va-va-va-voom and vaudeville.

Four musicals, or maybe three musicals and one movie with music.

For Me and My Gal
This movie is propaganda! In a nutshell, it's about an actor who avoids the draft so he can further his career, based on a true story. It was set in 1916, but released in 1942. At the end, there was a message saying "America needs your money. Buy war bonds and stamps at this theater." I know that propaganda is still made today, but old propaganda is always very striking in its ham-handedness. It's quaint, even. And I suppose there's well-made propaganda, but we just call it "inspirational." Then there's poorly-made propaganda, and this movie was just an example of the that. I wonder how it seemed to the audiences of the 40s. Maybe they didn't care about all that because they were surrounded by reminders of the war effort. They were just there to see Judy Garland and this new fella, Gene Kelly.

This movie was Gene's film debut, and for that reason, I'll cut him some slack for his mediocre acting. He's sort of a bad guy in this movie, a "heel" as he calls it. He's conniving, self-serving, and uh, he slammed his hand in a suitcase so he wouldn't have to go to war. He is redeemed by Judy, who loves him. You love her, she loves him, and so you want to forgive him. Later he does join up with the YMCA to go entertain troops and he even shoots some Germans in a ill-advised act of heroism. The movie tries really hard to make him loveable so you're happy at the end when he and Judy reunite and sing the titular song. But honestly? I wanted Judy to end up with the other guy, who was an all-around nice person the whole movie. You see that, movie? You made me root against Gene Kelly.

An interesting thing about this movie is that the songs are not a part of the plot. But, Sandra, you say, all musicals are like that! That's the point, people just sing and dance whenever they feel like it! No, that's just not true. While it's not exactly realistic that regular folks starting singing in harmony and dancing elaborately choreographed moves, the songs generally are related to the plot.

However, there are many musicals which revolve around the lives of performers, and rather than having people sing and dance as part of their daily communications, the musical numbers are actually performances that the main characters are doing. So in For Me and My Gal, Judy and Gene are vaudevillians, and the songs are their shows or rehearsals. The same device is used in Victor/Victoria and Cabaret. Doing this eliminates the restriction that your songs have to relate somehow to what's going on in the movie. And that's why Judy Garland can sing "It's a Long Way to Tiperrary," even when her character is not actually travelling there at all.

Songs and Dance: Judy's a great singer and a pretty good dancer. Gene's a great dancer and a passable singer. They are marvelous together. The songs were all old vaudeville songs, so some were familiar. Here's the title song.

You know, that diner owner might have more customers if he put in more tables instead of having huge open spaces suitable for dancing. Also, Gene may be a heel, but he sure looks sharp in that suit.

Will I Make Josh Watch It: No. Except maybe to point out that he should get a suit like that.

Shall We Dance?
Another Astaire-Rogers movie. Now, it's only my second one, but I think I've got a pretty good plot outline that might apply to them all.

Fred dances. Fred falls for Ginger based on a brief meeting or photograph or some other trivial connection that only leads to love in the movies. Ginger is not interested in Fred's advances, due to her own personal situation. Fred dances, is persistent and charming. Fred and Ginger dance. Ginger falls for Fred. Fred and Ginger dance. Something happens to tear Fred and Ginger apart, perhaps a wacky misunderstanding, as opposed to character flaws of either Fred or Ginger. Fred and Ginger get back together, then dance. Fin.

It was while watching this movie that I decided that sometimes it's okay to not care about the plot, because, dangit, I was entertained. Good music, impressive dancing, witty dialogue - who needs a storyline?

Songs and Dance: Gershwin! Not one, but two of them! This has some excellent classics from the Brothers G, including "Let's Call the Whole Thing Off" and "They Can't Take That Away From Me." There were several good dancing scenes. There was a scene in the belly of a ship where Fred danced while the black crewmen played jazz. Something bothered me about that scene, but it's not what you think. No, it wasn't overt racism, but the fact that the dude holding the double bass was not playing it. He was sort of slapping at it half-heartedly, but not at the same time that the bass sounds were playing. Surely, they could have found a black man in Hollywood that could play the dang bass. I guess they blew the budget on the set so that Fred could tap all over the place. There were several excellent dance scenes, but my favorite was in the park - on roller skates!

Will I Make Josh Watch It: He saw some of it, including the above scene. He was properly impressed. Give me another twenty years, and he'll actually like musicals.

The Girl Can't Help It
Is this a musical? I couldn't decide. There are songs, but most of them are sung by performers, rather than characters in the movie. There were a couple of songs by the characters, so I guess it counts. I'm including it mostly because I liked it.

