Wednesday, March 26, 2014

let's talk about laugh tracks.

On the whole, I like my blog to be a happy place full of weird and amusing stories. However, every once and a while, I just have to tell you about something that drives me a little bit nuts.

So you want to know what drives me nuts?

Laugh tracks.

Yep, laugh tracks on TV shows get on my nerves. For as long as I can remember, I’ve had a weird thing about laugh tracks. I don’t dislike them enough to NOT watch shows with laugh tracks, but I’d really prefer it if no shows had them.

Laugh tracks were pretty much the standard for YEARS. Why anyone ever decided that a laugh track was a good idea is a total mystery to me. Every sitcom I watched as a kid had a laugh track, and I remember wondering where the laughter was coming from and why the mysterious laughing people thought the lame jokes were so hysterically funny. (The sitcoms I watched as a kid were Step By Step and Sabrina the Teenage Witch and the like, so the jokes were indeed lame.)
Sorry, Sabrina. Your jokes were terrible.
As I grew older, I became more resentful of laugh tracks. Who do these people think they are? Are they suggesting that I’m too dumb to realize that someone just made a lukewarm? Do they think that I can’t figure out what’s funny on my own? PLEASE.

Even though the laugh tracks grated on my nerves, they weren’t enough to stop me from watching sitcoms. I knew that I could escape the laugh tracks if I started watching more serious shows, but CSI really wasn’t up my alley.

It wasn’t until one glorious fall television season that I discovered there was a sitcom life beyond laugh tracks. I started watching Scrubs – a sitcom about a bunch of young doctors trying not to fail miserably in their chosen field and in their lives – when it first started airing in 2001, I was immediately hooked. 
This sitcom went beyond any other television comedy I’d ever seen: while it was a comedy, it had its fair share of serious situations and drama. (In the spirit of honesty, I must tell you that Scrubs has actually brought me to tears. More than once.) I was used to your basic sitcoms where a problem was presented and solved in one neat 22-minute block. Scrubs had continuing plot lines! Imagine that!

Best of all? Scrubs had no laugh track. I may have been thinking a little too far into this, but to me, it meant that Scrubs respected me enough to allow me to decide on my own when to laugh. Also, not having to pause for the laugh track allowed Scrubs to deliver more jokes in less time. You got more bang for your buck, and on top of that, the jokes came and went so quickly that I’d argue that you need to be smarter than the average bear to catch a lot of them.

As the years went by and my television favorites expanded, I have found that my favorite shows NEVER HAVE LAUGH TRACKS. Honest to goodness, I think it’s because the shows without laugh tracks are naturally smarter. Arrested Development and New Girl are two of my favorite sitcoms of all time EVER, and neither employs a laugh track. Both shows avoid topical humor (for the most part), and both shows (Arrested Development in particular) have a certain fan base – they’re not for everyone, but those who like them LOVE them.
And I LOVE Arrested Development.

Same goes for yet another one of my all-time favorite shows: Buffy the Vampire Slayer. While it’s not categorized as a sitcom (it's more on the drama side, as Buffy spends quite a bit of her time slaying vampires, as the title suggests), Buffy has a remarkable amount of humor. And guess what? No laugh track.

Modern Family is also laugh track free, and I am IN LOVE with that show. I binge-watched the entire series this winter, and it brought a smile to my face during our long and miserable Polar Vortex. Like the other shows without laugh tracks, Modern Family's humor is fast and furious, and they rely instead on the actors' spot-on deadpanning. It's glorious.
All of this is not to say that I will write a show off just because it has a laugh track. Even though it has a laugh track, I still watch The Big Bang Theory. Strangely enough, while The Big Bang Theory is a smart show, its jokes just aren’t. They still go after the cheap laughs: Ha ha! Penny is dumb! Sheldon is awkward! Ha ha! It’s the curse of the laugh track. And yes, I said I still watch The Big Bang Theory regardless of its use of a laugh track, know this: I almost never laugh at the same things as the laugh track.

So that’s how I feel about laugh tracks. 

Wednesday, March 19, 2014

the scooter.

We’ve all had those days where one thing after another goes wrong and you can’t catch a break. Like dominoes, one bad thing leads to another, before you know it, your day is in shambles. Then, there’s that last crappy event – be it large or small, that just pushes you over the edge. There is nothing left for you to do but freak the hell out. This is the story of one of those days.

