Watching the wheels — April 29, 2020

Watching the wheels

If my TV was on in the 7 p.m. hour during my pre-pandemic existence, then it was usually tuned to some sort of sporting event. Alas, just as with not being able to see my great-niece and great-nephew or make random trips to Dollar General and Big Lots, sports represents something else I’ve had to learn to live without. Well, sort of. I’ve taken advantage of a free subscription to NFL’s Game Pass and I’ve devoted dozens of hours to classic Olympics coverage. What’s more, as of this writing, my TV is tuned to a classic Major League Baseball game.

But during the aforementioned 7 p.m. hour, I’ve returned to two old favorites – “Wheel of Fortune” and “Jeopardy!”

Indeed, for decades I had a nightly date with “Jeopardy!” The show was also a favorite of my dad, who pronounced it as Jefferdee. At some point, though, I fell out of the habit of watching every evening. Oh, I would watch both game shows here and there and sometimes for several nights in a row, but I can’t say that either resumed being part of my daily routine.

That is, they weren’t until the coronavirus.

One evening, with no sports on and with “Magnum, P.I.” airing an episode I had seen a couple weeks prior, I decided to flip the flicker to “Wheel.” It comforted me to see that Vanna White was still lovely and sweet and that Pat Sajak was still ingratiatingly sarcastic.

But I have two complaints with the show. Firstly, it has too many toss-up puzzles. For those of you unfamiliar with that term, it means the puzzle is revealed one letter at a time and the contestant who correctly guesses wins $1,000 or $2,000.

To the best of my recollection, the last time I watched they had only three toss-up puzzles, which was already excessive. Sure, toss-ups throw money at the contestants, who don’t have to spin the wheel and, thus, run the risk of hitting a bankrupt or lose a turn. But it also reduces the drama because viewers know the contestants won’t lose any money or turns.

Secondly, the rules regarding winning $1 million make me borderline angry. In order to win the million bucks, a contestant must hit the million dollar wedge, call a letter, successfully solve that puzzle, win that round, and win the game without hitting bankrupt.

If you assume that the contestant will then win $1 million if he or she successfully solves the bonus round puzzle, you would be wrong. If you haven’t watched in several seasons, during the bonus round the winning contestant spins another wheel containing envelopes that represent money and prizes. If the contestant has hit and held onto the million dollar wedge, the envelope that usually represents $100,000 is replaced with a million. This means that the contestant still has to correctly solve the puzzle, which I endorse, and hit the million dollar envelope to win the big bucks.

I do not endorse that nonsense. If a contestant makes it that far and still has the million dollar wedge, he or she shouldn’t even have to spin the second wheel.

Somehow, this extra hurdle has not rendered it impossible to win a million on “Wheel.” In fact, three contestants have done so.

Of course, I guess I should just be happy that they’re not throwing a million dollars at contestants who solve those ridiculous toss-up puzzles.

This post originally appeared in the Appalachian News-Express.

The one and only — February 11, 2020

The one and only

On the heels of last week’s “news” that the postal service still offers collect on delivery services, I’m back with another bulletin of epic proportions. This time I’m here to let you know that the original recipe “Magnum, P.I.” is now on Hallmark Movies and Mysteries channel.

As you might recall, “Magnum, P.I.” ran on CBS from 1980 to 1988 and starred Tom Selleck as the title character. The show followed the exploits of Magnum as he solved mysteries in paradise aka Hawaii. Magnum lived on a beautiful estate called Robin’s Nest, which was owned by the celebrated – yet never seen – author, Robin Masters. Magnum frequently bickered with Higgins, (John Hillerman) the caretaker of Robin’s Nest, who was not amused by Magnum’s laid back approach to life.

Although I adore Higgy-Baby, which is how Magnum’s buddy, T.C., referred to Higgins, I’ve always been a Magnum fangirl. Nonetheless, Higgins had a point about Magnum. In dern-near every episode, Magnum, Higgins, T.C., their other friend, Rick, and Magnum’s love interest of the week found themselves embroiled in dangerous situations that could have been avoided.

