Continuing my long tradition of bringing you things you didn’t ask for, today I feel it is necessary to take you through some history of what many people call the greatest group in the history of pop, the Swedish foursome that is and was Abba.
What led me to this? Mostly, my new book, which takes place in New York and has shades of disco grandeur, so of course I had to listen to lots of lots of wonderful Abba for inspiration. As a tiny mj, I spent many hours dancing around my room to “Dancing Queen” and “Take a Chance on Me.” And now, as a fully-grown mj, I still do. I eagerly await the opening of the Abba museum in Sweden. I am so going to that.
The kings and queens of the 70s from left to right: Benny, Anna-Frid, Anna, and Bjorn. Benny and Anna-Frid were married, as were Anna and Bjorn.
Just look how happy they are. Compare this natural joy with a picture of The Cure trying to smile and see the difference. You can’t fake joy like that.
We are really very happy.
At the height of their powers, Abba was constantly packed up and shipped around the planet. This was before the internet, back when you actually had to go to places to make any kind of an impact. You get the feeling that Abba were shoved in front of the camera as quickly as humanly possible and made to DO SOMETHING. This has resulted in a massive catalog of utterly fantastic television appearances from around the world. There is just nothing like this on television today.
As a service to you, I’ve trolled Youtube and brought five of these performances here, analyzed them, and listed them in order of decreasing sanity and coherence. Some may call this effort of mine procrastination, but I call it public service. I do it for you. This is a fantastic waste of fifteen minutes. You’re welcome.
Tiger, 1976, Polish television
To be fair, Benny and Bjorn aren’t native English speakers, so you almost feel bad questioning the purpose behind lyrics like:
The city is a nightmare, a horrible dream Some of us will dream it forever. Turn around the corner and try not to scream It’s me! I am behind you, I always find you, I am the tiger. And if I meet you, what if I eat you? I am the tiger!
The question of relevance evaporates in the face of this video, in which Abba’s on the road travails are made very literal. It appears that they have been packed in a giant box full of those packing air cushions, and are fighting their way out to perform. Every time they seem to get free, the packing cushions attack. It’s kind of heartbreaking to watch them struggle.
You would think if they were the scary tigers they are claiming to be, this would not be a problem. Tigers have claws and teeth and can easily pop air bags. And yet they wrestle for three mesmerizing minutes. Do they ever stop singing? Not for a heartbeat! They are total pros. Justin Timberlake may have put his you-know-what in a box, but he never had to deal with anything like this.
Ring, Ring, 1973, a yard in Sweden
Hey, guys! I have an idea. Let’s stand Abba out in the backyard of my house and have them sing a song about getting a call. I have some big wicker chairs out there, and two old-timey telephones that aren’t connected to anything. It’s pretty sunny out, so their shiny tin foil clothing may be sort of uncomfortable, baking them like potatoes and causing them to squint a lot. It may even make them start lip-synching all the wrong words. But I don’t think that should stop us. We’ve come up with this plan, and I think we should roll with it.
And you know what would be great? Let’s have the guys sneak out of the foliage and creep up behind the girls. And can we make sure they’re leering, and generally as shady-looking as possible? And can we just have them linger in the back, like stalkers about to graduate to the next level?
We can? Oh, great.
Honey Honey, 1973, unknown country (possibly Transylvania)
Why is Count Dracula hosting this show? And why is he holding a huge Napoleon hat?
I guess we can’t even answer those questions, not when these outfits give us so much to think about. They show a certain lack of restraint, a bit of a lack of thematic focus. I think even Elton John would have called them “a little flamboyant.”
Bjorn has come to the party dressed as a superhero. He’s Captain Spiky Guitar! He has a cape and silver arm bands! Maybe he developed this superhero persona in response to the time that they were trapped with all those air bags.
Anna is a genie. Or a pirate. Or just someone in little red shorts and silver boots who is also covered from head to thigh in silver circles. I don’t think there is a word for that, except maybe for hotttt. Note the nice little wolf call that comes out of the audience when she is introduced.
Anni-Frid is some kind of . . . space ho? It’s unclear. She’s definitely Star Trek hotttt.
Benny is wearing the roller skating jacket I wanted when I was eight, except I wanted it in pink, and I would have requested that the massive feather boa be removed. Silver platform boots? Oh, yes please!
Now, the dancing. We need to discuss. Those walking trees in the Lord of the Rings shook it more than this. Anni-Frid is the only one who appears to have any va-va-voom. This junior high-style, edge of the gym floor, slight overbite, swaying dance does not cut the mustard. If you’re going to put on that much shiny stuff, I think you should be wielding a flamethrower as you skate around an ice disco. Anything less is a disappointment.
But let’s give Abba some credit here. They are being forced to wear nine-inch platforms that probably legally qualify as scaffolding. Next time, they should just have stuck them on stilts, or maybe up in space, and been done with it.
Let’s not mention the obvious fade out at the end. Just let them escape. Waterloo, 1974, Spanish television
If you have ever been diagnosed with any kind of borderline psychiatric condition, you may not want to watch this. This video seems designed to cause a psychic break and destroy your mind to a happy disco beat.
We see here a reappearance of the Napoleon hats . . . but that makes sense. The name Waterloo refers to the famous battle at which Napoleon was defeated. But those dancing hats that start off the video are just plain creepy. The spiky guitar is back. However, the cape is gone, and now Bjorn is wearing the Hulk’s pants.
Then the confusion comes. Who’s on the stripey-stripey piano? Is it Bjorn? No, it’s Anni-Frid! No, it’s Bjorn! It’s Anni-Frid! No, it’s neither! They’re all under one of those creepy hat illustrations! Anni-Frid comes out of Napoleon’s chest! This freaks Napoleon out, but then, HE LIKES IT.