This movie was apparently made to capitalize on that crazy teen fad, rock and roll. Several early rock performers are shown, either in music clubs or on TV, including Little Richard, Eddie Cochran, Fats Domino, Gene Vincent, The Platters, etc. If Wikipedia can be trusted, this movie inspired John Lennon by showing him that his rock idols were just dudes, too. You could call this movie required viewing for Beatlemaniacs.

The plot has to do with an ex-mobster who wants his girlfriend to become a singing sensation, so he hires a has-been agent to make her a star. Of course, the agent and the girl fall in love, there's a lot of wackiness, but in the end, the people who want to be famous are famous and those who want to be housewives get to be housewives. The girl is played by Jayne Mansfield. Plain old Jayne.

The only word for her is va-va-va-voom, which is honestly not a word I use very often. I can only imagine how uncomfortable her undergarments must be to make her figure look like that.

She's beautiful, she's blonde, and she's just a little bit naive, but actually very likeable because she comes off as innocent rather than just bone-chillingly stupid. And the agent, played by Tom Ewell is very likeable as well, despite his terrible drinking problem. He drinks because, what else, he lost a girl. There's a scene where his lost love, played by Julie London, appears in various elaborate dresses around his apartment, singing "Cry Me a River." It's not really my style to sympathize with people who have drunk their lives away, but the scene is so effective that I do feel sorry for the guy, what with this beautiful woman with a sorrowful voice haunting him all the time. That's gotta get old.

The movie is not deep, and feminists will find a lot to roll their eyes at. Aside from various cartoonish sight gags that happen whenever Jayne walks by (milk boils, ice melts, eyeglasses break), we find that Jayne only wants to be a wife. She utters this classic line "No one things I'm equipped for motherhood."


I don't have any problem with motherhood as a career, the movie just sort of implies that none of these newfangled career girls actually want to work. Deep down, they all wish they were wearing aprons. Or maybe the movie is just meant to appeal to men, who all want a woman that looks like Jayne Mansfield and wants nothing more in life than to make them dinner and give them babies.

Anyway, despite all of that, the film is entertaining. The musical numbers are good, because the performers are good. The characters are really appealing - you want them to win. The script is well-written - funny dialogue, and though you know there is obviously going to be a happy ending, it's not ever clear how those two kids are ever going to get together. But they do: Tom quits drinking, Jayne cooks dinner, and they have babies. Ah, the 50s.

Songs and Dance: Early rock and roll. Very little dancing, except for some teenager types bopping or swinging or whatever they called it. Here's Little Richard.

Clearly, piano benches are for squares.

Will I Make Josh Watch It: I told him about Eddie Cochran and Little Richard, and now he wants to see it. It must not be a real musical.

Babes in Arms
Since I included The Girl Can't Help It, which may not be a musical, I'll include this one as well, which definitely is. This is one of several movies that pairs Mickey Rooney with Judy Garland. This is my first real Mickey Rooney experience, and I have to say that he's alternately charming and annoying. Or charmingly annoying? I spent the whole movie trying to come up with some sort of comparison that would explain young Mickey Rooney to people my age. This is what I came up with: Mickey Rooney was the David Spade of the 30s, except he sang and danced because sarcasm hadn't been invented yet. You tolerate him mostly because you like who he is paired with. Does that mean Judy Garland is like Chris Farley? Actually, in some ways, yes.

ANYWAY, I didn't care much for this movie. For one thing, I was confused by the music. A lot of the same songs were later used in Singin' in the Rain. In fact, the plot was sort of based around the same thing: talkies! While Singin' in the Rain was about some silent film stars trying to make a talkie, Babes in Arms is about some vaudevillians trying to compete with those blasted motion pictures. The vaudevillians go off on tour to revive their careers, while their children (Mickey, Judy, some other kids) put on their own show to prove to their parents that they can perform. Unfortunately for this movie's place in history, much of their show is based on the idea of the old-fashioned minstrel show. And that means blackface. Yes, folks, Judy Garland, young and beautiful, and in blackface. If you don't want your childhood memories of The Wizard of Oz shattered, maybe don't watch this movie.

I promise that I don't watch these movies looking to be horrified by their datedness, though it seems like I call all of them either racist or sexist. I understand that they were made in different contexts of history and their preservation can be used as a lesson. We seem to be in an era of particularly thick political correctness, so, heck, maybe in another 60 years, we'll be laughing at how concerned we were about not offending anyone.

One final note: the "bad guy" was a lady who was trying to have all those ragtag vaudeville offspring sent off to "state works school." Those kids never went to school, and instead went around singing and carrying on. There was a scene where they were bearing torches and ended up starting a bonfire in the middle of the town. If not for the singing, it might have been a Frankenstein movie. Anyway, the uptight lady was played by Margaret Hamilton, better known as the Wicked Witch of the West.

