Tag: writing

An Intermission in Edgewise

derail

“Are you okay?” the radiologist asked, hovering near the door.

“What?” I said, shaking off the lapse in my concentration. “Do I…not look okay?” For that matter, why would anyone in a hospital ever be asking if I was okay rather than just using some sort of science machine to check?

“You were telling a story and then you just sort of….” He made an inarticulate move with his shoulders and neck. “It was like you were talking for a really long time and then just stopped for about four months.”

I raised an eyebrow at him. “Wait. So you were listening to the story? I thought you had stuff to do?”

“As a framing device to tell your entire college story, I think it works better to have someone actually hearing it and occasionally asking questions,” the strangely narrative-minded radiologist offered. More quietly he muttered, “Otherwise, you’re literally babbling to yourself in an empty waiting room.”

“Oh. Well…what did you think of the story?”

The man considered for a moment. “It’s interesting enough. Though I’m not sure anyone would get a ‘That Darn Cat’ pun.”

“Wait. You can know the titles, too? How does that work in the framing device? Am I actually prefacing all these segments with a title?” I demanded. “For that matter, why are you doing this to the fourth wall? Are you angry at it? Did it wrong you somehow?”

He managed a weak shrug. “I’m just a heavily embellished character. You’re the writer. You figure it out.”

I grumbled to myself. “I should’ve written a character less aware of narrative structure and literary devices,” I lamented.

“Nooooo,” he corrected, dragging out the word accusingly. “You should’ve kept telling the story – one you touted as literally never-ending – rather than losing focus before your first class even started in the story. If it’d kept going then you wouldn’t need to return to this initial segment of the story to explain the lapse.” He sighed. “Now you’ll have to keep revisiting it throughout the story to make it look like that’s what you intended to do from the beginning.”

“I can’t believe I’m being chastised by my own creation.” Then again, my toddler had recently run into the bathroom while I was using it to tell me I was a bad dancer and that I needed to stop. This might just be part of the creative process.

Still, he was right.

The radiologist, I mean. My son is dead wrong.

“All right,” I agreed, feeling properly chastened. “I’ll have to keep up on this a little more. There’s not much sense in writing a story with no end if I just stop in the middle.”

“Technically, you stopped right at the beginning.”

Anyway,” I said, riding over his snark, “let’s see. Where was I?”

“You were using a map to find your classes the first day.” The radiologist paused. “I mean, I’m not sure if that was going anywhere or if you were going to jump to another random point or…”

“Actually, it’s supposed to be subtly mirroring the actual columns I wrote professionally while I was in college. It sort of seems random, and it is, I guess, but it all has a predetermined path if you use those columns as a road map,” I explained. Then, a bit more sheepishly, I admitted, “Though…due to an event that happens much later in the story, those original columns were all destroyed. So I’m kind of piecing it together from memory…”

The man nodded sagely. “It’s probably just as well. I don’t think enough people even remember you wrote those to get that reference.”

“I said it was subtle.” I slowly absorbed the insult. “Also, shut up.”

“Do you even remember what comes next?”

“Of course I do.” Of course I did. Mostly. “I just have to find my train of thought. From almost half a year ago.”

“That’s a long break in the train schedule.”

“Well, trains don’t come through often anymore.” I shrugged. “I don’t think the industry is doing well, honestly. I think it’s because…”

The radiologist gave me a long-suffering look.

“Right. Right. Anyway, let’s get this thing back on…track.” Trust me. All good story metaphors are about trains. I didn’t have much of an alternative. “Let’s rejoin our hero…”

“Ahem.”

Fine,” I said, almost in a growl. “Let’s rejoin our protagonist…” I waited to make sure there were no further objections. The other man made a “so-so” motion with one hand. “It was a warm, sunny day. Summer was in full swing. The birds were singing. The flowers were blooming. And I, for whatever reason, had decided that the best use of my time was to sit indoors having a man who’d spent most of his adult life earning his doctorate read a class schedule to me while I held it.”

“A Sense of Belonging (Elsewhere)”

basketball
Note: I promise there’s eventually context for this picture.

The years have dulled many memories of college, but I still feel the sting of rejection as though it happened only yesterday.

That’s not a joke. I realize there’s supposed to be some sort of joke there. And yet, even seeing that I’ve moved on to bigger and better things all this time later, I still struggle to put any sort of positive spin on that first weekend in college. So, if it helps, imagine me wearing a funny t-shirt or something.

