There are ribbons tied to my fingers; some go from there to this keyboard and some flutter out and lay in the pages of my journal. This is clearly annoying and counter-productive if I’m doing anything but sitting at my laptop or writing in my journal.
It’s TV taping time. Yesterday, I filmed three fantastic shows with Mom. I feel okay saying that the shows are getting better every time we do this. It’s not a new job anymore. I got this. And I like it, too.
On the set, doing this job, the ribbons have to be tucked away. Frankly, it’s kind of a relief. It’s good to be around the crew that I love, good to have those hot lights on me, good to meet the guests and do the job, which I see as simple: make the other person look good. That’s it. And so I can take all the focus off me and shift it to the other person. No brooding, no decisions to be made outside of what patchwork unit we need to teach next.
And there’s a Bert and Ernie in the lobby of the Iowa Public Television! This is the best place to be today.
When I was in high school, I made a thrilling discovery. I discovered Mystery Science Theater 3000.
I was up in my room one Saturday night. It was around Christmastime, well after midnight. Mom let us girls stay up as late as we wanted, pretty much. We were in high school, after all, and if we were home, reading or drawing or doing some kind of creative project*, as was our like, there was no harm in letting us stay up; when we were tired, we’d go to sleep.
I had the retired family TV in my room. (Still not sure how I scammed that away from my sisters, but it was awesome.) I was doing my favorite thing ever: painting a picture while watching all the late shows. That night, after SNL, after the show that came on after SNL and the show after that, I saw Mystery Science Theater 3000 for the first time. Someone at the Des Moines area NBC affiliate station was watching over me.
Here’s what Mystery Science Theater 3000 — or “MST3K” — is, from The Wikipedia:
“[MST3K] features a man and his robot sidekicks who are imprisoned on a space station by an evil scientist and forced to watch a selection of bad movies, as part of a psychological experiment… To stay sane, the man and his robots provide a running commentary on each film, making fun of its flaws, and wisecracking their way through each reel in the style of a movie-theater peanut gallery. Each film is presented with a superimposition of the man and robots’ silhouettes along the bottom of the screen. The film is interspersed with skits tied into the theme of the film being watched or the episode as a whole.”
The episode that came on that night was Santa Claus Conquers The Martians and it remains my favorite episode of all time. I had never laughed harder in my life or been more instantly in love — I loved this show more than I loved my realest high-school crush, Cary Hollingsworth. It was for real. My eyes were glued to the screen, my mouth hung open. This was magic. What was this?? I had to know. Mind you, it was 1995; we didn’t have internet in the house, yet. I didn’t know the name of this incredible program and I couldn’t find out everything about it in 4 seconds flat with a google search.
But it wasn’t getting away from me. No, no, no. The very first commercial break, I ran out of my room and bounded down the stairs to the TV in the living room. I didn’t care if I woke anyone up. I dug through a drawer of VHS videotape and found something blank enough. I crammed it into the VCR, turned on the TV and clicked through the channels to find my show. I jammed my finger on the big red button and was able to record three-quarters of the Santa Claus episode. I watched the whole thing again when it was over. I collapsed into bed around 4:30, deliriously happy.
I had found my people. My VHS tape was my evidence.
The show tapped a vein for me, tone- and humor-wise. These people were smart, hella smart, and totally irreverent — but they weren’t gross. If there was a fart joke, it was because it was the best joke that could be made at that moment in the film, not the easiest. This appealed to me. The sheer number of cultural references made in a single episode expanded my knowledge of the world: who was Johnny Mathis? What is a “wrathful Buddha”? I learned a ton while I wiped tears from my eyes, silently shaking with laughter till I had to gasp for air. I taped every episode while the show ran on that station, which was well over a year.
As it turned out, MST3K was beloved by a lot of people. It’s a cult thing, which means that the weirdness of it was so specific, it appeals to a huge number of people. (Fascinating how that works.) The show ran from ’88-’99 on various networks and there was actually a feature film in ’96, which I went to on opening night, naturally. Members of the cast perform a live version of the show from time to time even today and I travelled far into the suburbs a few years ago with a friend to check it out. It was a scene, that’s for sure. But it wasn’t mine.
