Saturday, July 27, 2013

More Helpful Hints

As I have mentioned before, I am a huge fan of Heloise and her helpful hints. One of the things I admire most about Heloise is the way she is always "one-upping" her readers. No matter how wonderful their suggestions are, Heloise can always manage to improve on them.

Sometimes, I can improve on them even more.

Here's an example. A reader wrote in recently about a problem with gum in the dryer:
I took a load of my best friend’s clothes out of the DRYER to discover he didn’t empty his pockets (that’s right, I don’t check pockets), and a pack of gum was left in a pocket — gum on the drum!

I rubbed a little peanut butter on the drum, wiped it off with a soft cloth and then wiped the drum with a little degreaser (just to be safe). Good as new!
Seems like a simple, elegant solution, right? Of course, your next load of laundry will probably smell like peanut butter, but for some of us, that's a bonus. However, this solution wasn't good enough for Heloise. "I’m glad this worked for you," she replied. "Here’s another way to remove gum from a dryer drum." (In other words: "What an incredibly stupid idea. You're lucky it worked. Now step aside, amateur. Here's how it's done.")

Here's Heloise's solution:
The gum needs to be softened first. To do this, put a couple of old towels in the dryer. Let it run on the warm setting for a few minutes. Make a paste of 1 tablespoon of powdered laundry detergent and water. Next, scrub the gum stains with the paste and a nylon-net scrubbie.

Finally, wipe the inside of the dryer with a damp towel until there is no gum residue left. And just to be on the safe side, don’t use the dryer until you run a couple of old, damp towels inside. Use a damp towel to wipe out the inside of the dryer.
Five steps instead of two? I'll take the peanut butter solution, thank you. And both of them forgot the most important hint: Never, ever, do a friend's laundry. Make him do it himself. Then, the chewing gum is his problem.

Another reader wrote in with several travel hints, including the following: "After checking into a room, wipe down the TV remote control."

"Great hints!" Heloise replied, then added, "When you wipe down the remote, don't forget to wipe the door handles and light switches, too! I use the hand sanitizer I carry in my purse."

Why stop there, Heloise? You should really wipe down the entire room. Be sure to give the bedspread an especially good soaking. The first thing my mother always did when our family stayed in a hotel was to strip off the bedspreads, because "they never wash the bedspreads, and you can just imagine how many naked people have been sitting on them." Now, thanks to my mother, I cannot stay in a hotel room without imagining naked people sitting everywhere. Not just on the bedspread, but on the chairs, the desk, the television, the mini-bar...

The best thing to do is to sanitize everything.

Of course, you'll need a lot more hand sanitizer.

Not to mention a bigger purse.

Saturday, July 20, 2013

Dark Shadows

"My name is Victoria Winters. The residents of Collinwood are aware of a stranger in their midst. A man whose presence is felt by all. Others far away from the great house are soon to be aware of his presence, are soon to be aware of the mystery that surrounds him."—Dark Shadows, episode #221, opening narration

I was eleven years old when Dark Shadows premiered—and yes, I was one of those millions of kids who ran home from school to watch it every afternoon. (By the way, that phrase, "ran home from school to watch," has become a cliché which, as far as I know, is only applied to Dark Shadows. Google it, and you'll get 89,400 hits—89,401 after I post this.)

I adored Maggie Evans, as well as her 18th century incarnation, Josette Dupres. I was terribly conflicted about Angelique; she was evil incarnate, and yet I found her incredibly sexy, before I even knew what sexy was. And, as an awkward adolescent, I could identify with Barnabas—the tragic, romantic outsider who started out as a blood-sucking monster, but eventually became a heroic figure.

I saved up my allowance each week to buy the Dark Shadows paperback books by Marilyn Ross (who, I recently discovered, was actually a man named W. E. Daniel Ross)—as well as comic books, fan magazines, and the soundtrack album by Robert Cobert, which contains some of the spookiest music ever composed. I still play it every Halloween to scare trick-or-treaters.

I hadn't thought about Dark Shadows in years, when last year's Tim Burton-Johnny Depp film rekindled my interest. I wanted to see it but at the same time was afraid to—the trailers made it look like a camped-up parody. I finally watched it this year—Loretta gave me the DVD for Christmas—and I was relieved to discover that, although it is a bit campy, it is not a parody. I enjoyed it—especially Depp's portrayal of Barnabas, which, though eccentric (and when is Depp not eccentric?), was a nice homage to the late Jonathan Frid, who was alive when the movie was made and, along with several other actors from the original series, had a brief cameo in the film.