It’s hard to say exactly where things started to go wrong. If I had to guess, though, I’d say that it was a very fundamental misunderstanding of what college was. I mean, sure, I knew that it was a bunch of buildings with teachers and classes and what-have-you. But I’d made rather lofty assumptions about fresh starts after high school. What I didn’t realize nearly soon enough was that, for almost everyone I met that first semester, high school had never really ended.

Sigh. I hope you’re imagining a really funny t-shirt, is what I’m trying to say.

In what was probably meant to help people get to know one another, our RA had instituted a few rules for welcome weekend. First off, we were to have our doors open at all times in case someone wandered by. Talking would ensue. Friendships would be forged. No doubt, BFF bracelets would follow and we’d braid each other’s hair.

A second – more puzzling – rule was that we were forbidden from leaving our floor without someone else from the floor or special permission from the RA. I’m not sure exactly what he’d hoped to accomplish there. My only guess was that it had something to do with being in co-ed dorms – boys and girls being split into dorms every other floor. Most likely, it had been meant to keep us out of trouble in the form of ending up in an entirely different form of alternating boy-girl stack. (Hi-yo!)

And third, we had to eat all our meals at the same time and at the same table as the rest of our floor mates. This rule seemed to make the least sense to me, since friends would already be eating meals together anyway.

Luckily, I didn’t have to worry about eating with friends, mostly because it only took me about four hours to hate every last one of my floor mates with every fiber of my being.

It began, as most stories do, with two shirtless teenagers dribbling balls loudly in front of my open door. The two had actually been doing laps of the floor when I mistakenly waved to them as they passed. Without saying a word to me, they exchanged an irritated look and proceeded to stand there dribbling louder and louder over the next five minutes. “Can I help you two with something?” I eventually asked, a bit exasperated.

“What’s wrong, frosh?” one of the interchangeable Aryans with a crew cut asked. “Is this annoying you?”

“A little, actually,” I admitted.

“Well, that’s too bad, frosh,” one said with a sneer. “There’s no rule says we can’t dribble out here.”

I was actually pretty sure there was a rule that said exactly that, but I hadn’t read up on the literature yet. So I changed tack. “Okay. And…what’s a ‘frosh’ now, exactly?”

The two exchanged another look, clearly delighted by the simple pleasure of being assholes. “It means ‘freshman,’ frosh.” I’d honestly lost track of who was talking at this point. But whichever of them it was, they delivered it with an emphasis that suggested they thought it was an insult rather than a completely accurate description of a first-year student. And one, I considered noting, that applied to all of us equally.

I blinked back. “Oh.” Their sneers faltered a bit when I failed to burst into flame from the white-hottest of all the sick burns. “Anyway, why are dribbling there, exactly?”

Delight returned to their faces. “Oh, look how pissed he’s getting.” The two kept from high-fiving, but only just. “Poor frosh. It’s annoying him.” He mimed crying. I started looking for hidden cameras, because I honestly had no idea what was going on.

“Yes. I think we covered that earlier.” The conversation went on a little longer, with the pair sharing looks and laughing at insults that were neither funny nor particularly insulting. At no point in the conversation did they come close to hurting my feelings, though on two occasions they actually insulted their own mothers. In the end, I closed the door and went back to watching television.

The dribbling outside intensified over the course of the next two minutes. Then it became the telltale rattling of balls being thrown at my door over and over. I spent most of the time trying to figure out what I’d done that had made the two so upset, aside from my deeply insulting wave hello. I didn’t have long to think, however, since the RA arrived soon after. Much to my surprise, he chided me for having my door closed while the two shirtless boys openly laughed and repeated “busted!” behind him.

Realizing whatever I watched on television was going to sound a lot like loud dribbling, I went about and tried to meet new people. And that’s when I made an even more unpleasant discovery. In addition to being the only one without a roommate, I was also the only one not in a room with a friend from high school.

Not surprisingly, no one was all that interested in making new friends when they came to college with someone they’d known for the past decade or so. And in the few moments I came close to starting a decent conversation, Hitler’s youths would arrive to lob ever-weaker insults or otherwise make the situation too awkward for pleasant company. After doing my rounds of the floor and enduring an awkward meal consisting of nothing but in-jokes and high school anecdotes, I’d pretty much realized it was a lost cause.

