Category Archives: television

Vacations That Are and Aren’t

There are vacations that refresh, and then there are vacations that don’t. There are vacations where that create memories, and then there are vacations that don’t. There are vacations that are, and then there are vacations that aren’t.

My husband and I have had plenty of wonderful vacations, with scads of natural wonder, historic locations, local events, and places to explore. We’ve been to England, Monserrat, Croatia, and most recently Ireland, to name a few. (We also had a great time in Benson, AZ. Why Benson? “Benson, AZ” is the theme song to a sci-fi movie called Dark Star, which only a few people ever saw. What’s there to do there? Exploring caves, star-gazing, and visiting rock shops, among other things. But I digress.) We often returned exhausted rather than refreshed, but we’ve made memories that will last (I hope) until we’re older and grayer.

However, a gentleman of my acquaintance, who prefers not to be named, is on one of the vacations that aren’t.

He’s going to spend eleven days with, let’s say, his beloved ancient aunt and his cousin who live in, let’s say, Colorado. He has done this before, so he knows what he’s getting into.

What he’s getting into is work. Not his normal, paying work, though. His aunt has a long list of chores for him. And when I say chores, I don’t mean washing the car, which his aunt still does herself. I mean re-graveling the driveway. Clearing out a huge attic. Painting the porch. Installing a generator. Fixing the washing machine.

Or all of the above.

It’s like a “stay-cation,” only with airlines involved. And without the sitting on the porch with a drink with fruit and an umbrella in his hand and his feet in a kiddie pool with The Wild Jimbos singing “Let’s Talk Dirty in Hawaiian” playing on an iPod with an auxiliary speaker. He does it because he really, truly loves his aunt. She’s in her 90s and needs the help.

(What he doesn’t really, truly love is her taste in music. And TV shows. And movies. And news. All of which she plays at high volume because she is hard of hearing. Fortunately, he just acquired a tablet that has been loaded with streaming services, radio stations, books, and other media that he can browse to his heart’s content. With earbuds, of course. But I digress. Again.)

At least his cousin is going to do the cooking. Except that the cousin cooks for a week at a time, and they have it every day until it’s all gone. The gentleman of my acquaintance cooks too, but not usually after a day of working in the hot sun. Then, his major concern is rehydration, which will likely include iced tea rather than drinks with fruit and an umbrella.

What I’m having is the stay-cation. Without the kiddie pool and The Wild Jimbos, though. My husband is also going to be out of town. I have writing assignments at the moment, so I’m pretty sure I can fill up my days with that and a bevy of dancing boys. Well, and binge-watching cooking shows on The Food Network. It won’t be thrilling and memorable (unless the dancing boys turn out to be real rather than imaginary), but it should be relaxing, with no annoying sweat (except for possibly in case of dancing boys, see above).

The peace and quiet will be welcome. I don’t always like my husband’s taste in movies, TV shows, and music either, and he plays them very loudly. (Hearing loss may run in the family.) It’s much easier to write and type without auditory distractions other than the cats meowing for food.

I think, however, that both I and the gentleman of my acquaintance will need a few days to recover from our assorted vacations before we get back to real work. Not that we’re likely to get much of a chance. Ah, well. There’s always the next real vacation for my husband and me to look forward to. Maybe we’ll even go back to Benson.

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Proto-Feminists on Classic TV

Who were the feminists who were feminists before we knew much about feminists? Who were the role models for young women when role models for young women were thin on the ground? Lately, people have been looking to vintage TV for the answers to those questions.

The first woman that many people think of as a proto-feminist is Samantha Stevens of Bewitched. Samantha was powerful, rescued her bumbling husband from unpleasant situations, and generally made life better with her superpower. (Although occasionally it went wrong.)

Recently, though, I’ve heard the sitcom deconstructed from a feminist viewpoint, and I can’t argue with much of what they said. Samantha gave up her vocation for the man she loved and had to sneak behind his back to work magic. (At least it’s not like the film Bell, Book, and Candle where, when a witch falls in love, she loses her powers entirely. (Also, irrelevantly, I consider BBaC a Christmas movie in the same way that Die Hard is a Christmas movie.) But I digress (three times in one digression)).

Where was I? Oh, yes, Bewitched. When Samantha did use her magic to benefit Darrin, he berated her, yelled at her, and shamed her. Instead of ripping him a new one or even pointing out that he’s an asshole, she meekly acquiesced and promised to do better. And they call this feminism?

In the 1970s, we had the Mary Tyler Moore Show. This sitcom had more going for it, feminist-wise. Mary Richards was a single woman, living on her own, and working at a responsible, possibly high-pressure, job in a newsroom. Mary wasn’t what you’d call an outspoken campaigner for women’s rights – but that’s okay. She was an example and a role model just by the way she lived, without dependence on a man.