Then the hats march in! Then come the coordinated disco dancers in vaguely Germanic pastoral outfits! Oh, the hats! The dancers! The hats! The dancers! Bjorn, beat them off with your spiky guitar!
And all the while, Benny smiles creepily.
The return of Ring, Ring, same show
Okay. We admit it. In the past, mistakes were made. Like the first time when we recorded this song in a yard, and Bjorn and Benny ended up looking like serial killer stalkers, and Anna and Anni-Frid got sunburn and had to stay inside for a week. We Swedes are very pale and should be more careful. We live many months in darkness, you know, and sometimes we get overexcited by the sunlight, like those kids in “All Summer in a Day.” Do you know that story? Anyway . . .
About that Waterloo performance on this show that caused so many of you to end up on prescription antipsychotics . . . we are really very, very sorry. We’ve fired the whole crew and have gotten this AV club from the local high school to do all the tech work on this performance, which we promise will not be scary or give anyone skin cancer.
Ready? Okay. Here we go . . .
I was sitting by the phone . . . I was waiting all alone . . .
LIGHTS, guys! Turn on the lights! No, not just for the backdrop. For us.
Okay. Thanks. A bumpy start, but still, this performance is going a lot better already, right? Wait . . . who is messing with the pointy-pointy camera effect? Would you stop that? Don’t you think between that and the disturbing stripes and lines we’ve got going on behind us that we might give someone a seizure? Oh, this isn’t going as we had hoped. Just bring the dancers back in.
Hold on. What are they wearing? Are their outfits really covered in SWIRLY EYES? And why the jumping? And the mirrors? And the shattered lens . . . is that blood coming out of it?
BRING THOSE AV KIDS BACK IN!
Oh, I can feel it coming. My limbs are twitching. Make it stop! I want my mommy! I AM NAPOLEAN!
I got something yesterday that stopped my clock completely. It’s possible that this is the best thing that has ever happened to me—even better than my free monkey riding up with my new Vespa. I am going to share it with you.
Before we get to the exciting bit, though, I have to mention something while I am still up here at the top of the page, and not seventy feet down it. Do you see this little white box over here to the right? Slap your e-mail in there and you will be signed up for my SUPER SECRET MAILINGLISTACULAR! Go on! Sign up now!
Okay. Let me tell you about the shiny thing.
So, yesterday, I was writing with Scott Westerfeld and Justine Labalestier. We worked at Westerestier HQ, a secure, carefully wired compound, high above the streets of Manhattan.
Scott is very busy writing Extras, the fourth book of Uglies/Pretties/Specials. His fingers barely stopped typing the whole day, except when he did his hand jives to figure out how hoverboards fly. More importantly, yesterday was the release of Justine’s 3rd book in the Magic or Madness trilogy.
Naturally, when the day was over, we had to celebrate this momentous occasion. We paraded around, drinking some champagne and having three course desserts, and generally made merry in the way that you have to when the third book of the Magic or Madness trilogy comes out. When we returned, I checked my e-mail. There were several messages waiting.
I can’t describe it any further. It really just has to be watched.
Note the three girls in this image.
Scott and I were blown away by many parts of this—not the least of which was the astonishingly accurate recreation of a group of us at work. When Justine re-emerged in her pajamas (Justine likes pajamas) she watched it and identified the artists behind it as some excellent readers she met white signing in Texas.
“I like that John is being played by a girl,” Scott said, when he had shaken off his initial amazement.
I sent it over to John Green, who was in his hospital bed, typing with one hand and reading with one eye. The first thing he said (after happily noting the Brotherhood 2.0 appearance) was, “I like that I am being played by a girl.”
E. Lockhart, the other person represented in the café scene, also loved it.
“I liked the fact that John was played by a girl,” she said, after making many positive comments on the use of Kenny Loggins in the final dancing scene.
It’s a good thing I have this, as it completely eliminates the need for me to write 200 pages of blog today. Which is very good, as I have to run off now, as this afternoon is the New York Public Library’s Books for the Teen Age 2007 exhibition. I am happy to announce that Devilish is on that list, along with books by Scott, Justine, E. and many other fine people. Last year, I watched the Leo NYPL lion (or a librarian dressed as Leo) secretly paw a can of Coke! Even fake lions get thirsty, you know.
So, please, sign up, watch the video, and praise its makers. I’ll be back tomorrow or the next day with an unnecessarily long report on what I saw and heard.
I leave you with this question . . . and I want you to be honest with me. Seriously. When I came back from England, this is what my rubber plant looked like. Do you guys think my plant is dead?
Friends, when I last left you, I was writing from the London Office, where I was recovering from flu and talking about television and my FREE MONKEY.
Getting home was an experience I must share. After all, because of 13 Little Blue Envelopes (and, you will find, Girl At Sea), a lot of people think of me as “that person who writes about traveling.”
Before I left England, I carefully packed my free monkey into my suitcase. Oscar (having just read my blog about getting the Free Monkey) said, “Do you know what? There was a rush on the Free Monkeys. People started buying three or four at a time, and they ran out. People are trying to get them.”
I smiled at my monkey.
To be honest, I didn’t think I was going anywhere. I’d heard about the massive snowstorms that were descending on the East Coast, partially from the news, and partially from my mother, who called me about six times to tell me. But Virgin Atlantic seemed unaware of the storm. I checked. There was no delay. I went to Heathrow Airport expecting to be laughed at and sent home.
“Isn’t there a delay?” I asked, as I checked in my bag. “Because of the snowstorm?”
“What snowstorm?” they asked.
That would be the snowstorm that canceled all the American Airlines flights and caused all their passengers to be put on Virgin Atlantic, including flight 25, which was my flight.
