Wednesday, December 31, 2014

Creepy Holidays

Over Christmas, my youngest niece came clean, declaring her disbelief in Santa Claus. Which is kinda' sad. I think part of the joy of Christmas is fooling kids, messing with their minds and filling them full of ludicrous stories.

When asked why she quit believing, she replied, "It's ridiculous." Well, yes, the world's youngest pragmatist. Santa Claus is ridiculous, when you think about it. I mean, come on, how can one (albeit, supernatural) person load up a single sleigh full of toys for all the good boys and girls in the world? And as my older niece blatantly said, "It never mattered how bad I was. I still got everything I wanted."


It got me thinking. Sure, the Santa myth is crazy. But the Easter Bunny is even more out there. I know what Easter's supposed to be about. So how in the world did the holiday
end up revolving around a giant, scary bunny delivering chocolates? And isn't that creepy? I used to stay awake on Easter eve, fearful of the giant rabbit hop-hop-hopping through our house. Furthermore, Santa broke in through the chimney. How'd the bunny get in? Even as a kid, I wanted to declare "wabbit hunting season."

Then there's the Tooth Fairy. Good Gawd. It's gross enough that parents save their children's teeth. But for a fairy to sneak into your bedroom and collect teeth puts a whole new spin on obsessive-compulsive behavior. What's he (she?) do with those teeth? Why does he want them? And pay for them? In our holiday talks, my older niece said she knew it was all hokum when her cousin got paid about twenty dollars more for a fallen soldier of a tooth.

I'd love to keep the ol' holiday myths alive. But, frankly, they're all frightening. Strange creatures creeping into your house at night. Why they can't just knock on the door, use the postal service, whatever? Nope, instead they're acting like boogeymen. Something to warm the hearts of children everywhere.

Wednesday, December 24, 2014

A serious case of Claus-trophobia

No one loves Christmas more than me. But the big red guy at the center of it all? Creepy.

Have you guys seen the original German "Krampus" visualization? I mean, "Big K's" name alone probably terrifies women, but this guy's absolutely horrendous looking. Cloven-hoofed, horned, and he eats children. MERRY Christmas, everybody, Merry Christmas.

But back to the good ol' fashioned representation of Santa Claus. Still kinda spooky. I present my case:

A) A fat, old man with a beard who makes toys.

Well, get a life. And, really, toys are for kids. Kringle, katch a klue.

B) Santa makes a list. Then he checks it twice.

Okay, it's weird enough Santa makes a list, clearly he has a lotta' time on his hands. But poring over said list, time and again just seems sorta' anal-retentive. And by the way, who's Santa's boss, anyway? Who's paying his wages? How can he afford a full-time staff of elves? Reindeer food can't be cheap.

C) He sees you when you're sleeping.

I don't know about you, but I've got a restraining order out on the guy.

D) Santa laughs like a rusty, runaway train. Constantly.

How is that supposed to inspire warmth and good tidings? When I hear "ho, ho, ho," I run for cover, cowering beneath my bed. Spooky.

E) Like Kathie Lee Gifford and the Kardashians, Santa runs a "sweatshop."

Forget about that little dentist elf. That's a story for a different time. Seriously. Elves need to unionize.

F) Santa drops down chimneys.

Every Christmas, I shove the sofa in front of the chimney. Worse than an unwanted dinner guest. And much scarier.

G) Santa beats reindeers with a leash.

PETA, take note. And he laughs maniacally while abusing the poor creatures.

H) Sometimes Santa brings socks.


There you have it. You're welcome.

Merry Christmas and Happy Hanukkah and Kwanzaa and any other holiday I neglected to mention, everyone!

Friday, December 19, 2014

The Peter Pan Conumdrum

Well, we watched the recent live musical TV presentation of Peter Pan and clocked out half-way through. Too many "Lost Boys" twirling and prancing around.

We tuned in for Christopher Walken, an always interesting presence, even if he does subscribe to the school of Rex Harrison speak-singing. No problem. Guy's bizarre enough, I'd watch him read a French restaurant menu.

But. And we're talking a big But. Is it weird that I found Peter Pan attractive? It's clear she's a hot gal flying around, pretending to be a boy. Not for a minute did I think she was a boy, even with all the so-called masculine posturing. Her hips don't lie.

Yet it bugs, bothers me like that itch in the middle of your back you can't reach.

This damn musical's got me thinking, never a good thing. Why is Peter Pan always portrayed by a woman? What's up with that? Is it someone's subversive idea to twist gender roles and make males uncomfortable? It's like a distaff version of a Kabuki actor. 

What's that old saying? "Peter Pan's the 'boy' every male wants to be with and every female wants to be?" That doesn't seem quite right. Seems kinda messed up, in more ways than one.

I mean, if Nick Nolte were flying around on a wire in green tights, I wouldn't find him attractive. Who would, right? (But, come to think of it, I'd kinda' like to see that, I think).

My wife says a female portraying Peter Pan is tradition. Okay, I'll bite, but a tradition started by whom? Some transvestite Broadway producer?

