Friday, June 29, 2012

Lights, Camera... wait, wait, wait.

Like a lot of kids, I wanted to be an actress. Or at least famous. I was so jealous of children on TV, especially those who were my age. One of my favorite pastimes was playacting, so I figured I'd be a natural at the real thing. If only someone would give me a chance! Find me! Cast me! Put me on your show! I'll knock your socks off!

My first chance came at age six, when the school music teacher graciously decided to place me onstage as a squirrel. I think the play was Chicken Little. I don't know... one year it was Chicken Little, another year it was The Little Red Hen... I think the music teacher was obsessed with birds. Either way, we did this play and I got to be a fuzzy rodent. I had no lines; all I had to do was sit there, but at least I was there. But my favorite part of the whole gig? My costume. I just wore my regular clothes -- a party dress or something -- but on my head was a headband with two little squirrel ears glued on top. Headbands were a big deal to little girls in 1987, and strangely enough, I didn't own any. And here I was with one, and I got to KEEP it after the show. Awesome!

Somewhere in one of our photo albums, there's a snapshot of me in this play. The three other girl-squirrels are sitting daintily on a bench, watching the action unfold in front of them. I'm sitting farther down the bench, and it looks like I'm eating my fingers. Oh hey, here it is...

So... no calls from Hollywood that day. Still, I had enjoyed the experience of being up on stage, wearing a headband, and feeling special, so a couple of years later, when some people from our church decided to put on a stage production of The Lion, The Witch, and the Wardrobe, I was all in. I had already seen several stage productions of it, and I'd seen the WonderWorks TV-movie and knew all about it.

The auditions were held. Like any self-respecting eight-year-old girl, I tried out for the part of Lucy. So did a bunch of the other little girls in my Sunday School class. The boys tried out for Edmund.

However many days or weeks later, some friends of my parents came over for dinner. Their son was my age and had also auditioned, and he had just learned he'd gotten the role of Edmund. That evening, my parents got a phone call saying I had gotten a role, too. I was going to be a "little animal."

Okay, so I wasn't Lucy. But at least I was something!

Hmmm, which animal I would get to be? A fox? A rabbit? Oh well, didn't matter, as long as it was cute and adorable, like me.

I don't remember exactly how I found out the truth, but the truth was devastating. The other girls in my Sunday School class, who were also told they'd be animals, were given roles of a bunny and a mouse and a cheetah and so forth.

I, along with one younger girl and three older ones, were politely informed we'd be playing "witches and ghouls." You know, the ones that get to help kill Aslan.

I had been TRICKED! A small animal is NOT the same as a ghoul. Curse you, casting people! How could you do this to me?

It's funny, because looking back, now I can appreciate being cast as a little demon-thing. But at the time, I took it very personally. I was convinced that the director chose me to be a ghoul because I was either an ugly person or an awful one. Never mind the fact that the other ghoul-girls were perfectly nice, pretty people. I was just sure that this was some kind of personal statement against me. (Keep in mind, I was eight.)

But it didn't take long for me to warm up to the idea of being a ghoul, namely because I found out I'd get to wear a black leotard and tights. Maybe it was the era, or maybe I was just insane, but I thought that combo was even better than a headband! A LEOTARD and TIGHTS? Now all I needed was jelly shoes and a side ponytail and I'd be the most radical person EVER -- like, totally!

So I had the part, and I had the costume, but now I had to act. Survey says: I was a royal disaster. During the first actual rehearsal where the five of us had to come on stage and cackle and make a kind of rumpus, I could not stop giggling. Well, it WAS pretty silly. We were acting like freaks in front of everybody. I was very embarrassed.

Some time later, the boy who played Edmund secretly told me that the director was considering firing or replacing me at that time. How Edmund knew this, I don't know; I think his parents were involved with the play, too... but still. I was shocked. I knew the director already hated me and thought I was ugly, hence his casting me as a lion killer, but then to think I was untrainable, or a hopeless actress on top of that? Ouch!

My parents must've gotten wind that I was in trouble, because I remember my mom coaching me at home. I would have to practice walking into a room and growling and cackling, without giggling. I remember I caught on pretty fast. I think it was as if, at first, I was embarrassed because I was behaving in a way I thought I wasn't supposed to. But my parents said no, no, it's okay to act like this... on stage. This is your job. And after that I was okay.

Rehearsals, as I recall, were pretty boring. The other ghouls and I only had one scene, but I was present at a lot of the rehearsals and had nothing to do. Luckily, the building we were in provided a sort of playground atmosphere. The play was taking place in the newly-purchased church "Annex" building. There were three floors and a multitude of staircases all going in different places. It was an amazing place to play tag or hide-and-seek. And play we did. I got to know that building fairly well by the time Lion was over.

And what of the actual play performances? Well, I did my best. I cackled with the others. We had six or eight performances in all. Friends and family came to cheer me on.

I don't have any pictures of me in my costume. We do have a video of one of the performances, but the ghoulie scenes were in near-darkness and you can't see me. For all anyone knows, I wasn't even there.

