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.

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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.

Total recall

On several occasions, my co-workers have complimented me on my good memory. They’ve praised me for conjuring up the names of people, places, and things seemingly on demand.

But this ability has nothing to do with a good memory and everything to do with good notes. Indeed, I don’t have a good memory at all. I can meet someone on Friday and re-introduce myself on Monday as if we were strangers. On most weeks, I’ve forgotten the topic of my column less than 72 hours after I’ve written it.

Sometimes, however, my memory amazes me.

That’s what happened a couple weekends ago at my mom’s. As we discussed the practice of renting out the first floor of your house, my oldest sister expressed confusion. Needing a way to help her understand, I said, “Remember the show, ‘Too Close for Comfort?’ It’s like that.”

That cleared up the matter for her, but our mom and other sister didn’t remember the show, which ran from 1980-87 and starred Ted Knight, of “The Mary Tyler Moore Show” fame, as a cartoonist. He and his wife – and, later, their young son – live in their house’s second floor while their grown daughters live on the first floor.

As we tried to jog their memories, my oldest sister said, “Ted Baxter and Georgia Engel were in it.”

“No,” I corrected her, “Ted Baxter was Ted Knight’s character on ‘Mary Tyler Moore,’ and Georgia Engel played his wife on that show.”

“So who was his wife on ‘Too Close for Comfort’?” she asked.

“Nancy Dussault,” I answered.

This dialogue had not triggered any memory of the show for Mom and my other sister, so I added, “They had two daughters. The one with dark hair was Jackie and the blonde was –”

That’s where my memory failed. I could not remember the blonde daughter’s name. I could remember her friend Monroe, who was played by Jim J. Bullock. I could remember that her real-life name was Lydia, but her character’s name was not forthcoming.

Although my family started talking about something else, my thoughts remained on the blonde daughter. Finally, several minutes later, I shouted, “Sara.”

When my startled family turned their curious eyes on me, I said, “Sara. The blonde daughter’s name was Sara.”

Having already moved on and having not cared much anyway, they expressed no interest.

Although I was pleased that the name came to me relatively quickly and, thus, prevented me from consulting the Internets for an answer, I don’t know how I’ve remembered so much about a TV show I have not watched in more than 30 years. What’s more, it was never a favorite of mine. I watched it only because it was on during a time when we had to make do with five channels.

I also recall having one of my baby teeth pulled during an episode of the show and coveting the bowl of candy bars that Jackie and Sara kept in their apartment.

Wonder how much more I would remember if I had kept notes?

This post originally appeared in the Appalachian News-Express.

The Homecoming: A Christmas Story

For the most part, I think people who grew up in the ’70s and ’80s can be divided into two camps – those who prefer Little House on the Prairie and those who prefer The Waltons.

I’m definitely in the Waltons camp, so every holiday season I watch The Homecoming: A Christmas Story.

Broadcast on Dec. 19, 1971, The Homecoming opens with snowy scenes of seven children – and a cow – marching in single file across a field. The narrator – author Earl Hamner Jr. – explains that the Depression has forced family patriarch John Walton to find work miles from his home, nestled in Virginia’s Blue Ridge Mountains. On this day, Christmas Eve 1933, John has yet to make his way home. Later that night, when family matriarch Olivia Walton learns the icy roads have resulted in a bus crash and the death of an unidentified person, she sends her son, John Boy, out to find his daddy.

The Homecoming was so popular that CBS ordered a full season of the series that would become The Waltons. The only actors who would reprise their roles on the show, however, are the ones who played the children, including Richard Thomas as John Boy, and Grandma Walton.

Kentucky native and Oscar winner Patricia Neal plays Olivia in The Homecoming. Her interpretation of Olivia is harsher than the warmer version Michael Learned would make famous through her award-winning performance on the series.

Neal’s Olivia frequently unleashes her fury at John Boy. She yells at him when the young’uns misbehave and accuses him of smoking cigarettes and bringing bootleg whisky into her home. (The Waltons love pronouns. It’s never just Daddy or Mama or the children, but always my Daddy, your Mama, my children.)

Anyway, when confronted with the truth, Olivia shows a softer, supportive side. She loves her children, but she’s basically a single mother managing a house full of seven young’uns in the dark days of the Depression. It’s no wonder she derives such pleasure in simple things like finding her Christmas cactus and making applesauce cake.

Olivia’s characterization isn’t the only difference between the movie and the series. The movie is much more realistic in general. I love The Waltons, but as much as they carry on about never having any money, I don’t buy what they’re selling. Maybe it’s because, in the depths of their struggles, they invariably find an antique in the attic or a job with some stranger who happens to wander into Ike’s store.

