Sunday, December 13, 2020

Ho Ho Holograms and Lasers

Holiday cheer is in short supply in 2020. Under the weight of rampant news  the Coronavirus, political turmoil, and economic uncertainty, I find myself desperately grasping at any yuletide diversion. 

If you are similarly in need of such a diversion, you’ve come to the right place. This episode is based on an essay I wrote in 1995. It was originally published in several regional print publications, and was eventually included in the collection There's No Place Like Home for the Holidays, published by Papier-Mache Press in 1997. To my surprise, the book is still available. 

So, for your holiday enjoyment, here is “It’s New, It’s Improved, It’s Christmas.” Let’s see where it goes...

 The holiday season is a time of rituals. Some of these rituals — the shopping, the music, the decorations, and the food -- are comforting in their predictability. But the relentless nature of  the shopping, the music, the decorations, and the food can also leave you curled into the fetal position, whimpering in some dark corner. 

How you react to the various rituals depends a lot on your general disposition and your credit card balance. For my part, I love Christmas. But there is one Christmas ritual that really tangles my tinsel, and that’s the seasonal editorializing about how the modern celebration of Christmas pales in comparison to Christmases past. 

It’s not that the old notions of how to celebrate Christmas aren’t all cozy and romantic -- you can’t binge watch marathon showings of “It’s a Wonderful White Christmas Carol Story on Thirty-Fourth Street” without shedding a teardrop or two into your plate of Christmas nachos. It’s just that the loudest cheerleaders for “old fashioned” holiday celebrations reliably overlook the fact that back in the day people didn’t have the option of doing it any other way. 

Dashing through the snow in a one-horse open sleigh? No thanks. When Christmas morning rolls around I’m happy to have a well-equipped SUV warming up in the driveway for the ride to grandma’s place. I figure a horse-drawn sleigh is big fun for maybe ten minutes. After that you’re going to want Old Dobbin the haul ass  back to someplace warm where the eggnog is spiked and the family can gather in the flickering blue glow of a giant Hi-Def television to contemplate the true meaning of football. 

Chestnuts roasting on an open fire? Sorry, no fireplace. We’ve got a furnace for heat, and stuffing nuts in there  voids the warranty. Any of the roasting we do these days is in the microwave, and I’m pretty sure that if you put chestnuts in the microwave they would become little Yuletide hand grenades. Although, if you’ve got a snootful of Yule Grog, watching chestnuts explore in your microwave might be a real hoot. 

Some people may see microwave ovens as a symptom of creeping non-traditional holiday-ism. But I’ll be you that if microwave ovens  were available in Charles Dickens’  day, the Cratchits wouldn’t have had to entertain an uncharacteristically giddy Ebenezer Scrooge  for however long it takes to cook a fine, fat goose.

Holiday entertaining is, in fact, the one area that even the most severe critic of modern practices would have to admit has not changed much since Tim was Tiny. A good holiday  celebration, then as now, still involved lots of food, free-flowing drink, and a gathering of family and friends -- some of whom you’re as happy to see as a subpoena. Just as the Cratchit’s Christmas was spent with a man who, for all they knew, had suffered some kind of head trauma, so the modern holiday gathering include relatives or acquaintances who, because they watch too many talk shows, and/or have poor personal hygiene, and/or fail to maintain scheduled medication, you would normally avoid like a plate of frosted botulism. But in the spirit of the season, you smile warmly at the mystery uncle wandering around half-crocked, holding a clump of mistletoe over his sweaty, balding head. 

Charles Dickens’ story wouldn’t have become the holiday classic it has if, having spotted on their doorstep an insanely grinning, raw-poultry bearing, fresh off a rough night Scrooge, the Cratchits had pulled their shades and pretended not to be home. Which is probably what I would have done. 

Instead, knowing full well his reputation as a career grouch, they welcomed him into their home, giving us a touching story that teaches a valuable  lesson about how a little Christmas spirit can get the boss to pry a little cash out of his seldom-opened wallet. 

