard them, I thought to myself, “Yup, this one’s going to stay with me.”  I also kind of like the new intro song it’s been replaced with since my childhood, “Engine Rollcall,” but there’s a part of me that will always like the original theme the best.  I didn’t hear it until well after my formative years were over, but it reminds me of when I first saw the show, and that’s a great thing in my book.

These songs always bring back my childhood whenever I hear them, and I hope you enjoyed them, too.  What did you think of them?  What songs do you like?  Let me know in the comments, and keep puffing along!

Great Fictional Presidents

Friday, March 22nd, 2013
And forever in peace may you wave.

The U.S. Stars and Stripes: a grand old flag.

I believe I might be going a bit crazy from all of the snow that has been falling in my area over the past few days.  It looked for a while like the snow was going to melt and spring would be here, but apparently that’s not the case right now.  Somehow, this has driven me to write a post about some great fictional United States presidents, even though Presidents’ Day has passed.  Regardless, I think a little appreciation of these leaders and their accomplishments will make me get over my winter blues, and, hopefully, make you feel good, too.

President Scooby-Doo, Cartoon Network

That’s right, a mystery-solving cartoon canine played the role of a U.S. president, or at least the president of a television network.  Cartoon Network held a mock election in 2000 with all of the network’s characters eligible for candidacy.  There were plenty of candidates on the air at the time who I thought would make for a more suitable leader of the free world (President Bugs Bunny, anyone?), but somehow, Scooby appealed the most to voters.  I can’t seem to recall if the administration of Scoobert Doo made any far-reaching efforts to address the economy, healthcare, or any other big issues, but he definitely moved the crowd during his State of the Union address and his push for a bill giving America new airings of old Scooby movies and specials showed that he believed in a healthy appreciation of the arts.  Unfortunately, when Cartoon Network ran another election in 2004, Scooby wasn’t involved, what I feel is a shame considering he was probably one of the most popular leaders in this country’s recent history.  At least he will always be remembered for being the first cartoon dog to be president, as well as being one of the greatest Great Danes ever.

Unnamed president, Fairly Oddparents, “That Ol’ Black Magic”

This fictional president appears only a few times in one episode of this Nickelodeon show featuring magic, wishes, and the hilarity that ensues, but his appearances left quite an impression on me.  In the episode he appears in, it is Friday the 13th, so even though he is being briefed by a general regarding how he shouldn’t touch the huge red button on his desk, the president accidentally tips over a salt shaker and presses the button anyway, launching a nuclear warhead in the process.  Luckily, the warhead lands in a desert without harm.  When the general asks the president what he is going to do now that he’s almost caused World War III, he replies while dressed in full vacation gear, “I’m going to Escalator Land!”  (Sorry about the low volume in the video; turn up your volume as high as possible if you want to hear what everyone’s saying.)  A short time later, the president is seen vacationing at the escalator-themed amusement park and asking, “When do we get to the ride?”  Timmy Turner’s father replies, “This is the ride!”  The camera pulls back to reveal that the escalator everyone is riding on is indeed the main attraction at the park.  I know that presidents are sometimes criticized with being “out of touch” with the American public, but this fictional president takes that sentiment to a whole new low.  I think he is also largely a product of his time because he slightly resembles George W. Bush who was in power at the time this episode originally aired, thus becoming a reflection of the disgruntled feelings the people had with Bush.  I think this character is an interesting footnote in cartoon history, forever tied to a particular time and set of feelings.  We may never see a fictional president like him again.

President Lancelot R. Gilligrass, Charlie and the Great Glass Elevator

President Kennedy promised to put a man on the moon, a task which was accomplished six years after his untimely death.  Two years after man landed on the moon in the real world, President Gilligrass promised to launch a hotel in space in the fictional world.  This goal was accomplished during his lifetime, but not before it was invaded by an army of Vermicious Knids.  In one of the darkest hours in the short history of space exploration and tourism, the hotel staff and three brave astronauts as well as a strange party of individuals led by eccentric candymaker Willy Wonka fended off the fiends.  The astronauts and hotel staff stayed on the orbiting hotel to clean up the place and prepare it for the exciting new world of space tourism, while Wonka and his party returned to Earth for a special dinner with President Gilligrass.  This exciting adventure was one of the few high points in Gilligrass’s time in the White House, a period marked with numerous accusations that he was letting Vice President Elvira Tibbs, his former nanny, handle all of the day-to-day operations to cover up his general incompetency.  Given Gilligrass’s tendency to work knock-knock jokes into every conversation and the fact that his secretary of the treasury’s idea of “balancing the budget” was to literally balance stacks of money on a scale, I have reason to believe those accusations might be true.  However, I still believe such faults shouldn’t take away from Gilligrass’s main accomplishment of establishing a space tourism business long before such a thing would even be considered practical in the real world.