I’m not a follower. I don’t get dressed up in costumes for movie screenings. I participated in a pub crawl exactly once in my life (never again.) The cult of MST3K ain’t for me: there will be no Tom Servo** tattoos. But you don’t have to be a part of the extended scene of something to love it. Last night while I was sewing, I watched one of my favorite episodes — Mitchell — on a well-worn DVD and I was so happy. I was sewing and chuckling and marveling that anyone ever believed enough in that bizarre and wonderful show to give it a budget and produce it.
I’m so glad they did. What a bunch of freaks.
**I once got a hold of a hot glue gun and attacked an old typewriter. Gluing plastic gemstones and fake flowers to an old typewriter is the kind of project one must do in the wee hours.
I found myself on a Chicago el train tonight, but I wasn’t supposed to be there. If my itinerary had gone as planned, I would be in Iowa.
After my gig in Cleveland, I planned to go straight through Chicago to Des Moines, no pitstop at home. (I’ll be in Des Moines for the next two weeks, filming Love of Quilting for PBS.) But when our flight was delayed (and delayed and delayed) out of Cleveland and most everyone missed their connections, I had an idea. I deplaned, slipping through the crowd of grumpy travelers to seek out a free Southwest ticket agent further down the terminal. I spied a friendly-looking blonde lady at gate A9 and went for it.
ME: (Exceedingly chipper, non-threatening:) Hello! How are you!
SOUTHWEST TICKET LADY: Hi there. How can I help you?
ME: Well! It’s cra-ray-zay! I was on Flight 313 from Cleveland and, you know, all that rain… Well, I have not missed my connection to Des Moines. I can absolutely make it. But the truth is, ma’am, is that I live in Chicago? And my home is here? And is there any way that I could, you know, go home to my condo tonight? Could I fly to Iowa tomorrow, instead? I don’t know if this is possible, but wow, would it ever be great to, you know… Could… My bed, and my…my bed.
SOUTHWEST TICKET LADY: Let’s see what we can do. (Clacks on computer. Pauses.) We can do that. No problem. I can put you on a flight tomorrow. Morning or evening?
I nearly hugged her.
My luggage went onto Des Moines, but I didn’t care. It would be safe in the baggage room overnight, and who needs mascara, anyway?* I got a boarding pass for tomorrow and waltzed out of the airport. I was going home! I wasn’t pulling any heavy luggage! The words “footloose and fancy free” came instantly to mind. I did a little two-step on the moving walkway. I had visions of a glass of red wine, a book, and my glorious, glorious bed, which would be waiting for me with fresh sheets because I had thought to change the linen before I left town.
I made my way to the train platform. Orange Line to the Loop. Right before the train left the station, a couple came in and sat in the two seats directly in front of me. They were early thirty-somethings; white, preppy and well-groomed but not so wildly attractive that I thought I was looking at prom king and queen. There was actually a touch of nerdiness about them, but they were both dressed like they worked in PR or at Deloitte and Touche, whatever that is. It was abundantly clear that the guy had just arrived and the young lady had come to the airport to meet him.
Let me tell you that they were excited to be together. Very excited.
The pair were talking rapidly and kissing each other in between sentences, then in between words. When they first started this canoodling, I was filled with happiness: lovers reunited is a beautiful thing to witness. This feeling was followed hot on the heels by a terrible pain, however; Yuri is in New York and I am not and I wanted nothing more in the universe than to kiss my lover between sentences, too. (And everywhere else while I’m at it — hey-o!)
My self-pity didn’t last long, because the canoodling couple started to annoy me. They were talking a little bit too loud about the guy’s trip, for one thing. And these kisses were sort of anemic; his lips were squished into a droopy grape shape that he kept smushing into her cheek. And she’d be halfway through a syllable and stop to pucker up. It was like this:
GUY: Yeah, he’s doing great.
GIRL: Did your mom saying anything about the oven mitt?
GUY: She loved it. Oh, Ronnie’s going to be in Chicago next month.
GIRL: Oh (Kiss) that’s (Kiss) awesome.