Sure, Christmas has changed over the years. It now starts just before Halloween. And the modern Christmas involves a lot more technology. But that just means a bigger, brighter, louder Christmas, with lasers and holograms and stuff. But even with all the noise and glitz, and by my count three entire cable networks devoted to fatally syrupy holiday romance movies, the holiday season still represents a time of hope that the nut jobs of the world will wake up and realize that peace on earth is a win-win proposition for everybody. If making Christmas bigger and louder and shinier helps to get that message across, fire up the lasers. 


Production Resources

Saturday, November 07, 2020

Man on the Moon: Interview with Apollo 12 Astronaut Alan Bean

The previous episode of this podcast focused on aliens who have traveled through outer space to visit the Earth. This episode flips things around a bit to focus on a member of a very exclusive group of Earthlings who have set foot on solid ground that is not earth.

On November 14, 1969 a Saturn V rocket -- more than 360 feet long and weighing over 6 and a half million pounds, lifted off from Cape Kennedy carrying the Apollo 12 spacecraft. On board were three astronauts, mission commander Charles “Pete” Conrad, command module pilot Richard F. Gordon, and lunar module pilot Alan L. Bean.

On November 19th, after traveling nearly 240 thousand miles to orbit the moon, Pete Conrad and Alan Bean boarded the lunar excursion module, detached from the command module, and descended to the dusty gray surface below them, landing in an area known as the Ocean of Storms.

Conrad exited first, followed by Bean, to become the third and fourth human beings to walk on the lunar surface.

After two excursions to gather data and collect samples, they boarded the Lunar Module on November 20th to rejoin Gordon in the command module for the return trip to earth. On November 24,1969, Apollo 12 safely splashed down in the Pacific Ocean near American Samoa.

In July 1973 Alan Bean returned to space as commander of the Skylab space station. In his lifetime, Bean spent a total of nearly 70 days in space.

Bean_Book_Cover.jpgIn 1998 I had the incredible opportunity to conduct a live, in-studio interview with Alan Bean, who was then on a book tour promoting Apollo: An Eyewitness Account, which he co-authored with writer Andrew Chaikin. The book, which is still available, features original artwork by Commander Bean depicting his experiences in the Apollo program.

November 14, 2020 marks the 51st anniversary of the Apollo 12 mission. In celebration of that event, this edition of the Where It Goes podcast presents that interview.

In the interview Commander Bean shares his insight into his time as an astronaut, discusses the personal impact of being one of only 12 human beings to set foot on the moon, and offers his thoughts on the future of the human exploration of space.

The interview reveals Commander Bean to be a warm, affable, and humble man, everything you’d want from a hero.

Of course. all journeys come to an end. Commander Bean died in Houston, Texas on May 26, 2018, at the age of 86. He was laid to rest at Arlington National Cemetery, where he joins his Apollo 12 crewmates Richard Gordon, who passed away at the age of 88 in 2017, and Pete Conrad Jr., who died in 1999 from injuries sustained in a motorcycle accident. Conrad was 69 years old.

For more information about Alan Bean and Apollo 12 check out these additional resources:

Saturday, October 03, 2020

In Space No One Can Hear You Snore

We’ve been conditioned by books, movies, and television to have certain expectations regarding extraterrestrial visitors. Whether they’re cute and cuddly, like ET, or hideous and rude, like the critters from the Alien and Predator films, we have it in our heads that visitors from beyond Earth will be, if nothing else, interesting. But there is another possibility...

Sunday, March 23, 2014

Friends of Me Episode 1: Actor / Writer Miki Yamashita

What do you really know about the entertainment industry? My friend Miki Yamashita, an actor and writer living in Los Angeles, knows it from the ground up. While Miki may not have achieved the kind of showbiz status that would make her a TMZ target -- not yet, anyway --  her tireless efforts at building her career as an actor resulted in roles in  Law and Order, One Life to Live, As the World Turns, iCarly Jimmy Kimmel Live, and the road company of A Chorus Line, not to mention appearances in TV commercials and Funny or Die videos.

