Monday, December 27, 2010

Addendum: plush carnage, continued

Regarding the previous post:

My sister alerted me to the following heartwarming description Build-a-Bear provides of the "Stingray Snacks Set":

"Teddy bear size plush stingray snacks include a plush crab, squid and shrimp. The perfect meal for your stuffed stingray!"

(My sister: "What is WRONG with these people?!")

Cue theme from "Jaws":

If You Don't Have This, You're Not Cool: Special Season's Belated Greetings! edition

Merry belated Christmas, everyone!

(Hey, check out that hairy stub of arm underneath, huh? Don't bother thinking of that puppy while you're eating.)

Yes, there's always a certain feeling of letdown once the big day has come and gone.  Fortunately, we're left with the tender afterglow of the holiday spirit, also defined as "continued readiness to vivisect the Chipmunks personally, if asked."

Note to PETA-types: We at The Snark Ascending do not in any way endorse cruelty to animals, except maybe for that one time the hermit crab we got for our friend's birthday party pinched the living shit out of our eight-year-old hand, whereupon we fantasized for YEARS afterwards about consigning the little monster to a Cuisinart.  However, we are sure the rage will abate once we regain feeling in our hand.


Disclaimer: We're sorry we had to do that.

Meanwhile, in the interest of stimulating the economy* via after-Christmas sales, I'd** like to direct your attention to the following funky little items, which really exist and are brought to you by the Build-a-Bear Workshop.  They were brought to my attention by my resourceful sister, who sent me an email entitled "Exceptionally bad taste."  I quote:
"They've [Build-a-Bear] been manufacturing a stingray doll, and the other day I was just minding my own business when I found an accessory for it, which... well, I think I'll just show you the page, rather than describe it."

Behold: The STINGRAY SNACKS SET (3 pc.)

"Howdy doody!" say these cute crustaceans, which must be the most adorable invertebrates not currently employed by the Department of Comparative Literature.***  "Please devour us whole! We'll smile while you do it!"

I believe my sister spoke for millions of current and former children when she said: "All I can say is that this definitely would have bugged me when I was little."  That's why I'm making your next-year's gift-giving just that much easier by suggesting, here and now, -- and feel free to thank me monetarily any time you like -- that you buy up a set of Stingray Snacks, if not several, and save them up for that special child you hate.  Preferably one who sounds like the Chipmunks.

And if you're into vegetarianism, might I suggest this little martyr from my friends at Urban Outfitters (motto: "we also sell keychains shaped like anthropomorphized bodily functions!")
I'd go on, but I'm pretty sure I've ruined enough future meals already.  Happy holidays! And tune in next time for our special feature on seemingly innocent items that could probably kill you, okay?

* Excerpt from the forthcoming novel Tangible Assets of Passion: "Brant gazed at Camilla, his macroeconomic policy positively throbbing with horizontal equity, and moaned as she began, with pure unadulterated compound interest, to stimulate his economy."

** Because we are now in the singular, on those occasions when I feel like it.

*** This is a department in which you compare literature to things, as in: "This literature reminds me of a snowblower."  (YOUR PROFESSOR: "Yes, go on.  Unpack that for me in terms of its dialectical functionality.")

©2010 Nicola McEldowney

Tuesday, December 7, 2010

Vive la marionnette

Yes, I'm preparing for finals and all that, but I break for important news.  By which I mean, "puppet smut."

On which note, this just in, from a company selling puppets.  I want to stress that (a) this is a professional enterprise and (b) I reprint this verbatim.

"Choose From:
Dual Entry Full/Half Body Puppets: Enter in through the bottom of the torso for behind the stage use, or through the back for vent-style use. Great for audiences of 250 or less.
Single Entry Removable Legs Puppets: [...] May be a little harder to operate for small puppeteers. Entry only through the bottom makes it a bit harder to use when not behind the stage."

It so happens that they're selling these for ministry purposes, but obviously I wouldn't be unwise enough to mention that.

Sunday, December 5, 2010

I'd rather be snarking

Mes chers, I'm swamped beyond belief with finals prep.  Please forgive the cyber dust balls piling up here. Meanwhile, my brain bulges outward comically, Warner Brothers-style, with suppressed Snarks.  I'll dispense them as soon as I get out of here for winter break.  Like around Christmas.  Again, my apologies.

Wednesday, November 10, 2010

If You Don't Have This, You're Not Cool Either: Special Double-Header Barbie Toilet Edition

In all my excitement over the shaveable baby (see the post below at your own risk), I totally forgot about the Barbie toilet.  You know how that can happen.

I've actually been saving this one up for a good day.  Because -- well, I don't usually like to get too introspective, but I'll be honest with you: I have very strong feelings about Barbie toilets.  This is notable, because I don't have very strong feelings about very many topics.  Here is an exhaustive list of the other exceptions to the rule:
  • bubble tea
  • comical names
  • the arts
  • coconut bubble tea
Just try to imagine the transports of joy my soul knew when I saw THIS baby (on the upper right).  Go on.  Imagine them!

I remember the moment so clearly.  It was at Toys 'R' Us, in Times Square.  I considered this one of those occasions that necessitates a call home:

ME (delirious with glee): eeeeeeee oogyoogyoogyoogyBARBIETOILEToogyoogyoogy eeee eeee eeeeee!
MY MOTHER: Who is this?

And let that be a lesson to all you parents who complain that your college-age kids never call to tell you about their Defining Life Events.

Naturally, this raises a number of troubling questions that we must ask ourselves, as academics and as advocates of the Barbie toilet:

  • Can Barbie actually pee? Out of where exactly, given that her loiny parts consist of underpants that are ACTUALLY PART OF HER BODY?
  • Does Ken ever leave the seat up? Does she get mad and throw Barbie shoes at him?
  • Did you ever get "experimental" as a kid and switch Barbie and Ken's heads?
Anyway, I actually ended up forgetting all about the Barbie toilet -- at least until the other day when my friend Paige and I were riding the subway home, whereupon we saw someone taking home Barbie's Dream House:

You can't really see it too well in this picture -- and I couldn't find a really good one -- but there's a little white toilet in the upper left room, behind the tub.  It's advertised on the box as going "WHOOSH."