By the time we got on the plane, they were admitting that there was a storm.
"There's a bit of bad weather in New York," the pilot said in his lovely Irish accent. "We're going to feel it about two-thirds of the way across the Atlantic. And we may have to circle a bit when we get there, but don't worry. We've put on extra fuel. Happy Saint Patrick's Day to all of our Irish passengers."
That sounded fun. Turbulence AND holding patterns! I was glad they hadn't delayed us.
About 30 minutes into the flight, the pilot came on and said, “Are there any medically qualified persons on board? Specifically, we would like a midwife.”
So, presumably, there was going to be a BABY born on our flight. And if there was going to be a BABY born on our flight, you would think we would have to land. Short of going back, the only place I could think of that we could land was Iceland, where (I had just recently been told) you often can’t land anyway because of the wintry fog.
I started to mentally plan my crazy night out in Reykjavik. First, I would find Bjork . . .
That was as far as I got. We didn’t hear anything more about the midwife, so I don’t know if there was a Virgin Atlantic flight 25 baby or not. If there was, they were awfully quiet about it. I’ve been on flights before where they have been medical problems (like the time the woman actually collapsed on me when I was trying to work on Girl At Sea), and it’s been chaos. People running up the aisles. People with no medical knowledge at all standing around, giving advice.
About halfway through the flight, I looked up to see our captain wandering the aisles. I fought the urge to get up and scream, “THE STEWARDESS IS FLYING THE PLANE!” Or even something weirder, like, “BJORK IS FLYING THE PLANE!”
I laughed to myself, albeit a little nervously.
I didn’t know who was in charge.
When they announced that it was about time for us to land, and if we wanted to get up we had to do it now, I left my seat to change out of the yoga pants I had put on earlier in the flight and back into my jeans. A friendly, if somewhat drunk, Irishman was waiting with me.
“What do you think?” he asked me.
It was a little too general of a question, but I got the idea that he was asking me something about our general chances.
“There’s a storm,” I said. “We might be diverted.”
“No,” he said, shaking his head. “The pilot is Irish! He’ll land this #&$^#*&^$#*& plane no matter what.”
I laughed, a kind of loud “Ha ha!” that I often employ around drunk people when I myself am sober. The bathroom was free, and I stepped up for my turn.
“Can I give you a hand in there?” my new friend asked me.
“I’m fine,” I said. “I’ve been going to the bathroom by myself for over five years now.”
I locked the door carefully as he puzzled this over.
He was right, though. Our pilot landed that plane, very suddenly in fact. I could see from the flight tracker that we were dropping altitude fast and bumping like crazy as we went through the clouds. He came on the loudspeaker and said, “Flight crew, take your seats IMMEDIATELY.”
And then we were down on a solid white sheet of snow, the only plane in sight, surrounded by plows.
“Well, we’ve landed,” he said. “Unfortunately, we have nowhere to go. There is no gate for us. And I can’t really tell you when we will have a gate.”
That didn’t sound good. I made a few calls, then put my head back for a little nap. No sooner had I closed my eyes, though, then we were parked in a gate. We marched off the plane, just an hour and a half after our scheduled landing, which seemed fair to me.
“Wow,” I said to myself. “That worked out well!”
It continued to work out well as I breezed through passport control, where my inspector was so bored that he didn’t speak and literally threw my passport back at me.
“I love New York,” I said happily. “It feels good to be home.”
I walked the few feet to the luggage claim and took a spot. Our bags didn’t seem to be coming. The loudspeaker crackled to life.
“Virgin Atlantic flight 25,” the announcer said. “There is a problem getting your baggage. Right now, we have NO TIME ESTIMATE on when it will be coming.”
It was 11:15. I sat down on the edge of the conveyer belt. I looked around me to see how the other passengers were taking this news. To my surprise, I noticed that—standing maybe ten feet from me—was Sigourney Weaver. It was definitely her. I heard her speak, and I’ve seen Copycat about twenty-five times (don’t ask). Obviously, she had been on the flight.
I laughed to myself again as I thought of a dozen jokes about how it wasn’t a good sign to be on a long-haul flight with Sigourney Weaver.
The jokes write themselves, really.
By 12:30, I decided to stop sitting on the edge of the belt and to fulfill a minor lifelong dream of stretching out on the belt itself. The airport sent down a representative—a very flustered-looking man, who was immediately descended upon by my planemates. (But not, I should add, Sigourney Weaver.)
“I’m sorry,” he groveled. “I have no explanation for this. I’ve called them and they tell me the bags are on the belt. Why they aren’t coming down, I have no idea.”
This is a surprisingly accurate representation of how I spent Friday night.
Around 1:30 in the morning, as I was fully reclined on the conveyer belt, I called Daphne Unfeasible. I call Daphne whenever I have any decision to make that I’m on the fence about.
“Daphne,” I said. “Do I really care about my bag? Is there anything in there that I really need, except my FREE MONKEY? I think if we leave they’re either going to send our bags back to England or blow them up.”
“Your free monkey is in there?” she asked. “You have to stay.”
I knew she was right. I shut my phone and looked over at Sigourney Weaver. She was waiting. So would I. Those free monkeys were rare.
We all started making friends. I lent a Swiss girl my phone, and she offered me delicious Swiss chocolate. Another girl offered me a magazine after she heard my free monkey call to Daphne.
“You can’t give up,” she said, passing it over. “Here.”
I nodded and thanked her. I opened it and immediately noticed something in there that caught my eye—it was an ad for fitted sheet covers for airplane seats in loud “designer” patterns.
If ANYONE sits next to me on a plane and starts putting fitted sheets over their seat, I thought to myself, I might punch them in the face. Honestly. I’m not a violent person, but I think that might bring something out of me that is otherwise contained. You know how the Hulk pops out? I think it might be like that.
