I Wrote a Book

scary-typewriterDuring the past four years, I have accomplished a great deal. I have also had several setbacks. From professional successes and failures to weight loss and injuries, I have run the physical, emotional and psychological gamut. I found my writing voice in this blog, I chronicled my fitness journey as I lost 60 pounds (gained 20 back), I regaled you with tales of the operating room as I endured two surgeries, including a major procedure on my back, and detailed my travel and running adventures. This past weekend, I accomplished a lifelong goal – I finished the rough draft of my first novel.

I have always wanted to write a book. Ever since I was a young student penning short stories for class creative writing assignments, I wanted to write a novel. Add that to my predilection for Gothic horror and vampire fiction and you have a recipe for my first book.

Writing has always come natural to me. I have never been afraid of a blank page or a blank screen. Writer’s block is something I’ve never known. I know that might make me sound like a braggart. Writing is not an easy thing, especially for most. But I won’t apologize for what I am able to do. I have been writing professionally in one capacity of another for more than 20 years. News, news features, sports, regularly scheduled columns, broadcast news and sports scripts, short stories, poetry  – you name it, I’ve written it. But I have never attempted a novel. Well, 13 months and 59,000 words later I wrote the last words of what I hope to be my debut novel.

ktpng.gifThere was no doubt in my mind this was going to be a vampire tale. I only had a character in mind. There was no outline, no character sketches and no real plan. But there was plenty of Tullamore DEW Irish whisky and Deschutes Black Butte Porter beer. I took days and weeks off. I even would take a full month off. Sometimes life got in the way. Sometimes the story got stuck. But every time I came back to it, I fell right back in and was able to keep trucking.

Now comes the hard part. I sincerely hope that I can get it published. I have been looking into my options and the traditional route looks to be daunting and expensive. Publishing an e-book to Amazon Kindle is free and supposedly easy, but having a physical book on the market in book stores is my first choice. It’s funny. I own a Kindle Fire and I love it. But I use it more as a tablet and for movie viewing than I do reading. I acquire paper books at an alarming rate – I just wish I was buying the time to read them.

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How in the hell is this a genre?

I’ve joined a few writers groups on Facebook, I’ve signed up for a few writers newsletters and I follow numerous authors, agents and publishing houses on Twitter. Hopefully, the connections I am making will assist me in going from unpublished aspiring author to published novelist. Regardless, as long as there are free platforms such as WordPress, I’ll keep writing and I hope you continue to read.

Throughout high school, I wondered what I would ever use later in life. Geometry, trigonometry, algebra? Social Studies? Meh. The drafting classes I wasted my time in? Science? I misguidedly wanted to be an engineer at one time. Earth science was fun, biology was okay, chemistry was too hard and I failed physics because my teacher was a wackaloon.

English.

That’s what I took away from high school. I never went to college. But I did receive an education thanks to the United States Navy and your taxpayer dollars. I hate math but calculators help with that. Social studies and history help somewhat when it comes to understanding the world we live in, our government (well, at least up until Nov. 8 of last year) and how to avoid the mistakes of our forebears.

Language.

Reading and writing.

We use it every day. At least I do. It used to be you couldn’t order from a fast food menu without the ability to read but now all you have to do is speak the right number for what you want. You can’t apply for a job, do your taxes, buy or rent a car or a place to live, pay your bills, deal with all types of insurance, shop for food, clothing household items and sundries without the ability to read and write. Hell, in this social media, iMsg, SMS texting society, you have to have some rudimentary command of language – even if it’s just a bastardized, emoji (electronic hieroglyphs if you ask me) form of it. You don’t even know you’re reading when you’re doing it. Try driving somewhere without reading. You can’t do it. Try shutting off that part of the brain that tells you to read words when you see them. You can’t do it.

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I could live in a bookstore.

I’ve developed a passion for it. I love words and language and sentences and phrases and prose and stanzas and paragraphs and quatrains and cantos. I love books and magazines and newspapers and web sites and blogs. I love a good pamphlet and I used to read the dictionary when I was a kid.

I have favorite fiction authors and non-fiction writers and newspaper columnists and sports writers. I know several published authors, some of whom I know very well and count as friends. I have counted myself among some, and now I hope to count myself among the published authors.

I’m not sure what my next novel-length project will be. I have a few thoughts. A childhood memoir perhaps? An old Navy buddy’s dad was a nefarious, larger than life outlaw (for lack of a better term). Maybe I’ll craft that story. The only limit is my imagination, which means there are no limits.

When my story is published, in whichever form, I do hope you enjoy reading it as much as I enjoyed writing it.

Time to Reset the Mechanism

cbe9caa6_9ecc00fd_ed08_4397_856e_026310109756Weight is a sneaky thing. It creeps up on you when you least expect it. It appears in the strangest places. It makes your clothes tight and increases your appetite. It’s fed by apathy, inattention and distraction. If you’re not careful, you’ll wake up obese.