I'm two over from the reindeer.
I love how they stuck all the "evil" characters off to the side, even the titular Witch.
Whatever, we throw the best parties.)

Near the end of the play's run, I remember the director decided to give an award to someone who was so dedicated to her part that she stayed in character even when not on stage. He gave it to this girl who played a bunny. Yes indeed, she had always been cute, wiggling her nose and her tail and being sweet to all. Go her. I was so ticked, though. If I had acted "in character" off stage, I would've been spanked to the moon!

There was no justice.

A few years later, my teacher at school read aloud a book to us called Fifth Grade Magic. In that story, the main character, Gretchen, who loves acting, is denied a part in the school play. (Her teacher doesn't even hold auditions, she just gives out parts based on personality and looks.) The lead role in the play goes to Amy, the teacher's pet, who, as it turns out, can not act. Gretchen is furious. As events unfold, Gretchen seeks the help of a fairy godmother (sounds cheesy, but it works) and tries to sabotage Amy. In the end, Gretchen, who has memorized all the lines in the play, has to fill in for the boy who was playing the villain. She outshines Amy by a country mile, and actually revels in playing such a delicious part. Even though she didn't get what she wanted, she got something even better.

It was then that I realized playing a sinister or naughty character didn't mean that's who you were, or who people thought you were. It was just a part like any other, and if you looked at it a certain way, it could be even more fun than playing the "good" one.

Some years later, I read a quote that seemed to seal the deal that getting cast as a baddie wasn't so... well, bad. Jane Withers, a one-time child actress who lost a few roles to Shirley Temple before getting cast as a brat (alongside Shirley's perfect character) in Bright Eyes, had this to say about that role:

"On that film [Bright Eyes], I had to play the part of the meanest, creepiest little girl that God ever put on this planet. In the movie, I ran over Shirley Temple with a tricycle, and a baby buggy. And I thought, oh dear, everybody's going to hate me forever because I've been so creepy mean to Shirley Temple! But you know, they weren't? And I was flabbergasted! I got hundreds of letters from little kids that said thank you for running over Shirley Temple with the tricycle and the baby buggy, she's too perfect! And we'll root for you any time! And right after that, I got my first contract with 20th Century Fox, the same studio that Shirley was under contract to, and then they started writing films for me."


Tuesday, June 26, 2012

Book Review: The Baby-Sitters Club Super Special #6 - New York, New York!

When I was recovering from surgery I had the bizarre urge to re-read The Baby-Sitters Club Super Special #6: New York, New York! Why? Because I enjoy punishing myself, apparently.

It's not that the BSC books are bad. Some are actually quite entertaining, and many of them do hold up even 25 years later. The earliest ones -- the books written by Ann M. Martin and not some poor ghostwriter -- are arguably the best, although occasionally the ghostwriters did come up with something worthy, and occasionally Ann M. Martin totally phoned it in.

There were different kinds of Baby-Sitters Club books. The "regular" ones usually had an A-plot involving the main character and a B-plot involving any number of tiny little children. Oftentimes, the two would mesh. Each regular book was told from a different baby-sitter's perspective; so, like, Stacey's Mistake was told in first-person-Staceyview, and roughly every seven books, there'd be another Stacey one.

But then there were the Super Specials. Here are a few things you should know about the Super Specials:

1) They tended to involve some kind of mega-event in the baby-sitters' lives, such as a vacation, a school play, a wedding, or being stranded on a deserted island. The first two Super Specials: Baby-Sitters On Board (a cruise; a trip to Disney World) and Baby-Sitters' Summer Vacation (the girls all go to summer camp) were plausible. The next few, not so much. In #3, their entire middle school gets to go to a mountain lodge for a week. #4 is the one with the deserted island and the stranding of poor Claudia and Dawn. #5, California Girls, was always a personal favorite, but it still makes me giggle that the writers were so desperate to explain how the girls could afford such a trip that they had them win the freaking lottery.

 2) They allowed multiple characters to tell the story. One girl would bookend the whole thing, saying that she was putting together some kind of diary about the experience and that she was going to ask her friends to contribute their memories, letters, pictures, etc., so that this first character might make a scrapbook. If this chosen character was, say, Kristy, she might introduce the story and then narrate chapter one. Then Claudia might take over in chapter two, Dawn in chapter three, and after a cycle, back to Kristy. This way, you were able to follow all the characters in their various exploits throughout the course of the vacation/event.

 3) It didn't matter where the girls went or how they might try to escape from the day-to-day grind of baby-sitting; every single Super Special found SOME way for the girls to BABY-SIT. ON VACATION. It was like there was some kind of curse placed upon them, making sure that, even if they went to the moon, a spaceshipful of plucky orphans wouldn't be far behind.

Now that you know all that, it's time to talk about Super Special #6: New York, New York!

The seven members of the Baby-Sitters Club -- Kristy, Mary Anne, Claudia (the bookender), Stacey, Dawn, Jessi, and Mallory -- are going to NEW YORK CITY! Sure, the girls live in Connecticut, and New York is about an hour by train, but none of the girls (save for Stacey, who used to live there) have really had a proper New York vacation.

