Meet JinglePixie! It might be from hell. I called it FiftiesPixie until it told me its real name. This is the creature from last week’s Diner, and possibly next week’s. Its appearance is a sign that the Christmas Season has begun its final strafing run; - it shows up when the decorations come out, but it never stays on the tree, and I find it elsewhere in the house a week later.
Sometimes I think its eyes move.
The week before Christmas is the best time of the season, and for me it begins the fortnight of enslackenment. I will not work until 1 AM and I will not worry about things undone because I didn’t work until 1 AM. I will sleep and read and relax and inch towards the semi-annual Complete Unplug, where I step away from all the machinery for at least 72 hours.
How I dread it.
1. If dogs had one blood-red reptilian eye we wouldn’t be so quick to anthropomorphize their reactions.
2. Human nature can be best explained by a novelty can of nuts that shoots out a snake when opened. When someone does it to you, you’re startled, and there’s a brief flash of aggression brought on by the body’s automatic reaction coupled with the immediate realization you trusted the person who handed you the can of nuts, and they knew it, and the entire point of the episode was to trade your trust for momentary amusement. Then you want to do it to someone else! This desire absolves the trickster and binds you back together.
After (G)Nat saw my reaction – “I knew you’d open it because you just love peanuts!” – she wanted to do it to Jasper Dog. He wandered over, sniffed the tube. She popped the lid and the snake flew out. He reacted as you might expect, having no frame of reference for this at all. He jumped back, looked at the snake, looked at us, then hastily walked away, pausing to stop and give us a reproachful look. It probably was nothing of the sort; his brain was probably moving back to the default state, which meant Scan For Food Or Interesting Movements That May Concern Me, and he looked back to see if either item had manifested itself. It just seemed reproachful. It would have been less so if he had one red unblinking reptilian eye.
Later (G)Nat showed him the can again, and he left the room. To hell with that thing. Snakes come out of it.
(G)Nat had her annual Christmas party on Saturday. Ornaments, crafts, cookie-decoration, over-sugared freakout dance in the basement, video watching, exhausted decompression. I missed most of it: gosh. How did that happen. I stayed around long enough to manage the Pizza Crisis, though. The kids wanted Domino’s.
But it is vile, I said. The crust is leathery, the cheese is clotted cow-grot, the sauce a mere smear, the ingredients sad reminders of the true thing.
Oh, fine. I ordered, and they said it would be here in 30 minutes. (They actually said “There,” but in these conversations, “There” is “here.”) After 50 minutes no pizza had arrived, and the girls were restive. I called again. They said the driver was on his way – they were real busy, sorry. Ten minutes later the driver showed up. He brought the pizzas but did not have the Cheesy Bread, and my coupon had included Cheesy Bread. Now I’m irritated, and what’s more, I’m irritated over something called Cheesy Bread, from Dominos. It’s like calling up Abuse on Demand and complaining because the deliveryman kicked you in the groin but didn’t crack your coccyx with a ball-peen hammer. So I called and noted that the pizza had been very late – oh, for the days when they promised to deliver that abomination in 30 minutes or it was free – and noted that the wretched salty carb-slab was not included. The manager said he’d send one right over, and mark my account for a free Kick in the Groin in the future. When the bread arrived I felt free to leave, and headed off on errands. That matter will be taken up at buzz.mn.
Saturday evening I wrapped presents while listening to old radio Christmas shows; while on errands I’d heard half of three shows, and wanted to hear how they turned out. Since I have most in the great unlistened archives, I could call them up and enjoy – and they’ll all be rolled out this week in Bleat Radio Theater. Our first example: the Jack Benny Show, from 1951.
I’ve mentioned this before, but much old-radio humor shows how perishable humor can be. Styles change; references are lost. What would pass for common conversation today produces riotous laughter. But people listened, just as people watch sitcoms today, and probably cracked a smile once or twice a show. The good ones are still funny - but unlike a good New Yorker cartoon or essay, they don’t transcend their era. In a way that makes them more interesting, since they’re accidental history lessons, the audio version of a popular cologne or a tune everyone whistled for a week.
This Benny show is a good start for this week’s series, and a perfect example of why the show was so beloved. Every character has an attribute, well known to the audience, and each set-piece exists to display and exploit the attribute. Don, the announcer, is Fat. Phil, the bandleader, is Vain and Smooth. Rochester is long-suffering and sane. Jack is cheap and peevish. And so on. The minor characters, however, are the reason I post this – one of the voices you’ll recognize, since you can hear the fundamental bone structure of every Warner Brothers character in his timbres; the other two survive to this day as clichés in Simpson episodes. Seriously: as I’ve noted before, Fat Tony comes from Sheldon Leonard, and – well, there’s a Simpsons ep in which Homer confronts a caustically ebullient salesman, and this is where that character came from. In radio, you couldn’t see them until they spoke. When this guy spoke, it was a big bright electrical charge that sluiced nationwide, and everyone listening – from Brooklyn to Peoria to Spokane to LA saw him in their mind, and laughed. I was driving the Element through a car wash in Bloomington Minnesota in 2007, fifty-six years after the show was aired, and I laughed. Out loud. (He doesn't do the yeeeessss? here, as it turns out. By 1951, he didn't have to.)
(Note: box.net seems to be acting up. As of press time it won't play the file, but it will let you download it - mouse over the speaker icon and click on the triangle that appears. Save to disk.)
See you at buzz.mn. New Match; new movie review up at Smartflix.com. And if you don't mind: buy the book. A wonderful holiday gift for young and old.