I hope you enjoyed this examination of some fictional presidencies.  What did you think of it?  Leave your thoughts in the comments.

Random Top Five: Obscure “Starcade” Games I Think Would Be Fun to Play

Wednesday, March 20th, 2013
Not bad for a TV screen and a wooden box.

Life’s all fun and games!

One of my favorite game shows of all time is Starcade, a show from the early 1980s in which kids played new arcade games in order to win such prizes as their very own arcade machine, a personal robot, a jukebox, and in a rare case, vacations to Hawaii with a large supply of quarters to spend in arcades in that state.  I became familiar with this show through frequent reruns on the G4 cable network and was entranced by some of the more unusual games featured on the show.  Tucked in between Pac-Man and Donkey Kong were some unique games which I think I would greatly enjoy playing if I were to come across them in a real arcade.  The following is a catalog of five of those games as well as links to videos of the games in action.  If you’re interested in learning more about the Starcade show itself, I highly recommend checking out the official website set up by JM Productions, the company responsible for making the show; it contains a lot of cool stuff including complete episodes, videos and trivia of all of the games featured on the show, and music from those games, the show itself, and some of JM’s other shows.

5. Pooyan

One fine day in a nondescript virtual forest somewhere in the arcade, Mama Pig’s little piglets were kidnapped by a band of wolves.  Apparently the wolves decided to celebrate by freefalling from the top of a tree with balloons attached to their backs (Why balloons instead of parachutes?  Oh well, that’s video game logic for ya!).  Unbeknownst to them, Mama Pig will soon be taking revenge on them by firing darts at their balloons from the safety of an elevator controlled by some of her liberated children.  You, the player, must move the elevator up and down and fire darts at the wolves while avoiding the pinecones (or are they acorns?  Oranges?  They definitely look like circular objects, at least!) the wolves throw back.  It seemed to me that Pooyan was the game I saw being played most often on Starcade, as it was picked by one of the contestants in just about every single show in which it was one of the featured games.  I have wondered what made it so popular.  Is it because it was a horizontal shooter in an era when vertical shooters like Space Invaders and Galaga were still considered the norm?  Is is because the characters could quite possibly be the cutest-looking video game characters ever?  Whatever it’s appeal was, the Starcaders flocked to it like groupies at a rock concert.  I’d like to experience that phenomenon firsthand and see what all the fuss was about.

4. Pengo (not to be confused with the animated penguin character Pingu)

As announcer Kevin McMahan states at the start of the video I linked to above, “Pengo is a penguin.”  He is trapped in a maze of ice blocks with the Snowbees, round Q-bert imposters, chasing him down.  They are trying to stop him from completing his mission of lining up three specially marked ice blocks in a row for big points.  Fortunately, Pengo can fight back by sliding ice blocks across the playing field and over the Snowbees to make them vanish for a few seconds.  He can also destroy ice blocks to create new paths through the maze and to get rid of places where the Snowbees can regenerate.  Like Pooyan, I think this game has some very cute characters and provides a nice twist on an established arcade game genre, in this case maze games like Pac-Man and its ilk.  I also find it interesting that it seems to be a variation of an old Japanese game called Sokoban in which you push crates around a warehouse (ice blocks around an ice field?  Pretty much the same thing to me.).  I feel this game would appeal greatly to Pac-Man fans who want to see a different kind of maze game, and I think it’s a very “cool” game concept (come on, the pun was right there!).  (Incidentally, I love the background music this game has.  It sounds like a classical piece to me, but I’m not sure which one it is.  The Wikipedia page doesn’t seem to have the answer I’m looking for.  Does anyone else know?)

3. Popeye

Before Nintendo hit the big time with Donkey Kong, a game about an average man trying to rescue his girlfriend from a big hulking brute, they tried their luck in arcades with a game focused on, get this, an average man trying to rescue his girlfriend from a big hulking brute.  In this case, Popeye is attempting to beat the stuffing out of Bluto in order to rescue Olive Oyl, just like in all of his classic cartoons.  Popeye doesn’t have much of a fighting chance against the much stronger Bluto in his normal state, but luckily, the game makers have provided a few cans of spinach for the sailor to gulp down.  Naturally, eating one of these gives Popeye tremendous strength so he can knock Bluto’s block off and send him down into the water below the playing field.  In addition, Popeye can grab hearts and notes of love that Olive sends down from above for extra points.  I’m surprised that I haven’t seen this game outside of Starcade as it looks like a solidly built basic aracde game that could’ve been a big hit.  I’ve heard that Nintendo had a bit of trouble with King Features over the license to use the Popeye characters.  The game did get a release on the Japanese Nintendo Famicom (the original version of the NES) and Namco made a new game based on it for mobile phones in 2008, so at least some people are still able to play it in some form.  I’d still like to play the original arcade version, though.  It’s an interesting footnote in video game history, and I would be interested in playing it myself to see if it’s just as fun as Donkey Kong.