Here is Kristy's take on the matter:

My friends and I left for New York City today. I've been there before, but not for two whole weeks. What a great vacation this was going to be. Maybe I would get to see a Mets game. I had already checked to see if the dog show would be going on at Madison Square Garden. It wouldn't. I had missed it. But I didn't care. I wanted to go sightseeing. I wanted to buy lots of New York souvenirs. I wanted to feel grown-up and important.

D'aw, Kristy, you little schmuck.

New York was gonna be GREAT! And not just because the girls had two whole weeks in which to explore the urban jungle, but because they had made sure to pack all their coolest oufits!

Claudia: My suitcase was cluttered with about three years' worth of clothing, and a whole pile of things I couldn't decide whether to pack. Would I need suntan lotion and three bathing suits? Probably not. I took them out and dropped them on the floor. Then I began weeding out articles of clothing, entire outfits. I wondered if my other friends were having as hard a time packing as I was. We had all decided to pack that afternoon. Then we were going to ask Stacey her opinion of the things we were bringing (Stacey is a New York expert, since she grew up there.) We figured that if Stacey said we'd made any horrible packing boo-boos, we'd have almost three days to straighten them out before we left on our trip.

Sheesh. I mean, I get that they all wanted to look cool, but to have to get wardrobe approval? Sadly, this paragraph never leads to any scenes where Stacey's actually pawing through suitcases, going, "Mallory... I really don't know how to tell you this, but it's 1991 now, and zipper leggings are just not in anymore. Embrace the emerging grunge era!" Or, "Hon, your wardrobe is fine, it's your hair we're going to have to tame." Leading to a scene where Mallory shuts herself in a closet.

BUT NO. Everything is fine, and the girls go off on their trip.

Now, it's not going to be merely a vacation for all the girls. Kristy may be content with "sightseeing" and "feeling important," but Claudia is going to the Big City for enrichment -- she is taking art classes! Sure, Claudia already takes art classes. But these classes are taught by a famous artist. Mallory decides to take the classes too. Because she wants to learn to draw mushrooms and cute little bunnies. Yeah, I don't get it either.

So the girls arrive in New York and work out sleeping arrangements (subway stations! just kidding.) It is decided that Stacey, Claudia and Dawn will bunk at Stacey's dad's apartment, and the other girls will stay over at the posh apartment of Stacey's best NY friend, Laine Cummings, who is super rich and whose parents' apartment has three bedrooms.

Now, remember before, when I said that little kids always find their way into any BSC Super Special? Wondering where they could be, since the girls presumably left all their baby-sitting charges back in Connecticut? Well, the girls are barely at Laine's apartment five seconds when their new neighbors show up. They're from Britain and they're doing an apartment-swap with some Americans. The Brits are: Mr. Harrington, Mrs. Harrington, and the precious and delightful children, Alistaire, 7, and Rowena, 4. The tykes need a caregiver, someone to show them around the city while the parents are on business, BUT WHO COULD POSSIBLY TAKE CARE OF THE CHILDREN?

So the Baby-Sitters hold a secret discussion and decide to offer themselves up. The Harringtons are delighted. Stacey and Mary Anne take on the job. And so, for the next two weeks, they will take the two kids all around the city. It's actually kind of cool because they get to go places like the children's museum and dinosaur museums and all other manner of kiddie funplaces. But it's not all fun and games, because something sinister is afoot! Stacey and Mary Anne begin to notice that, wherever they go, there are guys in sunglasses and rain hats. CREEPY guys in sunglasses and rainhats. Soon, it occurs to them that it might be the same guy. 

From Stacey:
"Mary Anne!" I hissed. I pulled her away from the others. "Don't panic. And keep quiet, okay? Now, don't panic -- but there's the guy with the hat and the glasses."

Mary Anne turned pale. I wondered if her heart was pounding as fast as mine was. We were passing the Statue of Liberty, and everyone was gazing at it. Even the man.

"He's after the children!" Mary Anne whispered. "I know he wants to kidnap them. Remember when we learned about the Lindbergh kidnapping? Remember the guy who took Anne and Charles Lindbergh's baby? A long time ago? Well, after that, a lot of famous people became afraid their children would be kidnapped, too. You know, for ransom money. And they tried to protect their kids by changing their last names and stuff. I just know this guy is after Alistaire and Rowena. Think of how important their parents are." 

"And think of the ransom the Harringtons could afford to pay," I added.

Now, Stacey, don't start getting ideas!

Even though Stacey and Mary Anne work themselves into a nice, emotional upheaval over the whole thing, it turns out the man in the hat is really the Harringtons' bodyguard, and he wears the disguise so that Alistaire and Rowena won't pay attention to him while they're trying to have fun. Why the Harringtons never mentioned this man's continued presence to Mary Anne and Stacey, I do not know, only to say that I believe they are sick and twisted folks.