Now I can't say I'm as wholehearted a fan of this little number (I'm into sparkly pink) but Dream Commode here does have one extreme advantage, namely, that of going "WHOOSH."  Scoff if you must, but can YOUR toilet do that? Oh.  Right.  Well, I suppose you think that makes you SPECIAL or something.


1. Do you suppose the WHOOSH mean it actually flushes, or is this one of those sorry cases of "talking the talk" without "walking the walk"? Could you flush a Barbie shoe down it? How about a Ken head? Explain.

2. Do you suppose Barbie ever used the Dream Commode for the purpose of giving her little sister, Skipper, a "swirlie" in a moment of rage?

3. Give the poor woman a break.  She has underpants for loins.

Shave the day

There's no sense denying it.  All of us, at some point or another, have woken up and said to ourselves : "Gosh darn it.  All my life, I've suffered from the gnawing pain of the soul that can only result from the lack of a good baby to shave."

None of us should have to suffer any longer.  The Chinese toy industry understands that.  They have heard our cries, and responded:

I was alerted to this revolutionary item by reader Steve, to whom I am much indebted.  It's not every day you find a shaveable baby of this caliber.  Thank goodness Asia saw fit to provide us one.  In the West, you just TRY finding such a quality item outside of your hoity-toity high-end snottypants shaveable baby retailer such as Bergdorf Goodman or Harrods.

I'm glad I could relieve your pain.

Wednesday, October 27, 2010

Back East: The Snark Hits the Asia Society

As an art critic, we are confronted, every time we see contemporary art, with a burning question.  “Where the heck is the restroom?” we ask ourselves.  Then, once we have dispensed with that matter, we can concentrate on having profound reactions to the contemporary art.  “Huh,” are our exact words.  And we sincerely mean them.

Because … okay.  Pssst.  Over here.  We’re going to level with you.  Now, don’t tell anybody, but, critic though we are, we frankly just don’t quite “get” contemporary art. It’s kind of like the way we just don’t quite “get” golf, except for the cool kind where you get to putt through dragons and stuff and at the end you might win a free game. 

Come to think of it, Nobody’s Fool - the current exhibit at the Asia Society on Park Avenue and 77th Street, featuring the work of Yoshitomo Nara - is not too far from mini-golf art, if you will.  Take these dogs (I rather like these dogs).  Can’t you imagine thwacking a ball between them to win that free game? I can:

The Asia Society describes Nara as “one of the leading artists of Japan’s influential Neo Pop art,” which – follow us closely here – is pop art that is neo.  (This is the sort of thing you know when you are an art critic.)  Here is a quote from their website: “Nara’s cute, though often menacing, children and animals are so readily associated with popular culture, particularly manga comics and animation, that viewers may neglect to contemplate his evocative imagery in depth. His popular appeal masks the serious social and personal dimensions of his work—feelings of helplessness and rage, and a sense of isolation in a hyper-networked society."

Well.  All righty then.  Now allow us to editorialize for a moment.


Whoops.  Let us get back into our plural Critic Voice.  What we mean to say is: God forbid we should ever interpret art on our own.  Here is our theory: all such copy, at museums worldwide, is written by the superhero Captain Obvious.  Those of you who were once a 13-year-old theatre weenie (we ourselves were once a 13-year-old theatre weenie) who memorized every episode of Whose Line is it Anyway will recall that Captain Obvious was a superhero played by (our hero) Colin Mochrie, who began the sketch by standing in the middle of the stage and remarking, quote, "I'm standing."  This same Captain Obvious is clearly the individual responsible for all art commentary in museums everywhere, as evidenced by the following caption to Nara's painting "White Riot."

Here is the painting:

Now you’d think this baby speaks for itself, right? "Hello.  I am a kind of ... cat dog ... Pokémon thingy, or whatever, and I am REALLY pissed off": that is clearly the Deeper Meaning here.  Right?

Well, no offense, but: WROOOOOONG, loser-face.  Clearly YOU have never been an art person.  Here is Captain Obvious, speaking on behalf of the Asia Society, to refine your mind.  We quote:

Characters that are ½ child and ½ animal recur frequently in Nara’s work … He is much indebted to children’s book illustrations, which capture the most significant narrative moments in succinct and selective compositions, in contrast to the multitude of sequential images in comic books.  Here, this creature’s expression suggests a decisive moment of confrontation.” 

Actually, we personally were thinking constipation before Captain Obvious set us straight.  But enough about us.

On the other hand, some of Nara's work is graciously allowed to speak for itself.  For example, the painting “Remember Me” features the enormous head of a little girl staring at you with bulging, sparkly eyes so hideous you could not forget her if you had a lobotomy for that express purpose.



But this is not the most memorable item in the exhibition.  No, that honor goes to the framed pieces of notebook paper with Nara's scribbles on them.  That's right.  Nara made notes - just like you do every day, only you don’t get an exhibit – which have framed on the wall for your delectation.  The Asia Society has labeled these items as – remember, we are quoting here – “ballpoint pen on notebook paper.”  Just in case your layman's eye couldn't pick out the artist's media. We can only be thankful in such cases that the industrious curators neglect to include, say, an artist's finest nose-blowings ("Snot on Kleenex, 2005")
Another highlight was the “Doors” exhibit consisting of a group of interconnected playhouse-style fixtures. There was a TV on inside one of the houses, featuring images of Nara's work to music.  We noticed a young woman happily watching the TV ; she looked to have been camped out there for some time.  What's more, she looked very peaceful, very happy.  Our theory, as a critic – not to get too lofty here, but we feel we must share it – is that she had found the secret remote control to change the channel to porn.

Our final port of call was the gift shop, which we mention not because of anything related to art, but because of something far, far deeper: we found this oeuvre.

My First Book of Sushi is a strangely poetic little composition which features the following meditation:
"Why, why, why, my little shu mai, why do I love you so?"*
Call me a sentimentalist if you will, but I believe those are words we all - critics and noncritics alike - can stand to remember in these troubled times.  Anyway, should you happen to be in the city any time soon, you owe it to yourself to stop by the Asia Society and take in Nobody's Fool.  We highly recommend this exhibit.  We especially highly recommend the secret remote control.

