Tuesday, September 27, 2011

"It's just a show, I should really just relax."

After the few brief, shining years when we had the satellite dish, its rusting, hulking frame taunted us from the backyard as we sank to the ground like Icarus, having flown too close to the sun. The rabbit ears went back into the spider plant's pot at the top of the stairs, and we went back to just having four TV channels. Channels 3 & 6 (CBS and NBC, respectively) usually came in pretty clearly (explaining the vast quantities of
Cheers and Seinfeld we'd consume in years to come), but for the next twenty years, anytime we wanted to watch something on 10 (ABC) or 8 (PBS), you had to cross your fingers and hope the snow on the screen wasn't too bad that day. (On the other hand, I can credit that fuzzy reception for limiting my exposure to Full House and Family Matters on ABC's "TGIF!" Friday night line-up, which was probably blessing in disguise. My brains were already rotted enough and they didn't need more help from Urkel.)

Our last reliable outlet for soaking up the wondrous offerings of cable TV was my Grandma Rosie's house -- more specifically, Grandma Rosie's back bedroom, which wasn't really used like a bedroom at all but was more of a sewing/TV room/hideout for grandchildren. On major holidays (major enough to prompt a big family feast, that is) and on lazy summer days (or afternoons after school), me and my brothers and our cousins would usually wind up back there, eating off TV trays or balancing plates on our laps, watching illicit, non-Grandma-sanctioned programming like WWF wrestling,
Beavis & Butthead, The Simpsons, South Park, and Ren & Stimpy. If you heard Grandma coming down the hall, you'd better make sure you had PBS or something wholesome queued up to flip over to, because Grandma did NOT approve of vulgar fart humor. (Or did she?)

Christmas at Grandma Rosie's house, 2004.
(Still hiding our viewing habits from Grandma despite the fact that we were all in our 20s, Christmas 2004.)

And in that room is where I saw
Mystery Science Theater 3000 for the first time.

It was sometime in the late summer or fall of 1992 -- the exact circumstances that brought me to Grandma Rosie's that day are lost in the fog. Was I there after school? On a weekend, when the family went down to do chores in her yard? Who knows. But I do remember sitting there, flipping through the channels, and landing on this.

"She's cute, she's rooty-toot-toot/I bet she smells like Juicy Fruit."

I'd never seen anything like it -- my thirteen year-old mind was blown. What the hell was this? I sat through the rest of the episode and was completely mesmerized. It was so, so funny, and so out of left field.

If I had to pin down what spoke to me most about the show when I first encountered it, it would be two things: one, that it was really smart and super funny and showed me that maybe my nerdy, bookworm-y skill set (which wasn't doing me many favors as an awkward middle schooler) could eventually come in handy. And two, it was made by people from Wisconsin and Minnesota, not out on a coast somewhere -- to a kid in the middle-of-nowhere in middle America, hearing people crack jokes like "filmed on location in Spooner, Wisconsin" on a nationally broadcast TV show was, like, the greatest inside joke ever. ("Oh my god, I've been to Spooner!") Hearing references that were specific to my mother country, and which would likely fly over the heads of a lot of other people ("ride the ducks!"), made me feel like I was in a secret club. There's nothing a thirteen year-old wants more than to feel smart, and to feel like they're cool, and that's what MST3K did for me. It made me feel cool to be smart.

I started scouring the TV guide listings in the Sunday paper, figuring out when this weird, weird show would be on again, funneling VHS tapes down to Grandma Rosie's so she could tape it for me. (It should be said that Grandma Rosie was pretty technologically adept, especially compared to my parents -- they
still don't know how to set a VCR timer.) Every few weeks, Grandma would have a new tape ready for me, and I'd bring it home and watch it over and over, until I took it back so she could tape some more.

This went on for a few years, with Grandma's taping skills growing more erratic (and the show getting harder to find on the TV schedule). I hoarded the shows I had and guarded the tapes like a crazy person, lest they fall into a family member's hands and get taped over. Then, on a back to school shopping trip in Duluth, in an overpriced Suncoast video store, I found...officially-released MST3K episodes. Oh, they were overpriced, but they were worth every penny. I was way more excited about the tapes than I was about any back-to-school clothes.

By this point, I was in high school, and even though I was still a nerd, I'd found a lot of other nerds to be friends with. (I mean that affectionately.) My house became a weekend hangout -- we'd go down into the basement and watch movies, play board games, eat frozen pizzas, dig outold toys in the furnace room...that sort of thing. One weekend, hunting around for something to watch (and still just having four TV channels to pick from), I pulled out my Pod People tape...and the rest was history.

