Tuesday, August 31, 2004

Chico Rainmaker

I don't think there are enough truly scarring shows on the teevee today.

Let me give you a little background here. Every once in a while, out of the blue, I get a flash of a despicable earworm that goes a little something like this:

Chico, Chico Rainmaker

And that's it. I can't remember any more of the song. And the worst thing is that any of the following teevee memories can bring it on: Zoom, Electric Company, Big Blue Marble, the peculiar Vegetable Soup or Villa Allegre. In some way, all of these programs are linked to the hideous reality of Chico, Chico Rainmaker. They were all PBS shows in my younger days.

You can imagine it as an episode of $25,000 Pyramid where the "giver" says "Zoom. Electric Company."

The answerer is blank. He spent his younger days playing in the warm sun, surrounded by friends.

"Big Blue Marble. Vegetable Soup."

He doesn't have an answer. The feel of the grass beneath his warm, small feet and his butterfly collection have clouded hs mind.

"Villa Allegre...Villa....Allegre."


"Da-Dada-Dadada-Da-Dada-Duh Da-Duh Da!"


"Oh forget it."

And Dick Clark would come over and console the losers, finally making the answerer feel inadequate for not saying "Shows on PBS when Kafkaesque was a child." And the celebrity would be pissed. Like you've never seen Nipsey Russell get pissed. He'd break that little railing, and using one of the cheap plastic bars that probably arent wrought iron, he would leap to the display board, the board that will forever mock him, and beat the hell out of it.

Where was I?

Yeah, Chico Rainmaker. It was a 70s series actually called "The Boy with Two Heads", about a little boy who had a disembodied shrunken head in a little box. And the little head talked. And...it would make it rain.

Did I mention its name was Chico? It all makes sense if you think about it that way.

But my point is kids today with their Teletubbies and their Olsen Twins will never know the pleasure of waking up screaming that a little head in a box was going to make it rain. That's what I'm saying.

Anyhow, here's the trauma for you:

IMDB listing
Les Amis de Chico (French Chico appreciation page)
Discussion Site for Survivors of Chico

Wednesday, August 25, 2004

Little Person Ping Pong

I once played ping pong with a little person, and lost. I have been reminded of this incident by all the white-hot ping pong action that has been on display in the Olympics.

[By the way, I've been watching the Olympics pretty much constantly. My votes for most super-boring of Olympic sports:

Air Rifle - You'd think someone shooting a gun would have an inherent excitement to it. It doesn't.
Beach Volleyball - I can't watch more than a point of this, in spite of the bikinis.
Dressage - Dancing horses were just fine for Ian McCullogh, but man, there comes a point when you realize you're watching a hoofed mammal prancing, and you have to question your judgment.]

When I lived in Santa Cruz these many years ago, there was a bar near my apartment, and it had a ping pong table. This table was used in the same way that bar pool tables are used: you'd put your name up on the chalkboard, and whoever won the last match would call you to play. I was OK at ping pong, and after a few weeks of playing quite a bit, I thought I could hold my own.

There were a few true ping pong masters in that bar. The baddest ass ping pong master was an old guy with a pot belly that owned a Chinese restaurant across the street. No-one looked forward to playing him. He'd gesture with his paddle, and the ball would be a white blur, bouncing off the table in the very corner, before rolling under the Arkanoid cocktail machine.

And you would hear only his derisive laughter as you swung your paddle impotently.

Needless to say, I never dethroned this ping pong master. I like to think that he preened, shirtless, in the men's room before a match, maybe with Foreigner playing in the background. It makes me feel better.

One night I was in the bar, which my friend and I had imaginatively dubbed The Ping Pong Bar [I'd like to point out that at no time did we refer to the place as The Table Tennis Bar. That would have been wrong and against God's plan.] and I had won a few games. I was getting to that level of ping pong where you can stand back from the table a little bit and really put a good swing on the ball. I was thinking about spin. I was pondering the efficacy of coquettish drop shots. I knew it was only a matter of time before I was ready to challenge the Chinese Restaurant owner, and eventually represent my country as some kind of ping pong savant.

