Monday, March 31, 2008

Peanuts Is Timeless: When Gods Collide

All right, no saving the bestest for lastest here. Last week a monumental meeting took place. Will history judge this powwow on par with such storied encounters as Socrates and Pluto, Lennon and McCartney, Homer and Marge, Kim and Thurston? If cuteness factors into the final equation...most certainly the record-keepers will be kind.

Always excited to see a Pigpen reference.

I don't know about you, but I don't wanna see Seymour Hersh do the Snoopy dance.

The football gag may survive nuclear holocaust.

Russell T. Davies takes time out from galvanizing UK television, praises Peanuts.

Finally, a Snoopy Cafe has opened in Japan. Not only that, it has its own blog. I am dazzled and jealous. Just another place for me to spend time and money in over there. I feel a little weird that I want the doughnut box more than the doughnuts, though.

Sunday, March 30, 2008

The J & P Show at Nationals Park

Patrick and I knew scoring tix to the season opener at the brand new Nationals Park in DC would be a long shot. So, naturally, we didn't. Them shits went like hoecakes at a John Witherspoon film festival.

So when Patrick called this past Friday and asked me if I wanted to accompany him to the Nats vs. Orioles exhibition game on the 29th (open only to season ticket holders and construction workers who toiled on the new park) my immediate reactions were, "Absolutely" and "Dude, how the hell?"

Turns out that Patrick's uncle Mike and his partner Dennis are Nats season ticket holders; they also live mere blocks from Nationals Park in Southeast DC. They had two extra tix and, one day before the game, contacted Patrick's mom to inquire about interest. Thus, the Friday morning phone call that jarred me out of my persistent AM sleepies.

'Bout 2 PM on game day, Patrick and I hopped on the Glenmont Metro stop. Usually when we patronize those carpeted shuttles, our final destination is Verizon Center, and we stop at Gallery Place-Chinatown. This time, Gallery Place marked our transfer spot onto the Green line, final stop Navy Yard. This Navy Yard station has been expanded to accommodate Nationals crowds on game days, as it is located a mere half block from the stadium.

I tried to stifle my nerves by pointing out my increasing dialectic tendency to drop the "t"'s from the middle of certain words.

"Did you just hear me? I said we should have our vi'les before the game. I mean 'vittles.' Holy crap, I'm beginning to speak like my dad. I've even been dropping the 'v' in the middle o' words sometimes."

"Pretty soon you won't be saying either one at all. You'll try to say 'vittles' and it'll come out--"

"'i'les!" I finished, in mock horror. Such exchanges loosened us up considerably.

Nothing could really prepare us, though, for the sight that awaited our lens-assisted eyes when we made the turn out of the station. "Look how close it is!" a young guy behind us exclaimed (hopefully to a companion).


(Click on this and all pics to see them at full-size)


With at least one hour to spare before Dennis and Mike arrived, we took out our cameras and started walking counter-clockwise 'round the new ballpark. Different entrances and suites dotted the side, with the most impressive sights saved for the rear "home plate entrance".

This is, as so dubbed by me and the kid 'Trick, "Nats Walk", numbers embedded into the concrete representing special years in the history of the franchise. Over to the right of each year are mini-monuments that explain the significance of each year. The cherry blossoms are not yet in bloom, so the site currently isn't at its peak for sheer inspiration of awe. When the trees do fill out in magnificent pink and white and perfume the air, it will increase the appeal of not only this entrance, but also the area behind the left field bleachers where they have been planted. (Nats prez Stan Kasten hopes that announcers and fans will take to calling Washington homers hit to that part of the park--get ready--"cherry bombs". Eh! Just play "Cherry Bomb" by the Runaways after each ding and everybody'll be happy. Except Joan Jett.)

The sun was out, but not exactly about. A persistent breeze reminded us it was still March, though a fair heat was whipped up by the cumulative bustle of workers, security and fans.

With our minds summarily blown by the exterior of Nationals Park, we waited and wondered about what awaited us once we passed through the gates. Our seats were in Section 109, along the third base line, and up high underneath the mezzanine. We thought this would be a great place to see a game. We were quickly proven incorrect, when we looked at the directory and saw that Ben's Chili Bowl was located directly behind Section 109.

Officially, Section 109 of Nationals Ballpark is now known for all times as "Greatest Place To See a Baseball Game in the History of the Sport".


President Bush will be throwing out the first pitch at the "real" first game today. His batterymate will be Nats manager Manny Acta. That's mega odd, man; normally, the home team catcher would be on the receiving end of an executive toss. I wonder if this bucking of tradition has anything to do with the fact that Nats catcher Paul Lo Duca was a recurring star of the Mitchell Report. Gee, surely not!

“Myself and the Lerner family thought it would be appropriate to represent our team and the youth of our team,” Kasten said. “Ryan Zimmerman would be a good person to accompany the president, and our leader, our manager, Manny Acta. Those choices seemed obvious to us. Those have always been our choices. Anyone else who had different thoughts was just misinformed.”

I smell shenanigans!

At 4 o'clock--two hours before the first pitch of the game--the Navy Yard metro station began to vomit passengers. Thousands of fans young and old, all sizes, all colors, all languages, all manner of official and unofficial team merchandise worn proudly, made a sea of red white and blue as they marched up to the entrance where Patrick and I stood, watching in a semi-amazement.

"That's gonna be hell getting back on that metro", I noted.

Patrick suggested I call my mother to tell her where I was at that moment, that while she laid around on the couch watching an NCAA tournament that she could barely muster up any enthusiasm for now that her precious "Dukies" were long gone, her youngest stood outside potentially the greatest ballpark in all of Major League Baseball. I did, but my bemusement at the situation was evident when Patrick decided to capture the moment for personal posterity.

4:30, Mike and Dennis arrived and we finally went in. We found our seats...sort of. This was a bit of an ongoing absurdist comedy all night, "the deal with the seats", as it is destined to be known in J & P lore.

The season tix that Mike and Dennis own are for four seats in Section 109. As Mike needs a scooter to move around, the seats are behind and along the railing above the standard crammed row of seats in the section, to accommodate the handicapped. At least, seats 1 and 4 are. Where seats 2 and 3 would be were...just space. Inquiries to an employee resulted in conversations that left me with a distinct feeling that Joseph Heller's ghost was floating 'round.

Oh, the space between seats, we'll have folding chairs. We don't have them ready right now, still getting things together. But we'll have it together for the season opener. Definitely. The row of seats down in front of you, you can use those too. Sure sure.

I was Seat 3; Patrick, Seat 4. Cool cool, let's sit the hell down! Um...wait a minute. Why don't seats 4-8 have any actual, um, seats?

They have backs. Armrests, oh absolutely. But a place to actually sit, no. I'd recommend a redressing of this situation, posthaste.

Before the game started, two more incidents occurred. In the first, an older couple stopped by our row. They were seats 7 and 8. The employee--who throughout this whole baffle remained admirably non-flustered--told them to take seats 7 and 8 in the next row down. Seats that they thankfully were not challenged for.

Next, a younger couple in non-matching Nats caps dropped by to say hi. Seats 3 and 4. Hey, just like me and Patrick! Let's get together sometime and go shopping at White Flint. Well, I know I'd be Peavy amped if I came to a game with my official season ticket and found some tag along bummos filling my seats to capacity. But a few factors weighed in our favor: we were there first (never underestimate it), the employee told us we could sit there, and it's only an exhibition game. The neatly-attired couple were placed in two seats near Mike and Dennis and this apparently satiated them. At least they'll get their due seats tonight. Well, one of them will.

