Thursday, August 15, 2013


Imagine a reality show where 14 contestants compete to be THE BEST. Each week, their achievements are evaluated by three Judges. These Judges decide who is, or isn't, cut out to be THE BEST, and send one or two of them packing each week.

Now imagine it goes something like this....

Week One

The Judges call the contestants into the judging room and instruct them to wear something red the next time they meet. Thirteen of the contestants return wearing their most alluring red outfits. Contestant 14 has no red attire with him; therefore he chooses to wear a black tuxedo and a bow tie of burgundy.

Oh, how the Judges praise Contestant 14! How daring he is! What a risk he took with his choice! And how stunning he looks, indeed! Contestant 14, you are SAFE this week! Contestants 1 and 2, you did not take a risk at all, and in this competition, you must learn to be bold! GO HOME.

Week Two

The Judges send the contestants a message telling them to show up at judging this week wearing green. Several of them do choose green outfits, but the others, remembering the advice given to them the week before, break free from the mold and wear yellow, blue, or purple

The contestants are met with icy glares from the Judges. They look nervously at one another. 

The Head Judge stands up. "You were all instructed," she says crisply, "To wear green this week, were you not? Yet I see that only a few of you followed this advice. In this competition, it is essential that you listen to us Judges and learn from our many years of experience. Take heed to what we say. Half of you IGNORED our instructions, and two of YOU will be going home.

And so Contestant 3, in her gorgeous yellow ensemble, and Contestant 4, with his shimmery turquoise cape, are sent away, while the others (especially Contestant 11, who wore violet) breathe sighs of relief.

Week Three

The contestants are all given bed sheets to wear, temporarily solving the outfit/color issue, and are instructed to stand on one foot during judging while simultaneously looking "alarmed."

Several contestants perform to the Judges' satisfaction. Others wobble; one falls down. Contestant 5 refuses to do the task, citing religious issues, and Contestant 6, while agreeing to stand on one foot, declines to look alarmed, but instead appears refreshingly serene.

Goodbye, Contestants 5 and 6....

Week Four

The contestants are given wet suits and are placed in large glass water tanks for the judging panel.

Naturally, they are given basic snorkel gear so that they do not perish, and while they await their fates, each grows increasingly cold.

"I'm done!" Contestant 7 cries after an hour. "That's it; this is too much!" Tears spring from her eyes as she climbs out of the tank and searches for a towel. "I wanted to be in this competition. My family was counting on me. But you don't know about the near-fatal accident I had at age seven involving a swimming pool and a plastic shark. I can't do this anymore!"

The Judges express their disappointment, saying they wished Contestant 7 had the bravery and the tenacity to continue, but agree to officially dismiss her. They also boot Contestant 8, who they say looked like a "drowned rat" in his own tank and was therefore an embarrassment to humankind. The others are declared "safe" and climb out of their tanks, breathing in the fresh oxygen from above as if their lives depended on it.

Week Five

The remaining six contestants must hang from a cable for three hours over Times Square while wearing lingerie. Part of their final score for the week will depend on the mercy of the New Yorkers watching from below, who can text the number of their favorite contestant to 55117 at only 99 cents per text.

Contestant 9, citing an acute fear of heights, refuses to go on the wire, and instead chooses to watch from the sidelines. Later, at the judging panel, Contestant 9 expects to be eliminated but instead is surprised to learn that the judges admire her gumption. 

"We'll be taking into account your performances in previous weeks," the Head Judge tells Contestant 9. "And you've been performing solidly since the beginning. Even though we're disappointed you did not participate in this challenge, we won't hold it against you."

Contestants 10 and 11, though they hung from the wire and earned some particularly nasty welts for their efforts, are sent home.

Week Six

While dressed in a flamingo outfit and posing for zoogoers, Contestant 13 breaks down.

"I miss my family!" she cries, as she removes her plastic beak and wipes away her tears. "I thought I could do this, but... I can't, I just can't... I need my mom!"

Contestant 13 is allowed to call her mom, who urges her to be strong and stay in the competition. Contestant 13 agrees.

But the Judges are not impressed with Contestant 13's emotional outburst and the fact that she did not stay in character as a flamingo. "You had an assignment," says the Head Judge. "And you must NEVER let emotions get in the way of your duties, not if you want to THE BEST."

Contestant 13 is eliminated along with Contestant 12, who, while dressed like a sun bear, failed to look appropriately "fierce." 

Week Seven

And the finalists are known! Contestant 14 (he of the burgundy bow tie) and Contestant 9 (who refused to hang from the wire in Times Square) are asked to participate in one final challenge to determine who will be THE BEST.

"Here's what you must do," the Head Judge tells them. "You will need to walk a fifty-foot-long balance beam while being pummeled by water balloons. You will be wearing high heels. You must also wear sneakers. You may not wear green, but you MUST wear blue, lavender, and just a hint of black. You mustn't wear anything too revealing, but you absolutely HAVE to look sexy while doing all of the above. Your past performances will also be taken into account in your final score. Who will be the BEST? We'll know soon enough...."

