Angels, Demons and Bloodsuckers

It started with Evan.

Long, long ago (the 70s), in a galaxy far, far away (New Jersey), Evan was my best friend. Together, we prepared and served gourmet plastic steaks in my Playskool kitchen.  We plotted against the Eager Beaver Diaper-Clad Toddler you read about in Mmm…Pie. We picked outfits together – Danskin hopscotch-motif top and pants? Strawberry-adorned sundress and matching bloomers? We acted out suburban dramas with Fisher-Price people.  Who would pick up the dry cleaning, Blue Marilyn or her good-for-nothing husband Bald Green Bob? OMFG – was that a WEEBLE with Purple Susan at The Silver Bucket the other night?! Did her two-inch boyfriend know?! Did she know that Weebles wobbled but didn’t fall down?!

Now, based on some of the aforementioned activities, it might cross your mind that Evan was gay. I can see why you’d think that, but he wasn’t. I’ll tell you what he was, though: entirely imaginary.

That didn’t stop me from becoming completely unable to think or talk about anything else – except maybe candy. And this drove Lew absolutely crazy – in fact, it drove him to homicide. One day, going 55 mph on the Parkway, he threw Evan out of the car, never to be “seen” or heard from again. Which I’m sure had noooo lasting traumatic effect on me.

RIP Evan.

Gone was the first of my many obsessions: a series of long-term fixations that I could not control.  From him I moved on to Ziggellette, a  small, soft doll so named because of her resemblance to Ziggy. Hailing from the Fluff ‘n’ Stuff at the Woodbridge Mall, Ziggellette had several mangy strands of mustard-colored yarn hair, a bulbous, three-dimensional nose and the words “LOVE ME” written across her red torso. She told silly jokes, sang sillier songs, and served as my alter-ego, often expressing the things I could not bear to. I took her everywhere.

Then came the fire.

Jan, Grandma Ethel and I were sitting around the kitchen table when we began to smell smoke. In a panic, Jan attempted to rush us out of the house, but I refused to leave the premises without Ziggellette. Racing down the hall to my room, I discovered the unfortunate source of the smoke.  It had been my sister’s turn to play “Hide Ziggellette,” and it appeared she’d chosen to put her in a lamp so that her oversized head hung out over the shade and her floppy derriere rested against the lit 100-watt bulb. The bulb had already burned a quarter-sized hole in Ziggellette’s nether regions, but I was sure she could still be saved. I raced back to the kitchen and threw her in the sink, where her bean-filled body let out a sad little sizzle. She was lost. Lew did come home a few days later with Ziggellette II, and I loved her like my own, but it was never quite the same.  (Side note — Ziggellette II stayed with me until Philly. There, she was either mauled by an unnamed Wheaten terrier or stolen … I have my suspicions but no DNA evidence. In any case, RIP Ziggellettes I and II.)

So, on to a new obsession: Charlie’s Angels. It isn’t hard to see how I, a short, picked-on and bucktoothed suburban Jew, would develop girl crushes on these ample-bosomed, totally glamorous and kick-ass women. What wonderful role models! What a realistic show! I hoped my boobs — I mean I — grew up to be just like them.

Thankfully, they were safe from my family’s tendency to kill the things I cared about, and this particular obsession ended bloodlessly when the channel 5 syndication line-up changed.

Enter Duran Duran (see 1984), possibly the most intense, mocked and long-running of my obsessions, followed by Conan O’Brien (see NBC Order and Team Conan), Pistol Pete Sampras (see Sleepless at the Service Line), and of course, Ollie (see Ollie’s CV).

It’s obvious that these obsessions have served as an escape for me, and/or provided me with something to focus on when there was nothing else.  They give me something relatively painless in which to lose myself.  I’m like a 12-year-old with a crush on that kid from Social Studies.

