Tuesday, February 23, 2010

The lady in the bunny suit, a cream pie, Gary Larson and me

The day I met Gary Larson, I ended up wiping cream pie off his face.

Larson had come for a book-signing at the Bookseller in Coeur d'Alene, Idaho, where I worked as the assistant manager. It was 1984, when local, independent bookshops were still thriving and authors would visit even small towns if the bookstore was big enough. (The Bookseller went out of business years ago.)

Not long after Larson had been set up at a table piled with his books in the store's lower-level, a woman sauntered in dressed in a bunny costume and carrying a cream pie. I was at the cash register and laughed as she walked by, thinking she was here to make some kind of absurd offering to the visiting celebrity. But, without saying a word, she smushed the pie in Larson's face. "Hey, what are you doing?" he said (or something to that effect).

I grabbed paper towels and rushed down. The woman was standing there, looking perplexed and about to cry. It turns out she had called Larson's best friend, who was a reptile specialist at the Seattle Zoo and who occasionally appeared in his "Far Side" comics. "What can I do that would make Gary Larson feel welcome here?" she'd asked, and the friend had replied, as a joke, "If I were you, I'd dress up in a bunny costume and throw a pie in his face." I still can't believe she took the guy seriously.

I was reminded of this incident last week when I helped out at the PTSA used book sale. I miss that kind of tactile interaction with books. It was energizing to be surrounded by all those words, all those possibilities—I never feel that when I do a search and order on Amazon.com.

But what really brought it to mind again is that my son (I-guy) wrote Larson in early February, not expecting a reply because Larson has taken himself out of the public eye and offers no direct contact info on the Far Side web site. So, to get his attention, after the usual adoring fan paragraph, I-guy said, "More to the point of this letter, my mother swears she met you once in a very odd way." He went on to describe the incident just as I had described it to him, closing with: "Anyway, I guess I'm wondering if you remember this, or if my mother is full of it."

And he got back a reply! Not from Larson, but from one of his assistants. She said: "I checked with Mr. Larson and he confirmed that your mother remembers the episode quite accurately.... I'm happy to report that your mother did not in fact make it up!"

To offer further proof, she told him that the episode is mentioned in The Complete Far Side, Vol. 2 (p. 450). I have also since discovered that it is mentioned in the children's reference series, Something About the Author (v. 57, p. 124). In an interview in that volume, Larson says "celebrity has its price," and goes on to mention the woman who threw the cream pie: "I felt bad for her—the crowd was ugly about it." That moment and another, when he was led into a hive of too-eager fans, turned him off to public life, he says. "It used to be so simple," he laments, now "it's too showbiz."

Of course I wonder now if I had prevented the woman from throwing the banana cream pie in his face if Gary Larson would still be in the public eye—or, more importantly, if he would he still be publishing cartoons.

Thursday, February 18, 2010

Ideas for prime-time television that would put more screenwriters and fiction writers to work

The local NBC station runs a news program at 11 a.m. that they cheerfully call "Midday News." I'm now sure how it is midday at 11 a.m. or really "news" since it's their sixth straight hour of news broadcasting. This is the same local station that has a new 4 p.m. news show that features an hour of stories mostly pulled off the Internet, in addition to its 5 p.m., 6 p.m. and 11 p.m. hour-long broadcasts.

All that "news" gets a little repetitive, even with the cute kitten videos from YouTube they show during the 4 p.m. broadcast.

NBC Prime Time isn't much more creative, currently with only two hours of non-news/talk show programming each night, some of that taken up with reality shows like The Biggest Loser.

So NBC—and, really, all network and most basic cable TV— is ripe for a creative renaissance. It's time to bring back theatrical productions like Studio One and high-quality screenplays like those written for the Twilight Zone.

Yes, I know, many of the best-written shows are or have been on HBO, like "The Wire," which I'm currently watching on DVD. But I don't want to assume that the average American viewer is always the lowest common denominator. And I don't want to have to pay for premium cable.

Here's the rest of my Wish List:

• A show that would, each week, feature short plays that are currently in production in the U.S. (Maybe PBS has done something like this already?)

• A reality show that could be a contest for playwrights, where portions of the plays are read, analyzed and voted on by both audience members and critics. I'm not assuming that millions of Americans will watch and vote for their favorite plays or playwrights, but you might get a dedicated core of fans who will watch every week. [This could be a short-run show every year, in the style of American Idol, which doesn't start broadcasting until January].