There was only one other hitch in an otherwise grand opening, one that surely they had to foresee but were just powerless to contain. The massive lines at Ben's Chili Bowl.

Ben's is a DC landmark that is celebrating its 50th anniversary by expanding outside of its U Street location for the first time ever. While the beloved Five Guys is eagerly chaining up and down the East Coast, Ben's has stayed resolutely a DC sensation. News that it was going to set up shop in the new ballpark made for a pretty huge deal. Dilution or continuation of the incredible menu? Would it really be worth paying ballpark prices?

First night impressions suggest that misgivings are for morons. Neither I or Patrick had ever eaten Ben's food before, despite the constant temptation. All we knew was the district buzz: their chili was otherworldly, and their half-smokes galactically good. Bill Cosby from the 1960s to present day is a devoted customer, and pretty much every celebrity who steps foot in the capital has gone there. We could resist no longer.

Patrick couldn't help but take shots while in line.






To insure quality control, a Ben's employee will be on hand in the kitchen at every home game. Tonight, the man watching over the proceedings was none other than Kamal Ali, son of founder Ben Ali.




Heaven is a half-smoke. Why did we wait so long to try these? For those of you unfamiliar with the half-smoke, it's a type of sausage found in DC and surrounding regions. It's a li'l bigger than the average hot dog, and has a bit more kick to it. Some are part beef, part pork; Ben's are all beef, and 100% delicious. Both of us, after just one bite into our respective 'smokes, were wishing they came in pairs per order. The combination of spices from sausage and condiments is perfection. Patrick didn't think he could handle another, but wouldn't rule out the possibility of getting a seven buck chili bowl later on during the game.

Okay, I just went over the two relatively minor issues with the ballpark. Now let's get into why this is the most impressive, entertaining, beautiful place to play nine in America, tendency to play "We Built This City" over the sound system aside.







The scoreboard is nearly 4,500 square feet, nearly four times the size of the one at RFK stadium.





Tonight, on a very special Blossom...start blooming, damnit!

Baseball is a sport that so very much needs the area surrounding the field of play to be aesthetically pleasing and engaging. Some may smirk at the PS3 kiosk and play area for kids, but those people clearly aren't parents. Unlike hockey, where fans would injure a mobile vendor in the aisles, baseball doesn't need your constant attention. Any place that makes a fan comfortable being a fan, to enjoy the game at their leisure, to watch a half-inning from behind a concourse railing, to proudly spend a little too much money on shirts and hats...that's a successful place to play baseball.

Many minutes spent thanking various dignitaries for their efforts in bringing this new stadium to the capital. Someone said it was a "miracle". I forget who. Someone prone to hyperbole. They all looked like suits and ties to me after awhile. The mayor was there, to throw out the "not really" first pitch. A big-ass ribbon was cut. Cheers, as people began to slowly realize the back-slapping was over.

So finally...baseball! Yeah I almost forgot they like played the game and shit.

On the matter of this Washington Nationals team: yes, an above-.500 record would be delightful. Possible? Anything's possible. Except turning a popsicle into a diamond just by staring at it. I learned a long time ago how not possible that is. But look at the fellas out there on the field.

Ryan Zimmerman, the only player on either roster that night among the elite players at his position.


Elijah Dukes out in left...funny, I have the "3 or 4" option picked in the "How Many Triflin'-Ass Bitches Will Elijah Dukes Impregnate This Season?" pool at my job.




The Nats have an Orr wearing number 4. We're gonna win the Stanley Cup in 3 years, tops.

Patrick actually had the wherewithal to take snaps of the starting lineup as the graphics appeared on that beauty of a scoreboard. Pretty ingenious of the ol' boy.

Nice that AL rules were used in an NL ballpark, allowing Dmitri Young to bat as a DH. That certainly means Nick Johnson will be starting at first.

Overall this isn't a bad lineup, not at all. It's the pitching that scares me. There's nothing there. No proven staff ace, hell, I'm not even sure we have a hurler that could be in another team's top 3. If the pitching reveals itself to be stronger than suspected this year, then I'd say Washington could contend in the division. But let the arms underwhelm, and well, it'll be a repeat of last year.

That said, we will finish with a better record than the Orioles who ended up losing to the Nats 3-0 and who are, in fact, trash. Stinking trash in black and orange bags with feathers peeking over the twist-tie Their squad is--aging Melvin Mora, Kevin Millar, and a bunch of never'll-be's. During the game, me and Patrick ragged the O's something relentless, culminating in what I imagine will be a season-defining exclamation for Baltimore fans: "Who the hell is Luke Scott?" (Answer: a weak-swinging, Glock-wielding Christian.) What bummy trash.






I tell you, I have never seen a greater clash of the ravishingly beautiful with the devastatingly ugly! Well, maybe this picture comes close.

Look out, it's personal photos.






(The "DC" design is still superior in my eyes to the "W" though, and no, that's not because I hate Bush. Though I do.)

Ok, welcome back. LOOK AT THE SCOREBOARD!



Only drawback is it adds 10 pounds.



Patrick wanted to start up a "Meat Hook" chant during Dmitri Young's plate appearances. I threatened to break up with him.

What we really came to see was...Presidents Race!





Jefferson won. Which means 6 more weeks of winter.

T'was not long after this historic running of the former CIC's that Patrick decided to chance a return trip to Ben's. "You'll be lucky to make it back for the end o' the game", I told him.

He didn't. The last two innings went by quickly, almost hilariously so, putting the game in at under 2 hours and 45 minutes. I said goodbye and thank you to Dennis and Mike as they headed out and awaited Patrick by the line at Ben's. It took several minutes until he located me.

"Where's the chili?"

"They were out."

I let out a half-gasp half-laugh. "Are you serious? That's it, we'll stop by Ben's on the way home if you want." He chuckled it off, thankfully, although he admitted that his humor would not have been so good if not for the previous half-smoke and beers well churning in his system. He also managed to snap a shot of the Presidents as they walked the concourse.

The Navy Yard Metro was, indeed, a friggin' nightmare. Thousands of people were lined up at the station. Luckily, a sign was up indicating the Waterfront Station further to the left. We joined a smaller group that decided to hoof it a half mile to that less-congested metro stop. It was a fortuitious decision on our part, as we arrived at Glenmont by 9:30. Nice!

Would be fantastic if Mike and Dennis toss some freebies our way again soon; however, we are definitely going to lay down bucks for tix this year, probably during a series with the Mets. There's too much going on with the venue, in every capacity, to stay away. Walking around Nationals Park is such a fresh experience, with sights, sounds and smells that tantalize top to bottom and I really want the team to live up to the promise of the park in which they play. I want visiting teams fans to not only come and be wowed by the Nationals home, but to walk away acknowledging that the club is worthy of the digs. Throw ya W's up.


Wednesday, March 26, 2008

Winning Awards May Make You Temporarily Insane

30 Rock is the best show on American television by a venerable country mile. It, The Simpsons, and Top Chef are the only programs I can be arsed to turn the set on for anymore. Star/writer/executive producer Tina Fey is arguably the funniest comedian in America, and pretty much confirmed second overall to Jennifer Saunders as the second funniest woman on Earth. Her charm, intelligence, wit, and self-deprecation have won fans from both sexes. Her tireless work as de facto figurehead for the Writers Guild of America also earned increased admiration from her peers, even as the whole strike exasperated the public in general.