2. Cliffhanger (not to be confused with that Price is Right game with the mountain climber; that one’s spelled “Cliffhangers” with an added “s,” but I do think that yodeling music is very catchy!)

I think this game is probably the most unusual one on this list because it’s not really much of a game at all.  It’s actually an interactive version of a classic Japanese animated movie!  Actually, there’s two movies featured in the game: according to this Wikipedia page, the bulk of the game is based on Castle of Cagliostro with a small bit extracted from Mystery of Mamo.  In any case, the player is tasked with guiding the dapper chap Cliff in an attempt to rescue his girlfriend Clarissa from the clutches of the fiendish Count Draco.  You don’t control Cliff or his friends directly, though: instead you move a joystick around and tap a button to play the next section of the movie.  This game was one of many such “interactive movie” games including Dragon’s LairSpace Ace, and Mach 3.  I’ve played all of those other games except Mach 3, and I think this type of game is very fun, if a bit limited.  I’d like to seek the Cliffhanger game out and play through it to complete my quest through all of this genre’s most notable games.  I wonder if such a bizarre source of footage would indeed make for compelling game play.

1. Super Pac-Man

 Since Starcade did focus on the world of arcade games, of course Pac-Man would be a fixture on the show.  In addition to Pac-Man and Ms. Pac-Man, there was also a trio of unusual spin-off titles.  Pac-Man Plus was a souped-up version of the original game in which all of the characters moved faster and Pac-Man could consume a soda can which made all of the ghosts invisible (a bad thing if you hadn’t eaten a power pellet yet; those ghosts could pop out of nowhere Alien-style and get you when you least expected it!).  Professor Pac-Man wasn’t a maze game at all but rather a math quiz game with a graduation cap-wearing Pac-Man as the quizmaster.  The spin-off game I would most like to play, though, is Super Pac-Man.  In this game, Pac-Man is still playing “chase or be chased” with the ghosts and can still swallow power pellets to turn his enemies blue and then chomp them away for a time.  However, the familiar small dots have been replaced with more nutritious-looking apples for Pac-Man to consume.  Also, there’s a bunch of doors which block off certain sections of the maze.  Thankfully, someone apparently keeps dropping keys into the maze; whenever Pac-Man swallows one, he turns into Super Pac-Man and grows to ten times his regular size.  In this huge form, the ghosts can’t harm him and he can unlock the doors.  Even though the style of game play is, for all intents and purposes, fairly typical for a Pac-Man game, the small differences in this game is what I like.  It adds a couple of new wrinkles to the usual Pac-Man strategy: Do you want to unlock this new portion of the maze and give the ghosts more space to roam?  Which power-up do you want more at the moment: the key for the Super Pac-Man form or the old power pellet to get rid of your ghostly adversaries?  I’m not sure what my strategy would be, but I would like to play this game to find out.  Not to mention Pac-Man is just plain fun in any form, so ten times the size could surely equal ten times the fun!

There were a lot of neat games featured on Starcade that I liked to see or was interested in.  Would you like to hear more about them or about the show itself?  Are there any arcade games you really enjoyed or still enjoy?  Leave your thoughts in the comments.  And until next time, in the words of host Geoff Edwards, “May all your troubles get zapped!”

The Unreal World: Ideas for New (Fictional) Reality Shows

Tuesday, March 19th, 2013
TV or not TV?  That is the question.

TV: all of reality on one screen.

I was watching a video the other day about long-running reality shows, and I kept thinking that I would like to see more variety in the types of subject matter covered by these shows.  Dating, dancing, and diving all have prominent places on the air, and people of all sizes, shapes, and stripes have been represented on many different shows.  However, I believe that there are still some subjects that haven’t been used yet which could make for some interesting television.  The following are some ideas for fictional reality shows I think could be very entertaining if given a chance.  If any television executives out there are interested in these formats, I want to let you know that I want consulting credit on the resulting shows if they are ever made.

Who Wants to Be a Super-Sidekick?

America has already seen one reality show based on superheroes, but I think it focused too much on the “main event” type of heroes and not enough on those who aspire to greatness, but are still learning the ropes.  The sidekicks of the world need a show of their own to show that they, too, could be the next Robin, Aqualad, Kid Flash, or even Barnacle Boy.  The contestants would be presented with challenges replicating such exciting duties as washing the hero’s car or fending off minions while the hero tackles the main bad guy.  Of course, the prize of becoming an official sidekick might seem like a boring dead-end job after a while, but who knows, the winner might become a famous hero one day!  Give or take thirty years of menial service…

The Amazing Trace

Art students attempt to make perfect copies of famous works of art on this show.  Using the techniques of famous painters and sculptors, the students improve their own art skills by learning about the skills of past artists.  A panel of art experts are then brought in to see if they can tell the difference between the students’ works and the genuine articles.  Grab your paintbrush and chiseling tools, you just might gain some pointers!