I shut the magazine and went back to my previous occupation, which was watching Sigourney Weaver out of the corner of my eye.
By 2, we were all getting a little tired of this. An angry hoard of us (me not included, I couldn’t be bothered to get off the belt for a while) surrounded the airport representative, who looked pretty close to suicide. In fact, when I did go over to hear what he was saying, he actually threatened as much.
“If I was responsible for this mess,” he said, “I would put a GUN to my HEAD. You deserve so much better.”
This seemed a bit much to me.
At 2:15, the belt started moving and about eight bags came out. (Including Sigourney’s. Either that or she just gave up.) We cheered. And then, nothing. We watched the belt go around. We started writing notes on pieces of paper and putting them on the belt for other people to read and respond to.
My bag came tumbling down at 3 AM.
“At last,” I said, pulling it along. “It’s over.”
But it wasn’t over. Because all two or three hundred of us stepped outside into a major winter storm, with icy rain. The sidewalks and road were covered in so much snow and slush that it was almost impossible to pull our bags along. Along the curbs, there were one foot deep and three or four feet wide slush lakes. I needed to cross these to get to the massive cab line I gave up trying to be clever about it and just waded through, dragging my bag and allowing my boots and jeans to get soaked. There was no other way. We all did it.
My bathroom friend stood behind me in line. He was a lot more awake and sober. We all were. It was freezing, with a strong wind. It was almost impossible to get into the cabs when they came. I got mine after maybe twenty minutes, and had to actually throw my suitcase over the gulch and into the back seat. Then we slipped and slid along the parkway at top speed, narrowly missing other cars. My cab driver did a strange thing—he stopped to get gas. And then we promptly stalled in the gas station.
I was beyond caring.
I stumbled in my door sometime after four, took a look at my now officially dead rubber plant, and dropped my things. I opened my suitcase, and took out my free monkey.
“You are home,” I said.
So that’s how I got here. I am now safely back with my writing friends. E. Lockhart is next to me, and Scott Westerfeld is across from me. John Green is snowbound in Detroit with pink eye.
Just to address one other point from my last post (and thank you for your many comments). Daphne got right in there and had to shout out her love for Face from the A-Team.
Like I said, I love all members of the team (not including, as previously stated, Frankie “Dishpan” Santana, who is not a true team member). But Murdock is clearly and obviously superior to Face. And I can tell you why in painstaking detail. Daphne knows this. She is consciously is playing with fire, because she is well aware that I could unleash my massive backload of A-Team knowledge AT ANY SECOND. It’s like a tsunami of information.
But I will resist.
However, she brings up an excellent point in mentioning her other love, Bo Duke. I never liked Bo Duke. I gave Luke a weak allegiance. But I do have something to tell you about Bo Duke that is very much related to this topic.
Since I became a fully-grown mj, my parents have done a lot of traveling. One year, they went on a cruise of northern Europe. When they returned, I went home to have dinner with them at our local favorite, the Olive Garden. (When you’re there, you’re family. The Olive Garden is the best of the local options around Chez Johnson. Take from that what you will.)
“Your father made a friend on the trip,” she said. "Tell her."
My dad looked up.
"I did," he said. "He was a great guy, named John. We played cards almost every night."
"That's nice," I said. To tell the truth, the story had already paralyzed me with boredom. It didn't seem like a good start.
"Funny thing, though," my dad went on. "People kept asking to have their pictures taken with him. This went on for a few days, so I finally asked him why. He said that he used to be on TV a long time ago. Maybe you’ve heard of him. He was on a . . . what was it. Something Dukes . . .”
“Not the Dukes of Hazzard,” I said, setting down my ice tea spoon carefully.
“That’s it,” he said. “He was one of the main guys.”
“You’re not talking about John Schneider, are you?” I asked.
“Right! That was his name.”
I leveled a look at my father. He is not, to be completely fair, Mr. Hollywood.
“You spent two weeks hanging out with BO DUKE?” I said.
“I guess so. He’s nice. We would go to the casino together. Good card player.”
“YOU HUNG OUT WITH BO DUKE FOR TWO WEEKS?”
“I just told you I did.”
To some of you, this won’t mean much. Let me explain. In the early 1980s, Bo Duke was THE major heartthrob of network television. Whether you liked him or not, you couldn’t avoid him. The thought of him hanging out with my dad—a man who still thinks the invisible dog leash is still a very funny thing and who reads Parking Today magazine—was not something my brain could handle. I felt it struggling to put these two ideas together, and the feeling was sort of like what it looks like when you make those fake volcanoes and mix baking soda and vinegar which DON’T MIX WELL and explode into foam.
Anyway, it just goes to show that you never know who you are going to meet. Until next time . . . when I promise to address even more of your comments.
That’s John Schneider. The blonde does not represent my father. Their relationship was strictly platonic and seemed to involve a lot of blackjack and manly walks on the Ledo deck talking about blackjack.
In case you were wondering, which you probably weren’t, the reason I’ve been somewhat quiet for the last few days is that I came down with a flu bug immediately upon landing in England.
Or, probably more correctly, that tiny cough I developed while packing got a lot worse over the Atlantic. For whatever reason, planes are sickness machines. If you board a plane a little sick, you’ll get off sicker. I arrived at Heathrow with a raging fever. I noticed this when I got to the London Office and began talking to the dog. Sadly, the London Office does not have a dog. I was talking to a lamp.
So, for several days, I could do nothing at all. I was flattened. I managed to get out my thoughts on how to deal with Amazon reviews. The rest of the time I spent asleep, or trying to sleep, or sitting in front of the television with a box of tissues in my lap. Pretty much the most exciting thing that happened for a few days was that we went to the supermarket because I needed a bottle of something called Night Nurse.