The show had some episodes with more overtly feminist themes. There was one in which Mary discovered that she was paid less than her predecessor in the same job. Her boss admitted it was because she was a woman and spouted the now-recognized-as-drivel drivel about a man needing more money to support a family. There was another where Mary championed hiring a woman as a sportscaster. Perhaps most revolutionary of all was when Mary tacitly admitted that, despite being single, she took birth control pills.

Bridging the time gap between Samantha and Mary was the late-60s-early-70s That Girl, featuring Marlo Thomas as Anne Marie, an aspiring actress living on her own in New York. Anne was presented as kind of ditzy, but Thomas found it significant that her character wasn’t married off to her boyfriend in the series’ final season, and she had wanted to name the show Miss Independence.

Later in life, Thomas became a staunch and visible feminist. She once said, memorably, that getting married was like putting a vacuum cleaner to your head and sucking out your brain. She later married talk-show host Phil Donahue, apparently with no vacuum cleaners present at the ceremony. Thomas was also responsible for the ground-breaking 1972 Free to Be…You and Me, an album, illustrated book, and TV special which contained empowering content for children, including feminist themes and stories.

My personal favorite feminist icon in popular culture is Buffy the Vampire Slayer. Back in the ’90s, she was the kick-ass embodiment of girl power. Almost 25 years ago (so I guess it was classic TV, though not a sitcom but an action show with comic elements), the teenage Buffy was the “Chosen One” who could, well, slay vampires. The new slayer, who was called when the previous one died, was always a young woman. Series creator Joss Whedon specifically said that his purpose in creating Buffy was to upend the dominant paradigm that the cute young girl was always the victim in need of rescue. Buffy rescued herself and others in every episode. True, she had an unfortunate love life, but many feminists do.

(By the way, I was hooked on Buffy because my husband introduced me to it. The TV series. The movie of the same name was much less good, except for Paul Rubens’s death scene, which was worth the price of admission. But I digress again.)

Now feminist characters are everywhere in TV and movies. We’ve had TV dramas with women as US presidents, women as superheroes, women as crime solvers, women as hospital administrators, and more. It’s good that the industry has finally caught up with the way feminism has changed our culture and contributed to it. I don’t watch sitcoms anymore, so I don’t know if there are strong women in them, but I bet there are. Female heroes and feminist characters have gotten a lot of pushback from the bro brigade, but I think they’re here to stay. Personally, I think we need all the feminist role models we can get. And if my husband likes them too, so much the better.

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Cats in Space

Those of you who follow my blog know of my enduring love for cats – and not just my own. Last week my blog post was about cats in mysteries (https://butidigress.blog/2022/08/21/mysterious-cats/), so this week I’m going to tackle cats in another genre – science fiction and fantasy. Because science fiction books aren’t as predominant as they once were, I’ve expanded my source material to include various other media.

Let’s start with books, though. The most famous cat in a work of fantasy fiction is undoubtedly the Cheshire Cat in Alice’s Adventures in Wonderland (who shared the stage for a brief appearance of Alice’s cat Dinah). Notable for appearing suddenly then disappearing slowly starting at its tail until only its grin was left, the Cheshire Cat is sometimes considered a guiding spirit for Alice, directing her to various destinations around Wonderland.

(The Cheshire Cat is prominently featured on t-shirts and other Alice memorabilia, including a coffee mug that pictures the cat’s scene with Alice. When a hot liquid is poured into the mug, the cat vanishes, leaving only its grin. This is, I think, much more entertaining than the mugs that feature ladies who shed their clothes under the same circumstances. But I digress.)

Superstar writer and opinionated curmudgeon Robert A. Heinlein had a soft spot for cats, which appeared in a number of his works. A cat named Pete appeared in his novel A Door Into Summer, which was inspired by an actual cat that Heinlein once owned. (Or that owned him. Sometimes it’s hard to tell.) Another book, The Cat Who Walks Through Walls (shades of Lilian Jackson Braun!) featured a cat named Pixel that mysteriously appeared wherever the narrator happened to be. Cats played minor roles in some of his other books, including one named Mr. Underfoot, which I have been known to call all my cats at various times.

Perhaps best known to modern readers are Hermione’s ginger cat Crookshanks and Argus Filch’s cat Mrs. Norris in the Harry Potter series of books. Mrs. Norris was somehow able to detect student misbehavior at Hogwarts School, which happened a lot. Crookshanks comes to no harm, but Mrs. Norris is temporarily frozen by the gaze of the basilisk in Chamber of Secrets, though she first appeared in Sorceror’s Stone. (She gets unfrozen and suffers no permanent harm.) In the book, Mrs. Norris is described as bony and dust-colored, but in the films she was portrayed by three much more impressive Maine Coons.