• Likewise, an off-the-air contest for writers to submit stories to be adapted into screenplays, with winning screenplays showcased for one night or over several nights. Or, readers could vote on their favorite short stories they'd like to see adapted for the screen.

• A show that would each month produce three to four hour-long or even half-hour-long production of stories by a well-known writer, e.g., four short stories by Philip Dick become four different shows or one of his stories becomes four half-hour-long shows in a month-long series. They could have a famous actor introduce it, in the style of Masterpiece Theatre, giving a little background on the author and why this particular story was chosen.

• An early prime-time show that would feature stories for young adults adapted for the screen--sort-of like a short version of The Wonderful World of Disney. I'd like to occasionally see high-quality shows for kids in the early evening, not just silly Nickelodeon cartoons or insipid Disney sitcoms.

I'm tired of seeing people shooting and yelling at each other on TV, whether in dramas or reality shows. I'm tired of superficial people tittering about sex and boobs and getting drunk. I'm not watching this stuff, but I worry about the people who are and what a steady diet of crap is doing to their minds.

Maybe I'll start a Facebook or online petition demanding the screenplay contest as a show, or the return of Studio One, featuring new dramas. Let me know if there is interest.

Sunday, February 14, 2010

Scenes from the recent snows

While I was inside last week, working at the computer and typing occasional posts on Facebook, outside my window snow was howling down, forming into hills of white powder that were so tall we could hardly tromp through them, even days later.

Icicles formed on every edge of our roof, some reaching nearly four feet to the ground. (Since yesterday the ice on the roof has begun to melt and is now seeping through our windows, trickling down our walls. We are trying to catch the dribbles with towels, sponges and plastic cups lined along our windows sills).

Chickadees ate thistle at the goldfinch feeder, diving in for a quick peck before heading back out into the glistening white blankness.

(All photos Copyright 2010, Beth Blevins)

Wednesday, February 10, 2010

The electronic water cooler

I was so busy with (paid) editing work last week that I worked through Saturday and Sunday, into the evening. Yet, I still found the time to go on Facebook everyday.

In an earlier post, I described how I use Facebook as my online journal. But it was much more for me last week—it provided the same kind of chitchat I would have been able to engage in occasionally if I was working at a cubicle in an office. It was an electronic water cooler, then.

I posted: What does it say about me that of the 10 films just nominated for Best Picture, the only one I've seen is "Up"? And a friend of mine, who also works from home, posted a while later: It says that you're focused on your children! Either that or you're just too damn busy for the movies!

Of course, she and I could have just emailed one another and have been done with it, but another friend commented also and we all got engaged in a tiny discussion about parenting and movies. Neither of them knows the other, so this wouldn't have happened in just an email back-and-forth. It was more like having a conversation with a colleague that someone else at work casually joins in on.

Another post on another day, On to the second season of The Wire (and the next book in the Wrinkle in Time quartet)... led to a discussion of Madeline L'Engle's spiritual beliefs between two FB friends of mine.

Five to eight minutes a day, tops, I'm on-then-off Facebook. I suppose I could use those five to eight minutes for something more productive, but I can't keep working without some kind of human contact every so often; (yes, I realize the irony of describing human contact via a computer, as I type this).

It sometimes feels like I'm sending up a little flare out to the world when I post something there—maybe we all are. It certainly felt that way during the recent snowstorm in D.C., when FB friends trapped in their houses without electricity put up posts via their cell phones to let everyone know how they were faring.

Each post a flare, announcing: I am here, in this moment, in this world.

Wednesday, February 3, 2010

TV show synopses in five words

This is one of those things that probably would never leave my head if I didn't have a blog—I thought of these at breakfast and wrote them down while I ate my cereal. I decided to put them here because it's time for my weekly post and I'm too busy to actually write anything else. Enjoy?

• Two and a Half Men -- S-E-X (nudge-nudge, wink-wink).

• Biggest Loser -- Fat people, losing weight—really.

• Cougar Town -- Perimenopausal women frantically clutching youth.

• Grey's Anatomy -- Who knew? Hospitals are aphrodisiacs.

• Medium -- Allison's dreams are bad news.

• Law and Order -- Find out who did it.

• V -- They're here to eat us.

• 24 -- tick-tick-tick-tick-BAM!

• Lost -- This show is aptly named.