Just over four years ago I woke up obese. A victim of lethargy, opiate entertainment, stress and fatigue, I had put on a disturbing amount of weight. After reflection and contemplation, I hatched a plan and was determined to rectify the situation.

Opiate

Noun

3. Anything that causes dullness or inaction or that soothes the feelings.

I figured out how to incorporate exercise into my schedule and I resolved to eat better and less. For the most part I was successful. I lost 60 pounds, shrunk several inches and had to replace my wardrobe with smaller, better fitting clothes. Throughout the process many people remarked that they were amazed that I was able to keep the weight off. It took 11 months to reach my first major goal and another several to reach 180 pounds. My lightest weight was 176 and I was quite pleased at 180. I loved the way my clothes fit; I had swagger and confidence.

hungry05This journey has not been smooth sailing by any stretch of the imagination. Two surgeries, including back surgery, shin splints, strained muscles, and numerous aches and pains have dotted the map along the way. Back surgery took place in May 2015 and I was able to maintain 180 pounds throughout the recovery process. However, when I resumed exercise, I began to gain weight. Slowly. A half a pound here, a half a pound there. I’ve never really got too far off track with my exercise. Sure, an injury or a strain here or there, work or family commitments knocked me off the path temporarily but never for very long. It’s always been my diet that derailed me.

From the day I quit smoking in 2008, nutrition has either been my enemy or my friend. I’ve read this comment in numerous places with a few variations and I believe it wholeheartedly – you can’t outrun or out-exercise a bad diet. In a recent Good Morning America story on Oprah Winfrey’s latest victory in the battle of the bulge, statistics reveal that many people regain lost weight after two years. Well, I’m right at that point and unfortunately I have regained almost 20 pounds from my fighting weight. The scale read 198 today. To be fair to myself, I just went through a one-week creatine load-in phase, which results in water retention. But, that’s only a few pounds.

The GMA piece is eye opening. The “lower third” graphic does not specify how much weight is regained, and implies “all.” I’ll never cross 200 pounds again, I’ll never climb back to 236, ain’t gonna happen.

Although this weight gain has snuck up on me, it’s didn’t take five years for me to notice this time. It took a few months. And I think I caught it in time. I have written previously that I was back in weight loss mode after discovering that I had put on a few pounds. It may seem a bit hypocritical for me to proclaim that now. But that’s what I’m doing. It has to happen. There is no not doing it.

So, what happened? How self-aware am I? Well. What I can tell you is that, starting last summer, I got complacent with food and alcohol. I have never been one to drink a whole helluva lot but between pool parties and entertaining, I ate too much and drank too much. This carried into the fall and into the holidays. Eventually, I got off track with running. You can read all the bodybuilding web sites and magazine you want and they’ll all tell you to avoid steady-rate cardio. They’ll all tell you the High Intensity Interval Training (HIIT) is better. They’ll all tell you strength training is the way to do. Some may tell you that some cardio is okay or necessary. Runner’s World magazine tells runners that they need strength training.

It’s all a racket. This one will tell you that you need 1.21 gigawatts of protein a day while they try to sell you protein powder. The other one tells you you need to run while they try to sell you Air Zoom Max Glide Trip-Its with mink uppers and gold soles to help you run faster.

I have covered information overload previously and it is real. I love the fact that information is available at my fingertips, but it can be a bit much to get through. What you have to understand is that we are all different. What works for me may not work for you. I am 47, I smoked for 18 years, I was obese, I have high cholesterol and triglycerides, and I have sleep apnea. My metabolism is my own. My body composition is my own.

My favorite comedian Lewis Black once ranted about health. His point was that we are all different. My point is that I need to go back and look at what I was doing when I was successful. And I need to adopt the philosophy that the nutrition I use to lose weight has to be my nutritional philosophy forever. That’s where this whole thing went sideways, that’s the rub, that’s where it fell down. The graphic on the GMA piece read “set-point” theory was the reason people regain weight. What does that mean exactly?

According to mirror-mirror.org:

“Set point is the weight range in which your body is programmed to function optimally. Set point theory holds that one’s body will fight to maintain that weight range.

Everyone has a set point and, just as you have no control over your height, eye color or hair color, you also have no control over what your set point will be. Your body is biologically and genetically determined to weigh within a certain weight range.”

Other sources indicate that it is possible to change that set point. And, I think, I changed mine for quite awhile. However, I had changed it for the negative. Fortunately I was able to change it again in the positive direction and that helped me keep the weight off for a year and a half. Now, my set point has changed again. My body wants me in the 195-200 range. I disagree. It is time to reset the mechanism and this time, I can’t forget one of my mantras. Your body doesn’t need as many calories as you think it does. Especially as you get older.

img_0471I have my own definition of “set-point.” I thought I was done. I thought I was at “set-point” in the game. One more and I win. You bust your ass to lose all the weight you want to lose, you get to your goal and you think you’re done. Or, you can back off. You think you can have that cookie, or that brownie, or a second piece of pie. I had to force myself to learn moderation. I lean toward the higher end and that has led to this weight gain.

