Questions I Have About the 1985 Film Gymkata

I never blog anymore because I’ve got book writing deadlines to meet, but last night I watched a film so puzzling, so thought-provoking, so totally bonkers that I am dedicating today’s writing time to exploring it. So to my editor at Macmillan who expects a first draft of my next book in a few weeks, head’s up that I may be a little late.

Because I have to talk about Gymkata.

My husband and I sat down to watch this 1985 cinema classic last night because he’d heard it was “so bad it’s good” and I must say at least the first half of that phrase is absolutely correct.

Gymkata stars American gymnast and Olympic star Kurt Thomas as Jonathan Cabot, and it’s quite clear to me now why Kurt Thomas earned medals in gymnastics as opposed to any Oscar noms.

The film hinges on an idea so bizarre I forced my husband to pause the film so that I could review with him the exposition and initial incident that sends our protagonist up Freytag’s Pyramid.

Essentially, the character of Jonathan Cabot is recruited by United States secret intelligence to participate in a game of endurance on the fictional island of Parmistan in which all the losers die and the winner is given one request that must be fulfilled by the King of Parmistan, a la the Godfather on his daughter’s wedding day.

Got that?

So…the U.S. government convinces Cabot to play the game and, if he wins, he will use his one wish not for a new cherry red Corvette or sacks of gold bullions but (wait for it) for permission for the United States government to be able to use the island of Parmistan as a site for a U.S. satellite monitoring station, further cementing America’s dominance in the geopolitical crisis known as The Cold War.

Wait, hold up. First plotting issue.

Are we really to believe that a young man at the peak of his virility and athletic prowess would be willing to sacrifice his own life for a satellite monitoring station? I know it was the 80s and we were all jamming on Red Dawn and Ronald Reagan, but I found this to be a bit of a stretch.

Still, Cabot says yes, and we have the ubiquitous training montage that involves a lot of 80s tropes, including a second rate Mr. Miyagi-type, who forces Cabot to train for “the game” by climbing up stairs on his hands. The trainer also has a pet falcon, so you know he’s wise.

Now plotting issue number two. There is a very attractive woman known as “the princess” who is part of Cabot’s training sessions because she’s an expert at “the game.” (At one point the U.S. intelligence officer who recruits Cabot tells him, “She’s got a pretty interesting back story………….her mother’s Indonesian.” That’s it. That’s her interesting back story. That her mom happened to be born in Indonesia just like roughly 4 million other babies per annum and yes I did just look up the birth rate of Indonesia.)

ANYWAY, turns out this princess is actually the princess of PARMISTAN. So here’s my question. Why and how was the U.S. competitor to “the game” given the advantage of having a native of Parmistan flown out to our country to give him tips as to how to win? Seems really unfair to me and beneath the sportsmanship of an Olympic athlete such as Thomas/Cabot.

It’s also unrealistic that Cabot and the princess get together all hot and heavy after she has delivered approximately no lines of dialogue, but okay, the language of love is universal and whatnot plus, ya know, sexism in Hollywood.

Let’s get to Parmistan. There’s a long set up to “the game,” where the princess gets kidnapped and there’s a lot of shooting and running around, but all of this is just boring build up to what we’ve all been (sort of) waiting for…“the game.”

As my husband and I watched the climactic portion of the film, I became utterly consumed by numerous questions.

First of all, why does the King of Parmistan look like a poor man’s Mel Brooks?

Second, how does this country of Parmistan have the ability to allegedly fulfill any request for the winner of “the game,” yet the bulk of its citizenry seems to live as if it were medieval times with no electricity, indoor plumbing, or access to dental care?

Third, why do so many of the “ninjas” who help operate “the game” do little more than stand there, evoking a pose not unlike the one I struck while a member of my school’s 6th grade safety patrol?

Fourth, why do the competitors from other countries wear track suits, but Cabot is wearing khaki slacks and a black turtleneck and looks like he’s about to take Ashley from 5th period on a date to the Cineplex to watch Fletch starring Chevy Chase?

Fifth, why is the movie called Gymkata, yet this word is never once uttered or referenced in this movie?

Sixth, at the end of “the game,” Cabot is forced to run through an abandoned hamlet filled with “crazy people,” that is referred to as “the cuckoo’s nest.” It was the mid 80s, so the stigmatizing of mental illness was to be expected, but my question is…why is it “crazy” for a man to have two faces? Yes, in this part of the film a man with TWO FACES tries to kill Cabot. Biological IMPOSSIBILITY and not really a sign that someone is “crazy,” per se.

Seventh, also present in crazy town is a man in a white robe who beckons to Cabot. When White Robe turns around, his bare ass is exposed. Explain to me what the hell is going on here.

Eighth, as the villagers of the cuckoo’s nest surround Cabot, how is it that there happens to be a pommel horse located in the middle of the town square? Did the residents work out on it? Did it serve some other unknown purpose? And why do they keep approaching the pommel horse as Cabot spins and spins, knocking them out with his furious feet? I guess cuz they’re “crazy.”

Ninth, just as we think Cabot is gonna die, a seemingly sympathetic ninja saves him. Turns out – it’s Cabot’s DAD, who played “the game” over 20 years ago but allegedly DIED but was actually “used as diplomatic bait,” and has been hiding out on Parmistan for lo these past two decades while his son is becoming a medal-earning Olympic gymnast back in America. Now how on Earth did U.S. intelligence allow this man to languish here?!? HUGE plot hole!

Tenth, how was this movie made?

In case you’re wondering, Cabot wins “the game,” wins the girl, and the United States gets its satellite monitoring station. And I spent two hours of my life I’ll never get back watching a little film called Gymkata.

If Caillou’s Mom Kept a Diary

caillou mommy oneFebruary 26, 2013        

Caillou’s Daddy hasn’t touched me in weeks.  Make that months.  I don’t get it.  To be honest, I’m not entirely sure how Caillou and Rosie even entered our lives.  It’s like they’ve always been here.  Caillou has interrupted us in bed so many times, but God knows he’s never interrupted any lovemaking.  The last time he sauntered in here whining about shadows and some nonsense, Caillou’s Daddy actually got out of bed and made him hot chocolate.  That child is never going to learn proper boundaries with that kind of parenting.

