Friday, December 16, 2005

Friday before Xmas at NerdCo

Writer: (agitated) I need a bottle opener! Do you have a bottle opener?

Editor: No, sorry.

Writer: What kind of an editor ARE you?

Thursday, December 15, 2005

So far out, I'm IN

When I was...oh, nine-ish...I got this Sew Perfect toy sewing machine for Christmas. It had a real needle and actually worked, in the sense that you could stitch two pieces of cloth together and they would stay affixed for a limited amount of time before unraveling. The set came with a couple snap-in thread cartridges and a handful of simple patterns; the only one I ever mastered was the Draw-String Bag: basically an open-ended fabric rectangle with a two-inch seam that you could run a ribbon or a piece of yarn through. A more-capable-seamstress friend of my grandmother's kindly gave me a big box of her fabric scraps, and I stitched up a whole bevy of those stupid Draw-String Bags. I should probably mention that they were all maybe six inches square, so we're not talking handy beach tote or even lunch sack here. But they matched my skill set--of sewing four relatively straight seams.

I also tried my hand at some doll clothes...but all of these garments were ponchos, a square with a hole in the middle. Occasionally a belt, if I was really feeling creative. When, two years ago, I made my own kitchen curtains out of cut-up IKEA tablecloths, on Michelle's machine, everybody asked me "Can you SEW?" Well, girls, I can make A SQUARE. With a rod pocket, too--in essence, the classic Draw-String Bag writ large.

This is a long-winded way for me to get to my admission that I'm addicted to Project Runway again. First, I appreciate the fact that it's a reality show that tests its participants on a measurable skill--it's not just mazes and puzzles in the jungle, or random promotions of salad dressing/toothpaste/Donald Trump spring water. These people make stuff. And of course it helps that the designers are dramatic and dorky and occasionally batshit crazy...but really I'm mesmerized more by the skill itself than any participant histrionics.

I mean, these competitors can think and sketch and cut and pin fabric, and all of a sudden whip up fully three-dimensional garments, literally out of whole cloth/thin air, and then here comes an outfit down the runway on this or that freakishly stomping model. This ability is so foreign to my way of thinking that I'm entirely awestruck each time...astonished as if they'd brought out a dog riding a bicycle or playing the trumpet. My imagination simply does not work that way, and so every single ensemble strikes me as MIRACULOUS. How do they do that?!? So weird, and so cool.

Thursday, December 08, 2005

A message from Matlock

My mother's e-mail response to the gingerbread house photos, in its entirety:

Well if you look like you are ready to cook and eat children, I look like I've already had a few too many!! I look just like Andy Griffith on that dumb show where he is a lawyer! I could be his double on film!!! I appear to be in my 70's or 80's!! Today I feel like it too!! Oh well, it was fun anyway! M.

A few too many...children?

Wednesday, December 07, 2005

You're the Charlie-Browniest

I curled up last night to watch "A Charlie Brown Christmas," practically a moral obligation in my list of Christmas rituals. And I know I am hardly the first person to notice this, and that I've noticed it many times before...but Jesus H. tap-dancing Christ, that shit is depressing.

It kind of strikes me anew, every time. I realize that part of the weird appeal of Peanuts in general is that Charles Schulz was putting these deeply adult sentiments and philosophies in the mouths of teeny little kids. And he wasn't entirely off the mark, either--children are not simply small adults, but they do have complex feelings and they are, of course, capable of tremendous cruelty. I think the Christmas special reflects that quite honestly on some level, even if the script exaggerates deliberately for effect.

But, those kids are BRUTAL to good ol' Charlie Brown...who himself is so wretched, so admittedly lonesome and depressed, he's hard to watch. Today someone would get him a therapist and a drum of Paxil and probably an Individual Education Plan, but trapped in the 1965 cartoon he just suffers, and...was this intended as a kids' show? When the little tree collapses under the weight of its lone ornament, and Charlie Brown moans "Everything I touch gets ruined"? Holy shit, y'all, I practically have to leave the room. The local alternative weekly paper, The Stranger, once claimed that suicide rates, and calls to helplines, spike every year with the annual screening of "A Charlie Brown Christmas," and while I think they were joking I would not be even a little surprised, because DUDE.