It was the beginning of August 2007, and my junior year of college was about to begin. It had been a rather unusual summer – I’d had a miserable few months with Hipster Boyfriend, during which time I’d tried to break up with him, felt really bad and told him it was a huge mistake, endured much shame from family and friends for not being able to man up and just do it, and finally took the easy way out by doing it over the phone. Things with Hipster Boyfriend had gotten progressively worse during the school year, but things really deteriorated that summer… thanks mostly in part to me spending a lot of time with my friend James, whom I had a big fat crush on. Whenever I spent time with James, I couldn’t help but think about how much better life would be if HE was my boyfriend. James was happy-go-lucky, and he’d never cry in a car on my birthday and guilt me into buying my own birthday dinner. (But that’s a story for another time.)

Obviously, things worked out – James my college crush is now James my husband – but breaking up with someone SUCKS, especially when you’re gutless weenie like me.

Life was looking up as August 2007 began: I had started dating James the week before, and I had spent the summer working at the county courthouse – a job that would prove to look fantastic on my resume and open the door for future employment.

But even though I had a great summer job and I’d rid myself of hyper-emotional Hipster Boyfriend, I hadn’t done it in the best way, so I was feeling kind of slimy. What would be a great way to get me out of my funk? A trip to Minneapolis, of course. (Side note: to this day, a road trip is a sure way to rid me of said funk.)

Months ago, I had been looking at schedules for plays in Minneapolis, and – joy of joys – Spamalot would be in town at the beginning of August. For those of you who are unfamiliar, Spamalot is the musical version of Monty Python and the Holy Grail. I had wanted to see it ever since I heard of its existence, and THIS WAS MY CHANCE. It’s no fun to go to these things by yourself, so I recruited a friend of mine to go with me. (Said friend was thrilled.) I shelled out $200 for two tickets, which was (and now that I think about it, still is… to me, anyway) a gut-wrenching amount of money for play tickets. But this was my chance to see Spamalot, and the $200 (well, $100, for my friend was sure to pay me back… right?) would be a small price to pay for a great experience.

The play was scheduled for Saturday, August 4. My friend and I would drive up that day, see the play, stay with a college friend of mine, and come back Sunday night. Short and sweet.

A few days beforehand, something awful happened: the 35W bridge collapsed. It was tragic and horrible, and even though I hadn’t lived in Minneapolis by that point, it already felt like a second home – and it hit too close.

So what were we to do? The bridge collapsed on Wednesday – do we still go to our play on Saturday? I am terrible with directions, but I was aware of Minneapolis’ layout enough to know that we didn’t need to go anywhere near the 35W bridge in order to get where we were going. However, my friend no longer wanted to go, and on short notice on a Saturday in the summer, I could find no one else to go out of town with me. I was stuck with $200 in useless Spamalot tickets.

(You’ll be happy to know that these tickets actually did NOT go to waste! At the time, I had cousins living in Minneapolis, and they loved theatre. One quick fax – yes, fax – and my tickets were now their tickets, and they had a great time.)

Suddenly, my weekend schedule was wide open. I called a few of my friends, but they were a.) busy, or b.) were free, but flaked out on me that morning. I was feeling more than a little abandoned.

My parents, along with their good friends Don and Carol, had gone to the summertime outdoor concert at the Redlin Art Center in Watertown. While they were en route, they called me to see what my plans were – when to expect me home and all that. I moodily explained to them that my social calendar had taken a turn for the sucky. They said, “Well, come to the concert! It’s a beautiful night. Just grab one of the fold-up chairs from the basement so you’ll have a place to sit.”

Though I was awfully crabby, this was my best chance to save the evening. To the concert I would go. The fold-up chairs my parents were referring to were the fabric ones that fold up into a long skinny bag, and I grabbed the first skinny chair bag that I saw.

Once I got to the Redlin Center, I was dismayed to find that the nearest parking was – no kidding – A MILE AWAY. I parked in the middle of a field, slung my chair bag over my shoulder, and hoofed it to the Redlin Center lawn. (Thinking that my walk would not have been so long, I had worn less-than-sensible shoes.)