I’d accuse Caillou’s Daddy of sleeping with Miss Martin, but he’s such a eunuch I don’t think that’s possible.  I’m sure Miss Martin wouldn’t turn him down.  She’s such a floozie and a complete alcoholic.  I smelled vodka on her breath this morning, I’m sure of it.  But truthfully, how can I fault her?  She teaches preschool for God’s sake.  To that red-headed little heathen Leo, no less.  God knows it takes me at least two cocktails to make it through breakfast with the rest of this Sunshine Family.

March 3, 2013

Let’s get real for a moment and talk about the color scheme of this house.  My eyes bleed each time I walk into the kitchen.  Red and blue and yellow this and red and blue and yellow that.  I feel like the colors are mocking me and my true nature.  I’m an introspective woman at heart, and I prefer muted tones.  Tans, beiges, a nice ecru.  I ask you – who the Hell has a bright red roof over a bright blue primary structure?   Me, that’s who.

And to think I used to listen to Bauhaus in college.  Le sigh.

cailloumommytwoMarch 14, 2013

Grandma and Grandpa are coming over AGAIN tomorrow, damn it.  I feel like clipping some research about the importance of the nuclear family having time to strengthen and develop on its own and leaving it in a prominent place in the (primary-colored) living room.  Grandpa with his forced joviality and aggressive masculine nature, Grandma submitting to such obvious heteronormative roles (not that I can talk, truth be told).

Oh, wait, Grandma is an artist.  I forgot.  Throw some pots at the Senior Center once a week and now you’re Marina Abramović.  As if.

March 22, 2013

Caillou, that LITTLE TWERP.  I washed his shirt for art class and made him pancakes in the shape of a dinosaur and all I got was a whiny temper tantrum at the grocery store.  I know the doctor says there’s no way I can up my dosage, but I’m calling him tomorrow.  I simply must.

Rosie is a sweetheart and I clearly favor her, I realize, but it’s only because I see her future trapped in the same limited, thankless role while that bald-headed son of mine moves on to some other woman in some other ridiculously-painted house and expects her to make him dinosaur-shaped pancakes just like me.  Did the movement’s second wave ACHIEVE NOTHING?  Sometimes it feels that way, I will tell you.

Only Gilbert understands me.

 cailloumommythreeApril 2, 2013

Park, school, kitchen.  Park, school, kitchen.  And the mothers at the park.  Morons!  I tried to discuss Judith Butler’s latest essay with Clementine’s mommy and the mommy of those damn twins no one can tell apart, and all I got were vacant stares.

I’m a Vassar girl, for Christ’s sake!

 

Deep Thoughts About Thomas the Tank Engine and Friends

If you do not know anything about Thomas the Tank Engine, this post will make no sense to you.  But if you – like me – are the parent of a toddler who obsessively watches Thomas and if you – like me – find yourself falling to sleep with “They’re two, they’re four, they’re six, they’re eight, shunting trucks and hauling freight…” swimming through your skull, then I think you will relate to these deep questions about Thomas the Tank Engine and Friends.

1. How Much Autonomy Do the Engines Actually Have?

The older episodes refer to (and show) drivers inside the train engines, but these gentlemen become less visible in the later computer-animated episodes.  Still, someone must be driving these trains, right?  Or do the trains do all the thinking for themselves?  When Thomas and Toby hustle through the Whispering Woods, who is making the decision to actually go through the Whispering Woods?  Percy and Gordon do some pretty stupid things.  So do Rosie and Emily.  If they have drivers, don’t the drivers have some say in getting them to not do these stupid things?  Thomas just runs off to the country show without making sure his whistle is secured and the driver just lets him?  Come on, drivers.

2. Is Sir Topham Hatt Also the Mayor or What?

He is head of the railroad, right?  But is he also the mayor?  What is his jurisdiction?  Is the island of Sodor so dependent on a railway system that this has effectively given Sir Topham Hatt the power to control everything that happens there?  If he is also the mayor, that would explain the fancy suit, but I seriously doubt the head of Union Pacific gets to march around ordering everyone around all the time while dressed in a tux.

3. Why Does Sir Topham Hatt Have Gentlemen-in-Waiting?

Who are these two guys who just follow Mr. Hatt around?  They’re just looking around, nervous, ready to do Sir Topham Hatt’s bidding.  These guys needs some lessons in self-esteem.  They look like they’re going to start crying if Sir Topham Hatt even looks at them cross-eyed.  That dude must be the mayor if he evokes that much fear in these minions.

 

4. Why the Relentless Capitalist Message?

Everything is about being a really useful engine – even at the expense of one’s dignity and personal health.  Thomas, Percy, Gordon, Edward – how many times have we seen them debase themselves and humiliate each other in an effort to prove to Sir Topham Hatt that they are a “really useful engine.”  I truly wish Thomas and friends would consider collective bargaining for at least one day off a week.  The trains have nothing to lose but their chains.

5. Is the Overt Sexuality Appropriate?

Percy pumped his pistons.  Bust my buffers.  I’ll be your back engine.  Emily is proud of her big wheels.  Also – what the heck is “shunting” all about?  I’m not sure my toddler son should be watching this.

 

All right – that’s it for now, but I admit these questions are on my mind way more often than I feel comfortable admitting.  I’m not kidding, either.  I seriously ask myself these questions when Elliott watches this show.  Maybe next week I’ll take the time to share with you my thoughts on The Backyardigans (Is Uniqua transgender?), Curious George (Why is The Man in the Yellow Hat so weak?) and Caillou (Does Caillou have cancer and is this why he is bald?).

 

 

 

What We Talk About When We Talk About The Cutting Edge

Here’s my theory.  There is a certain kind of woman of a certain age who has a very specific response when someone brings up the 1992 cinematic masterpiece known as The Cutting Edge.

If you are that certain kind of woman, you are still reading.  If you’re not, you’re not.  Now you know what camp you fall into.

So now that you’re still reading….welcome, friend.

You know who you are.  You saw the film in theaters in junior high or high school and were smitten, you watched it every single day during that uncertain summer between senior year and college, in your early twenties you developed a drinking game surrounding the phrase “toe pick,” and you plan on introducing it to your toddler daughter as soon as she is old enough for a movie with the word “foreplay” in it.