Indeed, in an episode I happened to catch a couple weeks ago, bad guys and one bad gal descended upon Robin’s Nest with machine guns. Magnum, with an assist from T.C. and his ubiquitous helicopter, saved the day and everyone’s lives. Afterward, Magnum offered a wisecrack about how Higgins’ guard dogs, two Doberman Pinchers nicknamed the lads, let him down. At that point, I said to myself, “Self, unlike the lads, Magnum is a professional and he has opposable thumbs. So shouldn’t he be held a tad more accountable for weekly ruckuses?”

Regardless, I’ve been a fan of “Magnum, P.I.” since my days as a wee lass. I can remember coming in from a long summer’s day of playing to find Magnum on the TV, speeding through the streets of Hawaii in Robin’s red Ferrari. The show has been in syndication on and off since the ’80s and I’m always overjoyed when it shows up on my TV. It’s one of those shows I can keep on all day without watching a complete episode.

I have, however, never sampled so much as a second of the version of “Magnum” currently airing on CBS. Let’s be honest. The original series owed its success to the various charms of Selleck and Hillerman. There is only one true Thomas Magnum and his name is Tom Selleck.

So, if you want to watch him crack wise his way across paradise, check your local listings.

This post originally appeared in the Appalachian News-Express.

Collect on delivery — February 4, 2020

Collect on delivery

Did you know that collect on delivery (COD) is still offered by the United States Postal Service (USPS)?

Of course, if you’re under a certain age, you probably have no idea what the heck I’m talking about. Well, according to the USPS website, COD allows a sender to “collect from the recipient money for postage, fees, merchandise, or any combination thereof.”

In other words, you can order something and pay for it upon delivery. There are oodles of restrictions, though. What’s more, oodles of senders do not offer the COD service. But it was all the rage when I was a wee lass growing up.

Again, if you’re under a certain age, it might come as a surprise to learn that the Internet/online shopping hasn’t always existed and that credit/debit cards weren’t always common, either. So, if you saw a television advertisement for, let’s say, ABBA’s greatest hits on 8-track and you were too young to have a checking account, you could call the 800 number listed on screen or mail your order to the address, also given on screen, and pay the mailperson upon delivery of said 8-track.

All this assumes you could find a writing utensil and a scrap of paper on which to write the address or phone number before the advertisement ended. And that, if you grew up in my house and were too young to have a checking account, that you had your parents’ permission to place the order. If not, then the combination thereof the mailperson would have collected would have been one or more minor children.

Anyway, COD recently popped into my head as I marveled over the ease of downloading and/or uploading books. Although I’ve been doing this for years, the instant delivery continues to amaze me. Indeed, I hope I never forget that for most of my life I did not have the option of receiving oodles of books or movies or songs via a simple click of my finger.

That’s when I recalled, with a chuckle, the days of COD. I realized I had never really thought about how COD worked and how it seemed like a heck of a lot of effort on behalf of the USPS and how there’s no way the COD service still existed.

So imagine my surprise upon learning that although oodles of restrictions apply, I could place a COD order if I so desired.

Oh, by the way, if you’re under a certain age, we will discuss ABBA and 8-tracks at a future time.

This post originally appeared in the Appalachian News-Express.

Whatever floats your boat — November 27, 2019

Whatever floats your boat

During a chat about Thanksgiving, one of my besties expressed unbridled love for the holiday. She said she loves cooking the meal with her daughter whilst watching the parade and then eating the meal with her family whilst watching football.

I certainly identify with the football-watching aspect of her schedule. But while I cook and bake specific dishes and desserts, I don’t make the entire meal. Besides, come Thanksgiving, I pretty much stick to eating mashed potatoes, deviled eggs, and pie. In other words, it’s food I could eat on any random Thursday.

Still, I eat and I watch football, so we’re on the same page there. But when it comes to the parade, we’re not even reading the same book.

