Sunday, March 25, 2012

Don't Kill Your TV

TV goes back into the mist of my memory.  I am on the younger end of the first generation of people in the U.S. who have never known life without television.  To those of us in that generation and younger, the TV is as much an integral part of a household as a stove or refrigerator.  I suppose that, in a similar way, kids today are the first generation to have never known life without a computer.

I owe a lot to television.  It really gave me a jump start on things.  As a young child with two infant siblings, the TV was a convenient distraction my mother could set me in front of for periods of time on days when going outside to play was not workable.  The first set I remember seemed huge to me, but was probably only about a 24” screen.  It had a very large and clunky dial for changing the channels, and when you turned it off, a tiny white dot remained in the middle of the screen for nearly a minute afterward.  That dot intrigued me, and the memory of it still does.  The set took about 30 seconds to warm up, and as a kid I remember how long those 30 seconds seemed, when you could hear something exciting on the TV, but it wouldn’t let you see it yet.  Patience wasn’t my strong suit, then or now.

We didn’t have a lot of channel selections back then, just the three major American networks (no Fox yet), public broadcasting and two Canadian networks.  Captain Kangaroo, Mr. Roger’s Neighborhood, The Electric Company and Sesame Street were my shows, especially Sesame Street.  All four were solidly in the “educational programming” category, so I don’t think I was any worse for wear by my devoted viewing of them.  And when I wasn’t watching TV, I was running around like a bat out of hell, so I was not short of any physical activity either.

Sesame Street was my favorite of them all.  It was on twice a day on PBS (at breakfast time and just before dinner), and once on one of the Canadian channels (right around lunch time).  And I watched all three episodes, five days a week before I was in school.  By the time I got into kindergarten, I could read, write and count in three languages.  The Canadian version of Sesame Street taught French, just like the American version taught Spanish.  I couldn’t tie my shoes or eat without getting food in my hair, but man, I was literate!

Of course with so many academic hurdles already jumped, I found kindergarten a bit dull, like watching reruns.  Consequently, I tended to make my own fun, much as I still do today.  The difference is, I was not very subtle about it, and nearly drove my kindergarten teacher out of her mind.  Those were the days before Ritalin or academic enrichment programs.  My misadventures in school are beyond the scope of this post, but suffice it to say that Mrs. McLaughlin is still around, and even after all these years I still have a very hard time looking her in the eye after the run for her money that I gave her.

Captain Kangaroo was great too.  His show had been around for decades before me.  When I watched in the early 70s, he was like the crazy old grandfather everyone wanted but no one really had.  His puppet buddies Mr. Moose and Bunny cracked me up, especially when they dropped a whole raft of ping pong balls on his head.  I was nearly 7 before I realized ping pong balls were used for anything other than humiliating beloved TV characters.

He had human friends too.  Mr. Green Jeans and Baxter were always stopping by.  Mr. Green Jeans always wore the same pair of, well, green jeans, and was vaguely presented as a kind of farmer/handyman/sage.  Baxter was one of the few African-American men in mainstream children’s programming at that time.  He too was a vaguely defined character.  I remember him wearing cream-colored sweaters, sometimes eyeglasses, and coming across as an academic of some sort.  After I got a bit older, creepy Slim Goodbody joined the cast.  He wore a body stocking with internal organs painted on it and kept pushing his preachy message about food that I hated.  Creepy and preachy.  Major turn-off, then and now.

Sidenote: Captain Kangaroo’s show started at 7:00 every morning on CBS, and there was a huge controversy when the network pushed it back so they could start “The CBS Morning News” at 7 to compete with “The Today Show” and “Good Morning America”.  Kids across the country were in an uproar, and their parents probably even more so, as that meant their hour of relative peace and quiet to drink coffee and read the newspaper from 7-8 each morning was shot to hell.  The host of “The CBS Morning News” in those days was a very young Bob Schieffer, who is still working for the network.  At the time, I hated him with a deep, seething passion.  He was the guy who overthrew Captain Kangaroo in my mind.  I still bristle a little at some subconscious level when Schieffer comes on TV.  I believe that there is some credence to the idea that the CBS morning shows have historically done so poorly in the ratings because of “The Curse of Captain Kangaroo”.