I consume information on these topics and even though I don’t follow everything I read, I think some of this information has seeped into my consciousness and affects my eating habits. The exercise web sites and magazines will tell you about fueling your body, especially to work out. Then there’s the information about macronutrients and ratios of fat, carbohydrates and protein.

I think that if I lift weights and run enough that I’ll burn off what I consume. I must grossly overestimate how many calories I burn each day despite tracking this data with my Fitbit Charge HR. As I mentioned, I have not gotten too far off track with exercise in the last four years. Good nutrition and exercise are still an important part of my life. Yes, I indulge. Yes, I drink.

img_0464So, after trying to get back in the habit the last few months, I have had a great two weeks of weight lifting sessions. I haven’t missed a workout in two weeks. Twelve really good lifts in 13 days – Sunday is my rest day. I got a non-stop three-mile run in today. My last two runs were terrible. I can’t tell you the importance of good running shoes, and after almost 300 miles the spring in my Asics Kayano 21s finally sprung. After several days of shopping I finally settled on Asics Cumulus 17s. My first run in them was good from a shoe standpoint. They certainly solved my lower leg pain problem from my last two runs.

Now, today’s run was not good. I can’t lie. It was slow and painful. I guess that’s what I get for running the day after legs night. But it was non-stop and it was a good first step in getting back to my running regimen. The weight I’ve put obviously has an effect on my running. The weight also might be affecting my sleeping as well. Afternoon and evening fatigue have reared their ugly heads and I think the extra pounds are affecting sleep apnea events.

As proud of myself I am for getting the past two weeks done in my little gym, it is merely the beginning. All that swagger, all that confidence, and all that machismo I had? Gone. My competition with the poster on the wall? The poster has landed a few haymakers of late. I hit the canvass. But you know what?

I’ll get back up and I’ll keep coming.

Putting 2016 in the Rear View Mirror and Looking Toward 2017

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My new weight bench is already paying dividends.

For many, ringing in the New Year signifies hope and new beginnings. New Year’s resolutions will be made and broken, goals will be set, college football bowl games will be played and one night of revelry will herald the dawning of the first day of a new page on the calendar.

I rang in the New Year sick in bed in a hotel room in Denver. The flu bug kissed me long before midnight on New Year’s Eve. Fever, body aches and the chills dashed my grand plans for another Beatnik adventure in the Mile High City. That thing I do when I travel, you know, run? That went out the window too. The last thing I needed to do was go running on the 16th Street Mall in below freezing temperatures.

I wish I were in the mood to display piss and vinegar and let out a primal Howard Dean scream. I do not have the energy to proclaim that I’m attacking 2017 with resolve and fire. That’s not to say I won’t; it just means that fiery treatise on what I plan on making come to pass in the New Year isn’t happening today.

The New Year is also a time for reflection, both personal and worldly. It didn’t truly dawn on me until I watched CBS Sunday Morning’s Hail and Farewell how many entertainers who were important to me passed away in 2016. From my early childhood to my present state of being, these were the people who thrilled me on the big screen, made me laugh on the small screen, and provided part of the soundtrack of my life. Prince, David Bowie, George Michael, Gene Wilder, Carrie Fisher, Leonard Cohen, Garry Marshall, et al. I can’t recall a year in which we lost so many actors and musicians of note who meant something to me. Gene Wilder and Carrie Fisher hit particularly hard.

For me personally, 2016 was a year of ups and downs, a veritable roller coaster ride. It was one of the more challenging years of my professional life. The losses I suffered have opened a new door for me so I am not going to dwell on the negative. Although I am reflecting on the year that was I just want to put that part of the year behind me. I get to do something new and exciting. That’s the important take away.

So, what did I accomplish in 2016? I started a novel. I am more than halfway through writing my first book. I had hoped to have it done by now but as I am fond of saying, life got in the way. I managed to write over 40,000 words and I know how it ends, so, I just need to buckle down and finish it. I broke down and finally joined Twitter and Instagram. Yeah, yeah. Big accomplishments. I started a podcast and managed to figure out how to post it to iTunes. I dropped 41 blog posts – a few of them were teasers for the podcast. I got lazy toward the end of the year and recycled a few blogs from the year before.

I ran 303.87 miles in 2016. Not as many as I would have liked. I ran 319 miles in 2015. I am nothing if not consistent. I did manage my longest run ever – an eight-miler in Baltimore. I had a road trip run preempted by the flu just like 2015. I probably would have run more in 2016 but I got off track at the end of the year and didn’t run as much. I didn’t participate in any organized races in 2016. I normally just do two per year, but I decided to skip them this time around.

I went back and looked at my New Year’s blog post from Jan. 4, 2016. I’m actually a bit surprised at my optimism. I like to think of myself as a realist, but I’m sure most people who know me would call me a pessimist. I do know I am quite cynical.