Meanwhile, till next time; we hope you have enjoyed this column, written in #2 "The Princeton Review" pencil on "Hewlett Packard" printer paper.  We cordially invite the Asia Society to offer us a lavish exhibit.  (We trust they will be forward-thinking enough to overlook the, you know, Caucasian thing.)

* Another good one, which we also quote verbatim: "Ikura, squishy salmon roe / Like dabby dots of jelly, / Salty on my lips / And yummy in my belly.” (©460 B.C., Herodotus)

©2010 Nicola McEldowney

    Sunday, October 24, 2010

    Story Hour: A Critic's Take

    THEATER REVIEW: Story Hour (11:30-12:30), Barnes & Noble at 86th St. and Lexington Ave., with special guest John Tartaglia.  Reviewed September 19.

    As a critic of the arts in New York, we have come to take for granted the sort of cultural experiences that allow us to enrich our artistic appreciation, to build upon our creative understanding, to deftly refer to ourselves in the plural.  This particular performance was no exception; indeed, it is always the most “New Wave” theatre that illuminates the art form anew for us by throwing convention to the wind.  We are then confronted, as critics and as plural humans, by the question: what exactly does it mean to be “confronted” by a question? Wouldn’t you think it was weird if a question bumped up against you in the road and went “HEY! YOU!”  What if a question walked in on you while you were in the bathroom? What then?

    But we digress.  We are here to talk about the performance, which as we have mentioned simply embodied the avant-garde.  For one thing, it took place at 11 a.m., which served the dual purposes of (a) placing it firmly on the “cutting edge” of new theatre and (b) steering clear of the spectators’ naptimes, although tragically, in at least one case they did not clear Potty Time.  (We do not wish to toot our own horn, but we should note that among the spectators, we personally held the distinction of being pretty much the only one who did not, at some point, spit up or cry.)  The spectators were accompanied almost universally by sippy cups, as well as by large haggard escorts who looked as though they would really have been just as happy to go home and collapse into bed. 

    Compounding the occasion’s avant-garde ambience, many spectators chose to seat themselves on the floor.  They also demonstrated a totally revolutionary new mode of audience appreciation that consists basically of squirming around on the floor and pretty much ignoring the performance.  At such junctures, Mommy and Daddy would try to redirect the spectators’ attention, although we thought them frankly ineffectual.

    Fortunately for the performer, renowned puppeteer John Tartaglia, there was a core group of about eight or ten delighted wiggly patrons who wiggled right up there onstage with him and his puppet and stayed there, rapt.  You just don’t get this sort of atmosphere at Lincoln Center, where when you wiggle up onstage nobody takes it as a compliment.  (Should you become known as a repeat wiggler, Lincoln Center will resort to severe measures, namely, naming a building after you.)*

    While Mr. Tartaglia was the supposed star of the show, it is our opinion that he was quite frankly upstaged by his hand puppet co-star, a young up-and-coming fish named “Dorsal”** who did not give his last name.  (As a person who is theatrically In the Know, we can only assume this is the result of an attempt on the part of his management to “brand” him for mass appeal, the way they did with “Lady Gaga” and “Galileo.”)  He was also accompanied by page-turner Julio, whom we felt turned pages with great élan.

    The book Mr. Tartaglia read was I’m The Biggest Thing in the Ocean, which tells the story of individualistic young architect Howard Roark, who refuses to compromise his artistic vision even when the world threatens to destroy him.  No, wait, that’s Ayn Rand’s The Fountainhead.  Actually, The Biggest Thing in the Ocean is the story of a happy blue squid who is the biggest thing in the ocean – bigger than the shrimp, the octopus, SpongeBob SquarePants, etc. – when suddenly (and we personally did NOT see this coming) he is swallowed by a whale, whereupon he remarks, ever cheery, “I’m the biggest thing in this whale.”  Personally, we felt that what this plot lacked in substance, it made up in promoting the theme of remaining annoying in death.  

    Mr. Tartaglia, however, had a different take on this oeuvre (French for “squid”) when we spoke with him after the show.

    “I feel bad,” he said.  “I didn’t realize a character, um, DIES at the end.”

    Hadn’t he read the material before arriving? He explained sheepishly that he had literally just gotten off his plane.  As a Frequent Flyer ourselves, we’re inclined to give him a break.  Planes are NOT conducive to reading, which is the only possible explanation for SkyMall, the magazine that can actually convince your pathetic plane-addled brain that you desperately need, say, a rectal alarm clock.

    At any rate, we left the performance happy and fulfilled, and we look forward to its talented stars’ next venture, whatever that may be.  Not that anyone asked us, but if Mr. Tartaglia’s management will be pleased to accept our suggestion, we would like to put in our vote for a stage Fountainhead, starring “Dorsal” as Howard Roark.

    * This is no joke.  Lincoln Center is obsessed with this practice.  You New York theatregoers know what I'm talking about.  They’ll take any excuse.  Everything there is named after somebody, as in, “The Norbert V. and Edna M. Thrombosis Automatic Paper Towel Dispenser (Wave Hands in Front of Flashing Light).”  Seriously now, these people can’t all be somebody.  

    ** Appearing through the courtesy of Actors’ Equity Association.

    ©2010, Nicola McEldowney

    Monday, October 4, 2010

    Brevity is the soul of twit

    I have a Twitter.  Can't say I'm totally 100% sure why, but, what the heck.  Call it instinct.*  If nothing else, it allows me to voice my feelings on today's Hot-Button Issues, such as Dylan's Candy Bar.

    So, yes.  Suivez-moi! (Follow me!)

    *You know, the universal human instinct to make purple sparkly webpages with strawberry icons.

    Sunday, October 3, 2010

    Vive l'histoire!

    Lately, I’ve been negligent about blogging.  This is all college’s fault.  It’s very hard, although I should clarify that this is not what people usually mean when they say college is hard.  What they mean is this.  (Excuse me while I get into character.  Preparation is crucial to an actor.)


