Friday, February 23, 2007

Elbow room, or "Where the heck can I put this stuff?"

I like to browse through thrift stores. It's a habit that began when I was young. My family would usually spend each Saturday with a trip to the local swap meet, then to Goodwill, then to the Salvation Army. It was there that I honed my scrounging skills to become the collector that I am today. Pack rat? Oh, no, not me! I choose my items wisely! I would never buy something just to hide it away. . .or would I?

Last week, I made a trek to another local thrift store and found something incredible. Records that were still in shrink wrap. Wow! They weren't necessarily things that I would have bought for myself, but hey, they would probably be really valuable to a collector, right? So I bought a few (not all) and took them to my brother, the eBay expert. Surely he would appreciate the value of my find!

Well, he did know the value – very little, it turns out. I thought for sure that the Florence Henderson album would be worth something! :)

I'm ashamed to admit (sniff) that this has happened before. I've got the proof of it in my closet -a small stack of still-sealed records that I have bought within the last year or so. Nothing too valuable, just stuff that I thought would be good for that record store I'm going to own one day.
Well, in my dreams. Like many other people, my dreams are often larger than my ability to make them come true. It's easy to dream, harder to make the dreams a reality. It would take much more work than just collecting records to make that record store a reality. But I'm not able to do much more work.

The sad fact is that I'm just about out of elbow room. That's not necessarily because my place is full, but because there's just no good place to put stuff. Sure there are PLACES to put the stuff - the floor, under the bathroom sink, behind the toilet – but they're not GOOD places. When you run out of good places, you're in trouble. It's like the parent who gets angry at the child for not putting his toys away. Does the child have a PLACE to put his toys away? If he doesn't, then the problem is not just with the child.

I now know how museums were invented. Everybody kept on collecting stuff until one day, somebody said, “Hey look, we've got no room for this junk anymore. Let's create a big building where we can keep all this stuff so we can just go and look at it whenever we want to, okay?”

Will I be able to cure the collecting bug? Can I really reduce thrift-store shopping? Yep. But there are two problems I need to overcome.

The first problem: Buying cool stuff at thrift stores is fun. There is a surge of excitement that you get when you spot something that you'd like to have. You feel like you've found buried treasure. This doesn't happen every time you shop a thrift store, but when it does, you remember it. You feel like a privileged person who was in the right place at the right time. You feel important. It's not the same as finding something on sale at a regular retail store, because what you found is (usually) not available in a retail store. It's a very good “cheap thrill” that can also help other people. So why would I want to deny it from myself? (Yes, I know I just answered that question, but I'm trying to make a point!)

The second problem: Our brains can hold more than our closets can. We'll always be able to think of more stuff that we could actually get. If we find one book in a series of ten, we'll keep looking for the other nine. Going through our garage to get rid of junk helps demonstrate this problem. We cry out, “Hey, don't throw that away! I might need it someday!” But what we really mean is probably more like, “Hey, that's part of a secret collection I have been working on!”

So it's time to stop my secret collections – or at the very least, choose them wisely. Yeah, I'd like to own my own music store. But there are plenty of other things I'd like to do as well. There's only one me. That's both good news and bad news. It's time to choose my battles wisely.

In a few days, I'll get a small box of stuff together and (sniff) donate it to my local thrift store. Hey, why not? It's another small way of saying “thanks for the memories.” I will just need to be careful that I don't buy it back again when I shop there later that day.


Speaking of giving things up. . .Tower Records went out of business last year. Here's a quick look back at its last days. . .


Stretch Monster? Oh yeah, man! He was that green monster who looked kind of like “The Abomination” from the Hulk comics! He was actually a cross between the Abomination and Mister Fantastic, as he could stretch and stretch way, way far. Much cooler than Stretch Armstrong. Stretch Armstrong was just a guy in underwear.

The Neato Coolville blog featured some posts about Stretch Monster this past week:

Friday, February 16, 2007

Ginger's - I mean, Gilligan's Island

The name of this blog comes from a phrase that was used often on one of the most popular television shows of all time. Like it or hate it, you’ve probably heard of “Gilligan’s Island.” Last Sunday was the birthday of actress Tina Louise, who played (sigh) Ginger on the show. That seems like a good enough reason for a quick look back.