Songs and Dance: I liked them better in Singin' in the Rain. See that movie, it's much better. In addition to Judy and Mickey, there were a couple other cast members who were quite young and had amazing opera-style voices. They apparently did not go on to bigger things, but they sure could sing. I've included a clip of terrible audio/video quality, but the scene is quite cute. It was either this or Judy in blackface. They're making fun of Franklin and Eleanor Roosevelt. Apparently, this scene was deleted (and thought lost) from the film after FDR died, because it was deemed disrespectful. Isn't that funny? Now we are careful not to stereotype large groups of people, but I don't remember any films being re-edited so as not to besmirch the memory of Richard Nixon after he died.

Later, the Roosevelts dance, which is funny and ironic. Not that I make fun of great leaders who were crippled by terrible diseases. Now I've gone and offended myself.

Will I Make Josh Watch It: He saw the last half and was not impressed. Rather, he was annoyed (Mickey) and offended (blackface), though momentarily smitten (Judy) and amused (dancing FDR).


really used cards.

I sent Josh's maternal grandparents a really nice card. Some of my cards are weird, some of them are old (and weird), but some of them are the kind of thing that a perfectly normal person would buy. This one was gold, with a beautiful picture of the shepherds keeping watch of their flock by night, along with the passage from Luke announcing the birth of Christ.

Gorgeous card, and I picked it out just for them from my stash, because I wanted to impress them.

Today, I received a card in return. The first thing I noticed was the envelope.

That made my day. I've been writing holiday greetings to mailmen for years now, but I think this is the first time I've ever had someone copy my example.

When I opened up the envelope, I noticed that the card looked really familiar. I realized that she had cut the front off the card I sent her last year, wrote a message on the back, and then sent it right back to me. Maybe she knew it was the very card I'd sent her, or maybe she cut all the fronts off last year with the intention of using them this year. Either way, it's pretty funny.

Which makes me think that she doesn't care whether I get my stationery at yard sales. It also makes me wonder if I'll see that pretty gold card again next year.


105 meatballs.

When I was growing up, my mother wanted to be sure to instill modesty in her children. She might think they were the greatest things since crustless bread, but if we thought that about ourselves, we were liable to get, as my father put it, "the big head." The way that my mother taught us to be modest was to tell us that we could not brag in public. Over and over, we were told not to ever talk about how awesome we were, or how smart we were, or how we multi-talented we were.

Her methods were flawed.

Instead of becoming humble, I became quietly but all-encompassingly full of myself, having being told repeatedly that I was just going to have to keep my inherent awesomeness to myself. I won't speak for my siblings, but I feel certain that their spouses are nodding along with me here. Meanwhile, my mother is throwing her hands up in frustration, shouting, "But they ARE awesome!"

Part of the no-bragging rule was that we could break it at home. We weren't allowed to tell the world how truly spectacular we were, but at home, we had a safe haven where everyone would understand that being modest in the face of such awesomeness was a constant struggle. People at home would realize that we were not arrogant, just very realistic of certain natural advantages that we had over pretty much everyone else we ever met.

Now, that all sounds pretty terrible, and it is an exaggeration. Sort of. I do struggle with my ego. When I was a kid, I thought we had to be modest because nobody likes a braggart. I can easily not boast about myself. But my overestimated sense of self-worth means that anyone I meet has to impress me quickly or I write them off. Thank you, next, please. No amount of natural ability, particularly not my limited share, gives anyone the right to be so dismissive and judgmental. Being stuck on myself prevents me from appreciating anyone else.

And that is all my mother's fault.

However, I am an adult and therefore in charge of my own behavior. I don't blame Mama for loving me. In all honesty, I am glad that I was able to go through childhood and puberty with too much confidence, as opposed to the far more common affliction of too little. It seems to have saved me from making a lot of stupid decisions.

All that aside, I'm here today to break the modesty rule. Despite the fact that not all of you are family, I'm going to brag on myself a little bit here.

On the evening of Wednesday, November 25, I made 105 Swedish meatballs and 30 potato rolls, all by myself. Go ahead, be impressed.

Okay, none of you are impressed. You won't even be impressed after you look at the pictures that I took in my heady state of self-appreciation.

Here's the thing. About three years ago, I couldn't cook. At all. And now, I can keep three pans of meatballs going while I roll out dough. I am not a gourmet chef, I am not a creative culinary genius, but I have achieved (drumroll) COMPETENCY! Pretty exciting, guys.

I may be wrong, but it seems like this is a different sort of pride than the kind that lives deep in my psyche and tells me I'm smarter than you are (no, not you, of course not! You're way smart.). I never did anything to deserve my intelligence. However, 105 meatballs? That is something I earned, which was not automatically easy for me in the first place. This is pride in the accomplishment, rather than the self.

Which all begs the question: if I ever do achieve true modesty, am I allowed to be proud of it?



