Friday, November 30, 2007

Funny Money

I’ve been looking for a villain in the current credit/sub-prime mortgage crisis—stupid borrowers or greedy lenders—and I think I’ve finally settled on the culprit: Hasbro.

Perhaps you’ve missed the toy company’s ads for the new Monopoly Electronic Banking edition. Allow me to fill you in. “Wheel and deal your way to a fortune even faster using debit cards instead of cash!” the promotional copy exclaims. “Collect rent, buy properties & pay fines—with the touch of a button!”

Not only does this take most of the fun out of the game—raise your hand if you always wanted to be the banker—but it also eliminates the game’s underlying common sense. Remember the sick feeling of landing on Boardwalk when the property was still available, but you couldn’t swing the purchase price? Aargh—Mediterranean Ave. is a crappy consolation prize. Or maybe your brother owned this prime piece of real estate, and you couldn’t afford the rent. Either way, you knew exactly where you stood just by looking at your dwindling pile of funny money—too many pink and white Monopoly bills, not enough gold.

No more. Nowadays, pretty much every transaction has gone cashless—I’ve seen customers at Walgreens pull out the plastic for a pack of gum. It’s like not spending money at all until people suddenly discover they’ve been living well beyond their means. Apparently Hasbro believes this is a fantastic habit to promote among children.

Thursday, November 29, 2007

Crazy Like a Donkey

In the current issue of the New Yorker, political columnist Hendrik Hertzberg paints a not altogether unflattering portrait of Republican presidential candidate Mike Huckabee.

My first thought was, “Hath hell frozen over?” Normally, I heart Hendrik, who I’m pretty sure still hasn’t conceded the 2000 election to George Bush. But this current missive had me reconsidering my affection and/or fearing for his sanity.

Just as I was about to cancel my subscription, an alternate explanation entered my head. Wait a minute. Wait. A. Minute.

Is it the tiniest bit possible that Hertzberg is bolstering Huckabee’s credentials to distract voters from the Republican frontrunners? I mean, if you’re a fan of Hillary “Unelectable” Clinton or Barack “Approved by Oprah” Obama or even Chris “Will Someone Please Notice I’m a Candidate” Dodd, who would you rather have as an opponent—Huckabee or R&R (Rudy and Romney)?

After all, America is the land where people once feared that John F. Kennedy would play puppet to the Pope. An ordained Baptist minister like Huckabee should set off way louder warning bells—I’m talking worse than the most obnoxious 2 a.m. car alarm—and send voters straight into the open arms of the Democrats and far, far away from the slightest whiff of theocracy.

You know, theocracy. The kind of state where religious beliefs take precedence over common sense—like imprisoning a teacher for allowing her students to name a teddy bear Muhammad, or punishing a rape victim with 200 lashes because at the time of the attack she was in the presence of a man to whom she wasn’t related. (The logic behind the latter is even more convoluted than the structure of that sentence.) And if you think I’m being absurd, let me remind you that pharmacists in this country feel free to refuse to dispense medication on religious grounds.

Oh, that Hendrik. Crazy like a Democratic donkey.

Monday, November 26, 2007

That’s What I Call Reality

After about Season 2 or 3, every reality show settles into a predictable pattern. “The Amazing Race,” Emmy-winner though it may be, is no exception.

That’s what made last night’s episode so shocking. Kudos to the producers for resisting the, um, urge to leak the scene in promo ads.

I’m not talking about the introduction of “The Yield,” which is basically a “U-Turn” in fancier clothes. No, I’m talking about the moment when one of the racers, Hendekea, stopped to pee. Absolutely unexpected. Totally unprecedented.

I’ve been a fan of this show since it first aired and this question has stumped me for years, even more so than “Why must all dating couples refer to one another as ‘Baby’?” You know, you see contestants carrying around giant containers of bottled water, and then getting in taxi cabs to drive 100 miles to the next challenge, and no one ever has to relieve their bladder. It was uncanny, I tell you, and ironic for a show that so prominently features the words “pit stop.”

So my hat’s off to Hendekea for solving one of the great mysteries of the modern age—yes, Amazing Racers answer to the same bodily functions as the rest of us; yes, there are public toilets in African villages. Whether they’re well-stocked with toilet paper is still up for debate.

While we’re on the subject of Hendekea, can someone, preferably her partner and brother Azaria, tell me why the girl doesn’t have a nickname? In my family, we don’t even have the energy for Holly, which we shorten to Hol. What kind of brother spends his life grappling with four, count ‘em four, syllables every time he wants to get his sister’s attention, when he could have easily spent his youth taunting her with “Dek.”

There’s something wrong with these two. But thanks to Hendy’s detour, at least we know they’re human.