This year saw Tina add two awards to the Emmy she grabbed in 2007 as a 30 Rock producer: a Golden Globe for Best Actress in a Comedy Series and a Screen Actors Guild trophy in the same category.

Then she went temporarily insane.

I don't mean the Hilary endorsement on Saturday Night Live, although for her to do so when so many are still drinking the Kool-Aid for Barack Obama was admirable. Especially since, as we all know, women are incapable of leading a nation, and should never be entrusted with any considerable power whatsoever. A female president, that's unpossible!

I refer, rather, to this recent Readers Digest interview. Before I even read it, I had my doubts. I mean, does someone like Tina Fey really bring their "A" interview game to Readers Digest when the likes of Entertainment Weekly and Venus beckon? I expected some fluffy claptrap about her family and friends. Which there is, of course. That's what the bulk of this fine rag's readership craves.

It's what comes before all that which has raised a bit the stink. She takes a shot at The Daily Show, but it's actually more of a facemush from the weaker hand. No matter; anything that can be perceived as a bitchy insult will be picked up on and run with, whether we're talking the rabid fanboys who defend Jon Stewart like he was blood, to headlines that don't so much mislead as actually lie. (Best comment on either article: "Tina, You're cute in a clerk/typist from Manhattan kinda way. But you are not funny, you cant act,, and you are boring. Do us a favor and shut your cute little trap and raise your kids better." Just barely edging out the dude who compared Stewart to H.L. Mencken. Both sound awfully sure of themselves.)

There is something rather off-putting about this interview, though, something that I think is actually worth typing on the Internet about.

RD: What's the difference between male and female comics?
Fey:
Every comic way of writing is unique, but I think male comedy is more boisterous. Usually it involves robots and sharks and bears. Female comedy is more likely to be about the minutiae of human behavior and relationships.


Which reminds me of Homer Simpson attempting a stand up routine: "White guys have names like Lenny...and black guys have names like Carl!"

Fey's comments really disappoint me; women in comedy have been subject to half-brained generalizations since the salad days of Gracie Allen. Knowing firsthand how ridiculously unfair being painted with such broad strokes can be, why would any woman use a public forum to indulge the same moronism? She tries to put those little qualifiers in there, more likely and usually, but no, I call bullshit on that. Life and the people in it are way too varied for people in the 21st century to still be speaking in stereo (types). I don't care if it's politics or religion, or mere trifling entertainment. Will people ever smarten up to this handy intellectual laziness and duly change? Nah. But I won't ever stop being disheartened by it.

Especially by people I think--I almost hope--would know better.




Tuesday, March 25, 2008

Peanuts Is Timeless, Like a Broken Clock

The economy...is not improving.

Franklin Avenue wonders why Marcie is depicted as so dunderheaded in Easter Beagle. Answer is simple, really. From a comedic standpoint, the brainy girl fumbling with a simple activity is funnier.

If Snoopy fandom formed like Voltron, Japan would be the head.

McDonalds is not entirely useless! Neither, if you can believe it, is ESPN.

I have nothing remotely humorous or "clever" for this.

Monday, March 24, 2008

Revisited: "Shabooh Shoobah" by INXS


"I don't care what anybody says," Patrick remarked from behind the wheel last Monday morning, "I like this song."

Said song being INXS' "Devil Inside", one of several hit singles from their monstrously popular 1988 album Kick. In particular, Patrick--a mere five years old at the time the track was brand new to radio--liked the jungle-y percussion and slyly hedonistic lyrics.

I couldn't but concur; INXS have long been one of those bands that I'll admit to liking while in no hurry to indulge in any pesky revisionist history on their behalf (they have eleven studio albums, of which four are worth owning; decent average for a hitter in baseball, but not great at all for a band). The official line on the Aussie sextet accuses them of trafficking in the disposable, soulless, pseudo-funk seemingly peculiar to white males, less a band than a dancer that nails all the steps but communicates none of the subliminal heat that suggests art. Of course there was that dreadful TV show Rock Star: INXS, wherein the surviving band members sought a replacement for the single inimitable factor the group had--late singer Michael Hutchence. Crass and deplorable, it was relegated to VH-1 from its original home on CBS less than midway through its run.

Their general sonic innocuousness and made-for-TV image were popular reasons to write off INXS at the peak of their popularity. Blatant avarice, desperate Jones-trailing and a newer, more uniformly unpleasant sound are reasons to consider the band a nagging nonentity post-Hutchence. In the mad clanging of shovels, however, gems have gone unnoticed and thus buried. Of the not-quite-a-handful of quality albums INXS left for posterity, one cuts a sharper vision than the rest. No, not The Swing, although that does seem to be the de rigeur choice for people inclined to even give INXS credit. I refer to the album before: 1982's Shabooh Shoobah.

The One Thing--Like many Americans, my first exposure to INXS, as MTV saw fit to run this gastronomically ecstatic video day and night. (No, I didn't grasp the whole symbiotic deal with food and sex until many years later. I was so innocent, once upon a time.)

A better song to kick off an album they could not have prayed for. Andrew Farriss' synth plays peekaboo with bro Tim's snarling pose of a guitar riff while Michael Hutchence finally gives his hyper sexuality room to slink. His whole Jagger-meets-Morrison persona was overcompensation, but the boy did have a voice with more (debauched) life than most of his 80s radio peers and could even pen a nasty couplet here and there. "You've got a dozen men behind you/You've got dead flowers on the floor".

Who the hell are any of us to challenge a track that tickles the fancies of Wayne Coyne and Chan Marshall, anyway?

To Look At You--Soundtrack for a video the band punted up to the attic like it was some senile granny. With good reason. The Human League does not become them.

Shabooh Shoobah is 35 minutes carved out of a wide, arid night. The subject matter may be trite--sex, love, outsiders, sex, love, I just read some fucking ace 19th century poetry now listen to my weeded-out attempt to put a modern twist on it--but the immediate space these song build up around themselves is assured and arresting.

So what is the "name to call" for a girl who "knows the feelings but never the words"? I have no clue, and neither do you. That's strictly some shit that rock stars drum up to get panties moist and droppin'. The "chorus", such as it is, goes from muted intonation to BOOM POW SURPRISE as a warm synthy bed cuddles up with stubby-faced piercing guitar lasery. Thrills me far more than I should ever let on.

Spy of Love--Another promo vid that the band tries to distance themselves from, apparently. No clue why, it's utterly free of the oddball stabs at artiness that plague the videos of so many young musicians.

Who does Brazilian deco lounge music better than Australians? Is that a jug six seconds in? Once again the chorus is louder than God bellowing through a line of Li'l Bastard megaphones. It works, though, and the lyrics do a fine job of at least appearing clever. Hutchence could phrase like a motherfucker.

Soul Mistake--When I was much younger and had not yet tasted from the bittersweet buffet of love, I thought that it was pretty much everything suggested by this here number: ostensibly sage murmurings followed by the clarion call of regret. I grew up and wiser, soon learning the folly of gypsy analogies as a general rule, but still "This soul never listens to me/This soul has a lot to learn" is truth.

Some fantastic bass on "Soul Mistake" courtesy of Garry Gary Beers. Now let me never type that horrid name out again.

Here Comes--Meant to engender a sense of foreboding if not outright paranoia, Hutchence speaks in terse fragments while his instrument-wielding mates keep it tight like frog ass. Jon Farris is a motherfucker on drums, I can't deny him that.