If you've been paying attention, it should come as no surprise to you that I send out Christmas cards. I have a whole system. I make a list, write a brief personal message in every single one, and write a holiday greeting on the back of the sealed envelope for all the postal workers.

I've noticed in the last couple of years that I no longer seem to be sending cards to single persons, but rather persons and their spouses, who I usually only know minimally. In a couple of cases, I have to add names of children, too. Luckily for me, there are still a few single persons on my list, and I imagine them scowling at all the pairs on their own card lists.

This year, I've had to put my will to the test. See, I've been buying cards at yard sales all year long. The only possible way I can justify this kind of, well, hoarding, is that I will send these cards out to people, which will make them happy. I'm not a pack-rat, I'm actually a very nice person. Of course, when it comes time to send out the cards, I go through them, saying to myself, "Well, that one is really neat. Can't send that out. And this one is beautiful, don't want to get rid of that." If I followed that inclination, I would end up buying a 20-pack of cards at Big Lots, and if I had three left over, they would go into my stash.

But no, I must be strong. There is no point in keeping a bunch of old greeting cards. Unless I plan to display them or something, they're just going to sit in my drawer, not making anyone happy (except for me, Me, ME!). I even have a 20-pack of cards that I bought after Christmas last year, but I'm not going to use it. Because the time has come to make good on my justification for buying all those cards in the first place.

I never realized before just how convenient those 20-packs are. You only have to pick out one card and you're done with the selection process. You pick out something that matches your personality and won't offend anyone and you send out the same thing to everyone. But when I'm choosing out of my card stash, it's like shopping for an individual card for each individual recipient, albeit at a store with a very weird and limited selection. I sometimes feel the urge to explain the card choice in the personal message, as if the people who receive cards from me don't know me well enough to just dismiss it as totally in line with my character. Maybe I'm at the point where I can do any bizarre thing I want and no one will even bat an eye. Some of the cards are relatively normal, of course, and I imagine the people who receive those assume I bought a 20-pack of regular cards. These are the people who are not ready for the fact that I buy secondhand greeting cards. I like to break people in gently, lest they scare easily.

To go along with my complaint about couples, I will admit that I am signing some of the cards from both myself and Josh. Not all of them, mostly just the ones to our families. I'm signing his name without even attempting to disguise my handwriting, so it's pretty obvious who is in charge of holiday mail. He has been in no way involved in the Christmas card process. In fact, I'm only assuming he echoes the sentiments I write in each one. Maybe he actually doesn't wish his grandmother a Merry Christmas, for whatever reason. I realize that it's standard for one half of a couple to not be involved in the process, but it still seems sort of false to me. I wouldn't want someone to write my message for me.

But what do I know? I write greetings to the mailman on the back of cards I buy at the estate sales of crazy card-hoarding ladies.


yard sales, dec. 12.

I haven’t been posting yard sale stuff for a while because I either haven’t been going or I haven’t been buying.  Yard sales are few and far between this time of year.  There have been some estate sales, because people die even in December.  Sorry, was that too dark?  In any case, I had a great day yesterday.

A few years ago, I went to a yard sale held by the Forsyth County School System.  It was in a big warehouse, and they were selling all that stuff that was in your first grade classroom, as well as the stuff in the principal's office, the home ec classroom, and the cafeteria.  I ended up buying a sewing machine and some wooden chairs for my sister-in-law.  Since then, I've been on the lookout for a similar sale.  There is a store in Raleigh where they sell all the hand-me-downs from the state-run facilities, and I pop in there any time I get a hankering for a chair with a “NC Dept. of Agriculture” stamp on it.  While the store is fine, it’s only open Monday thru Friday, 8 – 5.  You know, when I’m at work.  And still, in my deepest heart of hearts, I was hoping to go to another school system sale, probably so I could buy something stupid that I don’t need, like a kiln.  Picture 011

Obviously, I’m only bringing this up because I finally found such a sale, a "warehouse sale" held by Durham Technical Community College.  If I had a place to put a metal chair with desk attached, I would have come home with one.  Instead, I came home with this lovely solid wood table.  Josh has been looking for a desk for a while, but he didn't want one with convenient drawers.  Instead he wanted a simple table.  We had seen several tables that were close to what he wanted, but they were always too big, too small, too expensive, or too mass-produced.  This one was absolutely perfect, and it was $5.  It shows years of use and abuse, yet is still strong and sturdy.  There were a lot of other tables in the warehouse which were also too big, too small, or too mass-produced, with this one sitting quietly among them (being a table, that's pretty much all it could do).  In fact, I overlooked it on my first walk-through of the sale.  I wonder where it came from, what sort of learning went on in that room.  I even scraped some old gum off the bottom of it.  Aw, old gum.