What was it about this film experience?  Why, why, why did it suck so many of us in?  On its surface, it’s a light romantic comedy (will-they, won’t-they get together?) combined with a typical sports film (will-they, won’t-they win the medal?).  Of course from the opening sequence (“Honey, where I’m from, we stand for the National Anthem”), you know they will and they will.

But yet this movie has a way of captivating and sucking us in, so much so that if The Cutting Edge comes up at a party (you’d be surprised how often this has happened to me), it’s possible to get worked up into a quoting competition with a fellow cult member.

Who the hell do you think you are?
I know exactly who I am, sweetheart. I’m a guy who came a long way for lunch.
Well, please don’t let me keep you from the trough.

I wanna see your ass in the air!
Until Hercules here learns how to lock his grip, this will have to do!

If you’re so bored, why don’t you read?
What, you mean like a book?
That is a traditionally accepted format, yes.
Is this the beginning of a conversation, here?
I was just simply asking if you knew how to read.
Yes. Doug can read.

Okay, slow down there, Jennifer.  Woah, nelly.

So what is it that makes this movie so special?  Well, I have a few theories.

 

The witty banter

It’s almost like The Cutting Edge is our generation’s The Philadelphia Story.  Need proof?  See above.  Unlike most sappy rom-coms, Kate and Doug don’t sound like a Hallmark card when they talk to each other.  The banter is sharp as a steak knife and lots of fun.  Obviously.  I mean, how else would we remember this little exchange twenty years later?

What do you do, shower once a week? 

Is that an invitation?

 

Doug Dorsey sort of oozed sex.

 Now D.B. Sweeney isn’t exactly famed in the same way Brad Pitt has been revered as a sex god (the last time I saw him was in a Lifetime movie playing a harried suburban dad, and honestly he looked a little bloated), but somehow as Doug Dorsey he gave off the essence of being a total dynamo in the sack.

When I saw this in the theater, I remember my incredibly naïve 16-year-old self being totally shocked (and quite excited) by the idea that Doug Dorsey had to go on a weekend trip to Boston to get his sex groove on (or as Kate put it, to go “whoring”).  How randy was this guy that he couldn’t handle going a few months without Doin’ It?  He was preparing for the Olympics, but still, he had to go have anonymous sex in Boston for two days just to survive day to day.  Wow.

He knew it, too.  I mean, would a man who boasts, “I only do two things well, sweetheart, and skating’s the other one,” lie about his skills in the sack?  That is the greatest bad boy line since Brando’s “Whaddaya got?” in The Wild One!

Also, Lorie `Sit Spin’ Peckarovski couldn’t fake that morning after glow.  (“It’s a little early for practice, isn’t it?”)  Dang, she was trashy.

 

The skating!

The skating really sent us over the edge, didn’t it?  The jumps, the twirls, the early 90s neon spandex, and of course, the mind blowing Pamchenko!  (“Legano, no legano – ees gray ahrea”).  There is a part of almost every lady who loves to curl up in front of her television every four years and watch prepubescent girls do things with their bodies on the ice that they themselves could not even do in their early twenties on the GROUND.  And The Cutting Edge satisfied that part of us.  Especially the training and spinning montages.  (“Everybody move…everybody groove…keep on groovin’!)

Seriously, remember the Pamchenko?  I still don’t know if that defied the laws of physics or what.

 

It gave us just enough but not too much

The Cutting Edge knew just how to tease us.  It didn’t ruin the love affair by showing Doug and Kate racing back to the hotel to rip their clothes off.  (Not that we wouldn’t have watched.)  It didn’t show Kate’s narcissistic father or Doug’s bartending brother or the bearded Russian coach’s reactions to their innocent kiss on the ice.  It didn’t even show Doug and Kate winning the gold medal (we just knew they DID though, with that Pamchenko!).  No, it just built and built and built the tension and released it just enough with that lovely smooch in the middle of the arena under the bright white spotlights.

And then these magical last lines:

You didn’t have to do this.

Yes, I did.

Why?

Because, I love you.

Just remember who said it first.

 

Ah, yes…witty banter until the end.  Love you, Kate and Doug!!!   xoxoxo

 

 

TLC Channel vs. Lifetime TV In a Battle for Women’s Souls

I feel sort of like a soldier committing treason or a gang member wearing the wrong colors for saying this, but I must speak the truth.

Lifetime TV better watch its backside because TLC is coming at it ninja style with the current quality of its Ladyvision programming. 

I have been a Lifetime TV addict ever since I realized I was a woman.  This happened in college when I began to understand the way that patriarchal oppression affects nearly every facet of my life.  To be honest, I also realized I was a woman when I found out I could get away with doing “girl” push-ups.

Anyway, ever since realizing I am a woman, I have loved me some Lifetime.  And what was not to love?  Tori Spelling getting stalked and countless reruns of The Golden Girls.  Female empowerment indeed.  (I’m only being partly facetious there.  The Golden Girls was actually one of the most empowering shows for women in the history of television, for serious.)

But despite the greatness of Lifetime, lately, I have to give it up for TLC.  Let’s see which shows are keeping me coming back for more.

Four Weddings

Well of course the ladies are gonna love this.  It’s about stuff ladies love to do.  Namely, planning weddings and talking shit about each other.  And not just talking shit, but talking shit in, like, the super nicest way possible?  Where everything they say comes out like a question?  Like you know what I mean?

The deal with this show is four ladies attend each other’s weddings, compare and contrast, cast a secret ballot, and then the winner of the “best” wedding gets a dream honeymoon.

And as you watch you can talk about, like, did she know the line for the food was gonna be this long?  And like, do you think she knew her dress was god-awful ugly as sin?  And, um, don’t you think their vows were sort of overdoing it?  Like, not to be mean but you know?

 

I Didn’t Know I was Pregnant

Since most people who get pregnant are ladies, this is super perfect for TLC’s lady-driven programming.  This show is about the dumbest women in the world and how they give birth in amusement park toilets after riding a roller coaster.  (True episode.)

What I love are the reenactments where the newborn baby is played by a six-month old covered in red Jello.