(Cue scene:)

"I wanna' make 'Guys and Gals.' Bigger, bolder and better! (Spreads hands while chomping on a stogie). But, hold the gals, make it all guys, just put 'em in dresses. Brilliant! 'Guys and Guys Pretending To Be Gals!' I tell ya', we can't lose!"

Musicals are a weird beast. People don't generally break out into song while walking down the street. Well, maybe some do. But I digress.

I just never expected Peter Pan to upset my entire world-view. And, yeah, I still find whatever-her-name-is attractive, green tights and all. Especially the green tights. It's not easy being green.

Friday, December 12, 2014

Interview with a werewolf (and, um, Babe Ruth's underpants)

I'm a fan of the sibling writer team of Heather Brainerd and David Fraser. Their Josie Picado mystery books are a fun hoot-and-a-half. Here in the Midwest, we usually only accord one hoot, so you know the books have gotta' be good. Recently, they launched a new MG series that's fun for all ages. I had to hit 'em up about it.

*Stuart: Shadows of New York seems tailor-made for my geek sensibilities. There’s a werewolf nanny, a cad of a vampire, an awkward leprechaun, not to mention a wraith wreaking havoc across New York City. Not a question, but thank you!

*Heather: Um, you’re welcome. We just write what we like. It’s a happy coincidence when other people like it, too. 

*Stuart: You're giving me that "geek" look, Heather. Whatever. I'm used to it. Anyway, I enjoy how you and your brother, David, don’t write down to kids. It reads well for adults, too. 

*Heather: Between the two of us, we have five tweens/teens. (The teens were tweens when we started writing The Manny (its working title back then). So we kind of know the age group pretty well.

*Stuart: Josh seems like a well-adjusted kid for having basically “absentee” parents. I think that’s kinda’ cool. Still, he has a penchant for pushing, spying, prying where he shouldn’t. Frankly I think his “manny” is a little too lenient with him. Maybe a good time-out is in order?

*Heather: Yeah, Josh could do with a trip to the naughty stool, as we used to call it. But this is Aiden’s first full-time nanny gig. He’s still getting the hang of things.

*Stuart: Speaking as a parent, boy needs more than the naughty stool. Take away his iPhone! Just sayin'. Rosemary, on the other hand, speaks and acts like she’s Katherine Hepburn in a screw-ball comedy. I’ve never met a six-year-old like this. Please TELL me she’s not based on one of your children.

*Heather: Actually, I think she’s an awful lot like Dave’s younger daughter. My niece loves sparkly fashion, Disney princesses, and Doctor Who. A girl after my own heart.

*Stuart: Doctor Who? Yay. Sparly? Ugh. So, is Brad Pitt a werewolf or vampire groupie? I saw him pop up in the book.

*Heather: Werewolf, since they make great nannies. Plus, he’s trying to forget the whole Interview with the Vampire debacle.

*Stuart: Aren't we all? Moving on..."Babe Ruth’s underpants!” Lol. And explain. 

*Uh-oh, here comes Dave: Hi, everyone. This is Dave hijacking this answer. The sad fact is that it was just one of those things that show up from out of nowhere. There was no real thought process. However, that seems like a lame answer, so I'll come up with a better one. Here we go...

I live a little over an hour from Cooperstown, NY, home of the National Baseball Hall of Fame and Museum. I try to get there once or twice a year, usually coinciding with something like an old timer's game. One visit happened to be at the same time as a special exhibition entitled, "Major League Skivvies: The Uniform You Don't See." They had things there from George Hendrick's socks to, you guessed it, Babe Ruth's underpants. I thought that was the coolest thing in the world. A day or two later, I was working on The Manny. I needed something that a New Yorker might yell when shocked and Babe Ruth's underpants were still fresh in my mind.
 We now return you to your regularly scheduled interview.

(To the left are the people responsible for writing this thing. For once, you can't blame me).


*Stuart: (I think Dave's a lil'...well..."psycho-killer". I'll never forgive the interview he did with me!). There’s a chapter where there’s a detailed walk-through of a video game. It had me worried at first, thinking you or Dave, your sibling writing partner, were getting their nerd on. But you do tie it in to the tale quite cleverly.

*Heather: Thanks. That scene was totally Dave. I am so not a gamer. But I love the way he handled it.

*Stuart: Figures. Back on track, I was concerned about some of the characters’ names. I mean, “Larry Fancypants?” But I should’ve had faith. You explain it in a funny and surprisingly logical manner. One of the things I really like about the world you and Dave have created is the coherence and how it all hangs together. Did you guys create the Imaginary World first, plot later? How’d it come about?

*Heather: We don’t plot. Dave and I are total pantsers (though not of the fancy variety). We call our writing method “driving blind.” Makes for a fair bit of revision to create coherence, but that’s what works for us. Oh, and those wacky names? Our kids came up with them.