Seanan McGuire’s October Daye series of fantasy books features a feline character, Tybalt, King of Cats, a fairy (Cait Sidhe, technically) who can transform from cat to human size and shape, in which form he woos and weds October after an on-again-off-again semi-adversarial relationship. (The character Tybalt in Romeo and Juliet is referred to as “prince of cats” for his sleek and violent nature. But I digress again.)

When it comes to cats in SF&F film and TV, we have Ripley’s cat Jonesy, who along with her manages to survive in Alien. There is Pyewacket in Bell, Book, and Candle, a film about witches that ought to be a Halloween movie but is instead a Christmas film, much the way Die Hard is, because it takes place during the winter holiday. And then there is Orion, the cat in Men in Black, whose collar proves to contain an important plot point.

The overwhelming winner for cats in media, however, is Star Trek. In the original series (or The Original Series as it’s now known), there are two different episodes that feature cats. One is “Assignment Earth,” which features a cat named Isis who may or may not be a human being, and “Catspaw,” featuring Sylvia, a woman who may or may not be a cat.

There are two other Star Trek cats of note. One is Data’s cat Spot in the TV series The Next Generation and the movies Star Trek Generations and Star Trek Nemesis. Spot is an orange tabby, but that’s about all the continuity it has. It has been portrayed as a Somali cat and as an American shorthair. It (I use the term advisedly) has been identified as male or female on different episodes, though I think we have to settle on female, as Spot gets pregnant at one point. In one episode, Data writes and recites an “Ode to Spot,” the first stanza of which is:

“Felis catus is your taxonomic nomenclature,
an endothermic quadruped, carnivorous by nature.
Your visual, olfactory, and auditory senses,
contribute to your hunting skills, and natural defenses.”

In the series Star Trek: Discovery, the character Booker has a Maine Coon cat named Grudge, which was meant to make a one-episode guest appearance but became a more featured player in a number of episodes. We know Booker has left the ship for good when he leaves Grudge with Captain Burnham. Grudge is described by various characters as “fat,” possibly due to a thyroid condition, but more likely attributable to the fact that Grudge is portrayed by two Maine Coons that are, at 18 pounds, at the top end of the range for that breed.

There’s more that could be said about cats in science fiction and fantasy, from the Tom & Jerry movie Blast Off to Mars to one Simpsons hyper-violent “Itchy and Scratchy” cartoon called “Flay Me to the Moon.” (Scratchy is the cat. I always have trouble remembering that.)

I’m sure there are others I’ve missed, and I’m equally sure that outraged cat-fen will point this out to me. My husband wanted me to include the 1935 cartoon “Dancing on the Moon,” which featured a number of animal pairs including two cats. And now I have.

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Trek vs. Wars: Which Is Better?

In some circles, either answer will result in heated rebuttals, not to say ostracism. I don’t want to get in the middle of those who adore Star Trek and those who are captivated by Star Wars. I will not even get into the tempest over who was the better captain, Kirk or Picard. I will say, though it may seem like sacrilege to both sides, that both have their flaws and their triumphs. And they have some distinct similarities.

I was introduced to Star Trek in 1966, when it first came out. (Yes, I’m that old.) I watched it avidly, even in reruns at 2:00 a.m. I became a Trekkie, accumulating such Star Trek merchandise as was available at the time. (There wasn’t much back then. I did get Spock’s medallion, the IDIC, which stood for “Infinite Diversity in Infinite Combinations,” a concept I hold by to this day. And of course, I had my mother make tribbles. But I digress.)

The first time I saw Star Wars was on the big screen, in the summer of 1977, when it first came out. I saw the film numerous times, dragging friends who had not yet seen it to the theater. I didn’t get t-shirts or pins or anything like that. At the time, there wasn’t much Star Wars merch available either. That really revved up later, including Lego versions of everything.

Both television and film franchises have similar themes – good versus evil. Star Trek addressed these, because of its origin on episodic television, in a way that featured increments toward a vision of a more hopeful, more just society. Star Wars was a more traditional battle between big-g Good and big-e Evil, with little to no middle ground. (Once someone asked me why I liked Star Wars so much despite its lack of literary depth and nuance. I replied that it does have a deeper message: “Let the Wookie win.” I was being only half-facetious. But I digress again.)

