Sunday, December 11, 2011

Game if You Are

My digital childhood, in a picture.

Scarcely a day goes by you don't see one of those doomsday articles about children and computer games. You know the articles I mean - they're the ones that appear in USA Today in the same section where they publish their latest hard-hitting exposé on celebrity buttock trends for fall.  The headlines look something like this:


As a young modern hip hep "with it" texting tweeting Facebooking Skyping youth of the Digital Age, I take offense. I say, computer games have enormous civic and creative value that is in no way compromised by the fact that they make you the Antichrist and also fat. So there.

Know how I know? I was a child who used computer games, and besides the fact that I can count on one hand the number of times I was the Antichrist, I learned many valuable skills, such as how to give a supermodel open face sores on Cosmopolitan Virtual Makeover. This is the sort of thing that good old-fashioned playing outside will frankly NEVER teach you.

Of course, like any good academic, I must back up my findings with evidence from sources. Otherwise, Columbia University - which is sitting behind me as I speak drumming its warty, icy cold fingers on my shoulder and breathing threatening words* into my ear - will rescind my diploma. Of course this would not be any great shame, because - little known fact ahead - the Columbia "diploma" is actually just an elaborate recipe for stuffed peppers, translated into Latin. Since I don't want to break any hearts here, I'm not even going to get into the translation of "summa cum laude."**

So, for a Primary Source, I chose my sister, whose expertise on the subject of The Computer Games of Our Youth stems from the fact that she grew up in the same house as I did and occasionally got into great snarling fights with me over the accusation that I had looked at her artwork when in fact I had only moved my eyeballs over it a little.*** But despite this unhinged world view of hers, I still solicited her opinions on computer games.

For example, I was trying to remember a game called "Hello Kitty Big Fun Piano," which gets its name from the fact that it is about the Oregon Trail.  I can remember nearly nothing about Big Fun Piano, which we played when we were about 7 and 3. I did, however, manage to find this picture on Amazon:

Which gives the impression that the program was designed as a tool for musical formation.  At first I had my doubts about what kind of effect this would have on your piano technique, but then again I've since learned that Franz Lizst used one of these.  

My sister recalls that you could write a song, then manipulate it to make it sound as if it was being barked by dogs or meowed by cats. Frankly, I think it is nothing sort of a tragedy that Liszt did not incorporate this into his own works - who knows what untapped greatness he might have realized.

I also have many fond memories of ...

... "Kid Works 2," which gets its name from the fact that it is neither Kid Works 1 nor 3 and also has to do with the Oregon Trail. Among the many sterling features of this program was a digital drawing pen that, all the while you used it, would play a loud and unpleasant 3-second tune that continued on infinite loop into the next ice age, cheerfully destroying the brain tissue of all within a 10-mile radius.

But far and away the best feature of "Kid Works 2" was: the Story Writer. This was a part where you could (SPOILER) write a story. But this isn't the good part yet, oh no. The good part was that there was ... this voice.  This voice that read your story aloud. I believe the voice was named Ralph. He sounded like Marvin the Paranoid Android on steroids. Furthermore - and this was simply the best thing  ever**** - Ralph pronounced virtually nothing correctly. For example, "Go to bed with your bear," which I remember because it is a sentence we actually typed,***** became "GO-TO-BED-WITH-YOW-WER-BEER," which at the time caused us to shriek with laughter for approximately six weeks nonstop. If I am not mistaken, this was the occasion on which my young bladder was inadvertently voided on my dad's then-computer chair. I assume I am now forgiven, although I have not expressly checked. 

Another entertaining feature of Ralph was his extreme literalness. For example, say you typed a row of the letter i. Ralph would respond by reading, and I quote (and for best effect, you have to imagine this is the funniest thing you have EVER HEARD IN YOUR WHOLE ENTIRE LIFE OH MY GOD EEEEEEHAHAHAHAHAHAHAHAHAHAHAHAAAAAAAAA CAN'T BREATHE):



So instead of sounding like Marvin the Paranoid Android on steroids, Ralph now sounded like Marvin on steroids having a grand mal epileptic seizure.  Needless to say, we felt compelled to replay this sound 10,258,520,692 times per day, which needless to say went over big with certain unnamed cartoonists and musicians trying to work in the house:

(Quiet in the house. Sound of youthful typing.
Brief silence.)
Brief silence.)
Brief silence.
Repeat as desired)

I have to admit, I miss those days.

But of course even the combined powers of Big Fun Piano and Kid Works 2 do not add up to a well-rounded classical education. No, if you really want to go all out, you will also need:

I speak of old school Rosetta Stone, that is to say before it became a multi-skajillion-dollar industry with kiosks in every airport and Westfield Shoppingtown megacenter, manned by snazzy young men with names like Dustin.  I don't know what nouveau Rosetta Stone is like, but back in the day, it was a "must-have" for one extremely crucial educational language-learning reason: it made funny sounds when you got the answer wrong.

For example: say you were learning Italian,****** and you got shown two pictures, a little girl and a car.  If the Pleasant Voice said, "una bambina," you were supposed to click on the girl, whereupon you would get a sunny yellow check mark, accompanied by a happy jingle of congratulations. Whereas if you clicked on the car, you would get ... THE DREADED RED X, accompanied by the following sound, which I reproduce faithfully:


So needless to say upon learning of this feature, we never clicked on the right answer again, ever since which discovery we have lived in happy ignorance of "other" languages. The sole exception is my second language, French, which I speak with such fluid precision that the other day someone took me to be from Poland.

For a really really really complete education, I'd say you need only one item more. This item was part of the "Best of Entertainment" mega-pack of games that came with our Windows 95 computer, nicknamed "the Diplodocus." The game was SkiFree, a program of utterly no point whatsoever, which my sister succinctly and accurately sums up as follows:

"In this game, you control a guy who skis down a hill randomly for awhile until a monster comes out of nowhere and eats him."

Yes, computer games teach us Vital Life Lessons, and not only about how to prepare for life in Corporate America. They also teach us how to run away from asteroids. I am thinking here of a time in 1999, when my sister was about 7 and we went to visit my dad's sister and her family. I hung out with the grown-ups while my sister and our cousin Steve, age 8, ensconced themselves down the hall with a game called "Space Rocks."  The point of the game, as far as I could tell, was to pilot a spaceship and try not to get hit by asteroids. But those two always got hit, as evidenced by the fact that every 15 minutes or so, they would come careening down the hall screaming, "ABANDON SHIP!!!!!" 

It doesn't matter if it's language-learning or asteroid-dodging. I say this is a perfect example of the most pivotal truth computer games have to teach us: it is WAY more fun to lose.