The critics were not kind, but then they were never kind to the original series, either. Wobbly sets, flubbed lines, and over-the-top acting made the show the subject of ridicule then and now. In an interview discussing the movie, Helena Bonham Carter called the original series "hilariously bad," and in a recent episode of Mad Men, one of the characters referred to it as "a piece of crap."*

But guess what? I recently started watching the original series again on Netflix, and it's not that bad. In fact, at times it's amazingly good. Check out episode #221 (available on Netflix, Amazon, or Hulu) for the beautifully-acted and seriously creepy scene where Barnabas (Jonathan Frid) and Maggie (Kathryn Leigh Scott) meet for the very first time. It's been only a few days since Willie Loomis inadvertently freed the two-hundred-year-old vampire from his coffin. Maggie is alone, closing up the coffee shop for the night, when Barnabas suddenly appears at the door. There's some wonderful dramatic irony here: Maggie is charmed by Barnabas's old-world manners, while we know that he's begun stalking his next victim. As the tension mounts, dogs begin to howl outside. (I fully expected Barnabas to use Lugosi's famous line from Dracula: "Listen to them, the children of the night...") Finally, Barnabas leaves, and we all breathe a collective sigh of relief. Maggie is safe—at least for now. However, Barnabas has left behind his trademark wolf's head cane, knowing that Maggie will return it to him before the night is over.

I'm rediscovering why I became a fan of Dark Shadows, and I'm becoming a fan all over again. And I'm loving all the background information about the show I now have at my fingertips, thanks to the Internet. For instance, did you know that Alexandra Moltke, the actress who played Victoria Winters, was born a Swedish countess, and was the mistress that motivated Claus von Bülow to murder his wife?

I will leave you with a truly horrible joke from a truly horrible Dark Shadows joke book, entitled Barnabas Collins in a Funny Vein (and yes, I am ashamed to admit that I have it in my collection):
What happened when Barnabas forgot his lines on the show?

There was dead silence.

Maggie Evans Meets Barnabas Collins ("I don't")

*Read Kathryn Leigh Scott's responses to Helena Bonham Carter here, and Megan Draper here.

Saturday, July 13, 2013

The Cats Are All Right

For the past few weeks, we've been having some remodeling done to our master bathroom. I was going to tell you about it, but I thought it might be more interesting if you heard about it from the cats' point of view. While the work was going on, Dickens and Zorra spent much of their time in the guest room. Along with the usual amenities, we left them each a journal in which to record their thoughts.

Day 1:

ZORRA: Why, oh why, has He put us in this terrible place? What have we done to deserve such treatment?

What was that noise?

We're going to die!!!

DICKENS: I don't know why Zorra is acting like this is some kind of punishment. I like this room. I remember spending time here when I first came to the house. I wasn't much older than a kitten then, and there was an older cat in the house—what was her name? Not Zorra. Zorra's hiding under the bed. I don't know what she's so upset about. We have food, water, a litter box, a window with a nice view...

What was that noise? Oh, well. I'm sure it's nothing to worry about.

I think I'll take a nap.

Day 2:

ZORRA: We're going to die!!!

DICKENS: There she goes again. Under the bed. Although I'm beginning to wonder if she might not be right. Something is definitely going on. I hear strange noises and voices. Yesterday, when He finally came to let us out, I asked Him about it. Of course, He just made those nonsense sounds They always make: "Blah blah Dickens blah blah." I wish They could communicate more clearly. At least They know my name.

What was that? There is definitely something going on out there.

I think I'll see how she's doing under there. Not that I'm afraid or anything...

Day 3:

ZORRA: We're going to die!!!

DICKENS: She's under the bed again, and I will be there soon. It seems we are now to spend all of our days there, cowering in terror. Every day we vow that we won't let it happen again—that the next day, when He tries to capture us to put us in here, we will somehow evade Him.

And every day, we forget.

I'm starting to think we both may have memory issues.

What was that noise?

I will continue this tomorrow—if I remember. Right now, I think the safest place is under the bed.

Day 4:

ZORRA: We're going to die!!!

DICKENS: It's decided. Tomorrow morning, when He tries to put us in here, we get Him. He may be able to withstand an attack from one of us, but if we work together, we can't help but succeed. In the meantime—

We're going to die!!!

Day 5:

ZORRA: We're going to die!!!

DICKENS: What a lovely weekend! But why are we in this room? And why is Zorra hiding under the bed? It seems like there was something I was supposed to remember—

What was that?

Oh, yes. Now I remember—

We're going to die!!!

Day 6:

ZORRA: We're going to die!!!

DICKENS: We're going to die!!!

Day 7:

ZORRA: We're going to die!!!