 

The Little Couple

One half of The Little Couple is a woman, hence its inclusion in the TLC line-up.  The deal with this twosome is that other than being little people, they have to be the most boring couple I’ve ever met.  They’re affluent with a lot of disposable income, so I get to watch little people golf, travel, build their own home, have nice dinners, etc.  Fantastic.  It would be more exciting if they were alcoholics, or they got into knife fights with other little couples, or just something like that.

 

Cake Boss/Next Great Baker/DC Cupcakes/Fabulous Cakes

Women eat cake, right?  Like, especially when they’re PMSing like sooooooo bad?  So this is perfect.

 

19 Kids and Counting

Okay, so despite reading this well-researched, well-written book about the repressive and sexist Quiverfull movement, I can’t help but get all transfixed by the country-kitchen vibe of Mama Michelle Duggar, her hubby Jim Bob, and their brood.  What amazes me is how GOOD Michelle looks for having had and raised 19 children.  I don’t know what her secret is.  Perhaps it’s quality skin moisturizer, or perhaps it’s the fact that she uses child labor to do her dirty work.  Of course I’m talking about her eldest daughters, who are apparently forced to sublimate all their own dreams into clean laundry and tubs of mac and cheese as they care for their younger siblings in a patriarchal-driven environment that reduces women to only one basic role of wife and mother while limiting their contact with the outside world.  Woah, woah, woah!  Sorry about that…getting all college on ya.

 

Sister Wives

The title alone tells you how perfect this is for a female audience.  Women are sisters and women are wives, and in this show, they are also polygamists!  Four ladies center their lives around Kody Brown and his dreamy golden locks.  Where the appeal is after that, you got me.

 

Make Room for Multiples

The show that all ladies who are also mothers should take the time to watch just in case they’re ever feeling overwhelmed.  Today I watched an episode where a couple had four kids under two.  I want you to think about that for a minute, parents.  Four kids under two.  I know, right?  After the show was over, I went and took every birth control pill in my pill pack, just to be safe.

 

Toddlers and Tiaras

There is nothing to say.

 

So there.  That wraps up my review of TLC’s best and brightest.  Lifetime, are you listening?  Because pretty soon, TLC isn’t going to stand for The Learning Channel anymore.  In my eyes, it’s gonna be known as The Lady Channel.

What I Learned From Watching 1950s Melodramas

I’m not ashamed to admit some of my favorite films include wonderful old frothy 50s melodramas like All That Heaven Allows, A Summer Place, Written on the Wind, Magnificent Obsession, Peyton Place, and many more.  And after years of watching these films, I’ve learned a few things about life.

Men Should Always Wear a Suit No Matter What

Whether they’re eating breakfast, talking on the telephone, or going for a light jog, a man is not a man unless he wears a full suit.  I know sometimes it got hot, especially with Lana Turner and a very fetching young Lauren Bacall running around, and yes, air conditioning was a rarity back in the 50s.  But gentlemen, we’re sorry.  You’re wearing a suit.  Constantly.  The moment you emerge from your bed, put on a suit.  Go everywhere all day long in that suit, and don’t let anyone see you in anything but a suit except for your wife, who can glance at you in your pajamas from her own bed way on the other side of the master bedroom.

Also a must – you need to Brylcreem the Hell out of your hair.  Seriously.  You should be able to ride a roller coaster during a high-powered tornado without those locks moving a centimeter, and if you can’t, you definitely need more Brylcreem.

Every Move Should Be Choreographed to a Very!  Intense!  Classical!  Score!

In case you don’t know how to feel while watching a 1950s melodrama, just listen to the classical score.  Someone accuses someone of being a loose woman?  A shocking crescendo will accompany that.  Two passionate lovers clutch each other in the dark recesses of an attic or a cave by the beach?  A shocking crescendo will accompany that, too.  Actually, now that I think about it, these films are just one shocking crescendo and slam of crashing cymbals after another until the very end.  By the way, you’ll know you’ve reached the end when there’s a swell in the music and THE END scrolls across the screen in a super gorgeous 1950s font.

 

Life Is Just Full of Moments of Unintentional Humor

Now I know it’s probably not what the original directors had planned, but 1950s films are full of moments of unintentional humor, some of it quite incredible to behold.  For instance, in All That Heaven Allows, Rock Hudson asks Jane Wyman to come over to his house to “see my silver-tipped spruce.”  Oh ho ho ho, Mr. Hudson.  We all know Miss Jane was not who you were really interested in, hence the equally hilarious line from the same film: “I can’t even shoot straight.”  Yes, Rock, we know.

Then there’s Written on the Wind, a film that has a trailer so shocking (crash of the cymbals), so over the top (crash of the cymbals) and so freaking hilarious, it must be seen to believed.  Robert Stack and Rock Hudson punch a bunch of dudes and then you’ve got a man yelling, “I didn’t take her to the motel, she took me.  Your daughter’s a tramp!”

 

They Were Real Weird About Sex…Like REAL WEIRD

Ladies, remember how you would come home from a date in high school and then your mom would have the friendly neighborhood gynecologist over to check and make sure you were still a virgin?  Yeah, me neither.  But that DOES happen to poor little Molly Jorgenson in A Summer Place.  Seriously.  I know if I had been shipwrecked on a private island with Troy Donahue, I’d have given up the goods.  But poor Molly doesn’t even get any action and she still has to submit to a humiliating examination to make sure her maidenhead is still 100% USDA certified virgin.

 

And then, of course, there are the old people in Peyton Place who like to watch teenagers swim naked.  So…yeah.

Black People Hadn’t Been Invented Yet

Or gay people.  Or feminists.  Or poor people as protagonists.  Or anybody who wasn’t an upper middle class hetero white person with a sex complex.  Yeah, I know all of these movies are really just a mind trip and a way to escape the confines of our modern existence (and what cute furniture and fashion to look at, too!).  But they are also a way to remind ourselves just how far we’ve come as a society.  In today’s films, women and men of all colors and all walks of life are shown dealing with real problems, and often the only soundtrack is incidental music by some hipster indie artist.  Which may or may not be a good thing in terms of visceral film pleasure, but at least it’s a bit more egalitarian.