We also needed another box of tea, because I was drinking it at a ridiculous rate. I was reaching for a small box, which was all we really needed, when I noticed that they had massive boxes marked FREE MONKEY. Along with the freakishly large box of tea, you got a sock monkey in a little t-shirt.
I sniffed and reached for one of these.
“You’re getting the big one?” Oscar asked. (Of course, it was Oscar who had to drive me to the store in his Oscarmobile.)
“Free monkey,” I explained, putting it in the cart. (It came out more like, “Fwee mukky.”)
A sock monkey in a t-shirt is probably the last thing I need, but there was something about the words FREE MONKEY that I could not turn away from. And the people who make PG Tips tea know that. It is a cheap but effective trick. It’s amazing how little it takes to satisfy us.
Could you say no?
Speaking of that, I was just reading an e-mail from my good friend, editor J.Z. Migraine. J.Z. suffers from crippling insomnia, so he will often write me long, brilliant screeds in the dark of the night.
“You’re doing your blog all wrong,” he wrote to me. “People want to hear about what you like to watch on TV. That’s what they’re really after.”
Is this true, readers? Have I been denying you what you have wanted all along?
Well, then! Since I have caught up on some TV this week, I have decided to compile a listing of my TV CRUSH HISTORY, starting from the earliest days. What I find, in looking over my list, is that I generally fall for the wrong character. I rarely “take the free monkey” when it comes to watching shows. And when I do, I get very mad about it.
CRUSH ZERO: WILLIAM KATT
When I was a tiny mj, we had a neighbor across the street who was in high school. He was handsome, with curly blonde hair, and apparently, I LOVED him. I flirted with him CEASELESSLY, I am told. (By flirting, I mean “screamed his name across the street.” I was three at the time.) I don’t remember this, but everyone likes to tell me about it. It makes a certain sense, though, when you look at my first crush . . . William Katt.
William Katt starred in a TV show called The Greatest American Hero, which I can remember absolutely nothing about except the theme song and those luscious blonde curls. I developed a lifelong case of something I call “William Katt Love Hangover,” which has left me hopelessly enthralled by curly-haired guys ever since. Peter Camp, the love interest in my book The Key to the Golden Firebird, probably owes his curly hair to this disease.
WK seen here in the movie Carrie, right before the pigs' blood comes down. Oh, those curls. Look how they shine.
OMEGA CRUSH: MURDOCK, THE A-TEAM
Confession: when I was little, I worshipped the A-Team.
Is the A-Team the worst television show ever made? Pretty much. It’s violent. It’s formulaic. It makes almost no sense. But I didn’t see that at the time, because I wanted to BE in the A-Team. I could write many blog entries about my love of the A-Team, but I won’t, partly out of pride, and partly because it would scare you a little. (Such as my amazing do-it-yourself A-Team episode guide.)
The member of the team you were supposed to fall for was Face (or Templeton Peck), played by Dirk Benedict. While I liked Face (I liked all members of the team except for Frankie “Dishpan” Santana, who was not a real member at all but merely a gimmick tacked on to season five to spice up the post-trial Team, but I digress . . .), the member I truly loved with all my heart and soul was H.M. Murdock. Superstar pilot. Actual mental patient (though we all knew that he was faking). The man who learned to speak Chinese in one afternoon. Murdock, with his flexible grasp of reality, was the team member for me. He also seemed to be the only one with any real skills. He could scam better than Face, build better than BA, and plot at least as well as Hannibal. So what if he had an imaginary dog? He was still the only one, after YEARS in Vietnam, who had ANY GRASP of Vietnamese.
My heart was with Howling Mad.
It wasn’t so much a crush in the case of Murdock. I wanted to BE Murdock, because Murdock was having the most fun of anyone. And do I even need to mention that he saved the entire team from execution? No. I do not. Moving on . . .
THE CRUSH I JUST REMEMBERED: FOX MULDER, THE X-FILES
Oh, they laughed at him at Quantico. They called him Spooky Mulder and made him live in the basement. But we all knew Mulder was right, and the truth was out there, and that he really did love Scully. And we loved him, until they got weird and brought in new people, and then I forgot The X-Files was even on so I don’t even know how it ended. I only remembered the show because there is a TV on in the background here, and The X-Files just came on, and I got all misty-eyed remembering the good times with the Fox.
RUN SPOOKY, RUN!
THE CRUSH THAT EVERYONE DEVELOPED: LOGAN ECKOLLS, VERONICA MARS
Okay, Veronica Mars. I didn’t want to watch you. I only did because my agent Daphne Unfeasible slipped the first season of you into my purse. She used my love of girl detectives and my lifelong ambition to open a private investigator business to sucker me in. And I went right along with the rest of you, like a LEMMING.
I had resisted so many. I turned up my nose at Jordan Catalano from My So Called Life. (And who’s laughing now? Anyone seen Jared Leto lately? Ho ho!) I liked Spike as a friend. I never even made it through an episode of The O.C. so I escaped all of that. I thought I could never be lured by The One You Are Supposed to Like.
Hey, Jared. They do make waterproof eyeliner, you know. And does the fencing team know you stole one of their futuristic turtleneck uniforms?
And then, along came #$^*$^ Logan Eckolls.
Those sneaky VM people knew exactly what they were doing, making us hate Logan for so long. They made him evil, obnoxious, racist. For reasons I could barely understand, I started to like him—maybe because I was smugly self-satisfied at not liking Duncan Kane, the first love interest, who is so wooden as to be his very own forest. You could build a cabin out of him.