I gradually lost interest in both of them after being exposed to a number of incarnations of them. I liked Star Trek: Next Generation and the first series of movies (or at least the even-numbered ones). I liked the first three Star Wars movies, the other six much less so, until I finally got to where I was disinterested in the last, most recent trilogy. I’m heartily sick of all the various continuations of both of them on TV and most of the movies. I used to watch Star Trek: Discovery and Picard weekly, but have lately fallen away. And I never got into the many spinoffs of Star Wars, featuring many lower-interest characters such as Boba Fett and baby Yoda. I know the franchises are huge money-makers, but I think they’ve reached past the point where it continues to be worthwhile for viewers, or at least for me.

Along that line, there have been some real clunkers in both series. The original Star Trek was uneven in the quality of the episodes, both from a production and writing standpoint. The lowest point came with an episode called “Spock’s Brain.” With a title like that, one can envision any number of truly compelling scenarios, but no. They may have gone for comedy, but ended up with unpalatable farce. And Next Generation had an episode that I can never remember the title of, but should have been called “The Nintendo That Ate Their Brains.”

Star Wars had its low points as well, the primary one being the introduction of the character Jar Jar Binks, a buffoon with a speech pattern that was by turns irritating and insulting. He appeared in the first movie of the second trilogy that was made, which is the first trilogy in terms of the plot line, if you can follow that, but by the end of it, rather inexplicably, he became a Senator.

There was a significant backlash to one Star Trek character as well – Wesley Crusher, a teenager working his way up to greater responsibility on the Enterprise. I thought his character was what every fanboy’s dreams were made of. But I was informed that he was just too goody-goody for some people’s liking. There were even bulletin boards devoted to “Ways to Kill Off Wesley Crusher.” (This was painful to Wil Wheaton, the teenage actor who played Wesley. Later he revealed his bouts with depression and abuse at the hands of his stage-managing parents. That he is still acting and doing well is a credit to his perseverance. But I digress yet again.)

So, when it comes right down to it, which do I prefer – Star Trek or Star Wars? I guess I would have to say Star Trek, based on how often I watch reruns of it, as opposed to how often I watch reruns of Star Wars. But for different reasons, both still hold places in my heart. Now if we could only rein in all the franchises and develop some new science fiction shows with good, original ideas, characters, and plots, that would make me truly happy. In the meantime, I’ll keep jonesing for new episodes of The Orville and Resident Alien.

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TV Improved Our Marriage

It isn’t that our marriage is bad. But we had been growing apart. That is to say that my husband and I like different TV programs. I like cooking shows, though I never actually make any of the recipes. He likes classic movies from the ’30s to the ’70s, especially science fiction, the cheesier the better. (One of his favorites is Robinson Crusoe on Mars.)

I’m a big fan of science fiction, but not generally the movies. They all seem to involve superheroes, comics I’ve never heard of, the alien threat of the week, or mindless high-tech violence. (My distaste for superhero movies was challenged when I discovered I love Deadpool, which contains plenty of low-tech (though scarcely credible) violence. Deadpool is really an antihero rather than a hero anyway. But I digress.)

It’s not that I dislike all movies from the early days. I think My Man Godfrey is good, Arsenic and Old Lace is the best serial killer movie ever, Harvey is funny and touching, and Twelve Angry Men is superb. But so many old movies contain rapid-fire dialogue that I can’t make out (think Katherine Hepburn in Bringing Up Baby) or women with high-pitched, shrill voices hollering (as in Born Yesterday, which is otherwise a really terrific movie).

Dan objects to my cooking competition shows (such as Top Chef, Chopped, and Beat Bobby Flay) both because they bore him and because they sometimes drop live lobsters into boiling water (he still calls Emeril Lagasse “the evil cook” because he once dropped live crayfish into a hot skillet and joked about it). My husband’s tender-hearted. What can I say?

There is a competition show that we both like – Forged in Fire. I don’t know why I like this, but I do. I tend to like competition shows where the contestants have to make an actual thing that requires skill (which may be why I like Project Runway, too, which Dan doesn’t).

When Forged in Fire comes on, we retreat to my study to watch it, instead of being in separate rooms watching separate programs. (We go to my study because there is something wrong with the Roku in the living room and it doesn’t get all the same channels.) I also got him to watch Ink Master with me. He didn’t want to like it, but he got hooked on it.

Recently, though, we’ve been binge-watching a few series, generally a few episodes a week, which is our version of binging. I’ve selected the shows carefully to entice Dan into my study. We started with Star Trek: Picard, which we will watch weekly once it starts up again (unless episodes with Q are a major factor). The same with Star Trek: Discovery. Recently, we’ve begun watching Resident Alien and The Orville. Both of these are comedy sci-fi series, so they satisfy my husband’s needs and are perfect lures. And we both like some documentaries. Occasionally we watch a movie, or Dan watches one while I fool around on my computer – at least we’re in the same room.