DICKENS: We're going to die!!!

Day 8:

ZORRA: We're going to die!!!

DICKENS: Zorra almost escaped. She hid under the bed—not this bed, the other one, the one They sleep in. But He got the sucking monster from the hall closet and flushed her out. Now she's under this bed.

She certainly spends a lot of time under beds. Come to think of it, these days, so do I, because—

We're going to die!!!

One Week Later:

ZORRA: I remember this room. I used to nap in this chair sometimes. As I recall, there's a nice view from this window...

DICKENS: Didn't there used to be a litter box in here?

Thursday, July 4, 2013


It's Independence Day, and Loretta and I intend to celebrate in the traditional American way—the way our forefathers intended for us to celebrate—cooking outside, eating too much food, and vegging out in front of the TV.

One of the things we will be watching is 1776. We watch it every Fourth of July. When we began this tradition, all we had was a crummy pan-and-scan videotape. However, several years ago we purchased the widescreen, director's-cut DVD, and we can now thrill at the sight of John Adams, Benjamin Franklin, and Thomas Jefferson, all singing at the same time.

William Daniels, Howard Da Silva, and Ken Howard in Widescreen Format

When the film was released, the reviewers were not kind. Roger Ebert called it "an insult to the real men who were Adams, Jefferson, Franklin and the rest." Vincent Canby of The New York Times said, "The music is resolutely unmemorable. The lyrics sound as if they'd been written by someone high on root beer."

As much as I respect Roger Ebert's opinion, I would have to disagree with him on this. And as for Vincent Canby—I would like to ask him how, exactly, someone gets high on root beer. However, I will grant them both that movie musicals are seldom as good as the plays they are based on.

The play premiered on Broadway in 1969. It won three Tony awards, including best musical. I saw the touring production at Chicago's Shubert Theatre when I was in high school. My French class went to see it on a field trip. The play has nothing to do with France, of course; our teacher just wanted to make sure we saw it. (Because that's the kind of fantastic teacher she was.)

Fourteen years later, I played the part of Thomas Jefferson in a dinner theatre production of 1776 in Fort Wayne, Indiana. I was in my early thirties—nearly the same age Jefferson was when he wrote the Declaration of Independence. He was not merely the author, but one of its youngest signers. Today, I could play one the oldest signers. It would be fun to play Benjamin Franklin—he has some of my favorite lines—but I think I would also enjoy the role of Stephen Hopkins, the crusty Rhode Island delegate who is always shouting for rum.

One of Hopkins' lines goes something like this: "I'm going to the tavern. If you need me, you can find me there." The Hopkins in our production had a difficult time with this line. Instead, he would say, "I'm going to the tavern. If you need me, give me a call." The first time he said it in rehearsal, the director politely pointed out that the telephone would not be invented for another hundred years, and everyone got a big laugh out of it. However, it stopped being funny when he continued to botch the line in every rehearsal and even during performances. I'm not sure he ever got it right.

Maybe it was the heat. It was a typically hot, humid Indiana summer, we were all wearing heavy costumes and wigs, and the venue was not air conditioned. This leant authenticity to the opening number—in which Congress complains about the heat, the flies, and John Adams' incessant braying about independence—but made it difficult to concentrate. Whenever we were offstage, our thoughtful stage manager always made sure we drank copious amounts of Gatorade—which in some cases lead to other problems, as we all discovered that it can be difficult dealing with 18th century clothing when one "visits the privy," as they said in those days.

I had my own mishap (thankfully not privy-related) during one performance. It was the scene where Adams and Franklin visit Jefferson in his rooms, to see how the Declaration of Independence is coming along. When the lights come up, I'm scribbling away on a sheet of paper. I then read it, ball it up in disgust, and throw it away. I repeat this procedure several times, until Adams and Franklin enter.

During this particular performance, when the lights came up, I quickly realized that the stage crew had neglected to provide me with a quill. I had plenty of paper, but nothing to write with.

For a moment, I stared at the desk in a panic, trying to think of some business I could do with paper but no quill. Let's see... I could make paper airplanes and throw them at the audience... No, the airplane hasn't been invented yet... I could pretend to write, using my finger... Okay, that's just stupid.

Finally, in desperation, I picked up the stack of paper and threw it in the air.

I learned a valuable lesson that day: Every actor is ultimately responsible for his or her own props. After that, I always made sure I had a quill in my hand before I went onstage, although I needn't have worried. The stage crew never again forgot to leave one on the desk.

They had learned a lesson, too. During the scene break, they had to pick up the paper I left scattered all over the stage.

Thomas Jefferson, with Quill