Just sit right back and you’ll hear a tale about a show that seems like it ran forever, but actually only ran for 98 episodes. The reason it seems like it ran forever is that it was practically “re-run” forever. Like “I Love Lucy,” “Gilligan’s Island” was syndicated across the nation after it went off the air. It is perhaps the first and best example of a show that actually grew in popularity after it was no longer in production. (“Star Trek” may be the ultimate example of this, but Gilligan works just as well).

“Gilligan’s Island” is ridiculous, and that’s pretty much exactly why we love it. In the “Unofficial Gilligan’s Island Handbook,” each of the cast members was asked what the ultimate message of “Gilligan’s Island” was. Almost all of them gave a similar answer: It was just fun.

I remember Gilligan for the silly situations, a few classic episodes, and Ginger. Oh, Ginger. . . She was my sex symbol before I knew what sex was. If the Fonz was the poor girl’s James Dean, then Ginger was the poor man’s Marilyn Monroe.

I need to note: I like Mary Ann, too! The whole “Ginger vs. Mary Ann” argument is kind of futile. It’s sort of like asking, “Which would you rather have, the perfect woman, or the perfect woman?” Well, how can I lose either way? Also, Mary Ann probably never would pretend to like somebody just to get what she wants. And we all know that Ginger would do that in a heartbeat.

The show had some profound moments. When Gilligan and the crew eat some seeds that allow them to read each others’ minds, it doesn’t take long for everyone to realize that this is not a good idea. When Gilligan gets rid of the plant where the seeds came from, no one is mad at him. That’s an interesting tale on a show that the uninformed don’t think has any merit.

Joey Greene’s “Unofficial Gilligan’s Island Handbook” was also a lot of fun for me. It came out before the Internet got “big”, and it was great to see that there were people much more obsessed with the show than I was! I think it’s still available, as are similar books by Russell Johnson and Bob Denver.

Sadly, as of today, you’ll have a hard time finding “Gilligan” on the air. But the series is available on DVD, and hopefully will be for all time to come. This is definitely a piece of the “vast wasteland” that needs to be preserved.

Sometimes, when the world is too much with me, I think about places I would like to get away to. Gilligan’s Island seems like a good choice to me. Friendly people (not counting the headhunters of course), nice scenery, all-natural foods, etc. All I would need is a radio. Of course, I would probably have to live on the other side of the island, so that I wouldn’t disturb the chemistry that can only be found between the seven stranded castaways who have captured my heart. But I suppose it might be possible to visit a certain redhead every once in a while. . .I know a really nice beach over there where we can be all alone. . .until Gilligan comes running by. :)


SHIP AHOAX: One of the best shows I've seen in any series. Ginger's magic trick may turn into the castaways' salvation. An honestly entertaining and interesting episode.

HI-FI GILLIGAN: Something silly turns into something moving and profound. Gilligan gets hit on the head, and his head turns into a radio receiver. By the end of the episode, we get a wonderful picture of how each of the castaways cares for each other. A must-see.

SEER GILLIGAN: When Gilligan eats the seeds from a plant, he gains the ability to read minds. And we learn why it might be a good idea not to eat those seeds.

HIGH MAN ON THE TOTEM POLE: Because two heads are better than one.

ALL ABOUT EVA: Because two Gingers are better than one.

UP AT BAT: Great kiddie Halloween fun.

THE FRIENDLY PHYSICIAN: If only they could have put Mary Ann's brain into Ginger's body. . .

GHOST A GO-GO: Beware of ghosts bearing gifts!

CASTAWAYS PICTURES PRESENTS: “What's THAT?!!” It's a hand, Skipper. :)

SMILE, YOU'RE ON MARS CAMERA: A camera meant to land on Mars lands on the Island instead. The silliness factor reaches its highest peak.

TOPSY-TURVEY: Gilligan sees everything upside-down. “One professor, two professor. . .”

SPLASHDOWN: What are the chances that one of the astronauts would be named “Sol?” Dang, talk about bad luck! And talk about funny!

VOODOO: Professor as a zombie. Ginger's rain dance. What more could you want – a giant spider?

THE PIGEON: A giant spider. And a man whose pigeon flies to the island.

SKIPPER: Professor, what are the chances this plan will work?
PROFESSOR: Well. . .a million to one.
SKIPPER: Oh, great! A million to one! What could be worse odds than that?
GILLIGAN: A million to none!
PROFESSOR: Exactly! At least there’s a chance!