Black and White--Speakin' o' which...Farriss' knack for inventive percussion that so entranced Patrick is on display here, a rhythmic clatter that powers along a mature rumination on romantic anomie. Bonus points for a synth solo comprised of robotic squawks and squiggles.

Golden Playpen--It pops like a cork, tinkles like ice, and sways like an inebriated bastard. In other words, teems with authenticity (though I doubt Mr. Hutchence was ever as lonely whilst pubhopping as the tone of this track suggests). Have I truly neglected to mention Kirk Pengilly until now? It's sax! It's madness! It's sax madness!

Jan's Song--INXS goes Midnight Oil. Protest and survive! Mind you, I think this is less an anthem for the liberation of aborigines and more a cool jazz ode to one young girl's refusal to settle for a waitressing gig.

Old World New World--Reminds me of Donkey Kong Country. That's not at all bad! Much prattle 'bout historical places, events and peoples. Nadir of the album, but still a good 'un. I could put this back-to-back on a mix CD with "Mesopotamia" by the B-52's and have a good time.

Don't Change--An album that started so grandly ends even more spectacularly. Music fans who think INXS swallow all sorts of sex organs love this song. Have fond memories of making out to it, or ringing in the New Year to it. It is the definition of "anthemic", and all other songs that would be labelled such must be held up to the lofty standards set by the hymnal to propulsive and back again structure, the ambulance wail of the chorus (one of the greatest hooks in pop music history) and the earnest, universal pleading of the lyrics. How did this not rule radio in 1982? Why were the airwaves saturated with the putrid likes of "Open Arms" instead? "Don't Change" still makes me want to punch cinderblocks into pebbles with all the joy of a child opening Christmas presents.

Weaksauce title aside, Shabooh Shoobah is a fantastic pop record, INXS's sonic apex. It is also possibly the great lost album of the '80s (mainstream edition). Find it.

Saturday, March 22, 2008

March Madness on Ice

One thing I've noticed in the hip hop culture is the tendency to designate someone "your favorite rappers favorite rapper." Talib Kweli, hero to fans of so-called "conscious rap" worldwide, is probably the most egregious recent example, after he was praised in song by the far more popular Jay-Z. The handle is meant to imply an MC of such undeniable talent that the barriers of race, relevance, era, and record sales are nonexistent when they are judged by others who toil in the same craft.

"Your favorite ______s favorite ______" can be used a myriad of ways. "Don DeLillo is your favorite writers favorite writer", for example. "Snoopy is your favorite dogs favorite dog" (you like how I work that in there? Always thinking, your girl is). Ad infinitum.

One thing for sure after last night's nail-munching, threads-rending comeback win by the Caps over the Thrashers: Alex Ovechkin is your favorite hockey players favorite hockey player. I cannot wait for April 5th, the final game of the regular season at Verizon Center. Even if the Caps are officially out of the playoff hunt by then, the atmosphere should still be electric with renewed promise for the '08-09 season. Also, the first 15,000 in get Ovy bobbleheads. So you can sense my excitement.


Wednesday, March 19, 2008

Most Valuable Post

Last night, the Washington Capitals defeated the Nashville Predators 4-2 to keep pace in the Eastern Conference playoff hunt. The win was crucial, considering that the Philadelphia Flyers beat the Pittsburgh Penguins and the Toronto Maple Leafs defeated the New York Islanders despite their netminder giving up a goal on a puck shot from outside the arena.

Caps winger Alexander Ovechkin is the Most Valuable Player in the NHL. Bottom line, underlined eight times in red. Washington is in the hunt solely off the sheer will, grit and world-beating talent of the young Russian, who leads the league in (be alert):

Goals--58
Points--102
Percentage of teams goals--27.3%
Game-winning goals--10
Power play goals--21
Shots on goal--399
Even strength goals--37

You want intangibles? Factor in the historic 13-year, $124-million dollar contract (without an agent) and the infectious love not just for the game of hockey, but winning at said game. Last night's goal was an empty-net score, usually a very ho-hum matter-of-fact gimme type way to notch a point. Not with Ovechkin. He was simply trying to kill off the remaining seconds by clearing the puck. From the middle of the ice, he banked the biscuit off the boards...into the net. Ovy is not a timid superstar, content with statistics and highlight-reel moves. Nor is he on the ice with the other teams goalie out of the net just for a chance to grab the puck and fire it down for a cheap score. In the intense action leading up to that improbable score, Ovechkin was seen dropping to his knees on the ice to block shots from the Predators players as they tried desperately to tie the score up.

The argument against Ovy for MVP is the belief many hold that a player on a non-playoff bound team cannot realistically be the Most Valuable Player since the game is all about winning. The tacit implication is that this is especially true in the NHL, where half the teams make it to the postseason. Since expansion in 1967, only one league MVP has hailed from a squad that didn't get to fight for Lord Stanley: Mario Lemieux, 1987-88, of a Penguins team that fell one point short of the playoffs.

Lemieux, of course, was a superlative talent who for the first several years of his career dragged a lackluster supporting cast kicking and screaming to respectability. Ovechkin is on much the same path, and if the Caps make the playoffs, or miss by fewer than 5 points, he deserves the Hart Trophy. Evegni Malkin did a magnificent job keeping Pitt from falling apart when Sidney Crosby went down with an injury, and currently stands second to Ovechkin in overall points. That said, he has only 3 game-winning goals and takes the ice on most nights with Sidney Crosby, milquetoast poster boy for the sport of hockey. When Crosby is healthy, he's the de facto lead dog and Malkin at the point position. As of yet, Ovechkin does not have a teammate worthy of that status (Nicklas Backstrom and Alexander Semin could, with time, develop into elite players).

The Caps are about to face the Blackhawks, channel 19 here on Antietam Cable. I'm not in the business of making predictions, so I won't.

Oh, fine. Caps win 4-1, Ovechkin with 1 goal, 1 assist. If I'm correct, I win a piece of peanut butter pie and I'll Youtube myself eating it while Swedish black metal quivers the walls around me and Snoopy, Come Home is visible on the TV behind me.

Krusty the Clown-approved post-game edit: What the hell was that?


Tuesday, March 18, 2008

Peanuts Is Timeless: A Scanner, Weekly

A li'l late.

No political Charlie Brown/Lucy refs, at least not that I caught. However, the ever-enduring gag found its way into articles dealing with alligators, writing, and sports.

Whoa...does Ghostface have a pair? Crazy visionz, son!

Christians judging the life of Charles Schulz. If that ain't cotton candy calling chocolate sweet....

The bad news is, all eight Snoopy Towns in Japan are closing effective end of March. The good news is, four of them will reappear (remodeled and resized) this year. So while I'll never know the thrill of viewing the gigantic Snoopy at the street corner in Tokyo, I'll at least get to visit Snoopy Town. The better news is, Snoopy World is still up and running and that trumps 'em all. (I plan on visiting Japan within two years, wish them luck.)

I also never got to Camp Snoopy at the Mall of America, which is now a Spongebob Squarepants haven. Yeah, uh...I'm so old I remember when Nickelodeon had watchable childrens programming! The Rugrats boom killed it, I think, that or the unfathomable way they treated John Kricfalusi and corrupted Ren and Stimpy in his absence. (Note to this guy, you mean to say "strips" not "cartoons".)

Yet another invoking of the Sponge, but this time in the middle of a smart argument for Peanuts as underrated work of art. I thoroughly agree with the sentiment (if not necessarily on the "Sack" run being the pinnacle of the strip).

Sunday, March 16, 2008

Thoughts on the Capitals vs. the Bruins

Ah, afternoon hockey!