Flush with pride, I called the next name on the chalkboard.

From a barstool strode a little person. He was probably about four feet tall, and wearing a Gold's Gym tee shirt. Little big muscles bulged on his considerable biceps. He was grinning at me, a gold chain flashing from his chest.

I felt in a bit of an ethical dilemma. This guy has no chance, I thought. But I didn't want to shame him. It was a no-win situation. If I trounced him, I'd just be another almost-six-foot liberal arts major taking advantage of a vertically challenged opponent. I would be reviled as a bully. If he beat me, of course, it would be certain humiliation.

I approached him to introduce myself and shake hands, but he was having none of it. There were to be no friendly exchanges. He looked at my proffered hand with scorn. We took up our positions, only his head visible over the table.

We rallied for serve in the time-honored and complex "Ping- Pong - Rally's - On" ritual, first developed by the ancient Minoans in the eleventh century BC, and I won the serve.

I pondered how to approach the serve. I could go for my normal spin serve, and bamboozle him, leaving him begging for mercy, or I could just tap it lightly over the net, taking advantage of his minimal reach. But I wanted to feel out my opponent, so I served it straight to him.

He reached up, and swung an overhead smash. He hit the little ping pong ball as hard as he could, right at my head.

The ball rebounded off my forehead, and my diminutive opponent laughed. "Your point," he said. There was no doubt in my mind that he had done that on purpose.

The game continued, with him sometimes aiming a smash directly at my face. I was getting a little flustered, and my game started to suffer. Gone were my plans for delicate backspins and beautifully executed drop shots. This was serious. I played hard, pausing for beer only at service changeovers.

The game continued, with the lead seesawing back and forth, but in the end, he beat me. I put my paddle down on the table and left my dreams of Olympic glory there at the Ping Pong Bar.

Months later, the little person came into the bagel shop in the Capitola Mall where I clung to a small shred of dignity, weighing out portions of lox shmear and baking bialies for the uncaring masses. If anything, his big little muscles had increased in size. He greeted me and we reminisced about our battle, in a touching scene that would not have been out of place in My Bodyguard if that film had taken place in a bagel shop and involved ping pong in any way at all.

So go the days of our lives.

Tuesday, August 24, 2004

Tex! George Bush and the Fine Art of Character Assassination
Buy your George Bush Superhero comic today!
[warning - sound and Flash]

Flash trailer from my good friend jpoulos.
Zack, Eater of Bugs

Just to keep going with the general entomological theme I'm sure you have been so richly enjoying of late, here is Zack's Bug Feasting Page. I should also point out that Zack (who I like to refer to in my own mind as Zack, Zack, the Bug Eating Maniac) spells his name two ways on the same page, so don't go correcting me.

Including such crowd-pleasers as:

The giant silkworm


The predaceous diving beetle

I'm not entirely sure why you would want to eat a predaceous diving beetle, or why you wouldn't want to eat a predaceous diving beetle, or what predaceous actually means. So if you want to eat some bugs, go on ahead. There are lots of bugs, after all, and they aren't provably dirtier than a sheep or pig. Also, more drumsticks!

Monday, August 23, 2004

Bee Update

I was not the only Southern California resident having bee problems. Knowing my luck, they'll probably show up at my place.

I warned you, you people. If we were not vigilant, it would happen again. We were naive, thinking that after the last time, mankind would have learned its lesson, and would never again tread the paths that led us to this pit of despair the first time.

And yet here it is, another talking baby movie! Can we stop with the talking baby movies? What is wrong with the world?

That was rhetorical.

Also, please stop putting spaghetti on babies' heads. I know it's tempting. If you really want to put food items on your baby's head, try to branch out a little bit. Maybe pie would be nice. Or calamari.

Saturday, August 14, 2004


I have written here before about bees. And here. Recently, I had a bee experience no man should have to endure. Now listen, any bees who may be out there reading this, cut it out.

I have always been one who got along with the bee. I watched Ulee's Gold and everything. I have seen photos in the Guinness Book of World Records with people with beards made of bees, and instead of merely thinking "What kind of a turd would do that?" I would instead think "What kind of a turd would do that, and is it safe for the bees?"

