I wasn't allowed to watch Gremlins when it first came out in theaters, but I remember wanting to go really badly, largely because my older brother wanted to go, I'm sure. But I'm sure the kid-friendly cuteness of Gizmo (not to mention the free Gremlins storybooks that we collected with our kid meals at Hardee's) further stoked the Gremlins fire.
When I finally saw it on TV a year or two after the fact, this scene scared the living bejesus out of me:
Of course now, it cracks me up, especially the fact that the Gremlins at the end are wearing hats & scarves. Greatest Christmas movie ever? I don't know, but it's definitely one-of-a-kind.
Years later, we rented Gremlins 2 and found even more to love. To this day, every time I go near a microwave, I think of this scene:
(Bonus factoids: did you know that the guy who played Billy's dad in Gremlins wrote Three Dog Night's "Joy to the World," that his mom wrote "Heartbreak Hotel," and that he sang the "Mitchell" theme song? Oh my, my, my, my goodness!)
When you live in the sticks and only get four channels, almost any break from the networks' usual murder-rich tapestry of programming is welcomed with open arms. Hell, we don't even mind too much when pledge drive season mucks up our PBS routine--bring on that black-and-white Roy Orbison special for the umpteenth time, at least it's something (relatively) different and I don't have to watch David Caruso dig bullets out of his torso or anything disgusting like that.
Which is why Christmas Special Season was always so hotly anticipated at my house when we were kids. Snoopy, on TV, and it's not Saturday morning cartoon time? Outrageous! That Grinch guy from the book is a cartoon character, too? Insane! It was a time just before the dawn of VCRs, before you could find most any movie you liked and watch it whenever you wanted. As great as it is to be able to go home and pop Christmas Vacation in the DVD player whenever I want, I have to say that things felt more, well, special back in the day when I had to wait for the Sunday night when it popped up on NBC. There was a sense of shared experience--you knew most of your friends were all sitting around the TV at the same time as you, laughing at the squirrel popping out of the Christmas tree, or the Grinch sliding down the mountain to Who-ville, or smiling as the kids "loo-loo-LOOOed" at the end of the Charlie Brown special. Maybe a little something was lost for the sake of convenience.
That's why every year, when the usual suspects parade their way across our local TV affiliates, I make a point to tune in. The Grinch holds up surprisingly well; Charlie Brown does, too, perhaps even more profoundly as one gets older and has a little more cynicism to wipe away than when you were a kid.
Rudolph, on the other hand...oh, Rudolph. The first time I watched it as an adult (or quasi-adult, since I was in college and still trying out my adult training wheels), I blamed my bad reaction to it on the fact that I was in the middle of a literary theory course and my brain was set to deconstruct everything I saw and read. "Surely I'm reading too much into the 'we have to get the women back to Christmas Town' remark," I thought. "Don't look at it through some politically correct lens, just look at it like you used to and lighten up."
But then came the internet, and I discovered that I'm not the only one who laughs at how dated this thing is.
And look at that--it's not quite the same as everyone watching the same holiday specials at the same time on the same night, but through the magic of the interweb, there's new ways to find that sense of shared experience. And shared mockery. (Which is maybe my favorite sharing of all.)
Christmas 2002 was a Christmas of firsts. It was the first (and only) Christmas I've ever spent away from home in Wisconsin, it was the first (and nearly the last) time I ever tried whiskey, and it was the first time I ever watched a fuzzily gelatinous green blob named Muzzy wander around muttering things in German.
Well, it wasn't the first time I'd seen Muzzy--his commercials were all over Nickelodeon when I was a kid--but it was the first time I ever watched any of his tapes. Sadly, it appeared that me & my friend Josh's "windows for learning" had slammed shut by the time we were twenty-three years old, because I'm pretty sure the only German we took away from our afternoon with the tapes I got from the library was how to say "blue jeans" (der blue jeans) and "t-shirt" (der t-shirt). Then again, perhaps some of the blame for that could be placed on the aforementioned whiskey.
Wait--no! I remember two more things: "Gross Muzzy" (BIG Muzzy) and "Klein Muzzy" (little Muzzy). Hey, she can be taught!