I can hear you Concerned Childhood Educator-types out there now. "But Nicola," you are saying, "don't you realize that by spending so much time playing computer games, you missed out on a REAL CHILDHOOD? WHAT ABOUT GOOD OLD-FASHIONED PLAYING OUTSIDE FOR GOSHSAKES???!!" To which I say, well, yes. Frankly, I did miss out on good old-fashioned playing outside. But it wasn't because of computer games. It was because my childhood occurred in southern Florida, where playing outside was not exactly, let us say, wreathed in fun. For example, I seem to recall that when I took my Sun Colors Pocahontas doll outside one summer, she promptly burst into a ball of flame.  

But rest assured, my sister and I had completely enriching and stimulating childhoods despite it all. When we weren't shrieking helplessly at the vocal stylings of Ralph or running away from asteroids, we were engaged in other merry childhood pastimes, such as riding the Tilt-a-Whirl at the county fair while singing, at the top of our lungs - this is true - the songs of Gilbert and Sullivan. I swear we really used to do this. Perhaps this is why we remain friendless.

* "Hey, MEAL PLAN BUTT. Wanna come BACK???"
** "Add salt to taste." 
*** Okay, who am I kidding: this still happens.
**** So you had to be there.
***** This sentence may not be reproduced in any form or else I am gonna HUNT YOU DOWN.
****** Italian is funny.

Thursday, December 8, 2011

How to Perform for Children

Some actors think performing for children must be less difficult than performing for adults, but in fact, this is false. On the contrary, performance for children is fraught with great peril, such as the very real chance that one of your public will bite you on the leg.

This really did happen to me the other morning. I had just finished a puppet show and was standing there before my spectator, age 2, when suddenly, totally without warning, there came CHOMPPPP the sensation of approximately 3,527 baby fangs sinking into my right thigh.

The mother apologized profusely, impounding her giggling child in his stroller. "I'm so sorry," she said. "If it makes it any better, it means he likes you."

This was of course a revelation, accompanied in that moment by the confirmation of something I have long suspected: virtually no one has ever really liked me.

But rest assured there is more to performing for children than fending off thigh bites. No; you should also become versed in the use of a tranquilizer gun. I present as explanation the following authentic transcript of one of my puppet shows this past summer in Boston. The text was Rudyard Kipling's The Sing-Song of Old Man Kangaroo, a story with beautiful words that needless to say nobody got to hear:

ME: Not always was the Kangaroo as now we do behold him, but...
SMALL CHILD'S MOTHER (at 8,600 decibels*): TYRONE!!!
ME: ... uh ... so he ... he uhh ...

But of course this is all part of the exciting, "by the seat of your pants" aspect of performing, an expression which derives from the fact that, at some point during your performance, you will almost certainly wet the seat of your pants.  Nevertheless, as a Seasoned Theatrical Professional,** I always keep going:

ME: ... uh, so he was a different animal, with four short legs. He was grey and...
SMALL CHILD: blablabla
ME: ... and he was ...
SMALL CHILD: blablabla
ME: ... and he was woolly and ...

Frankly, I think she was on the right track with the whupping idea, save for the tragic fact that no one volunteered to whup her. I would have courageously volunteered, only I had puppets on my hands, which somewhat hampers your whupping abilities. ("Madam, don't make me come over there, or I shall whup the living doody out of you with this cuddly kangaroo.")

This is why I propose - to you and to the MacArthur Fellowship jury alike - the invention of the Whup-o-Matic, a giant automatic whupping apparatus that you could keep on hand during performances and other special occasions. You could operate it secretly from a tiny remote control concealed somewhere on your person. Say someone started talking during your show; all you'd have to do is oh-so-quietly press one tiny button and (WHUPPAWHUPPAWHUPPAWHUPPAWHUPPA) (SCREAMMMMM) (SUDDEN BEAUTIFUL SILENCE) order would be restored. This would surely be the best news for the theatrical profession since Disney's Beauty and the Beast closed on Broadway, although granted it will be playing in theatres with names like the West Uvula Regional Players until the Nuclear Holocaust.***

But I digress. My point, for all you actors out there who perform for children, is this: despite the immaturity of your public, it's all worth it in the end, when - as you finish the last triumphant flourish of your performance - they squirm around on the floor and cry about random non-issues. This is incredibly prevalent at puppet shows. In fact, I have a pet theory**** of childhood that goes, the amount of anguish a child experiences at an event increases in direct proportion to the event's "fun" quotient. And if you don't believe me, consider THIS made-up statistic: for fiscal year 2010, elementary-school birthday parties were responsible for a solid 92% of world anguish. What's more, when you factor in trips to Chuck E. Cheese, this figure flat-out doubles.*****

Therefore, in order to combat this harrowing state of affairs, here are my

1. Wear protective thigh gear.
2. Never talk down to the kids - it's the parents who are total morons.  Only kidding, parents! Ha ha! Or am I?
3. Therefore, if the kids talk during your performance, just understand that this happens.
4. On the other hand, if the parents talk, you are legally within your rights to impose the death penalty.
5. I don't know what 5 is because Tyrone's mom yelled over it.

Quite frankly, I think you have a beautiful future in children's theatre if you just follow these simple directives and take enough narcotics to maintain your smile. So I highly recommend that you enter the profession, and if it turns out not to suit you, and you find you need someone to commiserate with, I urge you strongly - from the bottom of my heart - don't choose me.  Besides, I'm out of commission until these danged thigh wounds heal.

* Although this show occurred in the U.S., I have since moved back to France, thus all figures are in Celsius.
** With headshots, a variety of dialects, AEA eligibility and also measurements. Please contact my agent for further information. I have great hair. I once read most of a play.
*** When cockroaches are the only form of life left on Earth, you can be sure that among their number will be a small but dynamic group belting out "Be Our Guest." Needless to say, these individuals also have headshots.
**** It has a little theory collar and eats Purina Theory Chow.
***** And if you don't believe me, tough.

Sunday, November 13, 2011

Home is Where the Crud Is

DISCLAIMER: I did not draw this drawing, although it is reminiscent of my work.

What, exactly, is “home”? Such a question must be addressed from a philosophical standpoint. For example, if we turn to the great philosophical work Beauty and the Beast, the Disney Broadway musical, we learn that home is where the heart is. This is really pretty disconcerting when you consider that the heart is located (not to brag, but I personally underwent several grueling seconds of research during which I looked this up on Wikipedia) “anterior to the vertebral column and posterior to the sternum.”  Frankly, this seems like a pretty lousy location for home, although God knows a good realtor would work with it (“Posterior to the sternum! Convenient to shopping!”).

Let us also consider an alternative definition proffered by another font of philosophical wisdom: Cool Whip commercials. I recall many a childhood afternoon spent edifying myself in front of the Game Show Network*, during which time I learned the useful lesson that home, as defined by the Cool Whip Co., is where you and your carefully interracial family boogie around, grinning maniacally, while eating a CRAP TON of Cool Whip.  These commercials are designed to evoke a simpler time when people were stupid.