When I was ten years old, I bought from The Scholastic Book Club a copy of the novel The Swarm, and did at times root for the bees.

Bees and I were sympatico.

I should also state that I myself have never once been stung by a bee. For years, I would brag about it. "Thirty-two!" I'd say, sometimes slapping my palm on the table for emphasis. "And not one sting! Not one!"

Now, I'm starting to get a little offended. Am I not good enough for their sting?

I wonder if bees know that they're going to die after they sting someone. You'd think they would have figured that out by now, having seen a few of their bee chums go all crazy with the stinging, and immediately die, maybe with inspirational last bee words. This would, I would think, make them pretty selective about who would get their payload. If I were a bee, and I'd like to point out that I am not a bee, I'd have to really mean it. That's all I'm saying. You'd really have to menace my queen to get my sting. Now, if you want to mess around, shake up the hive a little bit, I'm cool with that. I'm not going to kill myself over it. But imagine that moment, when you've really made up your central nervous system that you're going to sting someone and end your bee life. I'd probably hum something dramatic. And I'd make sure there were a lot of other bees around, too. You don't want to sting your One Sting and have no-one around to see it. Actually, in that case, maybe I could talk one of the other drones into stinging for me.

Anyway, back to the story.

One day last week, I came home from work to about five hundred dead and dying bees in my house. They were piled by the sliding glass doors, in some spots five deep, like some hideous bee Jonestown. The first thought that went through my head was of course "Oh great. We're possessed." Because years of horror movie viewing have taught me that there is no good explanation for five hundred of your closest bee friends dropping by unannounced and keeling over en masse. Not unless your home is a portal to the Netherworld, of course.

So I had five hundred bees variously wriggling and being dead on my floor. I did what any rational person would do. I vacuumed them up. I should say that I felt kind of bad that the not-yet-dead bees would spend their remaining moments in a vacuum bag filled with cat hair, but it was a pragmatic solution.

I looked out at into our atrium and noticed there were quite a few bees doodling around out there. As I have stated I am usually a friend to bees, but I noticed they were milling about a hole in the stucco wall where a length of PVC pipe comes through from the garage, a drain for the A/C unit. Most people don't have such a drain in their atrium, but I wisely employed The World's Cheapest A/C Guy to install my air conditioning. I did this in hopes that I would get bees in my wall, obviously.

I sprang into action, grabbed some Raid Flying Insect Painful Death and Armageddon Spray, and leapt into the atrium. I'm sure I presented a pretty intimidating figure to my bee interlopers, as I held the can as far away from me as possible, shielded my face, and made little "don't sting me" noises. "Don't sting me" noises sound a lot like terror-stricken squeaks, by the way.

I doused the little hole in the wall with Raid, and the bees turned to me and said as one: "dude!"

I knew I had transgressed the unspoken law of bee-human interaction, and it was, as the kids say, on. The bees started to buzz around angrily, quite clearly not being even inconvenienced by the bug spray. But I did not, in fact, get stung. I yelped and retreated inside the house, though what safety the house offered was unclear, since five hundred bees had already found their way inside.

And bees started pouring out of the hole in the wall, into the atrium. They crawled out in orderly lines, with very little pushing and shoving. One thing was very clear: I had a beehive in the wall of my house.

To make this long and tedious story a little less tedious, let me say that I called the exterminator, who informed me that he couldn't get out to deal with the beehive until the next morning. I told him I had sprayed them with Raid and he said "That wasn't a good idea. Now you got angry bees."

"Angry bees?"

"Yep. See you tomorrow."

So I slept fitfully that night, my dreams filled with visions of ghost bees. But I survived. And he came out the next day and sprayed some stuff which actually does something into my wall.

To sum up, I still have not ever been stung by a bee. I feel like the beehive in the wall may have been my best chance, and I somehow missed out.

In a strange twist, a few days after that I was at a shop in San Francisco that sold dead bees. I'm not making that up. It's on Valencia next to Dave Eggers' place. They were selling dead bees for about ten dollars a pop.