But, in The Homecoming, when Olivia explains to John Boy that the scarves she’s knitted represent the only Santie Claus they’re going to have this year, I buy her every word.

Of course, it turns out that multiple variations of Santie Claus visit the Waltons that Christmas. The most disturbing is a missionary who hands out presents to children gathered at Ike’s store. This part both infuriates and confuses me. Although the missionary insists the children recite a quote from the Bible and also tells them their Sunday school teachers must be proud, she still refers to them as infidels. She comes across as a mixture of ignorance, stupidity, and condescension.

Although it’s clearly spelled out in the opening credits, I didn’t know The Homecoming was based on a separate Hamner novel until last month. I had always assumed the movie, like the series, was based on his book, Spencer’s Mountain. Thankfully, our awesome library district had a copy of The Homecoming, which is now in my possession.

I’ve never read any of Hamner’s work. On the other hand, I read the entire Little House series as a child. Maybe I’ll enjoy The Homecoming. Maybe I won’t. But at least I know I can keep coming home to the movie every Christmas.

This post originally appeared in the Appalachian News-Express.

It’s how you play the game

One recent summer day, my three-year-old great niece handed me her pad and told me it was my turn to play. Nearly moved to tears by the child’s capacity for sharing, I took hold of the pad.

My happiness turned to disappointment when I realized we were playing a version of Super Mario Bros. In case you’re unfamiliar with the video game, Mario, a plumber by trade, runs through several worlds, encountering mushrooms, coins, and some sort of creature that resembles a flying goose, on his quest to save a princess.

The plot reminds me of some migraine-induced nightmares I’ve endured and, in spite of my older nieces’ repeated attempts over the past two decades to school me in the art of Mario, I’ve never gotten the hang of playing the game.

There was no need for both my newer niece and me to be disappointed, though, so I gave it my best. Mercifully, Mario was running on his own accord, so all I had to do was make him jump. The game even prompted me – with instructions – when it was time for Mario to jump.

I tapped that screen whenever Mario came across a mushroom or had opportunities to obtain coins. Nonetheless, Mario kept falling off the course and/or getting himself minimized by objects the flying goose threw at him. Not wanting to give up, I suggested we find an easier version of the game. That’s when the other adults in the room informed me that we were playing the easy version.

Sighing, I told her, “I can’t do it,” and immediately regretted my words. Whenever she informs me that she can’t, for example, slide open my closet doors, I remind her that “can’t never could.” So, there I sat, basically telling her to do as I say and not as I do. (Or would that be do as I say and not as I say?)

But to my credit (or would that be discredit?), I can’t play video games. What’s more, other than Ms. Pac-Man, I’ve never had an interest in learning to play them. (Don’t even get me started on my comedic attempts at Mario Kart.) And, since I’m being honest, I’m not an exceptional Ms. Pac-Man player, either. In fact, I’m probably not even good.

So it didn’t take long for my niece to pick up on my lack of video game-playing skills. After I had led Mario to yet another death, she eased the pad away from me and gave it to my  sister. When I asked her who played better, my sister or me, she pointed at my sister.

The child’s capacity for telling the truth nearly moved me to tears.

This post originally appeared in the Appalachian News-Express.

Love is all around

My 2016 ended with a wonderful, life-changing surprise – I learned that SundanceTV is airing, in their words, “TV’s most iconic series” on weekday mornings. They’re broadcasting “M*A*S*H,” “All in the Family,” “The Bob Newhart Show,” “The Mary Tyler Moore Show,” and “The Andy Griffith Show.”

Although I enjoy all five shows, I’ve had access to “M*A*S*H” and “Andy Griffith” pretty much my entire life. Indeed, it’s my belief that if I turn on the TV at any time of the day, I can find an episode of “Andy Griffith.” (The same can be said of “Roseanne” and the “Law and Order” franchise as well, but that’s another column for another day.) And while “All in the Family” hasn’t always been readily available, it’s my least favorite of the five.

But I’m super excited about “The Bob Newhart Show” and “The Mary Tyler Moore Show.”

In fact, one of my earliest memories involves watching “The Mary Tyler Moore Show.”(Other early memories feature snippets of “Days of Our Lives.” Obviously, TV has always been important to me.)

Anyway, Mary, the producer of a TV newscast, is one of my fictional role models. When I moved into my first apartment, a friend compared me to Mary. I don’t think he realized how much I treasured that compliment.