So You Think You Can Lance?

Down-on-their-luck jobless Americans get the ultimate opportunity: become members of “lance crews” for television’s largest ever jousting tournament.  Mounting noble steeds, these people will soon learn that life looks pretty scary when you’re facing the tip of a pointed spear.  King Arthur and the Knights of the Round Table whittle down the jousters until only one person is left to be crowned “Ultimate Lancer” and win one hundred thousand dollars.  Who will walk away with the keys to this kingdom?   

Would you want to see any of these fictional shows become a reality?  What’s your favorite reality show?  Let me know in the comments.

Obscure Holidays Worth Celebrating

Friday, March 15th, 2013

I celebrate most of the major holidays with my family: Christmas, Thanksgiving, Easter, Halloween, St. Patrick’s Day, etc.  However, there are some very obscure holidays you don’t really find on a calendar which I feel should be observed alongside their more famous brethren.  I smile a little bit when I realize one of these “holidays” is coming up or has passed without my realizing it.  Here’s a few of these lesser-known special days along with the dates on which they occur so you, too, can celebrate them the next time they roll around.

Pi Day (March 14)

This holiday gets its name due to the fact that it falls on the third month and its fourteenth day.  The first three digits of the extraordinarily long long number pi are 3.14.  There’s three things I think I would love to do on this day.  One: have a contest with someone to see who can correctly recite the most digits of pi in a row.  Two: learn how to make a pie and then eat three whole pieces of it for dessert with fourteen hundredths of a piece to be served with dinner.  Three: enjoy a My Little Pony mini-marathon on TV with Pinkie Pie as a featured character (or just watch this five-minute video of all of her best moments).

Star Wars Day (May 4)

This special day is based on a famous quote from the Star Wars movies, “May the Force be with you.”  Every year on May the fourth, the hearts of young Jedi Knight wannabes everywhere turn to memories of Luke Skywalker blowing up the Death Star, Han Solo resembling Indiana Jones in space, Darth Vader revealing to Luke who his true father is (spoiler alert!), and the “prequel” movies having some really cool/embarrassing moments (for me, that would be the podracing sequence in Episode I for the cool side and Jar Jar Binks casting the deciding vote in favor of  the Empire’s creation for the other).  This year, May 4 will be a Saturday, so I feel that might be a good opportunity to organize a little Star Wars viewing party with my family, even if we watch just the classic trilogy.  Who knows, maybe I might discover I have Force powers, which would make doing the household chores a heck of a lot easier!

Free Comic Book Day (May 4)

In addition to Star Wars Day, Saturday, May 4, plays host to another special occasion this year.  On the first Saturday in May every year, comic book stores throughout the country, as well as comic book fans in general, celebrate Free Comic Book Day.  This day is dedicated to promoting a love of comic books and literacy among kids and adults.  A whole host of comic book companies, including DC, Marvel, and Archie, publish special comic books and offer them free of charge to anyone who cares to visit a comic store that day.  It has been an annual tradition for me for the past few years to visit all the local comic book stores in my area and pick out a few free comics at each stop.  Most stores have limits on how many free comics you can get at that particular location, so I visit a few stores to get the best selection of titles.  I’ve noticed that more and more kids have been going to the stores on this day each year, so it’s definitely a special day I want to support.  Check out the link above for more information on Free Comic Book Day, and this link for info on the free comics being offered this year.

International Talk Like a Pirate Day (September 19)

Ahoy, matey!  Have you ever wanted to have a day where you could only speak in pirate lingo?  Have you felt the inexplicable urge to bury a treasure chest in your backyard, then go on a long “sea voyage” to find it again?  Do you just want to have a parrot sit on your shoulder all day?  Then this holiday just might be for you!  Whether you aspire to be the next Blackbeard or Anne Bonny, whether you want to turn your house into a pirate ship or just wear a puffy shirt and shout “Argh” or “Shiver me timbers,” this day has something for all landlubbers young and old to enjoy.  There’s still plenty of time to plan out your pirate party, but if you’re looking for inspiration, this music video featuring the cast of LazyTown as pirates might float your boat.

What do you think of these holidays?  Would you want to celebrate any of them?  Do you have any other special obscure holidays you observe each year?  Let me know your thoughts in the comments.  Now get out there and celebrate!

Think Again: I Wish…

Thursday, March 14th, 2013
I wish I may, I wish I might...

Care to wish upon this star?

Think Again is a new format I am experimenting with.  It’s kind of like a Random Top Five.  This first list was inspired by all of the examples of wish fulfillment I have seen in pop culture.  Often, it seems the results of wishes are less than desirable while in other cases the wish itself or, to me, the way it is expressed seems poorly thought out.  I tend to live by the rule, “Be careful what you wish for.”  Here’s a few examples of wishes that I think should have been made more carefully.

