Friday, January 29, 2016

Put litter in its place

Fellow 1970s kids, you have to get the new Rifftrax short, "Litter Monster." Not only did you probably see it when you were a kid, but the riffs are, as always, hilarious.

"Striped shirts: In the '70s, they were the LAW!"

Saturday, January 09, 2016

Harry Potter party favor: pretzel wands

I'm no Pinterest queen, but my friend Dana wanted to have a Harry Potter birthday party for her daughter. Now, you can find tons of Star Wars and Frozen party supplies, but since the Harry Potter books and movies have been out for years, their product licenses haven't been renewed, and hardly any party stores have any HP materials. So it's a DIY party for the most part--our local grocery store does do HP cakes with plastic figures on them, so they've apparently kept paying the license fee.

Anyway, I made wands for each Hogwarts house, dipped in white chocolate and then rolled them in sugar or sprinkles showing the main color of their house's crest--red for Gryffindor, green for Slytherin, blue for Ravenclaw and yellow for Hufflepuff. I also rolled some in rainbow sprinkles for any Hogwarts faculty, parents or random Muggles who wander by.

I also printed out each house's crest, and the main Hogwarts logo, and taped them on the glasses for each house.

Dana bought some of those gold-foil wrapped Ferraro Rocher hazelnut-chocolate candies and cut out a pair of wings for each one. Voila, golden snitch!

Tuesday, December 08, 2015

Best journalism of 2015

I read a lot. On my phone, on my laptop, in print newspapers, paper magazines, books, Kindle, whatever ya got. I've been a journalist ever since 1989, and one of the J-school classes that stuck with me was Journalism as Literature, where we studied and learned from stories that went beyond the work that can be done on a daily deadline, and focused on the most stunning, novelistic works from writers who go above and beyond in their chosen profession.

Here, then, are my completely opinionated picks for the top 3 journalistic pieces of the year. I can promise you that they will all stay with you, floating around in your mind and surfacing at the oddest times.

1. "The Life and Times of Strider Wolf"
No story touched me this year like Sarah Schweitzer's piece on young Strider Wolf that ran in the Boston Globe. A kindergartner named after a Tolkien character and a T-shirt, born to a couple that was in no way prepared to be parents, beaten nearly to death by his mother's boyfriend and now being raised by his troubled father's impoverished parents -- poor Strider and his brother just never had a chance. His situation has always been out of his tiny little hands, and it about broke my heart when he successfully won a bet with his grandmother's husband to get "all smiley faces" from his teacher, and then the family couldn't even afford to get him the ice-cream cone he won fair and square. There are a number of web pages out there raising money for Strider and his family now. I hope he gets his ice-cream cone, and more.

2. "After a Mass Shooting, a Survivor's Life"
Everything Eli Saslow writes is better than 90% of anything any other journalist writes. It just is. He's a rare gem. This Washington Post piece tells about what happens to those who survive a mass shooting, after the headlines fade and the press all chases after the next horrible event. It's about Oregon college student Cheyeanne Fitzgerald, 16, and her mother's desperate attempts to help her regain her life. It was only her fourth day of college.

3. "Biography of a Face"
Steve Fishman writes for New York Magazine about a fireman whose own burned-off face was replaced by that of a Brooklyn bike mechanic. It sounds like a Vincent Price movie from the 1960s, but it will touch you. Fishman weaves together the lives of both men and the way they come together beautifully. The photos of Patrick Hardison after his burns and before his transplant are tough to look at, but the story of his new face is amazing and how it came to be is amazing--and not as straightforward as you might think

Pop some pop culture under your tree

Need a holiday gift? How about giving a childhood friend Brian Bellmont's and my two pop-culture books? The perfect present for the best pal who buried your Barbie out back, or fought with you over Shrinky Dinks, or shared a Marathon bar with you.

The books are "Whatever Happened to Pudding Pops? The Lost Toys, Tastes and Trends of the '70s and '80s," and "The Totally Sweet '90s," and I'd love for you to buy one or both.


