Tuesday, June 26, 2007

Put Some Records On While I Sweat

Be forewarned: this is a sequel post. I generally believe all sequels are bad ideas, except maybe Exodus. My least favorite sequel is Cheaper By the Dozen 2, which I saw with my 6-year-old cousin in a Tennessee theater. I’m not sure when Steve Martin transitioned from “Wild And Crazy Guy” to “Pained Yet Patient Father,” but the gods must’ve wept. I might have scored Samaritan points for taking my cousin to Cheaper By the Dozen 2, but she hated the movie more than I did. “Is it over now?” she punctuated each scene change. “Is it over now?”

No, this post has just begun. I’m plagiarizing Murky by giving you my Summertime Singalong. Like Mr. Words’ greatest hits, mine (mostly) evoke happy, humid memories. Because I’m lazy, though, I’ve selected only tunes with “summer” words in the titles. This originated as a playlist on my iPod, and I present it without shame or editing. Sort of like the director’s cut of Garfield: Tale of Two Kitties.

1. “Summertime,” DJ Jazzy Jeff and the Fresh Prince. Ah, nostalgia. Remember when summertime was meant to “sit back and unwind”? Remember when a rapper scored a Billboard hit without having to rhyme “bitches and ho’s” (“itches my nose...”)?

2. “Here Comes the Sun,” Peter Tosh. This tune makes the short list of Beatles hits suitable for reggae covers. “Eleanor Rigby,” not destined for ebony and ivory action. “Yellow Submarine”...well, maybe.

3. “In the Summertime,” Mungo Jerry. Thumbs up: Mungo immortalized T.S. Eliot with his feline name. Thumbs down: “If her daddy’s rich, take her out for a meal / If her daddy’s poor, just do what you feel.” Two thumbs up: my mom, hearing the aforementioned lyric, exclaimed, “Well, that’s not very nice!” I've been raised right.

4. “I Can See Clearly Now,” Jimmy Cliff. Overplayed, but still one of my sunshiny favorites. Could be swapped for sentiment with any version of Irving Berlin’s “Blue Skies.”

5. “Summer in the City,” The Lovin’ Spoonful. I wouldn’t be surprised if Geico and The Lovin’ Spoonful have a “special arrangement.” The chorus of car horns is always good for a nervous swerve. Wheee!

6. “Hot in Here,” Nelly. Debuted in 2002, during my first year of teaching in Hughes. It was pretty hot in my classroom, but I knew never to say, “It’s getting hot in here,” because, inevitably, I’d receive a chorus: “So, take off...” That's one more letter off R-E-C-E-S-S, kids.

7. “Steal My Sunshine,” Len. Also seen on Murky’s list, but I bet my recollection has a different spin. In 1999 I was nineteen, and my college friends and I sang this on an apple picking trip to Connecticut. Just like you, Murk?

8. “Hot Hot Hot,” random party tune/Chili‘s commercial. It’s on my playlist, but I’ve never listened in full. Fits the theme, but annoying as hay-ell.

9. “Sunny,” Boney M. Disco remix of a Stevie Wonder song which wasn’t great in the first place. Like that Garfield: The Movie sequel. (Oops, I did say “without shame,” didn’t I? Always a toss up between shame and honesty.)

10. “Heat Wave,” Martha Reeves and Vandellas. In the 1980s, I had a “Best of the Girl Groups” cassette, and this was the first song on the B side. Mom and I took turns being Martha Reeves or the Vandellas. We also did a great version of the Shangri-Las’ “Leader of the Pack.”

11. “Summer’s Day,” Yo La Tengo. Included purely for hipster cred, and to counterbalance...

12. “Summer Girls,” LFO. I can’t tell you how much I love this song, because you’ll never read my blog again. Would it help if I make a smart Cole Porter reference? This ditty reminds me of Cole’s “You’re the Top,” with its joyfully inane rhyming. Cole says: “You’re the pearl that the divers fetch up / Milton Berle, and tomato ketchup.” LFO chants: “There was a good man named Paul Revere / I feel much better, baby, when you’re near.” Okay, (sigh), you’re right...Cole is rolling. How about: “Let you off the hook, like my man Mr. Limpet / Think about that summer, and I bug ‘cause I miss it”? Now Don Knotts is rolling, too...

13. “Summertime Blues,” The Beach Boys. Relatively upbeat for its grim subject matter, which is “the dawn of summer employment.” Age 12, you spend every summer watching “Tom and Jerry’s.” Age 15, you spend every summer scooping Ben and Jerry’s. And you’re still too young to vote!

14. “Blister in the Sun,” Violent Femmes. Talking to my friend Jessica on the phone a few days ago, she said, “[Husband] and I went to a club last week, and they were playing the song that goes “Doo doo doo doo, doo doo doo doo do, dum da dum da dum, chh chh! Chh chh!” Immediately I answered, “Blister in the Sun”-- maybe ‘cause I’m that good, but more likely because I went to Wellesley. (Femmes in a cappella is my specialty.)

15. “No Rain,” Blind Melon. All I can do is read a book to stay awake. When that doesn’t work, I think about Chuck E. Cheese’s middle name.