Meanwhile, Claudia and Mallory are attending the art classes, but Claudia hates them because her dreamy teacher never says anything nice about her work; he just tells her to slow down with the sketchin'. But he gives positive encouragement to Mallory, even though her drawings suck. As lunch approaches during a class field trip, Claudia is once again dismayed by her teacher's reaction to her sketches. Claudia begins to feel despair.

I sat by myself and ate a pretzel, which was very salty. Apart from that, it had no flavor. I did not care.

But in the end, it turns out Mr. Teacher actually thinks Claudia is quite talented, and was merely hard on her because he believed she lacked discipline. And so Claudia returns to Connecticut feeling just a little bit more smug.

And then there's Dawn. Dawn is TERRIFIED of New York City. Dawn, who found and explored a secret passage in her old farmhouse, which may or may not have been haunted. Dawn, who loves to read ghost stories. Dawn, who likes to pull practical jokes that frighten Mary Anne. Yes, that Dawn is afraid of New York City. Dawn is so frightened, in fact, that she won't even leave Stacey's dad's apartment. Luckily, a neighbor kid with crutches happens up and befriends her, and eventually takes her out on the town and shows her there's nothing to be afraid of. She drinks cappuccino and samples cannoli and learns not to be a scaredy-cat. It's all very touching.

Jessi, the eleven-year-old ballerina, is pretty much on her own this vacation, since her BFF Mallory is taking those art classes. She decides she wants to go see a ballet performance. While there, she meets a boy ballerina named Quint, who is super talented, but is afraid to audition for Julliard because the neighborhood bullies will make fun of him even more than they already do. Jessi encourages Quint to follow his dreams. Before they part, Quint gives Jessi her first kiss and they promise to keep in touch. Awww, Jessi finally gets some lovin'!

And who have I forgotten? Oh, right, KRISTY. Now, Kristy is the President of the BSC, and is usually pretty bright. But she also loves animals, especially dogs, and well, sometimes with animal lovers, our hearts get a little too big for our brains. (What, what?) Translation: Kristy finds a stray dog in Central Park and decides to keep it. As in, bring it back with her to Connecticut. She decides to try to smuggle it in to the apartment building where she's staying (she's convinced they do not allow pets) and then hide it from Laine's parents. Only, pretty soon Laine's parents find out. Also, Kristy calls her stepdad and he says she can't keep the mutt. So now Kristy has about a week to find the dog, "Sonny," a new home. 

Poor Kristy. I mean, this is really a noble thing she's doing, but what a way to spend her vacation. She also spends all her money on supplies for the dog, and most all of her time trying to find it a home. It's all for a good cause, but eeshk.

At least the girl gets to have some real fun. On the baby-sitters' final night in the city, Laine's parents pay for all the girls to go out on the town.

Claudia: My friends and I (plus Laine) ended our vacation with a terrific evening. First we got all dressed up, and then Stacey, Dawn, and I went to the Cummingses' apartment. The eight of us looked like models or something. Even Kristy. She was wearing a long cotton sweater, black leggings, and black shoes. (She had borrowed everything from Laine.) The rest of us were wearing short skirts or dresses, leggings -- you know, the layered look. A lot of our clothes were new, bought while we were on vacation.

"You girls better get going," Mrs. Cummings spoke up. "You've planned an awfully busy evening."

Claudia: That was true. We were going to look in a few of Laine's favorite stores before they closed for the day, then go to dinner at . . . Tavern on the Green. And then go to the show. Whew. (Chilly.)

I like how Claudia preceded "Tavern on the Green" with ellipses as if she was having us guess where they were going to go for dinner, and then -- reveal -- it's THIS PLACE! As if any ten-year-old girl reading this book, outside of New York, even knew what the heck Tavern on the Green was. (Later in the chapter, Kristy, for the benefit of the reader, asks Stacey and she briefly explains, but those ellipses still bother me.)

So the girls get to take a limo shopping and to the restaurant and to a show. Claudia spills her M&Ms and the girls can't stop giggling. It's a wonderful night.

Then it's back to boring old Connecticut, where Mallory has a new idea for a story, Claudia feels like she's a-ok after all, Dawn has made a friend (that neighbor kid who took her around town), Jessi sort of has a boyfriend, Stacey and Mary Anne have wads of newly-earned money, and Kristy is broke and doesn't have a dog. Well, she has a dog, just not the Central Park dog.

* * * 

So how do I feel about this book? When I was a pre-teen, I thought it was awesome, but then, I thought all BSC books were awesome. Now? I feel this one really bites. The writing is blah, and very few of the plots kept my interest. Dawn was acting completely out of character (or else exhibiting signs of an undiagnosed anxiety disorder), but in the end, when she and the neighbor kid hit the town, well... that's a pretty fun chapter. (ETA: I'm reminded that Dawn acted this same way in New York in Book #18, so I guess it matches continuity-wise, but it's still odd.) I also enjoyed the scenes where Mary Anne and Stacey took Alistaire and Rowena sightseeing -- before they started freaking out about the man with the sunglasses/hat. Kristy's plot would be fine for a regular story, but for a vacation? Really? Does the author hate Kristy? This is all she gets? Claudia and Mallory's art classes are straight-up boring, and Jessi's boy-ballerina saga is okay as far as Jessi's character development, but still kind of bleh.