For my part, I should like to propose my own, alternative definition of home. Home, to me, is – and forgive my sentimentality, but I mean this from the bottom of my heart – the place where you are most comfortable living in your own filth. Example A is my personal home, the floor of which consistently features such a prodigious volume of shed skin cells, hair, dust, etc. – basically every variety of what the scientific community calls “personal crud” – that I could not possibly have produced it all myself.  To wit: at any given moment, you could take the skin cells on my floor and (if you were so disposed) create three life-size replicas of me, Madame Tussaud’s-style. 

I can hear you now. “But Nicola,” you are saying, probably mispronouncing my name, “the answer is simple. You need to clean your home.”  Well.  Now excuse me while I laugh so hard I cough up my uvula.  Because in fact, I clean my home every day. Such measly actions are no match for the Dark Forces behind Home Crud, an essence which does as it pleases. Every day, I sweep in the morning and then leave, whereupon my floor – cackling softly to itself – goes ahead and spawns itself a fresh new supply of crud, which greets me in the evening. Such is the daily routine around here, although granted sometimes there are variations, such as when the floor crud gets bored during the day and decides to arrange itself, for my return, in a perfect 1/1000th-scale replica of the Grand Tetons, or the Parthenon, or Eleanor Roosevelt.  I should start charging admission.

So, why? Why any of this? What is it about home that keeps it eternally crud-laden? My answer: a real home renders its dweller so completely, lethargically unmotivated that any sort of home maintenance becomes scientifically impossible – on a par with immortality, or time travel, or ever making contact with the Next Available Representative of my cellular phone company.  It’s not that you, the home-dweller, don’t care; it’s that eventually, you will give up.  (Write this down, children.)  No matter how the hell neat you innately are, the Dark Forces of Home Crud will swiftly render you unable to do anything more active than look at Facebook while scratching yourself, except on those occasions when this seems like too much woooork. This, my friends, is the difference between a house and a home.  In philosophy circles it is known as the Theory of Blahhhhh.**

The Theory of Blahhhh explains everything. It explains why you leave your crap in Atlas Van Lines boxes sixteen years after moving into your home, even though you told yourself again and again, “I’m unpacking this stuff TOMORROW.” Possibly you kept this up for as long as a week (the Theory of Blahhhh gets its hooks in fast).  But let us not forget: according to the Theory, the extent to which you neglect your home is directly proportional to the contentment you feel living there. So this is a good thing! See? Or the alternative possibility is that you are a lazy bastard.  Or it could even be a combination of the two.

This is why, when house-hunting, I’ve never really understood why people try to pretty up their houses so you’ll buy them. I mean, sure, it looks nice, but if we go by the Theory of Blahhhh, the true house-hunter – the one who seeks not a house but a home – will go for the crud-ridden house, every time.  (TIP FOR SELLERS: For maximum “homey” effect, leave your stuff in the house even after the buyer moves in, and for good measure, leave unnecessary family members there too. Talk about your “win-win.”) 

Of course home is more than just crud. There are secondary elements, too, such as family.  Some people actually go so far as to equate home with family, which I find troubling, in that it supposes you like your family.***  I mean, I don’t know your family, but they could be hideous, right? The ultimate home, for you, might be located in a place very far from the bosom of your family, such as Alpha Centauri.  And speaking of such things: what does that even MEAN, the “bosom” of your family? Is it just me, or is there something about that expression that would test the gag reflex of even the icky-cutest Cabbage Patch Kid? No; quintessential family moments, for me, are bosom-free. On the contrary, I believe such moments consist of having loud and passionate dinner-table arguments about issues such as television series, sometimes to the point that you are just about to kill each other with forks, but – and here goes my sentimental side kicking in again – never to the point that you actually do.  And nary a bosom in sight.

One final aspect of what makes a home (and, once again, call me a softie, but this is the one I feel the most deeply): home is where you’re comfortable reading on the toilet. Sadly, I myself have never managed to get comfortable with this one, because, I mean, what if you have a heart attack and die on the toilet? Do you want your Eternal Legacy to be that you were found with your pants around your ankles reading Cosmo? (“But why,” you are asking me, “would your pants be reading Cosmo around your ankles?”  Good point. I tried to ask them the same, but they were lost in an article about How to Make Him Moan.)

But above all, home is the place where you're most comfortable being yourself. So, read issues of Cosmo on the toilet.  So, embrace the ever-mounting crud formations on your floor, even when they invade your fridge and steal your Chinese take-out (do NOT try to stop them; you will never prevail).  So, enjoy a good hearty fork-brandishing argument session in the bosom of your family, which, as you’ll recall if you’ve been listening at all, is located posterior to the sternum of your family.  You might want to write this down. Also, while you’re at it, you could come over and clean my place for me, because I'm just so darned unmotivated.

* As a result of which, my dramatic rendition of the “Match Game” theme song is unparalleled.
** Translated from the German : cf. Nietszche’s Theory of ßlahhhhh.
*** Or that you hate your home.

Monday, October 10, 2011

A Spurt in the Dark

I don't know about you, but I think it's high time we stopped beating around the bush and finally discussed the sensitive topic of:


Why not? The New York Times already has (evidently because it was a slow news day in New York, in which no major city legislators got booked for trying to mate with a gyro or anything).

I refer to an article which appeared in the September 20 edition of the Times, entitled "Amorous Squid Seeks Partner: Any Sex Will Do."  In this article, writer James Gorman alerts us to the fact that a science person named Dr. Hendrik J. T. Hoving is deeply into the study of squid nooky.  A recent study by Dr. Hoving concerned the fact that (I am quoting here) "A five-and-a-half-inch deep-sea squid that lives a solitary life up to half a mile down in the dark waters of the Pacific Ocean is the latest addition to the hundreds of species that are known to engage in same-sex sex."

Now let's don't be too condemning here.  I'm certain that you and I both, if we were five-and-a-half-inch squids* down in the dark waters of the Pacific Ocean, with nothing to fulfill our biological needs save manual tentacle stimulation** and deep-sea porno,*** would be pleased to deep-sea bonk the first being that floated within range, be it male, female, seaweed, university trustee, etc.  So I see no major revelations in this study.  But to the scientific community, this is apparently SUPER exciting scientific news.  Like, if you were the scientific community, this sort of scientific news would propel you to instant multiple scientific climax.  You would need a change of scientific underpants.

YOU would never understand; you're not the scientific community.

So let's read on: aha.  It turns out we are talking in particular about the male squid.  This squid**** in particular will take any old chance it can get.  Fair enough.  Says Gorman: "Male squid .... pay no attention to the sex of other squid. They live alone in the dark, males and females are hard to tell apart, and only occasionally do squids pass in the night. Far better to risk wasting a few million sperm than to miss out on a chance to reproduce."  This is accompanied by a photo of a shamed-looking squid covered with white dots, which the caption explains are due to an attack of - and I want to stress that this is the finest journalism quote in the history of the world - "rocket sperm."