It’s funny, the table has lots of scratches and dings and even a beverage ring.  While we might rub it down with some wood soap and polish, Josh doesn’t want to refinish it.  We both like that it looks like it has a history, it has lived.  So next time your mother tells you to use a coaster, tell her that you are just giving the furniture some life.

After I bought the table, a burly warehouse employee helped me carry it out to the car.  Upon seeing my bright and shiny red compact car, he asked if I was sure it would fit.  I assured him not to worry.  And after we closed the hatch, having successfully gotten the table in the back with inches to spare, he shook his head in amazement and asked, "What kind of car is this?  Does it get goPicture 018od mileage?"  Another Fit convert.

This key thing is goofy and was a measly fifty cents.  The little colored metal pieces have slots so they fit into the slots of the big whi te thing.  I don't care much for the white thing, but the little keychains are neat.  I'm not sure what I'm going to do with this yet.  I mean, there's a pretty obvious use printed right on the front of the white piece, but I hate to be like everyone else.

Speaking of things that I bought without having any idea what to do witPicture 026h them, I present for you these two cast iron sizzling plates.  I know they are sizzling plates because I looked it up.  Yes, they are shaped like cows, and yes, they do have rings through their noses.  That’s what makes them awesome.  They seem to be for serving hot items fresh off the grill, like when you order fajitas at a Mexican restaurant.  But you could use one for anything, like a place to put your jewelry or even your keys, if perhaps you did not own a slotted metal box with matching keychains, you poor deprived fellow.

I've been trying, and mostly failing, to collect Christmas stuff at yard sales.  I think I've bought a total of two ornaments so far.  It's not that you can't find Christmas stuff.  On the contrary, if you go to an estate sale, sometimes there is a whole table or two devoted to an old lady's collection of Santas (this being the South, there is usually another table for nativity sets).  IPicture 027t's just that I usually skip those tables without a second glance, figuring that the kind of people who have that many Christmas decorations are the people who might have noticeable spikes in their electric bill for December, what with the inflatable musical snow globes and teddy bear ferris wheels in their yards.  Now I realize that if you took everything that a perfectly reasonable person has to decorate a tree, it would probably fill a small table.

I managed to bring home four ornaments yesterday, and then I managed to hang them on the tree without taking pictures of them.  Forget it, it’s too hard to take pictures of tiny, shiny things.  I hate to tease you this way, but one of them is really beautiful:  a thick ball with cracked glass and a reflective silver ball inside.  It looks old and possibly valuable.   I also got this tree, which I believe is an Advent tree.  I got it in the hopes that some sister or sister-in-law of mine would see it and decide that she had been looking for an Advent calendar of some kind.  I also picked up an ivory tablecloth for a round table.  It has holly leaves embroidered on it, and is very classy.  I was going to make it into a tree skirt, but then Josh pointed out that there was a reason tree-skirts were usually a dark color.  So maybe not.

I picked up a pair of shoes, too.  They're in great shape, were $2 and fit perfectly.  I rarely get yard sale shoes, jusPicture 015t because my feet are in the 98% percentile.  Once I'd committed to buying these, the people at the sale tried to get me to buy the other shoes they had to offer, figuring that I probably was attached to the only pair of size 11's that were going to walk through their door  today.

Finally, I bought a TV.  I didn’t take a picture of it, because you’ve all seen this TV.  Just picture the TV that was in everybody’s house in the mid-nineties and that’s it.  It was the TV that all of my friends had while we still had that huge piece of furniture from the 70s. 

The one I had already was giving signs that it was going to go soon.  The picture would periodically fuzz up and then go back to clean lines.  I'd bought it five years ago for $7.50, so maybe it was time.  It started misbehaving about a month ago, and so I had added "TV" to my mental list of things I was generally looking for.  The list looks something like this:

  • wooden table for Josh
  • small wooden chair for nephew
  • Christmas stuff
  • Corelle dishes
  • TV
  • random weird things I don’t need

I was a bit concerned that my old TV would go completely kaput before I could find a new one.  Thrift store TVs are too expensive (most thrift store electronics are ridiculously overpriced), and the yard sale season had sort of petered out this year.  Worst case scenario:  I would have to watch movies on my computer until next spring.

I went to a sale that was benefitting a baby with tumors on her spine.  There were pictures of the baby everywhere, which is why I felt like a dog asking them if they would take $15 for one of their half a dozen TVs lying around (each marked $30).  A long time ago, I went to a cancer-benefit yard sale with my then-boyfriend.  I offered $3 for a pair of items that would have totaled $5 by their marked prices.  The seller agreed, and I handed over my money, but then my boyfriend cut in and admonished me, saying it was for a good cause.  He then pulled out his own wallet and paid the extra $2.