“I wish I was an Oscar Mayer wiener.”  (commercial tag line)

Okay, Ralphie, let me get this straight.  You wished you wanted to become delicious sausages for no other reason than that, “…everyone would be in love with me.”  Did it ever occur to you that maybe they would love you because of how you tasted?  Well, look at you now.  Little Johnny’s lying between two hot dog buns and slathered with mustard.  Tony’s tied up in a long string of sausages along with Sally, Susie, and Norm, along with a dozen other kids.  People have been trying to eat your head off for two hours straight.  Now that you know what being a sausage feels like, maybe you’ll now wish you had an Oscar Mayer wiener instead of wanting to become one.

“When You Wish Upon a Star” (Disney anthem)

I have loved this ultimate tribute to wish fulfillment ever since I first heard it on a Pinocchio VHS tape.  I highly appreciate the song’s message that anyone’s dreams can come true.  However, I think it’s about time somebody added a verse to it or changed its lyrics slightly to reflect the fact that often you have to work hard to make your wishes a reality.  There’s too many princesses waiting around in towers waiting for a prince to come along and sweep them off their feet.  There’s too many child heroes waiting for some deus ex machina to come along and free them from lives of endless labor.  They all need to realize that sitting around accomplishes nothing, that action leads to reward (well, at least I think it should!).  The song already says, “Fate is kind; she brings to those who love the sweet fulfillment of their secret longing.”  I say we change that lyric to, “..those who love and work!”

“I wish everything was back to normal!  (Timmy Turner in every single Fairly Oddparents episode ever)

The typical plot line for a Fairly Oddparents episode goes like this: Average kid Timmy Turner makes a wish.  His fairy godparents grant the wish.  The wish often goes horribly and hilariously wrong.  Timmy wishes that everything was back to normal, effectively canceling the wish out.  Lather, rinse, repeat for 126 episodes.  The only thing is, Timmy’s life isn’t really all that normal.  His parents, babysitter, and teacher are all still lunatics.  Villains he’s defeated show up again in later episodes.  Some of the wishes he has made have had such far-reaching effects on his world that his life can never go “back to normal,” such as when he wished that his fairies would have a baby (he’s still on the show, folks, and he’s cute as a button!).  I think Timmy knows well enough by now that his life will probably never be “normal” again, and to his credit, he is starting to wish that “…the (insert bad thing here) was gone,” or that things would go back to “…the way they were.”  He still makes plenty of bad wishes, but at least he’s a bit more realistic when it comes to his expectations of what his normal life is like.

Do you wish to see more of this “Think Again” format?  Are there any wishes you’ve made that you’ve wanted to change?  Let me know in the comments, and may all your wishes come true!

Random Top Five: My Favorite Fives

Thursday, March 14th, 2013
One, two, three, four...guess what's next?

Coming in at Number Five!

Five is a number that is less than six, more than four, and number one in my heart.  The number five also turns up a lot in popular culture.  I wonder why that is.  I want to find out someday, but until that day comes, here are five of my favorite fives.

5. Subway’s “Five,  five dollar,  five dollar foot-long” jingle

I haven’t taken advantage of the deals being advertised in the Subway commercials featuring this jingle, but I do find the tune itself to be very catchy.  It’s got a simple thumping rhythm that makes me feel like I belong to something bigger.  Not bigger in a religious sense, mind you, just bigger in the sense that the jingle is welcoming me in.  It’s still “…g-g-going strong” for me!

4. The five starting members of the original Mighty Morphin’ Power Rangers

Whenever I think of this exciting action show that I loved watching during the ’90s (even though I didn’t really understand what was going on), I tend to think of the five “teenagers with attitude” who were first selected to be on the team.  Jason, Kimberley, Zack, Trini, and Billy were a diverse group who always tried to do the right thing and made kicking alien butt in multicolored superhero costumes look very, very fun.  Tommy joined later as the Green Ranger, but I always viewed him as a side character whereas the other five kids were on the show all the time.  Ironically, Tommy is one of the few Power Rangers characters to have continued to make appearances in the franchise much later than his heyday and modern groups of Rangers have initially had as few as three members, but I feel those original five Rangers formed the blueprint for the team’s balance and will continue to inspire new groups well into the future.  Whatever happens to the Rangers next, I’m sure it will always be “Morphin’ Time!”

3. Counting by fives with Schoolhouse Rock’s “Ready or Not, Here I Come”

The video accompanying this song features a group of kids playing hide-and-seek in a field of rolling hills, grass, and trees while practicing counting by fives all the way up to one hundred.  I can’t really remember much about the song itself beyond the numbers being delivered very fast.  The video doesn’t have too many standout moments for me either beyond the setting and the kids recalling the numbers using their fingers.  I do find myself singing the “counting by fives” part for no particular reason sometimes, however, so I guess it must have worked its way into the deep recesses of my mind somehow.