They don't happen to interview the pictured squid, but you just know there is no way anyone could ever claim this was consensual.

Of course, this is not the first known instance of same-sex sexual behavior in animals.  Allow me to advance two examples by way of illustration.  Example A is a quote from the article: "Among mammals, bottlenose dolphins and bonobos engage in lots of different kinds of sex."  No offense to any dolphins reading this column, but you just know a dolphin is not "getting any" when it will go off and make it with bonobos.

Example B is a real-life experience I had (in real life) at Riverside Park, where I went to jog when I lived in New York.  I would always stop for a brief pause at the dog park, where I would have meaningful conversations with German shepherds over the fence ("Did you read the Times today?"  "Oh, I know! About the squid?").

However, on this occasion, my attention was drawn to two miniature, hairy-rodent-style dogs, both of whom were exceedingly male, and one of whom was - I am dead serious about this - giving the other the world's first dog blowjob.  Here is the thing: I had no camera, and there were no other witnesses, even though the dogs' owners were both there.  They were standing a few yards away, backs turned, shooting the breeze - probably griping about the subway - and meanwhile there were their two little furry friends, perched daintily on their hind legs, Dog 1 nipping contentedly away at Dog 2's personal organ, which Dog 2 did not seem to mind in the least.  Meanwhile the owners went on chatting and, tragically, science could not be recorded.  I do not mind telling you that, in stark contrast to the squid exposé, this was an issue of extreme scientific importance.  I myself was in a state of scientific conniption.  This was far more edifying than anything I ever learned at Columbia, unless of course you are a former professor of mine, in which case, ha ha, just kidding, you enriched me.

But back to the squid article, and those little white dots: "It seems that the male ejaculates a packet of sperm at the mating partner ... essentially shooting the sperm ... into the flesh of the partner, where they stay embedded until the female (if the shooter has been lucky) is ready to fertilize its eggs. If males are the recipient of these rocket sperm, they are just stuck with them. It is the kind of mating that would make a good video game."  This is an excellent idea, if you ask me now.  I'm thinking of a sort of Pac-Man motif (I can see it now: introducing Sperm Man and his feminist equivalent, Ms. Sperm Man).*****

It goes without saying that our fearless squid-love researcher, Dr. Hoving - who, at publication time, "was leaving for research at sea himself"****** - goes on the record as asserting that there are not gay squid (a statement which, needless to say, raised the ire of gay-rights activists everywhere, especially those as happen to be squid).  Says the Times : "He fended off that notion, reiterating that the squid has no discernibly sexual orientation, and that a tentacled invertebrate that shoots sperm into its mate's flesh really has nothing to do with human behavior," at least not outside of reality television.

And so the burning biological question remains: are the squid just plain being stupid? Another scientist, Marlene Zuk, debunks this notion.  The squid is not being stupid, at least not for a squid, or a member of Congress.  "The animal is not making a mistake," she is quoted as saying.  "It's not mistaken to deposit sperm with another male."  Otherwise, according to Ms. Zuk, natural selection would have eradicated the behavior of the squid.  And, as she adds, "We still have squid."  We still have Congress, too, so I am not convinced of anything.

Needless to say, this all raises a number of troubling questions:

* Just what kind of "research" was Dr. Hoving going to do "at sea"?
* Do you think gay squid have squid community theatre?
* Is there a squid puppet out there?

This last question is of course the most scientifically important.  And it turns out that the answer is yes.  Not only is there a squid puppet out there, it's a honking squid puppet, traversing the streets of Portland, Oregon with multiple handlers.  They call it the Singing Squid Procession.  Here's a link to pictures of the thing, which does not look in the slightest like any other thing, especially in the final photo on this page, so let's just dispense with that idea right now:

But let's be very clear about one thing.  I know that Dr. Hoving, who is a respectable and experienced scientist out there gallivanting about with squid at sea, says that squid do not have a sexual orientation.  But just in case he is wrong, and he is silencing the voices of gay squid who should otherwise be heard, I wish you gay squid out there to know that it is okay to be who you are.  Be out and loud and proud of your squiddy gay self.  Know that there is always a listening ear over here and come over anyt.... hey, what are all these little white spots on my ear?

* Of course this does not apply to most of us, with the exception of Richard Simmons.
** DISCUSSION QUESTIONS FOR ACADEMICS: How would this even work? Do you think you would like having tentacles? Explain.
**** Which, understandably enough, does not give its name, although I imagine it's "Milton."
***** I foresee a Christmas rush.
****** Let's just meditate on this for a moment.

Tuesday, September 20, 2011

Children's Corner

Don't look now, but academic research is biting society in its collective societal ass again.  And when I say "society," I mean, needless to say, "SpongeBob SquarePants":

I am slightly late on the uptake of this article, which appeared last week in HealthDay News.  An excerpt:

Fast-paced TV shows like "SpongeBob SquarePants" seem to negatively affect children's concentration levels shortly after watching them, while slower-paced shows don't, a new study suggests.
"We found that young children who had just watched 'SpongeBob SquarePants' were handicapped in what you could say is their readiness for learning," said lead researcher Angeline S. Lillard, a University of Virginia psychologist.
"This included their ability to think and concentrate," she said.

Well.  I don't know about you, but I take STRONG exception to this.  As an American, I like my TV shows fast, furious, and potentially harmful to what you could say is my readiness for learning.  So I hereby blow the Great Horn of Bullshit.  Stand back:


Thank you.

Furthermore, I've got a bone to pick with you, lead researcher Angeline "S." Lillard (supposing that IS your name), if you think you can pronounce on my ability to think and concentrate.  Obviously one's personal capacity for concentration is an individual phenomenon that cannot be evaluated by any objective measOOOOH! LOOK! I CAN MAKE A ROOSTER PUPPET WITH MY HANDS! WHEE HEE HEEEE!*

Another researcher, Dr. Dimitri A. Christakis,** argues that the young mind really can't deal with events at the speed they occur on such programs as SpongeBob.  (An interesting supposition, considering that left unattended for 2.5 seconds, the Young Mind will flood the bathroom, injure himself gravely, smear paint as far away as Sweden, barf copiously on the most expensive piece of furniture around, and traumatize the cat for life, all at the speed of sound.)

"Everything our brains evolved to deal with takes place in real time," Christakis said. "It's not that we can't process these shows, we do, but it may come at a cost [...] potentially a long-term cost as you condition the brain to expect that high level of input, which makes the real pace of the world seem boring and that leads to attentional problems later in life."