SKIPPER: Ginger, you don’t need me. You’ve got Gilligan, you’ve got Mr. Howell, and you’ve got the Professor.
GINGER: Gilligan is just a boy, Mr. Howell is a married man, and the Professor is only interested in my mind!

This Gilligan fan club site has plenty of fun things, including a list of Ginger’s movie credits. Check it out!

If you’re willing to wade through a lot of pop-up ads, you can find some nice pictures of the Gilligan cast members by following the link at the site below:


FROM THE ‘I THOUGHT I HAD SEEN IT ALL’ DEPARTMENT: Apparently, the radioactive spider that bit Peter Parker crawled into a sack of potatoes and bit Mr. Potato Head as well, creating the super-hero “Mr. Potato Spud-man!” Or something like that. This picture is from the recent national “toy fair.“ I assume we’ll be seeing the toy around the time “Spidey 3” comes out. Until then, we can plan for the ultimate battle with Darth Tater. :)


WEB CLAM: Do you like to eat clams? For some reason, here in SoCal, despite the fact that we are pretty close to an ocean, clams are hard to find on the menu. But I have had my share of clam chowder in my day, and I do approve of it. While searching for images of Tina Louise, I came upon Michael Marcus’ great clam Web page. (I also managed to find a Greta Garbo stamp and a picture of a dog with her puppies. Sigh. Web page surfing is not a perfect art yet.) Michael’s page has almost everything you would want to know about eating clams. Check it out!


THEIR OWN SERIES AT LAST! Two of my heroes will finally be getting their own TV series, albeit a very short one. The Muppet Newsflash blog has reported that Ernie and Bert will appear as animated characters in a series of 5-minute long episodes in “The Adventures of Bert and Ernie.” A handful of media outlets worldwide (including ABC in Australia) plan to air the series. I'm hoping that a kind muppet fan in Australia will be willing to trade episodes of this. (Anybody here from Australia?) You can read all about it at the blog posting here:

This is a great idea. But what isn't so great is the fact that (at this time) Sesame Workshop has NO plans to air it in the U.S.! Arrgh! Why on earth not? Bert and Ernie are certainly still household names here. It would make a great insert segment for Sesame Street. So why don't they show it here?

Actually, I sort of already know why not. Sesame Workshop has been turning its sights toward a younger child audience for many years now. So they would prefer to play it safe and feature Elmo making stupid comments in front of babies than feature anything innovative and imaginative like a clay animation series. Let the rest of the world have innovation, we'll settle for forced cuteness and stupid slapstick, because it's our job to please stupid overprotective parents.

Did I actually say that? How could I say such a thing? I'm such a nice guy. . .

Hehehehehehe. . . .


If you remember the 1950’s Superman TV show, you may recall that a few of the earlier episodes were not exactly meant for young kids. Fred Hembeck brings this up to Superman himself in his latest “Fred Hembeck Show” episode. Although perhaps some things are best left unsaid. . .


Congrats to the folks at for their new “sale” to TV Guide. Your hard work has paid off and you have reached a higher level of blog. :) Your site is appreciated. Here’s hoping for more great coverage in the future.


Saturday, February 10, 2007

John Denver

A few years ago, I made a music compilation of most of my favorite songs. (In fact, I'm still working on it. I'm up to volume six.) The first song on the first CD-R is the first “favorite song” of mine that I can remember. It is “Take me home, Country Roads” by John Denver.

There is a statement in the introduction to John Denver's autobiography that goes something like this: “What Frank Sinatra was to the 1940s, and Elvis was to the 1950s, and the Beatles were to the 1960s, John Denver was to the 1970s – a phenomenon.” Truer words were never said. And John deserves to be placed near those music greats. I'm not sure if this is still true, but I was told that the number one best-selling LP in the history of RCA records is “John Denver's Greatest Hits.” I wouldn't be surprised – I keep finding it in old used record bins! Hey, that means a lot of people liked it. Just like the Fleetwood Mac “Rumors” LP and “Frampton Comes Alive!” :) It's a classic of its time, but John is really a classic for all times. His music reaches beyond his life and into many other lives.

For example, consider the beautiful “Annie’s Song.” Originally, the song described the feelings John had for his wife. Well, they later divorced. You would think it would be a pain for him to play “Annie’s Song” after that. But Annie’s Song wasn’t just about Annie. It was about the love we feel for many things. And as John wrote, it could just as easily have been a prayer.