That said, the good edges out the miserable, I think. The Vince Guaraldi score is magnificent and perfectly suited to the cartoon, alternately melancholy and infectiously giddy. Every year, I have to get up off the couch and do the dance with the kids, whipping my head painfully side-to-side like those mysterious twin girls at the pageant rehearsal--do we ever see them again? And I've seen it so many times that even the movements are surely etched into my DNA; I love Snoopy's dance, not just the jolly, vaguely Russian prancing but the lilting side-to-side skips he first performs atop Schroeder's piano. I love the way Charlie Brown, his faith oh-so-momentarily restored, skips home with his little Christmas twig. I love the "loo-loo-loos" of the singing kids at the end, with their pauses for breath--this year, I noticed that Pigpen stirs up a fresh cloud of dust when he inhales for each verse. (And there is another kid that needs a Child Protective Services intervention, because boy is FILTHY with neglect, good gawd.) I love Charlie Brown's disbelieving squat-and-squint at the transformed tree, how he scootches closer.

I love the roughness of it too: the hand-drawn animation, the real kids haltingly speaking lines they clearly don't comprehend. Some of them were so young that they couldn't read and had to be fed their lines, a few words at a time; it shows, and it is somehow completely charming. (My favorite fact Googled up today: Sally was voiced by a child named Kathy Steinberg, who I suspect might not have been crafting a letter to Santa, this or any year.) The Christmas-tree lot Charlie Brown and Linus visit is gorgeously surreal--the "aluminum trees...maybe painted pink" are also polka-dotted, or harlequin-patterned; they remind me of some of the wilder Fauvist backgrounds in some Warner Brothers cartoons. Funny, that the very commercialized trees scorned in the special now look beautiful and nostalgic to me: what I wouldn't give for a sweet, innocent 1965 pink-and-orange aluminum tree. (Note to self: check eBay.)

Anyway. After the classic cartoon, ABC aired a second Peanuts Christmas special I'd never seen, this one plainly much later and composed of weird, brief little vignettes of the kids engaging in different vaguely Christmassy activities. The animation was slick and smooth; the voice actors were precocious, cloying children or, I suspect in the case of Sally, an adult affecting a shrill "kid" tone a la Elmo. The whole thing was glib and self-aware and leadenly paced with beats for laughter, and I HATED IT SO MUCH it made me ANGRY. It was so plainly a sell-out, literally embodying every polished, commercialized Christma$ quality that the original decries. It straight-up trampled the first special's message. Oh, Sparky, what did you do there? Man. THAT was depressing; my heart shrunk two sizes just watching. I'll stick with my Original-Recipe Charlie Brown Christmas, thanks very much.

Monday, December 05, 2005

The Amityville cookie

Saturday was gingerbread-house-decorating day, as previously mentioned. Mom, Sis, and I headed down to Ballard proper, toting a few sacks of bulk candy items although SOMEONE FORGOT THE GOLDEN GRAHAMS AHEM.

Our first inkling that I'd perhaps misinterpreted the event surfaced when we arrived to find ourselves the only participants significantly beyond the age of eight. Granted, the other decorators had likewise brought their mommies...but we hadn't needed ours to drive.

It turns out that the charity portion of the event takes place among the local merchants; clever professionals decorate houses for display in business windows, and shoppers are encouraged to vote/bid on their favorites. Amateur hour, on the other hand, was intended solely as a fun family activity. We were much relieved when a young hipster couple showed up at the next table and declared their intentions to craft a "ghetto house;" Hipster Girl was responsible for the photos herein.

Because Cookies is an extraordinarly tiny storefront, the actual decorating took place next door at Floating Leaves Tea. Chinese stringed instruments pinged and poinged meditatively, if incongruously, in the background as we squeezed around the table and proceeded to glue gumdrops on rooflines and our elbows to the table and our fingers together. Royal icing surely has surgical and/or highway maintenance applications that are as yet undiscovered. Sis got a little Howard Hughes over the communal candy tubs, muttering "Kid fingers! KID FINGERS been in there!" as I blithely popped occasional mistakes into my mouth.

Mom seemed to be having a good time, though.

Sis provides chocolate-sprinkle landscaping; I appear to be...eating. Or about to.

At the end, we were further discomfited to learn that we were expected to take our creation home. We each have marauding pets that would make gingerbread-house-maintenance tricky at best. Our hostess suggested that we donate our house to a local hospital, as a common-room decoration or a gift to a lonely patient...and so, candy-crusted abode in hand, we walked over to Swedish Hospital--Ballard and, after wandering the halls aimlessly for a while, located an employee who promised to find our ginger house a home. "I'll give it to that lady," she noted significantly to a colleague. So either an isolated patient received a dose of rather garish holiday cheer, Saturday...or "that lady" is a kind euphemism for "the garbage, you crazy nutbars."

Here, Sis reaches for more ContamiCandy while Mom brandishes the icing bag in a threatening manner and I contemplate using the house to lure, roast, and eat small children.