I have five thousand dollars in my vacuum bag.

Sunday, August 08, 2004

The Stabbing Room

We've been house-hunting in the San Francisco Bay Area for the last couple of months. "House-hunting in the San Francisco Bay Area" is another way of saying "ensuring that we will never have any money again ever".

House-hunting is kind of a curious pastime, and one that I encourage everyone out there to indulge in. Or "in which to indulge", to be prepositionally accurate, I suppose. The best thing about it is that you get to go into people's houses and totally check out all their stuff. Also, you can make assumptions about their general level of cleanliness and worthiness as human beings. Assess their stain quotient! Is that patch on the hardwood floor a big pee stain?

Yes. Yes it is.

We've seen a few sci-fi houses. Sci-fi houses are ubiquitous, apparently. We saw quite a few when we were looking for our first house, and they are all about the same. These places reek of smoke, and their living rooms are lined with bookcases, usually of the homemade variety, that are stuffed with sci-fi paperbacks. The entire Shannara series will be there, in the order the books were released, of course. Piers Anthony will be lurking by Zelazny. Harlan Ellison will be self-congratulatorily reclining over there by Asimov.

And these places are just stuffed full of crap. There are books everywhere. There are plants everywhere, that seem to call to you as you pass: "Dear God, buy this house! Take us away from here! We beg you! I haven't photosynthesized since the early nineties!" And they probably haven't.

The air is thick with dust. The broken and bent blinds are thick with dust. Strange knick-knacks litter the omnipresent shelves: a trio of big-eyed ceramic dogs, several Hallmark "World's Greatest Dad/Grandpa/Borderline Psychotic" figurines, innumerable bowling/wrestling/lawn darts trophies which were patently not won by the owner of the house, forty-seven six inch plastic m-and-m guys (arranged by color), even Weeples. For the love of all that is holy, Weeples! The Weeples, even, are thick with dust.

And invariably, these places are huge, have a toilet in the backyard that may or may not have started a new career as a planter, and are listed at a remarkably high price. Three quarters of a million dollars somehow seems like too much for a place that has all the atmosphere of a diseased lung.

What you learn looking at peole's houses is that they are crazy. Of course, if these people looked through your house, they'd probably think you were crazy too. That's the charm of it. "Jesus, honey!" they'd whisper to their spouse. "These people have a giant collection of Red Rose tea animals!" or "That's an external modem for a Mac Classic! What is wrong with these people!?" And they are right.

But to the stabbing room.

We looked at enough mildly disturbing homes to have a quick codeword signifying we'd probably not be offering on that particular place. The word is "stabbers". Certain parts of the Peninsula in the Bay Area seem to be havens for stabbers. You can imagine the owners of the house luring their victims in for a little recreational stabbing is what I'm saying.

The wife and I concocted an elaborate scenario, which we found terribly funny, in which the owner of the house meets you wandering through his home and greets you with a rusty kitchen (or Stanley) knife in his slightly trembling hand. "Hey there!" he warmly extends his non-knife-wielding hand. "You like the place? I made them bookshelves myself."

His voice is a low rumble. He is vaguely threatening. He has forty years of Oakland A's memorabilia pushpinned to his garage wall.

He appraises you with red-streaked eyes. At this point, he may light a cheroot, just before he extends the knife to you, handle first, and softly says "Now stab me. Come on! Then I'll stab you! Just a little. It won't hurt much!"

You back away.

"Don't you want to stab me even a little? I'll start!"

You run away.

To make things even better for the stabbing scenario, most of the houses we've been looking at have full basements. In most houses I've lived in in California, there's at most a crawlspace. After looking at over a million homes in the greater San Francisco area, the wife and I now turn to each other when presented with a particularly large such basement, and say "Now this'd be a good stabbing room. We could put the bodies over there in the corner."

I recommend this sort of thing to everyone. Just make sure your little "stabbing room" joke isn't overheard by the listing agent.

Or the owner, even now creeping toward you, saying "Come on now! Stab me!"


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