So I don't know about you, but here is my scientific rebuttal: compared to SpongeBob, the real world pretty much just plain SUCKS.  The world of SpongeBob SquarePants is WAY more interesting, plus, might I submit for scientific consideration that it involves FAR fewer:
  • insurance companies
  • gynecologists
  • Teaching Assistants
  • scientific researchers
Therefore, it would be excellent, from MY particular scientific vantage-point, if we could all just quit whining our little whiny-pants heads off about it.  Let's just ask ourselves: is there really any value in seeing the harmful and unacceptable in the innocent and goofy? Believe it or not, there might actually be more profitable ways to spend our time. Picking at ourselves on the couch, for one.

Exhibit B is the ongoing intellectual discussion about - No Kidding Alert ahead - Guignol and his baton.  For those of you who don't know, Guignol is a famous French puppet, an absolute rockstar here in France, far more popular than the president,*** and he (Guignol) goes around with a baton, performing the ancient traditional French art of hitting other puppets.

So, it turns out that certain academic researcher types - who, a casual observer might opine, do not have an AWFUL lot to occupy their days - believe strongly that this baton represents the, er, male organ.  Really.  Now my personal**** feeling about this is: as if the male organ needs any help representing itself.  (Although I like the idea of its having impersonators, like Elvis.)  My own belief is that the academic researchers who hold this belief are frankly not getting enough baton, if you get my drift.

Now here's a totally radical out-there revolutionary innovative idea: why don't we all just agree to leave well enough alone?  Why don't we all just decide to look at things that are clearly innocent, and that children like, and take them for things that are innocent and that children like? Can we do that?

Thought not.

The exception to this rule, of course, is: children.  I know this because I am currently a baby-sitter for two small children, ages 5 and 2.  These two keep me honest about what children like, which, for the record, is: random goofy stuff.  The other night, the three of us improvised a puppet show that, not to brag, was frankly cutting-edge theatre.  It was entitled: "Oh No! There's A Shark in the Washing Machine."  Granted, this was in French, but same idea.  Here is the script, of which I invite you to fund a major lavish production, if you simply must:

MOOSE PUPPET: Hum-de-dum-de-dum. I think I will do some laundry today.  La-la la-la laaa!
(Opens the washing machine)
Oh, no! There's a shark in the washing machine! 



(Ten-minute pause to calm down)

PARROT PUPPET: Hum-de-dum-de-dum. I think I will do some laundry today.  La-la la-la laaa!
(Opens the washing machine)
Oh, no! There's a shark in the washing machine! 



(Repeat as desired until next Ice Age)

Don't try to tell ME that's not entertainment of lasting value.  And say what you will about SpongeBob SquarePants, I believe the same of that program.  Of course I believe we're all entitled to our own opinions, but that doesn't mean I can't believe that some of us hold only - prepare for scholarly language now - weenie-butt opinions. 

But seriously? Feel free to express them as you wish.  I mean, it's not as though I can stop you anyway.  For one thing, I'm WAY too preoccupied with this shark game.  So opine away, everyone.  That's what makes the world go round, n'est-ce pas?

And if you are truly just too annoying to live, you might do us all a favor and go spend some quiet time with your baton.

* Of course really.  I learned it from watching Shari Lewis on TV as a child.  See?

** Yes, both of these researchers have middle initials.  Do NOT think this is a coincidence.
*** Oh, you know, that guy.
**** Ha ha! Personal! Get it?

Friday, September 9, 2011

Ice Ice Baby

Call me a wild and crazy world-traveler if you want, but recently I decided - prepare to be awed - to change planes at Reykjavik International Airport.

As the seasoned geographers among you will know, Reykjavik is located in Iceland, a major world nation which celebrates itself with the proud national motto, "Oh, you know, that little place up there somewhere near Greenland."

"I'VE never heard that motto," you are saying, with narrowed eyes.  To which I say: well, naturally.  It is translated from the Icelandic.  During my flight on Icelandair, I became an expert on Icelandic language and culture via my in-flight magazine and fun facts on my napkins.  This is how I learned that the Icelandic language* is spoken by only 12 people worldwide.  To put that figure in perspective, this is fewer people than watched the wacky in-flight movie featuring Ashton Kutcher.

And I think I understand.  Because, frankly, Icelandic has "problem language" written all over it.  I don't care who you are - you could be an Icelandic baby born in Iceland to Icelandic-speaking parents - assimilating this language is going to give you hernias.  When you're at Reykjavik International Airport, you can't believe how lucky we Anglophones have it, because everywhere you go you see signs like this:

Kjörfnnenbjoörrflokinnennkrönninenflöokinjörginnen - Arrivals

Bjïnninenflöokincöokinsnöokinhjardinenflörpöôöøøø - Departures

No child should have to be born to this.

On the other hand, Iceland** boasts one feature that absolutely no other nation - and I include Poland in this statement *** - can claim.  I speak, as you have no doubt guessed, of impeccable toilets.  My theory is a good third of the national budget is spent on having large, intimidating crews of strapping Icelandic toilet specialists come in**** every 10 minutes to clean every national toilet until it sparkles.

I didn't stay around long enough to see this magical event happen, of course, but there is no doubt in my mind.  You can tell they take their toilets SERIOUSLY in Iceland.  Not like SOME countries (not to name names, but these countries rhyme with "Prance" and "the Punited Ptates of Pamerica").  Any other major world power, bar none,***** would be proud to feature such excellence.

The Reykjavik airport itself (which, contrary to legend, consists of more than just toilets) is all at once the most beautiful and most eerily quiet, lifeless airport in existence.  I have made fun in the past of the Portland, Maine airport for being too sedate, but compared to Reykjavik, Portland is the Lady Gaga of airports.  Granted, I was jet-lagged and exhausted in Reykjavik, but I honestly don't think anyone ever announced a flight.  I don't know how you were supposed to know when your flight was boarding.  I actually ended up briefly following a herd of passengers toward a Stuttgart flight before an airport employee tipped me off.  Had this not happened, I suppose I would still be at the airport, or in Stuttgart, or possibly the suburbs of Alpha Centauri given my comprehension of what was going on at any given moment.

Yes, an Icelandic adventure such as mine will leave you thoroughly unnerved and permanently twitchy, but if you don't take my word for it yet, then let's talk for a moment about currency.

So: currency.  It is worth noting that, in Iceland, you are paying for things, such as badly needed food, in a currency that no one, including Icelandic people, has ever heard of.  That means you have no idea what things cost, so let's say you toddle, hunger-crazed, into an airport dining establishment at four in the morning.  (Of course, YOU have no idea what time it is; it might as well be one or six or even thirty-seven in the morning.)  You are pretty much going to be grabbing your dinner items at random.  One of them might turn out to be Pepsodent.******

Then comes the bad part, when at checkout you are told by the pleasant Icelandic person on duty - and this here is a direct quote - "That will be two thousand, one hundred ninety."  For a time I was pretty sure I bought sushi, yogurt, and popcorn for a mortgage payment.  But - and here's the thing - in such a state, you hand over your credit card anyway.  You don't care.  I, for example, could feel the blank expression on my face - a mix of mild terror with strong apathy and even stronger snack attack - as I handed over the card.  There was no turning back.

