Thursday, January 17, 2008

Christa McAuliffe

Everything I write in this posting is written with very sincere admiration and respect for Christa McAuliffe, her family, friends and admirers. As always, no offense is intended to anybody.

On January 28, 1986, I had just come home from high school after taking a final exam. As I walked in the door, my mother told me that the Space Shuttle Challenger had exploded. I was surprised on a few levels - I wasn’t aware that the shuttle was taking off that day. I knew there was going to be a launch soon with some teacher on board, but that’s about it. I remember tuning in to watch a replay of the launch. As Challenger took off, I remember thinking, “I’m not sure if I want to see this!” But I did, and the images of the disaster are stuck in my memory forever, as they are in everyone who lived through that day. Those who died in the disaster were F. “Dick” Scobee, Mike Smith, Ellison Onizuka, Judith Resnick, Ron McNair, Greg Jarvis and S. Christa McAuliffe.

Other notable memories from that day include Dan Rather with a model of the space shuttle on his desk, trying to explain what might have gone wrong. Later on, I got to endure a few sick Challenger jokes from my high school “friends.” It’s better to be alone, man. It really is. Okay, I need to save that rant for later. Ahem. Later that year, my family took a trip to Florida and we got to see Cape Canaveral and the launching pad for Challenger. I bought a Challenger patch and some buttons with the crew on them. I made sure to buy the one with Christa alone on the button as well.

Now why do you suppose they did a button with just Christa on it and none of the other crew members? Well, obviously Christa was the “celebrity” on the flight, being the first civilian set to go up in space. But there’s another reason. A secret reason. A reason nobody has ever dared to mention - until now. Christa makes a pretty picture. Because Christa McAuliffe was pretty. In fact, she was gorgeous! You hear me, world? CHRISTA MCAULIFFE WAS CUTE!

Dang, it feels so good to get that off my chest.

I don’t think that “attractiveness” was the criteria that NASA was using to choose who would be the first civilian in space. However, I don’t think it hurt that Christa was attractive. NASA obviously wanted someone who wasn’t particularly camera-shy, who would be able to present herself to the world with some degree of poise. They couldn’t pick just ANY teacher.

Sadly, there’s some degree of truth to the idea that the “teacher in space” plan was a big PR stunt by NASA. Remember that at first, they were considering taking up a celebrity. John Denver was considered, as was “Big Bird” puppeteer Carroll Spinney! (See the links below for more about that) And while they thankfully chose to focus on sending a “non-celebrity” up there, you can’t help but consider that they would want that “non-celebrity” to be someone who had the potential to be a celebrity. Think of it- the same skills that are used to hold the attention of a class can be used to hold the public’s attention on a grand scale. A teacher who can present her views clearly to a class can also present those views to the American public.

There’s not one particular thing that made Christa attractive. The whole is greater than the sum of its parts. Look, if I were going out on a blind date, and Christa McAuliffe showed up, I would not be disappointed! She was pretty, smart, seemed to have a good personality - dang, what more could you want?! Of course, Christa was a wonderful person no matter how she looked. Note the word “personality”. When I think about girls that I like, I realize that attractiveness alone isn’t enough. All the beauty in the world won’t work if the person isn’t right for me. I never met Christa, so I can only pretend what she might have been like to know. It seems like at the very least, she would have been a wonderful friend.

I refuse to believe that I’m the only guy (besides her husband) who thinks Christa was attractive. Come on, guys, I KNOW you’re out there! I guess out of respect for Christa and for what she did, we guys don’t want to “take away” from her legacy by adding her to our list of “hot chicks.” It’s commendable to remember Christa for her bravery instead of her beauty. But in the teeny tiny footnotes of history (where this blog probably will eventually go), someone needs to note, “and she was pretty, too!”

Christa was obviously a strong woman in many ways. She was a teacher, first and foremost, and wanted to use those skills on the Challenger. Her intent was to write a diary of the trip. How I wish we could have read that diary. But someday, I believe I’m going to get to actually meet Christa (along with several other people I never got to meet in this lifetime). When I do, I hope to tell her that I cared for her and that she was an inspiration to me. I’d like to think that Christa would forgive me for this blog. :)

Here are some more sites with information about Christa:

The documentary “Christa McAuliffe: Reach for the Stars” is probably the best one about Christa herself. You can learn more about it at the site below:

For more about the celebrities who almost got to ride on the Challenger, enjoy my previous post.


THEY SAID IT: While researching this post, I came upon an interesting page of quotes about space and space travel that I hope you will enjoy. It features quotes from Christa and many others, and asks a notable question about Neil Armstrong’s famous “one small step” quote. Could it be he got it wrong? Check it out.