I pulled out my magazine and slumped down in my seat; I tried to get into an Atlantic article about helicopter parenting and fight the urge to wield, in this perfect of circumstances for it, one of the finest expressions in the English language: Get a room!!
But then came the food. And I was too grossed out to do anything but cover my mouth and look out the window.
The kissing and cooing sounds were joined by the sounds of a food wrapper being opened. Cellophane or paper was being pulled down what I perceived to be a burrito. Now, between syllables and kisses, there was…chewing. Mastication. Food. She would take a little nibble of this burrito and then, mouth full, would peck him on the lips. Then he would talk a little more, bend his head over to take a bite, and then talk more, and then smush his grape lips onto her neck. I was horrified. I could not get the vision of refried beans and saliva and bed sheets out of my head. It was a physical reaction; I felt ill. When you’re on a train, the people sitting in front of you are right there. I was almost directly implicated. It was almost that kind of party.
This went on. We were close enough to my stop that I didn’t get up and move. I also realized immediately that this was PaperGirl material, so I hung on. I stole two glances: the first, to try and catch the guy’s eye to give him a cold, hard, “EW” look; that failed. The second time I looked up from my recoiled pose was to confirm that these two people were actually making out while eating a burrito. I’m glad I took that second look because guess what?
It was a Rice Krispie treat!
I brightened considerably. Well! A Rice Krispie treat! That’s sorta cute! I kinda like these two, I thought, and I no longer felt like I could barf. Rice Krispie treats are sorta like kisses themselves: sweet, kinda sticky, well-intentioned. It was amazing to me how different I felt about the situation I was in when the food changed from a stinky, cheesy burrito to an innocuous rice-and-marshmallow snack.
After making buttermilk pancakes for Yuri this morning (I had some buttermilk leftover from the pie and not everyone likes pie for breakfast, astonishingly) I hopped out the door and into New York. I was headed to the Yarn Co. for a good chunk of sewing time and I felt like I was wearing wings, that’s how excited I was to be sewing-machine bound.
I took the L line to 6th Avenue and then got on the 1 going uptown. On one single train ride I saw three quintessential, only-in-NYC, New York City moments. Let’s revisit.
Moment No. 1
At 34th St., the train pulled in and opened its doors. I saw a drawn, junkie-looking white dude in a stocking cap jump the turnstile right in front of me. He jumped it, gave a fast look around and then bam! he punched the Emergency Exit door to the left of the turnstiles. Through the door came his junkie girlfriend, every bit as strung-out as he was, maybe more. The alarm went off the instant he hit the bar to open the door, but they were gone just as fast. Junkie love in the city.
Moment No. 2
A kid of about eight, I’d guess, was sucking on a pacifier with fake teeth molded into it. It was a joke pacifier, I guess? I didn’t know they made joke pacifiers. If you had told me they existed, I would’ve been hard-pressed to guess at the audience for such things, but now I know. Eight-year-old New York City kids on the subway to school. And she was like, “What?” when I looked at her and in a very good-natured, friendly way, laughed a little. It was funny! Whatever, kid. You got a driver’s license? Yeah, I didn’t think so.
Moment No. 3
Almost to my stop, I noticed a woman repeatedly digging into her purse. She was with a friend, clearly frustrated that she couldn’t find something important in her overstuffed, large handbag. There were two MTA employees across from her. Both older gentlemen, they were just getting off work or headed there to start the day. Kinda scruffy, both of them; one Indian, one of indeterminate (to me) ethnicity. The one guy took his flashlight off his tool belt and held it out to the woman with the nicest smile. She was so grateful and took the flashlight, shining it into her purse. It probably totally helped her. I had to exit the train before I found out what happened, but that was awesome.
All on one trip to the Upper West. This be the city.
I make quilts. While I sew, I enjoy various media. Sometimes it’s radio, sometimes it’s a podcast. A lot of the time it’s junky television via the Internet.
There is lots of great, game-changing television out there. I don’t watch it. It takes too much focus. (I can’t watch Mad Men and sew patchwork; it’s unfair to Don Draper and unfair to my quarter-inch seam.) Instead, I watch gameshows. Reality gameshows. Biggest Loser, America’s Next Top Model, and Master Chef are totally — like, totally — my favorite shows. They’re just engaging enough to keep me company but utterly devoid of real substance. Perfect.