Of course, everything turned out okay in the end.  I got back to Paris, which was all I had ever wanted to do in the first place, and I retain, as a proud souvenir of my travel adventure, a snazzy paper bag that reads "Flugnesti: flight take away."  I have no idea how "Flugnesti" is pronounced, and I am afraid to even try saying it, given that I fear the Icelandic feds (they have my info: I bought their sushi) might have wiretapped me.  And you never know how much of a surcharge they might slap me with for each bad pronunciation.  Several "thousand" an hour, is my guess.  How else do you think Iceland keeps running?

* Namely, Icelandic.
** Which as we have discussed consists of the Reykjavik International Airport.
*** Seeing as I have never been there.
**** I imagine them riding in on Icelandic ponies, because, well, why not.
***** What does this expression even mean? Seriously.
****** Or, in Icelandic: "Tjëflohjörnkkenkväakkinnenfjøøpseudöfnoop"

Monday, September 5, 2011


In just a couple of days, I will be returning to Paris, France, where I spent half my junior year of college, experiencing the kind of satisfaction and contentment  that can only come from not being at college.  I estimate that a good 96% of these happy feelings were brought on by the following stimulus:

Yes, that is breakfast cereal, and no, I am not joking.  I do NOT joke about breakfast cereal.  Nor do I joke about yogurt.  It is against the Snark Code.

Of course, I don't mean to suggest that cereal and yogurt are all there is to Parisian culture.  Far from it. On the contrary, Parisian culture also consists of the following components:
  • American television
This served as one of my main entry points into Paris life, thanks to my host family's eight-year-old daughter.  It was she who introduced me to French culture by means of inviting me to watch her favorite TV show, Lois and Clark: The New Adventures of Superman, starring notoriously non-French actors Teri Hatcher and Dean Cain.  She was unabashedly in love with Dean Cain, who I understand has since had the nerve to be 45 years old without telling her.  At any rate, she used this great passion as a jumping-off point to explain to me the finer points of French culture.

For example: "Ahhhh, Clark.  Il est très beau."  (Ahhhh, Clark.  He is very handsome.)

Or sometimes: "Il est très beau, Clark, n'est-ce pas?"

I, being not immune to the finer points of French culture myself, can thoroughly appreciate such a cultural nuance when one is pointed out to me.  So I went on letting my little instructor instruct me, and Teri Hatcher and Dean Cain went on nattering away at each other in badly dubbed French, and all was right with the world.

Other times, we would watch Pokémon, which was equally edifying if not more so.  Speaking as one who spent many a youthful morning watching episodes of this program in English, I can honestly say that you have not grasped French culture until you have assimilated the following cultural difference:

WHO'S - THAT - POKÉMON?? (bit of music) (go to commercial break)
(back from commercial break) IT'S - PIKACHU!!! (Pikachuuu!) (bit of music)

QUI EST - CE - POKÉMON? (bit of music) (go to commercial break)
(back from commercial break) C'EST - PIKACHU!!! (Pikachuuu!) (bit of music)

But here's what you don't see on French TV: French TV.  Okay, I admit I'm exaggerating.  There are numerous French networks featuring plenty of domestic programming, for example Les Guignols de l'Info, a show featuring puppets who host the evening news.  (This strikes me as a considerable trade-up from, say, Dan Rather.)

But American programs do seem to predominate - dubbed, closed-captioned, or otherwise.  The same is true of movies.  I would guess that, at a conservative estimate, 113% of the movie posters I saw over my time in Paris were for films featuring one of two Jennifers, Aniston or Lopez.  The last time I checked, "Jennifer" was not even a word in French.  This would appear to be highly suspicious.

When I mentioned this to my sister, she theorized, "Maybe you have to go to the U.S. to see French TV."  This seems at least plausible.  In many places in the U.S, you can get the channel TV5 Monde, which shows multiple genres of French TV and films round the clock.  For example, there is the Movie With Sex Scenes That, In Accordance With French Law, Are Not Sexy But Really Just Kind of Grunty and Unappetizing; the Filmed Stage Play Where People Talk At Inhuman Speed; and of course, most importantly, The Really Boring Navel-Gazing Talk Show Where They Navel-Gaze and Talk About Nothing in Particular.  (However, I do not think this channel has ever featured anyone named Jennifer.)

Often enough, the U.S. even has French television on its own channels.  For instance: French in Action, a television series originally designed to teach people French, aired on PBS and was rerun for years afterward, often shown in all-night marathons.  This series was insanely popular with all kinds of people, including people who did not want to learn French at all.  My intellectual theory is that this was because the series starred Mireille, a French girl featuring large gazombas unencumbered by foundation wear.  The series was filmed in 1987, which means Mireille has now inspired a generation of male viewers to develop a wild urge to conjugate the subjunctive, if you get my drift.

From this state of affairs I can only come to the obvious conclusion: France and the U.S. have switched entertainment industries.  Really.  Think of the implications.  This could very well mean that Audrey Tautou is actually from Omaha, while, say, John Wayne was secretly born and raised outside Marseille. This is troubling, I suppose, but assuming it's true, I ask only two things.  First, a major role in the next Astérix film; and second, that if ever we have to trade industries back, we in the U.S. won't have to give back MythBusters.

Friday, September 2, 2011

Animal Instinct

I used to want to be a veterinarian when I was a kid, and for a simple reason: I had never considered what they actually do.  This is why I ended up becoming a puppeteer.  Puppets are far less likely, statistically speaking, to pee on you, and they rarely have to be euthanized.*

But I still get to thinking about animals sometimes.  One of those times was yesterday afternoon, when an L.L. Bean Hunting catalogue came in the mail, a strapping buck** on its cover.  This would have bothered me a lot when I was a kid.  I would have worried that they felled the deer immediately after taking the photo.  Now, as an adult, I am far more rational, and accordingly, I opt for the far more rational expedient of immediately letting my mind wander back to sex.

