A character story — December 15, 2021

A character story

Of all the great holiday movies, A Christmas Story is my favorite. The saga of Ralphie Parker’s quest for a Red Ryder B.B. gun never fails to entertain me, to make me laugh, and to touch my he

And of all the great characters in the movie – Ralphie, his old man, his mom, the Bumpus dogs – it’s a relatively overlooked character – Ralphie’s brother, Randy – who serves as my favorite.

Most of the time, when I hear people refer to Randy, they call him Ralphie’s brother. It’s as if he doesn’t have a name. And most of the time, when they’re referring to him, they’re comparing something in their lives to the scene in which Randy and Ralphie’s mom dresses Randy in so many layers that he can’t put his arms down.

That is a fantastic scene, but there’s so much more to Randy. Take my favorite scene in the movie. In the voiceover, the narrator (Jean Shepherd, who wrote the stories on which the movie was based) explains that Randy has not eaten a meal voluntarily in three years. Displaying her ingenuity, the mom asks Randy to show her how the piggies eat. Randy, pretending to be a pig, puts his face into a plate of mashed potatoes and does just that. Whilst eating like a pig, he oinks and oinks and laughs and laughs.

The laughter is contagious. Just like Randy, I always laugh and laugh during that scene. (I do not oink and oink, though.)

In my everyday life, I also frequently quote Randy’s rant in this scene: “Meatloaf, smeatloaf, double beatloaf. I hate meatloaf.” People respond by looking at me as if I have lobsters crawling out of my ears.

Anyway, when Ralphie finally breaks bad and beats up bully Scut Farkus, it’s Randy who runs home and fetches his and Ralphie’s mom. What a hero! Later, Randy hides under the kitchen sink and cries because he’s afraid their dad will kill Ralphie for fighting. What a sweetie!

By the way, once again, their mom handles Randy like a pro. She doesn’t drag him out from under the sink. She gives him a glass a milk and lets him process his feelings in his own time. She should have written a book on parenting.

Later in the movie, the family goes to a Christmas parade and to Higbee’s Department Store. While there, the boys get an audience with the Big Man aka the Head Honcho aka Santa. Some might say Randy should have comported himself better when he finally got to see Santa, but I retort that Randy was but a child and he had been standing in line for dozens of minutes. Besides, Santa and those elves were scary. I would have screamed, too.

Near the end of the movie, after Randy has exhausted himself opening presents on Christmas morning, he falls asleep with his arm clutching a toy zeppelin. He’s so adorable and so unaware of the B.B. gun- and Bumpus dog-induced drama about to unfold.

This post originally appeared in the Appalachian News-Express.

Oh, happy day — December 8, 2021

Oh, happy day

My sisters and I have always enjoyed a close relationship. Sure, they hurl accusations of hatefulness my way and I deride Pam’s ear-splitting witch’s cackle and Kathy’s ability to fall asleep whilst holding a scalding hot cup of coffee.

No, there’s nothing like that sisterly bond.

But, a few years ago, a wedge developed between us, a wedge that threatened not only our relationship but my freedom of speech.

You see, I developed a theory, which turned into an idea for a column. I mentioned the theory to Pam, who said, “No, you can’t write about that.”

Since I value her opinion, I decided to remain silent. Yes, I decided to keep my readers in the dark. It’s a decision I grew to regret.

Anyway, a few days later, Kathy approached me and said, “Pam told me about ____. Don’t write about that.”

I held my pen for two reasons: We were celebrating the holidays and I wanted to prove to my family I’m not nearly as hateful as they believe. But I said to myself, “Self, how much longer are you going to allow them to silence you? How much longer are you going to allow them to abridge the freedom of the press?”

But after my sisters once again ordered me not to write about this controversial subject, I thought, “That’s it! No longer will I remain silent!”

So, at the risk of ruining my relationship with my sisters, I shared my theory with newspaper readers and now I’m sharing it with you: I think Fonzie and Mrs. C had an affair.

What, you ask? Arthur Fonzarelli, the cool, motorcycle-riding, leather jacket-wearing, thumbs up-giving, shark-jumping mechanic on Happy Days carrying on with the all-American housewife Marion Cunningham? Surely I jest.