On a scale of 1 to 10, 10 being a rousing Baby-Sitters Club adventure, and 1 being a book I'd send straight to Good Will, I give this one a 3.6.

Let's let Claudia take us out of here, just as she does in the book....

My New York dairy was finished. I showed it to Mom and Dad and Janine. They thought it was grate. Mom even thought my speling had imporved but I am not so sure.

Neither am I, Claudia, neither am I.

Monday, June 25, 2012

There's A Trope For That -- Week Of June 24th

Want to know about a trope I've seen far too many times and have come to truly despise?

Why, I'll tell you: it's Code Silver!!

"Television writers have considerable experience at creating dramatic stories out of the lives of lawyers, surgeons, school teachers, and many other professions whose real-life work is somewhat less dramatic. But occasionally they tire of making lawsuits and surgeries exciting. That's when an armed man bursts into the law office or hospital and takes hostages from the cast. This is similar to Perp and Weapon, but none of the characters are police officers and the violence is completely unexpected in the setting.

Hostage situations like this occur in real life; the trope name comes from the real code used for "combative person with weapon" in many hospitals on America's west coast. Where the trope diverges from reality is in the motivation of the hostage taker and the way the situation is resolved.

The hostage taker usually has a personal grudge against one of the characters and has carefully planned his assault. His aim may be simple revenge, or pursuit of a bizarre goal that ties into the show's setting.

Despite their inexperience, the characters usually manage to negotiate with the hostage taker and resolve the situation with minimal loss of life — it's very rare for anyone other than the gunman to die in these situations, and even he usually survives. 


Why. Does this happen. On EVERY. SHOW. I WATCH? (That link above doesn't even begin to list all the ones I've seen.)

And WHY is it almost always at bank?

Oh, I know, I know... banks are great places to take hostages. There's money there for the takin'. And gold bars and stuff. But really, nobody ever ever ever just goes to the bank to get money on TV. If a character walks into a bank, you know that in about three minutes they are going to be a hostage (or else the robber, I mean, that could happen.)

If it isn't a bank, it's a hospital. The hostage-taker is always either the kid of some old bloke who died, and the kid wants revenge on the doctors OR it's someone whose relative is still alive but who can not afford to pay the exorbitant medical bills. So they will make EVERYONE PAY. MWAHAHA!

And really, I'm sick of it. 

About the only thing worse than a good TV show being interrupted by a "hostage episode"? A hostage episode with Pregnant Hostage.


Tuesday, June 19, 2012

There's A Trope For That - Week Of June 17

This week's trope: Hey, It's That Guy!

"There is a certain class of actor who you may rarely notice but often see. They appear in various works, filling their roles faithfully but when you notice them individually, you remember seeing them before but never where it was and you can never say their name but are forced to just exclaim "Hey, it's that guy!"

For instance, if a middle-aged character actor gets a good rep—there is nothing like personal connections in a crowded, cut-throat business like the Hollywood acting pool—he can appear in numerous movies and TV shows each year. Ronny Cox is a good example among actors always available as white male authority figures, Lou Gossett as black male establishment types of any social class, Mako in any middle-aged male role requiring an Asian (er... while he lived, anyway), and Tim Curry as any evil, bearded bloke who dies in the end.

They never get the lead but that's often best for them. That means that nobody ever blames them if a movie bombs and they never become unaffordable. It means that they'll never grab the headlines or grab your attention but they'll grab the paycheck at the end of the day."


Have you ever had it happen where, over the period of a few weeks or months, the same actor seems to show up in everything you rent and watch?

Well, it happens to me. I call it the Tom Skerritt Syndrome, because there was once a time when I could not seem to get away from that guy. It felt like every other thing I'd watch would have him in it. At first it was kind of funny. Amusing. Then it started to get creepy. Finally, one day I walked into the TV room to find my mom watching Law & Order or something, and there he was again! I literally screamed and fled the room. Overdramatic? Perhaps. But that seemed to do the trick, because Tom Skerritt stayed away after that. Seriously, I've barely seen him in anything since.

Recently Hugh Bonneville seems to have moved into my TV room. I'd enjoyed watching him play Mr. Bennet in Lost In Austen, and then he began to play the father on Downton Abbey. (He likes playing dad to many daughters, apparently.) Recently we rented Miss Austen Regrets, and there he was again. Mansfield Park? More Hugh, only in that he's quite young. (Let's nevermind the fact that 3/4 of these things were Austen-related. It's just a coincidence! I have lots of other interests... I swear!)

And let's not forget Maggie Smith. Is it just me, or has Maggie Smith been 80 years old since the early 90s? She shows up in everything, too... I mean, it's crazy. If she could've somehow weaseled her way in as Mrs. Beaver in Narnia and some kind of elf in the LOTR films, she would be officially entitled to a gold statue on top of Buckingham Palace. Cuz, you know, that's how the Brits roll.