There are some drawbacks to meeting in my study. There are only two chairs and one of them is my desk chair. Dan is more amenable to joining me if I let him sit in the comfy chair. And he has to have snacks (popcorn and/or nuts), crumbs of which get strewn about the carpet.

There are also some pluses. Dan is always too hot and I am always too cold. Fortunately, the study has a window he can open and a blanket I can wrap up in. There is a little tray table to put beverages on and a Mr. Coffee machine if either of us wants tea or cocoa (neither of us is addicted to coffee).

Carefully chosen TV programs and a comfortable study have thus brought us together, ending weeks of separation in the evenings (or in the daytime on our days off). I suppose that separation was the price we were paying for having TVs in two different rooms.

But now, we are closer than ever, both physically and emotionally. It’s rare to find TV shows that can do that.

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A Wise and Good Man

Not long ago, I saw on Facebook a picture of Captain Kangaroo in his costume, with a silly expression on his face. The caption was something on the order of “Who in his right mind would put this man in charge of a bunch of children?”

Well, I would, for one. It’s easy to take a photograph of anyone that presents an unflattering portrait, and if that person’s job is to be a children’s entertainer and to have ping-pong balls dropped on his head, he’s even more likely to look goofy.

The reality is quite different. Captain Kangaroo may have acted goofy, but in real life, he was far from it.

I had heard that Bob Keeshan (the Captain’s not-so-secret identity) was an advocate for children, but I never realized how passionately and compassionately until I had the chance to interview him, many years ago, when I was the editor of Early Childhood News magazine. (The accompanying photo is a souvenir of that occasion, resurrected from a single frame of film that somehow survived both the tornado and all our moves. My husband found it and I found a way to digitize it. If Mr. Keeshan looks tired in the photo, it’s because he had just finished giving one of his impassioned speeches. But I digress.)

Keeshan was a friend of fellow children’s entertainer Fred Rogers (of Mr. Rogers’ Neighborhood), and they occasionally guested on each other’s shows, spreading their message of gentleness, care, and fun with widening audiences. After Captain Kangaroo was pushed into an unfavorable time slot, the show was picked up by PBS and ran for a number of years there.

Keeshan began his crusade of child activism while he was still The Captain to innumerable boys and girls, including me (I was particularly fond of the puppet character Bunny Rabbit because it wore glasses like I did). But Keeshan learned that there was a horror movie involving an evil Santa Claus, and that commercials for it were being shown during children’s shows, including his own. He objected and made his voice heard.

After he retired, Keeshan became a tireless child advocate and speaker. He stood strongly against violent video games, which he noted taught children nothing about the real world, and particularly against children’s shows based on those same video games or on violent toys, like “Power Rangers” and “The Transformers.”

But Keeshan’s crusade for children’s rights didn’t stop at the other side of the TV screen. At the speech I attended, he said that many run-away kids should really be called “throw-away” kids for how families and society failed them. Unfortunately, neither my clips nor my notes of my article have survived, so I can’t tell you exactly what he said, just that he said it with fervor and sincerity. And sometimes quite a bit of anger.

In lieu of the article, I offer some Bob Keeshan quotes taken from other sources over the years.

Back in the old days, when I was a child, we sat around the family table at dinner time and exchanged our daily experiences. It wasn’t very organized, but everyone was recognized and all the news that had to be told was told by each family member. We listened to each other and the interest was not put on; it was real.

Generosity has built America. When we fail to invest in children, we have to pay the cost.

Children don’t drop out of high school when they are 16, they do so in the first grade and wait 10 years to make it official.

I enjoy meeting not only contemporary children, but yesterday’s children as well. It’s nice to talk about the experiences we shared, they tell me, “You were a good friend.” That’s the warmest part.

Now, how goofy does that sound to you?

Starstuff

Carl Sagan has been damned as a popularizer of science. Carl Sagan has been praised as a popularizer of science. Since the first time he put on his corduroy jacket and turtleneck to introduce the masses to the wonders of the universe in his ground-breaking TV series Cosmos, he has been many things to many people (and associated with the phrase “billyuns and billyuns”).

So. Is being a science popularizer a good thing or a bad thing? It’s a bad thing if you expect a scientist to remain in the lab and conduct research, without wasting her or his time appearing on Johnny Carson. It’s a good thing if you think science needs to be popular for society to survive.

That Sagan appeared on Carson’s show was not a fluke. Rather than being the epitome of an obsessive researcher, Sagan was an enthusiast and a promoter of science who could, at the same time, entertain as well as he explained.