Space is for everybody. It's not just for a few people in science or math, or for a select group of astronauts. That's our new frontier out there, and it's everybody's business to know about space.

— Christa McAuliffe, December 6, 1985.


PHANTOM DISAPPEARS, THEN REAPPEARS: Once upon a time, there was a Web page dedicated to the “Phantom of the Opera.” Although it was obviously inspired by the Andrew Lloyd Webber production, it welcomed comments about all of the various phantom-related items over the years. From the original novel to the Lon Chaney film to the recent high school productions, this site was a valuable resource for Phantom fans. And it even had an easy address to remember: phantomoftheopera dot com.

But as 2008 began, the Phantom site disappeared. There was nothing there but a message saying “this account has been suspended.” And the fact that it was there for a few weeks seemed to verify that the site wasn’t coming back. It was quite a popular site, with several new comments from readers coming in every day, and updates on “Phantom”-related news. (Think “Muppet Central”, only about the Phantom) It makes you realize that not every site is going to be around forever. We all have those sites that we really enjoy visiting - our little “neighborhood” on the Web where we can keep up with certain people or things. So let’s take a moment to be thankful for those who keep our favorite sites going. And uh, by the way. . .thanks for stopping by here every once in a while as well.

But by mid-January, the Phantom site had returned in all its glory, much to the relief of Phantom fans, teenage girls and theatre critics worldwide. There seems at this point to be no official explanation of what exactly happened. Obviously, there was some kind of billing issue at stake, but how that issue appeared in the first place is another mystery only the Phantom can answer.

Have you noticed how many Web sites are only managed by a handful of people? Whereas a movie or TV show can have thousands of people working together to make it happen, a Web site doesn’t really need all that many. Even a regularly updated site only needs a handful of people to make it work. In some ways, that’s a big plus for Web sites. “One man” can make a difference. You don’t need a crowd to shout out loud. But then there’s the down side: If that one person goes away. . .

Check out the 2004 movie to find out why “Phantom” is so popular. You can read about it in my post here, which also has a link to the Phantom site mentioned above:


MEREDITH IN TRAINING: You didn’t think I could just let THIS one go by, do you? Meredith Vieira mentioned Sesame Street in her blog!
Sharp-eyed fans will note that Meredith appeared in an episode of Sesame Street this season. You can read about that here:


BROCKETT’S BATHING SUIT: Who could have known that mild-mannered Don Brockett, who played Chef Brockett on “Mister Rogers’ Neighborhood”, had a wild side? Well, at least I think he did. You’ve got to be a teeny tiny bit wild to run around in a tiger-skin swimsuit, right? Just think about Ginger from “Gilligan‘s Island.” I do it all the time. Uh, think about Ginger, that is. And Courteney and Meredith and . . .Well, anyway, you can see a photo of Don in his swimsuit in this entry from the “Making Mister Rogers and Me” blog. And be sure to read that great quote from Linda Elerbee on why TV is “often so shallow.”

Thursday, January 03, 2008


Hi and welcome to 2008, the year the music stores closed forever!!!!

Okay, that’s an exaggeration. They’re still around and will likely be around in SOME form for a long time. But with the announcement that two FYE stores in my area will be closing their doors, I can’t help but remember the closing of Tower Records last year. (Note that FYE itself is not going out of business- yet). Oh, by the way, do you know what FYE is? It’s the former Wherehouse Music stores. You say you’ve never been to one? Hmmmm.

When I visited the Tower Records stores prior to their closing, I found them relatively exhausted of all the "good stuff." (There were a few gems to be found, but “few” was the operative word.) So when I heard about the FYE closings, I decided to go and visit one of the stores that weekend to see if I could find anything special. I kind of expected a small crowd of some kind. Wrong! It was a relatively normal day, except for the signs indicating that a sale was going on. It was an OK sale, I suppose. . . Buy two used Cds, get one free. 10% off every new CD. Not bad, I guess. But they certainly weren’t being attacked by rabid music fans. That, I suspect, will come later, as the stores try to release more and more of their inventory. Now I begin to see the economic impact of cell phones. “Hey Louie! Get over here, they’re finally selling the stuff for half off!” So those folks will get the good stuff, and us normal guys will have to pick up the leftovers.

In the tower records posting, I talked about how high costs and lack of good material were keeping me from buying many Cds. Well, the same rules still apply. Even at lower-than-usual prices, there wasn’t much there that spoke to me. Nothing that made me go, “I’ve gotta get this!” I’ve been blessed in many ways. I can afford to say “no” to what may be a good album, because I’ve got other good albums already.