Almost two weeks in to the New Year and all I can really come up with is fatigue. I’m tired. I don’t know why I’m tired. I’ve been putting my new weight bench to good use this week. I tried right after Christmas, but that damn flu bug derailed me. Running hasn’t been much of an option lately. I didn’t run in Denver because of the flu, and I didn’t run during a recent trip to Houston because a witch’s tit blew through southern Texas and I didn’t pack my cold weather gear. I had been over packing for my work trips and since I don’t employ a Sherpa, I was tied of hauling extra clothes and jackets all over the damn country. The forecast for Houston was also a bit understated. I didn’t expect Switzerland in the winter.

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My next pair of running shoes. I can’t wait to get back to running on fluffy kittens.

I am currently between running shoes. Almost 300 miles on my Asics Kayano 21s and the spring finally sprung. After some shopping around and trying Brooks and Nike, I have a pair of Asics Cumulus 17s in my future. I don’t dare run in the Kayano 21s again. My last two runs were horrible. Lower leg pain torpedoed those jaunts and I know damn well it had everything to do with the shoes.

Part of me is not too broken up about it. With the weather here in California I would just as soon become a submarine captain instead of a marathoner. We need the rain, but holy crap. If my 10-year-old starts building a boat in the backyard, you better hope you’re on the short list. I won’t have time to notify everyone.

I do not make New Year’s resolutions; I set goals. Want to know what they are? I thought you’d never ask.

  1. I have a major, important relationship to repair.
  2. I will finish my first novel. I am more than 40,000 words into a tale that I have spent roughly nine months crafting.
  3. This will be the year I find my abs. In 2013, I began eating better and exercising. I am still covered in fat. This will be the year I shed the fat and get defined. The goal is to exercise six days per week and run four. The former is more likely than the latter.
  4. I will read even more books. Two years ago I decided to read more books and I have accomplished that goal. I plan on reading even more. I have embarked on the 2017 Book Riot/Goodreads Read Harder Challenge. I have already accomplished one of the 24 tasks.
  5. I will participate in organized races. I took last year off and did not participate in the two 5Ks I normally run. I plan on trying 5Ks, 10Ks, and maybe even a half marathon. I do plan on running more in 2017. I’d like to get to 350 miles.
  6. I will blog more. I got lazy in 2016, especially toward the end of the year. Writing is therapy, writing is cathartic and I desperately need to get these thoughts and ideas out of my head. In addition to finishing my novel, I want to write some short stories this year too.
  7. I will expand my knowledge and consumption of Scotch. I do not pretend to know a damn thing about Scotch or how it’s made. I know that single malt is better than blended. I know that older Scotches are better. Funny, 15-year-old Scotch doesn’t do much for me. I like 12s and I like 18s. You do get what you pay for. That doesn’t mean you’ll be spared from my Tullamore DEW-fueled rants. I do like my Irish whisky.
  8. I’d like to grow my Twitter followers. I currently have approximately 245 Twitter followers.
  9. I also want to grow the podcast audience. The 17 of you who listen regularly are great, but…
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The first book down in the 2017 Book Riot/Goodreads Read Harder challenge – read a book you’ve read before. I finished this last week. I read it the first time in the early 1990s.

I’m sure I’ll come up with more. I have some professional challenges ahead of me this year and I am eager to tackle them. No, this will not be the year I get on Snapchat. It was a feat for me to add Twitter and Instagram to my communication repertoire last year. Snapchat is not a sandbox in which I wish to play. Maybe I’ll buy a domain name for the blog, maybe I’ll actually buy a WordPress template. Maybe I’ll continue to be a cheap ass and use as many free services I can.

I do pay for my Soundcloud account. Since I just love to hear myself talk, I ran out of storage space very quickly. I do have a new intro coming for the podcast. And a new podcast should drop this week. I hosted and posted 17 episodes in 2016 and I would like to stick to the once per week schedule. The first episode was the most played with 105 listens. The least was my Christmas podcast that got 14 plays. So, I’ll be looking for more ways to spread the word and get more people to walk around in my mind via this fun medium.

Listen on Soundcloud or iTunes. And if you don’t already, be sure to follow me on Twitter and Instagram.

Okay loyal readers. I am looking forward to accomplishing much in 2017, I just hope I can find the energy to do it. I’ll turn 48 in June and hopefully I will have found my abs by then. I look forward to unveiling this Speedo body.

I’ll leave you with that image.

Christmas Special Two-Pack

5. How the Grinch Stole Christmas! – 1966

Chuck Jones of Warner Bros. and Bugs Bunny fame animated this fantastic tale of Christmas redemption. Thurl Ravenscroft, the original voice of Tony the Tiger (and totally uncredited), performed the theme song, You’re a Mean One Mr. Grinch, and one of my favorite actors of all time, horror master Boris Karloff, narrated Dr. Seuss’ loose version of A Christmas Carol.

