more lizard people, please

I’ve been a science-fiction fan since I was a teenager, and I believe there is only one cardinal rule of the genre, a ‘prime directive,’ if you will: Create No Boredom. Here’s the deal. In theory, it should be impossible to create boring science fiction. Laughably bad sci-fi, I’ll watch. Campy sci-fi? Why not. Even really-disappointing-so-thank-god-i-didn’t-pay-to-see-it-in-the-theater sci-fi. But boring science fiction is as oxymoronic as…a groundbreaking Bon Jovi album…or…a substantive Sarah Palin interview.

If you are combining science with fiction, how in hell do you end up with something dull? You have all of science to draw upon (which is most of mankind’s collected knowledge) and fiction to work with (an essentially infinite amount of possibilities here, because…you can make up anything you want!) So how  do you end up with the TV equivalent of a Swanson Chicken Pot Pie, where everything in it just sort of tastes…gray? How, in the name of James Doohan, do you do that?

The answer is, you waste time on romantic and family relationships. There was a short-lived show called Flash Forward which had, as its premise, the idea that every human on Earth blacked out for two minutes and seventeen seconds and during said blackout saw glimpses of the future. Okay writers—run with it! Or, don’t, and spend minute after leaden minute showing us the collapsing marriage of the lead investigator. Wuh…huh?

Incidentally, it seems like every third drama on television—X-Files, Flash Forward, V, Fringe, which I enjoy–involves some secret branch of the FB freakin’ I…how many of these little boutique divisions does the FBI have, fer chrissake? is anyone still investigating bank robberies, or mail fraud?

Back to my point (in case you blacked out)–not counting commercials, the show has about forty-five minutes to deal with explaining a rip in the time-space continuum. This means we don’t have time to waste on some character’s personal demons. I don’t care if our hero has a drinking problem—he’s got shit to figure out! Get back to the weird stuff that’s never happened in the history of the planet!

Now V had some potential. It has extra-terrestrial life forms—AND they’re lizards! How cool is that? And for the first nine minutes of the pilot, man, does it ever deliver. Check that—the ninth minute delivers, because that’s when we get the money shot of the spaceship. After that, set phasers to ‘snooze.’ The skeptical commanding officer. The ambitious reporter. And. The. Relationships. The rebellious son. The naïve fiancée. C’mon–show us the lizard people!!!

Again, you’d think that, in an hour-long show, there would be scene after scene of lizard-people–eating humans, shorting out our brain waves, or at least—doing something other than talking! Stop talking!

It can’t be possible for a show to jump the shark in the third episode. But there it was, a scene in which the brooding teenager glances longingly at the lizard-person-who-looks–like-a-hottie—the almost palpable melancholy as he realizes he won’t be able to date the Lizard Hottie (see, they’re from two different worlds). Stop it! Then there’s a scene where Mom comes into moody kid’s bedroom to thank him for not getting involved with the Lizard People (because see, she knows they’re up to no good), after which he stares at the picture of Lizard Hottie on his cell phone. Cut to blah.

Don’t get me wrong. I’m not saying science fiction should be just spaceships and aliens—sure, spend a little time making us care about the people fighting the mysterious visitors. Then get to the good stuff! I’m just sayin’ that there are very few classic science fiction stories that I can think of where I’ve thought afterwards, “Yeah, that was a compelling look at an alternate reality, but why didn’t they show us more about that guy’s relationships?”

Even something as iconic as Star Wars—if George Lucas had dropped the whole Han Solo/Princess Leia, Sam-and-Diane love/hate thing, I don’t think we would have missed it. Because every scene of people doing…people things means one less scene where aliens do…alien things, and that’s what I want from science fiction. If I want to spend an hour watching people deal with their relationships, I’ll watch Brothers and Sisters.

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rushing the season

Apparently, I was confused. I thought Christmas celebrated the birth of Jesus (which, from what I’ve read, was a one-day event), but last year my local Walgreens was under the impression that we’re celebrating Mary’s last trimester. That’s right; they had Christmas items on the shelf in October.

