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.”

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:




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

Sunday, August 8, 2010

San Diego Revisited, Part 3: The Puppet Theatre

Here is the Marie Hitchcock Puppet Theater, in San Diego (official tourism slogan: "28 Days Without a Commercial Airliner Landing on Someone's Head"). Specifically, the theatre is located in the heart of Balboa Park, which is near the spleen of Balboa Park, which is just around the corner from the pancreas of Balboa Park, which is where they keep the Spreckels organ.* The theatre has an interesting story behind it, which I almost never found out because I almost never went in. This was a direct result of the music playing outside, a perky canned rendition of "Sing a Song of Sixpence," sung with such ooey-gooey jollity as to make Barney the Dinosaur look like Darth Vader.

Now don't mistake me (SEGUE XING); technically, I'm all for children's entertainment. It and I go way back, in fact: I have fond memories of taking a car trip, at age two, from Nebraska to Connecticut, while listening to an audiocassette of the cheery vocal stylings of Disney singer Larry Groce, as aided by the Disneyland Children's Chorus, delivering such numbers as "It's A Small World After All."** This is all very well and good,*** until you consider that when you are two years old, your natural tendency is to listen to such tapes over and over and over and over and over and over and OVER AND OVER AND OVER, until the others in the car (because, you see, there are others in the car) are moved to turn to Satan-worship. Chances are everything will turn out okay, though, and eventually everyone will remember that car trip fondly, due to having finally been able to purge the songs from their psyches somewhere around your sophomore year of college.

But there comes a point (your sophomore year of college) when you begin to put aside such juvenile affinities and acknowledge, with affection yet maturity, that they cause you to barf. So that's why (END OF SEGUE XING) I almost didn't go into the Marie Hitchcock Puppet Theatre, but I'm so glad I ultimately did. First of all, I noticed there were puppets for sale. This was extremely dangerous for me because I would go into pretty much anywhere there were puppets for sale, including places with names like Uncle Nick's House of Unanesthetized Open-Heart Surgery and Deep-Dish Pizza.

While I was geeking out over puppets I struck up a conversation with a nice guy who turned out to be one of the theatre puppeteers, preparing for that afternoon's show. Although unfortunately I now can't recall his name, we chatted for quite some time - he was eager to introduce adult puppet theatre to the company repertoire, which I admired - and he showed me around the theatre. I had explained that I was a scholar of the puppet arts, having written a research project in France entitled L'art de la marionnette dans les années 1930 et regards sur aujourd'hui (literally, "DUDE!! There are PUPPETS FOR SALE here!!!")

The Marie Hitchcock Puppet Theatre, I learned, is the oldest continuously operating puppet theatre in the United States (they put the emphasis on "continuously"; some of the other puppet theatres have occasionally gotten up to go to the bathroom). I was shown photographs of Marie Hitchcock, who must have been a memorable figure given that she was six-foot-five ("You can tell because all her string puppets have incredibly long strings," noted the puppeteer). She died in 1994, aged in her 90s, but not before bringing the California condor back from extinction using a condor puppet. I am dead serious (no, sorry, I mean back-from-extinction serious) about this. In the 1940s, the California condor was at the brink of extinction. The condor chicks needed to be fed but couldn't be fed by a human hand, lest they become habituated to it -- at which point they couldn't be introduced to the wild. That was where Marie Hitchcock came in. She built a condor puppet with which she not only fed the chicks, but, ultimately, brought the species' numbers back up to somewhere in the two-hundreds today (which means they're off the endangered list).

The whole thing was astounding to me -- there's a beautiful photo in the theatre hallway of the puppet feeding little baby condors. The only thing that could have made this story better, as far as I'm concerned, would have been if we could have seen the Big Scary Raptors of Tomorrow being fed by:

Which brings me to another point: you never see celebrity puppets doing this sort of thing, now, do you? When was the last time Miss Piggy brought a species back to life? Meanwhile, the true puppet heroes of our society, like the condor, remain totally unsung. It's like how, at a conservative estimate, 103% of American magazine covers feature Entertainment Personalities with names like "Kortnee" who are famous for nothing except rubbing key regions of themselves on yet other Entertainment Personalities. This means that all 103% of these magazine covers feature headlines like "KORTNEE'S BABY JOY!" while, in the meantime, the people of real distinction remain ignored. You never see, for example, Bill Nye the Science Guy on these kinds of covers. This calls for a serious and thorough examination on our part of our deplorable national celebrity culture, which, as a scholar of the arts, I am totally willing to leave to somebody else.

*Ha ha! Organ! See what I did there? Never mind.
** In later years, I would invent a Forbidden Version of this song, but that is to be dwelt on another time.
*** Not really.

©2010 Nicola McEldowney

Thursday, August 5, 2010

Minisnark: girl stuff alert

With apologies for the lapse in posting (there's still San Diego Part 3 to come! The one where I talk about puppets!), we interrupt this interruption to say: go check out weBEgirls (, where a new column of mine is up as of this afternoon. Today's hard-hitting subject matter: girly skills. Profitez-en!