    Whereas what I think is hard is not having the time to write stuff that actually matters to you, defined as “stuff that does not have the words ‘neo-teological bifurcated gender dichotomy’ in the title.”  Because what college really is, if you ask me, is basically just a big fat old time-sucker, with the only pay-offs being (a) eventual social status (so I’m told) and (b) occasionally the vending machines give you two bags of animal crackers instead of one (this will appear on your next bill). 

    So it’s time to multitask.  Today, I’m going to allow academia to seep into blogging (as in, “Ewww! This blogging has academia all over it!”), which means today, we’re going to review for midterms.  Thus, without further ado, I give you:


    40,000 B.C. – Cro-Magnon.

    30,000 B.C. – Sno-Magnon.  (These were Magnons who sold sno-cones on street corners.  Recently, fossils were found at the corner of 79th and Broadway.)

    12,000 B.C. – Rise of the Gauls, whom historical artifacts suggest to have been a comical race of tiny little yellow-bearded men with big fat sidekicks.

    55 B.C. – Beginning of the colonisation of Gaul by the Romans.  Having conquered it, they commence building FNACs.  Of course, nobody knows what the “F” stands for.

    45 B.C. – Gérard Depardieu stars in first film.

    50 B.C. – The Romans slap their foreheads as they realize B.C. numbers actually go backward.  While the Romans are preoccupied slapping their foreheads, barbarians invade.

    500 A.D. – Barbarians slap their foreheads, realizing their invasion actually wasn’t supposed to occur till now.

    500 A.D., later in the afternoon – Barbarians get bored and flee, leaving their trash behind.  Everyone else is left picking up White Castle wrappers for days.

    800 A.D. – Charlemagne becomes emperor in a special ceremony at Charles de Gaulle airport. 

    987 A.D. – Domination of the feudal lords by the monarchy, who merge to become Feudal Lords-The Monarchy Amalgmated Enterprises, LLC, now Time Warner Cable. 

    987 A.D. – 14th and 15th centuries – Nothing happens during this time.  Everybody gets frankly pretty bored sitting around waiting for the 14th and 15th centuries.  “Where the heck are the 14th and 15th centuries?” are their exact words.  They are confounded, and with good reason: they did not know they spoke English.

    14th and 15th centuries: Finally we get back to business with the toe-tapping Guerre de cent ans contre les Anglais (literally, “the Time Warner Cable Guerre de cent ans contre les Anglais”).  The English respond by putting them in English hotels.  France surrenders instantly.  No one blames them.  Also during this time, the exploits of Jeanne d’Arc, played by Gérard Depardieu.

    The Middle Ages, Absolutism, and the Enlightenment – These all happened in the same day (“vendredi”), which as you can imagine meant schlepping all over creation.

    15th-16th centuries: Introduction of the Renaissance in France, a beautiful and enriching era of endless discovery and creation, during which the finest artistic figures in the history of Western civilization – Shakespeare, da Vinci, Lady Gaga, Pikachu, etc. – all go bowling.

    16th century, a little later on that evening – The French decide to appropriate the word “bowling” and pronounce it comically, as in, “Elle fait du bouh-linggg.”  Americans, who do not exist yet, snicker secretly.

    1515 – King Francis I takes the throne.  Cards featuring beloved comic character Bécassine are sent out for the occasion.

    1562-1589 Wars of religion between the Catholics and the Protestants.  In a stunning upset, they are both defeated by the Knicks.

    1589 Henri IV crowned king of France, followed soon by his sequel, Henri V Strikes Back.

    1804-15: The First Empire, so called because it is – pay close attention here – the first empire.  People decide that if THIS kind of thinking is the end product of the so-called “Enlightenment,” they want their money back.  Customer Service is invented for the express purpose of denying this request, in a historic ceremony featuring Broadway songs.

    1848: The Second Republic, so called because there weren’t any republics before it.

    1870: The Third Republic, which causes people everywhere to mumble, “What, another one?” in French.  (“Quoi, another un?”)

    1936-8: Le Front Populaire of Léon Blum, followed by the Side Unpopulaire of Léon Blum, then finally the Back, which is so unpopular it goes straight to DVD.

    1946-58: The Fourth Republic happens, but by this time no one is even paying attention.
    Independence of many of the French colonies, which show their discontent by burning their bras.

    1981 – Francois Mitterrand “cohabitates” with Jacques Chirac, which raises eyebrows, especially when they get matching towel sets.

    1991 – Election of the first female prime minister, Edith Cresson, played by Gérard Depardieu.

    1992-present – France continues to pronounce “bowling” funny.

    Thanks for helping me study.  You guys are great.  You’ll let me know if there are mistakes, right? 

    Friday, October 1, 2010

    The latest from the Super Duper Store

    Mes chers,

    With apologies for my scarceness this month, I direct your attention to the page I've created for Aisle Six.  The next production is in the works! In the meantime, here's this, for those of who've wanted to know more about it.

    And for those who haven't wanted to know more about it, your mother is ugly.

    A-heh ... I mean ... "to each his own." "To each his own," that is what I meant.  It came out wrong.  That happens.

    The Snark

    Sunday, September 12, 2010

    Meet Aubrey!

    A colleague of mine.  She and I have a post up at  Go see!

    And yipes! What with the hecticicitude of the new school year starting and and all that, I didn't even realize it went up till now! So take a look for it in the archives.  It ran around September 5, I think.

    Thursday, September 9, 2010

    9 Chickweed Lane on Entertainment Weekly's blog Pop Watch

    Back at school with plenty to snark - I'm reading Plato's Republic, for cripe's sake - but, haven't really had the time to sit down and do it yet.  Don't worry.  It's coming, oh-ho, boy is it coming.

    In the meantime: check this out! My dad and Chickweed are the subject of a post on Entertainment Weekly's blog.  C'est cool, n'est-ce pas?

    Friday, August 27, 2010

    Random neural firing

    So this is bugging me.  It always has.  I'm throwing it over to you guys.

    What, exactly, does it mean when someone says "Give back to your community"?  As in, what did we take from our community in the first place? 

    • A twenty? 
    • An egg? 
    • Its iPod touch? 
    • Its screenplay idea?

    If anyone knows, feel free to enlighten me.  Not only will I know what I took, I'll know if I actually want to give it back.