The Whos of Whoville love Christmas and the Grinch, a vile, furry green creature whose heart was two sizes two small, hated it. He hated everything to do with it. One year, he gets the awful idea to try to keep Christmas from coming. How does he attempt to do this? By stealing it of course. And he steals everything, I mean everything. He even convinces Cindy Lou Who that he is Santa Claus and that he has to take her Christmas tree to the North Pole for repairs.

Come morning the Whos don’t need trees, decorations or presents, Christmas comes anyway, the Whos starting singing and the Grinch realizes the true meaning of Christmas. He decides to return everything, and I mean everything. And the Whos even let the Grinch carve the roast beast at the annual feast.

I don’t have any real personal attachment to this other than the fact that I just love all things Dr. Seuss, I love books and I love stories. I just like this. The music is fun, Karloff is great as the narrator and Ravenscroft’s rendition of the theme has become synonymous with the Grinch character. For the record, I can’t stand the Jim Carrey live action film. Carrey is more Jim Carrey than he is the Grinch and a 30-minute cartoon was unnecessarily stretched out to a two-hour feature.

This is the only traditional 2D animation that makes my list. There’s a reason for that.

The title of the next film on the countdown of my favorite Christmas movies/specials speaks for itself.

4. A Christmas Story

Peter Billinglsey stars as Ralphie, Darren McGavin of Kolchak – The Nightstalker fame – plays his father, and Melinda Dillon (Close Encounters of the Third Kind) his mom. You may not know that Zack Ward, who plays bully Scut Farkus, went on to play an Umbrella Corporation mercenary in one of the Resident Evil movies.

Jean Shepherd’s tale of childhood Christmas has become a cult classic thanks to TBS bringing it back as a Christmas day marathon several years ago. The story is set in Indiana in the late 1940s and was actually filmed in Cleveland. You can visit the actual house as it has been transformed into a museum in recent years.

This may be set 20 some odd years before I was born but I swear it’s my childhood Christmas brought to life on screen. We’re not talking parallels here, we’re talking direct correlations.

Now, I could give you the synopsis for the film but I’d rather explain how this movie relates to me or how I relate to it.

First of all – the furnace. Darren McGavin spends a lot of time in the basement battling the wonky furnace while shrouded in a cloud of black smoke. Now, we didn’t have furnace issues but I lived in a duplex for much of my childhood, age 5-14 if I remember correctly, and we had oil heat. As I have mentioned in previous posts, we were poor for a good number of years. We didn’t always have money for oil and I remember my dad borrowing oil from the neighbor and transferring the noxious, black fluid via used milk cartons.

I remember what seemed to be the slow build up to Christmas while suffering through endless days in the classroom. Trips to see the department Santa Claus were a highlight of the season, not quite the nightmare Ralphie encountered. In my hometown of Rochester, N.Y., Midtown Plaza downtown was the place to go at Christmastime. It was always decked out for the season and the monorail was a must-ride attraction. It’s been dismantled and put away in storage. Sad.

The scene where Ralphie’s father plugs in the Christmas tree lights or the leg lamp or whatever it was into the multiple plug adapter cracks me up every time. I remember such adapters as a kid. We also had those 4,000-candlepower Christmas tree lights too. It’s a wonder we didn’t burn the damn house down. My father hated all things electric. He wouldn’t touch the house wiring, ever. After my electronics training in the Navy, he’d wait until I came home for a visit and ask me to install a light fixture or a ceiling fan. The house he bought when I was 14 still had the original 1920s wiring, complete with fuse box. I’ll never forget visiting my parents one time when dad had the microwave plugged into the wall with a three-prong to two-prong adapter. He had the coffee maker, toaster and the miniature nuclear reactor we used to cook food all going at the same time. He smoke-checked that adapter and I had to pull two feet of burnt wire out of the wall so I could install the three-prong outlets he had sitting in the drawer for six months.

Dad never won a major award in the form of a leg lamp but I do remember the weatherproofing we had to do every winter with plastic covering the windows and foam in the air gaps under the doors.

We didn’t have the neighbors dogs barge into our house and steal our turkey, but I did get not one, but two BB/pellet guns for Christmas. We won’t discuss what I did with the second one when I was a freshman in high school. I didn’t shoot my eye out but let’s just say the cops were involved.

Perhaps the biggest takeaway from the movie for me is the rush of opening presents on Christmas day. The thrill of coming down the stairs, or entering the living room (I did live in a duplex on one floor) and seeing that Santa had in fact been there was the stuff dreams were made of. As an only child, I always made out like a bandit, money or no money.

When it comes to A Christmas Story, the late 1940s weren’t much different than the 1970s when it came to the Yuletide season. Jean Shepherd’s childhood Christmases and mine weren’t all that dissimilar and every time I watch it, I feel like I am home for Christmas.

This is a must-watch but I’ll only watch it on Christmas day, and I’ll watch it all the way through uninterrupted at least once.

Christmas Special Triple Play

My countdown of my 11 favorite Christmas specials continues with a three-pack.