Surely I don’t.

This is the Fonz. This is a man who could make a dead jukebox come back to life just by pounding on it with his fist. Do you think Marion could resist that kind of electricity?

Need more evidence? What about their nicknames for each other? She purred his first name “Arthur” as if she were auditioning for the lead in a Marilyn Monroe biopic and whenever he called her the scandalous sounding “Mrs. C.” she came running.

In a holiday-themed episode I watched around Christmas that year, Fonzie was frustrated because a blizzard left him stranded at Arnold’s restaurant and unable to reach Mrs. C. Meanwhile, she was stuck at her house, equally frustrated yet resplendent in a vibrant green floor-length dress and upswept hair. Oh, some might say her disappointment arose from her physical distance from her children and her cuckold husband, Howard. Not me. I recognize subtext when I see it.

Either my sisters refused to see the truth or they didn’t want me to share the truth with the world. For the sake of our relationship, I have chosen to believe the former.

This post originally appeared in the Appalachian News-Express.

Turkey TV — November 24, 2021

Turkey TV

When it comes to Thanksgiving TV, no sitcom approaches the hilarity of WKRP in Cincinnati’s 1978 classic “Turkeys Away.” Most of the episode sets up the reveal and Les Nessman’s description of the parking lot carnage. The episode is available on certain streaming services and cable providers. If you watch every year or if you haven’t watched in years or if you’ve never watched, do yourself a favor this Thanksgiving and find it. You will laugh and laugh.

Everybody Loves Raymond also aired a few classic Thanksgiving episodes during the show’s nine-season run. There was the Thanksgiving Debra decided to serve a fish instead of a turkey. There was the year Marie decided to serve a tofu turkey. Then there was the year the Barones spent the holiday in Pennsylvania with Amy’s family. These exploits played out in 2003’s “The Bird.”

In case you’re unfamiliar with the show, Everybody Loves Raymond revolved around the aforementioned Barones, specifically Raymond, his wife, Debra, Ray’s intrusive parents, Frank and Marie, and his hapless brother, Robert. Robert dated and later married the aforementioned Amy.

I’ve learned that a lot of people don’t like the show because they consider it to be mean-spirited. I, on the other hand, consider it to be a documentary.

Of all the Thanksgiving episodes, “The Bird” is the best. Whereas the Barones are loud and obnoxious, Amy and her family are quiet and reserved. As you might expect, the two families clash on Thanksgiving Day.

Firstly, Frank is offended when he discovers that Amy’s family doesn’t own a TV. Things take a darker turn when a bird crashes into the house and Amy’s mom, Pat, takes care of it.

By takes care of it, I mean she kills it.

The Barones express outrage when mild-mannered Pat puts the bird out its misery. Debra, who had taken the children out of the room to prepare for a family pageant, returns to find the respective family members sniping at one another.

Next, Ray and Amy’s brother, Peter, (Schitt’s Creek fans will recognize the actor as the man who brought Roland Schitt to life) legit remove their shirts and … you just have to watch. You also should stay alert for an ironic line Frank utters at the end of the show. You can find Everybody Loves Raymond on various networks and Peacock TV.

By the way, although “The Bird” provides 22 minutes of brilliant TV, it’s not even Everybody Loves Raymond’s greatest episode. For that, you will need to watch “The Canister.” As you might expect, that episode is all about a canister. After you watch all the Thanksgiving episodes and WKRP’s “Turkeys Away,” find it. You’ll laugh and laugh.

Happy Thanksgiving!

This post originally appeared in the Appalachian News-Express.

The ones that got away — September 15, 2021

The ones that got away

So, apparently there’s going to a fourth movie in the Matrix franchise. This one is scheduled to be released in December. The first movie was released in 1999 to worldwide acclaim and a bountiful box office.

I’ve never gotten around to seeing it.

Oodles of Matrix fans throughout the years have insisted that I just had to watch it and the subsequent sequels. They obviously haven’t been convincing.  

Part of the reason why I’ve avoided all things Matrix is its star – Keanu Reeves. I’m sure everyone is right and he’s the nicest guy in Hollywood, but I don’t watch his movies. I haven’t seen once since circa 1993, and I stand by that decision.