    Memory Lane

    Welcome to another installment in our acclaimed series, “Creepy-Ass Topics in Psychology.”  Today’s topic is: confabulation.  This is a common phenomenon, especially during early adolescence; some youngsters will confabulate as many as four times a day, as in, “BRANDON! QUIT CONFABULATING ALREADY! I NEED IN THE BATHROOM!”

    No, no, wait.  We are confusing our phenomena here.  Confabulation actually refers to false memory -- in other words, belief in an event that never actually took place.  For example, you might believe you once belched the most voluptuous, earth-rocking belch ever to erupt from any human being who was not either a Metropolitan Opera company member or the late Queen Mother.  However, you would be wrong, because that particular belch was actually belched by my cousin in 2006.  There, your memory is false.  See how it works? In fact, if you believe anything at all, that’s probably just you confabulating away again.

    Here's something else confabulation explains: nostalgia.  Exhibit A is the wealth of websites out there eulogizing novelty food products that no longer exist, such as “Shake-A-Pudd’n." I found this product at an astounding website called In the ‘80s, where people gather to remember the products of the era.  For instance: if you want to see an example of true and violent human passion, click at your own risk on the entry for Franco-American Macaroni and Cheese, a discontinued product.  For those who prefer just a small sampling, here are a few unretouched comments from visitors to the mac-and-cheese lament page:

    • “The Chef Boyardee version is NOTHING like this icon. It was a sad day when this went off the market.”
    • “I remember this in the 1980's. I can close my eyes and remember the unique cheese flavor.”
    • “I'm 65 years old and had been eating F.A. mac and cheese, I think, since it first came out. It was that good. I really miss it and hope it comes back on the market in my lifetime.”
    • “BRING IT BACK - PLEASE....”

    Clearly, people believe they experienced some sort of spiritual orgasm from eating these products, whereas in fact they probably just shook a pudd’n and dumped it in the trash.  (Psssst, Franco-American Macaroni and Cheese fans: I am not referring to you guys, okay? I’m sure that particular product yielded nothing short of a mac-n-cheesy religious experience!  Please don’t come near my home!  Thank you!)  Anyway, you see what I’m saying? Our friend confabulation at work again.

    Exhibit B is an op-ed piece, by writer Joan Wickersham, which appeared earlier this month in the Boston Globe (“Boston’s Only Newspaper Named After A Globe”).  Entitled “My first summer job,” the piece is a gentle ode to our first employments, as teenagers, when we spent most of our time at work screwing up.  Yet – as we did not realize at the time, but would realize later – we were learning Valuable Life Skills that would set us on the Path to Adulthood.  The idea here is that these jobs, however pointless or boring we may find them at the time, are teaching us Who We Will Become.  One day, we will realize how much we owe to those initial shy, clumsy experiences – our first summer jobs.

    Now, obviously, Ms. Wickersham speaks (a) from her own personal experience and (b) for a whole lot of people, but let’s face it, there are only two possible explanations here.  One, we are looking at a classic case of mass confabulation.  Two – and I mean no disrespect here – her article refers to summer jobs on the Planet Gwuhhhhhhhhh.  Because summer job nostalgia is unmerited on this planet.  Seriously, why would anybody want to remember summer jobs? I advocate electroshock therapy to avoid remembering summer jobs.  I recommend self-induced concussions, if necessary.  

    The piece states: “Summer jobs are a rite of passage […] It’s where we fall down and get up again. It’s the place where we make mistakes — not because we’re stupid or lazy, but because we don’t yet know any better. We scoop ice cream, we bag groceries, we find out what happens when we show up late to walk the dog. It’s where we start to learn.

    Somehow this compelled me to look back at the very first essay I ever wrote for this blog – “How I Spent My Summer Vexation” – from which I present my OWN statement on the same topic:

    Being a summer gig, mine has lasted only 2 1/2 months, but bear in mind this is equal to 387 Customer Service years. … [In] Customer Service (motto: “Smilingly Refunding Your Befouled Froot Loops Since 1805), I have had the opportunity to perform numerous vital functions, such as: (1) Taking back fetid seafood, (2) Taking back REALLY fetid seafood, (3) Announcing over the speaker to various managerial beings with names like ‘Stan’ that they have a call on ‘405,’ (4) Directing customers to the restrooms, and (5) If restrooms are full, directing customers to the Fresh Maine Lobster tank … Thus, needless to say, my mental state has been such of late as to render me unable to create anything nutritive (or non-phlegm-based)."

    Not that I am bitter that I didn’t get asked to be in the “Boston Globe.”  If that IS its name.   

    So if you ask me, there’s no question that people confabulate their summer-job memories.  I think the real question here is: Why? Not, “Why would we want to have had good experiences?” but “Supposing they were actually bad, why would we want to remember them as good?”  In other words, isn’t there something to be said for remembering things the way they WERE, especially if they were painful and comical? Sure, those experiences are no fun at the time, but there’s endless material to be derived from them.  Not to mention, painful experiences can actually produce joy, pleasure, laughter!  Especially they happen to someone else! If you ask me, the best kind of nostalgia comes from remembering other people’s pain.  Call me sentimental if you must.

    I do want to stress that my aim is not to pass judgment on people who remember their summer jobs as positive experiences.  It’s not mine to say whether those people are confabulating their memories or not.*  But, if you are remembering something falsely, there’s something to be said for exploring that memory and seeing if you can’t come to remember things the way they actually were.  Your life will be richer for it.  I know mine has been, ever since I won the Preakness back in ’77, under the name of Seattle Slew.  

    Good times.

    * They are, duh.

    ©2010 Nicola McEldowney

    Wednesday, August 25, 2010

    Lit for Brains #1: Selling Hope and Big Nate: In A Class By Himself

    One of the perks of my summer bookstore gig is occasionally I get to pick some books to review from whatever happens to be lying on the Advance Reader Copy table.  I'm partial to the kids' books.  I'm a bit overdue with these two - I read them on the flight to the Comic Con.