In some cases, it’s also pretty obvious why I choose – albeit subconsciously – a particular subject. But for the most part, I’ve never understood why this happens to me, or why one thing captivates me and another doesn’t. Why Ziggellette and not Potbelly Koala or LeMutt? Duran Duran and not The Police or U2? Pete Sampras and not Andre Agassi? And why does it suddenly overcome me for no apparent reason?

It has actually been quite some time since my mind went down the old road of obsession. And you might think that, as an engaged middle management woman on the wrong side of 35, I’d be mature enough to avoid that road going forward. You’d be wrong.

A few weeks ago, my future SIL Christine and I engaged in a book trade. I gave her Elizabeth Gilbert’s “Committed” and she gave me … wait for it … “Twilight” and its sequel, “New Moon.” I couldn’t have been surer that I had zero interest in the teen angst of a high school junior torn between a vampire and a morphing werewolf in Bumblefuck, Washington. It seems absurd even as I write those terms.

Christine had felt the same way, but assured me I would get hooked like the rest of the world.  I remained skeptical.

The next thing I knew, I was up every night until 2 a.m., unable to put down the story, Googling vampire legends, figuring out where Volterra was, and deciding whether or not I was on Team Edward or Team Jacob (tough call — and I also find Carlisle strangely attractive).

Vampy McVamperstein and frick on a bloodsucking, daylight-fearing stick!

Add “Olympic Coven” to the list.

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Angels, Demons and Bloodsuckers

Team Conan

Not since the prehistoric days of the Clintonzoic Era, when Johnny Carson retired, has late night television been such a hot topic. At the time, of course, it was just written and talked about.  Now it’s also Facebooked, MySpaced, tweeted, blogged, IM’d, emailed and texted about. As my poor college friends and loyal readers of this blog know, I joined Team Conan in 1993. In an almost creepy way. In fact, I think I technically established Team Conan. Let me remind you, people, that with no wireless, high-speed internet connection — and no internet to connect to —  I was forced to do all my Google stalking on microfiche, at the library. Fine. It was creepy. (For more on this, and another tale from the TMK Annals of Botched Brushes With Greatness, I invite you to read the post NBC Order.)

But the point is, I stood by him. Even long after I discovered Frasier reruns at midnight and stopped watching his show on a regular basis — even after he slandered New Jersey in his much-hyped battle with Cory Booker — I held a special place in my heart for Conan. He was always funny and smart, yes. But I just always knew, somehow, that he too was the last one picked for every team.  And that made us kindred spirits. 

Yesterday, the New York Times  blog “Media Decoder” shared Conan’s letter to the People of Earth,  in which he explains why he will not host Tonight if it moves to the 12:05 time slot. It is well-written, just the right amount of funny and completely classy, underscoring the fact that Conan is a tall, red-headed, Irish mensch. Note the way he ends the letter: “I’m truly sorry about my hair; it’s always been that way.” 

See? Simpatico!

Last night, nearly two decades since Conan became a household name, I declared my loyalty to Team Conan before thousands.  And I  hope you will do the same, for whatever it’s worth.  

I also hope that, before making any final decisions, NBC thinks about this. How much would they have lost if they’d pulled the plug on Conan’s fledgling show in late 1993, when no one watched?  They kept going, and look how that turned out.

I’m just sayin’…

And for the record, I’m truly sorry about my hair; it’s always been that way.

Team Conan

NBC Order

First of all, I promised I’d dedicate this post to Keith, who goes to sleep much earlier than I do and is quite cute. 

I also must admit that I am double-fisting between WordPress and the last NBC episode of Medium (which will reappear on CBS this fall). It’s not right, I know. But I desperately need to find out the fate of the du Bois family and Allison’s brain tumor. I also desperately need to share this brief tale, as there will never be a more appropriate occasion. 

Side note/spoiler alert: the tumor is benign, but Allison is in a coma after suffering a stroke during surgery. 