I love watching a game from the 400's, this time from section 403. The purple seats make me feel closer to my favorite football team (the Vikings) at the same time I root on my favorite hockey squadron. Duality!

Getting into the F Street Entrance was 19 pounds of fun in 13 pound sack. After a few minutes in the whipping wind outside the doors, we finally were able to squeeze in, where we chatted up an older woman who holds season tickets and has damn near every Cap 'graph in the special booklet that those solvent type folk receive. A number of fans were opening up the doors behind me and excusing themselves on the way to the store, which was off to the left. I have no problem with adjusting to accommodate if asked politely, but this one woman came in and immediately sent out deadly gamma rays of "bitch": "Can I get over to the store please?" Don't let the "please" fool you--her demeanor was nothing short of impatient arrogance, completely undue considering she had just walked in the door. I let her pass and then let my own haughty words fill the air behind her: "Buy a new attitude while you're in there." Which, I am proud to say, got a few laughs.

The first 5000 fans through got special "fleece helmets", which I'll be posting pics of tomorrow. I wore mine the whole game. The hat is totally geeky, but hockey geeky, which means it's awesome.

The Caps fandom was strong throughout the venue, but most vehemently in the upper levels. A lone fan also wearing the fleece was making his way to his seat a few rows down when we made eye contact. "It's like Fargo", he commented with great joviality. Patrick, who had just recently seen the movie many consider the Coen Brothers' finest, laughed hardest of all.

I saw my first infant at a hockey game in the row right in front of us. (Well...actual infant, I should say; I've seen and heard plenty mental ones.)

About the game...CAPS LOCK FOR A CAPS WIN! 2-1 in a shootout, of all things; the first of those that Patrick or myself have seen live. Awesome. Viktor Kozlov's winning shot sent us into paroxysms of raw glee and Christobal Huet was the worthy first star of the game, with 39 saves (whereas, in all honesty, Kolzig may have made 37 of them).

So,two very crucial points for Washington. Carolina whipped up on Ottawa, but Philly got creamed (albeit by the bastard Penguins), and we're within two points of surpassing the latter in the playoff hunt. The forthcoming road trip will show if this team really is made for a late push.

The good stuff:

--Well, obviously, the win and the points.

--Washington can win even when Ovechkin doesn't make a dent on the scoreboard.

--"Linus and Lucy" playing during the Mighty Mites games in between periods.

--The boisterous, involved crowd.

--Federov's first goal as a Cap, on a 5 on 3 no less.

--Tom Poti during the second intermission calling out the officials: "I don't know, maybe they want Boston to win." That guy for prez.

The bad stuff:

--The last game against the Bruins and Caps was marred by iffy officiating that cost Washington two vital points. This game was possibly even worse: inexplicable offsides calls, goalie interference on Huet that was not called, a bullshit diving call on Ovy (diving?! When you skate all-out and get tripped, you'll go far and land hard, geniuses, that's far from "diving"). That the Caps still won is testament to their heart, talent, and the fact that the Bruins are pretty much an AHL team, especially with Zdeno Chara out like he was today.

--Alexander Semin had a key shootout goal, but he was sloppier than leftover enchiladas during the game proper. I'm not sure how much more time to develop he needs.

--Ovechkin had a yen to be Adam Oates today, for whatever reason. Russian tank does not pass puck, Russian tank shoot puck.

Next game for the J & P Show...the regular season finale, April 5th against the Florida Panthers. Section 100. Yep. We actually took time out before the game to gaze down there and share sentiments of, "We'll be there."

Any Nation That Worships the Beagle Is a Nation On the Ball

There are a thousand benefits to being in a romantic relationship,the last 900 being the non-obvious, non-sexual ones. Among this number sit some sly spices that season the broth with a sneaky yet welcoming kick.

The enduring unpredictability of such personal revelations are what makes the ride worth the occasional bout of motion sickness. Patrick and I were a good four years into our relationship when he began experimenting with international food beyond what dots the typical American strip mall (Italian, Chinese, Mexican). First was Thai; he quickly converted me (this was long before Hagerstown got its own taste of Thai, in the form of Red Curry) and I to this day remain an advocate for the edibility of tofu. For serious.

Over the past several months, both in Hagerstown and in his home base of Olney, we have paid multiple trips to Japanese restaurants, enthralled by the powerful lure of the teppanyaki. Tonight it was another trip to the Sakura in Olney (not affiliated with the Sakura in Hagerstown). It was a bit after 6, which of course meant the place was packed jelly tight with sundry hungry folk. Our wait was only 15 minutes out of a potential 30, and the time positively flew by as we pondered why the Japanese love kittens so damn much. I was just about to bring up the contradiction of a culture loving both cats and Snoopy to the point of appointing both iconic status when we were called.

Our table was a dozen strong: 3 couples and a party of six that sat across from us. As per usual whenever I am around a large group of people (acquaintances or strangers, it matters not), I felt the strong need for some alcohol. To that end, I ordered a Green Dragon. Patrick had some smooth sake, which came in a blue-gray carafe for one. I actually had gulped down a can of Coors Light before we left the house, just to get a small buzz happening in anticipation of a crowd. As I was later to discover, some people need a bigger one.

Not content with mere soup and salad, Patrick made some selections from the sushi menu: two orders of salmon, two orders of yellowtail. Ah, sushi! One of the three indisputably marvelous things that the Land of the Rising has given America (the other two being Nintendo and Ichiro Suzuki. I don't count Gaki No Tsukai, 'cause they didn't give that to us, we had to rip it away violently and spread the good viral word).

"That's gonna be eight pieces. We'll split that, right?"

"Oh yeah."

And really, I didn't think I had to ask. Whenever 'trick and I share a food which can be equally partitioned--e.g., pizza--we do so. Also, I was paying for the entire meal, so yeah. Gimme mines.

I tasted a salmon then yellowtail; both delicious, the salmon almost too good. Before I knew it, there was only one piece left, the final salmon.

"You can have it," Patrick offered. I gazed at him and saw eyeballs ready to erupt. "If you want it, go ahead." His tone was friendly; I almost believed that he wouldn't have ripped my small intestine out if I dared position my chopsticks over that delectable plop of raw fish and rice. In the end, I conceded. Final sushi count: Patrick--6 Jenn--2.

A period of quiet ensued, broken by Patrick's accusation that I was being inexcusably pouty. I protested and resolved the issue by pointing at the porcelain kitty perched over the sushi bar.

Patrick had shrimp, while I enjoyed shrimp and chicken. My decision not to order steak stemmed from the last two occasions that I had, only to be met with disbelief when I stated my preference to have the meat "well done". I had no clue that this was such an unusual request. As I heard three other people around me request "medium rare" steak for their entrees, my inner sigh of relief was damn near audible.

The red-hatted chef was as showy as expected, with the onion volcano and rolling eggs in full effect. He was not especially verbal, save for some brief conversation with the Cambodian man sitting right next to me.

"Have you ever seen that much rice on a grill? And five eggs!" Patrick was wowed.

Every Japanese meal I've had has been beyond reproach, and so it was again. It was as I looked around to see how many other people besides us were using chopsticks (only one!) that I noticed the woman across the table. One of the party of six, she was between a man who looked about in his 30s and a young boy. To assume, one would say the man was her boyfriend/husband, and the child her son. Perhaps. I could more assuredly state, however, that this woman was out of her freaking gourd on some substance.