    Selling Hope - Kristin O'Donnell Tubb 
    It's hard to separate this book's promise from its execution.  On first reading the back cover blurb, I thought it was a neat story idea, and still do.  In 1910 Chicago, with Halley's comet approaching, a 13-year-old on tour with a vaudeville troupe (she plays assistant to her father, a magician) gets the idea to raise some money by hawking fake "anti-comet pills" to terrified townspeople.  However, she hasn't anticipated the emotional consequences that ensue - both for the customers (who cling to the belief that they now have "hope") and for our young entrepreneur (not-so-coincidentally also named "Hope") herself.  Along the way, she grapples with her feelings about her mother's death, navigates her relationship with her dad, and forms a bond with a fellow troupe member, who just happens to be a 15-year-old Buster Keaton.

    It's a mixed bag.  The substance and Ms. Tubb's imaginative resources are commendable.  The narrative, on the other hand, is awkward.  Narrator Hope's voice, while distinctive, is labored, making her come across as self-conscious in the way she describes things.  (Furthermore, as an incidental point, I find it hard to buy that Buster Keaton could have been such a bland, vanilla-milkshake presence -- but I admit I wasn't there.)  Despite the problems, it's worth a read: every plot point is tied up, no character is left undeveloped, and whenever Ms. Tubb describes Hope's reactions to Buster, her writing really shines.  Her investment in her characters, story, and research is obvious; the excesses should be taken along with the positives, not automatically allowed to overshadow them.  Decide for yourself.

    SNARK-O-METER RATING: 1.5 snarks ("You Might Just Watch The Playhouse Instead")

     Big Nate: In A Class By Himself - Lincoln Peirce
    Having grown up with 11-year-old comic strip antihero Big Nate (although I didn't specifically attend P.S. 38), I'm happy to see the kid get a book of his own.  Although the inevitable comparison will be to Jeff Kinney's Diary of a Wimpy Kid and its sequels, I was actually reminded of Marissa Moss' Amelia's Notebook series; Amelia, like Nate, draws her "own" cartoons to accompany the story, and the tone of the humor is not dissimilar.  Both characters have engaging, first-person voices that engage the reader as a friend.

    The story is told with ease, humor and style.  Readers may well figure out the ending ahead of time, but it's still entertaining and the story never insults the reader's intelligence.  Personally, I only wished Nate's character had had more of a chance to develop in this book; given that this was a story told outside of the constraints of a daily comic strip, I felt that the character could have had a lot more room to grow.  There's plenty to him; this is, after all, the same kid who created the comic strip hero "Dr. Cesspool."  So naturally he's a sentimental favorite of mine.  Here's hoping we see sequels.

    SNARK-O-METER RATING: Bag of Cheez Doodles (because I know Nate would prefer that to bubble tea)

    Saturday, August 21, 2010

    If You Don't Have This, You're Not Cool, #2: Bowling Edition

    Perhaps you've heard the saying, "No one will ever love you until you love yourself." Here at the Department of Stuff You Don't Have, we prefer the saying, "No one will ever love you until you buy a ton of really screamingly kick-ass bowling gear." We know we personally wouldn't waste our time on someone without, for example, these Hello Kitty bowling balls:

    "OK, sure," you are saying, practically-minded individual that you are. "But what purpose does that serve, other than fulfilling mankind's universal desire to hurl Hello Kitty great lengths?"

    Well. Aren't we picky. Perhaps you would prefer to becoming cool by acquiring a product that serves a more obviously utilitarian sort of purpose, such as this bowling ball jockstrap:
    Technically, this is the See Saw Towel, available from Storm Products, Inc., a catalogue of seriously intense bowling accoutrements (French, meaning "shit"). We are talking about gear designed exclusively for guys whose right arms are themselves bigger than Fitness Celebrity John Basedow, although needless to say these arms have flabbier abs.

    However, Storm also caters to the more sensitive individual, whom we advise to become cool by purchasing the Scented Grip Bag, available in Vanilla:

    This is a terrific concept ("Here's something that smells nice! Granted, the bowling alley you bring it into will feature the federally mandated Bowling Alley Odor of necrosis mixed with Marlboro swirled with fetid armpit with just a hint of pizza, thus eclipsing all other smells within a five-mile radius! But in your heart you'll still know you're carrying the Scented Grip Bag!"). Lamentably, the Bag comes in just the one scent, but we are holding out for the day they introduce other varieties, such as Musk. It is our fervent hope that this would result in widespread instances of sudden, violent bowling league orgiastic behavior in bowling alleys everywhere, and if you do not wish the same for our nation, you have no soul.

    We come at least to the true supremo of bowling products you will never be cool without. We speak of the one, the only ... (Cue annoying "THX Sound" music)


    This is the currently featured homepage product of a company called (we swear - and this pretty much makes us happier than anything, ever) Visionary Bowling Products. As you may have noticed from the picture, this is a Limited Edition ball; in other words WHAT ARE YOU WAITING FOR, STUPID???? THEY ONLY MADE 1,000 OF THEM!!!!! BUY BUY BUY BUY BUY BUY BUY BUY BUY!!!!!!!!

    Ahem. Sorry about that. Perhaps I should let the people of Visionary Bowling Products speak for themselves:

    "The Gladiator LE uses the Panoptic coverstock (a blend of several reactive coverstocks) along with the Mohawk core, to create a ball with easier length than either the Gladiator Pearl or Solid, and provides a smooth transition on the backends [...] This allows for a quicker revving ball that begins to roll in the midlane while keeping a controllable continuous arc reaction on the backend. The 'MOHAWK' on the core creates a mild mass bias for fine tuning the ball's reaction."

    That is how Visionary Bowling describes the Gladiator LE.* What's more, just for you they've taken the care to picture the ball, on their homepage, with a real live gladiator, so that you can be sure of its quality. That means you don't have to take my word for it or theirs. Here's the gladiator, who has come here all the way from Visionary Bowling's homepage, to tell you himself:

    GLADIATOR: Hi, I'm a gladiator, and I heartily endorse this product.

    Of course this is sure to raise the wrath of the Internet "nitpickers" who will start their annoying cyberwhining that this picture is not "historically accurate"; needless to say, these people are unaware of the little-known but strangely majestic lion-versus-bowling-ball battles of ancient Rome, in which the plucky gladiator only won, in the end, by snapping the lion in the eye with his See Saw Towel. Stupid lion! You can bet it never saw that coming.