16. “Summertime,” Janis Joplin. We come full circle! I think most folks would call this the quintessential version of the quintessential summer song. My apologies to the Gershwins for confusing their musical with a high school sex romp, several posts ago. Ira and George had enough sense not to pen a sequel...

Tuesday, June 19, 2007

Ode To Graffiti I Spotted Yesterday

When I see most graffiti displayed,
I think, “Words should be said and not sprayed.”
For I’m sure if my trashcan could talk,
It wouldn’t yell, “CHRISTOPHER RAWKS!”
And I doubt that most bathroom stalls care
Whether “JENNA WUZ HERE” or wuz there.
Surely exit ramps think thoughts more clever
(If they don’t, well, they’ve still got more class
Than the average road underpass.)

But here’s an exception to note -
One stop sign had reason to gloat.
Its message rang both strong and true,
As a spray-written missive should do.
‘Neath STOP, an extra command
In lettering rendered by hand -
No four-letter-studded design,
Just one simple phrase: "HAMMER TIME."

Sunday, June 10, 2007

Summertime Mr. E.

Man, it’s hot here. “How hot is it?” you ask. It is so hot that all I want to do is lie in bed and ponder Great Eternal Questions. Questions such as: What does the E. in Chuck E. Cheese stand for?

This mystical conundrum has never bothered me before. It started knocking on my mental chamber around 10:00 this morning, when I awoke from another long, sweaty sleep. I’ve spent most of this weekend in bed -- either sleeping, or reading Dennis Lehane’s Mystic River. Today, I’m bookmarked at the chapter where Jimmy frantically phones his wife and youngest daughter at Chuck E. Cheese. His eldest daughter has gone missing in the local park. I feel for the guy. Really, I do. But it’s too hot to follow him through the blood-stained underbrush. At 10:10 a.m., I bid Jimmy a good Sunday and flopped onto the cooler part of my pillow. And I began wondering.

Edgar. Eddie. Eduardo. Maybe he’s Hispanic! Eugene. Ephram. It could be a family name. I reluctantly peeled myself from the top sheet and switched on my computer. Logged onto Instant Messenger. Eric would know. Hey, maybe Chuck’s middle name is Eric!

No, he wasn’t sure. Damn. He did direct me to this Web site, where racially diverse, animated people once pondered the same question. Apparently, a smattering of Yahoo users voted for their favorite answer. The winner: “The name ‘Chuck E. Cheese’ was designed to make a person’s mouth smile when they said it. So it was just a name that was created, and didn’t necessarily stand for anything in particular.” Gee, thanks, fallencupid79. For nuttin’.

“Didn’t necessarily stand for anything in particular.” There’s less waffling in our current Administration. If you’re so sure, fallencupid79, why not just say, “Didn’t stand for anything”? Why not say, “The E. is meaningless”? Because you don’t know, and it’s past your curfew.

I don’t buy Grease Lightning’s answer, either. He says it’s “another way of saying ‘Chucky’ Cheese.” If that’s correct, then why doesn’t a certain Mouse go by “Mick E.”? “Mick” is a way hipper name than “Mickey,” if you ask me. If Mick Jagger had been a Mickey, I bet the Stones wouldn’t have made it past the Maypole County Talent Show. Chuck E. is a genuine Chuck, make no mistake.

In my day, nobody bothered ciphering Chuck E. Cheese’s middle initial, because Chuck E. didn’t exist. When I was a mouseling, Chuck E.'s was Showbiz Pizza. According to trusty Wikipedia, Showbiz became Chuck E.’s in 1992, for reasons as mysterious as Chuck’s middle moniker.

My last visit to Chuck E. Cheese was in 1998, for a Wellesley Newsie’s birthday party. After several rounds of Skee Ball, we partygoers adjourned to the Celebration Room, for Munch’s Make Believe Band. As the eponymous purple monster plinked his keyboard, and the predictably mustachioed Italian pizza chef grinned over his drums, Chuck E. himself appeared in the flesh (or fur, as it were). He shook our hands. He sang “Happy Birthday.” He danced...a little too close, for me. In later years, I witnessed the same grooves at packed nightclubs on Beale Street. This Chuck E. was probably too young to enter nightclubs without a fake ID. But he was old enough to fully appreciate a throng of college-aged girls in party hats.

As we filed past the cash register on our way out, I heard Chuck E. whisper to a waiter, “That was awesome.”

Wikipedia notes that Munch’s Make Believe Band replaced the Pizza Time Players in the early ‘90s, around the time Showbiz became Chuck E.’s. For the Players’ performances, lead vocals alternated between Dolli Dimples (a hippo), Harmony Howlette (presumably, a dog), and various other animatronic females. When Chuck E. took over, though, he usurped the mic and received his own, special stage.

Looks like E. stands for Ego.

“It’s just like in Dreamgirls, where Beyonce crowds out Jennifer Hudson,” I typed to Eric. “I bet the hippo was too fat to be a lead singer. What a croc!”