No, seriously, what I do (besides immediately letting my mind wander back to sex) is make up a story for myself, wherein the deer turns out actually to be a top client of the Gersh agency, where he wanders immediately after the photo shoot, barges into his agent's office, kicks back in a chair, sips a martini, and drawls, "OK, look here, sweetiecakes: I demand ten thousand clams for my next photo shoot for that trashy L.L. Bean, or these antlers go straight through that darling little pot belly of yours.  Capisce? Also, get me another martini."  And the agent would be so daunted that he would immediately propel the deer to international stardom.  The deer would become untouchable, a global entertainment icon, a mainstay on the Maxim Hot 100 list.***

Of course, some animals inspire more imaginative trains of thought than others.  For example, it is easy to ascribe a highly complex inner life to a Siberian husky, whereas you cannot imagine a Yorkshire terrier wanting to do much more than lick its crotch.  This is of course an unfair bias; in real life, neither dog wants to do much more than lick its crotch.  It is part of the Dog Code, along with humping your leg, which let us face it is famous for being infertile.  (Yes, that's right.  I'm talking to you dog readers out there.  You are fighting a losing battle.  But oh nooo, you will never learn.)

Here's another example of a totally uninspiring creature which nevertheless manages to maintain rockstar popularity among pet owners: parakeets.  We had parakeets for years, despite the fact that they never did anything interesting except poop in their living quarters and screw like bunnies.  At least they differed from college students in that occasionally they would molt.  We had one guy parakeet named Angelo who generally looked normal until one day, every year, when without warning he would suddenly transform into a beaked rat with mange.  It didn't matter to him, of course; as far as he was concerned, he was Fabio.  His self-image was helped along by his groupies, namely all the other parakeets in the cage, who had all turned out to be female.

So of course Angelo was also a sex maniac.  We humans, in an eternal but hopeless quest to find other males for the cage, instead just kept populating the cage with young hens, feeding Angelo's habit to a degree that Hef himself could only dream of.  Personally, I imagined him not as Hef but as Quagmire from "Family Guy," going around gleefully chuckling, "Aaaall-riiiiight."

I fully believe that Angelo and the hens could have gone on to be major reality television stars, especially in today's sucktastic entertainment climate where the average TV program is something like like Obese Teen Bachelor Stage Moms Dance with the Stars and Eat Their Children for Money, then Cover Neil Sedaka Hits.****  Unfortunately, the parakeets never got a chance at this kind of stardom, because when my family moved from Florida to Maine, we gave them to a friend on a farm who had a gigantic aviary full of parakeets.  This new group consisted largely of - you guessed it - very young hens.

I don't think Angelo could possibly still be with us, but there is no question in my mind that he went happy.  I like to think he departed this life smoking seven or eight little birdie cigarettes at once.

* Unless they get uppity.
** This is an objective description, you realize.  I mean, he wasn't my type or anything.  Really.
*** Yes, I realize this was a buck.  Just seriously, don't hassle me.
**** Who do you guys think will get voted off next week?

Tuesday, August 30, 2011

Monday, August 29, 2011


The Mighty Tatterdemalions website has finally gotten a much-needed, all-around update.  Not in looks, but in info.  Take a look!

Also, is it just me, or is this whale pretty much the honkingest puppet ever? Ye gads.  I never thought about it in performance.  Although I did notice that, every time I finally got to take him off my arm after 10-15 minutes on, it was pretty much the second-best sensory experience on Earth.  The first will remain nameless,* since I don't wish to be crass.

* Pad Thai.

Sunday, August 28, 2011

Les Guys de Versailles: Adventures in Selective Memory

Dave Barry, one of my heroes (alongside Jim Henson, the Moomins, and Colin Mochrie), once wrote a column in which he stated that the average person of his generation would be unable to name any Supreme Court justices, but would remember in perfect detail the theme song to the TV show Robin Hood.  

My sister, reading this column aloud, had scarcely gotten to the next sentence when our father (who is of Dave Barry's generation) exclaimed: "Hey! I watched that show!" With no further prompting, he launched right into a jolly rendition of the theme-song, complete with rolled r's and delivery straight from Sadler's Wells. Word-perfect, naturally.

When he was finished, my sister remarked: "Yes, that's right." She had been following the lyrics as Dave Barry had typed them on the page (I assume he did this without having to go back to check anything).

This fits with something I've observed about human memory myself.  It's not just our formative years that stay with us the most strongly.  It's what we watched on TV in our formative years.  And, if you ask me, it's what we watched on Saturday mornings in particular.  Has anybody else noticed this? We remember our morning cartoons in extraordinarily vivid detail.  I do not have the faintest memory of what the trichotomy axiom is,* but I can remember, with photographic precision, any number of individual mornings in 1999, getting up in the wee dark hours with my sister to watch episodes of Pokémon and Sailor Moon.**

And so I say to those of you in MY generation - excepting those of you who spent the year 1999 being Amish - that if you do not remember this, you are lying:

My sister is younger, so thanks to her this was my second go at the whole morning cartoon experience.  As it happens, I myself already had my own stash of useless but incredibly vivid TV-memories from when I was a wee Snark.  The problem is, when you carry these memories around long enough, you start to doubt their accuracy. Case in point: I went around for years convinced I had fabricated a commercial I "saw" as a toddler.  The commercial, for Dreft detergent, featured a female narrator speaking in the softest yet most reptilian voice imaginable about DREFFFFFT: FOR A CLEEEEAN YOU CAN TOUCCCCHHHHH.  This commercial dominated my brain for literally years, replacing recollections of things like upcoming doctor's appointments, drowning out most of college,*** until finally I ran across a video of it last year.  It did exist! See?

Okay, so that lady's voice isn't QUITE as creeptastic as I remember.  I mean, I honestly recalled her speaking Parseltongue.  But whatever! I didn't make it up! Score!****

Obviously, stuff like this takes up critical brain space.  But the question remains: what is it replacing? At least, what is it replacing of use? Because I know that, even without the palliative of morning cartoons, I wasn't about to go around thinking of the trichotomy axiom, and neither were you, stupid.  So morning-cartoon memory syndrome might have an evolutionary function, but it's not to block out math.  Something else would have stepped in to serve that purpose.  

So it's not math, and it isn't history, either.  Yes, yes, I know: every day we see another article bemoaning how today's youth do not know basic U.S. history.  This is an incomplete statement.  I personally have completed an extremely rigorous course of higher education, so I can tell you, from personal experience, that today's youth do not know foreign history, either.  

Why is this? Simple: we block it all out with things we prefer to think about.  I am thinking here of a semester I spent in France, where I took a course in foreign history.*****  For one class, we went to Versailles, which features the Palace of Versailles,****** the former home of Louis XIV (son of Rick and Kimberly XIV).  From there we went to the Salle du Jeu de paume, which is historically significant because during the French Revolution, several hundred members of the Third Estate, angered because they had been excluded from a meeting of the Estates-General, went in there to do battle with Sailor Moon.

Okay, so maybe that wasn't it exactly, but to tell you the truth, my mind wandered.  The professor was telling our group about the history of the place, and actually it was very interesting, but as it happened, my friend and I had found something far more interesting: marble busts of historical guys lining the sides of the room.  Each of these guys had their name carved on their front (you can be sure this was not the case in real life; or possibly they all died of bloodloss).  This was how we discovered that one of them was named "Target."  