Watching MST3K turned into a communal experience. Not everyone "got" all the same references (and I don't think any of us ever got them all), but everyone found something to laugh at. When I went to college, my MST3K tapes went with me, and when I moved to Montana, they took up valuable real estate on the back seat of my car (instead of, say, clothes or winter boots or anything like that). I've made some of my best friends watching MST3K.

There aren't many things I fell in love with at the age of thirteen that are still relevant to me today. (Hey, I may still have that Ace of Base CD I got that year, but I don't actually listen to it.) MST3K has been my favorite show for over half my lifetime. I've seen some of the episodes dozens of times, and what surprises me as I get older is how I'll be watching some movie or reading a book, and BAM! I'll encounter a scene or a line and out of the blue, some joke on MST3K that I've heard a hundred times but never really "got" will make sense. It's a show you can grow old with, without it ever getting old. It's had, without a doubt, the single biggest influence on my sense of humor outside of my immediate family.

A few weekends ago, me & my brother Nick drove down to Minneapolis to go to a Cinematic Titanic show. Nick isn't as ardent a MST3K fan as I am, but because of me, he grew up watching the tapes so he's pretty fond of it, too. It wasn't my first Cinematic Titanic show -- I saw them in Minneapolis when they came through a few years ago -- but this time, we lucked out and sat right next to the stage, literally an arm's length from these people I've watched and idolized since I was a kid. It was like an out-of-body experience -- a really funny out-of-body experience.

After the show, the cast came out to sign autographs. Me & Nick got in line and shook hands with everyone...I got totally tongue-tied and just kept saying, "So nice to meet you!" when what I really wanted to say was "you people are my heroes."


Monday, September 26, 2011

Police blotter.

Sunday, 11:43 P.M.: Report of 4-wheeler heading down Main Street.

Monday, 4:10 P.M.: Report of bear dogs barking and howling all hours of the day and night.

Tuesday, 4:19 A.M.: Request for officer for highly intoxicated patron at casino who was walking around with only a shirt on, guest was escorted back to hotel room.

Tuesday, 1:02 P.M.: Trespassing: Subject stated that someone put a mailbox on his field, on County G.

Tuesday, 2:25 P.M.: Suspicious activity reporting a possible "peeping Tom," as they have noticed "ear" marks on some of the windows.

Wednesday, 2:10 A.M.: Suspicious activity: caller stated someone was trying to get into her house, and wanted officer to patrol the area. Officer determined it was a raccoon.

Wednesday, 1:11 P.M.: Request to see an officer about "a picture in a window."

Friday, 9:44 A.M.: Report of male going from house to house seeking a wrench so he can change a tire. Caller said he was intoxicated and carrying a can of beer.

This might count as one of the signs of the apocalypse.

When the Mayans were scribbling out their apocalypse calendar, do you think they looked into their crystal balls (or ancient Mayan crystal ball equivalent) and saw this?


Tuesday, September 13, 2011



In the Peanut Gallery with Mystery Science Theater 3000: Essays on Film, Fandom, Technology and the Culture of Riffing
Yeah, I'm still slogging through this, which I don't mean to sound negative because I'm quite enjoying it. But it's dense and scholarly (really!) and sometimes after reading at work all day, my brain's not prepared to tackle anything that asks too much of me once I get home. Now that I'm going to two Cinematic Titanic shows this fall, though, I think I'll be approaching this with renewed vigor.

Louis C.K.'s USO Blog (a series dating back to May '09)
There was an hour-long episode of Louie a few weeks ago that was so awesome, it managed to stand out amidst an entire season of outstandingness. After the show aired, he posted a link in his Twitter feed back to this series of blog posts he cobbled together after he'd returned from a USO tour in Iraq/Afghanistan a few years ago -- if you've seen the episode, you'll see where he got some of the inspirations for "Duckling." (I wish the episode were posted on the FX website, but alas, it's not up there for viewing, otherwise I'd link to it here.)

"How to Land Your Kid in Therapy" and "How to Turn Republicans and Democrats Into Americans" in the July/August 2011 issue of The Atlantic
I fall behind on The Atlantic more often than I should (so much to read!), but I make time every summer for the Ideas Issue because there's always lots of good brain chow in there for me to mull over. These two articles were my favorites in this year's edition.