Now, before you get all judgmental and advise that I simply need to give the parade a chance, you need to know that I’ve given it dozens of chances. For most of my life, I excitedly tuned in to the parade every Thanksgiving morning. I couldn’t wait to experience tunes from the biggest Broadway hits or watch the newest floats drift in the air. But approximately two and a half minutes into the parade, I’d ask myself, “Self, can a person die from boredom?”

This scene repeated itself oodles of times over the years until I finally realized that, for me to start enjoying the annual event, either the parade or I would need to change. For starters, I would need to enjoy parades in general. That’s right. I’ve never met a parade I like. I cannot fathom the premise of standing – sometimes in cold rain – on the street just to watch people walk by. If I wanted to do that, I’d hang out near a cross walk.

Of course, the Thanksgiving parade offers me the chance to sit in the comfort of my home and watch people dance and march by.

As it turns out, I don’t enjoy that spectacle, either. As I relax in my rocking chair, eating my morning oatmeal and trying to concentrate on the TV, my mind wonders from the lip-syncing performers and canned banter to thoughts of dusting. Do you know how bored I need to be to even consider dusting?

But that’s how much the parade bores me. In fact, it’s always bored me. But when I was younger, I tried to convince myself that it was fun. Although I never made it through an entire parade (or even half a parade), I’d try again the next year.

Until the year I’d had enough. I’m happy to report that I haven’t so much as watched one second of the parade in years. But if it’s part of your holiday tradition, I hope you continue to enjoy watching people dance and march by. Indeed, I hope you enjoy a Happy Thanksgiving.

This post originally appeared in the Appalachian News-Express.

Witch-ful thinking — November 6, 2019

Witch-ful thinking

I am so grateful to the powers that be who postponed tricks-or-treats night from Thursday to Saturday. The change in schedule allowed me to spend Halloween the way the framers of the Constitution intended – by watching a “Bewitched” marathon.

As a wee lass, I enjoyed watching “Bewitched” reruns on the SuperStation WTBS. And even at my advanced age, Elizabeth Montgomery, who played the chic witch-turned-housewife Samantha, remains one of my favorite TV performers.

Aspects of the show, however, have always bothered me. For example, at every phase of my life – from an imaginative child who wished she could conjure up a spell with a twitch of the nose to a skeptical woman who realizes she’s the embodiment of Sam’s nosy neighbor, Gladys Kravitz – I have wondered what Sam saw in her husband Darrin. In addition to being incredibly boring, Darrin was prone to fits of hysteria and easily provoked. (By the way, I’m not sure what this says about me, but I only recently recognized the differences in the two actors who played Darrin.)

Anyway, ever since I first started watching “Bewitched,” I’ve questioned Darrin’s directive that Sam not practice witchcraft. Granted, Sam usually ignored him, but that’s not the point. The point is that Darrin – and Sam – were crazy for not taking advantage of her powers. Even as a kid, I couldn’t understand why Sam continued to do housework.

The fact that Sam dusted the furniture or swept the floors is more unrealistic than her choosing Darrin as her mate. In one holiday episode, she worked her magic to make a fully-decorated Christmas tree appear in multiple areas of the living room. After she determined where to put the tree, she made it disappear.

That’s not magic. It’s madness.

Sam’s behavior makes it easy to understand why her mom Endora, played to campy delight by Agnes Moorehead, held such contempt for the man she referred to as Derwood, Darwin or Dum-Dum. She blamed her boring son-in-law for turning Sam into a woman who apparently enjoyed performing chores that normal people delay until company has arrived on the doorstep.

Nonetheless, as I hate Halloween, looking forward to the “Bewitched” marathon helped me make it through a rainy day populated with coworkers dressed like cartoon characters. It also made me, even at my advanced age, practice twitching my nose because you never know when magic might happen.

This post originally appeared in the Appalachian News-Express.