Also, the gist of the film doesn’t draw me in. Here’s how the Wikipedia frames it: “The series features a cyberpunk story of the technological fall of mankind, in which the creation of artificial intelligence led the way to a race of self-aware machines that imprisoned mankind in a virtual reality system — the Matrix — to be farmed as a power source. Occasionally, some of the prisoners manage to break free from the system and, considered a threat, become pursued by the artificial intelligence both inside and outside of it.”

If you knew how much trouble I had following the first two Terminator movies, what with their self-aware machines, you’d understand why I believe I’ll have even more trouble following The Matrix.

Although I’m known for being something of a movie fan, The Matrix isn’t the only movie from way back that I’ve never seen. I haven’t watched a second of Gremlins or The Goonies.

People from my generation freak the expletive out when they hear this.

But you can’t watch every movie. What’s more, you can’t care about every movie, either.

As they wipe away tears, folks my age encourage me to watch The Goonies, a flick about a group of kids who follow a treasure map to save their homes from foreclosure. These teary-eyed folks are coming from a place of nostalgia. Maybe if I had seen the movie during its original mid-‘80s run, I would feel the same. But I’m a woman of advanced age who has no connection to that movie or those characters. I’m not going to feel the way an ‘80s era tween or teen would feel.

When I was a wee lass on the Goff Estate, we subscribed to a premium network channel that seemingly played Gremlins around the clock. I never once had the inclination to spend time with those ugly bug-eyed creatures. What’s more, I heard so much about those dern critters – don’t feed them after midnight, don’t expose them to sunlight, don’t let them come into contact with water – that I felt like I had actually seen the movie.

Basically, I missed my chance.

Just like I missed my chance with The Karate Kid and Lethal Weapon and Beverly Hills Cop and 48 Hours and…

This post originally appeared in the Appalachian News-Express.

Be a good sport — August 4, 2021

Be a good sport

I know people have different interests, but if I live to be Master Yoda’s age, I’ll never understand why everyone in the galaxy doesn’t watch the Olympics.

Sure, one could argue that the entire Olympics enterprise is corrupt. But when I ask folks about their anti-Olympics feelings, some say they don’t like sports whilst others say they don’t like Olympics-style sports.

If you don’t enjoy sports, then the Olympics is marketed for you. The coverage is full of stories of orphaned athletes who considered limping away from their respective sport, but decided to risk their bodies for one more shot at an elusive medal. And all for love of country or athletics or to honor an ailing coach or a sick goat. These stories are designed to tug at your heart and make you care who wins the BMX freestyle race even if you’re not quite sure what BMX freestyle is.

If you only enjoy the big-name sports, then you’ll be happy to know the Games have been featuring basketball, baseball, and soccer for decades. In fact, I recorded the Slovenia-Spain basketball game and watched it at my leisure.

No, that is not a misprint. No, the game was not played in the medal round. Yes, such is my madness for the Games.

Golf was added a few years ago, too, but as much as I heart the Olympics, I draw the line at golf. When NBC switched to it the other night, my hand reached for the remote.

I’m also not a fan of soccer – except during the Olympics and World Cup – but I kept up with a men’s match between Egypt and Mexico. At one point during the match, my great-niece walked in front of the TV and I almost asked her to move. Longtime readers of this-here space will realize how out-of-character such behavior would have been for me.

As with Olympics in the past, I checked out handball – it’s a combination of basketball and soccer – as well as table tennis and badminton. One of the announcers pronounced both ns in badminton and I cannot stress how much that triggered me.

I watched men’s synchronized diving finals like I had money on the results. By the way, male divers and female beach volleyball players compete practically in the nude. Perhaps that will persuade you to tune into the Games.

Of course, there are only a few days left for you to do so. Swimming, my favorite part of the Summer Olympics, ended Saturday. I had several breakdowns during close races. I might have lost consciousness once. Or twice. Perhaps a few times.

As I say as the Games come to a close every time, I don’t know what I will do when they’re over. Wait. What’s that? The Winter Games start in six months?

This post originally appeared in the Appalachian News-Express.