I’m a big ol’ Jew now, but I was raised in a Christian home, and I still have some fond memories of Christmas traditions. For me, the start of the holiday season was always marked by the ad with Santa riding a Norelco electric razor. Call me sentimental.
Of course, when I think of childhood, I mostly remember all the toys, beckoning from under the twinkling lights of a tree trimmed with strands of tinsel. And looking back, I can see that most of my toys sucked.


I got the short end of the gift stick through no fault of my parents. Even with just my mom’s social security and my stepdad’s veteran’s benefits, there was always something for me to open on Christmas morning.

The problem was, having been born in 1960, I was too old for toys by the time the cool toys came out. I still remember being envious of kids who had a Big Wheel, because the Big Wheel debuted in 1969, and what with me being nine, I was too old to ride one.


Another problem was that I was really smart, so Mom would always buy me smart kid toys, as opposed to toys that involved, say, going outside. Don’t get me wrong—I always asked for brainy toys, but it probably would have been a good idea, social-development-wise, for Mom to get me a ball, or a bat, or a glove, and suggest I leave my room. Instead, one year, she got me a globe.

Great. I’ll invite some friends over. We can…point to different countries.

visible man and woman anatomical

One year for Christmas, I got what was called ‘The Visible Man,’ I guess the reasoning being, “He’s sure smart for a sixth-grader, which must mean he’ll become a doctor, so he’d better learn where the spleen is.” Of course, I could always invite friends over and point to it. Maybe the reason my generation is so fat and sedentary is that so many of our toys didn’t actually DO ANYTHING. Or, I got a lot of toys that did one thing, and that’s it. So, I’d gleefully open a package, do the one the toy was capable of, and think, “That’s all it does?”

Here are some examples of toys which…don’t do a whole lot.

(To my younger readers, none of these toys ‘plug in,’ so they would make perfect gifts for your Amish nephew.)



Behold, the Wheel-O. Through the magic of gyro-dynamic something-or-other, the wheel goes around the loop thingie, and back. Down. And up. Minutes of fun.


These were called Clackers. They bang together. Loud enough to annoy the entire family, yet dangerous enough to leave a bruise.


Our last entry in the Parade of Pointless Toys is the Wizzer. Despite what it says, it does not do ‘a zillion fantastic tricks.’ It spins if you roll the rubber tip on the ground. And then it stops spinning.


I never had a Slinky, but only because our house didn’t have stairs.

hot wheels

Though I’m not a car guy (somehow I missed that genetic marker), I had some toy cars. Hot Wheels cars were how I rolled, and the best thing about Hot Wheels was the track that came in pieces you could assemble in infinite combinations. Or, you could just do a straightaway, with a loop in the middle.

Anyway, I would push my car toward the loop, and the car would race to the top, and…plummet to the floor. The imaginary carnage was horrifying.


Then came the ne plus ultra of car toys for 1972, the SSP Racer. First of all, this commercial mentions that it comes with ‘sonic sound,’ and there’s no sound more thrilling to a young boy than sonic sound. So, I would insert the special T-stick, pull it out, put the car on the floor, and…then the car would be lost, or broken. But it really went fast that one time.


The two most frustrating toys from my youth were the Etch-A-Sketch and the Spirograph. Etch-A-Sketch was great for drawing steps (and what kid doesn’t enjoy that?), but then there was that special moment when you figured out you could draw a curved line by turning both wheels at the same time. And….then you were done with it.

Side note—if you fight with your cousin over an Etch-A-Sketch and it breaks, aluminum powder is a bitch to get out of the carpet.


The problem with Spirograph was that the box would tell you that you can make designs like the one on the right, when in fact, you can’t.

That, and the fact that if you lost either the pens or push pins that came in the box, no other pen or pin made by humans would fit in the little holes. And, the fact that it was impossible to use the long skinny pieces at all.


My childhood was a time when it was considered entertaining to look into plastic binoculars and see 3-D still pictures of the Grand Canyon. Presenting–the Viewmaster! Entire afternoons spent clicking and staring. You could even get discs for it with still pictures from movies and TV shows! Did I mention they were in 3-D?  Now that I think of it, if they still made these, I could catch up on ‘Mad Men’ without having to pay for cable.

