Monday, November 20, 2017

H.R. Rough 'n stuff.

When my chums are down, you know what I like to tell them? I like to tell them, “Cheer up, chum! It could always be worse!” And they say, “No it can’t!” And then I punch them in the mouth and say, “See? Now it’s worse!”

Because indeed, no matter how bad something is, it can always be worse.

Take, for example, the children’s programs of my youth by those showbiz tycoons Sid and Marty Krofft. In the early 1970’s they produced a lot of bizarre TV shows for kids, and if you haven’t seen them there is very little I can say that would do justice to how weird they were.

Start with H.R. Pufnstuf. They made seventeen episodes of the show in 1969---I was astonished to find that that was all there ever were---and it stayed on TV in one form or another for the next FIFTEEN YEARS. See what you kids missed before everyone had cable? The show centered around a British boy on the brink of puberty and his magic flute that an evil witch was always trying to steal.

The boots really bring the outfit together.

And yet even this show could have been worse than it was. All of them could. Let’s see how:

Actual show: H.R. Pufnstuf
Jimmy is wrecked on Living Island, where an evil witch tries to steal his magic flute, Freddy. A friendly dragon helps protect Jimmy and tries to help get him back home.

Worse show: H.R. Freudnstuf
Norman is wrecked on Bates Island where an evil witch tries to steal his “magic flute.” A friendly, long, muscular, serpentine dragon tries to protect Norman and send him someplace other than home. (There is a dramatic scene halfway through the series where Witchiepoo has Norman injured and hanging from a tree, and then tells him, “Norman…I am your mother!”)

Two brothers harbor and must hide a friendly sea monster named Sigmund, separated from his family because he refuses to frighten humans.

Worse show: Sigmoid and the Pee Monsters
Two brothers deal with an anthropomorphic intestinal fluke who is always getting up their asses. Sigmoid’s family of urinary schistosomiases are always wrecking the plumbing.

Actual show: The Bugaloos
Harmony, I.Q., Courage, and Joy are the Bugaloos, a quartet of human winged insects who have a hippie rock band; they are opposed by Benita Bizarre, who lives in a giant jukebox and plays lousy music.

Worse show: The Bugaboos
Lowgiene, O.C.D., Manic, and Depressive are the Bugaboos, a quartet of human vermin who have a grunge rock band; they are opposed by Norma Normal, who lives on PBS and plays old rock reunion shows. Complimentary Peter, Paul, and Mary tote bag with a $100 donation!

Actual show: Lidsville
Teenage Mark falls into a magic hat and winds up in Lidsville, the land of living hats. The evil HooDoo tries to kidnap Weenie the Genie away from Mark, while the good hats try to help Mark get home.

Worse show: Libsville
College freshman Marq falls into a magic bong and winds up in Libsville, the land where Communism is still considered plausible. The evil TopHat Pennybags tries to kidnap Pepe the Proletarian away from Marq, while Ushanka, Chairman Meow Cap, and the other good hats try to export revolution to Marq’s home.

See? Like I said, anything can be worse. You can say that the worse versions of the shows could not have gotten on network TV---but I would add that network TV could have been worse than it was, too.

Hard to believe, I know.

Sunday, November 19, 2017

It happens.

"Oh, Mom, you know what kids are like. She won't go anywhere without her bear."

Saturday, November 18, 2017

What are we eating?

I do editing work when I'm not pounding away at the keyboard on my own stuff, and have become something of an expert on cookbooks. As I've noted before, cookbook writing and editing is a very specialized area with a lot of stylistic quirks, and a lot of copy editors won't touch them. But I will. Partly because I like to think about food.

I've recently done a few projects for a publisher that involved reader-submitted recipes. These were a particular chore from an editorial point of view, because the people sending these in are not familiar with the style guidelines (nor should they be expected to be), and thus the editors ought to have rewritten everything to fit the standards of the books. Ought to have.

But I learned a few things about food, and people, and I thought I might share my thoughts with you. So here are the top -- oh, shall we say 10? -- 10 things I learned doing cookbooks with recipes from the common folk.

1. You people love cheese. I mean you love cheese. These books had so much cheese in them that they should come with a bottle of Lipitor.  Even the chapters of vegetarian dishes and vegetable side dishes were loaded with cheese.

2. And not just cheese. "Cheese Product."
3. I'm glad to know some classic first names are still popular away from New York. People around here name their children Efram and Fisher and Cortlandt -- and that's just the girls. I'm glad that there are still Jans and Cathys and Jills out there. It feels like there's still a vast and untapped vein of sanity in the nation's culture.

4. And it's almost entirely Jans and Cathys and Jills who are sending in the recipes. Oh, you may get a Bob or a Jack somewhere in there, especially if there are sections on grilling, but by and large the women are still doing the cooking. I say with admiration for them, as a home cook myself, and just an observational thing. We're not judging here.