Mr. Rogers’ Neighborhood was not so much about literacy as it was social skills and problem solving.  I suppose it’s not much good to be able to read and write if you can’t interact in society with some degree of success.  He was kind of an unusual bird in hindsight, but he was so sincere about what he did, and played an important role in the lives of many preschool kids, some of whom may not have had a lot of good models for behavior in their lives.  His show was the first one I remember outgrowing, as it started to seem “babyish” to my sophisticated kindergartner mind after I started school. Mr. Rogers has been parodied heavily over the years, and it always bothered me a little, like someone making fun of your favorite uncle. 

The Electric Company could best be described as groovy, psychedelic phonics lessons.  The show was just entirely too cool, and appealed to me more and more as I got older.  They had cheesy, live-action Spider-Man episodes, lots of bellbottom pants, afros, and Morgan Freeman.  The show stuck to message though.  No matter how weird it got, there was always a literacy angle to everything they did.  Spider Man could be rescuing silent “e” from some masked goon or Morgan Freeman might be interviewing a diphthong with great sincerity, but there was always some reading connection there.  I think it was The Electric Company that helped me see that all the reading stuff I was learning could actually be applied to fun stuff, and it was part of what led me to a lifelong love affair with books.

These shows were both a lot of fun and developmentally helpful to a very young me.  Kids growing up on Spongebob are really missing out.

It wasn’t all educational programming for me though.  I’ve got a future post cooking on the topic of Saturday morning cartoons in the era when they were a weekly tradition for anyone under 12.

Sunday, March 11, 2012

Talking Top Trending Twitter Topics Today!

A few months back, I wrote about my thoughts on Twitter, as you may recall.  I still feel like the most clueless guy on there, but I am up to more than 300 followers at this point, so I must be doing something right.  Never mind that half of them are motivational speakers, for some inexplicable reason.  Do my posts and tweets sound like I need an emotional revving up?  Maybe I ought to get an electric Prozac diffuser or something.

One of the most entertaining aspects of Twitter is “Trending Topics”.  It’s a continually updated listing of the ten most popular phrases and hashtags on Twitter. Hashtags are key words preceded by a pound, (like #squidmuffins).  They help you see, and be seen by, others using that same hashtag, even if they don’t follow you.  If I want to connect with other Twitterers while a Red Sox game is being broadcast, for example, I’ll search #redsox to find out who is tweeting on that topic, and will include that hashtag on my own Red Sox-related tweets so it too can be seen.  It’s a good way to find like-minded people to follow, as well as to gain new followers.  Even if they are in this case Red Sox fans, a group only marginally more rational and articulate than a basket of rabid lemurs.

Without further ado, I am going to list and comment on the trending topics on Twitter in the United States, as of early evening, March 11, 2012.

·         #SXSW (Promoted): Like it says, this is promoted.  That means that no one really cares about it, but the people behind it paid Twitter biggish bucks to stick it at the top of the list.  I hate these trending topics, and would not search or comment with them if someone was hanging me upside down over a vat of live electric eels.

·         Kobe to Bynum: Like I mentioned, it is popular to tweet to fellow fans of a sport while watching a game.  Evidently, in the current game between the Boston Celtics and Los Angeles Lakers, Kobe Bryant is making a lot of passes to Andrew Bynum.  So much so that tweets about it have caused this phrase to trend.  As a Celtics fan, I feel that this #sucks #a #lot.