John had a great voice. Check out the little-known track “Dearest Esmeralda” as a great example of his ability to bring out the best in a song. And I wish I could still sing the high notes in “Calypso.” It was so easy when I was eight. But John could still sing them years after the song came out.

He was a natural actor. Perhaps it's hard to appreciate how great he was in “Oh, God!” because he seemed as if he were just playing himself. In fact, even when he did play himself on the muppet specials, he seemed so natural that the muppets seemed all the more real. And he was naturally funny. He held his own with the muppets. Recall his great straight-man work as Gonzo talked about his mold garden. And the very funny “dog in the airplane trick” from the “Rocky Mountain Holiday” special. (This moment was edited out of the video release, darn it!) It involved John curing Rowlf’s hiccups by taking him on an airplane ride. After doing a few tricky airplane maneuvers, John cries out:

JOHN: Hey Rowlf! I just figured it out! When you push the lever backward, the airplane goes down!
ROWLF: He’s kidding me! Tell me you’re kidding me!!
JOHN: And when you push the lever forward, the airplane goes up! Far out!

John once pointed out that his music differs from traditional country music in that it focuses more on the “Western” side of “Country and Western.” You need only listen to John's music and compare it to more traditional country music to hear the difference. John's songs are sometimes hard to define, except as “good songs.” Some very happy memories involve visiting my grandparents' beautiful home and me listening to the “Windsong” album in the background. The equally great “I Want to Live” album is still one of my favorites. When John teamed up with the muppets for a Christmas special and album, it was a historic entertainment event at our house!

The first concert I ever went to was John Denver - not long after "I want to live" was released. Yes, of course my mom and dad took us. :) I remember just a few tiny moments from it: John singing “It Amazes Me”; Someone in the crowd crying out as John was tuning up, “I love you, John!” John's reply, “I love you, too!” and the crowd's laughter. I remember sitting on the stairway heading up to our seats (yes, we were all sitting down), then going home early (it was way past bedtime, you know), and stopping on the way out to hear John sing “Country Roads.” Actually, John is still one of the few “big stars” I can say that I've seen in person. I'm thankful I got to go.

John and I had something in common (beyond wearing glasses sometimes, that is). He enjoyed times of solitude. Part of the reason he wanted to preserve the wilderness is that he wanted others to enjoy those times as well. Now obviously, you don't need to be in the wilderness to have moments like that. But it helps. And so does John's music.

John understood that some things in life go beyond our ability to relate them. In his liner notes to the “Windsong” album, he wrote something which could almost serve as his epitaph. He wrote that he was going to record the sound of the wind in between the tracks on the album, but found that it was impossible to capture the exact sound he was searching for. He wished for us that someday, we would be able to get away to a very quiet place, and listen to the true sound of the wind for ourselves.

May we all get to hear what he heard.

FAVORITE JD ALBUMS: John Denver's Greatest Hits volumes 1 and 2; Windsong; I Want To Live; The Rocky Mountain Collection; Seasons of the Heart; John Denver & the Muppets: A Christmas Together

FAVORITE JD SONGS (take a deep breath, here we go): Take Me Home, Country Roads; Follow Me; Annie's Song; For Baby (For Bobbie); Rocky Mountain High; Fly Away; Spirit; Looking for Space; Aspenglow; Late Nite Radio; Singing Skies and Dancing Waters; How Can I Leave You again; Thirsty Boots; I Want To Live; Dearest Esmeralda; Calypso; This Old Guitar; A Baby Just Like You; Alfie/It's in every one of us; Noel: Christmas Eve 1913; Perhaps Love; Heart to Heart; Shanghai Breezes; For You; Dreamland Express; Rhymes & Reasons; Grandma's Feather Bed; Garden Song; Flying For Me; Wild Montana Skies; Eagles and Horses; It Amazes Me; To the Wild Country; Catch Another Butterfly; Darcy Farrow; The Eagle and the Hawk; Ballad of Spiro T. Agnew; Matthew; Leavin’ on a jet plane & many more I have forgotten to list.

JD ON VIDEO: “The Wildlife Concert”; “John Denver: A Song's Best Friend”; “Nature: John Denver: Let this be a voice.” “John Denver & The Muppets: Rocky Mountain Holiday”; “Oh, God!” “Muppet Show: John Denver”;

NEEDS TO BE ON VIDEO: “John Denver & the Muppets: A Christmas together”; “John Denver: Rocky Mountain Christmas”; “Carpenters: First TV Special (John as guest)”;

Saturday, February 03, 2007

Super ads, Square One, and Silver Surfer sings!