Duncan Kane: smoking hot, in a “belongs in your fireplace” kind of way
Really, though, it was all a setup for Logan. They USED us. I think they even pulled tricks from the book The Game, which J.Z. Migraine read and Cliff Noted for me. There’s this thing called “negging,” where you (a guy) purposely say something that is negative, so the girl (us) doesn’t think you’re trying too hard . . . or because jerks trigger some kind of elemental biological response in us or something like that. The theory is, we like meanness. Not a lot. Just enough.
Logan negs Veronica left, right, and center . . . and we slobber along. Then they took their good, sweet time redeeming him. They gave us just enough to make us follow along. It was this drop-by-drop baiting that made me end up at Daphne’s door at one in the morning, begging for season two, just because I had to see who was at the door.
I hate myself for it. But there he is. Smart-alack, negging Logan.
I love this @#$^@#^&hole.
Don’t tell me anything about season three. I haven’t seen it.
THE DEAD CRUSH: MASON, DEAD LIKE ME
Yes, you were supposed to like Mason. But since it seems like only 15 people even watched Dead Like Me (sad), I feel like I can get away with this without too much guilt. And Mason is a supremely constructed character, well played. He’s scrawny. He’s smelly. He’s a thief and a drug addict. He died forty years ago from drilling a hole in his own head. And I defy you not to love him.
How can you not love someone who says, “I’m so smart, I’m practically retarded”?
SIDEKICK CRUSH: GUS, PSYCH
Gus is the reason Psych works, and if you’re not watching it, you should. Because of Gus. Oh Gus.
Gus is the sensible sidekick to fake psychic Shawn Spencer. Gus has a real job (he’s a pharmaceutical rep), knows who has won every spelling bee for the last twenty years (and was a champ himself), is a comic book collector, a Civil War buff, a wannabe safecracker, and is still recovering from his own TV crush on Elyse Keaton, the mom from Family Ties. He also has an imaginary cat named Missus Pickles.
Gus is very good at spelling. How many characters can you say that about?
I’m sure there are more, but I need another cup of tea. There is a lot of it to get through, you know, because of the big box. Still, FREE MONKEY.
Do you have a TV crush? Or is there a TV show you have been dying to get my opinion on? Please let me know.
HOW TO BE A WRITER II: HOW TO DEAL WITH AMAZON REVIEWS
Hello, friends. I join you today from the London Desk. I have been reading your comments on my previous posts with a glistening and interested eye. As usual, you have made some excellent points, which I must address.
anonymous said... Point #5 is okay as far as it goes, but don't you feel that you really need special instructions to cover dealing with negative reviews on Amazon?
And then . . .
anonymous said... You forget to mention, on number two, that once one finds a bad review on Amazon, one must immediately fill in fifteen good reviews with different usernames, emphasizing on how the writer is also an amazing humanitarian and as gorgeous-slash-handsome as an underwear model.
Anonymous often has the best things to say. Amazon reviews must be addressed, if one is to learn how to be a Writer.
I was getting some music from iTunes the other day. For my new book, I needed some Abba. (Sometimes, you need Abba. It’s just a fact of life.) I noticed one of the reviews below the picture of the album I was downloading. It said: “Someone should get these women some signing lessons.”
Okay. You might not like Abba, but I think the last thing you can say is that they need singing lessons. Even the harshest of their critics acknowledges their cold-as-a-Swedish-winter technical perfection.
It just goes to show, once your creation is out there in the world . . . be it a song or a book or a play or whatever . . . it’s open season on you. If you are a writer, you are getting exactly what you wanted. People are reading your work. The downside is, some of the people reading your work won’t like it.
Some of those people like to write Amazon reviews.
Of course, the most “sensible” advice would be never to read the Amazon reviews. But everyone reads them, so that would be lying, stupid advice. And I will not give you lying, stupid advice. I am going to give advice on what to do after you’ve read them, which you will do. Probably several times.
1. EMBRACE THE LOVE
First of all, the majority of the reviews (at least in my experience) are full of love. Sometimes, they are full of love I don’t feel I deserve. Many people who decide to write Amazon reviews do so out of kindness and appreciation.
Sometimes, Amazon will whisk you off your feet.
But okay. Having said that, it’s time to . . . 2. FACE THE HORROR
And then, they will come. Maybe just one. Maybe several. You will first note the single star, and the subject line that reads: “UGH! HATE IT HATE IT HATE IT. DIE, WRITER! DIE!” You will begin to sense that this is not going to go well.
You will feel like the reviewer is trying to tell you something.
Here you’ve knocked yourself dead writing a book, you’ve poured your life and soul into it, maybe years of your life, and what do you get? You get a review that says:
ilikekittenz91: This bok sux I hate it and the authur is so stooped. i wish she woud catch on fire. do not reed it! i am going to throw this bok into a volcano.
The urge to come to your own defense will be strong. “Who are you to judge me, ilikekittenz91?” you will say, shaking your fist at the screen. “And by the way, BOOK HAS TWO O’s IN IT, #@^$^$&*#^$&*!”
The important thing is . . .
3. FIGHT THE URGE TO FIGHT
This is not the answer.
Being a Writer, you know you can compose a truly devastating reply to this review. You can take it apart and assemble something as perfect as a Swiss watch out of the parts. Oh, yes you can. Clever you. It will probably start out with the fact that ilikekittenz91 probably does not live near a volcano, and then you will slowly start to work in some killer jokes about pyroclastic flow.
Not that ilikekittenz91 would even GET a joke like that.
But . . . don’t.
Whether you like it or not, ilikekittenz91 is entitled to her opinion. The fact is . . .
4. YOU CAN’T PLEASE EVERYONE
We all have things we look for in books. What I want is not necessarily what you want.
Some people only like books with long shoe shopping sequences in them, and therefore, they don’t like mine. Or they may like one of my books, but not another. Or they simply thing I am a horrible, no good, very bad Writer.