It didn’t take long. I am, after all, a quick learner. Sigh.

The final nail in the coffin came late in the evening when, as I did some writing, a group of girls called up to my window. We talked back and forth until they finally asked me to come down. Exhilarated, I threw on my second-least-embarrassing shirt and rushed for the elevator. Where I was promptly stopped by the RA.

“I was talking with some people down on the quad. They seem cool. I’m going to go hang out with them for a bit,” I explained to his increasingly displeased face.

“Honestly, I think you need to focus less on them until you make more of an effort with your floor mates. You don’t seem to be hitting it off with them,” he explained. “Since you don’t have a roommate, I worry you’re not going to have any friends.”

“Yes…but that’s why I’m going to go try and make some now,” I reasoned. I went over my gut feelings about the people on the floor already having existing friendships and that I’d be better off trying elsewhere. “Besides,” I pointed out, “everyone else left to go have fun already. Even if I stayed up here, there’s no one to make friends with.”

The conversation went on for the next ten minutes, with the RA becoming increasingly agitated, as though my decision to find my own friends was an affront to him somehow. In the end, though, he stepped aside. “Fine. Whatever. I’m just an RA. I can’t force you to do anything anyway.”

That is tremendously good information to have,” I said, and brushed past him.

Of course, cliches were all the rage back then. So I doubt I have to tell you that the RA’s long talk had lasted just long enough that the group of girls were long gone by the time I walked out the side door. I could have approached one of the random groups laughing and talking, but I didn’t feel all that lucky at that point. Honestly, I didn’t even feel all that sociable anymore.

I walked back to my room and, in my single victory of the night, closed and locked my door since, as my RA said, he couldn’t force me not to.

I want to say that the story has a happy ending or silver lining. At the very least, I’d like to say that it ended there without getting worse. But that’s not what happened.

I remember being jarred awake at 3am by the sound of loud dribbling directly outside my door. The Aryans had returned and, apparently fueled by whatever motivated idiots, decided to cap their night by dribbling in place for the next half hour. They talked about girls and parties and what fraternities they planned to rush in the fall. And, much to my irritation, they were joined by the RA, who seemed to have much laxer rules regarding noise violations than whether or not doors were arbitrarily left open.

“So…you guys like basketball, huh?” the RA asked. I put in my headphones.

Listening to music on full blast, I returned to my writing. I poured all my loneliness and angst and disdain by bouncing balls into it. And I haven’t stopped since.

Both the late-night dribblers, on the other hand, did eventually stop dribbling. At least long enough to be sent packing two weeks later when the RA carried out a one-man sting operation that resulted in an underage drinking charge for both. It was a dirty trick, but suffice to say, I didn’t lose any sleep over it.

Well, look at that. I guess there was a happy ending to the story, after all.

“A Schoolhouse Built of Lies”

burning-money

There are many places one might begin the story of my time in college, but I suppose the best would be the beginning.

It began with debt. Hmmm. Or perhaps not. That was a beginning, but not the beginning.

No, it began at University. I went to learn of ancient civilizations and untold truths. And then I found out I was just supposed to get a piece of paper that told employers I’d learned something. If I wanted to I could learn, but it wasn’t necessary. If I wanted, I could also pay an extra thirty-five dollars and have the piece of paper placed in a wooden frame.

Paying extra, I would quickly learn, would become an integral part of this story.

But I digress. No, the true beginning was, as with most things, sometime before the beginning as most people saw it. And as with everything else, it was made better with a sweet Patrick Rothfuss reference.

My college adventures had their roots in my always being pretty smart.

I could go on and on about why this is true, beginning with being told I was slow in school and teaching myself to read out of pure spite. I could tell you about good grades and free food from local restaurants after report cards. I could not, however, tell you all this without bragging. So maybe just take my word for it.

Yes, I was pretty smart. And that would inevitably be my downfall.

I’d pretty much decided that I would go to college by the time I was ten, because that’s just what smart people did back then. My resolve was only hardened at the end of high school when I realized how rapidly I was approaching either a military stint or homelessness otherwise. To say nothing of the lifetime of being told by older relatives and almost hourly commercials, it would dramatically increase my earning potential by a million dollars. Or more! Why, passing up college would have been akin to putting a million dollars in a pile and setting it ablaze.