Plus, it’s nice to know that if Rock Hudson were alive today, he could have saved his silver-tipped spruce for a nice-looking young man.

 

My (Still!) Unanswered Questions About Saved by the Bell

As a lady of a certain age, I spent too many of my teen years zoning out to Saved by the Bell on Saturday morning. As a young adult, I spent much of my twenties drunk and watching reruns of said show on TBS and other stations. But despite watching countless hours of Zack, Kelly, and the gang, there were some questions that were never answered, and I find that years later I still ponder them. (Hey, some people study particle physics. Others of us study the inner-workings of teen feminist Jessie Spano. Is that so wrong?) So here now are the top 10 things I never understood about the greatest show to ever air on network television.

10. Why Didn’t Mr. Belding Have a Secretary?

Presumably, Bayside High was a large, coeducational learning facility with many students. Yet somehow, Mr. Belding was denied a secretary. Even stranger was the fact that his office was located in the hallway by some lockers. I don’t know about you, but in my four years of high school, I never saw the principal’s office. It was locked away somewhere, down cavernous hallways, protected by secretaries and assistant principals and deans of instruction. Yet at Bayside, any student could just open the door and saunter in to find Mr. Belding at his desk. There wasn’t even someone to field his calls? (Also, why the hell did he keep saying, “Hey, hey, hey, what is going on here?” You know, maybe if he’d had a secretary, he wouldn’t have had to ask so much!)

9. Why Were The Nerds So Intensely Nerdish?

Saved by the Bell was so fundamentally classic in its understanding of high school, so by-the-book in its peer group analysis, so trapped by outmoded stereotypes, that the writers of Saved by the Bell made John Hughes look like Jean-Luc Godard. (Did I just type that?) Regardless, what I never understood about the nerds at Bayside was that they were the kind of nerds you dress up as if you are going to be a nerd for Halloween. The pocket protectors, the glasses with the tape in the middle, the high-waisted pants. What people, nerds or otherwise, actually dress in this fashion? They were even named things like Maxwell Nerdstrom and Melvin Nerdly. I mean, come on. I recognize that The Bellwasn’t aiming for complete reality, but most nerds I knew in high school looked like ordinary people, except they were, like, obsessed with D&D and never looked up when they walked. Would it have killed the creators to do a little research?

8. Wither Tori Scott?

Genius pop culture writer Chuck Klosterman has written quite eloquently on the so-called Tori Paradox before, but I’ll go ahead and restate it here. Wasn’t it strange that in the final season, a new character named Tori Scott (played by Leanna Creel) was a sort of substitute for Elizabeth Berkley and Tiffani-Amber Thiessen, both who had refused to renew contracts? What was strange about this is that the final season took episodes starring Creel and mixed them in with episodes that had already been shot which featured Berkley and Thiessen. What were we supposed to think? That while Tori Scott was hanging with her new pals at Bayside, Kelly and Jessie were doing lines in the bathroom? Of course not, because Kelly and Jessie would never do such a thing (I think). Still, they could have at least mentioned them. And in the final episode where they all graduate, Tori Scott is nowhere to be seen. Maybe she got expelled.

7. Was There An Upstairs? And If So, Why Didn’t They Have Classes There?

It was not an infrequent event to see the Bayside kids trotting down the stairs to the first floor. Yet there seemed to be no classes upstairs. All coursework took place in one classroom conveniently located across the hall from Mr. Belding’s secretary-less office. History, economics, English, mathematics. It didn’t matter. It all took place in the same room. What was this, Bayside One Room School House? Utilize the full space, Mr. Belding.

6. They Did it ALL! Are We Supposed to Believe This?

Track, cheerleading, newspaper, football, planning Homecoming, planning Prom, organizing the visit of drug-abusing anti-drug speaker Johnny Dakota (the irony!) — oh, were the Bayside kids in the thick of it all. But not all the Bayside kids. Just our pals Zack, Slater, Kelly, Jessie, Lisa, and Screech. Granted, all of us remember that coterie of elitists in our own high school that seemed to run the place and garner 23 pages in the yearbook every year, but even they shared duties with some of the plebeians once in a while. I seem to remember one episode where they all packed into Mr. Belding’s office to talk with him about the Prom. What, did he bring snacks?

5. Where Was Mrs. Belding?

I suppose you could argue that Mrs. Belding was the Vera Peterson of children’s television, having stayed out of the limelight throughout the run of the series despite several mentions. Now while it was easy to see why Vera wouldn’t want the boorish, drunk Norm around all the time, I wonder what the hell Mrs. B thought about her husband spending the great majority of his days hanging around teenagers who manipulated him and made fun of him on a regular basis. I’m sure Mrs. Belding could have done a lot better…if there even was a Mrs. Belding!

4. Would Teenage Boys Actually Lip Sync and Dance Together to Barbara Ann?

Oh God, the infamous Barbara Ann dance moment. Now, I’ve known some teenage boys in my day, and I have a feeling when they got together it was more like a scene out of Superbad than Saved by the Bell You know, trying to score booze, chicks, and maybe some porn. But Zack, Slater, and Screech were apparently so innocent in their desires that their spontaneous fun consisted of dancing around in their neon-colored shorts, pretending to lip sync to a hit by the Beach Boys. Oh, and acting out a guitar solo on an electric broom and trying to surf the couch. Even as a 14-year-old, I recognized this scene as complete BS.

3. What Happened to Max of The Max?

One minute Ed Alonzo is a magician slash waiter slash adult confidante at The Max, the next minute he’s gone. Like Coco the chef from the pilot of The Golden Girls that little girl on Family Matters who went on to star in porn, their characters disappeared into the sunset with not even a hint of an explanation. You would think Max of The Max would have demanded a name change of the restaurant to something else.

2. The Girls of Bayside Calendar…Really?

Ah, Bayside, a school where feminist dreams can come true. Like appearing in a Girls of Bayside calendar or competing in a swimsuit for Miss Bayside! I love how the writers created a feminist-ish character in Jessie Spano who essentially made teenage feminists look like ranting loons except for when they decided to forgo their principles by appearing in a bathing suit or short cheerleading skirt.