Maybe a little judging.
5. Before our Neighbors to the North get snooty on us: Canadians submitted a lot of recipes to these projects, identical in type and theme to those of the Americans. Kraft's Canadian site also features plenty of that you-know-what, and that's not all.

6. Many people are generally unclear at what constitutes a recipe. I blame the editors for this, really, as they often include things I would not. If your recipe starts with an ingredient that is itself a completed product, it doesn't really count, does it?

Step one: Take 1 DeGiorno Pizza and bake according to package directions.
Step two: Add 1 tablespoon Tabasco.
Step three: Eat. 

See that? Not a recipe. I exaggerate a little for effect, but less than you might think.

I will grant that sometimes it's a judgment call. Using M&M's in a cookie recipe isn't the same as starting with a pre-made pizza. You don't have to make your own M&M's from scratch. You don't have to bake bread to have a slice in your meatloaf recipe. It's a clear distinction but maybe a little hard to articulate.

7. Everyone has a variation on the classics. Speaking of meatloaf. If you cook at home and you're an American and don't have some necessary or voluntary dietary restrictions, you probably make a meatloaf, a pasta sauce, a stew, a soup, a roast, and so on. The nation has bales of little faded cards with mushy corners and sauce stains that Grandma scribbled on sixty years ago. I think it's great.

8. There is a widespread belief that every dessert ought to be served with a scoop of vanilla ice cream, even ice cream. I thoroughly endorse this plan.

9. America has some exceedingly comical town names. (You too, Canada.)

10. We eat well in America, even if the so-called elites and influencers freak out over what we eat. Well, screw 'em. Freedom of food choice is freedom. We didn't like the metric system so we said to hell with that, and we still do. We cook in cups and tablespoons, not grams and milliliters. Because we like it that way.

Enjoy yourself, America. Don't let anyone tell you what to do, in your kitchen or anywhere else. Even if it means eating Velveeta.

Friday, November 17, 2017

Apologizing for the topic.

No, seriously, I am already sorry, because today's topic involves these:

If you own a dog, you know exactly what these are for. If you dton't, you probably guessed.

We run through a lot of poop bags in our house, because a lot of things run through our dogs. Mostly, but not entirely, food things. So someone has to pick it up off the lawn, or in the park, or in the parking lot outside the PetSmart, or wherever. It's what responsible owners do. It's a gross and dispiriting work, so the poop bag manufacturers try to make the job Fun! and the finished product something you could actually look at. These bags came in a package set of colorful bag rolls -- there were light blue ones too, but we used them up first. My wife couldn't believe the pink one had little hearts.

So I pack up the poop and it goes into a sealed-tight drum in the backyard until trash day. Sometimes I have to leave the bags on the lawn until I can get them to the back, usually if I'm in a rush or if I have to get the younger dog in the house (if you take him in the back it's PLAYTIME and you'll be there for at least fifteen minutes). So as many as three or four could be sitting in the grass. When the bags are this colorful it looks like the Easter Bunny has paid us an unseasonal call and dropped off some gift bags. Yay! Easter Bunny!

Worse, though, was when I almost left some of the bags on the lawn on Halloween.

I mentioned a couple of weeks back that I am meticulous about clearing the lawn of poop on that day because I know little kids will be running straight across as a shortcut. Contrary to popular belief I am not so old that I want to a poo penalty for the kids who walk on my grass. But I did realize, with only  minutes to go before the first kids came a-schnorring, that there were some brightly colored mystery sacks on the grass by the walkway.

It played out quickly in my imagination.

"Hey, look! Goodie bags!"

"Oh, boy!"

Next morning. Early.



Angry Mom: "Just. What. The. HELL. Was THAT?"

"Wuz whuh?"

"The little DOG CRAP TRICK you pulled on MY KIDS!?"


POW (rolling pin, pepper spray, frying pan, you name it)

All that in mind, I motored.

So you see, there's a downside to bright, cheerful bags meant to contain excrement. Maybe we can all learn a lesson from this.

Thursday, November 16, 2017


I was listening to Mark Steyn’s podcasts about the songs of the great lyricist Sammy Cahn, who had more American standards than the Home Depot. Whoever you are, you've heard his songs, and you'll hear many again as Christmas approaches. “Ain’t That a Kick in the Head,” “Come Fly with Me,” “Come Dance with Me,” “High Hopes,” “Written on the Wind,” “My Kind of Town,” “Three Coins in the Fountain,” "Let It Snow," “Love and Marriage,” “The Christmas Waltz,” “It’s Been a Long, Long Time,” "I've Heard That Song Before," “Call Me Irresponsible,” “It’s Magic,” “All the Way”---four Oscars among those and another 23 Oscar nominations, and those are only the songs used in the movies.

You’ll notice a lot of these were recorded by Sinatra, and Steyn makes the point that Cahn’s easy lyrical style was perfect for Sinatra’s ring-a-ding style, and did so much for what would be considered the Rat Pack lounge style.