Sometimes, readers simply will not like you. Try not to take it too personally.
And that’s fine. The minute I agreed to be published, I accepted the fact that people can and would say whatever they liked about my books.
5. BUT THEY’RE IDIOTS! JUST LOOK AT THE SPELLING!
That may be true. ilikekittenz91 and her ilk may be idiots. There is no rule in life that only wise, well-spoken people can comment on you. Look around. Are you surrounded by Yodas? Are you just sick to death of the Dali Lama-like wisdom pouring from everyone in your school/work/family?
No. Of course not. So why do you expect more from the internet, home of the pseudonymed and the crazy?
Who is ilikekittenz91, anyway? And why does he/she have it in for you?
Here’s something to consider, though—sometimes those bad reviews contain some good points. They may not always be wrong. Even the harshest ones may have some merit.
6. BUT THEY DON’T UNDERSTAND ME! AND THEY GOT IT ALL WRONG!
So you’ve written a space opera about robots who cannot find love, set in the year 9735, on the planet Oook. You called it: Not Our Reality.
It is hard to find love on Oook.
And then you get a review that looks like this:
veryliteral85 OMG! This would never happen. Robots can’t fall in love. And what is this whole “other planet” thing? And, hello, it’s only 2007. This writer is obviously stupid. This book is a waste of time. Try doing some research next time, Writer. Recommended books: The DaVinci Code
Sometimes, people aren’t going to get it. We all don’t get something.
I once sat in a waiting room with ten people, watching Scrubs. They kept saying things like, “What’s wrong with him? He’s supposed to be a doctor?” And one woman, who had identified herself about 36 times as a nurse, kept looking at the long-haired female doctor and saying things like, “I’d like to see her take care of a patient with that hair. I don’t think so!”
They were all missing the joke gene, and it was painful. Trust me. It’s about 2,000 times worse actually being in the room with someone who doesn’t get something than just reading about how they don’t get it. Be thankful you don’t live with veryliteral85.
7. SHOULDN’T I BURY THE STUPID REVIEW IN FAKE REVIEWS OF MY OWN DEVISING, OR THE DEVISING OF MY FRIENDS?
You can. But I don’t think this is the best idea.
I know what you’re thinking—you’re thinking that leaving the bad review there will hurt your book. And who knows, maybe it will sway a few people. But if the review is really that dumb, other people will notice this. They may often notice those glowing reviews that glisten with an unnatural sheen, too. Readers don’t like to be manipulated.
Resist the urge to put your people on the case.
And in the end . . .
8. IT’S WHAT YOU DO, OR DON'T DO, ABOUT IT THAT MATTERS
As with everything in life, you must learn to take the rough with the smooth.
In time, the review will probably go away, pushed down by the natural process of things. Sure, you may have the urge to play with it, like a sore tooth. I strongly suggest that you have a backup site ready to go to instead, or to ease your frayed nerves when you inevitably do go back and reread it. Why not try cute overload, which is currently loaded down with wonderful pictures of cats and ferrets napping together?
Or why not just switch off the computer and go out and have some fun? This is one of the many reasons a Writer needs a hobby. (Point #6 on my list.)
Why not get some exercise with one of your new writer friends?
And, hey . . . at least someone read your book!
Just to make you feel better, I have collected a few actual Amazon reviews, to put it all in perspective:
Macbeth, by William Shakespeare “Rather bleak play with a pessimistic storyline. Mediocre plot, mediocre characterization. I don't recommed it.” (2 stars)
Tom Sawyer, by Mark Twain “omg, Tom sawyer is the worst book ever! believe me it is a dull, boring classic that wont interest anyone!!!” (1 star)
War and Peace, by Leo Tolstoy “This book has to be one of the worst books I have ever read. I read the first 500 pages hoping it would get better only to be bitterly disappointed when I had to put the book down. I was disappointed because this book was a total waste of time and I do not recomend it to anybody. Leave it on the shelf” (1 star)
Catcher in the Rye, by J.D. Salinger “Ahhh! I /hated/ this book! I had to read it for school and I didn't even finish it. Please, /never/ buy this book. It is like the plague, and should be avoided as such! *Shivers* It gives me the shivers to even think about it.” (1 star)
The Great Gatsby, by F. Scott Fitzgerald “Hey everyone! Lookit me! I'm a rich little snot and I can throw a big party in my mansion! What's "great" about this Gabsty fellow exactly? Write something about people who work for a living, not this junk. I didn't like this one little bit, sorry. Try again. Only one star for your book, sir!” (1 star) The Hobbit, by J.R. Tolkien “This is such a horrible book. There is no action and Bilbo Baggins is the biggest a$$ in a fantasy novel ever.” (1 star)
The Odyssey, Homer “This book sucks. I dont care if Homer was blind or not this book is like 900 pages too long. I could tell this story in about 10 pages. Homer taking all long to say stupid stuff. Teens if you are reading this all I have to say is CLIFF NOTES CLIFF NOTES you will pass the test, unless you are in AP classes. The teachers expect kids to read cliff notes trust me my moms a teacher. P.S this book SUCKS.” (1 star)
(I invite you to go looking for more and post them in the comments. It will help you recover, I promise.)
Not that long ago, I was cooking dinner at my parents’ house and I wanted some music. My mom has a CD player in the kitchen, so I switched it on to see what was in there. What came out was some very heavy, uneven breathing and coughing.
I popped the disk out and looked at the label. It read: PEDIATRIC RESPIRATORY DISTRESS. This is the kind of thing that sometimes happens when your mom is a nurse. I looked around for an alternative, but the only other choice was Il Divo. So I put the disk back in, hit play, and returned to cooking.
I was on track three of Pediatric Respiratory Distress when my mom came back in from wherever she was.