I found my parents, siblings, and Don and Carol in the middle of the lawn. By the time I finally arrived, I was tired and dirty, and my legs were scraped up from the weeds I’d tramped through on my way across the field. My audience listened with sympathy as I told them about my crappy day, and as I wove my tale of woe, I unzipped my chair bag… only to find a folded up scooter inside.


That was the straw that broke the shitty day camel’s back, and I snapped. I was defeated. I slammed the scooter on the ground and wailed, “I WANT TO GO HOME!”

Mom, Dad, Darrah, Mitch, Don, and Carol broke into uncontrollable laughter. I am not exaggerating when I tell you that they had tears running down their faces.

It has been six and a half years since the Scooter Incident, and Don and Carol still talk about it. – especially when we’re at the lake and there are fold-up cloth chairs about. (They even gave me a fold-up chair of my very own.) And to this day, I still feel a twinge of rage whenever I see one of those scooters.

Wednesday, March 12, 2014

the time I was Satan.

Once upon a time, I was Satan.

(I’ll let that sink in for a moment.)

Allow me to explain. The year was 2003, and Lent was upon us. I was a sophomore in high school, and (this is important) I was dork and didn’t care. I was knee-deep in activities like band, oral interp, and school plays, and I also taught Sunday School and was occasionally recruited to act out some skits (yes, skits) during church. I am not (and have never been) all that religious, but I’m a Lutheran – so when your pastor asks you be in a skit at church, you do it.

So it was March-ish, and I was in an art class with my friend Bob. Bob, a fellow Lutheran, was heavily involved in theatre, and he was involved in these church skits right along with me. At the time, Bob and I weren’t close – we had fun in class together, but we didn’t hang out. Oddly enough, this next series of events is what turned our acquaintance into a friendship that made us nearly inseparable for the rest of high school and has been going strong ever since.

(Side note: I wouldn’t have been able to tell this story without the oddly detailed emails that I sent my friend Sue in Connecticut – and managed to compile into a Word document more than ten years ago. Thank you, fifteen-year-old-self, for hoarding all these emails, and thank you, Sue, for being patient enough to read them.)

Anyway, one day in art class, Bob said, “The pastor asked me to be Jesus for Lent.” After a quizzical look, he explained that our pastor had a script with a skit for each Wednesday in Lent. Each skit featured Jesus and Satan, and the subject for each skit was a temptation of Jesus. Bob said that while the part of Jesus was filled, the pastor was still on the hunt for Satan.

When I came home after school that day, I had a message from the pastor – he wanted me to be Satan. (It’s not every day that a pastor calls you up and asks you if you’d like to be Satan.) I called him back accepted the part, choosing not to ask him why I was his first choice for Satan. (Don’t ask if you don’t want to know.)

I hung up the phone and yelled, “I’m Satan!” Dad, not missing a beat, said, “How fitting.”

That was only the first of many such comments.

The skits were lengthy, so no memorization was required. Bob and I each had little binders that we’d read from – as we were seasoned oral interp veterans, this would be a piece of cake. We’d perform one skit at each Wednesday night Lenten service, and one final skit on Easter Sunday.

The Lenten services were held in the chapel of our church – it was a much smaller space, and since so few people actually came to the Wednesday night services, it would’ve looked simply pathetic to put them in the large sanctuary. Bob and I stood at the front of the church for each skit, and – for reasons that escape me – we stood on chairs each time.

The chairs proved to be dangerous, especially for someone like me who has no balance and can have trouble staying upright while standing on both feet on the ground. There was more than one occasion when I was not paying as much attention as I should have, and I almost walked right off the edge of the chair. Smooth, Satan. Smooth.

The scripts were magnificently cheesy (actual line: “this is only the beginning… the second round is about to begin”), but Bob and I really got into it. I started wearing red devil horns and dressing in black, and Bob in turn dressed in white. Even though Wednesday night crowd was sparse at best, they were still our adoring public. We were always met with a slew of positive comments – one of my favorites being from a man who told me I take after my mother. (Mom didn’t love the Satan comparison, but the rest of us did.) Dad, of course, always did a good job of telling me that I was truly meant for the part.