Now, depending who you are, you're going to react to that story differently.  My father would nod approvingly, because he's a very generous person.  My mother would shake her head, because she raised me to believe that the consumer always has to fight for herself.  At the time, I was pissed, because I had been publicly shamed.  Now, though, I just don't know.  Clearly, I will still try to negotiate at a benefit yard sale.  After all, isn't having $15 for the TV better than having no one buy it at all?  On the other hand, couldn't I see it as $15 for the TV, then an additional $15 donation for the very cute, very sick baby?  I don't have any answers here.  A yard sale can bring up quite a moral dilemma.

The funny thing is, when I offered $15, the lady looked relieved at the idea of not having to cart one more TV to the thrift store, and told me that they'd take $10.  Um, lady?  That is not a good way to raise money.  C’mon, offer to sell it to me for $20, I probably would have done it!  I told her to please accept $15, it was easily worth that to me.  So there.  I am $5 worth of a good person.  But not $15, apparently.  Considering that just a few years ago, I wasn’t even $2 worth of a good person, I think that’s good progress.

Anyway, moral quandaries aside, this TV is actually perfect.  It just barely fits in my media cabinet that Josh gave me for my birthday; it's probably the biggest possible screen that would fit.  And it was definitely in my target price range (after I negotiated the price down, that is).

So mark both the TV and the table off the list!  The point here, and I’ve made this point before, is that when you shop secondhand, getting what you want/need sometimes takes extra time.  While I’d only been looking for a TV for a month or so, I’ve been looking for that table since May.  Most people, when they decide they need a table or a new TV, go out to the store immediately to go pick one out.  They might look at several stores to see options and determine the best price, but generally they’re going to come home with it within a week.  It might take months for me to find what I want, but it usually comes along eventually.  Sometimes it doesn't, but in that case it turns out that I didn't need that thing after all.  When I do finally find the perfect thing, it seems very serendipitous, almost like fate.  I like living this way.  It makes me feel more in control of my stuff, rather than the other way around.

So that was it, my excellent December yard sale day.  I think it would have been a great day even in August.


racism and sexism.

I've been watching more musicals. Are you sick of this yet?

Flower Drum Song
Most of the musicals I know are Rodgers and Hammerstein like this one. However, Flower Drum Song is much less well-known these days because it's fallen out of favor for, well, being a little bit racist. It was a big deal at the time for featuring an almost entirely Asian cast, a notable exception being the actress who played Auntie Laing. She also played the Polynesian Bloody Mary in South Pacific, but was actually a black woman named Juanita. The characters are all Chinese, though the actors playing them come from a variety of countries in the Far East. It wasn't quite like Peter Lorre playing Mr. Wong, but it was less than P.C.

Despite the casting, I didn't think the movie was terribly offensive. Like many movies of that age, it also had some seriously old-fashioned ideas about women. But maybe racism is worse than sexism? And the songs sounded like Rodgers and Hammerstein. There was an extended dream sequence. I've never figured those scenes out. Maybe there used to be a rule about having ballet in a musical and so they just shoved in a scene with hazy lighting and limited scenery where people who looked sorta like the main characters could dance symbolically about?

The ending was a bit weird. The plot is one mixed-up love pentagon, and at the end is a double wedding. Because it doesn't get any cheesier than a double wedding. But one of the points on the love pentagon is left out and sort of drops off the face of the script. Apparently, in the book, she kills herself. I guess they cut it out because it would have been a real downer at the double wedding.

I would feel remiss if I did not mention that Jack Soo is one funny-looking dude. I'm glad he was able to get famous and I'm sure he was a nice guy, but wow. Genetics did him a disservice.

Songs and Dance: R & H quality - memorable melodies, lyrics sometimes clever, sometimes bland. I particularly enjoyed "Don't Marry Me."

Moment of Recognition: "I Enjoy Being a Girl," which had some fame in feminine product commercials, is from this show. Here's Nancy Kwan singing it.

Will I Make Josh Watch It: Nah.

Thoroughly Modern Millie
This one is sort of a parody, making fun of the early party of the 20th century. Which means that I didn't get some of the jokes. If you watch That 70s Show now, you get the jokes, because we all have this similar general idea of what the 70s were like. Not that I remember the 70s, but I understand that they didn't have things like cd players. Also, the jokes are written for a modern audience, who understands generally what the 70s were about, even if the target audience wasn't alive for them.

Now, imagine you've gone into the future, say into 2030, and you're watching That 70s Show. The jokes are not targetted toward your new, 2030-based idea of the 70s. Also, who even remembers the 70s, when the 2010s were such a riotous decade? I mean, really.