Alone on an island — June 23, 2021

Alone on an island

Two friends have recommended the documentary, The Bee Gees: How Can You Mend a Broken Heart. But as I’ve explained to said friends, if it’s not the NBA playoffs, the Olympic trials, an occasional MLB game, or a professional wrestling documentary, then it hasn’t been seen on my TV in weeks.

Unlike people who hate having fun, I enjoy the Bee Gees’ music. I’ve also long been a fan of the mane of hair Barry Gibb sported for decades. Barry, a singer-songwriter and producer, was one of the three brothers Gibb comprising the Bee Gees. Maurice and Robin were the other two members. Among oodles of other hits, the Bee Gees penned Islands in the Stream, which was released by Dolly Parton and Kenny Rogers in 1983.

The song was a humongous hit that topped every chart in the galaxy. There was no escaping it. Trust me. I tried.

Indeed, I’m sharing this moment in music history with you because whenever the Bee Gees come up in conversation, I tell folks (one of) my deepest darkest — that I don’t care for Dolly and Kenny’s version of the song.

As this is considered one of the greatest duets in recorded history, people respond by dern-near passing out.

They reach for the smelling salts when I add that I prefer the Bee Gees’ version of the song.

I mean no disrespect to Dolly, a national treasure who I rank up there with sunshine and puppy dogs, or the late great Kenny, a man whose hits I quote on a monthly basis. In fact, I play tunes from Dolly and Kenny’s Christmas album during the holiday season. I’m especially fond of a song called The Greatest Gift of All.

But when it comes to non-holiday duets, I prefer their work with others and will crank Kenny and Kim Carnes or Kenny and the late great Dottie West when I’m driving or doing something that resembles cleaning.

Back to Islands in the Stream…part of my issue with the song is that, even as a wee lass growing up on the Goff Estate, I had no idea what it meant. My surroundings weren’t populated by too many islands or streams. We had creeks and ditches and mud holes. Could Dolly and Kenny have been referring to the rocks in the ditches and mud holes when they sang of islands in streams? Or perhaps the trash that clung to the logs in the creeks?

Who knows? I just know that I sighed every time the song blared onto either the country or Top 40 radio station.

Because, like I said, there was no escaping it.

You know what would have made it more bearable? Barry Gibbs’ hair.

This post originally appeared in the Appalachian News-Express.

Men in tights — May 12, 2021

Men in tights

As I might have mentioned, I’m a recovering professional wrestling fan. As I also might have mentioned, my former fascination with wrestling — pronounced rasslin’ at the Goff Estate – used to surprise certain people.

I never understood why. After all, wrestling is a soap opera, featuring men in singlets and shorts. And if there’s one thing I’ve always loved, it’s a good soap opera, especially one featuring men in singlets and shorts.

Of course, the professional wrestling my siblings and I grew up watching on WTBS didn’t feature the over-the-top storylines that came to dominate the genre. It did have storylines, though. Not that I can remember any of them, but I can remember being heartbroken by the turn of a heel or when one of my favorites lost an important match.

I can also remember watching wrestling with my poppaw, the late, great Rufus Goff, but not with my dad, the late, great Burton Goff. Daddy was not a fan. He never let an opportunity pass to tell his children that the entire enterprise was fake and ridiculous and not worth our time. He’d cross his unibrow and say, “You know it’s not real.” Well, yeah. “Then why are you watching it?” Because.

Later, when we were adults and wrestling had morphed into a dazzling display of loud music and rude behavior, he would shake his head, sigh, and glance sideways at his children and grandchildren whenever he had to so much as endure a 10-second clip of a show. He must have been wondering where it had all gone wrong for him.

Perhaps I should have suggested to Daddy, a serious soap opera fan, that it was like a soap and the wrestlers were simply characters. Then again, in my analogy, I’m not sure which one would have been the Undertaker — John Black or Stefano. So, maybe it’s just as well that I kept that to myself.

Anyway, although I’m not a prude, over time, I started wincing more and more whilst watching wrestling. One night, I legit said to myself, “Self, I can’t do this anymore,” and I turned the channel. I haven’t watched in years, but I have tuned into A&E’s “Biography: WWE Legends.” They’re profiling eight legends — Steve Austin, Randy Savage, Roddy Piper, Booker T, Shawn Michaels, Bret Hart, Mick Foley, and The Ultimate Warrior. If you’ve missed the original airings and you’re so inclined, check your local listings for the reruns.