On the other hand, you know Judi Dench is eyeing Maggie Smith, going, "Not so fast, sister. You may have Downton, but I have Cranford. Remember that one? Oh, and Jane Eyre. Yes, that's right. I know there have been 45 version of it, but I was in one of them! And dare we forget Pride & Prejudice? Okay, so it wasn't the Colin Firth one, but so? SO? I was Lady Catherine, dagnabbit! What do you have to compare THAT to?"

Maggie Smith: "Uh... Harry Potter?"

Judi Dench: "Well... James Bond! Haha!"

Maggie Smith: "David Copperfield!"

Judi Dench: "Hamlet!!"

Maggie Smith: "Richard III!!"

Judi Dench: "Miss-us Ber-ROWN!!!"

Maggie Smith: "Gosford PARK!!!"

Judi Dench: "The Importance Of Being Earnest. WITH Colin Firth. COLIN FIRTH!! Double points! I PWN YOU!!!"

Maggie: "Dignified ladies do not say 'pwn'."

Judi: *kick* *punch* *flail*

Maggie: *whack* *biff* *pow*

Can Maggie and Judi overcome their different resumes and become friends? Will an intervention by Colin Firth be the key component to reconciliation? Find out next time on Dame Vs. Dame: Pushing Eighty.

Thursday, June 14, 2012


Today I was trying to decide which Hogwarts house I would belong to.


So I confiscated the Sorting Hat and threatened him with terrible wrath unless he sorted me took a poorly-written online quiz.



I'll take it.

Monday, June 11, 2012

Molly Gets Zapped

In the five weeks since my surgery, some strange, strange things have happened. Strange for me, anyway. Some people might find them "exciting," "charming," or, more likely, "horrifying," but the writer in me prefers to think of them as strange. Interesting. Worth noting. Worthy of description.

"I wrote them down in my diary so that I wouldn't have to remember!"
 -- Henry Jones, Senior

So the left side of my face is still not back to normal, though it is a lot better. I have a crooked grin, but at least I can grin. I still can't wink, but at least I can close both of my eyes. For a while, the left one was drying out a lot and irritating me. Now, it's doing something even crazier -- it's making tears. Sometimes constantly. It's like when you have a bad cold and your nose won't stop running and you kind of just want to walk around with a tissue glued to your nostrils. Only this is my eye, and it's leaking. I feel like I'm perpetually half-watching a sad movie.

The eggheads at the lab studied that thing they took out of my head and decided it wasn't totally benign, and so to make sure that nothing evil goes elsewhere, I have to have radiation therapy. First they told me 25 days of that. Then they told me 30, and I almost cried for real. Not just because trekking to the hospital and being zapped 30 times would suck (it would) but because treatment only happens on weekdays, and 30 days would take me into the middle of July.

It's been a while since I've brought up What It Is I Do on this blog, but I'm a teacher of small children. I work my boots off September through June and save my money with the hopes that I will be able to have a summer of relaxation, sleeping in, and possibly a vacation. Now, last year, my cat had a medical emergency, which all but drained my bank account, and I got to go absolutely nowhere. Less than two weeks into this new school year, I was already on Google, planning my Epic Summer Vacation of 2012.

Suffice it to say, that will not be happening. Of course, August exists, but the thing with radiation therapy is that the side effects -- unrelenting fatigue being a big one -- can last for weeks, even after the last treatment. There's also the likelihood (at least in my case) of getting a bad sore throat and red skin. So you'll understand why I'm not packing my suitcase and summoning a taxi to take me to the nearest airport. (Except perhaps to go somewhere where no one can find me.)

But enough about that. Let's talk about radiation! Now, I know people get radiated for different reasons and on different parts of their body. For me, it's my head. So they made me this huge, ridiculous white mask thing to wear each time. It covers my whole face, the sides of my head, my neck, and part of my shoulders.  I lie down on this table and they put this mask on and bolt it down with about eight or nine fasteners. After that, I'm not goin' anywhere. About the only thing I can do is breathe, open my eyes slightly (the mask has tiny holes) and swallow if I must.

When they first made the mask, I almost laughed, it was so utterly ridiculous to look at. I couldn't believe this wasn't some wacky dream. But the making-of part was kind of interesting. First, the technicians molded a headrest for me to lay on each time I have the treatment. I have no idea what material they used for this headrest, but it felt like they were taking warm bread dough and kneading it against my neck and shoulders. Ahhh. Someone should market this idea, because it's super nice. Like a warm bubblebath... but better. I didn't want it to stop. Then they molded the mask. They dipped a big sheet of holey plastic in hot water and then put in on my face. Awkward. It quickly cooled and they molded it to the shape of my face. As it hardened, I began to feel a bit panicky. Augh, I can't move! That means I can not breathe! I am going to dieeee! But I didn't die. I lived to see another day... and another....

Day one of the actual treatment was pretty awful. I didn't expect to feel so claustrophobic inside the mask, but I did. Also, the radiation beams going across me -- well -- there was a smell I can not describe. I want to describe it, but there is nothing exactly like it. It's KIND OF like craft glue or paint. KIND OF like heat. And A LOT like that feeling you get when you jump into a highly-chlorinated swimming pool and the water goes up your nose.