Sagan was in the news a lot, too. He was the one that insisted that astronauts who had been to the moon be quarantined for a period to make sure they had brought back no alien germs. He was the one who demolished the theories of Immanuel Velikovsky, famous for his book In Search of Ancient Aliens, which purported that alien civilizations have visited Earth and left their mark on ancient astronomy, archaeology, and biblical studies. (Every year when he was teaching astronomy at Cornell University, Sagan devoted one whole lecture to debunking Velikovsky.)

Sagan’s astronomy class was swamped with auditors (particularly on Velikovsky day). To be officially registered for Sagan’s Astronomy 102 class, you had to sit through Astronomy 101, a deadly boring class taught by a deadly boring professor. (I had the great good fortune of taking Sagan’s class, and met him at department parties.) His teaching was compelling and his tests were far from regurgitating dry facts.

Sagan’s particular field barely existed: astrobiology. Since life has never been discovered on other planets, there wasn’t much to say about it, though he could, and did, do experiments on what circumstances and elements needed to be present for life to arise out of the “primordial soup.”

He memorably said, “The nitrogen in our DNA, the calcium in our teeth, the iron in our blood, the carbon in our apple pies were made in the interiors of collapsing stars. We are made of starstuff.” He was also famous for “Science is a way of thinking much more than it is a body of knowledge” and “The fact that some geniuses were laughed at does not imply that all who are laughed at are geniuses. They laughed at Columbus, they laughed at Fulton, they laughed at the Wright Brothers. But they also laughed at Bozo the Clown.”

Carl Sagan is now present on Facebook, despite the fact that he’s been dead for some years. Most of the quotes attributed to him are on the subjects of today’s culture of stupidity (though he didn’t live long enough to see how thoroughly correct he was), the lack of science education in the US (or at least rigorous science education), the dumbing-down of popular culture, and the need for both scientists and people like him to make science accessible.

Many of the Facebook quotations are influenced by the book Extraordinary Popular Delusions and the Madness of Crowds, which was required reading in his astronomy class, though it had nothing to say about astronomy. Instead, it was a work that denounced what came to be known as pseudoscience, such as belief in ghosts and witchcraft.

Losing Sagan was a profound blow both to science and to making science available and understandable to the masses. Others have attempted to carry on his work as popularizers of science, notably Neil deGrasse Tyson (who had a part in the “Is Pluto a planet?” debate) and Bill Nye (The Science Guy). Tyson has even starred in a reboot of Cosmos, though nothing can rival the fascination of the original series.

Neither one, helpful as they may be to the science-ignorant, has stepped into Sagan’s loafers as a teacher, a public figure, a prescient philosopher of science, an inspiration. I miss the heck out of him.

My Next Tattoo

I know I’m not the tattoo “type,” being neither a biker nor a chef, but I already have two tattoos and am now considering a third.

My first two tattoos were mental health tattoos. The one I’m getting in the photo is a semicolon. (Okay, I’m also a punctuation freak. The semicolon is my favorite.) It stands for the point in a sentence where a writer could have put a period and ended it there. If there’s a semicolon there instead, the sentence continues. As a metaphor, it means “My story isn’t over” and as a mental health symbol, it represents suicide awareness and prevention.

My second tattoo was a colon followed by half a parentheses followed by another colon, like this :):

In emoji terms, this would be happy face/frowny face. In a mental health context, it stands for bipolar disorder, which I have. (Bipolar used to be called manic depression, and it’s a lot more than wide mood swings.)

Determined to try something a little different – and more colorful – this time, I began contemplating options that would be meaningful, at least to me.

Compass rose. A compass rose is the little design at the bottom of a map that orients you to north, south, east, and west. For me, it symbolizes travel, which is a thing I love to do and have done often, both domestically and abroad, with my mother or my husband or by myself.

I also thought of having a compass rose with a yellow rose, perhaps in the center, in honor of my mother. She loved to travel too, and the yellow rose was her favorite flower. But that might be a lot to cram into a small tattoo. (I want something subtle, not showy.) Maybe I can get a yellow rose separately later.

Books. Reading, as all my friends know, is a passion of mine, one I’ve been indulging since I was four years old. I’ve read under the covers when I was a kid, in the hallway between classes when I was a teen, and practically anywhere and anytime now. (I have three e-readers so I can recharge them and still have at least one to read from. But I digress. I’m not getting a Nook tattoo.)

I’ve been wavering between an open book, maybe with a pen, to signify writing books; an open book laid flat; or a small stack of books. I think the stack of books offers an opportunity for some color, so I’ve been leaning towards that.