No Whammies — June 11, 2019

No Whammies

The game show “Press Your Luck” is set to return to TV tomorrow night on ABC. In case you don’t remember “Press Your Luck,” which originally aired in the 1980s, it’s the show with the Whammies. When contestants landed on a Whammy, they lost all their money and prizes. If that wasn’t humiliating enough for them, the Whammy would then prance across the screen, taunting them in the process.

I will not be watching the new incarnation of “Press Your Luck” for two reasons. Firstly, the show always made me nervous. Secondly, I cannot stand that smart-alecky Whammy.

When I shared this truth with my bestie, I also told her about a few other cartoon characters I abhor due to their smarty-pants natures – Bugs Bunny, the Road Runner, Tweety Bird, and Jerry from “Tom and Jerry” fame.

Before I continue, I should make one thing clear. With a couple exceptions – most notably, the Peanuts – I’ve never been a fan of cartoons. This was true even when I was a child. Indeed, I can remember sitting in the floor watching Wile E. Coyote plot against that beeping Road Runner. When the Coyote’s plan failed – once again – I shrugged and announced to the room, “He’s never going to catch him.”

That was the last time I actively watched the Coyote make a fool of himself in pursuit of the Road Runner, whose beep-beeps have probably driven oodles of viewers to drink.

Tweety Bird’s voice also triggers me. To be fair, Tweety’s lisping nemesis, Sylvester, doesn’t sound much better. Nonetheless, on the rare occasion I was subjected to them, I always rooted for Sylvester.

It should come as no surprise to anyone who’s been paying attention that I would cheer on the cat. That’s one of the reasons I also wanted Tom to catch the elusive Jerry and wipe that smug expression off that meddlesome mouse’s face.

But no other cartoon character defined smugness like Bugs Bunny. Everything about him – from the way he held carrots to the way he uttered his “What’s up, Doc?” catchphrase – got on my nerves. In the real world, I like rabbits. When it came to the Looney Tunes world, however, I hoped that Elmer Fudd would indeed kill the wabbit.

Anyway, when I recently ran across a discussion about fictional villains, I was surprised to see Wile E. Coyote and Elmer Fudd included. You know, because they’re not the bad guys.

That smart-alecky Whammy definitely should be on that list, though.

This post originally appeared in the Appalachian News-Express.

Bandit on the run — June 4, 2019

Bandit on the run

Last week I watched “Smokey and the Bandit” for the first time in eons. For the three or four of you who have never seen the classic, it follows the exploits of Bandit (the late great Burt Reynolds) and Snowman (the late great Jerry Reed) as they attempt to smuggle 400 cases of Coors beer from Texarkana, Texas, to Atlanta in 28 hours. At the time the movie was made, Coors wasn’t sold in the eastern part of the United States. Thus, it would have been bootlegging for Bandit and Snowman to transport it across state lines so that the outrageously-dressed gentleman who hired them could then re-sell it.

Anyway, during the bootlegging journey, Bandit picks up a runaway bride, Carrie (Sally Field), whom he quickly dubs Frog. Texas Sheriff Buford T. Justice aka Smokey (Jackie Gleason) is soon in hot pursuit because Carrie – I refuse to liken Field to an amphibian – left Smokey’s son Junior at the altar.

Although “Smokey and the Bandit” was made for something like five bucks and featured what Reynolds characterized as the worst script he ever read, it became the second highest grossing movie of 1977, behind only “Star Wars.” The movie makes absolutely zero sense and contains absolutely zero dramatic tension. I never worried – not even for one nanosecond – that Bandit and Snowman would fail to deliver the beer to the thirsty boys in Atlanta.

But you know what? I love it.

Indeed, I giggle like a school girl every time Bandit emits his trademark chuckle as well as every time Snowman graces the screen with his presence. And Sally Field, who the studio initially didn’t want to cast because they didn’t consider her attractive enough, is simply adorable. By the way, what exactly did they not consider her attractive enough for? Burt Reynolds? Ha. Burt and Sally showed them.