    The gladiator pictured, of course, is not one of the ones who actually participated in those fights. They would never have those guys on the site, and with good reason: they were ugly. This is a gladiator with a small but promising side career as an actor; he has stylishly askew, bicep-showing headshots; an agent named Manny; a Twitter account for "networking" and getting invited to the right parties, etc. But wouldn't you know, the money is in snapping lions in the eye with towels. This gladiator sighs a lot; no one cares for his art. But he is "on his way up" nonetheless; last we heard, he was in talks for a role in Little Shop of Horrors in a small but critically-acclaimed dinner theatre in Billings, Montana.

    But enough about his personal life. This is about you, after all, and your tireless quest to become cool. We at the Department of Stuff You Don't Have applaud your efforts. We wish you only the best. May you have luck, may you have success; may you have easier length than either the Gladiator Pearl or Solid. Because we at the Department have every faith in you to provide a smooth transition on the backends.

    If you're good, we might even let you show us your mild mass bias.

    * Important note: the Visionary Bowling catalogue also features a ball called the "Ogre Solid."

    ©2010 Nicola McEldowney

    Friday, August 20, 2010

    It Takes Balls

    As a renowned expert on bowling, I get asked questions a lot. For example: "Are you aware you're not actually a renowned expert on bowling?" At which point my usual practice is to point the other way, shout "LOOK!," give the person a Death Wedgie while he or she is turned around, and then run like hell. So far it has worked out pretty good.

    So what is it that makes this sport the undisputed Sport of Kings, at least assuming we are referring to King Brent the Slightly Pockmarked of Hullaballoo, who was known mostly for running around naked, except for a toy stethoscope worn backwards over his head, and impersonating a superhero named Captain Blammo? (This king was a pretty good bowler, you see.)

    I will answer that question for you, based on my fairly reliable recollection (without actually having to look back) that there was one. Bowling is the greatest sport because it is the only sport - and I except neither fencing nor "Skee-Ball" from this claim - that you can play in constant proximity to bowling alley chicken fingers ("Made from Parts"), and nobody ever bats an eye.* Whereas if these chicken fingers showed up in other prominent sports - well, I mean, can you imagine? Suppose they showed up in a swimming pool during the Summer Olympics! The international swimming federation would have a fit! The chicken fingers would immediately be made to submit to a urine test. All hell would break loose, and that is not even counting the incriminating photos that would later surface of the chicken fingers engaged in illicit activities with Michael Phelps.

    I do not mean to suggest, of course, that chicken fingers are all bowling alleys provide. On the contrary, any respectable bowling alley - any alley worth its weight in those ugly-ass shoes - will also feature: large quantities of crud.

    "Harrumph," you are saying. "What about Bowlmor, the bowling alley of the rich and famous, as advertised on the Manhattan subway, with locations in New York's Union Square, as well as Bethesda, Cupertino, Long Island, Miami, and Orange County?"

    Good point. You can be sure there is no bacteria in a place where both Paris Hilton and the Olsen twins have courageously lent their names to the bowling cause. I have never personally been to this bowling alley, although I have seen its subway ads many times, usually in between the ads for Minimally Invasive girly-parts surgery and the ads for the grim-faced actors playing lawyers who once fictionally got a $5 quintillion settlement for a Queens man whose face got eaten by squirrels, or whatever. I like the bowling ads best of the three, because they list all the celebrities who have ever bowled there, like this:


    "You're just bitter," you're saying, "because you suck at bowling. Maybe you should stick to things you're better at, such as picking at your teeth." I admit there may be some truth to this, though my suckage at bowling is through no fault of my own. The blame lies squarely with genetics, as I discovered yesterday upon bowling with my family. To give you an idea of our prowess: collectively, the four of us, bowling two games apiece, could not amass the kind of score your high-octane bowler such as Galileo could amass in one frame.

    The blame also lies with the diabolical system known as "candlepin bowling," which is what they have at the local alley here. Now, at every other alley I have ever visited, people bowled with large bowling balls that could - call it a crazy game-enhancing tactic - hit pins. The candlepin system, on the other hand, is designed to ensure you never make the slightest contact with a pin. This is done by (a) making the ball so light and ineffective you could fire it out of a cannon and still not gather enough force to knock down the pins, not to mention that (b) even if you DID somehow gather enough force, the ball is expertly designed to sail BETWEEN even the most central of pins, missing contact with them by mere molecules. It would be considered an astonishing feat of precision if you were to do a throw like this on purpose. (DATING TIP: If you are trying to impress a date, just say you ARE doing it on purpose.) (ANOTHER DATING TIP: If your date is actually impressed by this, you should probably get another date.)

    How could the candlepin system be permitted to exist, you ask? Here's my theory: candlepin bowling is the brainchild of crazed, diabolical tiny people (I am looking here at people of the Fisher-Price variety, and those troll dolls, and Regis Philbin) who invented the sport in the interests of watching people of standard dimensions fail miserably. If you ask me, these people hide out in the ball-return machine and scream with laughter every time you miss a shot. (They think they're muffling this laughter. But they're NOT.)

    Of course, needless to say, just because you fail at bowling doesn't make you a worthless person. You could be a worthless person for all sorts of other reasons. For example, you could fail at the bowling alley arcade games. I am thinking here of air hockey. Especially if you play it the way I did the last time, namely against my particular opponent, a perfectly docile-looking girl who preceded our match with the statement, "I should warn you: I'm pretty aggressive."

    Now in those days, I tended not to pay much attention when people tossed around words like "aggressive." I was not as old as I later became (immediately following that air hockey game). I have little memory of the game itself, except that my opponent played with such astounding, bladder-voiding violence as to make me truly fear for my life. As I recall, it was roughly around the time she sent the hockey puck flying clear through the opposite wall of the bowling alley that I chose to "throw in the towel," mostly because it would have been pretty hard to play in a fetal position. However, I am no weenie; I will have you know I got up from that fetal position roughly last Thursday, which is pretty impressive when you consider that that game occurred in only 2008. My joints are stiff.

    When I got up, I'm pretty sure I heard badly muffled laughter from inside the ball-return machine.