·         #SelectionSunday: Another sports trend.  I am speculating that this has something to do with the March Madness college basketball tournament, an athletic event I just cannot get interested in.  (Others include golf, tennis, and competitive dwarf-eating.)  I’ve tried to before, but the number of competitive college basketball teams overwhelms me.  It’s hard to get excited for East Overshoe Tech when you’ve never heard of them, don’t know any of the players or coaches, or even know where the school is. The whole event is just too big to get my head around.  Maybe I’m just bitter because my alma mater hasn’t had a winning season this millennium.  This is something I could use one of those motivational speakers to help me with, I think.

·         #twitter_movies: This is one of those fun “microfad” trends.  In this case, people rename popular movies so they relate in some way to Twitter.  You’ll see such things as "I Know What You Tweeted last Summer", and “A Tweetcar Named Desire”.  They can be fun, though when you read down through a list like this, if becomes abundantly clear that not everyone is born with the humor gene. Or the grammar gene.

·         Greg Gumbel: I’m going to go out on a limb here and surmise that Greg Gumbel is hosting the March Madness Tournament selection program.  Who would have guessed 20 years ago that Greg would be the most popular and visible Gumbel on TV today, and Bryant would be managing a car wash outside of Dayton?

·         Bracket Time: Another March Madness trend.  Are you seeing why this is the one sporting event that gets on my nerves?  I just don’t get it, and yet it is everywhere, making me feel like everyone but me understands and enjoys it!  (Maybe statements like this are why all those motivational speakers follow me.)

·         #GoForth: I have no clue what this trend is about.  Could be a reference to the biblical book of Genesis, but more likely it is a tagline from an advertisement for potato chips or a new car, western culture being what it is these days.

·         Steve Alford: Had to Google this one.  Mr. Alford is the coach of the University of New Mexico men’s basketball team.  The Lobos (that’s the team name) are probably going to the March Madness Tournament, if the other popular trends tonight are any indication.  You think the teams that the Lobos play refer to them as the Bozos behind their backs?  I bet they do.

        Kurt Busch: Kurt Busch is a mediocre-at-best NASCAR driver who is a master at self-promotion by using the method of having the mentality of an angry 13-year-old boy who hasn’t taken his Ritalin. He’s a creep, but he gets attention, hence this trending topic.

·         One Direction Giveaway: This is not a sponsored trend, but it is an example of marketers hijacking Twitter for their own purposes.  I guess I am okay with that, given how often I pimp this blog and my other projects on Twitter myself.  One Direction, and I had to Google this one too, are a British-Irish boy band who finished third on the seventh season of The X Factor in Britain.  Given that I have a strict policy of not listening to any musical acts whose combined age does not total that of my favorite pair of sneakers, I have obviously never heard of them.

Twitter is a lot of fun, and I have met some really great people on it.  If you haven’t tried it, go ahead.  Follow me at @countofbluecars, and I’ll be sure to mention you to all the motivational speakers following me.

Sunday, March 4, 2012

Pour Some Sugar on Somebody Else

As a teenage boy in the 1980s, “Pour Some Sugar on Me” by Def Leppard was required listening.  I was, and still am, a huge Def Leppard fan, and literally wore out my copy of Hysteria, the album from which the song came.

From YouTube.  Full disclosure: I used to wear jeans just like that.  On purpose.

While the song is one of the great rock anthems of my youth, I can’t say I join in its sentiment.  Essentially, it extols the virtues of confectionary ingredients as an aid in intimate activities in the bedroom.  (Hey, this is a PG-13ish blog, so I had to be kind of obtuse in my description.)  As I am writing this, the 1985 song “Sugar Walls” by Sheena Easton, which expresses a similar approach to boom-chicka-wow-wow as Def Leppard’s, just came on the radio.  Evidently, gooey love is a thing, or at least it was in the 80s. 

My problem is, I cannot imagine anything LESS sexy than sugary love!  I hate stickiness!  I really, really do.

After exhaustive research on Google for nearly three minutes, I have determined that there is no official phobia for fear of stickiness, so I am hereby dubbing it “stickiyuckyickychrisjusthatesitphobia”.  Those of you with hippopotomonstrosesquipedaliophobia will just have to deal with it. (Google it.)  There is a known fear of slimy things, called myxophobia, and while slimy things aren’t very high on my list either, they don’t rise to the level of stickiness.