With all that said, here a few questions I have about the movie:

  • Why did Snowman take Fred, his basset hound, on the trip? It appears that Fred left the confines of Snowman’s semi only twice, so the dog either had to hold his water or he had a bladder the size of a Trans Am. Then again, it also appears he ate nothing but a hamburger during the road trip, so maybe he didn’t need to go potty more than twice.
  • How did the Trans Am end the movie in such good shape when Smokey’s cruiser looks like it’s lost several demolition derbies?
  • Why doesn’t Carrie tell Bandit that the fiancé she jilted is the son of a Texas smokey who sounds and looks just like the Texas smokey who’s chasing them? You know, since Bandit wonders aloud several times why a Texas smokey is chasing them.
  • Why does Bandit uncharacteristically want to give up when they’re only four miles from their destination? They’ve bested seemingly every smokey in the southeast, but a helicopter gives him the jitters?

Regardless of these questions, it’s easy to understand how “Smokey and the Bandit” earned classic status. Near the movie’s end, Bandit elicits help from a convoy of semi drivers. After they avert the crisis and he and Carrie and, later, Snowman, speed by, they exchange pleasantries with the cheerful, supportive convoy drivers. It reminds me of the second best piece of advice I’ve ever received – help people when you can.

And that makes me feel good.

This post originally appeared in the Appalachian News-Express.

The gift you keep on giving — December 4, 2018

The gift you keep on giving

Tis the season of peace on earth, goodwill toward men, and warm and fuzzy holiday car commercials that make me so angry I could snap a candy cane. And not just a regular candy cane, either, but one of those that weigh a couple pounds and could cause a concussion if wielded the right way.

You’ve seen the commercials. A man, or a woman, rushes outside on Christmas morning to find a shiny new automobile wrapped in a bow and parked on a snow-lined driveway. There are variations on this theme including one where a husband upstages the two-for-one fitness trackers his wife purchases by buying two trucks.

That’s right. Because one truck wouldn’t have put them in enough debt.

You might be asking yourself, “Self, what could she possibly have against their fictional joy? After all, these people, who don’t even exist, have nothing to do with her.”

Well, once the commercials started airing on the TV inside my house, they became my business. So, it’s my business to comment on how ridiculous they are.

For starters, I’m fairly certain that if a spouse purchases a big-ticket item like a car – or two trucks – without the other spouse’s knowledge or permission, the second spouse has immediate cause for divorce. For example, if a wife runs into a judge at the dollar store and mentions that her husband plopped down approximately 20 grand on a new vehicle for Christmas without consulting her, I believe the judge has the authority to grant the wife an immediate divorce, right there in the household cleaning supplies aisle.

What’s more, I’ve also spent a considerable amount of time obsessing over who pays for these vehicles. Indeed, I’ve concerned myself with the matter since the first Lexus December to Remember commercials started airing nearly 20 years ago. From the way I see it, there are only two scenarios. In the first one, a spouse robs a bank or goes into heavy debt to purchase the vehicle outright, thereby establishing cause for divorce. (See above.)

In the second scenario, the spouse provides a down payment. And you know what that means? Spouse two is on the hook for five or six years of monthly payments, not to mention the skyrocketing insurance premiums.

Maybe I’m the only person in the universe who struggles to comprehend how this works. But it has always been my belief that the recipient does not pay for the gift. If the recipient does pay, then it’s no longer a gift. It’s a bill. Or, in this case, car payments.

Now that I’ve offered this explanation, you might have a better understanding of why these commercials trigger me. And why it’s not safe to leave candy canes in my presence.

This post originally appeared in the Appalachian News-Express.

For the record — August 12, 2018

For the record

Recently, I saw merchandise at the Supercenter the likes of which I haven’t seen in a store in more years that I care to admit.

No, I’m not talking about cherry cake mix and frosting. (Actually, I found and bought that a few months ago and, unfortunately, it wasn’t nearly as good as I remembered.) I am, instead, referring to vinyl albums.

When I stumbled across albums amongst the fitness trackers, smart phones, and smart TVs, for a moment I thought I had discovered a time machine. Oh, I’ve been aware of the revival of vinyl for a while. In fact, some of my friends collect vinyl while others invest in it because they like the sound.

