Print Story Sublimated Betamax Bickering
By CheeseburgerBrown (Mon Feb 13, 2006 at 03:34:34 AM EST) betamax, christmas, surreal, pippi (all tags)
Occasionally things happen in childhood which we take for granted as not unusual until we relay the anecdote to somebody else and, by their reaction, come to recognize that what went down has a definite aura of surreality about it.

Also: talking about Christmas out of season.

Best Laid Plans

When I was nine years old a plan was cast for a great family assembly -- a funtabulous winterfest event in which cheeseburgers from every province of the dominion would congregate in Toronto to santabrate the holidays and the polyumpteenth wedding anniversary of my father's parents, Sassy Kit and Fastidious Fred.

But then my grandfather had a non-fatal but still very discomfiting episode of temporary cardiac arrest, so we called the whole thing off.

Our Virtual Sunday Best

When next my full-blood siblings and I were shunted to our father's house for visitation we were given the highly unusual directive to wear "something nice." Since we usually spent our time drinking purple pop, eating potato chips and watching movies on Betamax we could not imagine why we should be dudded up. At my dad's house we seldom even bothered to change into our pajamas, as we rarely used our beds. Rather it was our habit to fall asleep in our clothes on the floor in front of the TV, and then wear those clothes to school the next day.

"What's going on tonight?" my mother asked as she stuffed us into what would've been our Sunday best had any of us ever been to church. We shrugged. We had no idea.

She speculated that we might be going to dinner somewhere nice with the parents of our new step-mother. (To her credit our mother always called our step-mother "Noodles" just like everyone else did, rather than using a descriptive phrase.)

She dropped us off at my dad's house, idling at the curb while she watched us walk up the walk. The drive was filled by strange cars and a cube van. Something was going on.

"I wanna watch Pippi," commented Isosceles Cat, my four-year-old brother.

"No Pippi, Care Bears!" countered Xena, my three-year-old sister.

"Don't fight," I sighed.

When we walked into the living room of my dad's house we squinted against the glare of the studio lights on heavy tripods and shrank back from the scurry of busy strangers measuring focal lengths with making little marks on the carpet with chalk.

"Guess what?" said my dad. "We're making a Christmas special!"

Commandeered Camera Crew

This was back in the nineteen-eighties when Mashed Potato Pop had his own advertising agency, back before it was bought up by Saatchi & Saatchi and my dad decided to take another stab at being a professional musician in order to recapture some fraction of the jollies of having once been in a rock band whose fleeting glimmer of Canadian-scale glory sizzled brightly enough to have been a question on Jeopardy!

(But that is another story, and shall be told another time.)

When Mashed Potato Pop realized that he wasn't going to able to see his parents for the holidays he decided to commandeer a commercial filming crew by adding a mysterious extra day of production to somebody's campaign -- Swiss Chalet or Imperial Oil or the CFL. The unions were circumvented and the crew was paid in cash and red wine.

My brother and sister and I stood on the threshold, our knapsacks containing our vital kid crap (a change of clothes, a favoured book, Cabbage Patch Kids) hanging off the shoulders of our only mildly dishevelled sweaters and blouse. We ducked in intuitive concert as the boom operator squeezed past us, the back end of his long microphone-pole smacking the wall and leaving a little mark.

"Fuck!" he said. "Sorry."

"Oh no!" said Noodles.

"Can we get some powder on the kids' noses?" called my dad.

Star-Wipe and...Cut!

Isosceles Cat and Xena got into a fight in the washroom and had to be separated into two crying, angry islets. Then the doorbell rang and our uncles and aunts and cousins arrived, and everyone got a chance to have their nose powdered. We were arrayed on the couch and fed our first lines by Mashed Potato Pop, kneeling on the carpet and consulting a script in a burgundy binder. "Can we dolly in on me for the introduction? I think it'll look better than a zoom," he said to the gum-chewing camera operator, who nodded.

Once we were satisfactorily posed a girl with an outrageously stretched sweater took Polaroids of each of us "for continuity" (whatever that meant) and then everyone backed off and said, "Ready!"

And then my father became the host and put on his social voice. We were each interviewed -- our Christmas wishes asked after, invitations for Christmas wishes for Sassy Kit and Fastidious Fred solicited -- and then delivered a screen-gift each (that is, a selection of showy Christmas gifts were unceremoniously released from my step-mother's ministrations and re-wrapped by members of the props department for "maximum visual effectiveness"). Each child was then posed over their gift and, in a series of staccato surges of exuberance tempered by pausing until the camera was re-angled, the gifts exposed and showcased.