  1. The Year Without a Santa Claus – 1974

Mickey Rooney reprises his role as Santa after his turn in Santa Claus is Coming to Town, and Shirley Booth jumps in as Mrs. Claus and our narrator. Santa wakes up and isn’t quite feeling right. Mrs. Claus summons a curmudgeon of a doctor who convinces St. Nick that no one cares, nobody believes in Santa and that Christmas doesn’t matter anymore. Santa’s knee-jerk reaction is to cancel Christmas.

Santa goes back to bed and Mrs. Claus cooks up a scheme to send two elves down the populace to find some Christmas belief. Jingle and Jangle fly down with Vixen and get themselves in a spot of trouble. Vixen ends up in the pound and Santa zips down to find out what’s going on.

Eventually the mayor of Southtown, USA, makes the little boy a deal – make it snow in Southtown and he’ll declare a holiday for Santa Claus. Santa meets a young boy whose father very much believes in Christmas and eventually teaches his son to believe.

We meet and are entertained by Snow Miser and Heat Miser, as Mrs. Claus has to negotiate a little snow in Southtown. I am disturbed by the fact that many of the 20-somethings I know have never heard of Snow or Heat Miser. Eventually, Mrs. Claus has to get the Miser brother’s mother, Mother Nature, involved. You don’t mess with Mother Nature.

I enjoy this one for its innocence and message of Christmas spirit. I won’t get into my religious beliefs, or lack thereof, but I do believe in Santa Claus. These Rankin and Bass supermarionation specials conveyed the message of keeping Christmas and learning how to feel the spirit. I may have mentioned it before, but there is a sweetness to these Rankin and Bass specials.

Mickey Rooney is phenomenal as Santa Claus. And Snow and Heat Miser are highly entertaining.

Jack Frost is okay, Rudolph’s Shiny New Year is crap, and Frosty the Snowman is the first Rankin and Bass special done in traditional 2D animation. Rudolph the Red-Nosed Reindeer, Santa Claus is Coming to Town and The Year Without a Santa Claus are the only three that matter, and as I am fond of saying, they are “filmed in Supermarionation.”

So far my favorites have been “animated” in one form or another. I have one or two more of those on the list; you’ll just have to log on to find out. And when I tell you about tonight’s entry you might say, “But Jerry isn’t this A Christmas Carol?” You would be correct. However, I think this one stands alone and appears on the list separately for a few reasons.

  1. Scrooged – 1988

Today’s Bill Murray can pretty much do what he wants thanks in part to the work he did in the 1980s with Ghostbusters, Caddyshack and well, Scrooged (among other things). This film features an all-star cast and serves as a passable treatment of Charles Dickens’ classic tale of Christmas redemption.

Instead of Ebenezer Scrooge, Murray plays bitter, mean, abrasive TV executive Frank Cross. His former boss, played with aplomb by John Forsythe, takes the place of Jacob Marley and foretells the visitation by the three spirits. Ha, spirits. I’ve never seen Tab (for those of you who remember Tab cola) used as a mixer except by Frank Cross with his vodka.

It’s groovy watching Cross transform from one of the meanest Scrooge-like characters into the generous reformed. While at his nasty best he actually suggests a stagehand should staple prosthetic antlers on a mouse when all other methods fail. As he tries to reconcile with an old flame, played by Karen Allen of “Indiana Jones” fame, Cross is mortified at her dedication to her charity work.

Through the Ghost of Christmas Past, a cigar chomping cab driver played by David Johansen, we see Cross as a young, aspiring, idealistic fast-climbing TV station employee. And we see how Frank chooses his career and upward mobility at the expense of his burgeoning relationship with Claire (Karen Allen). There is some hint that Frank and his brother were abused, or neglected at best, as children and learn that Christmas wasn’t a happy time for the Cross boys.

Carol Kane plays the Ghost of Christmas Present and is she ever a scene stealer. She has no tolerance for Frank’s reluctance to tag along and at one point, whips Frank’s ass with a toaster. I lose it every time I watch this scene – it is absolutely freaking hilarious. Kane’s bouncy, Tinkerbell-esque whimsy mixed with good old-fashioned Sadism are reason enough to watch this film. There is so much more. The dystopian approach to Christmas future is rather unique.

From Olympic champion gymnast Mary Lou Retton’s cameo as Tiny Tim to Murray’s hot, steamy kiss with one of the Solid Gold Dancers, Scrooged is a must-watch any time, not just at Christmas.

As always, the “Scrooge” character learns to keep Christmas and become a generous soul. Frank reunites with his long lost love; his assistant’s son has a breakthrough and delivers Tiny Tim’s iconic line.

I was born in 1969 and I was raised in the 1970s and 80s. I was 18 when Scrooged came out and I remember being a bit skeptical. I rediscovered it a few years ago when AMC did a three-night marathon airing of the movie and I got hooked.