THE REAL COMPETITION: With the Superbowl near again, it’s time for a quick look at everything other than the game: Our favorite ads and half-time shows!

FAVORITE ADS: My favorite Superbowl ad (so far) would have to be the Visa “Superheroes” ad. Hey, I love team-ups! And how can you not like an ad with Spidey, Thor, X-men and Underdog! Great stuff. This photo comes from the site below:

One year, our local newspaper did a story about a classic car that was going to be used in a Britney Spears superbowl ad. Watching the game with my friends that year, I told them to watch for the car in the Britney ad. When Britney came on, she was dancing in the foreground with the car behind her. “There it is!” I said. “There’s the car!” My friend Tim replied, “What car?” :)

FAVORITE HALF-TIME SHOW: Tough one. Michael Jackson’s was memorable, as was the Rolling Stones’. And of course, there was Indiana Jones’ quest for the trophy. Let’s call it a three-way tie: Jackson, Jones and Stones. Wait, there’s Paul McCartney, too! Can we have a four-way tie? Sorry, Janet Jackson doesn’t make it. The “wardrobe malfunction” may have been memorable, but nothing else about that half-time show really was.


SQUARE WHAT? You’ve all heard of Sesame Street, but do you know what “Square One TV” is? It’s another show by those Sesame Workshop (SW) people that is sadly not as well-known. I’m sorry to say that I missed out on much of the Square One phenomenon the first time around. I was in my teens at the time it debuted, and slowly weaning myself away from PBS kids’ shows. (Hard to believe, I know. But as you can see, I never left them completely.) :)

Since then, though, I have been gradually re-introduced to “Square One,” and I have learned to appreciate the show a lot more. The show actually was based on a good idea - to teach math skills the way other SW shows taught reading skills. In some ways, math is tricky to teach via the tube, but if nothing else, Square One helped kids adjust their minds into math mode, giving them the raw material to understand math concepts. And it was smart and funny. The humor of “Mathnet” and “Dirk Niblick” extended beyond most kids’ shows of the time - and of our time. Those are my two favorite recurring skits from the show, and they are missed. (If you’re a Roger Ramjet fan, you will definitely like Dirk Niblick!)

The show has many fans, and some of them gathered together in the Big Apple over the weekend to celebrate the (gasp!) 20-year anniversary of the show! That’s quite awesome that there are enough dedicated fans to not only create a fine web page, but actually meet up and talk about it. Hey, think about it - I don’t know of any “Sesame Street” adult gatherings.

They’re cool people and you can commune with them over at the Square One TV forums in the links section.


WILL THE RECORD GO PLATINUM? Speaking of great team-ups, remember “The Silver Surfer?” He kind of looks like an “Oscar,” except that he is silver, and he rides around the universe on a silver surfboard. Well, with a mode of transport like that, it was only a matter of time before he followed in the footsteps of the Beach Boys! This picture comes from a cartoon drawn by Fred Hembeck, and you can read a longer version at “The Fred Hembeck Show” at the link below. This column is a treat for Beach Boys fans, too, so catch a wave over there.


ANNE FRANK ON FILM: In my January 27 post about Anne Frank, I failed to mention that there is actually footage of Anne Frank on film! You can see it in the documentary “Anne Frank Remembered.” It is very, very short (maybe one second long) and features Anne looking down from a tall window. Very short, very historic. Isn’t it interesting how more & more stuff about Anne Frank is gradually being revealed? First missing pages from her diary are returned, then the Otto Frank letters. . . It makes me wonder if somebody isn’t hoarding another diary somewhere. :) But check out that documentary for more about Anne.


PERHAPS LOVE: The other day, I saw a John Denver album I had never seen before called “Love Songs.” I was all excited to tell the world about this new album, only to learn after an Internet search that it has been out for over a year! Out of the loop, man, out of the loop. Looking at the track list makes you realize that John had a flair for the romantic just as he had for the wilderness. Only real problem is that the song “For You” isn’t here, and that is certainly one of John’s best love songs. (Check it out from his “Wildlife Concert” if you haven’t already) Many long-time fans who already have huge J.D. collections may pass this CD by, but if you’ve always liked “Annie’s Song,” (admit it, it’s a classic!) here’s a chance to get something special for your valentine.

More about John next time, assuming no new emergencies.