“Why are you listening to this?” she asked. “This is croup. It has a distinctive barking cough.”
It didn’t seem right to say that I sort of liked it. I thought she might think less of me. It was sort of like the stuff we listened to in yoga, but scarier. And there is something really fascinating about serious wheezing and coughing. It makes you really glad to be able to breathe well, and reminds you not to smoke.
“I am working on a new dance routine,” I lied. “I am looking for an alternative soundtrack.”
I left the stove for a moment and showed her some impromptu dance moves. I can dance to anything, even Pediatric Respiratory Distress. My dancing is very experimental and possibly tragic, but it makes compelling viewing. My mother couldn’t take her eyes off of it. Then she left me alone to enjoy the wheezing, but not before explaining the relationship between normal croup and spasmodic croup, even though I hadn’t asked.
Believe it or not, this brings me to Ann Coulter. She was in the news today.
I realize you don’t usually come here for my political commentary. This is the place to get information on what John Green eats and how to procrastinate and where to get pink stun guns. But bear with me. I’ll get us both out of this mess in a page or so and we can get right back to those things.
For those of you who don’t know who Ann Coulter is (and that’s okay, it’s not required knowledge), I will tell you.
I have sometimes mentioned my (imaginary) personal encounters with Ann Coulter in the (imaginary) Amazon Connect Authors’ Lounge, the sparsely-chaired room that I claim that Amazon.com makes us sit and wait in while people order our books. In these encounters, Ann Coulter always knocks her way into other authors’ conversations, steals their mini-pizzas, and then runs away, chewing on her own hair.
Ann Coulter and her delicious, delicious hair.
In real life, Ann Coulter is a right-wing commentator and author. She is so right-wing, in fact, that she has sort of flown off the map. Even a lot of Republicans are pretty horrified by someone who says things about Islamic people like “We should invade their countries, kill their leaders and convert them to Christianity.” Or, when talking about the environment, “The lower species are here for our use. God said so: Go forth, be fruitful, multiply, and rape the planet, it's yours. That's our job: drilling, mining and stripping. Sweaters are the anti-Biblical view. Big gas-guzzling cars with phones and CD players and wet bars, that's the Biblical view.”
“So,” you’re probably asking, “why does Ann Coulter say these things? Is she, you know, insane?”
No, I don’t think so. She does it to be noticed. That’s it. She may actually believe these statements of hers, or she may not. It really doesn’t matter.
A.C. (as we in the Lounge like to call her) knows if she says something really, really offensive and crazy she’ll get on TV. And then people will buy her books and have her on TV more. Which is good for her, because she has starved herself down to nothing in preparation. It’s no fun having to walk past the dessert cart and chew on your own hair instead just because you might get a 30 second spot on Fox News and you want to look all shrunken for the camera.
In a lot of ways, she’s pretty much like Steve-O from Jackass (except that Steve-O seems nice and is a lot more fun). Her remarks are the verbal equivalent of the time that Steve-O did the “bobbing for jellyfish” stunt, where he stuck his head into a container of live jellyfish. Stupid and horrifying, but nonetheless fascinating.
“But how does this relate to me?” you ask. “I’m in high school. I have tests! I have a locker combination to remember! Where does this fit into my life? I only came here because I wanted to hear more about E. Lockhart’s princess party.”
If you are in high school, this so relates to you. You are surrounded by Ann Coulters, in the same way that Steve-O is surrounded by jellyfish.
Ann’s that desperately needy person in your class, the one who brags about her SAT scores or how much her prom dress cost even though she knows that you hate her for broadcasting these facts. She’ll take your disgust if she can’t get anything else, and she can at least relax in the knowledge that YOU HEARD HER SAT SCORE AND HOW MUCH HER PROM DRESS COST.
Or that guy on the back of the bus who won’t stop burping? Ever? Even when he annoys his friends who kind of thought it was funny at first, and now only that one guy is laughing, and everyone knows that one guy laughs at everything because he is a clinically certifiable idiot. Burping guy just wants you to see that he is in it for the long haul. He’s willing to be more annoying than other people.
For some people, being noticed is the goal of their lives. In Ann Coulter’s case, she makes money off of it, which is more than burping guy can say.
She makes a lot of people upset in the process. She invokes frenzy and causes involuntary teeth grinding. She even makes some people post long blogs about her when they should be talking about E. Lockhart’s princess party.
There’s no point, really. Ann Coulter wants to engage in meaningful political debate about as much as burping guy wants to have an in-depth discussion on the causes of gastrointestinal upset. She offers nothing but her own brand of entertainment, which you either like or you don’t. Yes, some people actually like Ann Coulter. But then, some people eat pork lips. There is simply no accounting for taste. If you put a product out there, someone will buy it.
Someone, somewhere, bought Urkel-os.
I’m not really worried about offending anyone here. If you do like Ann Coulter, you probably aren’t reading this blog because you’re off banning Harry Potter or clubbing a baby seal. Or maybe you’re Googling that totally hysterical guy who used to be on your bus and burped all the time so you can get together.
The fact that I am talking about her begs the other, possibly more interesting question: why are horrible things and people sometimes so amazingly fun to listen to? Why will you talk about prom dress girl for the rest of the week? Why am I STILL talking about that girl who broadcast her SAT score to me EVERY SINGLE DAY of December of senior year until I threatened her with my pen?
I’m not entirely sure. But my guess is, like with SAT girl or Pediatric Respiratory Distress, sometimes it’s just a relief to be able to say, “I may be a lot of things, but at least I don’t sound like that.”
What about you, dear readers? What’s so deliciously horrible in your life that you simply can’t turn away from it? I would love to know.
Now if you’ll excuse me, I have a bowl of Urkel-os to finish before they get all soggy.