If you haven’t seen it, give it a shot. If you have but it’s been a while, watch it again. Carol Kane kicking Bill Murray’s ass is worth it. Yes, I know I am advocating gratuitous violence, but watching the 5’2” Kane take the 6’2” Murray apart is off the hook.

Frank Cross’ revelation and redemption takes place on live television as part of a live production of A Christmas Carol – Cross’ opus. It makes for an interesting twist.

Just watch the movie, lest be Scrooged.

I submit for your approval a ghost of Christmas past – Bob Hope.

  1. Bob Hope as I remember him.
    Bob Hope as I remember him.

    Bob Hope Christmas Specials – 1968-1993

I know they predate my birth in 1969, but during the 1970s, the variety show was all the rage on television. From Sonny and Cher to Donny and Marie – singing, dancing, comedy sketches and more – the stars of the day could be found on weekly variety shows and specials. I grew up on Laugh-In reruns and the subject of this blog entry – the Bob Hope Christmas special. Many other entertainers had their Christmas specials – Bing Crosby, The Carpenters, Perry Como et al, but Hope’s was the gold standard.

Crosby and Hope were longtime pals, especially after starring together in numerous “road” pictures. Crosby, who became the voice of the Yuletide with Christmas Sing with Bing on the radio and several TV specials, including an unexpected treat with David Bowie, couldn’t hold a candle to Hope’s TV specials if you ask me.

Hope spent many a Christmas entertaining the troops overseas and became a national treasure for doing so. His USO shows were the stuff of legend and featured talents like Ursula Andress and Ann-Margret.

I particularly enjoyed the introduction of the Playboy All-American, later AP All-American, college football team. Each player was introduced and Hope would deliver a zinger with each intro.

Just as the annual Rudolph the Red-Nosed Reindeer airing heralded the start of the Christmas season, Bob Hope’s special ushered it in with a one-liner or a patented, “This is Bob [insert sponsor or locale here] Hope…”

The show was formulaic and you put it on every year like a comfy sweater or pair of slippers. It started with a monologue of patented Hope jokes and would always feature a rendition of Silver Bells with Hope and the starlet du jour.

Eventually Hope grew old and frail and they started rolling him out on a hand truck and propping him up in the corner as his wife, Delores, took over hosting duties. I blame Hope for discovering Joey Lawrence. I wish he left him where he found him.

Several people have tried to emulate Bob Hope and recreate the magic of his Christmas specials. The one I had high hopes for was Michael Bublé but he’s managed to hose it up with guests like Justin Beiber and recent development of some vocal weirdness in both his speaking and singing voices. Larry the Cable Guy and Stephen Colbert have attempted such Christmas variety specials and have come off as caricatures of the genre.

There is an entire generation of people growing up not knowing who Bob Hope was or how he contributed to entertainment as we know it and that is a crying shame.

Last year, Time Life released a new DVD collection of ALL of Bob Hope’s televised specials, including Christmas and the USO shows entertaining the troops deployed to combat zones.

Thanks for the memories, Bob.

Christmas Special Two for One

The countdown of my favorite Christmas movies/specials continues with a story filmed in a style that would become synonymous with holiday specials. Arthur Rankin, Jr., and Jules Bass (Rankin and Bass) brought a song to life and created one of the most beloved shows to ever hit the airwaves. An annual staple, Rudolph the Red Nosed Reindeer is usually the first Christmas special to air each year – typically on Dec. 1.

Filmed in what I affectionately call super marionation (think Stingray and Thunderbirds, or um, Team America: World Police), Rudolph is one of the most endearing holiday specials ever made because of the animation style, the music, the voice performances, and the characters.

Johnny Marks originally wrote the song and Gene Autry turned it into a No. 1 hit in 1949. Burl Ives lent his voice to the TV special as Sam the Snowman and he also sings Rudolph the Red Nosed Reindeer, Silver and Gold and A Holly Jolly Christmas.

[Check out the IMDB entry]

10. Rudolph the Red Nosed Reindeer – 1964

We all know the story. Rudolph is born with a birth defect and rather than cherish his son, Donner decides to hide the affliction. Eventually Rudolph’s honker is discovered and the other reindeer proceed to discriminate against him. They bully and exclud him because he is different. Even Santa Claus is guilty here.

One doe, Clarice, accepts Rudolph for who he is but it’s not enough to keep Rudolph from striking out with Hermie, an elf who’d rather be a dentist. They end up on the Island of Misfit Toys. Eventually, they make their way back to Christmastown and Rudolph’s affliction turns out to be just what everyone needs as the storm of the century threatens to cause the cancellation of Christmas. Santa asks Rudolph to guide his sleigh through the storm.

So, the lesson here is we have no use for you if you’re different – make yourself useful and we have a place for you?!? The older I get, the more of a humanist I become. Politically, the more to the center I drift. Don’t read into that – I am no humanitarian. But you know what? We are all the same. We should all be treated equally. I think that’s the overarching message here, it’s just a little ham-handed.