Thursday, November 08, 2007

DWTS: Rehearsal Time

I’m sorry, it took me a full day to celebrate, I mean process, Jane Seymour’s elimination from “Dancing With the Stars.” My advice to the remaining contestants: Put a little more thought into your rehearsal segments. This is where viewers get to know the “real” you and mostly we don’t like what we see.

Exhibit A: Sabrina Bryan. It’s quite possible that what with her busy schedule of “not” dating her DWTS co-star, Sabrina didn’t have time to log onto the Internet and check out the television message boards. So that might explain why she inexplicably opted to give the folks at home a backstage pass to a Cheetah Girls video shoot. The haters said all along that the Cheetoh was a ringer. Footage of her learning new choreography as part of her job—granted some form of hippity hop vs. the jive—pretty much proved their point. Dumb and dumber.

Exhibit B: Jane Seymour. See Jane paint with her feet. See Jane shamelessly exploit her friendship with Johnny Cash. Hear Jane complain about her fused spine and old age. I guess she thought this was endearing. Instead it came across as A) weird, B) opportunistic, and C) the perfect excuse to put her and us out of our pain.

Exhibit C: Cameron Mathison. You know, sometimes during the judges critique, Cameron has a crazed serial killer look in his eyes. Yea, crazy like a fox. Here’s a guy who knows how to play to the audience. See, the soap star is well aware that his fan base is 99% female, and stay-at-home moms at that. So what does he do? Shows himself kissing his adorable little children goodnight (chicks dig good father material), while conveniently keeping his wife out of the picture (chicks don’t dig guys who are already taken). Genius.

Exhibit D: Marie Osmond. Oh Marie, please tell me that you aren’t going to try to use your father’s death as a way to win votes. Please tell me that a camera crew won’t be accompanying you to the funeral, catching that single tear as it rolls elegantly down your perfectly made-up face (and fainting, let’s not go there again). Please tell me there won’t be any footage of you and Jonathan practicing the tango between eulogies at the wake. Now, here’s what I would like to see: You telling Donny that this is your comeback, not his.

Monday, November 05, 2007

Amazing Race: Get Your Ass in Gear

The Race is back! Goths. Lesbian minister life partners. Hyper-competitive siblings. Dating couples on the verge of implosion. Let the fireworks begin.

In a television season that’s been disappointing to date—writers’ strike, bring it on if that means fewer episodes of “Carpoolers”—it’s good to have an old favorite back, particularly if it means a return to classic early form.

The first episode of every Race is always a challenge to viewers: too many teams, too difficult to distinguish between matching sets of overly emotional needy girlfriends and their commitment phobic boyfriends. (Apart from the lesbian ministers, this season is noticeably lacking in wedded couples. Are married folks inherently boring? Too busy raising kids and paying mortgages to go globetrotting? Afraid, like my husband, to even audition because he’s convinced the Race would lead to divorce? Discuss amongst yourselves.)

I’m not even going to attempt to handicap or recap at this point, until I figure out who’s who. (And I’ll probably never know which obligatory blonde team member is which, especially if they continue to dress exactly alike. One day, I expect the show to just feature a blonde and her clone.) But last night’s standouts were Kynt and Vyxsin, the afore-mentioned Goths, simply because it’s impossible not to notice them in a crowd. The other teams have already cleverly dubbed this pair “the freaks.” Seriously, they couldn’t come up with a better Satanic or Marilyn Manson reference? I’ll admit, I was surprised these two could actually ride a bike and I’m particularly keen to see how their eyeliner holds up over the course of the competition.

Another team to watch: the father-daughter duo of Ronald and Christina. Ronald says he was largely absent during Christina’s childhood. I think he was in sales and traveled a lot, or he might have been a government spy. Not important. What Christina would like us to know is that her dad’s about to turn 60, so she wants to make the most of the “time we have left.” Which, according to life expectancy charts, is another 20 to 30 years, unless the long-neglected Christina has something more sinister in mind. Keep on eye on these two. If Christina coerces Ronald into taking on the more dangerous challenges, we might want to alert the authorities.

While the Race typically lives and dies by its casting, the inventiveness of the Roadblocks and Detours are crucial elements as well. As long-time watchers of the show can attest, the airport is always the great equalizer. Who knew donkeys fit that bill as well?

Last night, a fairly simple challenge—get a donkey to haul a specified number of peat logs over a pre-determined distance—proved the undoing of Ari and Staella, and nearly one of the random dating duos, who literally couldn’t get their ass in gear. Hence the phrase, “Stubborn as a mule.” (I know, mules aren’t donkeys, and don’t get me started on burros, but close enough.) As late-arriving teams trotted past the intractable donkeys, the frustrated teams responded by yelling at their animals louder and louder, an effective management technique taught at all the best business schools and “how to win friends and influence people” seminars. The donkeys dug in further.