That's what watching Thoroughly Modern Millie in 2009 is like. Written in the 1960s, set in the 1920s (I *think*), I can tell that I'm missing some of the jokes. I can feel the air displacement that occurs as they whiz by. But who cares?! Because there is Julie Andrews and Mary Tyler Moore, singing, dancing, finding love and trying to avoid being sold into white slavery by Chinese laundry owners! This movie was way more racist than "Flower Drum Song," to the point where it was almost parody. So maybe it was making fun of racism and was therefore less racist. Racism is hard.

Also, Carol Channing is in it. Anyone who does not love Carol Channing is just being bitter. She takes a huge mouth, some weird hair, and an annoying voice and makes you like her for them. She did some vaudevillian type acts. They were wonderful. In all, the movie is frothy and fun. Despite the potentially dark plot element of stealing young women for slaves, it's all so over-the-top that you can't help but enjoy yourself, even during the parts that are potentially racist or not racist.

Songs and Dance: Most of the music is old songs from the 1910s and 1920s, so a lot of them are familiar. The best single moment of the whole movie is when Mary Tyler Moore meets the man that she falls in love with AT FIRST SIGHT, and there is instant, swelling music: "OH, sweet mystery of life at last I've found you!" Watching movies like this in my formative years led me to expect instant, swelling music at any moment when I might look up and see some handsome stranger (preferably across a crowded room). There are some other good numbers, most memorably "The Tapioca." It made me want to dance. And eat pudding. I did both. Here is that scene, which includes the ridiculous slang. "He's fresh as paint!" "Oh, he's just full of applesauce."

Will I Make Josh Watch It: He was there when I watched it, though he was not paying attention. Sometimes I make him dance "The Tapioca" with me.

Annie Get Your Gun
I didn't know anything about Annie Oakley before I watched this movie. To say that I learned something from this movie illustrates the depths of my ignorance, because musicals are not great history lessons. I knew that Annie Oakley was a good shot and had something to do with the Old West. For all I knew, she could have been a member of the James gang, though I did have the vague notion that she was probably one of the good guys. But no, Annie Oakley was a sharpshooter in Buffalo Bill's Wild West. The movie is a highly fictionalized version of her life, but it did lead me to read the wikipedia article about her, so all in all, my Annie Oakley knowledge has gone way up in the past couple of days. Of course, I might be of the mistaken impression that she sang a lot, too.

While we're talking about old-fashioned ideas today, this movie has a few. Annie Oakley is something of a feminist hero(ine), in that she excelled in a male-dominated field. And the movie addresses that, but at the same time has her doing almost anything for the love of a man. Of course, she is so gosh-darn, hy-uck, naive and sweet that you love her, even if you want to tell her that she doesn't need no stinking man. Her man, Frank Butler, is also a sharpshooter in Buffalo Bill's show, and in the end, the only way she can get him to propose is if she loses a shootin' match to him to save his pride. The message is that us ladies can do anything men can do, but sometimes we have to pretend that we can't because men are silly creatures that we love because we are also silly creatures. Maybe I should stop examining these musicals in such depth.

Betty Hutton played Annie. She was not your traditional musical star, in that she obviously came from a comedic background. She was hamming it up the whole time, which worked for the character. She did a great job of acting like someone who does not know how to act like a lady (and I should know!). Judy Garland was cast at first, but had to drop out due to health issues. The DVD I saw had clips from the scenes that Judy shot - she did not look well. Or happy. Betty is...not quite beautiful. She has her own sort of prettiness, but she is definitely not a classic beauty, which is probably why she decided to go into comedy.

Frank Butler was played by Howard Keel, in his first-ever movie. I love Howard Keel. He makes singing look masculine. I see him singing about how they say falling in love is wonderful, and I go, "Now there's a man!" Now that I think about it, in all the roles I've seen him do (Adam in Seven Brides for Seven Brothers and Frank in Kiss Me Kate), he plays the man who has to swallow his pride for his lady. I also like it when romantic male leads have to overcome character flaws for love. It can't be all wacky misunderstandings and white slavery. Oh, Howard, you can swallow your pride for me anytime. Well, not really, because you're dead.

Songs and Dance: The songs were by Irving Berlin. I like ole Irving, and I bet you do too, even if you didn't know it. Dude wrote "White Christmas" and "Puttin' on the Ritz." Neither of those were in this movie. However, there was "Anything You Can Do," which was probably my favorite scene. "Doin' What Comes Natur'lly" was also cute, in a celebration of illiteracy sort of way. "You Can't Get a Man with a Gun" succinctly sums up the plight of the modern woman. Dancing was not as prominent, I guess because the stars were more singers or actors than natural dancers. There wasn't even a dream sequence.