Contestant 14 falls off the balance beam twice. Contestant 9 forgets to look sexy. Contestant 14 forgets his clothes entirely. Contestant 9 wears a coat of many colors and blinds half the audience. 

But there can only be one winner.

Back in the judging room, the Judges deliberate. They evaluate the past performances of Contestants 9 and 14. They review footage from their most recent endeavor. 

"This is very difficult," says one. 

"They're both great," says another.

 "But we must choose one," says the Head Judge. "And it looks like we have!"

Contestants 9 and 14 are brought forth. "There can only be one winner," the Head Judge reminds them. "In my hands I hold one 8x10. That photo represents the person who is THE BEST. The person whose photo I do not show is the loser and must leave immediately. Whose name am I going to call? Whose 8x10 do I hold? The person whose face is shown in the photo that I am currently holding IS.... CONTESTANT 9!"


Contestant 14 tries to look brave as the Head Judge shakes his hand and wishes him luck in his future endeavors to be -- well, perhaps not the BEST, since there can only be one -- but at least be moderately successful.

Contestant 9 is given a crown of rubies and a cape made of faux fur. A glittery scepter is placed in her hands. She is rewarded with heaps of praise. A photographer comes and takes photos of Contestant 9 with the Head Judge. One of these photos will grace the main page of Head Judge's website for the next month! Why? Because she is THE BEST!

But be sure to tune in a few months from now, when the competition will start all over, and a new BEST will be chosen!

And then again the following year. Twice.

For the next ten years.

Yes (surprise?) I've just described the premise of the Tyra Banks masterpiece/fiasco America's Next Top Model, currently on Cycle 20 (guys vs. girls!) 

OMG this show is insane. The judges are insane. Every piece of "advice" they give is a contradiction to something they've previously said. The contestants are expected to do crazy tasks, all in the name of modeling, and then are judged on some wacky criteria that can only be understood by the judges themselves, and which changes weekly, and sometimes hourly. If they win, the model receives a modeling contract, which will guarantee them a small degree of success within the near future, but after that, forget it, who cares. Meanwhile, the contestants routinely break down emotionally, cry, scream at each other, and are verbally beaten down by the judges.

Did I mention this show is insane?
That said, it is overwhelmingly entertaining. Sure, it'll make you want to pull out your hair one follicle at a time... but bald is beautiful, am I right? 

ANTM currently airs Friday nights on the CW. And you have been warned.




Sunday, August 11, 2013

Random Things From My Childhood Part 8

Random Things From My Childhood

1. Fisher-Price Little People Merry-Go-Round

This was one of the sweetest Little People sets. It played music, it moved, and (if grouped with the Ferris Wheel and the Swing Ride) it could give your Little People a pretty decent carnival experience. Both this and the Ferris Wheel were operated by an angry-looking little boy with a baseball cap who was basically stuck to the device, doomed to operate it for all eternity (hence the angry expression, I imagine.) Mine eventually broke, but I still have it. If you wind it up it spins around maniacally and plays the song super fast. Which is actually kind of perfect because I'm thinking of starting a Little People Carnival Of Doom.

2. Domino Rally

So the commercials for this line of toys made them seem AMAZING:

But in actuality, Domino Rally kind of sucked. The dominoes would fall down easily, plus they could break off the track if you played too roughly, and by the time your Christmas tree was put out to pasture and the last cup of egg nog was consumed, you typically just had one large plastic disaster.

But those commercials... oh, they were epic....

3. "I learned it by watching YOU!"

So they used to play this anti-drugs PSA during the commercials of Saturday morning cartoons. So imagine me, probably 4, watching Flintstone Kids or whatever was on back then, and seeing this commercial weekly and not knowing what drugs even were.  Just knowing that the dad was angry about something in a box. But today I view the commercial with a certain amount of fondness. Check out Dad's epic mustache! Plus, it's a great thing to shout when someone questions your actions.

Mom: "Ugh, why did you have to go and track muddy footprints through the house..."

4. Play Dough

Play dough was fun and all, but the thing I disliked about it was that if you forgot to put it away properly -- and let's face it, I usually did -- it would dry up and have to be thrown out. And quite frankly, I don't think that's a good quality in a toy. Toys should be durable. They should last the night, at least. (You hear that, helium balloons?)

There are just a handful of other childhood toys that I remember "going bad" through my own neglect. A Little Golden book I left out in the treehouse, which got rained on and warped. A Sweet Secrets toy that played music -- again, left out in the rain and killed. A Spiderman toy I dropped over the fence and never saw again. Yes, these instances were all sad. But not as sad as the fact that every time I received play dough, one of the following would happen:

*I'd mix colors and it would have to be thrown out.
*I'd neglect to press the lid on tightly and it'd have to be thrown out.
*I'd get it everywhere -- under my fingernails, in the carpet, etc., and every last container would be thrown out (or donated to poor farm animals in third-world countries, I don't know.)