Every year, I gave my mom a Christmas list, and from the time I was seven or eight, I wanted an ant farm. It went on the list, and every year, no ant farm. Oh, I always got the new edition of the World Almanac and Book of Facts, but never the ant farm. Until, one Christmas, I couldn’t believe my eyes. I tore off the wrapping paper and there it was—UNCLE MILTON’S GIANT ANT FARM!

The thing is, I was seventeen when I finally got it. Really, Mom? I know the box says ‘ages seven and up,’ but, really? Only thing I can figure is that Mom kept all the old Christmas lists and, since I never told her I had stopped wanting an ant farm, she finally decided, “He’s ready for this now.” Oh well, it’s the thought that counts.

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animal instincts

Now that I live with The Girlfriend, I also live with two cats. Now, I’ve never been a ‘dog person,’ and before you all start typing your angry comments promoting your ‘pro-dog’ agenda, let me be clear. I have seen a dog be cute. A few times. But there are a few reasons I never wanted a dog as a pet:

  • They’re needy.
  • They slobber.
  • Occasionally, they shit on the floor.
  • Seriously, if a woman (or a man) had any of those traits, I wouldn’t want to DATE them, let alone feed them and have to paper-train then.

The only thing better about dogs than cats is that a dog will mind you. A cat will simply remind you how powerless you are…you can tell a cat not to do something, and if they don’t heed you, you can…tell them not to…again.That’s pretty much all ya have in your arsenal.

I have a friend who thinks I should get a fish. Give a man a fish, he eats for a day. Teach a man to fish, he eats for a lifetime. Own a pet fish and…what? See, it’s not even in the saying. The problem I have with fish as pets is, it seems like they can’t hold up their end of the owner (sorry, companion) – pet contract, which states:

1.      I will feed you regularly.

2.      You will love me unconditionally. (I realize this skews a little in my favor, but you signed the fucker.)

How the hell are you supposed to know if a fish loves you? A creepy side-wink when you change the water in his tank? Also, I’ve had a cat before, and I remember it being really cool if I were stressed out, to put the cat on my chest and just be lulled to sleep. You cannot do that with a fish. Well, you can, once. Then you have to get another fish.

I thought, “You know, I’m already pretty eccentric, why not get the weird pet, too.” (Now, if your reading this aloud, you should deliver the next line in the voice of Gabby Hayes.) So I went to the Google to look it up. (Drop Gabby Hayes voice here.) My search string was ‘unusual apartment pets,’ and lemme tell ya, some people are thinking WAY outside the litterbox.

Hermit crab? Nah…hard to pet. Ferret? I’ll pass on anything belonging to the mammalian group Rodentia, thank you very much. A pot-bellied pig! Oh sure, and while I’m at it why don’t I look for one with a limp, so it can look like my freakin’ porcine doppelganger!

I had to laugh when I read about the Madagascar hissing roach. Apparently, this particular roach is a popular pet. I suppose part of the appeal is that if you get bored with your pet roach, you can kill it with impugnity, ‘cuz…it’s a cockroach. I’m just imagining the roaches from my apartment in Chicago running into one of these pampered novelty acts in some dark cupboard—

“We hear you got mad skillz, yo! What do you do? You…hiss? For reals? Ah HELL no! Chicago roaches kick your thorax, beeyatch!”

One interesting pet possibility was the Australian Sugar Glider. Adorable fella, the glider; he’s a marsupial, but not as Hallmark-cutesie as a koala. Then I found out they cost a hundred and seventy-five dollars, and fifty bucks to neuter them, because if I don’t neuter the bastard, you know he’ll be makin’ time with all the other Australian Snow Gliders in the neighborhood! Oh, and there’s this from the same site—“ Sugar Gilders require so much attention that if left alone too much or if they feel neglected, they will stop eating and eventually die.” Great—it’s my college girlfriend with sharper teeth.

I knew a woman who once owned a hedgehog (true statement, but sadly it also sounds like a lost Zeppelin lyric). I found the definitive hedgehogs-as-pets website, and one paragraph struck me—allow me to parse it for you.