Miki shares her real-world and frequently hilarious insight into the entertainment industry through her blog, The Smacktress and in postings on Facebook and Twitter

In this video interview, the first in a four-part series, Miki talks about why she has never been to a Kardashian party and about the enormous effort that goes into getting just one line in a movie or TV program.

Connect with Miki Yamashita

Tuesday, February 04, 2014

Boomer Barbie

The bit below is another from my archives. Originally published during the Christmas season sometime in the late 90s, I've hastily dusted it off and updated it to coincide with the 55th anniversary of Barbie's introduction.

For fifty-five years little girls (and little boys with open-minded parents) have elbowed their way to the foot of the family Christmas tree to frantically claw at gaily wrapped presents in anticipation of finding Barbie. Today many of Barbie's fans are adults who continue to collect Barbie stuff. But you have to wonder if some of these mature fans aren't thinking that it's about time for Barbie to act her age.

Fifty-five years after Barbie's introduction she doesn't look a day over eighteen. And if eternal youth isn't irritating enough, she's got truckloads of clothing, several homes, and a vast collection of sporty pink cars. A kid can look at all this and think that she (or he) has a chance of living a Barbie life. But if you're a middle-aged Barbie nut there must be times when you imagine that she's looking at you and saying, "I'm so glad I'm not you." Nobody likes having their nose rubbed in their own shortcomings and mortality, especially not by an eleven-inch tall polystyrene bimbo who falls over backward if she isn't wearing heels.

Let's face it, if she was a teenager when she began her career fifty-five years ago, she's over seventy now. Who is she to talk? Christmas would be a lot happier for adult Barbie fans if they could find a Barbie under their tree that more accurately reflected the lifestyles of people who have a problem identifying with a plastic figure that never has to worry about gray hair, wrinkles, or hot flashes.

The solution: Boomer Barbie, and a full line of Boomer Barbie accessories. Boomer Barbie resembles the original Barbie, but she has to really work at it with frequent visits to the Boomer Barbie Rodeo Drive Maison De Make-Over, where you can make the grey go away with her special One-Coat Miracle Rinse, and restore that youthful smoothness with All Natural Organic Face Spackle. After a tough day at Boomer Barbie's Rancho De Landfill Real Estate Office, our synthetic siren likes to return home to Boomer Barbie's Big Divorce Settlement Dream House, complete with Jacuzzi, redwood deck, and Jorge The Muscular Gardener, with patent-pending Magic Hands.

Boomer Barbie doesn't hit the gym quite as often these days, so her closet is full of all new stuff, too, featuring many flattering, loose-fitting dresses, and lots of elastic-waisted pants.

Of course, Barbie's friend Ken hasn't forgotten his adult fans either. Boomer Ken is available in your choice of models, including Comb-Over Ken, Bad Hairpiece Ken, and Never Takes Off His Baseball Cap Ken. Each model comes dressed in roomy pleated khakis, and is equipped with a life-like, battery-operated paunch. Touch the hidden button and watch it jiggle! You can help Ken keep those mid-life crisis blues at bay with Boomer Ken's Deluxe Virility Restoration Kit, which includes the Ridiculously Expensive Sports Car, and Boomer Ken's special new friend, Chippie The Twenty-Three Year Old Fitness Consultant.

The introduction of a line of Boomer Barbie products will prove to grown-up Barbie fans that their favorite fashion princess is finally admitting that she's at the age when a full day of inline skating, beach volleyball, mountain biking, and clubbing is likely to result in a ride in the Boomer Barbie Ambulance. Boomer Barbie would much rather stay home, pop a handful of antioxidants, and watch FoodTV.