Don’t get me wrong. I love the show. I watch it every year. It wouldn’t be on this list if I didn’t. The characters are endearing – Rudolph, Yukon Cornelius, Hermie, Clarice, even the Abominable Snowman. The music is wonderful and many of the songs have become beloved Christmas classics that stand on their own apart from the show.

I continue my countdown of my 10 favorite Christmas movies/specials with another supermarionation classic. Rankin and Bass finally created a cohesive North Pole world with recurring voice actors reprising their roles. That began with…

9. Santa Claus is Coming to Town – 1970

Fred Astaire plays your friendly neighborhood mail carrier and he narrates the story of Santa Claus’ origins. Mickey Rooney begins his run as Kris Kringle/St. Nicholas/Santa Claus.

[Check out the IMDB entry]

This special gives us Burgermeister Meisterburger, a despotic ruler who hates toys and fun in general. A clan of toy makers raises Kris Kringle, an orphan left on their doorstep in a basket as a baby. Eventually, Kris decides to become the deliverer of toys to the children of Somber Town, which is ruled by Burgermeister.

Kris is branded as an outlaw even as he falls in love with the local schoolmistress. The story also explains how it came to be that reindeer can fly as the Winter Warlock provides the magic feed corn for this central element to the legend.

When he was dropped off with the Kringles, he wore a name tag that said “Claus.” It was a short walk to Santa Claus.

I enjoy this one for numerous reasons. I look at it as the origin story of Santa Claus, but it also tells the tale of how Jessica, Somber Town’s school marm, became Mrs. Claus. Kris’ outlaw status drives our merry band of toy distributing fugitives all the way to the North Pole.

I don’t recall noticing any odd overtones or subtext with this other than maybe a shot at Eastern Bloc and Iron Curtain-type governments (hmmm, kind of appropriate given today’s current political climate). Of course, the Christmas classic song Santa Claus is Coming to Town is included, a great tune that has been covered and recorded more times than I can count. The song dates back to 1934, and it wouldn’t bother me any if of every copy of the Bruce Springsteen version was destroyed.

Stay tuned kiddies, more supermarionation on the way.

Christmas Blog Re-Gifting

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I am not above re-gifting, yesiree Bob, I’ll re-gift. I don’t make a habit out of it but I have no shame in doing it. A few of my readers have enjoyed the Countdown of My 100 Favorite Horror Movies, both on Facebook and here at the The Jerry Project. After putting together my favorite Christmas songs, I crafted a list of my 10…er…11…favorite Christmas specials and counted down until Christmas.

So, without further adieu, I re-gift last year’s blogs featuring my 10…er…11…favorite Christmas specials and why (updated for this year of course). Let me know what you think.

The temperature has dropped, the halls are decked and the Christmas programming on television began a few weeks ago. I do love the trappings of the Yuletide season. From the music (which I’ve written about previously) to the decorations and gift-giving, Christmas is one of my favorite things in life.

I have such fond memories of Christmas past. I spent a good part of my early childhood poor, although my parents did a wonderful job of hiding this from me. I always had good birthdays, plentiful Thanksgivings and Easters, and best of all, wonderful Christmases. Now that I am older and understand how little we could afford, I am ashamed of myself for being the selfish snot that I was as a little boy.

Santa Claus was always so good to me. I’ll tell you more about that some other time.

One of the things I do so enjoy about this time of year is the Christmas specials and movies. Since the countdown of my 100 favorite horror movies, and my Top 15 Christmas songs were met with such glee, I thought I would count down my Top 10…er…11…favorite Christmas specials/movies.

Screen Shot 2015-12-14 at 8.17.48 PM11. A Charlie Brown Christmas – 1965

This is usually the first Christmas special I watch each year (it was the second this year) and I’ll watch it multiple times from the DVR recording before Dec. 25. Last year, a 50th Anniversary Special accompanied the annual airing. I’m not one for the Thanksgiving or Halloween specials. The Great Pumpkin doesn’t do much for me and Peppermint Patty’s presumptuous nature and bad attitude kill the Thanksgiving show for me. However, I adore the Christmas special. From the skating scene to Linus’ monologue and Charlie Brown’s tree purchase – there is so much to like.

[Check out the IMDB entry]

I remember trying to catch snowflakes on my tongue as a kid. Snowball fights. Sliding around in the snow and on the ice. Playing with my friends in the snow. So many of the activities Charlie Brown and his friends engage in remind me of my own childhood.

The one thing that stands out to me about this show is the music. Vince Guaraldi’s score has become iconic and the songs have become Christmas classics on the radio, SiriusXM and online streaming services like Pandora.

Director Bill Melendez truly captures the spirit of Charles M. Schulz’s iconic comic strip characters in this production. It has a sweetness, innocence and charm that, for me, is the perfect way to kick off the season.

It’s not particularly well-animated and the editing is a bit uneven. But it’s sweet and not heavy-handed and I enjoy it.