To prevent that, I put $140,000 in a pile and set it ablaze instead, then didn’t get the million dollars either.

People look back on decisions like that and scoff. “You should have known it was smarter to get right into the job market. That’s what I did.” They’ll then mockingly buy me a small newsboy cap just to toss some spare change into it and laugh drolly.

At which point I usually just wonder why they didn’t use their amazing prophetic abilities to tell the rest of us about the impending decade-long recession due to terror attacks and subprime mortgages.

That’s the thing, though. There’s no arguing it. In 2001, going to college was the only way to succeed in life according to literally everyone who was giving advice on the subject at the time. A solid four-fifths of my graduating class was going to one flavor of college or another, even though not all of them were what you’d call “college material.” Back then, you were forced to go to college at expectation-point. Which, in all fairness, isn’t quite as daunting as gunpoint, but still.

The very suggestion of doing something else was ridiculous. If you told someone that you wanted to drop out of college and marry your dog, they’d give you a worried look and say, “That’s insane! Do you realize what that would do to your earnings potential?”

Then, they’d circle back to dog marriage. If there was time.

Why mention this point at all? Well, I’m going to be poor pretty much the rest of the story. Being poor was the very essence of my college experience. If they turned the whole thing into some sort of sitcom (and given what I’ve seen on television lately, it’s not entirely unlikely), they’d probably work it into the title somehow.

It also saves me the trouble of touching on each and every avenue for making or saving money. Yes, I worked during college. Yes, I applied (and received) scholarships that stopped after my first semester for no reason despite earning a 4.0. Yes, I filled out the FAFSA but was dismayed to not see a checkbox for “Parents have good earnings but will not help me pay tuition in any way.” The end result? Please see my previous paragraph.

For the next five years (we’ll get to that little Van Wilder-esque wrinkle later), I would be poor and starving and desperate in a way you wouldn’t think possible in a first world country. And it was an amazing experience almost from start to finish.

I point out this second detail – it being amazing – because so much of comedic writing is based on complaining about life’s little trials rather than celebrating its joyous occasions. It’s why comedians rarely talk about their significant other giving them an unexpected back rub after a hard day of work. And why they’re always talking about traffic. Or taxes. Or the lines at the DMV. (Amirite?)

Or the unexpected back rub I once got in line at the DMV.

College was expensive and scary and embarrassing and on two separate occasions I found myself stranded in another state with no shoes. And it’s easy to focus on the poverty and fear and shoelessness. Even though I loved every moment of it.

Except for Statistics, which I contend is the mathematical version of diarrhea, and the single worst waste of my time all four times I had to take it to pass. (That isn’t the reason for the wrinkle I mentioned earlier, for the record. Though, it certainly didn’t help.)

And thirdly, I want it to be clear that for me there really was no alternative to college. So when I hit some inevitable low points in the story and people wonder why I didn’t just do something else, I hope this explains it. Trying to understand my actions in 2001 with a 2017 mindset would be like me trying to come up with an analogy on short notice – pointless and, I don’t know…handsome?

So, just keep all that in mind going forward. I may not always mention my poverty, but I was poor. I may not mention how worthwhile the experience was – for my growth as a person if not the promised earning potential – but it changed my life. And from beginning to end, I never had a choice in the matter. Looking back, though, I can only say that if I had the chance to do it again, I would…definitely consider it. Possibly.

And that, I think, is a good place to stop for now. Just before the beginning of the start of the story. Finally.

(Oh, and if it wasn’t clear, this is still a “Story Time” column – the same one from a week ago – just with that part of the title dropped. It saves me some space to use bigger and far worse puns that way.)

Review – “Kubo and the Two Strings”

kubo1

About two months ago, my social media started going crazy for this movie. And while I’m usually hesitant to buy into any hype I’m not creating myself (or the hype created by one of the celebrities I want to hear hype from), I decided to give this a chance.

And then…I totally missed it in theaters.

But then I saw it anyway, thus destroying that narrative thread before it even got started. (Sorry. I wrote a literal book during NaNoWriMo in November. So I’m running pretty low on words at the moment.)

The Basics. “Kubo” is a stop-motion movie in the vein of “The Nightmare Before Christmas” or…um…other movies of that genre. It isn’t really something people make much anymore.