Our grand finale was on Easter Sunday. Our church has a sunrise service at 7am and a regular service at 930, and we were slated to perform for both of them. The Easter skit consisted of me/Satan ranting and raving while Bob/Jesus stood by the church’s giant Easter cross looking sad. Now, I’m no actor, but my vague recollection of those performances is that they went well. I believe the pastor even said, “May you never play Satan that well!”

When I got home from church that day, there was devil’s food cake waiting.
Could it be... SATAN?!

Tuesday, March 4, 2014

top ten (Fat) Tuesday: New Orleans pictures.

YOU GUYS. Guess what today is??

If you said Tuesday, you’re correct.

If you said Fat Tuesday, you’re super correct.

If you said Fat Top Ten Tuesday, you’re super 100% awesomely correct.

Fat Tuesday is the culmination of Mardi Gras – Lent starts tomorrow, so today is the last day you have to misbehave before you’re supposed to give stuff up for Lent and be good and all that.

Mardi Gras – as I probably don’t need to tell you – is HUGE in New Orleans. I probably don’t need to tell you this either, but New Orleans is one of my favorite places on Earth. I have visited twice and lived there once, and I have written many blog stories about its wonders.

Most of my blog stories are just that: stories. My stories tend to have more words than pictures, but there are a few pictures sprinkled here and there. You may or may not be aware of this, but I LOVE to take pictures. Rare is the time when you’ll find me without some sort of camera. I took a bazillion (that’s the technical term) during my time in New Orleans, and I love to look back at them and remember what a great time I had. Seeing those pictures can bring back the sounds and smells of New Orleans, and I miss it more than I can say.

So to celebrate New Orleans on Fat Tuesday, I’d like to present my top ten New Orleans photos!

Mardi Gras beads are everywhere in New Orleans - even when it's nowhere near Mardi Gras season. They get tossed out all year long, and some just happen to get stuck. 

Voodoo is a huge part of New Orleans history, and Marie LaVeau was widely known as the Voodoo Queen. While in New Orleans, visiting a voodoo shop is a great way to experience some voodoo culture. Or, you know, buy a voodoo doll and try to curse your neighbor.

Streetcars in New Orleans are THE BEST way to get around. They have streetcar lines running all over the city, and they save you a huge headache trying to find your way around and (worst of all) trying to park in the French Quarter. When Mom came to see me in New Orleans, we spent solid portions of our days just riding around on the streetcars and taking in the sights.

The water meter covers in New Orleans are downright iconic. New Orleans is called the Crescent City because of the way the Mississippi River bends, and so the water meter covers have crescent moons on them. I'm not sure why this one is painted teal, but it makes for a great picture.

When I think of New Orleans, it's hard not to think of the gorgeous ironwork. These apartments are in the French Quarter, and there are many more where they came from. 

Jackson Square is on the edge of the French Quarter, near the Mississippi. It's a New Orleans landmark. I like this picture because it's not usually the view you get of Jackson Square. 

In the French Quarter, there are all sorts of neat street signs. Many blocks have this coat of arms printed on the wall, along with the streets' original French name. The plaques are in varying states of disrepair, but it adds to the charm.

Remember Marie LaVeau? Legend has it that this is her grave. The story goes that if you knock three times, draw three Xs, and leave an offering, Marie LaVeau will grant your wish. (I was too chicken to try it, but if you find yourself in New Orleans and feeling brave, let me know how it turns out.)

This photo contains three of my favorite New Orleans things: iron gates, old lanterns, and Mardi Gras beads where they don't necessarily belong. Also, this picture was taken at the tail end of December, and just look at that sky. 

You can't have New Orleans without the Mississippi River. I took a steamboat cruise first with my dad and then with James, and both times, I was enamored with the ships on the river. Even though this particular day was a bit grey and rainy, the ships never stop working.


You may have noticed that these photos don’t have any people in them. I chose these photos because they remind me the most of New Orleans. I absolutely loved having James, Mom, and Dad to explore the city with me, but I felt the most connected to New Orleans while I was wandering around on foot, taking artsy photos. These photos are the ones that really bring me back to New Orleans and everything I love about it.

Happy Fat Tuesday to you, my friends! As they say in New Orleans, laissez les bons temps rouler – let the good times roll!