Apparently, they are not alone. According to Nielsen Music, more than 14 million vinyl units were purchased in 2017, marking the 12th consecutive year that vinyl had experienced a sales growth. The Beatles’ “Sgt. Pepper’s Lonely Hearts Club Band” and “Abbey Road” were the two top selling vinyl albums last year. Prince’s “Purple Rain” and Michael Jackson’s “Thriller” also ranked in the top 10.

This resurgence, however, is not just due to nostalgia. Millennials represent a key vinyl demographic.

Although seeing the album versions of “Thriller” and Bruce Springsteen’s “Born in the U.S.A.” made me smile, I was not tempted to so much as check out the prices. For starters, I don’t have a record player.

What’s more, why would I buy something I already have? Of course, I’m not actually in possession of “Born in the U.S.A.,” but I’ve had “Thriller” since Jackson’s death. I didn’t have a record player then, either, so I’m not sure why I insisted on digging it out of my parents’ closet just so I could put it in a closet at my house. (If you think I could sell the albums for big bucks, think again. My research indicates that used versions of these albums could yield enough for me to fill up my car with gas and maybe, just maybe, have enough left over for a Wendy’s berry burst salad.)

Anyway, I haven’t listened to the albums in more years than I care to admit. This is due to, firstly, greatest hits compilations on CD and, secondly, digital music. Indeed, I listened to the entire “Born in the U.S.A.” album just the other day on a computer. And I didn’t have to walk across the room to change sides or worry about the music skipping because of scratches.

Don’t get me wrong. I miss the hiss of vinyl and the appeal of album cover art. Yet, in an age where people (not me, though), own devices that turn on lights and lock doors at the sound of a voice, I don’t understand why oodles of folks are returning to something that’s, at best, inconvenient. What’s next, the return of 8-tracks?

This post originally appeared in the Appalachian News-Express.

Not clowning around — August 5, 2018

Not clowning around

We’re in the midst of International Clown Week.

Although I’m not surprised that clowns have a week devoted to them, I am surprised they are still a thing. Actually, I’m surprised they were ever a thing.

Indeed, scores of folks are terrified of clowns. There’s even a word – coulrophobia – for people with an intense phobia of them. Many people credit (maybe that’s not the right word) Stephen King’s “It,” which features a demonic clown who terrorizes children, and the movie “Poltergeist,” which features a child’s clown doll who comes to life and attacks said child, with introducing anti-clown fervor. Yet my research shows that clowns have been dark and/or scary for centuries.

They’ve probably also been irritating for centuries. Clowns rank just a notch above mimes on the ability-to-annoy-me meter. I don’t understand why mimes can’t just spit out whatever they’re feeling and why clowns hide behind makeup and those outrageous wigs. Besides, if you have to rely on multiple props, then maybe your antics aren’t as funny as you think they are.

Since I’ve never understood the comedic appeal of unicycles, seltzer water, and horns, clowns have always gotten on my nerves. And the only thing worse than a clown is clown art. In fact, I find artwork of clowns to be creepier than the actual thing. Granted, I can’t draw a straight line with a ruler, so I’m not sure what moves an artist to pick up a brush. But even if I could draw, I doubt my muse would wear clown shoes and a big red nose.

According to research I alluded to earlier, even young children who have probably never seen a clown-centered horror film are terrified of them. Experts say this makes sense because kids possess an innate ability to detect when something is off, which supports my theory that clowns are inherently off. Anyway, this is true even when children can’t define exactly what is wrong.

So, that begs a few questions: If scores of people consider clowns scary and/or annoying, then how the heck did they ever gain popularity? Have kids always been scared of them? Or is this a newfangled fear that’s a result of kids picking up on adults’ trepidation? And if this unease is not newfangled, then why have we been tormenting kids at circuses and birthday parties for decades?

Wouldn’t putting them in timeout be more efficient?

This post originally appeared in the Appalachian News-Express.