One of the things Sinatra liked to do was sling nicknames at people in the Cahn songs of his Capitol Records days, and possibly in real life for all I know. For example, in “Come Blow Your Horn”:

You've got to sound your "A" the day you're born,
I tell ya, chum, it’s time to come blow your horn.

And in “The Boys’ Night Out”:

Hey there, buster, it’s the Injuns after Custer
It's the boys’ night out

And in “Love and Marriage”:

This I tell ya, brother,
You can't have one without the other.

And in “Come Dance with Me”:

Hey there, cutes, put on your dancin’ boots
And come dance with me

Sinatra would do that kind of thing with other songs not written by Cahn, things like taking the devoted “darling” out of Cole Porter and replacing it with the diminutive “baby.” I don’t want to read too much into it, but there’s a definite lack of respect being shown even to the supposed object of one’s affection.

Now, maybe some people like to be called chum or buster or cutes or sweetheart or chuckles, but it’s always struck me that Frankie and his admirers did it as a means of not having to learn your name, a prelude to his peeling a couple of bills from the roll and expecting you to roll over for him. Guys like that kind of thing when they’re the roll-holder, but let’s face it---most of us are the rolled.

It becomes more obvious if you just move the nicknames a little further down the scale of acceptability:

You've got to toot your flute the day you're born,
I tell ya, ho, it’s time to go blow your horn.

Hey there, schmuck, it’s the Injuns run amok
It's the boys’ night out

This I tell ya, stupid,
You can’t go running out on cupid

Hey there, fats, put on your dancin’ spats
And come dance with me

This is why, no matter how much I smoked and drank and wore sharp hats and chased after women, I was never asked to join the Rat Pack. I might have passed the physical but I’d have still washed out of basic.

Wednesday, November 15, 2017

Scrubbing history.

If you're old enough you might just know who these guys are. And if you do, and your brain works like mine (and you're not under medication yet), you might know what they have to do with Sprint and Verizon.

First, the easy stuff. This is an animation cel on sale at Etsy from an ad for S.O.S soap pads. For a while in the 1970s, S.O.S ran a series of commercials wherein its blue hero "Big Blue" combated "Pink Pad" (a not-even-barely-disguised Brillo pad) over whose soap held out longest. Pink Pad usually lost his pink soap after a single shot from a water pistol or the like. Blue Pad had no such difficulty. He had endurance. I wish I could post one of the old ads, but despite my belief that YouTube has everything, it doesn't have any of them.

S.O.S pads and Brillo pads, interestingly, emerged the same year in American history, 1917, as a pad made specially for use in scrubbing hard-to-clean pots and pans. (The last period in S.O.S was left off intentionally, Wikipedia tells us, so that the name could be trademarked.) In time a fierce battle arose over which steel wool pad would become the king of America's kitchen sinks. In 1967 (according to Betty Bock's 1968 edition of Mergers and Markets) the two brands accounted for 98.6% of the steel wool pad market. Families generally were loyal to one or the other, as they were to Coke or Pepsi, Tide or All, Hertz or Avis, Crest or Colgate. We were a Brillo family.

The S.O.S animated commercials were fun, and certainly caught the eye of any kids watching daytime TV (we were starved for cartoons). I have read that no less than Oscar winner Broderick Crawford himself did the voice of the pink pad. As he later said of all TV work: "To pay the rent and keep your face up there, you do TV. Hell, if they're stupid enough to pay you for that junk, that's their problem.''

I hated that my family's soap pad was being humiliated by that blue goon, though.

In time the ad campaign ended, and here's where things got odd. As part of his campaign to do anything for a buck, Broderick Crawford then made a TV ad for Brillo. He was seen in person scouring pots with Brillo, and heard saying, "Hi, I'm Brillo, the pink pad. You remember me from that -- blue pad commercial... Well, you haven't seen that commercial around much lately. That's because, due to a new Brillo formula, my soap now outlasts that blue pad's. And I couldn't say that on TV if it weren't true. So if that blue pad claims longer lasting soap than Brillo, don't you believe it!" (Thanks to American Radio History's archive of Broadcasting newsweekly for filling in all the blanks in my and my family's memory.)

Which brings me to Paul Marcarelli, the actor who for years played the Test Man for Verizon commercials and now plays, I don't know, Revenge Guy for Sprint commercials. It's a curious thing when commercial actors are turned loose and go after the competition. I wonder if Lily (Milana Vayntrub) from AT&T will wind up doing ads for Boost Mobile, or if Flo (Stephanie Courtney) will ever be tossed from Progressive and wind up making ads with that gekko. Could happen.

As for Brillo and S.O.S, despite being the biggest soap pads on the block, things have been challenging for those veritable brands since the 1970s. Miles Brands sold S.O.S to Clorox, and Brillo's parent company was bought by Dial, who sold it to Church & Dwight, who sold it to Armaly Brands. Store brands and other competitors have taken Big Blue and Pink Pad down a few pegs.

Will Sprint and Verizon wind up the same way? And what does this have to do with anything?

Beats me. I just love this stuff.