I had just seen Michael Jackson in concert on the Victory Tour, so whoever it was that had chosen my gift thought I would enjoy a single sparkly glove and a vinyl break-dancing board that said ROCK IT! across it in mixed-up typefaces. There were no cards on the gifts, as watching kids trying to sound-out cards was deemed to be "bad television."

I was invited to use the vinyl board for break-dancing upon, and when I declined I was invited with special emphasis. "We've got to see you really enjoying your presents!" said my dad.

"Okay," I conceded, and then spun around awkwardly a few times.

Isosceles Cat and Xena started bickering again when it came to whose turn it was to play with which toy, and Mashed Potato Pop got mad at them. Then Uncle Rich got pissed off at his kid, Cousin Brat, for rumpling his shirt while we all waited for Isosceles Cat and Xena to be sorted out. Aunt Smoke snarked at Uncle Rich to be less harsh. Everyone was becoming hot and cranky under the blistering eyes of the lights.

I wished we were drinking purple pop and eating potato chips and watching movies on Betamax. (I'd watch Pippi. Hell, I'd even watch the Care Bears.)

Movie Magic

Sassy Kit and Fastidious Fred were delighted by the Christmas special and called to tell us so. They said we were all fabulous actors and that we had obviously had a wonderful Christmas (which seemed to me to be mutually exclusive laurels). They had watched it on their Betamax machine after my grandfather had come home from the hospital with a big ugly line down the front of his chest. On the telephone he told us in a quiet voice that he called the line his "zipper."

We got to see the finished production before it was shipped to Alberta, of course. Myself I was impressed with the way it looked just like a real TV show, with words that appeared right over the picture and everything. For the climax we children were featured lip-synching Stevie Wonder's I Just Called to Say I Love You while dancing around with telephone receivers in our hands.

There were no signs of bickering or restless boredom in the video. Nobody cried. Those parts had just gone away -- sublimated into edit-space to leave a distilled product.

We watched it on the Betamax machine in the living room. We drank pop and ate chips.

Afterwards we put on Pippi in the South Seas and fought.

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Sublimated Betamax Bickering | 3 comments (3 topical, 0 hidden) | Trackback
Ya know by blixco (4.00 / 2) #1 Mon Feb 13, 2006 at 03:59:44 AM EST
what was wrong with Pippi?  I mean, she had the adventure angle.  She had the red hair and the freckles.  She had that foreign thing going for her...Swedish, at that.  And she was always in these little dresses.

But she looked alarmingly like Alfred E. Neuman.

That, that's a career killer right there.  I mean, you have two career paths: MAD Magazine or Pippi.  Past that, you're, ya know, sort of funny looking.

Thus the girl who played Pippi is now a secretary at a government office.  You can fly to Sweden, apply for a farm grant and see her.  She looks like Alfred E. Neuman's grandmother.
I am ten ninjas. Ten ninjas with root access. - mrgoat

Alfred E. Newman vs. Pippi Longstocking Cagefight by CheeseburgerBrown (4.00 / 2) #2 Mon Feb 13, 2006 at 06:09:31 AM EST
While Alfred E. Newman may be recognized by a greater number of people, I believe it is Pippi Longstocking who has carved a deeper groove of cultural legacy, specifically with regard to fashion, and that especially in the autumn days of the 20th century when the female version of "Alternative" clothing was drawn from a Pippi-based blueprint.

And, while millions would say that anyone with horizontal or near-horizontal braids was inarguably Pippiesque, very few people understood the connection to Alfred E. Newman's fictitious run for the US presidency referenced by pictures of G.W. Bush captioned, "What -- me worry?"

Therefore, it is obvious that you've got it backwards: it is Alfred E. Newman who looks like Pippi Longstocking.

Er, Q.E.D.

I am from a small, unknown country in the north called Ca-na-da. We are a simple, grease-loving people who enjoy le weekend de ski.
[ Parent ]
Well, by blixco (4.00 / 4) #3 Mon Feb 13, 2006 at 06:17:42 AM EST
since the world at large is slowly sliding toward being a xeroxed copy of the United States, and since the United States has greater familiarity with Alfred E., I think it's safe to say that in ten years, when the third Super Wal-Mart opens in Tiananmen Square, the world will judge your words here as both incorrect, and possibly seditious.

But that will be through the narrow lens of an ignorant history.
I am ten ninjas. Ten ninjas with root access. - mrgoat

[ Parent ]
Sublimated Betamax Bickering | 3 comments (3 topical, 0 hidden) | Trackback