This was a nice change of pace, because I like stop-motion animation but I’m tired of Tim Burton’s generic brand of creepiness and oh, look, it’s Johnny Depp for some reason. Now, where’s Hilary Bonham Carter? She’s got to be around here someplace. Although…this movie does get sort of creepy. I mean, actually, I wouldn’t let my kid watch this movie because it would probably give him nightmares. But…well, there’s really pretty stuff, too, so it balances out?

kubo2
Okay. So maybe you’d be forgiven for thinking this was a Tim Burton movie.

Tim Burton aside (where he belongs), this movie tells the story of a young boy, Kubo, who lives in a more or less Japanese fantasy setting. He and his mother fled the evil Moon King years before, after he stole one of Kubo’s eyes. And the idea is that they must live in seclusion to keep the Moon King from getting the second eye. So…yeah. I’m reading this again and it seems super dark.

Oh, did I mention Kubo’s eye was stolen while he was a baby?

Look. There’s a sassy talking monkey. Trust me. It’s not all gloom and doom.

The Good. The movie, to make a long story short, is gorgeous. I don’t usually tell people that they should see a movie or watch a show just because it looks pretty. And I guess this is no exception. But it was a near thing.

I give particular credit to the action and fight scenes, which look really, really good. More than that, though, is that the magical powers on display weren’t your standard fare. If there’s another movie where the hero primarily attacks his enemies using origami minions controlled by an enchanted shamisen, it’s slipping my mind at the moment.

The story is solid through the first three-quarters or so, with that “Avengers”-esque mix of action and humor that’s become pretty common nowadays. And while that sort of quip-y action humor is rapidly heading towards cliche territory, I personally enjoy it. Plus, given the sometimes dark subject matter, it was probably necessary to keep the movie from heading deep into “downer” territory rather just hang out near the top and bum you out a little.

The characters are unique and likeable, for the most part. (With the exception of the Matthew McConaughey samurai, who lost some points for being voiced by Matthew McConaughey.) And while I wouldn’t say any really stand out, they were all at or above average. (With the exception of the sassy Charlize Theron monkey, who gained some points for being a sassy monkey.)

As long as you don’t go into this expecting a kid’s movie, you’ll get what you paid for (or pirated illegally or whatever – I’m not here to judge).

The Bad. My only real beef with the movie comes down to the story. Or beefs, I suppose? I’m pretty sure that’s a real word.

The first issue was that the narrative suffered from “set-piece syndrome.” The story didn’t so much move from place to place as it was just jerked between each major setting for an action sequence. And while it’s hard to argue with the results, you did get the strange feeling sometimes that the writer basically said, “Okay. First the idyllic village. Then we’ll go to the desolate snowfields that emphasize the feelings of loss. Then the scary cave for a scary skeleton fight. And then…hmmm…did we do a water thing yet?”

It’s worth mentioning that I didn’t notice this until after I finished watching the movie. It didn’t take me out of the experience at all. But it was a thing and this is a review and here we are.

The other issue was that the story hits kind of a dead note in the lead-up to the final battle. And while I can’t get into it without major spoilers, the whole thing just kind of bummed me out. The movie has a very clear trajectory and then, well, imagine if you were watching “The Lord of the Rings” and Frodo dies of a cold while climbing Mount Doom. It’s the sort of senseless thing that just has you spending the rest of the movie saying, “That can’t be it. There’s a twist coming.”

And then…there isn’t.

Overall, they’re not huge problems. And on their own, I’d honestly be inclined to ignore them entirely. It’s more an issue that if you put an incredibly questionable moment right before the final battle, it’s liable to distract you from, you know, the final battle.

In Conclusion. Having not seen many movies released lately worth seeing, let alone recommending to others, I was happy to find this movie. I was not happy to have missed it in theaters, because it looks like just the sort of movie one should be enjoying as light projected onto a very big screen, but I’m glad it didn’t slip by entirely.

Which, given its pretty weak advertising, is probably going to be the case for almost everyone else.

Was it perfect? No. But it was a thoroughly enjoyable ride from start to finish, minus a slight hitch right near the end. So as long as you aren’t one of those “the ending determines how good a movie is” folk, it’s a net win.

Also, George Takei is in it, mostly to just say, “Oh, my!” Is that enough to see the movie on its own? Well, in my book, yes. Your mileage, as always, may vary.

Though, in this specific case, your mileage would also be wrong.