A little more than 15 years ago, in the frigid winter of 1994, I was a college senior in baggy, used Levi’s, dark brown lipstick and Doc Martens.  I had spent the last four years surrounded by short, stocky, dark-haired, middle class Jewish boys in backwards baseball caps who wanted no part of me. (I’ve always suspected things would have gone a different way if my boobs had been more reminiscent of a Hungarian shtetl peasant’s, but what can ya do?) The unrequited loves of my college life had graduated the year before, and I lacked diversion. I couldn’t stand being there anymore but was terrified of the real world, I lived with the knowledge that Jan thought I was fat, I couldn’t sleep, I was depressed, and my friends had had it with me. Good times. 

But there was one lone light in my life. We met during a bout of insomnia, when I turned on the little pink TV my grandma had scored when she opened a checking account. He made me laugh. He introduced me to people I’d never otherwise have met. He was an underdog, just like me. Physically, he couldn’t have looked more different from the people around me. He was nine years older than me, 6’4, with red hair, freckles and pasty skin. He was, as someone famous once said, the least Jewish-looking person you could imagine. But he’d gone to Harvard, he was the son of a doctor and a lawyer, and his little brother had gone to the prom with my friend Lauren. 

The not-so-little talk show host who could
The not-so-little talk show host who could

His name was Conan O’Brien, and I seemed to be the only person in the world who thought he was funny. Rumors of cancellation swirled around me, and I felt a certain kinship — he was the celebrity equivalent of me. Smart, lovable and misunderstood. He just needed more time! People mocked me when I told them I found his wit chuckle-worthy, much as they mocked me at the height of my Duran Duran obsession. On our spring break that year, Kiki, Wendy, Jen, Lisa and I were fortunate enough to attend a Late Night taping. I was very concerned beforehand that we wouldn’t be able to get tickets. The NBC page laughed when I expressed this concern and told me they’d been PAYING people to sit in the studio audience and clap on cue.

In June of that year I went again, and this time, actually got to shake hands with and talk to the giant comedic genius. 

“I went to school in Boston too,” I said, sure that he’d find this FASCINATING and a sign of our soulmate-hood. 

This prompted Conan to ask me if I was Irish, and I wondered briefly how someone who’d gone to Harvard could look at ME and pose such a silly question. 

The first and only thing I could think to say was this: “No, but I use Irish Spring soap.”

Hey, it’s better than what I said to Pete Sampras

Not surprisingly, this did not compel him to get down on one knee and propose.

“You’re my idol,” I blurted out.

And even Conan himself could only reply with, “Please. Let’s not get crazy here.” 

No one thought he’d make it.  But I believed in him. I knew he could do it. And tonight, Conan O’Brien has become the 5th host of the Tonight Show — the loftiest position in post-prime time television. This is one small step for a dork, and one giant step for dork-kind. I’m kvellin’ like Magellin’. 

But you should know that in addition to feeling certain I’d one day be an O’Brien, I also fantasized about being discovered by Conan. So I decided to send him some of my brilliantly comedic writing samples. Except  of course  that I had none, so I had to be crafty. 

Andy Richter, Sidekick Extraordinaire
Andy Richter, Sidekick Extraordinaire

There was no time to develop full-fledged sketches or sit-com scripts; I’d have to convey my unparalleled genius some other way.   I remembered a brain game I’d once played at camp.  It involved the penning of a poem or song containing 26 words, in alphabetical order.  The fate of my comedy writing career lay with this gem of a plan, executed with a Macintosh SE and dot matrix printer, late one night in Waltham, MA.  I think we all know what the fate of my comedy writing career turned out to be.  But this, ladies and gentlemen, is my 1994 alphabetical Ode to Conan —  mailed to Rockefeller Center, signed for by someone in the mailroom and never seen again until right this minute. 

At Banter, Conan’s Deft. Educated Finely, Graduated Harvard. Imparts Jokes. Kismet! Letterman Moves, Now O’Brien Presides. Quipping Richter, Sidekick. Throw Us, Very Witty Xanthrocroid, Your  Zeal. 

NBC Order