To handle a hedgehog (and this is me avoiding the sophomoric double-entendre), place your hand on each side of him and gently cup him in your hand (right, now it reads like gay porn).Use great caution not to place your fingers in the middle (this thing is suddenly not sounding so cuddly, but…okay).They can ball up quickly and your finger can get caught in the middle of a bunch of quills being squeezed together by very strong muscles (WTF!!!). If this happens, you will need to gently uncurl him to ease his anxiety (HIS anxiety? This Satanic mini-Ewok has decided to turn me into a pincushion, and I have to be gentle?).First, turn him over on his back to identify where the nose is located (What kind of carnival freak show am I in?). Gently rock forwards and backwards, and when the nose starts to show the front legs will also emerge. As the legs reach for the ground, gently put the hedgehog down (never to pick it up again).

So, I’m glad we have cats. Although if I were alone, I’d probably just have one, because I’m pretty sure that “multiple cats, lives alone, kind of a drifter, drinks a bit” is the character breakdown for ‘Crazy Cat Guy Serial Killer’ on an episode of Criminal Minds.

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screwing with your head

NASA will be releasing more of what they’re calling ‘cleaned up’ footage of the moon landing, and that’s like Christmas for wackadoo conspiracy buffs (I don’t call them ‘theorists,’ since they’re usually a bit short on that whole evidence thing that makes a theory…a theory). While I do believe we walked on the moon (and by ‘we’ I mean ‘they’) I wouldn’t be surprised to find out NASA did a bit of editing. For instance, they probably chose to remove the following:

  • The moments just after the ‘one small step’ speech, when Neil Armstrong was uncontrollably screaming “ARE YOU SHITTING ME? I’M ON THE FUCKIN’ MOON!!! JUST ME, YOU SONS OF BITCHES—NOT YOU, ME! (I always thought that, if he wanted to, Armstrong could have been an enormous prick when he got back—picture him in some bar, guy next to him is yammering on about some promotion, and Neil stops him, just points at the moon out the window and says “That’s nice—ever been THERE, loser?
  • The audio of Michael Collins saying “Oh, that’s great—big first trip to the moon in human history, and I basically get to drive you guys there. No, that’s cool, you go down there—I just wanted to get close…nah, seriously, get a little golf in—I’ll just circle around till you’re done—I got some Tang, I’m good.”
  • The approximately seven minutes of silence when Armstrong, just to mess with Mission Control, told them he saw something “over there—behind the module—and it’s coming after me!” after which he pretended that communications device was ‘on the fritz.’

I spend a lot of my time thinking of ways to mess with people. I don’t act on them, because I’m enormously lazy, but I do like thinking of them. I’ve always wanted, when a Jehovah’s Witness comes to my apartment (seriously, you think I’ll convert to a religion based on a pamphlet and a conversation held in my doorway? “Yeah, that sounds good—you guys meet on Saturdays, right?”) to actually invite them in…tell them I’ve been waiting for someone I don’t know to randomly visit and talk about their faith with me.

Here’s another pointless way to freak people out—go someplace busy, where people wait on line for a really long time (a bank on Friday afternoon, perhaps), and every time the line starts moving, keep letting people go ahead of you. For like, an hour. Just keep saying, “No, you can go ahead of me.” Heads will explode.

Or, try this—when you’re at home, play some really meditative music—new age, quiet, solo piano, George Winston contemplating the seasons while gazing at his navel barefoot stuff—but play it REALLY LOUD—just because it’ll make the neighbors feel so weird complaining –“Hey man—would you PLEASE turn down that…really pretty and evocative tone poem? Never mind.”

Just some ideas for killing some time. For you guys. It’s not like I’d ever mess with people like that.

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unpacking my life

I like feeling settled. After many years of living on the edge, I love that, when a friend ask me what’s up, I can actually say, ‘Nothing new,’ by which I mean, no new crisis (“Crisis-Free Since 2010!”)

Settled—weird word, since it’s usually a negative (“You settled for this when you could’ve had that?”) Now, I have choice anxiety with everything—an ideal restaurant menu for me would have, like, three or four items, tops, otherwise I spend half an hour just figuring out what appetizer to have (and then, no matter what I choose, I end up envious of what someone else ordered.) So picking a place to live and (gawd no!) settle down, used to make my head explode.