Now mind you, I am not obsessive-compulsive who stands at the sink for hours washing his hands.  I just do NOT like to be sticky.  If a utensil at a meal somehow becomes sticky to hold, I exchange it immediately.  If my hands get even a little bit sticky during said meal, I get up and wash them.  I’ve done it several times in the course of eating just a single cinnamon roll.  If I reach for something in the fridge and it is sticky, it gets rinsed off at once, as do I.  If I am working on some kind of project, like painting for example, and paint gets on any part of my skin, I cannot just leave it until later.  No way.  I have to stop and go scrub myself off.  There are plenty of sticky substances where I work at the animal hospital, but we wash A LOT, and I keep extra clothing on hand at all times.

Like many things, my case of stickiyuckyickychrisjusthatesitphobia probably goes back to my childhood.  I’ve mentioned in a previous post how my friends and I enjoyed getting high as kids.  High up off the ground, that is.  We were always climbing things to gain as much altitude as possible.  In the wilds of northern Maine, we practically lived in trees as kids.  It was one of many things we held in common with monkeys.  The thing is, many of those trees we liked to climb were pine trees, which exude the stickiest sap, called “pitch”, that you can imagine.  Pitch got on your skin and clothing and it just stayed there.  No amount of scouring with regular soap and water would get rid of it.  I remember how maddening it was to scrub and scrub and still be sticky.  And my mother was so fed up with me ruining my clothes with pitch that I actually had “tree-climbing clothes” as a subset of my “play clothes”.  Forbidding me to stay out of trees was like trying to forbid clouds from raining.

Once I got so sticky on so many parts of me from climbing pine trees one summer day that my mother sent me over to our neighbor Bob’s garage to wash up.  Neither she nor I could get it off adequately, and it was driving me absolutely bonkers.  Bob was an amateur mechanic (specializing in nerdy little AMC Pacers and Gremlins for some unknown reason), and had high-powered hand scouring substances that could take axle grease, pitch, and even some of the skin right off you if you weren’t careful.  The stuff smelled a lot like motor oil, and the evil scent lingered for hours after use.  But it did the trick.  Shortly after that, my mother inquired of Bob what some of the less-lethal of those products were, and kept some on hand at our house in case another pitch crisis occurred.

I don’t climb nearly as many trees these days, so pitch is not the problem for me it once was, but I do a lot of hiking and snowshoeing in deep woods.  There are few things as exasperating for me as being way out in the wilderness and putting my hand up against a pitchy pine branch, and having to live with the sticky until I can get back to a sink and some scouring stuff.  It’s a little embarrassing to admit, but I have actually cut a hike short because I got pitch on my hands and couldn’t wait to scrub it off.  And don’t even get me started about swatting flies and mosquitoes with pitch-covered hands.  It’s disgusting.

Out to eat, I will actually avoid ordering certain things if they have a high sticky quotient, no matter how much I like them.  It’s one thing to run to the sink to wash every few minutes in my own home, but quite another in a restaurant.  It’s hard sometimes, because I am very fond of some sticky things.  A gooey Danish pastry at Sunday brunch is hard to beat.  A juicy navel orange goes great on a hot summer afternoon, and a soft-shelled lobster is one of the best culinary treats, especially here in Maine where they are as fresh as you can get.  Serve me one of those messy suckers outside at a picnic table while I am draped in a tarp and wearing goggles and rubber gloves, and I am good to go.  Serve me one in a place where I can’t easily wash up, and I’ll politely decline.  I’ll have the steak, thanks.  With extra napkins.

So if you and your sweetie like to take Def Leppard literally in the boudoir, then more power to you.  Have fun.  I’d need towels and a bucket of soap and water nearby if it were me though.

Anyone have any Wet-Naps?  Stickiyuckyickychrisjusthatesitphobia is a bitch.