Of course, Mary is much nicer than am I. It would take me about two minutes to tell that intrusive Sue Ann to get out of my face. I also question Mary’s decision to greet Murray at the door wearing only a towel. It would have been believable if the scene had contained romantic undertones. But the towel was barely acknowledged. The scene left me wondering if folks back in the 1970s frequently paraded around in towels in front of co-workers. Or if I just have a dirty mind.

I’m also a little confused by the episode where Ted turns down a substantial raise and a gig as the host of a game show to remain at WJM. But it featured a wonderful scene between Ted and Lou who, along with Rhoda, are my favorite of Mary’s supporting characters.

The only aspect of “Bob Newhart” that I’ve re-evaluated is Bob’s daft neighbor, Howard. According to my research, Howard works as a navigator for an airline. From the way he’s presented, however, he doesn’t have enough sense to navigate himself into and out of an elevator.

Otherwise, I have no complaints about the show. From low-key psychiatrist Bob to his sarcastic wife Emily (the criminally underappreciated Suzanne Pleshette) to Bob’s dern-near perfect receptionist, Carol, to his rude patient, Mr. Carlin, I love this show.

My feelings for both “The Bob Newhart Show” and “The Mary Tyler Moore Show” go deeper than mere nostalgia, though. I frequently find myself laughing out loud whilst watching the shows. Or in the case of my morning routine, laughing out loud whilst listening to them as I get ready for work.

Unfortunately, I can’t sit in front of the TV all morning catching up on the shenanigans at WJM or the anxieties of Bob’s therapy group. So, I record one episode of each show every week. Spending time with Mary and Bob and their sidekicks can take a nothing day and suddenly make it all seem worthwhile.

This post originally appeared in the Appalachian News-Express.

Veronica Mars and the mystery of the thousand dollar tan line

18209454I became familiar with “Veronica Mars” when CBS aired four episodes of the UPN series during the summer of 2005. In spite of my advancing age and my aversion to anything associated with UPN, I developed an addiction to the show, which starred Kristen Bell as a witty, smart and resourceful teen detective in southern California.

Although the show’s third season disappointed me, I mourned its cancellation. I missed Veronica and her supporting cast of characters, which included a biker and a hacker.

So, I was happy when I learned that, thanks to a Kickstarter campaign, a “Veronica Mars” motion picture starring Kristen Bell herself was in the works. What’s more, series creator Rob Thomas and co-author Jennifer Graham were penning a two-book series of original Veronica Mars mysteries.

Of course, I just recently got around to reading the first book, “The Thousand Dollar Tan Line,” in that series. That might not sound like the actions of a marshmallow (it’s what we fans of the series call ourselves in a nod to the very first episode), but it picked up where the movie ended and, well, I didn’t get around to watching the movie until this fall. (Hey, I’ve been busy writing my own mysteries.)

While the movie wasn’t bad, it was just good enough to make me pine for the first two seasons of the show. Thankfully, the “The Thousand Dollar Tan Line” captured the heart and humor of Veronica who, near movie’s end, turned her back on a potentially lucrative law career and returned to her private investigating roots in her corrupt hometown.

The book begins with Veronica taking the reins of Mars Investigations while her dad, Keith, recovers from injuries sustained in the book. Not that Veronica and her newly-hired IT expert, Mac, have much work to do. That changes after a coed goes missing at a spring break party and Veronica is hired to investigate her disappearance. In addition to keeping the lights on and paying Mac’s salary, Veronica’s investigation points to a dangerous drug cartel, puts her life in danger and brings a blast from her past back into her life.

Although the book leaves a few loose ends dangling, the mystery wrapped up to my satisfaction. But the mysteries didn’t make me keep tuning into “Veronica Mars” and the desire to learn the fates of the not one but two missing girls didn’t make me keep turning the pages. As is the case with most fiction, the characters make the story.

I was most interested in the way the book captured Veronica’s strong relationship with her devoted dad, who wants nothing more than for Veronica to leave Neptune – and the P.I. life –behind. He doesn’t understand why she won’t take the bar exam and, well, neither do I. Veronica doesn’t have to work for the swanky law firm that recruited her in the movie. In fact, that wouldn’t be a good fit for an outcast like Veronica. But that’s not her only option. She could take the bar in California and work as an attorney/detective for Mars Investigations. It makes no sense for Thomas and Graham to seemingly ignore this possibility. It’s as if they want us to believe it’s New York or bust for our feisty girl.

Other than that major point, I have no quibbles with “The Thousand Dollar Tan Line.” We marshmallows get Skype sessions with the submarine-deployed Logan and best friend time with Wallace and there’s even a Weevil sighting.

I can’t wait to read the second book, “Mr. Kiss and Tell.” And this time, maybe I won’t wait quite so long.