The bios have given me a chance to discuss wrestling with my niece, Valerie, who alerted me to their existence, and to reminisce about my days as an active wrestling fan. It’s also given me the insight that if John Black and Stefano had solved their problems with a cage match, it would have spared a lot of people a lot of pain and heartache.

This post originally appeared in the Appalachian News-Express.

May the fourth be with you — May 4, 2021

May the fourth be with you

Unlike other Star Wars galaxy fans of my generation, I didn’t grow up watching the movies. Indeed, I didn’t view my first Star Wars flick until a few years after the original trilogy had made history in movie theaters. What’s more, until that fateful Labor Day weekend when I happened across the first Star Wars movie on the TV, I had never had a scintilla of interest in the franchise.

But after that first viewing, I was hooked.

All these years later, on this Star Wars Day – May the Fourth – I’m still hooked. I have watched the prequel trilogy and the sequel trilogy and both standalone films, Solo and Rogue One. I enjoyed the former and loved the latter. Depending on my mood, I might make the bold statement that Rogue One is the best Star Wars movie ever. If you disagree, we can duel with lightsabers.

Although my feelings for Star Wars lore have not led me to sample any of the cartoons, oops, I mean animated series, I have read three books detailing the rise of Darth Vader as well as one focusing on Obi-Wan Kenobi, aka my favorite Star Wars character. Thus, I’m beyond pumped about the upcoming Obi-Wan series and, of course, I am a faithful viewer of The Mandalorian.

Other than the fact that today is May the Fourth – a play on the Star Wars phrase “May the force be with you” – why am I reminiscing about Star Wars?

Because I’ve reflected on the fact that, for the most part, I’m not a blockbuster kind of gal. I’ve consulted the abacus and, unless the math is wrong, I have seen exactly one Marvel movie and maybe one Justice League movie. That’s a maybe because I’m not sure if the Superman flick I saw falls under the Justice League umbrella. I’m not even sure I know what the Justice League is.

Furthermore, I tried to watch the X-Men movies back in the day, and I made it through two or three before giving up after I realized it’s the exact same movie with different dialogue.

Before any of my friends and family members remind me, yes, I remain a fan of the Christopher Nolan Batman trilogy, and yes, I recognize those movies were blockbusters.

Otherwise, I’m sort of a film snob, so why am I a Star Wars fangirl? It’s not due to nostalgia because, as aforementioned, I didn’t watch the movies until I had exited childhood.

I used to think my interest stemmed from the Darth Vader character and his frenemyship with Obi-Wan, but neither of those characters are in The Mandalorian. And while Darth Vader’s – and Leia’s – appearance at the end of Rogue One elevates that movie from good to great, the film was already giving me chills before Vader and his red lightsaber showed up.

The best answer I can give myself is that the original trilogy featured a group of scrappy guys and one awesome gal who not only took on the evil empire, but defeated it in the face of overwhelming odds. Those other blockbusters feature superheroes or mutants with special powers. Sure, you can make an argument about Luke Skywalker’s DNA and The Force being super powers, but I can also make an argument that he was just a whiny kid.

So, maybe I’m just a sucker for underdogs who defeat fascists.

Happy Star Wars Day!

This post originally appeared in the Appalachian News-Express.

It was a week — March 31, 2021

It was a week

This week, everyone was enthralled by the saga of a man who might or might not have found shrimp tails in a box of cereal and with a big-expletive boat blocking the Suez Canal.

As for the tale of the alleged shrimp tails…all I have to say is that I only buy brand name cereal when purchasing for someone else or purchasing for myself with a coupon. And I’ve never found anything but cereal in my boxes of cereal. You can extrapolate that to mean whatever you wish.

As for the big-expletive boat…I am not nearly as enamored with this story as are my fellow galaxy mates, but I do wonder how the big-expletive boat managed to become dislodged in the canal. Where was it going? Why was it turning in the middle of said canal? I dare say that Capt. Stubing never allowed the MS Pacific Princess to become stuck in a waterway.