I should explain, for the benefit of those not In the Know, that Target is an American low-cost department store, which Americans often jocularly refer to with French pronunciation, as "Tar-zhay."  So my friend and I had a conversation like this:

ME: "Tar-zhay."
MY FRIEND: Heh heh! (Beat.)  How do you think you'd explain that to French people?
ME: Huh.  I dunno.
MY FRIEND: "Tar-zhay."
ME: Heh heh!

Another girl in the class had also broken off from the group and had undertaken the academic pursuit of determining which historical marble guy was hottest.  As a scholar, I thoroughly respected this endeavor.

The moral of this story is, history is JUST NOT INTERESTING, unlike (a) things we watched when we were little, and (b) the question of which Versailles guy is hotter than all the rest (answer: that one guy, whose name and role in history currently escape me).  And it's not just history; the same goes for sociology, philosophy, science, the sociology of philosophical science, and anything else they teach at a college.

So - and call me a bold and inspiring visionary if you like - I'm unveiling my idea for the College of the Future.  At this college, you would be able to major in only one of two subjects: either Saturday Morning Cartoons or Ranking Dead Historical Figures by Hotness.  Just think of the commitment students would demonstrate to their education! 100% of graduates would go into jobs in their chosen fields.  Granted, their chosen fields would be Cartoon-Watching Expert and Hotness Specialist, but would this really be such a bad state of affairs? Would it really be so much worse than the universities' current practice of annually turning out an estimated 16,000,000,000,000,000,000,000,000,000,000 investment bankers?

Anyway, I don't know about you, but I'm sure sold on my idea.  And as a prospective master's degree candidate at the College of the Future,  I humbly suggest that students also be allowed to minor in Coffee.  I even promise to listen to the lectures, sometimes.

* Answer: it was something in my math book.

** Fighting ee-evil by moon-LIGHT!
     Winning lo-ove by day-LIGHT!
     Never running from a REAL FIGHT!
     She is the ONE NAMED SAILOR MOON!
     She will never, yada yada yada, etc.   

*** I wish.

**** I didn't mean right now.  Come back and read this blog.

***** Of course THEY will try to tell you it's domestic history.   

****** And don't try to tell me this is a coincidence.

©2011 Nicola McEldowney

Sunday, August 21, 2011


I ... uh ...  I may be sick.  I'm just a little close to all this.

Edible Puppets

Tooth Be Told

TODAY'S HARD-HITTING TOPIC IS: Puppets with teeth.

I don't know about you, but I have particularly strong feelings about teeth.  Perhaps this is due to having just had my wisdom teeth out.  This is a procedure wherein a godless person - whom we shall refer to only as "Dr. Destructo"* - rips out pieces of your head.  That's right, we are talking about your same head which you have had with you since you were a baby, not harming Dr. Destructo or anyone else, just to clarify.  How many wisdom teeth you will need to have removed depends on the situation.  For example, if Dr. Destructo just had a windfall from his latest "Money Ball Bingo" scratch-off ticket (New York Lottery, $2),** you might need only one tooth removed, whereas if he is trying to make boat payments, you might need as many as six of your wisdom teeth removed.

Or I might feel sensitive about teeth because I have a chip in my right front tooth.  NATURALLY it would be a tooth that is always on display, like the Kardashian sisters but with more talent.  And, you want to know how I chipped it?***  Watching TV.  Really.  I was flopped down in front of the TV and reached up idly to touch my tooth and CRKKK**** that tooth was no longer flat-bottomed.  I have always been extremely annoyed at this turn of events, not enough to have the tooth fixed but DEFINITELY enough to whine about it in writing.  Of course, there's also the fact that the tooth chip is not really so noticeable.  I know this deep down, or else I would have had it fixed a long time ago, but I tend to inflate my physical flaws in my mind's eye, so that, if you actually look like this:

(I actually do look like this) (but not shown actual size)

You instead see, basically, this:

Anyway, I don't know if it's for these reasons or what, but I've recently become very interested in the teeth in my field, puppetry.  For example, take this Folkmanis-brand Great White Shark puppet, which has multiple rows of what turn out to be extremely hard rubber teeth:

What this picture doesn't show is that this puppet is the approximate size of a Mini-Cooper, which means that in addition to having 696 menacing choppers it could easily devour Elmo, Zoe, and the little pink fairy Muppet all in one gulp, not that we are suggesting anything.  Speaking of which, we have another idea too involving the friendly human adults on Sesame Street, although it is pretty impractical.

Anyway, wouldn't this be a FANTASTIC puppet for story time? (As my father eloquently put it: "Hi, kids! Let's read some stories!" "EEEEEYYYYYYAAAAAAAAAHHHHHHHHHHHHH" [wildebeest-style stampede out of library] [SLAM] "Hey, was the floor all wet earlier?")  

TIP FOR PROFESSIONALS: This works even better if you have Elmo's disembodied little legs hanging limply out the shark puppet's maw.  It's fun for the kids!

Speaking of the Muppets and teeth: did you know that Cookie Monster used to have hideously awesome teeth? They just did a feature on it in Mental Floss magazine.*****  If you're not familiar with Mental Floss ("Where Knowledge Junkies Get Their Fix"), I recommend you check it out, especially the "Amazing Fact Generator," which, as its name might suggest, amazingly generates facts.  Like this one:

About one in every 4 million lobsters is born with a rare genetic defect that turns it blue. One in every 30 million is yellow.

Like most Mental Floss factoids, this is interesting, if not particularly illuminating.******  Now if they had said that about one in every 4 million lobsters is born with a rare genetic defect that turns it into (CHOOSE ONE) a college Career Center Advisor; a T-Mobile representative; the daughter on Gilmore Girls, this would not only be interesting, but the world would finally make some damn sense. 

But no matter.  My point is, here are the images Mental Floss posted of Cookie Monster in his salad days:

Is this not a VAST improvement over the current incarnation? Also, I want to point out that in that second picture, according to Mental Floss, he's eating a computer.  That takes me back to the first computer I had as a kid.  It was a Windows 95, which meant it looked slightly sleeker than the above pictured item, but had less functionality.

Anyway, I really don't know what's caused this particular train of thought today; all I know is I've got teeth on the brain, and now so do you so you're stuck with them nyah nyah nyah.  Come to think of it, you might want to see your local Dr. Destructo about that.  I understand he is looking to buy a second place in the Adirondacks.

* Real name is Dr. Deface-o.
** They also have one called "Porker Night."
*** Well, I'm going to tell you anyway.
**** Actually I like to think it was more like "PWINGGG."
***** Slow news day.
****** Although "The Yellow Lobster of Texas" would make an excellent song.

 ©2011 Nicola McEldowney