Well, this happened.

Writer’s Note: In fact, this is all one big Writer’s Note. There’s no column here. (Though there is a link to the actual column below.) I just wanted to have this act as a splash page for it to make a few things clear.

On Wednesday, some things happened.

I won’t go into great detail about those things aside from saying they involved a certain election in a certain country where I happen to live. Though, I will note that the results left me devastated in a way I’m unfamiliar with. And despite my not-at-all-best efforts, those feelings of devastation trickled into my writing the following day.

When I looked back on what I wrote, I immediately put it aside and vowed it would never see the light of day. It was too political. It was too bitter. And while I still think it was very funny, I avoided posting it for the same reasons I avoided posting any articles directly relating to politics – that isn’t what I want this blog to be. In the same way that I’d hate a simulator that accurately portrayed just how crappy working and paying bills can be, I feel that people read comedy writing as a way to escape hardship, not be reminded of it.

I came back to it again and again before finally deciding that I should, in fact, post the article. And not just to keep my Monday, Wednesday and Friday posting schedule. This is bigger than that.

I’ve spent most of the past three days seeing people being very upset. And some being total assbags. But mostly very upset.

As I said in my very first column here, I’m a writer. I write things. It’s how I entertain. It’s how I share my views on the world. It’s how I relate to others. It’s even how I put my own fears and insecurities into manageable perspectives. And, when I can, it’s how I try to make others feel better. Even if it’s just giving them a tiny chuckle when they didn’t think they’d ever be able to laugh again.

In that same vein, I wanted to show people that I, too, am still broken. I wanted to show that grief is a process. And I feel the best way to do that was to show everyone myself at my most raw – my most emotional. Because even if I can’t make you feel better about any of this, the least I want to do is let you know that I have these feelings. You aren’t alone. And your feelings are okay, too. At least insofar as they relate to this topic and aren’t super-weird.

So with all that out of the way, please enjoy my surprisingly political review of those Swiss Cake Rolls they filled with eggnog.

Children’s Shows are Weird (Part III)

Writer’s Note: If you want to know where this all came from, check out the first part here and the second part here. If you want to read the third part, just crane your head slowly downward.

With that out of the way, on to more weirdness.

daniel-tiger2
“This is food to you guys? Weird.”

“Daniel Tiger’s Neighborhood.” I can’t believe I went so long without hearing about this show. Surprisingly, it’s a side continuation of “Mr. Roger’s Neighborhood” – a show many adults now grew up watching. The only real difference is that it’s a cartoon, is set in the Neighborhood of Make-Believe, and is objectively terrifying if you think about it for more than a few minutes.

Sure. It seems harmless enough. And as a parent, I appreciate a show that focuses a lot on feelings whereas most are telling kids how to use objects or learn numbers or letters. Except, you know, the feeling they should be talking about is fear. Of tigers.

Half the episodes I saw involved one inconvenience or another befalling Daniel Tiger. And every time he was kept waiting when he wanted to go to the music store or scraped a knee or told to be quiet, I just kept expecting him to lose it and start killing everyone around him. Because that’s what tigers do when various meal-sized piles of meat try to teach them life lessons through adversity and hardship.

And yeah, yeah. I know. “It’s just a children’s show! It’s not meant to be taken seriously,” you say, rolling your eyes at my third column in a row on the same subject.

“Who are you? Show yourself! Why can I hear you!?” I call back. “And why is our conversation being dictated in my column! I’m starting to get really weirded out by all this,” I say, because I enjoy a good bit of meta-humor as much as the next guy.

Constant interruptions aside, though, that’s not how kids see it. My kid, in particular, is generally shielded from notions like the fact that most things in nature would like to kill him or at least give him a solid mauling. That’s why when we went to the zoo I didn’t tell him that the gray wolves could be bloodthirsty killers (especially if you tried to teach them to calm down by singing). And then he promptly brought home a stuffed wolf from the gift shop that he named “Puppy” and regularly gives kisses.

But okay. Let’s forget all that pesky murder. Luckily, there’s another particularly weird aspect of the show – politics.

As you may or may not remember from the Mr. Rogers’ era, the Neighborhood is run by King Friday. In the Daniel Tiger era, he’s still King (though no longer a hand puppet) and has two sons. In short, he’s built himself a strong dynasty despite living in a Kingdom the size of a Wal-Mart parking lot. With similar wildlife.