1. If Anyone Was Going to Get Addicted to “Drugs”, Wouldn’t It Have Been Screech?

Ah, yes. You knew I was going to end with this one. The infamous “I’m so excited, I’m so excited, I’m so…scared,” moment, an iconic event in television history, fer sure. But why write Jessie Spano as the “drug” addict who couldn’t stop gulping caffeine pills? Seriously, don’t you think Screech was the better candidate? Here’s a young man who is essentially ridiculed by his group of friends on a regular basis and constantly shunned by the woman of his dreams. If anyone was going to ride the dragon, wouldn’t it have been Screech? Besides, his jerky movement and weird vocal inflections tipped us off that something illegal was definitely lurking under that curly head of his.

(Originally published on Heartless Doll.)

Whatever Happened to Anastasia Krupnik?

Do you ever wonder what happened to your favorite gal pals from way back when?  I do, and that’s what Facebook is for.  But for me – a crazy avid reader – I counted the heroines of favorite childhood novels among my dearest gal pals.  So indulge me as I speculate about how some of my paperback friends from 20 years ago might have turned out once they hit their grown-up years.

Anastasia Krupnik (Anastasia series) – Living as a poet/waitress in New York City, constantly having trouble with men since she just makes LIKES and DISLIKES lists about each and sadly, each man she goes out with has more DISLIKES.  Roommates with Daphne Bellingham even though Daphne is regularly short on her half of the rent.  Always bailing her pesky younger brother Sam out of jail as his childhood behavior has developed into adult criminality.  Fortunately, Anastasia doesn’t get warts anymore, but she cannot get the courage to look up Washburn Cummings and ask him out for drinks.

 

Margaret Simon (Are You There God? It’s Me Margaret) – Started asking God for relief from her cramps shortly after he fulfilled her request that she get her period, and she hasn’t stopped bugging the man upstairs since.  God tried to help her out by hooking her up with Philip Leroy as a date to the senior prom, but guess who stole Philip away from her and hooked up with him under the bleachers?  That little liar Nancy Wheeler.  Well karma’s a bitch because Philip knocked up Nancy the summer after graduation and Margaret ended up going to college and majoring in Comparative Religions.  Currently living in a nice condo in a major metropolitan area with her boyfriend Mark and their dog Bear and working as a freelance grant writer for non-profits.  Last heard asking God for a raise and a marriage proposal.

 

Ramona Quimby (Ramona series) – Performance artist in Portland best known for her work with toothpaste.  Had to get a restraining order out against Howie Kemp as his childhood affections turned dark during their mid twenties.  Has a cat named Even Pickier Pickier.  Spends summers on the Oregon shore with Beezus, now a radical lesbian separatist.

 

Marcy Lewis (The Cat Ate My Gymsuit) – Estranged from her parents.  Lost the weight, gained the weight, lost the weight, etc. before finally saying, “The Hell with it, I like myself the size I am.”  Went to school to become an English teacher like her idol Ms. Finney.  Currently working with insufferable teenagers and trying to get them to see life really isn’t so bad, and if you’re lucky, you might even get to grow up to be an English teacher with a weight problem.

 

Kristy Thomas (The Baby Sitters Club) – Has, like, 10 kids.  Married to a patent attorney.  Stay at home mom and classic helicopter parent, head of the Stoneybrook Elementary PTA, room mother, soccer team mom, and able to kill a teenager’s baby-sitting career with a single Tweet.  Demands her sitters bring Kid Kits to all jobs.  Of course her own kids are totally Hell on wheels.  Lives down the street from Mary Anne Spier who married and then divorced Logan after Logan was caught cheating with Claudia Kishi.  Guess Logan couldn’t resist Claudia’s killer style and her constant supply of candy hidden all over the house.

 

Every girl in a Lois Duncan novel – In therapy or hospitalized for post traumatic stress disorder.

 

Reaching Zen Through My Pajama Jeans

I bought some Pajama Jeans the other day.  I bought them not to be funny, not to be ironic, not to be kitsch.

I bought them because I just don’t give a damn anymore.

And that is so liberating.

If you don’t know what Pajama Jeans are, I really don’t care to know you.  You probably don’t know what Pajama Jeans are because you’re one of those insufferable people who constantly needs to remind other people about the fact that you don’t own a television.

If you do know what they are, then you’re my kind of people.  The kind of people who aren’t ashamed to watch TV – maybe even lots of it.  The kind of people who have found themselves standing in the kitchen, a dirty dish towel in hand, mouth agape, staring at that familiar infomercial while the young offspring at their feet chew on the dog’s tail.  (“Do you love stylish, sexy jeans?  Do you love soft, comfy pajama bottoms?”  My God, I DO!)

I used to care so much about my clothes.  I mean, like a ridiculous amount.  That’s not to say I spent a lot of money on my clothes.  Oh, no, I never did that.  I bought my clothes at secondhand shops.  This was when I had time to spend five hours digging through potentially scabies-infested racks of clothing searching for the perfect 1950s shirtwaist dress that belonged to someone’s dead grandmother.  I would pair that dress with combat boots or leggings, top if off with an Army jacket, and then I would go out.  If I couldn’t find a 1950s shirtwaist dress, a T-shirt from a summer Bible camp would do just as well, thank you.

I remember telling a college roommate I didn’t get dressed, I put on a costume every day.  It was my desire to look as weird, as odd, as different as I possibly could.  My God, yes, I was as insufferable as those assholes who don’t own televisions, wasn’t I?  But this, gentle reader, was another time in my life.  A time when I could leisurely sit on the toilet without wondering if my son had just crawled off to play Let’s Stick This In The Electrical Outlet.

But because I spent most of my twenties trying to make my wardrobe stand out, and because some of my first work environments were pretty casual (an alternative weekly and a theater in an old punk rock club), I missed that critical point where one develops an acceptable adult style.  When I became a teacher at the age of 27, I knew enough to know I could not show up at work wearing a T-shirt with two kittens on it that said Yo La Tengo (or, worse, a T-shirt that read Your Favorite Band Sucks).

But I did not know what else to wear.