Sorry, Play Dough, I wish our memories together were a little happier!

5. Tin Can Stilts

I hesitate to even try to claim these as part of my childhood, because even 100-year-olds can claim them as part of their childhoods. But as I don't know any 100-year-olds who blog, I guess I'll take one for the team and say that these were super fun -- and fairly easy to make -- assuming you could get a hold of two big old coffee cans (not so easy for a kid whose parents didn't drink coffee, but hey), a couple of nails, a hammer, and some string.

Then you could go clomping around, feeling all tall and important.

6. Christmas Ornaments That Did Stuff

Christmas ornaments were always fun to look at, but as a kid -- and, oh heck, even now -- ones that had moving parts or that did something were the very best.

I'm talking about those bubble lights full of delicious mercury.
Those Hallmark ornaments that played music.
Ornaments with little doors or mailboxes that could be opened.

Once I started becoming aware of the existence of awesome ornaments, the rest of the ornaments could just be left in their box, really.

7. Tomy Wonderful Waterfuls Basketball

Remember the Waterful toys? They had all sorts -- ring toss, tic-tac-toe, rings-around-the-shark-nose. We owned the Basketball one. You'd press the blue buttons and a jet of air would propel the little ball through the water into/through one of the two baskets. There were also dials for keeping score but I can't remember ever keeping score. I can remember getting sore thumbs. A good prep for Gameboys in later years.

8. Soft As A Kitten (Book)

My brother and I loved this book because it was one of the only books we had that offered tactile experiences. I guess the subtitle tells it like it is: there was a scratch & sniff page, a page with a warped mirror, pages with stuff you could feel, and our favorite page -- one that let you pull back two tabs shaped like leaves and discover bugs hiding underneath. We would literally fight over who got to "open" the leaves.

Who is hiding here? Peek under the leaves and see.

Then one day, my cousin and I had the book while we were riding in the backseat of the car, and one of us decided to try reading the book backwards. (We were probably seven.)

See and leaves
The under peek
Here hiding is who

And then the Underpeek became a thing, and it induced many, many giggles.

Thank you, Soft As A Kitten!

9. Tinker Toys

Tinker Toys were around throughout my childhood, though they were always kept in a special cupboard and brought out only once in a while. We had the wooden ones, and they were easily broken. Sometimes you couldn't get the sticks into the holes and sometimes you couldn't get them out of the holes once they were in, and in the end you might be able to make some kind of Ferris Wheel -- or you might not have enough pieces of the right size to do so, so you'd end up with a lame windmill, but hey. Like I said. They came out only every once in a while. So they were special.

10. Piñatas

Let it be known that the only thing I like about piñatas is eating the  candy.

I don't like waiting my turn.
Don't care to be blindfolded.
Not a fan of being spun.
Ain't keen on trying to hit something I can't see while everybody laughs.
Not particularly fond of watching a donkey lose its head.
And then the aftermath: Candy falls and everyone jumps in a pile trying to grab what they can and you get an elbow in your eye and when all is said and done you end up with a fistful of licorice-flavored toffee and a lollipop, the latter of which you have to fork over to a crying 3-year-old who "didn't get any" candy because she was too meek to get in said pile.

Gee, you would think I had a childhood full of bad piñata experiences.


Friday, August 2, 2013

All About Everything - Week Of July 30th, 2013

This Week's Topic: Teetotums!

(Teetotums having nothing, I repeat, nothing to do with Teetotalers, although one could presume teetotalers used teetotums for fun & general amusement.)

From Wikipedia, the free encyclopedia:

A teetotum (or T-totum) is a form of gambling spinning top. It has a polygonal body marked with letters or numbers, which indicate the result of each spin. In its earliest form the body was square (in some cases via a stick through a regular six-sided die [1]), marked on the four sides by the letters A (Lat. aufer, take) indicating that the player takes one from the pool, D (Lat. depone, put down) when a fine has to be paid, N (Lat. nihil, nothing), and T (Lat. totum, all), when the whole pool is to be taken.

Other accounts give such letters as P, N, D (dimidium, half), and H or T or other combinations of letters. Other combinations of letters that could be found were NG, ZS, TA, TG, NH, ND, SL and M, which included the Latin terms Zona Salve ("save all"), Tibi Adfer ("take all"), Nihil Habeas ("nothing left"), Solve L ("save 50") and Nihil Dabis ("nothing happens").

The teetotum survives today as dreidel, a Jewish game played on Hanukkah. Some modern teetotums have six or eight sides, and are used in commercial board games in place of dice. The original 1860 version of The Game of Life used a teetotum in order to avoid the die's association with gambling.

* * * * *

Reading further on the subject, I learn that dice used to be considered evil and tainted, and that good, respectable folks did not play games with those cubed fiends. 

I'm glad that sentiment has pretty much died over the years, because think of how hard it would be to play Yahtzee if you have to spin five teetotums? THINK!