Daniel Tiger regularly plays with the youngest Prince like he’s just another kid. And sure, it’s nice that the royal family would rub elbows with the common folk. You know, until the Prince stays over for a slumber party, trips, cuts his cheek and the host family is put to death for causing harm to a Prince.

Except maybe not, since the host family is tigers.

The two major problems with the show intersect quite nicely in the episode where a group of children are playing a version of musical chairs with a smaller and smaller number of sleeping bags. Another bag is removed at the end of each round until, finally, everyone is left with a single sleeping bag to leap onto when the music stops. The result is that the Prince and Daniel Tiger end up on the bottom of a dog pile. And while there were no negative consequences whatsoever, I expect a horrible outcome every time that episode comes on.

daniel-tiger

And if anyone survived, they’re tried for treason by a very angry King.

See what I mean? The King who’s willing to walk among his subjects seems great. But if history tells us anything, it’s that the best way for commoners to stay on the King’s good side was to stay as far from him as possible. Preferably on the opposite side of a wall. Or at least a very tall bale of hay.

The only reason half the people in Europe weren’t offending one monarch or another was that they were never within walking distance of one another. Now imagine your King is always just hanging out and chatting with you. And you’re just nodding and smiling and trying not to mention how you wish he’d address these constant tiger attacks by doing more than just making them wear people clothes.

Also, I’m skeptical of even fantasy worlds where people regularly break into song, random strangers seem to know the words and no one thinks it’s strange. But in the grand scheme of this show, I suppose it’s a minor quibble comparatively.

sesame-street
Not Pictured: Smoke.

“Sesame Street.” Since I’m pretty sure they turned on the first television and this show was already in its sixth season somehow, there’s a lot of ground to cover here. And rather than do an in-depth look at every single troubling thing about this show, I’ll just distill it down to a single point, save myself six months of writing and you half that in reading.

The cold days are coming soon and I must gather wood for fire.

What’s the deal with the Count, anyway? I’ve heard a lot of excuses ranging from “he’s a friendly vampire” to “there’s no proof he was actually meant to be a vampire at all.” And to at least one these I say, “Well…no.”

He’s clearly a vampire. He’s not just really, really Eastern European. For one, our skin is more olive than purple. For another, he’s got vampire fangs. And for…nevermind. I’m not doing this. He’s clearly just a vampire.

And yes, obviously, he’s friendly. I don’t have any real curiosity as to why he doesn’t regularly devour other members of the cast to feed his insatiable blood lust. It’s a kids’ show. By which I mean…I assume he’s held onto to a tiny shred of his humanity and refuses to give it up by killing those he loves.

All I’m really wondering is how he can just stroll around in broad daylight. Since he already doesn’t do anything else a vampire does, having him be one and not avoid sunlight is kind of the last straw. At that point, I can only picture Jim Henson showing off some character sketches to a producer who asks why the Count has a to be a vampire at all. And Henson just sort of shrugs and say, “I don’t know. I sort of like the cape, I guess.”

Having someone be a vampire without any characteristics of a vampire is like me claiming to be an Olympic medalist. And when someone asks if they can see the medal I’d just shake my head and say, “No, no. I’m not that kind of Olympic medalist.”

Children’s Shows are Weird (Part II)

Writer’s Note: Rather than repeat the same exact explanation as last time, I’ll just assume you’ve read the first part of this. If you haven’t, I’ve included the link here.

Now that we’re all the same page, let’s keep the weirdness coming.

tumbleleaf

“Tumble Leaf.” Since this one is limited to people with Amazon Prime, I don’t expect most people to have seen it. Still, it’s generally pleasant to look at and has won a number of awards for excellent children’s programming. You know…for those of you who base their children’s programming choices on what the most out-of-touch grown-ups think about them.

The show involves the adventures of Fig the Fox as he discovers new treasures and adventures around every corner. The usual kid’s stuff. Basically, it’s a nice way of saying that he’s an orphan and everyone died in a giant naval disaster some years ago.

But let’s maybe take a few steps back here.

Fig lives on a ship that’s run aground with large sections of its hull missing. And while I might be able to take this as just an interesting set piece, it would also require me to ignore every other one of a dozen pieces of evidence. Not to mention, this column would end right here on a spectacularly unfulfilling anticlimax. So…no.