I’ve begun to buy some Cds for one of my “home-made” albums. During my music store shopping, I was only able to find one out of four that I was looking for. But when I look for those albums online at, there they are. Good news for, but this is a textbook example of why music stores are in trouble. I came in as a customer ready to buy something, but couldn’t find it in your store. So I had to go to another “store.” All the sales in the world aren’t going to make me buy a bunch of things I don’t want or need.

But to be fair, I did decide to check out the other closing FYE store, one I had not visited before. While there, I did give in and bought some things. By this time, the DVDs were 20% off. Man, if I could just time it right, I could really splurge. But again, they didn’t have much in the way of specific things that I was looking for.

I’ll try to report back when the prices get lower. If the prices don’t get lower, then I’m sorry to say that FYE will have to make some room in their warehouse. In the meantime, here’s my look back at the last days of Tower Records:


STILL WE LIKE THIS SHOW: On to happier things. As Grover has recently announced, the beta version of the Sesame Street video player is now online and serving the whims of die-hard classic Sesame Street fans! One of my favorite "missing clips" has been found there: Grover singing "Still We Like Each Other." It’s great to see it again. If you’d like to enjoy it too, visit the site and type in “still we like each other” in the search field. Or you can take Grover’s advice and click on his loveable, furry image at the top of the site. Nice song - and no, Mike, the girl is not Farley in a wig!

This new site really is a dream come true in many ways. We’ve gone from despairing of ever seeing this stuff again to watching it at our leisure whenever we have a free moment at the computer. You can actually type in keywords to find a specific clip. It really is amazing how far we’ve come. It’s also important to note that this video player is evidence that Sesame Workshop is aware of the numerous adult fans of the show (well, at least of the early show) and wants to try and help them out. Way to go, SW! The video player is a success. Keep up the great work!

From a technical note, the Sesame Street video player is not quite the same as the YouTube video player. Whereas a YouTube video will download temporarily to your computer memory (and thus can be played again without having to reload every time), the Sesame Street video player doesn‘t seem to work exactly that way. To make a long story short, you really need a high-speed connection to appreciate the video player. While it’s sometimes possible to watch the videos on a slower connection, they usually don’t look very good and are often “choppy”. That’s good news for fast connections, but bad news for the handful of us who use slow connections sometimes. All I can say is that if you’ve been putting off getting a fast connection, this site may be what changes your mind. Time to bite the bullet - or at least find a friend with a fast connection! (As an aside, Sesame Workshop should consider that not all inner-city kids have high-speed connections, either.)

Speaking of friends, have you considered what a good opportunity this is for us to show others why we like this show? Now you can direct somebody to the exact clip you like and say, “You want to know why I liked this show? Here’s why.” We have a chance to show them the clips we haven’t been able to before. With any luck, people will slowly begin to understand why the show was so much fun. Maybe they’ll even get “hooked” and watch some clips on their own without telling anybody.


BIRD'S WORD ON ELMO: Big Bird muppeteer Carroll Spinney was interviewed last year, and we’re just now finding out about it! Here are some quotes from this short but sweet interview.

Q: When did his worm Slimey first appear on the show?
A: As many as 15 years --- the last few years, he’s been much more prominent because each show ends with Oscar reading him trash stories. It’s the only time you see him being very understanding and never negative, like he is to the humans.

Q: Why is Elmo’s World given so much importance?
A: What a good question. I never got a “Bird World.” I guess they just felt that it was a good idea. The thing that made Elmo a big success was the Tickle-Me-Elmo doll. Of course, we do need the money to keep on the air. They thought, ‘OK, Elmo is where we should go to keep the show popular.’

Q: How much longer do you think you’ll be on Sesame Street?
A: I have a new three-year contract, so I’m doing it until the 41st year of the show, and I would love to go on beyond that.

Mr. Spinney seems to understand the true nature of the rise of Elmo. "Follow the money. . ." Well, that’s not the WHOLE story, but it’s certainly part of it. Here’s the site where you can read more. Thanks to SSLFan from MuppetCentral for directing our attention to this!

Later this month will mark the anniversary of the Space Shuttle Challenger tragedy. There’s a Big Bird/Carroll Spinney connection to that as well! You can read about it here:


STAYING STRONG: Again, I’m thankful for all of your good thoughts as I endure an illness. Along those lines, Meredith Vieira’s husband Richard Cohen has written a book chronicling five people who live with chronic illness. Meredith blogs about it below:

Keep an eye on Meredith’s blog for answers to some viewer questions, including this one about hats:

I like hats, actually. The problem with wearing a hat on the show is that every time you go back inside, you have to have your hair fixed all over again. And there’s never enough time. I like berets, and I also like those Irish caps, and the British bollers--those rounded ‘top hats. But I look particularly fetching in a dunce cap…

And in a bikini, and . . .sorry. :)