Facebook reminds me that four years ago yesterday, actor Harry Morgan died. I can't remember if I used this anecdote in the obit I wrote for NBC, but I had to share it here:

Morgan worked with famously serious Jack Webb on "Dragnet."

One day at 9 am, Harry Morgan told Jack Webb a joke.

They then filmed all day and at 5 p.m., Morgan told another joke, and Jack exploded, "DAMMIT HARRY, QUIT GOOFING AROUND!"

Windows into the future

My latest review for The Seattle Review of Books is of the Microsoft Research-inspired "Future Visions." My favorite line is " And then, thanks to PowerPoint, we successfully shut down Dr. Evil’s killer robot!” But kidding aside, the sci-fi anthology is excellent, and free.

Here's my writeup.

My second favorite line is the 3M reference, amiright, Minnesotans?

Tuesday, November 24, 2015

Life seen through a View-Master

So I'm back in the freelance-writing game after being laid off from NBC earlier in the year. My first story is. of course, something related to retro toys. I review the biography of William Gruber, who invented the View-Master, as written by his daughter, Gretchen. It's in the Seattle Review of Books.

 As I note numerous times in the review, don't expect a lot about the toy--it's a book about the inventor, not the invention. Still, he led an interesting life--and once belonged to the Nazi party, and was later investigated by the FBI for that and other pro-German leanings.

The book is "View Master: The Biography of William B. Gruber," and you can get the Kindle version for less than $5.

Wednesday, October 07, 2015

The most Seventies scene of the 1970s

I lived through every day of the 1970s and relived many of them when co-authoring "Whatever Happened to Pudding Pops?" Therefore I think I am uniquely qualified to offer up this as THE most '70s scene ever.

Bionic Bigfoot (Andre the Giant!) fights the Six Million Dollar Man. Spoiler: STEVE RIPS HIS ARM OFF!

Who was bringing up three very creepy girls...

I love this so much. The young stars of "The Brady Bunch" did a heckuva lot of cheesy movies and TV when they weren't hanging around Westdale High.

Bobby Brady got kind of the best deal--he was on "Isis." Peter got to be a werewolf on "Bigfoot and Wildboy," which I only vaguely remember. Greg did "MegaPiranha," but that doesn't really count, it was supposed to be campy. And sweet Marcia did a 1979 TV movie called "A Vacation in Hell" that looks like exactly that.

Be sure to watch the video clips provided (sadly, the Peter as a werewolf one was yanked, leaving just the still photo below) for an extra dose of '70s lunacy.

Tuesday, October 06, 2015


This headline is misleading, I thought maybe they were going to install Scary Lucy in a haunted house and people would turn the corner, see her and freak out.

Monday, September 28, 2015

Mall memories.

Ha, I so remember Contempo Casuals as a mall fixture from the 1980s-90s. I thought it was an oddly named store even then, and was wondering what the heck happened to all those stores.

According to this, the stores were converted to Wet Seal and Arden B stores (I don't remember seeing either of those chains around lately either, but I really haven't been looking).

It's funny, we take photos and videos of the big moments in life, but really, what I want more than anything is just photos/video of the standard things we've lost, like the inside of a 1967 grocery store, or a 1974 school. Which is why this big-haired mall-memory photo essay is such a treat. (Warning: The link goes to a BuzzFeed roundup of the photos, don't click on the link in the BuzzFeed lead, it warns of malware.)

Once not that long ago a friend and I started naming THE ULTIMATE 1980s mall stores. I can't remember the full list, but here's part of it. Not the boring everyday stores, but the ones whose very name shouts '80s. What did we miss?

--Orange Julius
--Cookie Factory
--Contempo Casuals
--Chess King
--Gantos (Minnesota)
--B Dalton (formed in Minnesota--originally the B stood for Books, and the Dalton was a tweak of Dayton's)
--Spencer Gifts
--Sharper Image
--Egghead Software
--Suncoast Pictures
--Shirt Shack