By the end of that first session, I got the distinct picture in my mind of that scene in The Princess Bride where Westley has had one minute sucked from his life in the Pit of Despair, and the count asks him how it has made him feel. Westley begins to whimper. No words, just that. That was pretty much my reaction, too.

But it has gotten better. I've learned that if I hold really still, my face will hardly notice that the mask is holding me down, and I am less likely to panic. If I hold my breath when the beams do their thing, I can almost entirely block out that awful smell. And so, after treatment #4, I'm not loving it, but it's still better than getting a cavity filled. Oh, yes.

And so it will continue. 

They've told me that when it's all over, I can take my giant creepy mask home. Yay, I guess? I mean, what would they want with it? Wait a minute, what would want with it? 

Anyone up for a bonfire?

Saturday, June 9, 2012

Not-So-Random Things From My Childhood

Some sad news came my way the other day... the Jantzen Beach Merry-Go-Round had gone into indefinite storage. They say they're "refurbishing" it, but really? They just refurbished it in the 90's, and besides, official plans (blueprints?) for a renovated mall do not include space for that lovely circle of ponies. I'm on to you, renovators. I see you for what you really are!

And so it has happened again. Like those giant metal playground slides, the Chuck E. Cheese ball pit, Imaginarium, and (I still tear up when thinking about it) Farrell's Ice Cream Parlor, pieces from my childhood are being taken away, one by one.

Coping with loss and change has never been my strong suit.

And it's funny, because Jantzen Beach has gone through many changes in the last 90 years, changes I wasn't even aware of. It began as an amusement park in the 20s. That's how my parents' and grandparents' generation remember it.  That's when the merry-go-round first made its appearance. When the amusement park closed in 1970, a shopping mall was put in its place. So by the time I came along, "Jantzen Beach" was "The shopping mall with the horsies." In the 80s, there was also an indoor waterslide and an arcade there, I remember, but after the mall's renovation in the 90's, the carousel was moved to the center of the food court, where it remained until this year.

In the mall, the merry-go-round required tokens. I can only find pictures of goldish coins on google, but I swear I remember they used to have wooden nickels. I may be crazy. Each time we went to the mall -- and we used to live in the area, so as a wee tyke, this happened fairly often -- I would get to pick a horse and go for a ride. I would wave to my dad or mom every time the ride made a rotation. I would pretend to feed my horse sugar cubes when the ride was over. I freaking loved that ride.

And so, a tribute video, with footage taken the last time I was at Jantzen Beach in 2009.

Rest In Peace, Beloved Merry-Go-Round...

Wednesday, June 6, 2012

Eight (8) Ways To Have Fun At A Lego Convention

Last weekend, I went to a Lego convention. It was my first. It wasn't supposed to be -- I had fully intended to make BrickCon in October my first -- but since it was in Portland, and so was I, how could I resist? And so I took myself to the first annual Bricks Cascade, had a jolly time, and now I am here to share with you eight ways you, too, can have fun at a Lego convention. I'm sure there are more than eight, but this is what you get.

Way To Have Fun #1: Plow Your Way Through A Giant Pile Of Bricks

Bricks & Minifigs, my second-favorite store in the wide world, has a table with bricks where you can paw through and pick the ones you want to buy. At Bricks Cascade, there was a roomful of bricks. It was glorious.

If you don't mind purchasing pre-owned Lego bricks, this is a great way to find unique pieces. (Or any pieces, really.) I was able to uncover shop windows, special printed bricks, and bricks of some of the rarer colors (dark red, dark green, dark blue, gold, and the much-coveted purple.) It was a little strange being down on the floor with a dozen other adults, trying to find the best bricks before they were snatched up, but it was also very rewarding. And -- I must give credit -- it was much more dignified than certain other shopping free-for-alls, like, shall we say, Black Friday at Wal-Mart. 

Way To Have Fun #2: Buy Stuff

What would any convention be without vendors? Bricks Cascade had plenty, and each seemed to be hawking something different. Some sold official Lego sets, some had custom minifigs, some sold Lego jewelry, and still others peddled T-shirts. I bought a pair of Lego barrettes, two top hats for my minifigs, a Ron Weasley minifig (I own nearly every other HP character BUT him! Still need Hermione, though), two ostriches (I'm thinking of forming an army of them), a Bricks Cascade T-shirt, and this Lego set.

It's a great set. Part of the Lego Creator line, the bricks within the box can be turned into three different log cabin-y structures using the included instructions. And I decided I would take it upon myself to build.... well, all three of them!

 Yeah, there was a bit of down time Saturday afternoon. There were a few competitions I wasn't partaking in. Streams of people were coming into the exhibit hall to view all the Lego structures. My humble MOCs (creations) were nestled between two rather big, impressive ones, and I got a little forlorn when most people seemed to be looking right past mine. So I decided to distract myself by building something at one of the inner (non-public) tables. First I built the cabins... and then...