I’ve moved around a lot, sometimes from things, usually away from things, all the while trying to ‘follow my bliss.’ Turns out, apparently, I had my bliss with me all along. Must have been in a suitcase under some sweaters. Understand, Minneapolis had always been my default go-to place when the wheels fell off (I’ve moved here four times), but this time I had a novel idea—maybe I’ll stay.

I got an apartment right the hell where I was, in Minneapolis, and after a few months, I can officially say—I’m happy here. I think it was Bhagwan Shree Rajneesh (or illusionist Doug Henning—I get my vaguely hippie seventies fringe celebrities mixed up) from whom I first heard the phrase “Be here now.” I always knew that was a profound way to live, to be in the present, connected to the now. But my problem was, I was always too busy packing for there, then to devote much time to being here, now.

I lived here for several years in the eighties, but since I always felt I would move somewhere else, I never really tried to ‘grok’ the place (which I’d explain, but I’d rather people read a little Heinlein.) I was always just here ‘until I have enough money to move.’ This time feels different–I intend to embrace Minnesota. To that end, here’s a hotdish full of random Minnesota observations—you might enjoy these with some tater tots!

  • Minnesota, of course, gave the world Garrison Keillor and Prince—although I don’t think they ever shared a stage…A Purple Home Companion?
  • Inventors in Minnesota created the aluminum bundt pan and the Tilt-A-Whirl, Scotch tape and Cream of Wheat—four of the pillars of American society…I might be exaggerating, but they’re all pretty cool.
  • The Minneapolis suburb of Maple Grove (“I’ll take Generic Bucolic Place Names for 600, Alex”) has a huge Hindu temple, and Hampton, Minnesota is the site of one of the country’s largest Cambodian Buddhist temples. Factor in the large Somali and Hmong populations in Minneapolis, and I guess it’s not as monochromatic here as I thought. (Although I would have loved to have been at the Maple Grove city council meetings to hear the objections to the Hindu temple—“It’s not the Hindus we don’t like—it’s those damned finger cymbals…”)
  • This state has the only gas station designed by Frank Lloyd Wright—welcome to Cognitive Dissonance, Minnesota!
  • There’s a pizza joint here whose drivers, clad in superhero costumes, drive electic cars from their wind-powered store. Stoners in Minnesota probably think they accidentally called the future.
  • Street views of North Oaks, Minnesota are not included in Google Maps, because the privately owned town successfully sued Google for trespassing. We might want to look there for the next terrorist cell.
  • Minnesota was the first state to declare an official state mushroom. This place definitely knows how to celebrate fungus.
  • Longville, Minnesota is the “Turtle Racing Capital of The World’—every Wednesday, right down Main Street. My guess is, the city fathers realized how slow life was in Longville, and figured by having turtles race, visitors would see the turtles and think the people in Longville were leading fast-pace lives by comparison.
  • This is a weird and wonderful state, politically speaking. Forgetting the wrestler and the comedian, the good citizens here saw fit to elect the first Muslim representative to Congress AND an arch conservative Luddite harpie. I think this fiercely independent streak stems from an attitude, as winter starts to descend in November, of “Well, I’m kinda bored, and we haven’t had one of those before..” And despite the presence of people who would elect Michelle Bachman, overall, our lefty cred is pretty solid—we’re the only state Mondale carried, for chrissake.  I think this is because as provincial and reserved as Minnesotans can be in public, in the anonymity of the voting booth, people here end up deciding government oughta do some stuff.
  • Bob Dylan AND Charles Schulz. “It’s Blowin’ In The Wind, Charlie Brown!?”

The only Minnesota thing I can’t get behind is lutefisk, which is cod soaked in lye. Roll that around in your brain. Cod. Soaked in lye. I picture the early settlers thinking “Ya know, I like fish a lot. Amost too much, don’t ya know. Maybe if I added something to the fish, that’s like, a poison. We’ll put it on some dry crackers and call it traditional!”