Today's nugget of joy comes to us courtesy of the one, the only Star Wars Holiday Special.
I know what you're thinking. "What is this Star Wars Holiday Special of which you speak, Mary? I've never seen it." Well, unless you were watching CBS on November 17, 1978, you never could have seen it on TV because...IT WAS NEVER BROADCAST AGAIN. Nor has it ever been officially released by the Lucas empire. Why was it buried after its inaugural run? Well, because it sucked. Granted, it's bad in a kitschy sort of way--you know, it's so bad, it's almost good. Almost. But not quite.
And how do I know this? Because I got a copy of it off of Ebay last year. (It's never been officially released, but it's been bootlegged up the wazoo.)
I'm not going to try to summarize the plot here, because the thought of that makes my head hurt, but you can swing by Wikipedia for all the info your little heart could desire (or, better yet, go to the "official" fanpage!).
And now, enjoy the climactic musical number (yes, it has musical numbers! And have I mentioned yet that Bea Arthur's in it?) from the show about which George Lucas has said, "If I had the time and a sledgehammer, I would track down every copy of that show and smash it."
(Carrie Fisher is a national treasure. Seriously.)
The scene: our living room, circa December of 1991 or so. White Christmas is on TV one Sunday afternoon...me & Nick are idly watching it, probably warming up after playing outside in the snow, and just as the finale is wrapping up*, Mom walks through the living room, glances at the TV, and says:
I think most families have inside jokes when it comes to the holidays, their own "we've got to do/see/make that or it just doesn't feel like [insert holiday of your choice]" things that maybe aren't as funny or quintessential to anyone else, but without them, well, it just doesn't feel like [insert holiday of your choice].
At our house, it's not really Christmastime until our first sighting of this:
(What, you didn't think it was gonna be something schmaltzy like this, did you?)
When I walked out to my car for my lunch break today, I found what can only be described as a shitnami.
Honestly, I have never in all my life seen that much bird poop on one car. And all on one side, too. Those pigeons are up to something.
It took two trips through the car wash to get it all off. TWO TRIPS. And then, because it's colder than cold, all my car doors froze shut and I had to climb over the front seats to get to the back seat, where I had to kung-fu kick the back doors open.
As episodes of Mystery Science Theater 3000 go, Santa Claus Conquers the Martians was actually one of the less painful installments in terms of the quality of the movie being skewered. (If Manos: The Hands of Fate is a 10 on the hurt scale, this one would probably only merit about a 2 or 3 at most.) Yes, it's cheesy, and there are some plot points that are utterly absurd even in the context of a story about Martians kidnapping Santa Claus (the old creep in the cave? The discombobulated "battle" scene at the end where a fully-grown man/Martian is felled by, well, bubbles and pop guns?)--but on the whole, the script is funny, the costumes and sets look pretty great, and the acting isn't too shabby at all. If I had seen this when I was a kid, I think I would've gotten a kick out of it, even without the riffing.
And now, courtesy of YouTube, an abridged take on MST3K's take on Santa Claus Conquers the Martians:
I've been neglecting this a bit lately, partially because of the busy-ness preceding the holidays and partially because...I'm lazy! I'm not ashamed!
So here's the deal: I'm going to post a little video treat every day from now through Christmas. Think of it as an abridged advent calendar of sorts, but instead of finding scenes of the manger or pieces of chocolate or Legos, please enjoy a tableaux of my Christmas favorites.
The last Christmas that I was working in Helena, my workplace had a gift exchange that people could opt into by writing their name on a slip of paper and putting it into a hat. I suppose they figured that way, the bah-humbug lot weren't forced to partake of the cheer, and only those who were really interested in it would sign up. Being jolly & all, I tossed in my name, and wound up pulling out the name of a lady I barely knew.
At first, I was a little flummoxed about what to get her. I mean, seriously--I knew nothing about this woman (we worked for the same government agency, but she was on one side of town and my office was on the other), and I really didn't want to resort to just buying $15 worth of crap for crap's sake. I put my thinking cap on, and took a two-pronged approach to the problem: I asked our coworkers about what kind of hobbies she had, and took a swing by her office one day to sneak a peek at her walls & desk to see if I could spot any clues there. I found out she was really into cooking and baking, and decided to get her the following:
1. A little package of cookie cutters in Christmas-y shapes; 2. A gift certificate to the cooking shop downtown; and 3. Three homemade potholders that I'd crocheted.