Way To Have Fun #3: Do A Creative/Free Build

I took the pieces I'd bought from the roomful of bricks (about two dozen bricks in all) and all the pieces from the cabin set, and started to build. I had so many roof and window pieces that I decided that some type of building/house was in order, and before long I'd decided this creation was destined to be a Wacky Inventor's Workshop.

Forgive my need to show it from every angle, but it's honestly one of my favorite things I've ever built. It's funny how, despite limitations (only having certain bricks to work with), you can still make something truly grand. Remember that, kids. Life isn't always about getting new stuff or having lots of it; it's about making something good out of what you have. Ooookay, jumping off the soapbox in 5... 4... 3... 2...

Way To Have Fun #4: Show Off Your MOCs

MOCs, or My Own Creations, is any Lego thing -- be it a mosaic, a sculpture, a building, or a vehicle -- that was not thought up by the Lego company, but by its builder. So the first three cabins above are not MOCs, but the one with the lollipops on top so totally is!

Folks who attend a Lego convention for the weekend will often bring their MOCs for public display. MOCs come in all shapes and sizes, and there are many different categories: pirate, castle, technic, train & town, etc. 

I heard about this convention about two weeks before it actually happened, and I had no MOCs ready for show, except for a half-made Green Gables House. I had only needed half; I was (well am) making an Anne film, and was using the front of the house as a set. But since a facade would look a bit strange at a convention, I decided to finish it....

I took it to the convention and saw that it looked really small and pathetic sitting there all by itself. So the next day I took a couple other pieces I'd made for my film and made a little composite scene....

That there is a miniature train station, a horse-drawn wagon, and a lighthouse. The lighthouse can actually light up, but I didn't opt to use the light-up brick in the exhibit hall because you would not have been able to even tell. But in the dark... oooh la la! 

Another thing I chose to make was Disneyland! Ambitious much? Not really. I did a miniature version of it, being inspired by Microscale creations. Microscale MOCs have a kind of minimalist vibe, and they don't take up a lot of room. Anyway, here's the happiest place on Earth...

The dumbo & teacup rides actually spin! Wheee!

My creations didn't win any awards (I wouldn't expect them to, me being such a newbie) but they got some nice comments and I'm proud of them! I may save Disneyland for the convention in October.

Way To Have Fun #5: Compete!

Competitions are a staple of Lego conventions, or so I have read.

At this one there was a blind minifig competition, where we had to try to tell what figure (merman? soldier? bunny rabbit?) we were holding, through a plastic bag.
 Annnd we were blindfolded.

There were 15 figs for everyone. When all things were said and done and the scores were tallied, I found I'd gotten nine correct. Some people got all 15. HOW.

Another game had us building a Lego car inside a clear plastic bag. All the pieces were inside, our hands were outside, and the directions were available. It was NOT easy. A winner was called when my car was only half done. Apparently, this one takes practice. Next time, I shall conquer!

The third game I competed in involved a big pile of bricks -- 25% Lego, 75% the forbidden off-brands and knockoffs. A group of us got down on our hands and knees and weeded through the pile for half an hour. Every Lego brick equaled one point. Any non-Lego brick was negative one point. I think I came in second place, but the first-place winner (who, incidentally, also won the build-in-a-bag game) beat me by at least 300 bricks!

Way To Have Fun #6: Watch Others Compete!

I suppose someone could try to participate in as many games as possible at a convention, but watching them is also pretty fun. (And... no pressure!) Three of the ones I got to witness were:

A team build, where six people worked together to build the London Bridge.

The team that won was really fast, and they worked so well together. Each of the players got to keep a chunk of the bridge.

Another interesting one to watch was the Creative Build. Each player was given two Lego sets -- and they couldn't have been more different. One was a Ninjago set, and the other was from the Friends line. The objective was to make something, and, in the end, have the fewest number of leftover bricks. Each creation was unique, and it was cool to see the results.

Wacky Racers was funny. People made cars and slid them down a ramp, seeing how far they could travel while remaining intact. Winnie The Pooh took many turns down the ramp, more often than not breaking apart from his vehicle and landing in a sad, fluffy heap.

Way To Have Fun #7: View Others' MOCs; Get Inspired

Seeing things that others have built out of Lego serves to inspire the budding builder; I am not exempt from this. While some of the creations blew my mind ("I could never build that"), others set the wheels in my head a'spinning with ideas. 

Here are a few of my favorite creations at the convention....

Way To Have Fun #8: Watch Other People Go Gaga For Lego

 Faces were lighting up all over the place. I heard shouts of "Whoa!", "Awesome!", and "Look! Lookit! LOOK!!" The public had arrived. Kids and adults alike were mesmerized by the variety of things on display. It'd be hard to know how many people went straight home afterwards, dragged out their old bins of bricks, and started building, but I'm willing to bet a lot of them did.

All in all, it was a fun weekend. I added new bricks to my collection. I learned some new techniques. I met fellow Lego fans. And best of all, I got to be surrounded by a million colorful little bricks, each a part of something truly special.