    And speaking of bowling!

    TUNE IN NEXT TIME FOR: Bowling products you don't have. Because you're not cool.

    * Speaking of which, I've always wondered: how do you bat an eye, anyway? Wouldn't the owner of the eye complain?

    ©2010 Nicola McEldowney

    Monday, August 16, 2010

    Hearing things

    This is what happens when you're not paying 100% attention.

    Overheard on the news today, while at work:

    " ... and in Florida, Star Wars fans show off their enormous asses."

    This could not have been what the perky news anchor REALLY said. Um ... right?

    Anybody who was watching the Portland, Maine NBC affiliate news today, feel free to back me up.

    At any rate, I thank God, just in case, that I had my back turned to the TV at the time.

    Wednesday, August 11, 2010

    For those of you who follow world news: Bwa ha ha ha

    ...ha ha ha ha ha haaaa (hack) (cough) haaa

    oh em gee: doofus mistake disclaimer

    Oopsy daisies.

    If anybody caught the below post RIGHT when it came up:

    I just noticed that I accidentally typed that it was leading PSYCHOLOGISTS, not leading ARCHAEOLOGISTS, who discovered the fossils. Anyway it's fixed now.

    God knows why my brain did this. I should have a session with an archaeologist.

    - N.

    If You Don't Have This, You're Not Cool

    Those of you who believe that technology in its current state produces nothing but inanity and frivolity, prepare to see shaken the very foundation on which you stand. Get ready now:


    Wheeeee! Ha ha ha! Boy, that was sure invigorating! I hope it was as good for you as it was for me. Anyway, Mr. or Ms. Negative Nancy or Nate as the case may be, a fat lot of good you know, because here, courtesy of the New York Times, is the ultimate beacon of technological Hope for Tomorrow:

    (photo from the N.Y. Times Personal Tech blog)

    She is the Barbie Video Girl Doll, of whom the Times' Warren Buckleitner writes: "[She] looks just like a regular Barbie, but a closer look reveals a camera in her pendant, and a postage-sized color screen on her back, peeking through her blouse." Which - and I do not claim to be any sort of tech expert here, but correct me if I'm wrong - essentially means you get to see the whole world from Barbie's cleavage.

    I believe I may say without fear of exaggeration that this product is the key to the evolution of the human race not only technologically but also philosophically. For it provokes us to ask ourselves the seminal human question: What's it like to be Barbie's cleavage? This is a question we human types have been asking ourselves throughout the ages of civilisation. For example, leading archaeologists have found definitive fossil evidence of australopithecines playing with Australopithecine Camera Barbie, who took two AAA batteries and also made girlish grunting sounds.

    But enough history for today. My point here, as I have discovered over the last two brain-racking seconds of realizing I need a point, is: you're not cool enough. Yeah. I'm really sorry* to break it to you this way, but ... well, I mean, think about it. Not only do you probably not have this Barbie; what's more, you probably don't even have the Box of Laughter, not that I am judging you, you worthless dweeb.

    Perhaps I should back up here and explain a bit to those as yet unenlightened about the Box of Laughter (formally known, in verbatim capital letters, as the "EXCLUSIVE BOX OF APPLAUSE AND BOX OF LAUGHTER"). This honey is the product of (who else?) SkyMall, which I heartily believe - and you cannot convince me otherwise - to be the finest publication ever to routinely abut a barf bag. Here's how the Box is described in SkyMall Land:

    "Craving a little recognition? Someone who gets your jokes? Open the Box of Applause and be greeted with the sounds of cheering and clapping from a very enthusiastic crowd. Or open the Box of Laughter to hear uproarious guffaws. Close your eyes and imagine yourself accepting that Oscar(R), Nobel, or Best Comedy Emmy(R)."

    Rrrr ... gffff ... fuhhh ... okay, frankly, I don't even know how to be funny about this, so bear with me a second while I write the following business letter to the brains at SkyMall. What say, in true Hammurabian fashion, I even write it in BIG ANNOYING AND SOMETIMES EVEN ITALICIZED CAPITAL LETTERS, HUH?

    Here goes:


    RRRR ... GFFFF ... FUHHHH ...


    So, what was I saying? Hmm. Whatever. Anyhoo, I'm feeling very positive about the Technology of Tomorrow, not to mention the Technology of Thursday and of Friday. No one can say exactly what kind of changes it will bring, but this I know for sure: it will give me something better to do than what I would have done otherwise, namely sit around and imagine winning the "Nobel" for "Best Comedy," which probably already went to somebody like Kathy Griffin anyway.

    At any rate, like it or hate it, technology marches on, like the Energizer Bunny except not nearly as pink and furry. It's our responsibility to embrace it. We are, after all, the people of The Future, with the exception being surviving hosts of vintage game-shows, all of whom are unaware that they actually died in 1978. (Speaking of which, sorry to break it to you guys this way. Nothing personal, Monty Hall.) What's more, none of this is anything new. Technology has been going-and-going-and-going like this for ages! But you don't have to take my word for it**; consider this quote from the Barbie article:

    "This is not the first time engineers have been given the challenge of packing Barbie's figure with technology. Michelle Chidoni, a spokeswoman for Mattel, said Barbie has been accessorized with speakers, motors, fiber optic clothing and an impeller-pump designed to push glitterized fluid through special wings."

    Let this be a lesson to you, people: although at times you feel blue, disheartened, down in the dumps, and other synonyms, you must never, ever, in your moments of greatest darkness, choose to "end it all" and open the Box of Laughter. Instead, take pride in knowing that you live in a world so great, so fantastically advanced and forward-thinking, that some courageous science pioneer, somewhere,*** has already invented an impeller-pump designed to push glitterized fluid through special wings. I defy anyone to tell me, or Louis Armstrong, that this is not a wonderful world.

    In the end, whatever your personal stance on technology's evolutionary path, the most important thing is simply to keep an open mind, to maintain your ability to see things - at any given moment - from another angle, from a different vantage point.

    Namely, that of Barbie's cleavage.

    *Okay, not really.
    ** And I speak for both myself and LeVar Burton on Reading Rainbow when I say this.
    *** Over there.

    ©2010 Nicola McEldowney