*Stuart: Kids. Whaddaya' gonna' do? In the book, we meet two different queens in the Imaginary World of Shadows of New York; the Queen of Shadows and the Queen of Fairies, both of whom I like. Tell me, in the sequel (there is going to be one, right?), is the Queen of Werewolves, Mira, going to play an integral role?

*Heather: Oh yes, Mira is an integral part of the next book in The Manny series. Or maybe not. We’ll see where it takes us.

*Stuart: The ending. Without giving anything away, I felt one of the villains didn’t get enough comeuppance and that the heroes were more forgiving than I certainly would’ve been. Now, I kinda’ think I know why you and Dave wrote it this way. Shadows is a MG book; bloody retribution probably isn’t the best thing for young readers. LOL. And it dovetails with a nice message about the nature of friendship. Am I on the right track here?

*Heather: Yes, you’re on the right track. And keep in mind that the villain in question will be serving penance for the next two centuries, so it’s not exactly a clean getaway.

*Stuart: Not enough penance in my opinion. So…Lady GaGa is the President of the Imagine Nation. LOL! A shame you couldn’t have used her “real” name. But it was a funny touch.

*Heather: We did use her real name until we begrudgingly changed it. It’s good to know that the President’s true identity is clear to readers.

Thanks for hosting us, Stuart! 

Stuart: Most welcome! 

What's it all about? In case you hadn't gathered yet:

What do you do when your view of the world gets turned on its head? Eleven-year-old Josh Cooper is surprised when his new nanny ends up being a dude, but that pales in comparison to how he feels when he learns the nanny, Aiden, is also a werewolf. Aiden teaches Josh about the Imaginary World, even introducing him to his friends Larry Fancypants (a suave-yet-goofy vampire) and Steve Lickerman (a tall-yet-meek leprechaun). This fascinating world seems harmless, until Josh learns of the shadowy wraith that’s stalking New York, attacking creatures and stealing their powers. As werewolves are ideally suited for fighting wraiths, Aiden is called upon to help capture the elusive Mr. Midnight, unintentionally drawing Josh even deeper into the strange and mysterious.

MuseItUp Publishing:


Friday, December 5, 2014

Thanksgiving at Otto's Diner...pray you get out alive

Thanksgiving has come and passed and, dang, if I'm not exhausted.

My wife and I spent it in Oklahoma with her family, an enjoyable time. But the trip there was anything but.

Somewhere in the middle of Oklahoma we needed lunch. Inspiration struck me (usually not a good thing) and I suggested we find a "good ol'-fashioned diner." I told my wife it'll be an adventure. Which was really dumb of me because our "adventures" are tantamount to trauma.

Lo, and behold, "Otto's Diner" reared its little dingy head along a strip of dilapidated stores on Main Street in Woebegone, Oklahoma.

I knew we were in trouble as soon as we stepped inside. An aqua, orange and brown motif burned my eyes, all the colors of the Scooby Gang Mystery Machine. Squiggly lava lamp burps covered the laminated table tops. Some sorta cryptic type-written code filled the menu, clearly designed as an inside joke that unfortunate tourists weren't privy to. No one in Otto's appeared to be under sixty years old.The Twilight ("years?") Zone of diners.

Immediately, we were thrust into the nebulous world of
surrealistic dining experiences, hustled to a table before we could beat feet. I asked the very tired waitress if they had Coke Zero which totally stumped her. She hemmed, hawed, looked at me as if I'd shot a president or something. Tossing up her arms, she said, "we got Pepsi."

My wife asked if they had a low-fat salad dressing. Again, the waitress was mystified, clearly having never heard of such a strange beast. She turned around, opened a small refrigerator. Like a game-show model (except, not), she waved her hand over a grocery store selection of four bottles of Kraft dressings. "Got Ranch, honey."

Remarkably still in the spirit of the holiday, I ordered chicken fried steak and mashed potatoes. Because everyone knows small towns do those sort of things right. Right? Wrong. Straight out of a box and tossed into a microwave. Who knows what kinda' animal sacrificed their life posing as a "chicken fried steak." (Um, come to think of it, is chicken fried steak cow or chicken? Spam, maybe?)

I knew we'd entered "Children of the Corn" territory when the elderly regulars started bleating loud jokes about "Spaghetti Red," using it as a taunt, perhaps a challenge. Maybe a death threat. Brrr. Chilling. I'm still wondering what was so funny about "Spaghetti Red." The color connotation alone is the stuff of nightmares.

You know, the old guy who kept coming by to ask how everything was (presumably Otto) seemed nice, obviously taking pride in his culinary masterworks. I didn't have the heart to tell him everything sucked.

Worst of all, our waitress hovered three feet behind us while we ate. Watching us. Very carefully. Waiting. Perhaps for a tip? Or...waiting to grab us in an alley as we left.

My poor, full bladder had to wait. I didn't want to end up on someone's plate as "Spaghetti Red."

I do have to say, however, the wall photo of the ghost dog was kinda' cool. Oh, sure, a "ghost dog" they all take for granted, no big deal. But ask 'em about "Coke Zero?" Pure lunacy.