So I fire up the HuluPlus and I let entire seasons play. The downside to this is that any mystery or magic used in putting the shows together is gone. I know the template now. The challenges, the editing, the hosts’ indignation and the tear-jerker stories behind the contestants — every show, every game, it’s all die-cut. What’s really hard to listen to after hour eight are the interviews. I’ve figured how they do them. I’ve never experienced an actual reality show interview, but I am 99% certain they play sections of the already taped show for the player and ask him/her leading questions about what they were thinking at the time. And I picture the interviewer being extremely bored because these players, they say the same thing every single time.
Interviewer: “What does this competition mean to you?” Player: “This competition…it means everything to me.”
Interviewer: “When Heidi walks out, what are you thinking?” Player: “I’m just thinking, ‘What is going to happen next?'”
Interviewer: “What are you thinking right now, when Susan put the shrimp on the plate?” Player: “Right now, I’m just hoping I don’t go home.”
Interviewer: “What did you come here to do? Is this just a game to you?” Player: “I came here to win. This competition is not just a game for me.”
And on and on. And every once in awhile, something actually dramatic or surprising will happen (doesn’t happen often) and I’ll whoop or holler while I’m pressing my fabric and if anyone saw into my condo, they would see that I am a nerd.
If you want to feel like you’ve accidentally taken expired cold medicine, I recommend the Discovery Channel’s Amish Mafia.
When I’m home in Iowa, I watch a bit of television. I refuse to be a no-TV snob, but the truth is, I don’t have a television in Chicago and I haven’t owned a TV since I left home for college. I’ve just never wanted one very much, mostly because I am an enormous nerd who would rather read a book than do just about anything. And besides, commercials are tiny rapes.
Last night, I was clicking channels and found this Amish Mafia show. Have you heard of it? Seen it? Been as dumbfounded as I was by it? For the most part, a person can watch 30-seconds of any show on television and get the gist of it. “Oh, this is a cop drama,” you think, or “Oh, this is a sitcom where the guy is a lump and the smart wife loves the knucklehead anyway,” or, at the very least, “This is a reality show vs. a show with actors playing parts.” The producers of any show want you to do this. They want their shows to be instantly recognizable so you don’t have to think terribly hard and you can just be entertained. There’s nothing wrong with that; and the best shows actually mess with the formulas and create great, dynamic television. Consider The Sopranos; violent and humane, dramatic butoften hilarious, too. Good stuff.
I watched Amish Mafia for a full 30 minutes last night and I still had no idea what was happening to me. The show follows…Amish people. Mostly men. Who have…guns. These Amish men with guns…collect money from other Amish men? With guns? Everyone is very…angry. These angry Amish men with guns talk to the camera like it’s a reality show, but I’ll bet you two bonnets and a straw boater that THERE IS NO AMISH MAFIA so it simply could not be real. Amish people don’t allow girls to play with any doll that has a face! That’s considered a “graven image” and creates idolatry; how does an HD camera filming Amish in their kitchens avoid the whole “graven image” thing? Even for a Mennonite, this seems as plausible as a fish saying, “I prefer living out of the water.”
The whole show was so confusing and lame and slightly disturbing that I had to look it up. It’s not real. It’s scripted. They’re all actors. It’s fake, fake, fake, and the reality show “feel” is calculated, calculated, calculated. The actual Amish are horrified. The actual Mafia is probably horrified, come to think of it. But Amish Mafia just got picked up for a second season, so we’ll all be horrified together for at least another 6 months or so.
The thing that makes me mad is that I even believed for one second that it was real. I did! I thought, “Gee whiz, the Amish community has heavies that break kneecaps for community funding?? That’s nuts!” And then I realized I had been suckered. I don’t like being suckered by an inanimate object, which brings us full-circle as to why I don’t have a television.
The thing that steams me the most? There are quilts all over that show and I can’t decide if this is good or bad. Should I be happy a Grandmother’s Flower Garden quilt is shown five different times on a major cable television show? Or should I cringe because the guy sitting on it has a gold tooth and bad attitude?