Perhaps the strangest aspect of the show for me was that for the first time ever, except for the season where the show kicked off in my hometown, I’ve actually been to a race location. Teams’ first instruction had them flying to Shannon, Ireland, where we touched down ourselves back in August. Clearly we need to start planning a return visit, as our guidebook failed to inform us of the whole bicycling-on-a-tightrope-over-a-gorge tourist attraction the first go-around.

We did spend a lot of time in the car stressed out about driving on the wrong side of the road, negotiating “roundabouts,” and wondering why two-lane highways were only wide enough for a car and a half. This didn’t seem to bother any of the Race contestants, which, come to think of it, might be why more people like us aren’t on the show.

Friday, November 02, 2007

Trick or Treat

This is what happens when political campaigns drag on for years before the actual election. Pundits run out of things to say and begin questioning the obvious. Like, is Hillary Clinton playing the gender card? Um, duh. And why shouldn’t she?

So she called presidential politics a “boys club.” I don’t know if that’s pandering, or simply stating a fact. Correct me if I’m wrong, but an unbroken line of 43 male leaders of the free world pretty much proves her point.

I remember, back in the day, when women first started acting like they thought they could be president—sometime in the 1980s—and their opponents made a big deal out of whether a female commander in chief would have the balls to launch a nuclear attack against Russia. (Prompting some of us to wonder, “Well, would it be such a bad thing for a person to think twice before annihilating the planet?”)

That, in my book, is pulling out the gender card. So if Hillary Clinton is attempting to beat the boys at a game they invented, I say turnabout is fair play.

But I don’t really want to talk about Hillary Clinton today. I want to talk about Halloween. Am I the only adult who’s glad as hell that this holiday is over?

I’ve got nothing against candy. I love candy. In fact, one of the great joys of being a grown-up is that I can buy as much sugar and chocolate as I want, whenever I want, without having to beg for it house to house once a year.

It’s the costume part that I hate. And I don’t mean that I have a phobia about people dressed in costumes, the way some people fear and despise clowns. I mean that I can’t stand the pressure of coming up with something creative to wear.

As a kid, I would say that my costuming career peaked at around age 6, when it was still acceptable to don one of those suffocating plastic masks and accompanying robe. I usually went as a Princess. Or a cat. And what, besides the fact that I nearly drowned on the sweat droplets that collected on the inside of the mask, was so wrong with that?

The older I got, the higher the stakes were raised. I was supposed to conjure up a hobo or a little old lady or Wonder Woman out of the scraps in my closet, which was not, unlike apparently every other kids’, overflowing with golden lassos and granny wigs. The trouble is, I wouldn’t even start to think about my costume until trick-or-treat night, having used up most of my brainpower devising the ultimate route through our subdivision that would result in the maximum haul of sweetened plunder.

So Halloween went something like this: I would rush home from school with only hours to spare before the official start of the candy rush and stare at my options—slacks, blouses and dresses—and wait for them to reveal their true magical nature to me. Never happened.

Inevitably I would panic and just throw on a sheet, the costume equivalent of giving cash as a Christmas gift. Both basically say, “I have no imagination.”

Frankly, I was glad to put those days behind me. As far as I was concerned, adulthood meant never again having to answer, “And what are you going to be for Halloween?”

Except for that through the wonders of marketing, Halloween is now as much for adults as for kids. And I’d be totally on board with this turn of events if all it required of me was to work my way through a bag of assorted Hershey’s miniatures. But instead, I keep getting invited to costume parties.

Costume parties, as seen on TV, are wonderful affairs. And if I had an entire wardrobe department at my disposal, I’d be having a good time, too. Not a bedsheet in sight. The trouble is, all this televised foolery (or should it be “ghoul-ery”) has trickled down to the rest of us. Hoboes and little old ladies are out. Increasingly elaborate get-ups are in. Picture Princess Leia in her skimpy chained-to-Jabba-the Hutt bikini. Ironic statements are even better. And just to prove how pathetic I am in this department, I can’t even muster an example for you of what such a costume might be. If I could think of one, I’d have worn it.

Luckily, when it comes to Halloween, my husband is of the same mind. We got engaged before we had spent a single holiday season together, and it didn’t occur to me to ask about his stance on costumes before I accepted his proposal. That could have been an irreconcilable difference.

But we’re tired of feeling like boring, old, sticks-in-the-mud. We’re ashamed of our inability to get into the spirit of things. Don’t we want to be like all the other grown-ups and relive our childhoods?

So next year, I’m marching into wherever such things are sold and I’m buying one of those plastic mask death traps. (You just know some company in China is still be making them.) And when anyone asks me “What are you going to be for Halloween?” I’ll answer, “My six-year-old self.”