2. Numbuh Five from Cartoon Network’s Codename: Kids Next Door

The Kids Next Door are a group of kids who carry out secret-agent/commando missions to stop the fiendish plots of evil adults.  All of the members are very cool in their own ways, but in my view, Numbuh Five, Abigail Lincoln, was practically the definition of “cool.”  She always looked confident whenever she headed into battle, and her signature red hat and blue coat made her seem, to me,  able to handle the pressure, even if she may have actually felt scared or uncertain.  The other KND members often experienced embarrassing moments, but at least Abby was able to keep a level head most of the time.

1. Lou Bega’s “Mambo No. 5”

Some might call this song annoying (it ended up in AOL’s Top 100 Worst Songs list at #95), but it’s one of my favorite songs to listen to.  Whenever it comes on the radio, I turn the volume up and enjoy the awesome audio samples of brass bands which back up Lou’s vocals.  I’ve never been too crazy about the lyrics but I do feel they go perfectly with the music, making it sound like a lost Roaring Twenties jazz love song that somehow time traveled to 1999.  My favorite part comes when Lou calls for, “The trumpet!”  Some awesome horns are played in that section, probably the reason I love this song so much.  Incidentally, there’s a version of the song that played on Radio Disney back in the day where all of the girls’ names are replaced by Disney characters like Mickey, Donald, and Goofy.  I’ve listened to both and I prefer the original version (I don’t know why), but either way, the brass band still sounds good to me.

Do you have any favorite fives?  Give me your five cents’ worth of thoughts in the comments.

Random Top Five: The Stuff of Nightmares (and Worries)

Tuesday, March 12th, 2013
Not-so-pretty pictures.

Welcome to my nightmares…

Last night, I went through a grueling battle with a nightmare, dealt with nagging worries, and laughed about a funny recurring dream.  It has become a tradition for me to sometimes toss and turn in frustration at night because I can’t help but think of all of the problems I will have to tackle in the future.  They play out in front of me like a TV “funniest home videos” show full of my most nagging worries, some hopes and aspirations, and sometimes things I liked during the day.  Most of the time, I tend to be annoyed with being reminded of my worries, but sometimes reflecting on them helps me to figure out how to make them go away and think of better things.  The following is a laundry list of fears and concerns which weighed heavily on my mind last night, as well as one “funny” dream which distracted me from these worries for a bit.  These visions tend to stay with me during the day, too, but I find them a bit irksome when they interrupt my sleep at night, so I’m thinking about how I felt when I originally saw them to best present them to you. 

5. Job interview prep

For quite some time, I have been reading books and studying YouTube videos regarding how to prepare for job interviews and how to handle some of the trickier questions that may come my way during an interview.  To be quite honest, I can’t imagine what a job interview might be like considering I’ve never participated in one and because of what I’ve done with my life so far, but if it can lead me to better opportunities, then I’m willing to learn.  I have figured out that the best things I can do during an interview are:  to give honest answers; to talk about experiences which are relevant to the job, the employer, and their expectations; and to make sure all of my answers can be given in sixty seconds or less so as not to waste the interviewer’s time with long, boring speeches or irrelevant information.  All of the tips I have received have been very helpful, but there is one thing which bugs me about the materials I have studied so far, an important detail which my nightmares rudely reminded me of.  Most of the examples of good answers given in the materials reflect people with a moderate to large level of formal work experience.  Beyond one small section for recent college graduates in one book that I read, there wasn’t a lot I saw which reflected anything in particular that I have experienced.  In my nightmare, I saw myself in a formal job interview in which the interviewer kept asking me for examples of workplace experience which I simply did not possess.  All the questions he asked were straight from the books, but I had no suitable answers to give him.  Some other guy got the job while I was back out on the streets, looking for another interview to start the humiliation all over again.  After the nightmare ended, I thought about what experiences I might use to prove my points in job interviews.  I figured I have about five or six really significant or useful examples I could bring up and reduce to sixty-second anecdotes, but I don’t have a clue as to what context to put them in or how to introduce them when the time comes to do so.  I hope to figure these details out soon because in the world of job interviews, you only get one shot at a good first impression, and I want my first swing to lead to a home run!

4. The sleeping bugs in my bedroom walls

Last fall, an army of hornets built a nest inside the walls and window of  my bedroom.  I didn’t really notice them until a few of them started flying around my room.  My family and I killed any hornets we saw for the next couple of days until the infestation grew so bad that we had to call in an exterminator to get rid of them.  Even though he was successful in killing most of the invaders, there were still plenty left over that had largely taken over my room.  In addition, the exterminator had used a foul-smelling substance which was too overpowering for me to sleep comfortably in the room, so I was forced to sleep in other areas of the house for the next few weeks.  When cold weather came and the bugs went into hibernation, I went back in and have stayed ever since.  I worried last night about what will happen when spring comes and the bugs wake up.  I keep thinking I’m hearing the hornets buzzing about inside my room’s walls, and I’ve had enough of this silly fear.  If they do end up taking over again, we will have to call another exterminator to handle them.  I sure hope we can get rid of the bugs permanently, but hopefully next time, a method we use to kill the buggers won’t force me out as well.