Every day I remind myself why I fell in love with this very…yin-yangy place. And if I ever start whining about a lack of ‘edge’ here, remind me of these two stories, which happened within a week of each other:

I’m at my neighborhood coffeehouse, doing the same work I’d be doing at home, but here, people can SEE that I’m a writer (“ooh—he’s smoking and he has a laptop…wonder what he’s working on”). Now the first thing I noticed was the graffiti on the side of the building—who tags a coffeehouse? What kind of props do you earn marking the local java joint…are there gangs claiming this as turf? “Yo yo yo—acoustic open mic is ours, bitch—you better step off!” Then, as I sit writing this very piece, all of sudden two dudes are fighting. Punches thrown, rolling in the shrubbery, iced mocha splatter everywhere—you expect fisticuffs in front of dive bars, but you rarely see a fight in front of someplace with a special on cranberry-walnut muffins.

Speaking of dive bars, at my nearest watering hole, I spent part of one night talking about the Twins game for an hour with a transgender lesbian biker Navy vet. I’m pretty sure Norman Rockwell never painted that.

Everything’s falling into place for me here, with strange and quirky details, like a film that was started by Fellini, but with a final cut by Bergman. And to top it all off, now our baseball team can suck outdoors, like God intended. Don’t tell the student loan people, but I’m gonna be here for quite a while.

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sad news from the world of music

The Recording Academy, which bestows the Grammy Awards, announced late on Wednesday that the polka category would be eliminated, saying in a statement that it had been cut “to ensure the awards process remains representative of the current musical landscape.”–New York Times

Whether you roll out your barrel Cleveland-style or Chicago-style, the world became a sadder place in the last couple years, as word spread that there will be no more Grammys awarded for Best Polka Recording.


distraught Polka-Americans reacting to Grammy snub

This is truly a musical genre which has touched us all. Whether you’ve danced with a drunk aunt at a Wisconsin wedding (like I’m the only one) or simply lounged around your apartment in a new pair of lederhosen (again–just me, I suppose?), you can’t deny the power of the oom-pah-pah. And yet the Recording Academy in its wisdom has decided the polka is no longer relevent. Of course, this is the same Academy that gave the first Heavy Metal award to Jethro Tull, and gave a ‘best new artist’ Grammy to Taste of Honey over Elvis Costello. You’re telling me “Boogie Oogie Oogie” is more relevant than “Beer Barrel Polka?” Please.
In a country which celebrates diversity, this slight is like a slap in the face with a raw bratwurst. No Grammy for polka music? That’s like not having a Nobel Prize for…polka music. And where will this lead, I ask you? Huh? Where, dammit? Ok, you’re not answering, so I’ll tell you. First it’s no polka award, then they stop giving away awards for jazz…then classical…then rock…and pretty soon the Grammy Awards show becomes three and a half hours of the Jonas Brothers.
what do we tell these people?

Jimmy Sturr has received more Grammys–18–than Bruce Springsteen.  That’s eighteen of the twenty-four awards EVER given for Best Polka Album. Yet when asked about his success, he exemplifies the humility, and, indeed the universality of  polka music:

“I’m not going to say I’m the best band in the whole world, but we’re just as good as any.”

True enough, Jimmy. But what of the children, the dozens of fresh-faced kids who begged their daddies for their first used accordions? To what can they aspire? They won’t be able to break Jimmy’s polka Grammy record, because there won’t be any more polka Grammys to receive.


To be sure, polka has its critics. Some have said that exposure to its frenetic rhythms has led to an increase in ADD and ADHD in children. Others claim that polka music leads to alcoholism, while still others believe that alcohol leads to polka music. Despite these concerns, one thing is clear–polka music deserves to be celebrated. I mean come on–they give a Grammy for Spoken Word Recording–try dancing to any one of the winners in that category.


For future generations, June 3rd, 2009 will surely be known as The Day The Accordion Died. When asked about the popularity of polka music as compared to other, more ‘award-worthy’ genres, I think once again Jimmy Sturr said it best:

“Polka isn’t the biggest,” he said, “but it’s not the smallest, either.”

How true, Jimmy. How very true.

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