I would see these other put-together women I taught with, and they would go to these mystical places like Ann Taylor Loft.  Places where a pair of pants costs $49.50 and that’s considered a good deal.  Now when you’ve been buying men’s jeans for $3 at Value Village, the idea of spending $49.50 on a pair of pants instead of, say, food or shelter, seems very nutty to you.

So I started creating this sort of pot luck approach to building my wardrobe.  Basically, I would show up at Target and just run through the clearance rack, holding out my arms and pulling stuff randomly off hangers based on whether or not I liked the color.  I would buy items and I wouldn’t even try them on – I’d just hope they fit when I got home.  I would wander around Marshalls and simply pray to God that something appropriate would fall into my shopping cart and it would look all right on me and I could go to work in it.

Then I did something really strange.  I have this obsession with The Vermont Country Store catalog – which is essentially a catalog created for the few proud people left on the planet who were alive when Herbert Hoover was president – and I started ordering clothes from that catalog.  I ordered this and I ordered this and I kind of wanted to get this.  I should state that it’s not that I find these outfits particularly attractive.  But they are so utilitarian in their design that it’s like I’m pretty sure I can’t go wrong by wearing them.

My BFF Tamarie was not so sure.

“Jennifer, you’re 34, and you are buying clothes from a catalog that offers an entire section called muumuus and floats,” she scolded me over the phone.  “Muumuus and floats.  I want you to think about that.  I need to call up those people from What Not To Wear and schedule an intervention.”

Anyway, in addition to the Vermont business, I ordered the Pajama Jeans.  I mean, why the Hell wouldn’t I?  They were guaranteed to fit me, they would go with all of the clearance tops I bought at Target, and damn it, they were $39.95 and that included a free T-shirt.

Let me restate my point this way: I didn’t buy the Pajama Jeans because I really thought they would fit into my signature style.  I bought the Pajama Jeans because building a signature style no longer matters to me.  And like I said at the beginning of this post, there is something oddly freeing about just surrendering to the idea that clothing must simply function to cover your body and protect you from the elements.  Something so Zen about just not knowing or caring if your socks match your pants or your shirt matches your shoes.

Now all of that said, if I ever start buying clothing designed by Joan Rivers off of QVC, I give my friends and family full permission to just go ahead and put me down.

When I Was Twelve, I Wanted To Be Blanche Devereaux

I first fell in love with The Golden Girls  around the time I started babysitting.  It was the late 1980s, and like most preadolescent sitters I quickly discovered the many perks that came with being put in charge of the safety of small children.  Once my little ones were snug in their beds it was preteen party time.  Now I was a good kid, mind you.  No beer, no boys, not even any snooping through drawers.  But there was still plenty to keep me occupied until the parents came home from their date night.

Babysitting Perks

1. Free food:  I still think back fondly on the family that left me a Tupperware container full of homemade chocolate chip cookies, an entire pizza, and several bags of Doritos.  (A pox on the people who seemed to hide all their food before I got there, leaving me nothing but a cabinet full of Saltines and some tap water.)

2. Dirty books:  Trust me when I tell you that a very large number of suburban couples in the late 1980s owned:

a) Tattered copies of 1974’s More Joy of Sex and/or

b) An uncomfortable amount of books by V.C. Andrews and/or

b) Seemingly hundreds of Danielle Steele and Jackie Collins novels.

3. Unrestricted television!!

Now for some people that last bonus might not seem like much of a prize.  But coming from a family of five people and one TV set, I reveled in having a night to myself to decide what I wanted to watch without my brother whining that what I wanted to see was stupid or my mother reminding us that it was time for her weekly Dallas fix.  (“Bobby in the shower!?  OMG!!!”)

Naturally as a young, babysitting teen with access to private television time, I decided that my favorite Saturday night program should center on the misadventures of middle-aged divorced and widowed women.  This may sound weird, especially given my lifelong fear of senior citizens.  But The Golden Girls didn’t seem old to me…they seemed kind of funny and bizarre and trapped in outfits made out of enough gauze to perform 35 appendectomies, but they didn’t seem old.  (To those vicious people who claim that Bea Arthur’s wardrobe was styled so as to better camouflage her colostomy bag, I can only say I hope you die a wretched death involving fire ants.)

Besides the outfits, I dug the back and forth witty banter, the “Shut up Rose!” the St. Olaff stories, to say nothing of the “picture it, Sicily” moments.  Plus, the show was educational: Without The Golden Girls I still wouldn’t know the meaning of the word lanai (or menopause, for that matter).

And while my female peers were busy studying exactly how Molly Ringwald managed to lean in over that candle-laden birthday cake to kiss Jake Ryan without catching on fire, I was busy studying the constant hum of activity that my cheesecake-snarfing ladies generated in that wicker-laden ranch house.  Yes, The Golden Girls allowed time for daydreaming about that magical moment when I would be too old for babysitting and would instead have a real live boyfriend (or, as Blanche put it, “the pleasures of a gentleman caller.”)  From these women I learned that diamonds go better with everything, inviting a man in for a nightcap meant you were going to have sex with him, and you should never, ever give your ex-husband your new address.  (“It’s me, Stan.”)

Because of Blanche, Dorothy, Rose, and Sophia, I knew I would one day be grown up enough to go out on the town, and while my fellow sixth grade gal pals fantasized about getting felt up by an eighth grader during a party in somebody’s unfinished basement, I visualized a vibrant and complicated social calendar made up of charity balls and fundraising banquets.  I pictured my dates arriving in suits with matching handkerchiefs in the pockets.  I rehearsed opening the front door a la Blanche and practicing some greeting laced with a double entendre, going so far as to talk to some imaginary suitor in a deep Southern accent.

“Wha Baaaarrrrry, I do declare you might just be sweeeeet on lil’ ol’ Jennifuh,” I would say, earnestly talking about myself in the third person while directing my lovelorn commentary to a framed photograph of my babysitting charges’ dead grandfather.  “Suuuuhly you wouldn’t even dream of thinking lil’ ol’ Jennifuh wouldn’t be sweeeeet on yoooooou.”