I waited for my E. to concur, but...nothing. Probably he’d wandered off to stand in front of his air conditioner. “Hey! You’re not listening to me!” I typed. “Fine!” And I slammed the animatronic door.

Psychologists have cited the correlation between hot weather and irritability. That’s one mystery, at least, with empirical support.

Tuesday, June 05, 2007

Deuces Wild

One sultry evening about a year ago, two Boston gentlemen asked two Wellesley alumnae to cite the “craziest thing you did together in college.” These gentlemen know who they are, so they’ll remain unnamed. Suffice to say, they’re post-college acquaintances of the Wellesley alums -- who happened to be me and my friend W.

W. and I looked at each other. We paused. “Do we tell them about the bottle of wine and the deserted orgo lab...and the TA and the safety shower?” This wasn’t what we were thinking. Wellesley doesn’t have TA’s. Our pause was far too virginal to be pregnant. Or, more accurately, it was an unplanned pregnancy.

“Well,” I started. “Junior year at the News office...” The gentlemen leaned in. “We stayed up really late...” Two miso spoons hovered in midair. “And caught the final Gore/Bush election results,” I said. “...or lack thereof,” W. concluded.

Two bowls of miso were finished without further interrogation. By the time our eel rolls arrived, Sox scores had been fully rehashed.

It’s not that W. and I were complete prudes in school. We did not need rescuing by a Julia Roberts “free spirit,” thank you. Truth was, W. and I didn’t become close buddies until after graduation, via a spontaneous email exchange. We were crazy enough in college, but we weren’t crazy together.

Like, once I stood on the roof of my dorm with my friend Joolie, while she smoked pot. Or it might have been a cigarette. Unfiltered.

That night at the News office was intense! NPR until 6 a.m.!

Fine. There wasn’t much typical teenage craziness for me in college. Maybe that is why, as a five-year reunion treat, I decided to join W. in nudie gambling at the Beau Rivage Casino.

The Beau Rivage is not in Massachusetts. Instead of reuniting with fellow alums for stuffed olives and acronym-dropping (“I just got my MBA from SUNY...”) in Wellesley, W. and I met here last week. W.’s five-year isn’t until ‘08, so I suppose this wasn’t technically a reunion at all. The mechanics aren’t important. Do you want the story or not?

On Monday morning, we packed Diet Cokes and my CD collection, and we Google Mapped for Natchez, Mississippi. There’s plenty of gambling in the Quarter, but the drive up Canal Street affords little time for singing Elton John’s Greatest Hits. Meandering through Louisiana, we perfected the falsetto on “Goodbye, Yellow Brick Road.” Before we reached the Gulf, I mentally choreographed Kiki Dee’s portion of “Don’t Go Breakin’ My Heart.” Oh, honey, if I get restless...

Quick detour in Kentwood, Louisiana, birthplace of the former Mrs. Federline. I don’t know about W., but I crossed my fingers for a shrine. Candles surrounded by Mickey Mouse ears, copies of Crossroads, and upscale wigs. At the very least, a slew of Britney-named buildings. A wedding chapel? A taxidermist? No luck. Not even a “Home Of...” sign. “Britney wasn’t lying,” I told W. “They really are ’country people.’” We had to appease ourselves with the idea that maybe Britney cruised past this very same Suds ’n’ Duds. On her father’s lap, natch’rally.

We pulled over for a beach stroll on the Natchez outskirts. It began tamely enough. W. waded in to her ankles. I examined shells along the tidemark. “The water’s really warm,” W. exclaimed. “Wish we’d brought our bathing suits!”

If we’d been in a Porgy’s type movie, this is where the “bow chicka bow” music would’ve kicked in.

Nobody else was around. Not nearby, anyway. A few towels sprawled further down the shore. Some people-specks played way out in the water. “It’ll look like we’re wearing bikinis,” W. reasoned. “I’ll do it if you will.”

Redneck siblings’ famous last exchange.

We left our clothes in a heap on the sand. I watched the heap like a lighthouse. In Porgy’s, a couple of frat brothers would’ve snatched it up in seconds. (It’s a Wonderful Life...Porgy’s...same difference.) In reality, our biggest liability was W.’s camera, buried beneath my jeans. We also pondered the penalty for an indecent exposure arrest. Did Mississippi have mandatory Swimwear Education for booked Gulf offenders? We’d face that risk.

Lady Luck protected us on the beach -- which, of course, means that she abandoned us at the casino. We didn’t do much to entertain Luck’s ladylike sensibilities. Our sandy, wet underclothes remained in the car, as we hit up the slots. I bet a Mindy’s cheesecake that Damon Runyon didn’t gamble in wet undies, either.

We weren’t crazy enough to play any machine worth more than a dollar, so neither of us lost much money. I got a 50-cent voucher on double bonus poker, but I kept it as a souvenir. “We smell like trash,” W. noted at one point. “We are trash, baby!” I replied.

On the ride home, we got milkshakes from Sonic and switched to Billy Joel’s Greatest Hits. “You may be right,” I sang. “I may be craaaazy.” It’s a subjective matter, really. And, as Billy suggests, you’re bound to find lunacy if you go looking for it. Even five years late.