Jay Mohr's Real Housewives of New Jersey blog
My secret shame. Well, not really. I'm not a big reality TV person, but the New Jersey housewives are my semi-guilty pleasure -- the other franchises don't really do it for me (Beverly Hills being the exception, because they're so rich and disconnected from reality that it's more like watching Dallas than a "reality" show), but these people remind me of people I know around here. Essentially, they're just rednecks that live in fancy houses. I mean, seriously -- an entire episode this season was devoted to them going to a cabin in the sticks where they did nothing but ride four-wheelers, shoot guns off the front porch, and get plastered. Take away the accent and swap it with one of ours, and they'd blend right in.

Anyway, the comedian Jay Mohr is (somewhat inexplicably) a huge RHONJ (yes, it merits its own shorthand) fan, and this year Bravo (the network that airs the show) gave him space to write about it each week. I don't know if they're at all funny to anyone unfamiliar with the show, but if you do watch it, his entries will crack you up.


Cougar Town, season 2
This show is so much better than its title would have you believe. Really. Not that it's, like, the greatest show on TV or anything, but the ensemble cast is really funny together, the stories are silly but entertaining, and it reminds me of those frothy procedural shows on the USA network that don't ask much of you, but that you can watch for four hours straight without losing interest.

Exporting Raymond
A documentary about the creator of Everybody Loves Raymond and his efforts to launch a Russian version of the show. It's not the weightiest doc in the world, but the inevitable culture clashes between the creative types were amusing ("this Raymond, in Russian culture he is like, how you say, a wussy man").

Doctor Who
The second half of the newest season started up a few weeks ago...it's cool to see it's finally catching on in America. Well, catching on a little, at least -- I don't think it's a household name just yet.

If you get the chance to see this sometime, watch it. (I rented it from Netflix, but it still replays on the History Channel from time to time, too.) I loved it -- seeing things in color instead of black and white gives it so much more immediacy and impact, and the way they frame the miniseries around a dozen or so recurring people makes it really engaging. I wish this had been around back when I was in high school, I think I would've gotten a lot more out of our WWII unit in history class if we'd had something like this to soak up.

The No. 1 Ladies' Detective Agency
I read the first of these books a few years ago and have always meant to go back and read the rest -- just haven't found the time yet. Finding this show has pushed the books back up toward the top of my to-read list -- it's beautifully done. The cast is wonderful, and it left me half-tempted to book a plane ticket to Botswana.


Listening to: Join Us by They Might Be Giants, Dirty Radio by Sallie Ford & the Sound Outside.

Making: crocheted baby hats, which has been a great way to use up some bits & pieces of yarn. Plus, I like anything that I can finish in a couple of hours, it suits my current attention span nicely. Next up: gotta start a couple of baby blankets, as a few of my friends have buns in their ovens.

Acquired: an iPod Touch, after my trusty old Creative mp3 player kicked the bucket (2005-2011, R.I.P.). I wasn't totally hip on hopping on the Apple bandwagon, but generally, I'm liking it so far -- the controls are taking some getting used to, and there are some things I think my old player did better (sometimes, less is more), but it's fun being able to go on the internet on it and being able to download games & crap might be fun, too. Next up: contemplating a new laptop purchase, as mine is almost seven years old and in addition to some structural issues (the missing "v" key that fat Toivo broke off that time he jumped on it, the CD/DVD tray door falling off occasionally), it's starting to have some runtime issues, too. Ever since we got new computers at work last winter, it's gotten jarring to go home at night and watch mine slowly start up and limp along. The back-to-school sales are all ending pretty soon, so if I don't decide quickly, I'll probably just hold off for another year. I hate to spend the money, but on the other hand, I guess I've gotten my money's worth out of this one by now...

Monday, September 12, 2011

Police blotter.

Tuesday, 8:58 P.M.: Caller complained of ongoing noise problem, on one side it is the bear hunters with their dogs, and the other side is a man who blasts his stereo because he is irritated by the bear dogs.

Friday, 1:15 P.M.: Report of male lighting fireworks with caller adding, "he also sells drugs."

Friday, 3:27 P.M.: Report of male urinating in public.

Saturday, 12:52 A.M.: Report of woman lying on ground with a male near her. Update: Subjects were watching the northern lights.

Saturday, 1:53 A.M.: Report of car stuck in pond at casino.

Sunday, 2:34 P.M.: Report of kids throwing food all over the yard and a car.

Sunday, 7:20 P.M.: Report of two somewhat intoxicated women walking down road with open beers in their hands.

Sunday, 10:30 P.M.: Report of raccoon stuck in sewer grate.

Sunday, 10:41 P.M.: Report of graffiti outside apartment door. Update: Kids had been writing on sidewalk with chalk.