The first sign was her embracing of the assumed significant other. It was not the grasp of the outwardly affectionate inasmuch as the lazy hug of the fucked up. When she freed him from her intoxicated grip, her eyes were barely able to remain open and her entire upper body had the slow, overmeasured movements peculiar to the non-sober individual. Patrick and I were undecided on the narcotic to blame, although alcohol seemed the likely culprit. However, she was clearly drinking a soda, so if spirits had flown, they would have preceded her arrival.

"Blehwofejefwfgjlwe".

She spoke! And what a slutty slur it was, flattening consonants like a runaway steamroller and elongating vowels like a medieval torture rack. The only part we could make out was the most telling: "I need six more shots."

What? Bitch, you look like you've had sixteen!

There was no harm done, and nothing exceedingly embarrassing. I did feel bad for the kid next to her when she took her right hand and started stroking his head. Not in a tender way, mind you; rather, it looked like she was running her hand through cement, slowly and with undue pressure. Even the couple next to us asked if we noticed anything funny about her.

There were four birthdays on our side of the restaurant. I think sometimes people be lyin'. One of them was at our table, the drunk's boyfriend/husband. He was not pleasantly surprised. He didn't even want a Polaroid taken to mark the occasion. Come on, man.

Amazingly, we have not yet encountered a drunk person at a Japanese restaurant in Hagerstown. I suspect it is only a matter of time.

Wednesday, March 12, 2008

Say Uncle

Up until 2000, I was bewildered by the origins of the furious desire to scribble that practically contaminated my blood. Insofar as I knew, no one else in my family shared this urge. My father was a gifted storyteller, but more in the fine Southern tradition of sittin' and speakin' true tales designed to impart some kernel of commonsense wisdom as much as entertain the audience with verbal expressiveness and well-timed gesticulations.

Then Mom told me about my late uncle Marshall. He was one of the singular people on either side of the family: he walked on a wooden leg thanks to a war injury, became an attorney, and ended up a millionaire. Also, he found time to write a few stories for the Saturday Evening Post.

Moreso than grave injury or financial fortune, Marshall's writerly bent intrigued me. I could actually relate to it. This led to my great curiosity over what he wrote about; surely his widow or someone in the family had copies of a magazine or two. But no. She had only a list showing the dates of the issues his work appeared in. My mother copied them down and passed them along to me. I made it my mission to scour Ebay and purchase these five magazines. I thought that it would be cool to have them around not just for reading, but also to give my mother something of her late brother, a remnant to refer to, learn from, or even just take comfort in.

In just six months of Ebay hunting, I won all five Saturday Evening Post issues that Marshall Davenport's writing appeared in. It was not easy, but it was worth it.

12/10/49, take 1: I won this first, from a reputable online store. Within a week I received...not this issue. Turned out that addresses were switched on two packages, one being mine. For whatever reason, the person who received the issue they didn't win refused to exchange it or send it back so the seller could redress the problem. Clearly, they weren't on a mission.

12/10/49, take 2: Ah ha! It was a big day when this baby arrived. The mag was dog-earred for sure, but still in good fighting shape for being a li'l over 50 years old at the time. It smelled like what I have always imagined the 1940s to smell like--a musty easy chair where a man could sit for hours and chew tobacco while watching the flames dance in the fireplace.

Fittingly, my uncle wrote a seasonal piece, about the town of Santa Claus, Indiana. Bright, felicitous pictures of the bustling post office and kid-friendly play areas trap in my uncle's assured write-up. His first paragraph could, now that I consider it, be easily applied to my first time reading it:

"Had the settlers called the community by any other name, it would have remained an obscure hamlet, lost among the knobs of Southern Indiana. The name, however mellifluent, would have echoed no further than the boundaries of Spencer County."

Which isn't to say that if not for our relation I would have disregarded my uncle's prose as forgettable. But just as a fortuitous christening transformed a charming li'l chip of the Midwest into a popular family attraction, so did the name "Marshall Davenport" pull me towards this article, compelling me to read it through several times.

One thing that is instantly, delightfully apparent from only a couple paragraphs in, is that both my uncle and I, as writers, share a love for the expressive sentence that twinkles along the page and virtually supernovas when spoken aloud. I can see in his style my own knack for almost-throwaway wit, blunt exposition, and a smart-if-not-clever vocabulary. He tells the story of the town's origins, its boom, and the many letters that arrive day after day, including the following gem from a Missouri boy: "Dear Santa: Bring me two double barreled Long Tom guns. Bring them."

Almost immediately after I won this issue at auction, I received an email from someone who identified himself as an older man living in California. He explained that there was a story in the magazine about a town in Indiana, and the accompanying color photos included him in a group of kids sitting in the grass watching a miniature train ride by. (Sure enough, it's there on the bottom right of the first page.) This man very politely offered to buy the magazine from me. I simply couldn't do it, especially not after the hassle over my initial attempt at obtaining it. Instead, my mother and I went to the library and made several color copies of the article and sent it to his address. In what seemed like an exceedingly swift period of time, another email arrived in my box; the old man again, this time effusively grateful and eager to reciprocate our kindness at anytime in any way he could. "You've made an old man very happy", he concluded.

2/17/45: The next issue featured the first half of Marshall's most ambitious project--the story of his service in World War II. It was a simple retelling of a horrific series of events.

Attacked by Germans in North Africa, Marshall was the sole survivor of the five soldiers that occupied his tank. The blasts left him with severe facial scarring and a severely damaged left foot. His simple language condescends to no one, and it's hard to forget the story once you've read it.

For anyone else reading it, my uncle's words probably didn't hit them where it stung until he placed himself (and them) in the middle of a war zone, a young man ready to die and hoping it wouldn't be as bad as he always feared. For his family, however, the very first paragraph was a breathtaking gut punch. In it, he talks about his sense of self-preservation, stemming from the death of his mother when he was only five years old and his father not long after. Makes you feel very sympathetic towards him, doesn't it? Gives his story tremendous emotional gravitas. Orphan boy struggles to obtain law degree, lose limb in war, never loses hope. Great stuff. Except, the first part of that sentence is not true. Marshall was not orphaned. His parents lived long lives and by all accounts were loving and supportive. When the article was first published, a mild rift between Marshall and the family formed. His excuse was a familiar one for most any writer, especially one trying to make a little extra cash and gain exposure in a widely-read periodical: the editor suggested that he take what was already a gripping, true slice of life tale and give it some heart-rending back story sure to ensnare the reader.

2/24/45: Marshall laid on the ground for ten hours, kept company by the sounds of planes, exploding shells, and an errant German soldier who tried to use his prone body for target practice. He was taken to first a lice-ridden Italian prison hospital, then a much-improved one in Germany. A year later he was sent home (via a "prisoner exchange") to a wife who loved him unconditionally and a horrified local populace, who could not hide their repulsion at his extensive scarring. My uncle spends the rest of the article detailing conversations between himself and other soldiers about the differences between officers and civilians, and the contempt many of the former could not help but feel for the latter in the face of ingratitude and insensitivity.

11/19/49: A piece on the American Automobile Association that would be reprinted one year late in Readers Digest. The subject didn't intrigue me terribly.

10/7/50: "Why Are Russian Tanks Better Than Ours?"

Captivating as his story of survival was, this article is still my favorite. He asks a question many of the time might consider unpatriotic if not treasonous and answers it with the unaffected confidence borne of a man who attended the grand ball and had a lingering slow dance with the most abhorrent guest present.