Regardless, I haven’t spent much time worrying over these matters because I’ve been mourning the back-to-back deaths of actress Jessica Walter and author Larry McMurtry.

Walter amassed oodles of credits during her 60-year, Emmy-award winning career. But for many of us, she came to personify Lucille Bluth, the character she played on Arrested Development. Indeed, on the afternoon of Walter’s death, a friend messaged me that Lucille Bluth had died.

In the days since Walter’s passing, I have consoled myself by watching clips of Lucille and giggled again and again at her unparalleled ability to roll her eyes, judge another character with only her eyes and a frown, and deliver a biting line. All whilst holding a martini glass.

I was still mourning the loss of Lucille Bluth/Jessica Walter when the same friend messaged me about the death of McMurtry, the Pulitzer Prize-winning author of Lonesome Dove and oodles of other books.

The obituaries for McMurtry have described him as an unsentimental author of the American West. I’m simplifying it, obviously, but anyone familiar with his work would agree with that assessment. My sister, Kathy, has read dern-near every work of fiction McMurtry penned. This weekend, she told me she couldn’t finish one book in particular because it was too dark. I told her I can’t finish one series in particular because I know it will end with the death of the main character. As long as I don’t finish the last book, he will live forever.

Of course, no one lives forever, including McMurtry’s fictional characters. As I sit here, I can remember turning a page more than 20 years ago to discover the fate of a beloved character. I immediately threw the book across the room and I, a woman not prone to fits of sentimentality, began weeping. I briefly cursed McMurtry for killing the character and for letting the readers know her fate.

But he had to do so. He had to be true to his story. And such was the power of his stories and his characters that their fates still move me. I can always revisit the books, though, where I will find the characters alive and alluring.

Just as I can always re-watch Arrested Development and find Lucille judging everyone as she day drinks.

This post originally appeared in the Appalachian News-Express.

Come on down — January 13, 2021

Come on down

Well, 2021 is off to a terrible start, but one good thing has occurred this year. I’ve learned that Pluto TV now has a channel devoted to the 1980’s Bob Barker era of The Price Is Right.

You might have some questions, including what the expletive is Pluto TV and how do I access it?

I researched the Internets to find a good description of Pluto TV, but I found the explanations sorely lacking. Here’s the best that I can do. If you can access the likes of Netflix and Hulu, then you can add Pluto to your buffet of platforms. It’s free, offers live TV-ish, and has oodles of channels. Don’t ask me how to add it or you’ll end up in Denmark. Instead, ask a loved one or a neighbor or that pesky feller who keeps offering to upgrade your car warranty.

Anyway, Pluto added TPIR on Dec. 1, but I didn’t learn of its existence until Jan. 1, which means I missed the holiday marathon. (Fun fact, as a wee lass, I thought the TPIR anagram stood for trip. I also thought announcer Johnny Olson was saying cars came equipped with California ignition instead of emission. Yes, even as a child, I was a candidate for a think tank.)

Many of the episodes haven’t been seen since they aired back in the ’80s and, during my down time, I do my best to make sure I watch as many as possible. It reminds me of when my family first got the MTV. My siblings and I tried to watch the channel around-the-clock, as if we expected it to disappear if we turned off the TV.

That’s me and TPIR on Pluto. There are so many aspects of the ‘80s episodes I had forgotten. These include the train, a few of the retired games, and the fact that women didn’t wear much clothing back in the day. I also wince at some of the remarks Bob Barker makes to the female contestants and models, who were known as Barker’s Beauties.

But I’ll give the man his due. He brought energy and pizazz to every single episode and never acted like he was too good or too cool for the show. Other game show hosts act(ed) like they’d been lobotomized, but not Barker (or the recently departed Alex Trebek). Barker maintained a repartee with the contestants and the studio audience that was fun to experience.

Another fun fact: whilst watching my first Pluto episode, I wondered in what year it was set. So, I studied the skimpy clothing, the hairstyles, and the TPIR merchandise and decided on 1982. Then, I watched the credits to see if I was right.

I was.

Now, you’ll have to excuse me because the showcase showdown is starting.

This post originally appeared in the Appalachian News-Express.