As far as main characters go, Fig is pretty much the same one you’ll find in every children’s show. He’s cheerful. He believes in the non-specific but often very helpful “power of friendship.” He’s optimistic almost to a fault. And he’s as dumb as a brick full of smaller, dumber bricks.

His catchphrase is literally, “Let me figure this out.” And he utters it over and over again as he tries to solve such mentally-taxing riddles as why a blue mask makes him invisible in blue flowers but not pink flowers, or how to use a megaphone. This lack of any common sense combined with his aforementioned lack of parents, it’s safe to assume that, well, he’s got no parents.

Then again, he’s in good company. Almost no one else in the show has any parents either. The closest we get is the aunt (or at least, “aunt”) of a supporting character. There’s also a pair of chickens with parents, though they’re young enough to have been born after whatever parent-killing disaster befell the rest of the adults there.

It’s possible that all these odds and ends have nothing to do with one another. Maybe all the parents died after eating bad salmon mousse. Maybe the pirate ship is just a random ship that has nothing to do with the plot. But I generally prefer my crazy theory walls to have more connected strings to the various newspaper clippings, as it were.

Given the low population but reasonable level of technological development, I think we can safely assume that something knocked this society down a peg. This is mirrored by the eerie number of ruins nearby – both of the “ancient civilization” kind and more recent “overgrown amusement park” variety. This suggests not only a disaster, but some sort of recurring one. In short, if you were thinking of offering insurance to the people of Tumble Leaf, you may want to reconsider.

There’s more evidence, of course. (What kind of cut-rate conspiracy article do you think I’m writing here?) And just like any good conspiracy theory, the best piece of evidence is crab-related.

It’s heavily implied that all the crabs were originally fishermen. I say “fishermen” because they’re all wearing the typical fisherman’s attire and kind of talk like less intelligible versions of Popeye. And I say “originally” because none of them are doing it anymore. The only boats we ever seen in the show are ones washed ashore and repurposed for other uses. And of the dozen or so crabs we see on the show, only one (known only as “The Captain”) hasn’t retreated far inland under fairly mysterious circumstances.

Tumbleleaf Captain.jpg

“I once caught a fish thiiiiiiiis big. Oh. And then…everyone died.”

The Captain lives in a small underground lair, subsisting on daily casts of a crab trap into the ocean. (I’m not even going to touch that one.) He’s got a wooden claw so severe that it won’t grow back, lending more credence to the whole “something bad happened” angle. And while I have no idea if he has any relation to the crashed ship he lives next to, it’s fairly clear that the local fishing industry ended up at the bottom of the same watery grave as ninety percent of the adults on the show.

“But wait!” I say, unnecessarily, because that’s not how reading works. “There’s more!”

I didn’t even mention what was in the crab traps everyday. Instead of finding food (i.e. crabs) inside, he finds…well, junk. The local shallows are littered with the scattered pieces of civilization. Springs, gears, toys and a wide variety of things that seem more at home in, well, houses than the cold uncaring depths of the ocean, get dredged up twice per episode.

From there, the theory pretty much writes itself. Which is handy, because my fingers are getting tired.

The safest bet is that some sort of natural disaster – very likely a severe hurricane – struck the coastline about a decade ago. In addition to destroying all local industry, it didn’t leave a single post standing of the coastline villages. I don’t want to overestimate the tragedy here, but given that the area has amusement parks and airship-level technology, I feel confident in saying it was definitely enough for the Jedi to notice.

The good news is that there were survivors. The bad news is that it’s probably going to happen again someday. Remember all those pesky ancient ruins I mentioned? Yeah. Judging from the number of abandoned sites scattered all over the area, it seems like the area lives in a constant cycle of growth and purging at the whims of a very grumpy Poseidon. It doesn’t bode well for Fig, especially if he plans on becoming an adult one day.

But…eh. He figured out that sleds go faster when he took his feet off the ground. I’m sure he’ll figure out how to save civilization, too.

“Yo Gabba Gabba!” Yo Gabba Gabba is brain poison. I tried watching it once and actually felt my neurons dying like tiny white-hot pin pricks behind my eyes and suddenly I didn’t remember long division. We shall speak of it no more.

Anyway, more to come in the next installment. I was thinking of going to three parts with this, but I may go to four. There really is no shortage of these weird shows.