I practiced talking about sex in thinly veiled metaphors before I even understood what those metaphors were thinly veiling.  I sauntered around the living room on my tip toes, pretending my penny loafers were actually strappy pink heels.  I pretended to be Blanche, then Rose, and then Dorothy, all in the matter of one evening, forcing my voice to go from Southern-fried belle to dumb blonde to sassy Brooklyn broad.  I got in so deep that by the time the opening credits of the much less ambitious Empty Nest started rolling, I believed I was a 56 year old woman engaged to a man named Lucas, and I was vowing to send my mother to a place called Shady Pines.

Despite my nursing home delusions, my mother stayed out of my clutches throughout junior high and high school, when my social life got kicked up a notch.  I say a notch, because I don’t know if spending hours in your bedroom writing terribly derivative Plathlike poetry counts as a social life when you get down to brass tacks.  True, I hit the Sunday matinee scene at the Multiplex quite a bit, and attended sleepovers and parties where I silently cursed 98 percent of those around me in an attempt to channel Holden Caulfield.  But I had nothing on Rose and her pals.

Fortunately, things changed in college.  By the middle of my freshman year I was a professional in the practice of going out.  I painted “Kill Your Television” with White-Out on my dorm room TV that I rarely turned on, and rolled my eyes at my mother when she suggested I cut my hair like Rachel on FriendsFriends?!?!?!  I was too busy scouring thrift stores for T-shirts from Christian bible camps and reading Spin to bother with Friends.  If I was going to watch something on television it was going to be an art house film like Spanking the Monkey or something of high camp value like Melrose Place and Days of our Lives.

Television meant staying in, and for me life at that time was all about getting out.  To parties, to bars, to indie rock shows, to terribly produced student theater, to – at the very least – a coffee shop.  It was about being there so you could say you were there.

Of course going out requires a certain amount of commitment.  I usually spent at least an hour getting ready in an attempt to achieve the look that said, “I spent 5 minutes getting ready.”  Did the $2 dress with ladybugs all over it really go with the black Converse high tops, or was the ensemble just screaming, “I swear to God I’m cool!!”  Did the Army jacket and long johns under my skirt make me look tough and cute, or tough and frumpy?  (I ignored my conservative father, who suggested they made me look like Ellen Degeneres, “if you know what I mean.”)  Was the black nail polish too 1987, or was 1987 in fact the look I was going for?  Was the hair too greasy or not greasy enough?  Were the daisies I painted on my cheeks with face paint cute-lame or cute-excellent?

Sometimes, going out felt like a job.  Who was going to be there and would I have to be nice to his new girlfriend?  Who was going to be in front of me in line for the bathroom and would I be able to make fetching small talk with him/her?  Who was going to give me money for the cover charge because I’d spent all my cash on hair dye and ice cream?  Who was going to help me get home if and when I drank too many cups of bathtub punch?

Going out meant anticipation.  Would my friend Joe be able to confront his Waterloo by actually completing a keg stand this time around?  Would I push myself up to stage at the Mr. T Experience show and catch some of Joel the bass player’s sweat on my quivering bosom?  Would that guy who wanted to imitate Cool Hand Luke honestly manage to eat 50 eggs during the course of the party?  (He would eat these eggs scrambled, hard boiled, over easy, and yes, he would eat 50 of them.  And then he would throw up about 25.)

And going out, of course, meant maybe He’ll be there.  The guy with eyes that looked like bruises who smoked Camel straights and talked about the winter of his discontent.  I didn’t know if this guy existed, or even if he went to my school.  But maybe he did.  And maybe he’d show up – The One who would transform my night from so so to so amazing.  Yeah, it might have been fun to dance to Michael Jackson’s Off the Wall in my friend Jill’s apartment wearing a T-shirt that read “Cream and Rum? Yum!” but it was going to be way more fun if some junior varsity version of Ethan Hawke was watching me do it.

But somewhere in my late 20s, several years after graduating from college, the jazzed feeling usually generated by going out started to weaken.  And the nature of going out started to change.  When I’d been in college and heard the phrase “grabbing a drink after work,” I’d always pictured some sort of sophisticated, glamorous image in my mind…two professionals in sleek outfits sipping martinis while their leather briefcases rested ever so gently at their feet.  I quickly learned the truth, which was that “grabbing a drink after work” essentially meant getting loaded and dumb while wearing Payless pumps and the cheap, itchy My First Business Suit I’d bought at Target, all the while bitching about my stupid boss.

I still went to parties.  But at this point people had started pairing off, getting married, even having babies.  It was always the same beer.  It was always the same conversation.  It was always the same music.  The quality of the cheese and crackers had improved over time, but really, they were just cheese and crackers.  Compared to some shindigs, the lives of Blanche, Sophia, Dorothy, and Rose looked positively bacchanalian.

And of course, there was Kevin.  Once I met him, well, I’d met Him.  Nights out lacked the suspense novel quality they had once been filled with.  If Kevin and I went out to a party or an art event or wherever, we knew that unless one of us choked on something we would be going home together at the end of the night.  The only burning question at the conclusion of a party was would we get cat food on the way home or just wait until morning?

And then we had a baby.  And we stopped going out at all because we simply lacked the human strength to move our bodies after chasing our son around all day.  I mean it’s sort of incredible I’ve even got the energy to type this blog post.  Swear to God.  Do you understand how much 11-month-old boys move?  It’s like he’s constantly remembering he has an appointment somewhere else in the house and he must crawl there immediately!

Anyway, the other Friday night, Kevin and I did our usual: put our little one to bed, opened up our latest Netflix treat, made popcorn, and fought for the best spot on the couch.  As I watched Kevin start talking to our cats as he often does, I had a revelation.  He was, as Blanche Devereaux might say, my gentleman caller.  For life.  True, I didn’t have some post-stroke Italian lady in the kitchen making me sausage and peppers and shouting out witty comebacks, but somehow I couldn’t help but think that even though I was staying in, maybe some of my demented 12-year-old Golden Girls fantasies were coming true.

After the movie was over, I pulled up some shows I’d DVRd.  Did you know they show The Golden Girls on WE?  Because they do.  Maybe someday Kevin and I will get it together enough to hire a teen babysitter.  I’ll leave her lots of cookies and pizza and suggest she tune in and watch my favorite Miami ladies.  Somehow, I don’t think Blanche’s love advice has gotten any less relevant.