Marshall blamed the "unimaginative" Pentagon brain trust for valuing statistics and calculations over armor and arms. "The dogma of the slide-rule boys" he called it, a wonderful turn of phrase that could only slip forth from the pen of one who knows how fatal such folly can be. With no grace, and no delusion of a grand solution, he pointed out the torpid "progress" of the American military in developing tanks to keep up with the Russians (and other nations) and the potential for disaster in continuing to insist that running neck-and-neck with the Jones' in that area of battle was not relevant in the general scheme. I wonder what Marshall would make of wartime technology nowadays.

I wonder what he'd make of my writing. Probably would tell me I curse too much.

Tuesday, March 11, 2008

Peanuts Is Timeless...Auction Time Again

I love news of Peanuts auctions, just because each strip sold goes for progressively more ridiculous amounts. I can't lie, I'd love to have one myself. Of course, I'd love owning my own house more. Priorities, you see.

Can Baltimore get one of these soon? I mean, they actually have an MLB team.

Searching for Peanuts goodies can lead me to some outstanding blogs I would likely not have found otherwise. Check this list of the Top 20 cartoon characters of all time. I can't argue with the number one, at least not too vehemently.

Still not sure why Reno 911! has lasted so long on Comedy Central while Stella only aired for one season. That's not a dis to the former show, which is funny as hell, just that Stella was even more hilarious. Like leaving my gut aching, my jaw sore, and my throat hoarse. Regardless, Reno gains some points in my ever-important book by dint of this article.

I can't believe I didn't find a political article that mentioned the football gag. Seriously, Hillary winning Texas and Ohio isn't positively Lucilleian to anyone? Well...at least you can depend on an article about sin to quote Peanuts alongside Camus and John Paul II. Bitch is the new black, and Linus is the new Kierkegaard. I think. Actually, I just like typing out Kierkegaard.


Monday, March 10, 2008

So Long, Brett...And Thanks For All the Fish

As a Minnesota Vikings fan, I am relieved at the retirement of Green Bay Packers quarterback Brett Favre, announced earlier in the week. Our cheese-reeking rivals in the NFC North are now passing the reins over to Aaron Rodgers, who, despite preemptive pleas to fans that he not compared to the man responsible for the teams last Super Bowl championship and should thus not be judged against such lofty standards, will undoubtedly be jeered out of The Land Hygiene Forgot after only lasting two playoff-free seasons with a 2 to 1 interceptions-to-touchdown ratio. It's going to be the worst division in football. C'mon Vikes, strive for that elusive 10th win!

As a football fan, I am relieved at the retirement of a mere mortal who many in the media canonized because, well, he best fit their preconceived notion of what a "real" footballer should be: white, humble, from the South, strong family, willing to give interviews.

The relentless flagellation of Favre by John Madden, Chris Berman, et. al was bad enough to listen to while the man played the game. With his decision to hang 'em up, the print media (online and off) have rallied together also to reminisce on the wonders of "The Gunslinger": that time he threw into triple coverage while a bull bore down on him; his penchant for shovel passes while temporarily blinded by his own innate awesome; his forbearance throughout a career that saw him being the only person involved with the Packers, from the field on up, who knew anything about the game and had any kind of talent and love for it whatsoever. If the article is long enough, you can read about the incident in 2003 where he found a cure for cancer but lost it when he had to save a young boy from being struck by an errant Greyhound bus.

"Perspective" is practically nonexistent when people talk about Favre. People either adore him beyond reason and don't see how anyone could not consider him a top 5 QB or are so put off by what they see as suffocating unconditional love that they believe anyone who would dare rank Favre among Montana, Bradshaw, Brady, etc. is a know-little homer.

The truth lies (with Monie) in the middle.

Favre finished his career with the most passing yards, most touchdowns and most wins of any quarterback in NFL history. He also played 17 seasons. Saying that amassing sheer numbers over a lengthy period of time makes him the best at his position is like saying Nolan Ryan is the greatest pitcher of all time. Favre had 288 interceptions, also a record. Ryan had 2,795 career walks and and 277 wild pitches.

Favre knew how to win, at least for awhile there. He was the reason the Pack took Super Bowl XXXI, and he racked up 3 Most Valuable Player awards. Ryan had a middling win percentage, was just another player on the '69 Mets, and never won a Cy Young.

Favre also knew how to lose. Spectacularly. But whereas another QB would get reamed by the fans and media for poor decision-making, Favre's oft-fatal foibles were excused with, "That's what happens when you're a gunslinger"; or, my absolute favorite--by which I mean the one that most makes me want to throw acid on John Madden's manatee-like face--"He just has fun out there! Favre is just a kid playing a grown man's game." Imagine Carson Palmer getting a pass like that. Nope. He's just a SoCal pretty boy on a team of degenerate thugs with no love for the game. When Favre admitted to an addiction to painkillers, the media was cautious and respectful. To this day, many admire Favre for "being real". Which, I don't doubt he was. A pill popping schlub is a pill popping schlub. But if one gives Favre leeway on that, then give leeway to the rampant egotism of Terrell Owens, who is being every bit as real and true to his personality as Favre (just not in a way palatable to the public).

What irks me most severely about the lovefest is the tendency of so many writers--a proclivity that I try with all my heart to avoid when I put pen to paper or fingers to keys--to create some communal understanding that everyone does, or should, love Favre. They use phrases such as, "That's what you loved about him" or "We'll miss that about him". Piss off. You only use language like that when you're trying to convince the readership that the Kool-Aid only looks like it has something floating in it. Not everyone is losing sleep and/or planning to name their newborn sons after a goddamn football player. Mind you, some are; that's why I am using language that reflects the natural differences between people.

Favre was great. There have been greater. There are greater now, and will be greater to come. It seems the media is more in mourning over the loss of a personality than a player. This ESPN article seems to support my vibe, mainly the opinion of Matt Mosley that Favre was more clutch than Montana, qualified by, "I don't think any man has ever played the game with as much joy and passion as Favre." As if love of the game makes Favre the go-to guy. What, it was a brief shock of ambivalence that caused that INT in OT against the Giants in the NFC Championship game? Name the QB with 3 interceptions in two overtime playoff games. It ain't Joe Cool.

Thursday, March 6, 2008

She's a Good Skate, Charlie Brown

AIRDATE: 2/25/80

STORY: The first Peanuts special of the new decade wastes no time heralding the creative teams determination to explore within a fine-tuned formula. Just two years prior, What a Nightmare, Charlie Brown eliminated every kid on the block bar Chuck as it immersed the willing viewer on a wordless Call of the Wild. The opening moments of She's a Good Skate feature a sleek, delicate figure skating routine set to an even more precious orchestral backing. The young girl's clothes blend with the nascent morning sky. While her moves practically sing, her stubborn, steely coach is a ball of hyper-perceptive judgment on the sidelines. Regardless, his pupil has a refreshingly pragmatic understanding of her mentors grumpified airs. She knows that both of them are chasing one goal: an ice-skating championship trophy.

While it may seem odd that Peppermint Patty should enter a competition requiring grace of movement and the wearing of a dress, it really isn't. The desire to play and win is strong within her, and she will do whatever it takes to be a champion--even waking up at 4:30 AM to take cantankerous instruction from a dog, a training plan with obvious benefits (perfecting her routine) and detriments (falling asleep in class).