Not bad, right? I mean, the cookie cutters weren't anything fancy, and I already had the potholders on-hand, and $10 at that place downtown wouldn't get her too far...but I thought it was a decent present for about fifteen bucks, and it really hadn't required much effort, either. I bundled it up and on the day of the Christmas soiree, I handed it off to her and waited to see who'd drawn my name out of the secret santa hat.
Well, it turned out that she had. Wow, what a coincidence! She didn't know me either, obviously, so I was curious to see what she'd come up with. Had she asked anyone in my division what I liked? Had she swung through the building to take a peek at my office full of tchotchkes, like the Smurfs and Pez dispensers on my computer monitor, the CDs on my desk, the bag of yarn by the filing cabinet, or the Fabioposter on the wall? I wasn't expecting much, but after seeing the people around me opening up things that were at least loosely tailored to them (cookbooks, fishing lures, restaurant gift certificates, etc.), I figured the lady could've found enough clues to think of something.
I reached into the bag she placed in front of me and pulled out...a mug. A mug with two bags of hot cocoa shoved into it. Oh, and a candy cane. I'd be remiss if I forgot the candy cane.
Giving someone a crappy dollar store mug and shoving some cocoa into it that someone probably dumped on you in a previous gift exchange is roughly the equivalent of throwing your shoes at someone in the Arab world, I think. Plus, it is a zero effort option. Zero. It's a gift you can grab at any checkout lane from Walgreens to Wal-Mart. Hell, I think I've even seen them at gas stations.
This is a gift that says in no uncertain terms, "I don't give a shit."
1. I wake up late. And get a bloody nose in the shower.
2. Consequently, I'm late for work.
3. 9:30 A.M.: Work computer goes wonky. Apparently that "RealPlayer update" I was just prompted to install was not what it seemed. Desperately try to uninstall whatever-the-heck-it-is to no avail, until I find where it is on the hard drive and delete it manually. Too late. Things have gone...virus-y. Feel incredibly stupid and curse myself, and the Norton Antivirus software, for sucking so profusely.
4. Have I mentioned it's freezing in there? When they remodeled a few years ago, they put the heating vents overhead on either side of my desk...so none of the hot air actually hits where I sit. Also, news flash--heat rises, so perhaps shooting it out of the ceiling wasn't the most efficient way to rig things up. I shiver and shiver and shiver all day, periodically going to the bathroom sink to run hot water on my hands to get the blood moving again. This, in turn, makes my teeth hurt, until the hot water runs out. Now I have cold hands, and sore teeth.
5. 3:30 P.M.: After six hours of trying to fix my computer, plus handling my usual busy workload on my coworker's computer across the office, I give up & call Radio Shack. I bring in the hard drive, and find out that my efforts to fix it probably just made things worse.
6. While I'm discussing matters with the fix-it guy, I realize I might've left my work keys on my desk. Which is problematic, because everyone else was leaving for the day as I was heading out to run the computer to Radio Shack. I freak out, run back to my car to dash back to the office to try to catch someone before I get locked out--when I find my work keys in my purse. Whew.
7. I get back to the office, where a cranky client is parked outside the front door--mad that he couldn't get inside to drop some papers off. "Does your boss know you were gone for the day by 4:00?" Well, sir, obviously I'm not "gone" if I'm here opening the door, am I? (Does your boss know you're an asshat?)
8. I sit at my desk for the last hour of the day, reading an old magazine I found in the conference room about "living your dreams" and realize that I must be in a pretty bad place if an article in Oprah Magazine is making me weepy and/or long for the days when I earned $600 a month.
9. Home. My friend Georgia calls and makes me laugh...my dad rants and rails against the horrors of Walmart and makes me laugh...and a package from my friend Ann shows up and makes me laugh even more.
Maybe I won't have to move to Australia after all.