Moment of Recognition: "There's No Business Like Show Business," which was a complete surprise to me since I thought this movie was about the Old West, not the Old West show business. Later, a movie by that name was released, mostly so they could make a movie where Ethel Merman (who originated the role of Annie Oakley in the stage version of Annie Get Your Gun) could sing that song. I saw that movie a long time ago, and the plot is pretty loose. It's sort of like a pornographic movie, but instead of having sex, people sing Irving Berlin songs. Also, "Anything You Can Do," which I've already mentioned.

Will I Make Josh Watch It: Nope. But when he saw the DVD sleeve from Netflix, he started singing "Anything You Can Do," which adds to my suspicion that he is secretly a huge musical fan.


the oldest established craps game in new york.

My boss, the big boss of the company, asked me what I wanted from Santa this year. Actually, he asked what sort of prizes should be featured at the holiday party, but it felt like Santa all over again, just if Santa happened to be a thin, middle-aged programmer.

First, let me just mention that our company holiday party totally rocks. At my old job, we would go out to a nice lunch at the country club on the last day before Christmas vacation. Then we would play Dirty Santa with a bunch of presents that the company had bought and the secretary wrapped. The presents weren't bad, though I never ended up with one of the good ones, but the whole sit-down lunch had the feeling of the class Christmas party in the third grade: no matter how fun it was, no matter how many sticky cupcakes you got to eat, the whole time you were counting down the minutes until you could leave.

This company has the party after Christmas, which solves the problem of employees feeling like dogs with noses against the window. Also, we gamble.

First, dinner. It's a nice dinner, and we don't pay for it. Previously we had a buffet setup, but last year we went to Bonefish and had sort of a weird family style dinner. I think it was cheaper that way, but the whole thing felt a little rushed. Then we go to where some sort of games company has set up a mini-casino. We're given chips and told to have at it. Last year was BYOB, again for expense reasons, but previously there was a bar, where we could buy drink tickets for a quarter, which could then be traded for mixed drinks. I think the whole ticket arrangement was skirting some sort of legal issue, so if we got trashed, went out and drove into a median, we couldn't sue the company. After all, they just sold us tickets.

The casino featured poker and blackjack, with both tables being pretty much monopolized the whole evening by the same people. Those tables were tense and serious. Then there were the stations for the people who weren't really into gambling: roulette and craps. Roulette was fairly steady. It was the kind of place you went to to cool down for a few minutes and have some mindless chip shuffling. There is nothing to roulette. You put a chip in a box, a guy spins a wheel, you may or may not get chips back. It is nice that there are levels of risk. You can bet on a specific number to come up - the odds are bad with a big payoff if your number comes up. Or you can bet on the even numbers or the black numbers. Great odds, low payoff. Roulette is the Joe Camel of gambling tables.

But craps is where it's at. Aside from making me think of Frank Sinatra as Nathan Detroit in Guys and Dolls (He had the oldest established craps game in New York!), craps is fun. If someone tries to explain it to you, then your eyes will probably glaze over and you'll wander back over to the roulette table for the quiet simplicity of a piece of felt with numbers on it. I can't explain it to you, because it's been roughly eleven months since I played. But it's better to just jump in. You'll still put down chips on some labelled felt, and the longer you play, the more you get it. Maybe it's different in Vegas. At the company party, we have a friendly dealer named Lou with a charming working-man Brooklyn accent who patiently explains things to people and helps people who put down their chips in the wrong place or at the wrong time.

The thing that makes craps awesome is the community of it. When you play at any of the other tables, you're on your own. You make your bets and you play against the dealer. At craps, you make your bets, and whether you win is determined by the roll of the dice of one of the people at the table. As long as the dice don't show one particular number (and I wish I remembered what it was), then you keep rolling and keep winning, along with everyone else at the table. Everyone is essentially betting on the same numbers. As the time goes on, the excitement builds. In roulette, the bets are cleared after each number, but with craps they stay and earn you more chips. It's really bunches of fun. I don't want to encourage bad habits, but if you ever have the chance to play craps on the company dime, you should totally do it. Don't let the complicated rules scare you away.

At the end of the night, we exchange our chips for raffle tickets. We put half of a ticket into one of several jars, each one associated with some sort of groovy prize. Now we've come full circle, to where my boss was taking a poll as to what sort of prizes would be good raffling options. He seemed shocked that I wasn't interested in a Blue Ray player, and maybe even more shocked that my only TV was too old to even handle input from such a thing. Some people just have different priorities, I suppose. It was hard not to jump up and down and say "GPS! GPS! We want a GPS!" I'll save that sort of display for casino night, if I actually win the GPS this year.

True, we don't each come home with a prize this way, as opposed to the method my old company used. Of course, one year I came home with a ceramic oil and vinegar set, after having a new printer and a digital camera taken from me during Dirty Santa. But a fun night at the craps table with a beer and the possibility of a GPS system is better than an oil and vinegar set that ends up at Goodwill anyway.