Patty never frazzles beyond the point of no return, although the pitfalls are considerable: hockey brutes on "her" pond, last-minute fretting over a suitable outfit, a mishap with the cassette player at the venue on the day of competition. Her patience and resolve pay off as she cops the trophy. Which rather looks like an Emmy with the globe ripped off and the ladys wings pulled back and twisted with industrial strength pliers. 10

ANIMATION: Linus has his security blanket, the very same that gave the world that term in the first place. It has come to indicate anything (or anyone) that provides solace that permeates beyond the physical comfort. The animation of this show is much like a security blanket for the story. The colors are season-appropriate; the children are drawn masterfully, not one stroke gone awry. Their actions and reactions are as "sensible" as one dare use such a word when discussing a cartoon. 10

MUSIC: Ed Bogas and Judy Munsen were like the Gerry Goffin/Carole King of childrens show music, except they weren't. As with any Peanuts special that they helmed the pit for, the sounds are very of their time, the playing and arrangements almost always competent but almost never spectacular, the exceptions coming when the instrumentation gets far too "busy" for such a steadily-paced program. 8.5

VOICES: Oh, this here is funky. Not Ohio Players circa Honey funky, or even armpits that smell like the dumpster out back of a Turkish restaurant funky. I mean more like seeing a snowman in the summertime. Or listening to--and I mean really listening to--a Big & Rich song.

Peppermint Patty and Marcie get the bulk of the lines here, with a brief pipe from their mutual crush (Lucy, Linus, Sally, and Schroeder are all shown in the audience cheering Patty on but do not speak). Despite having the greatest possible name anyone voicing Peppermint Patty could have, Patricia Patts only gets a 9. She's fine, but the bar is high. Blame Linda Ercoli and Gail DeFaria for that. Casey Carlson knocks it out of the park as Marcie, with just the right mixture of wit, concern, and pinheadedness. 10

The hockey bully is straight out of Race For Your Life...not really complaining. 9

Oh wait, I forgot some other speaking roles. No I didn't.

No I didn't.

IF SHE NAILS THAT LUTZ, I'M GONNA PLOTZ

--No one ever accused Peppermint Patty of especial creativity in confrontation. She'll just generally utter some playground insult and knock yer block off. Standing up to the hockey bullies, she gets off one of the best namecalls I've ever heard: "Get lost, neckhead!" Neckhead? Does that mean a head like a neck, or that your neck is bigger than your head? It's brilliant either way, one of those exclamations that will send the target reeling mentally as he or she tries to figure out if they should feel insulted and if so, exactly how insulted they should feel.

--No one ever accused Peppermint Patty of having a reasonable sense of self-worth. The night before the competition she freaks out over needing a dress sewn up, a task Marcie takes on, fails horribly at, then of course is completed to OTT perfection by Snoopy. She also complains that her hairstyle needs a Higgins, because it is so "mousey-blah". The way she runs that phrase together makes it sound French.

--No one ever accused producers of getting it right the first time. The initial name of this special was "She's a Winner, Charlie Brown", until someone surely realized that the word "winner" and the name "Charlie Brown" not only do not go together, they have a rather cobra vs. mongoose relation to one another. Gotta love, also, the very Schulzian ring "She's a good skate". Not a good skater, mind you. How friggin' Minnesota.

--Unlike Lisa Simpson, Patricia Reichardt has no beef with Vassar.

--Patty's superbly fluid skating sequences were done with the relative magic of rotoscoping, a technique that would be revisited on the unsung classic It's Flashbeagle, Charlie Brown. (The model in this case was Amy Schulz.)

--"Even the ice is still asleep at 4:30." I fucking love you, Marcie.

--Snoopy Fassi. "I'll show you how to do this."

--Someone switched Snoopy's tape of Illmatic with Electric Youth.

--When Patty's tape gets mangled and disqualification looms, a quick-on-his-wings Woodstock takes to the mic and whistles out a grand accompaniment for a prize-winning glide around the rink: "O Mio Babbino Caro", a piece from Puccini's opera Gianni Schicchi. Just proving yet again that where there's a will, there's a way to write yourself into it. Not content to wing it--holy shit I'm hilarious--Schulz and friends got a pro to deliver this command performance: professional whistler Jason Serinus. Try writing that on a tax return sometime under "occupation".

I DISLIKE OLYMPIC ATHLETES WHO WHINE OVER WINNING SILVER AND BRONZE MEDALS. AT LEAST IT'S A MEDAL! SERIOUSLY, THE FOURTH PLACE FINISHER WOULD PERFORM ORAL FAVORS ON A FARM ANIMAL TO GET THAT BRONZE FROM YOU.

--I have one problem with Good Skate, but it's not insignificant. Adult voices can be heard in this special. Speaking clearly, not that "wah wah" stuff. Lucid, perfectly enunciated, bizarro Jimmy Onishi English. There's the teacher, a store employee and finally the emcee at the event. Unfathomable. Focusing a show on a so-called "second tier" character is an unorthodox choice that works, much like I Want a Dog For Christmas 23 years later. The decision to interject grown up voices into the special is the only blemish on the whole 25 minutes, but it's one that's an absolute bitch to treat. I still cringe a little when I hear them.

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Patricia Reichardt is an odd duck in the (sometimes frozen) pond. She has Charlie Brown's desire to be loved, Linus' faith, Lucy's temper, Snoopy's hope. She lacks Charlie Brown's athletic ineptitude, Linus' intellectualism, Lucy's girlishness, and Snoopy's luck in landing a taciturn best friend. She rocks striped shorts and shirts, hippie chick sandals, and freckles that dot her face like sunspots. Her hair is unmanageable; her voice is a ball of bubble wrap being lovingly prepared for popping by a pair of mischievous hands. She has two nicknames: one that everyone calls her and one that only one person calls her. As irrelevant as parents are in the Peanuts galaxy, at least the other kids have a complete set of them. Patty only has her father, a man given to spoil his only child in both material and emotional ways. Almost everything about her musses up the tidy neurotic world of Charlie Brown and friends. She's swaggering, brash, a be-all to-all tomboy who worries about calories only after she's eaten the meal.

But to type her as a young girl of negligible feminity is to ignore the deep-seated yearnings inherent in any females soul. She's a Good Skate opened up a new drawer, the one at the bottom of the dresser that practically no one gets around to using. From it was pulled the desire to be a beautiful, desirous young lady that exists uneasily alongside the drive to succeed in areas not traditionally considered appropriate for girls (that would be the contents of the top drawer). Patty will always value a no-hitter over a triple axle...but she's too interested and interesting to not try both.

Some of the latterly Peanuts specials had critics and fans scratching their heads off premises alone: a Flashdance take off? Snoopy's nightmare? Linus at a birthday party? With Good Skate, the inspiration could not get more pure. In the following links, you will find the series of 27 daily strips from November 4th to December 7th, 1974 that detail Patty's journey from the cold and lonely pond out back to the world of competitive skating (one of the longest runs in the history of the strip, showing how much Charles Schulz loved writing for the character).

You will note some key omissions as you read. For instance, in the very first strip, Patty makes the ultimate testament for the worth of Title IX; she also makes a brief, wistful reference to her absent mother; and finds time to zing the NHL.

Of course, as you progress from one strip to the next you will notice key twists that simply couldn't fit within the limited TV time the producers had, which just makes the panels that more special. It would have been delightful to see Marcie stammer and faint from her own sweethearted prudishness, for one; however, for those of us lucky enough to partake of the immaculate panels as hungrily as we do of the made-for-box moving pictures, we can consider these moments our own little secret. Especially the real conclusion of the story.

Enjoy the rest; number 337 ranks on my top 20 favorite Peanuts dailies.

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