Orion. The constellation Orion is my favorite. (Is it weird to have a favorite constellation as well as a favorite mark of punctuation?) I love when it appears every autumn, with its belt and sword of stars, and the big red star Betelgeuse at the left shoulder and the bright blue-white Rigel at the right knee, creating a hunter figure from Greek mythology. (Most people pronounce Betelgeuse as “Beetlejuice,” but I’ve heard other pronunciations as well. Isn’t this educational?)

Astronomy is and has long been one of my special interests. I belonged to an astronomy club in high school. I subscribed to Sky and Telescope magazine for a while. I watched Carl Sagan’s TV show Cosmos avidly, then took his astronomy class in college.

Rather than have the stars as black dots connected by lines or superimposed over the figure of a hunter, I would like the tattoo to have a watercolor background, like a nebula.

I’ve been toying with these ideas for some time, but have been feeling motivated to get on with it recently (perhaps because I’ve been binge-watching Ink Master.) This week I got in touch with one of the artists at Monkey Bones Tattoos, a local studio. Mike, who did the punctuation tattoos, wasn’t available, so I selected another tattooist named Viktoria.

She and I then emailed back and forth about ideas and schedules. The earliest opening she had was in August. (Evidently there is pent-up demand for tattoos, owing to the shop being closed during the pandemic.) I sent her pictures of tattoos that looked something like what I wanted. We discussed the merits of each, as well as how my vision might differ from the “reference” I sent.

So, now it’s official. In August I’m getting a tattoo of a stack of books on one of my wrists. I’ve even put down a deposit for the appointment, so I can’t change my mind. When it’s done, I’ll post a picture of it. But I’m still not becoming a biker or a chef.

Train-Wreck TV

Two trains collided head on

It’s pretty common knowledge that I get depressed from time to time. (Just read my other blog, Bipolar Me, if you don’t believe me.) But there’s one thing I’ve found that I, well, not enjoy, but am drawn to when depressed, and that is what I call train-wreck TV.

What do I mean by that? To me, train-wreck TV is a reminder that there are people whose lives suck worse than mine does. I don’t mean shows like Duck Dynasty, Swamp People, or Mama June: Not to Hot. Those I dismiss as being the let’s-all-make-fun-of -the-hillbillies genre. Being from Kentucky myself, I object to the idea that all Southerners are stupid (or inbred, or racist, or other stereotypes). And just forget about shows like Seeking Sister Wife. I won’t watch that until there’s Seeking Brother Husband.

No, what I like are shows best described as People Behaving Badly. The last time I had a real bout of depression, I watched shows like Supernanny and even Wife Swap. The lives depicted there were worse than mine because at least I didn’t have screaming, disobedient children or a controlling or clueless spouse.

But this time around, I’m drawn to competition and “reality” shows, which have lots of People Behaving Badly.

I can’t really get my jolt of “Man, these people are really messed up” from the competition shows I normally watch. The contestants on Food Network competitions may get worked up enough to say, “I think the judges made the wrong decision,” but that’s not really behaving all that badly, merely having a snit. And the Forged in Fire people, even when they lose, generally talk about how much they’ve learned and the friends they’ve made. For people who spend their time hammering things, they’re remarkably personable.

I also haven’t been drawn to Gordon Ramsey cooking shows. Although he definitely behaves badly, I don’t really care to see people being degraded and abused. I feel too much sympathy for his aspiring-chef victims to truly enjoy his rants. Admittedly, their lives do suck worse than mine. At least I don’t have an obnoxious bully screaming at me when I’m trying to make my bologna sandwich for lunch.

Lately, the shows I’ve been drawn to are Bar Rescue and Inkmaster.

Bar Rescue is a lot like Restaurant Impossible, except with more yelling. A bar business is failing and host Jon Taffer shows up to straighten them out and make the place a success again. But unlike Robert Irvine, who does basically the same sort of thing for restaurants, Taffer shouts a lot and tells people to their face that they’re failures or losers or drunks or thieves or lazy or assholes (he doesn’t spare the swearing) or generally rotten people who shouldn’t be trusted with a lemonade stand, let alone a business like a bar.

And indeed, he is right. The bars they have featured have included one where a horse was allowed into the bar (it shat on the floor) and another where a porn video was shot in the bar while it was open to customers. Next to these, the over-pouring bartenders, demented relatives, and absentee owners seem like mere pikers.

Taffer straightens them out with what could be called tough love – a lot tougher than the family therapy that Irvine offers, though often with the same results. Then he remakes and rebrands the bar, which doesn’t always stick. Some of the clueless owners go back to their old ways, names, and decors, including a pirate bar in a corporate business district. (It might have done fine in Key West.) In one memorable instance, Taffer even helped an owner close down and sell the bar.