3. Mom’s car breaking down

A common theme of recent trips in my mom’s van has been the vehicle threatening to shut down completely once we get underway from our home.  Last Saturday in the middle of our trip, the car began to slow down and rattle.  This has been extremely disconcerting to my mom to say the least; without that car working right and if no one can give us a lift, we just aren’t going anywhere.  We’re taking the car up to a local repair shop to have it looked at for the umpteenth time in the past few weeks.  Last night, I thought about what we would do for transportation if the car is still acting like this.  My dad is out of town, and we need that car working or else we’ll be confined to the house.  Here’s hoping it gets repaired quickly and permanently! Come on car, I’ve got things to do!

2. High school math

I’m taking some elective classes at a local community college over the next few months.  I’m not trying to get another degree for the time being (That’s one struggle I’ve already fought and won!), but I would like to broaden my insights into certain fields of expertise, so I am looking forward to these classes with great expectation.  I still have recurring nightmares, though, about one of my old college classes in a subject I have always had a hard time with.  Last night, I kept imagining I would have to solve algebra problems in one of my new classes, even though I know the subjects of the classes don’t directly involve math.  I have never really understood algebra very well.  I did very well with it when it was introduced to me in middle school, but somewhere around the use of multiple integers or quadratic equations (I’m not sure which, but it did involve a lot of numbers to keep track of), I found myself unable to keep up with what the math courses were teaching me.  This went on all through my high school years and right into college, where I did well with every other course except advanced algebra.  It’s one of the few academic courses that I had a hard time understanding.  To me, it’s as hard to wrap my brain around as the “Potent Potables” category on Jeopardy.  I won’t let my fear of algebra run my life, though; I’ve been doing pretty well without it so far.

1. My mom’s head on an octopus body

For some strange reason, I’ve had a recurring dream for many years, and sure enough, I had it again last night.  In it, I am at some sort of party at the old house of one of my aunts.  I am very young in the dream, probably six or seven.  I am standing on top of the central staircase looking down in the direction of the living room; I can barely reach the railing to support myself.  Some people are talking in that room, but I can’t make out what they’re saying.  My mom pokes her head out of the room and looks up at me, saying, “Wait there, Ben.  I’ll come up and help you get down the stairs.”  (The central staircase in the house was very steep, and whenever we visited, my mom often helped me to go up the stairs to get to my cousins’ rooms and down again when it was time to go home.)  Mom turns to go up the stairs, but for some reason, her head is on a giant purple octopus body with tentacles flapping everywhere.  Knowing this isn’t how my mom usually looks, I end up screaming, and then I wake up and realize I’ve been having the same stupid, funny dream again.  I don’t mind having this dream as much as my more frequent “worry” visions because it reminds me of a more innocent and fun time in my life.  I actually want to have more dreams like it to make my nights happier.  Dad as Barney the dinosaur riding a jet ski through flaming hoops, anyone?   

I have grown sick of turning my worries into nightmares, but I can’t seem to get rid of them.  I can accept them for what they are, though.  They are just worries, and they have no meaning whatsoever with how my life is now.  They are not rational and I will not let them rule me.  Do you have any nightmares of your own, any from when you were young?  Have you ever had a funny dream which cheered you up or made you laugh?  What do you think they mean?  Let me know in the comments.

Paul Bearer: A Tribute

Friday, March 8th, 2013

This past Monday’s episode of WWE Raw had an “old school” theme.  The arena, ring, and entranceway were given special one-night-only makeovers to recreate their appearances from the distant past, and the graphics used on the show looked like they had been ripped out from old wrestling TV shows.  There were even some old wrestling personalities who returned to have a good time with the current roster of top talents.  It was a fun show, and I enjoyed seeing some of the old-timers the WWE had brought back.  The next day, I got a mild shock when I saw that another old wrestling personality had made the news.  William Moody, better known to me and millions of wrestling fanatics the world over as Paul Bearer , had died at 58 years of age.  A flood of memories of Moody and the wrestling moments I had seen with him involved came to my mind as I tried to take this in.  A lot of those memories were given further clarity by a tribute video WWE posted on its YouTube page a few days after Moody’s death.  He was one of my favorite wrestling personalities, so to hear that he had died so young was very upsetting to me.