Inkmaster is altogether different. It’s a competition show where contestants vie to win $100,000 plus other goodies for doing tattoos. The lives-suck-worse-than-mine element comes in the behavior of the contestants. There’s a lot of X-rated language (thoughtfully bleeped but still identifiable). But the real attraction is the infighting, feuds, psychological warfare, and blatant manipulative behavior of the potential celebrity tattooists. Pronouncements like “I eat the weak” are mild.

The people who receive the tattoos (called “canvases”) are no prize either. They bicker with the tattooists over what their tat should be. They bitch about the results. They make impossible demands. (One canvas wanted a tattoo of a phoenix shooting fire out of her vagina. (The canvas’s vagina. I don’t know if phoenixes have vaginas. The judges’ critique was that the phoenix was poorly drawn.) Their lives suck worse than mine because they have to live with these creations for the rest of their lives, unless they are on a “cover-up” episode, which still doesn’t ensure good results.

I must admit that this show appeals to me because I also have some tasteful tattoos of marks of punctuation, and narrowly avoided getting semicolons where there should have been periods. Not that compares with a bad phoenix-and-fire vagina tattoo.

I suppose that by the time I hit another major depressive episode, there will be plenty of other, newer train-wreck TV to watch. It seems that there’s no end to people behaving badly or people whose lives suck worse than mine. Thank goodness.

What Do You Do With Your Winnings?

You suddenly receive a chunk of money. What will you do with it? That’s a question that I have heard often. Not directed to me. I have no prospects of landing more than pocket change, unless my mystery gets published, hits the bestseller lists, and gets picked up for a television series.

But I watch a fair number of competition shows on TV, primarily on Food Network or The History Channel. I enter giveaways occasionally, when HGTV is offering a fabulous house in Rhode Island as a prize. But I never even buy lottery tickets, to which I have a philosophical objection. (I believe that they are a tool used by the upper classes to make money by fooling people into believing that they can magically join the upper classes. But I digress.)

The prizes offered in the shows I watch are seldom life-changing, usually starting at $10,000, which seems nice, but I have seen them go up to $100,000, which actually could be life-changing, if not a key into the leisure class.

What the contestant would spend the money on if he or she won is a question that invariably gets asked. I have noticed a pattern in the responses. There are a few major categories.

Travel. Contestants’ dreams of travel seem pretty realistic to me. It’s what I would spend my winnings on.

The usual fantasy trips are to take the family on a great vacation, to have a honeymoon that somehow never happened, or to visit a part of the world from which ancestors came. In the food competitions, there is also a tendency to wish for funds to travel the world (or at least part of it) sampling and learning how to cook different kinds of cuisine.

(Since we were on the subject of honeymoons (or at least I was), I also hear contestants who want to spend their prize on an engagement ring or a wedding. I know the price of diamonds and of weddings have not gone down in recent years, but $10,000 or $25,000 seems a bit high for regular folks, the ones who never appear on “Say Yes to the Dress.” An engagement ring for $25,000? I mean, come on!)

Home. I’ve heard a number of contestants say they would like to put a down payment on a new home. This time the figure seems a bit too low. But what do I know? Maybe the couple has already saved toward a house and this would put them over the roof, so to speak.

Other winners say they would renovate their kitchen (on the food shows) or their workshop (on craft- or building-type shows). This I can understand. Remodeling a kitchen or a workshop could easily eat up that kind of money, especially if new appliances or tools are required.

Business. Again, as with houses, the prizes offered don’t really seem magnanimous enough to start a business, but again, most of these lucky winners may have a fair amount put aside already. Or their dreams are more modest – to get a storefront instead of an internet bakery (a concept I’m not altogether clear on), or a food truck (I’m assuming this would also be a down payment, given that a food truck would have to cost more than a car, which you can hardly get for $10,000 anymore anyway) or the ability to turn a part-time hobby into a full-time business, which seems to me like a pipe dream, but I suppose there are people who could make it work.

Charity. Some of the potential winners have loftier goals. I’ve heard chefs say that they would start a variety of cooking programs for troubled youth. I’ve heard winners say that they would give part, or even all, their winnings, to a charity that provides funds for researching a disease or condition that a family member suffers from. Others want to donate to a church or other religious cause. Once I even saw a kid (on “Kids’ Baking Championship”) who wanted to help out a teacher who had fallen on hard times.

Me, I’d be off like a flash to Ireland with my husband. (I’ve been twice, but he’s never been). If there’s some left over, we’ll just have to arm wrestle for it. Maybe Benson, Arizona, where we once enjoyed one of our best vacations ever. Or, more likely, only as far as the IRS office.