I first became familiar with Moody’s claim to fame, Paul Bearer, through archival footage of him with his most famous wrestling client, the Undertaker, on various DVD collections.  Bearer’s act in the WWF was basically a mortician turned wrestling manager (Moody was also a mortician and embalmer in real life so he obviously knew what he was talking about).  He had slick black hair and ghostly-white skin, almost always looking like a more respectable cousin of Uncle Fester from The Addams Family.  During interviews he would comment on the mortality of the Undertaker’s opponents and vow that the “Deadman” would claim their souls.  His facial features would contort into all sorts of weird positions which, combined with his signature high-pitched voice, made him seem to me like he hailed from a decidedly strange realm.  While Bearer was hamming it up for the camera, ‘Taker would mostly stay silent, brooding in the background or carrying out a mundane mortuary task like repairing a coffin or doing some smithing work.  During matches, ‘Taker wowed the crowds with fantastic offensive maneuvers while Bearer lurked around ringside, continuing with the strange faces and pawing at a “magical” urn that looked like it was made out of papier mache.  When the time came for the match to end, Bearer would raise the urn to the heavens giving the signal for ‘Taker to perform his always well-executed tombstone piledriver.  Bearer and ‘Taker were awe-inspiring people individually, but whenever they came together, it seemed like they were tailor-made for each other.  I think this was probably intentional since Moody had been brought in specifically to manage the Undertaker in the first place, but I also feel that the two of them together had a spectacular chemistry that made their act much more appealing and awe-inspiring than just about anything else before or since in wrestling.

Paul Bearer and the Undertaker stayed together from 1991 to 1996.  The act basically stayed the same throughout this time; the only thing that really changed was that the urn soon had a light built into it that would emit an unearthly glow once ‘Taker won the match and all of the arena lights dimmed.  In 1996, however, at that year’s Summerslam pay-per-view, Bearer betrayed his buddy, helping ‘Taker’s rival, Mankind, win their grudge match.  This began a long trend of Bearer managing rivals of the Undertaker, which over the years included Mankind, Vader, ‘Taker’s storyline “brother” Kane, and even some guy named the Executioner (he attacked ‘Taker at a pay-per-view, but was defeated by the “Deadman” at the next month’s show and left the WWF shortly after, so I don’t think he really left much of an impression).  Quite frankly, I don’t think Bearer’s act was as effective with these other guys as it was with the Undertaker; sure, they were monsters, but they just didn’t seem as intimidating or credible to me.  Luckily, Bearer and ‘Taker had an on-again, off-again relationship throughout the late 1990s and early 2000s which only ended on a seemingly permanent basis when ‘Taker buried Bearer in a block of cement at a 2004 pay-per-view (Don’t worry, folks, Bearer got out.  Also, I’ve seen the footage and, quite frankly, it’s incredibly cheesy).

All of this happened before I actually started watching wrestling full-time.  By the time I started watching, the Undertaker had become entirely capable of handling his own affairs, leaving the Paul Bearer character almost completely behind.  Moody stuck around the WWE, though, signing autographs and making rare TV and live event appearances.  The Bearer character also stuck around, too, but in a virtual form.  He appeared in the WWE Legends of Wrestlemania videogame as one of the managers your character could hire.  I never used him as a manager in this particular game, though, so I couldn’t tell you if he is as effective a manager as he was in the “real” wrestling world, but he does look just as bombastic.  He also played a prominent role in one of the storylines for the WWE Smackdown vs. Raw 2011 game, tormenting me with various “mind games” and his trademark abnormal behavior until I beat his virtual body up so badly during a backstage confrontation that he was no longer a problem.  For the record, I did feel pretty bad for Bearer during that moment, but I had to get past him in order to win the game.  He took all the punishment in stride (Sorry about throwing your videogame counterpart into that TV on the back wall so many times!), and I did use him as a manager afterwards, so I guess it wasn’t all bad.

I was surprised when Paul Bearer returned alongside the Undertaker during a late 2010 episode of WWE Smackdown, but I was delighted to see he hadn’t changed a bit.  Before long, he betrayed ‘Taker again (What are the chances?) and started prepping Kane to finish off his brother, which he did do effectively at three consecutive pay-per-views.  He continued to manage Kane for a while, seeing him through rivalries with the Big Show, Edge, and Randy Orton, but those feuds quickly took on increasing levels of absurdity (Orton even locked him in a freezer at one point).  Bearer left WWE television during April of last year.  A part of me is sad that he won’t be back to see if Undertaker wins again at Wrestlemania this April.  There’s been a lot of talk lately that ‘Taker’s career will end soon, and I’ve often thought that it might be poetic if Paul Bearer could appear alongside him for his last match whenever it came.  Now I’ll be forever denied that sight, but at least I was able to see him on live TV before he passed away.

William Moody played a character who was at times comic, tragic, and menacing, but always colorful, over the top, and with a level of believability you don’t usually find in the world of professional wrestling.  Paul Bearer was one of the most interesting wrestling characters I have ever seen, and truly one without equal anywhere in the world.  He is going up to that big mortuary in the sky now, but down here on Earth, the memory of his fantastic times in wrestling will remain.  In the words of his most noted colleague, all I have left to say is, Rest in peace, Moody.  Rest in peace.