Night of the Cheap Jive Jukebox

The Muppet Show was one of the staples I could count on watching when I was little. It started at 8 p.m. and ended half an hour later, which coincided with my bedtime. To this day I have fond memories of mahna-mahna, Harry Belafonte’s “Turn the World Around” and Pigs in Space. In just half an hour’s time, we got to know Gonzo, Scooter, Kermit, Miss Piggy. Fozzie, Rowlff, the Electric Mayhem, Dr. Honeydew and Beaker, The Swedish Chef and so many more. Just thinking of the opening theme song makes me smile. Kids got to see the muppet version of a variety show (and ponder how Kermit had the time to host that and show up regularly on Sesame Street) and adults got to watch it with kids and laugh at the innuendos. I loved the Muppet Show. Loved it!

Well, most of it.

There was a dark side to all of this joy—a fear buried deep in my subconscious, and revealed one night when I woke up panicked. It was one of those nights where I couldn’t get back to sleep unless I went to my parents’ bed. To this day I don’t know why that feels safe—once you’re asleep, you’re back to dreaming by yourself, but maybe you feel better knowing someone will be right beside you to hear the screams.

Anyway, let’s get down to the thing about the Muppet show that I didn’t like. It was the stuff of nightmares--the invention of a mad man.

Sweetums, you say?

No, no, not him. He was just a big teddy bear.


No, no. He was wild, but harmless.

Gonzo? Even if we never could figure out if he was a mosquito or a bird, he wouldn’t hurt a thing.

The thing I was scared of was…

M.A.M.M.A.! (cue music from "Psycho")

I wasn’t even bothered by this thing when it was on the air. Its debut appearance was with Dudley Moore, possibly the least threatening man in the world (yes, I know, I mean when he was alive). It looked like a parody of R2D2—it even had a cameo appearance in “Pigs In Space,” but in my dreams, M.A.M.M.A. was relentless. I remember looking at the hardwood floors as I ran from it, my heart racing as I tried to get away. Despite its clunky appearance, M.A.M.M.A. was agile. The moment I saw that it had no problems following me down the stairs marked the time when I woke up screaming.

So many years later, I decided to try my hand in finding this monster—just to prove to myself that it wasn’t something my mind had conjured up. I tried several variations of the spelling, and finally stumbled onto the right webpage, which had a brief description and a photo. It’s funny now, to think I lost a night of sleep over a robotic muppet--a joke really, but there it is. What was I so scared of? That the thing would blast music at me once I was cornered? You can laugh, I don’t mind, but don’t come crying to me when you wake up in the middle of the night, terrified of the "cheap jive jukebox" chasing you down the stairs.


UPD8 (follow that car)

If anyone remembers the gray car from my post awhile back, just yesterday I happened to see the driver of that very car.

My description to the artist composing the the composite sketch would go like this:

He's got brown hair and is balding
A mustache
In his 40's
Weak chin...

See where I'm going with this? I was envisioning Paul Walker's character from The Fast and the Furious (or even his nemesis "Johnny Tran") and the reality was closer to "Milton" from Office Space.

What's that, you say? What if it wasn't the right guy?

Oh no, no, no, trust me on this one--the way he gunned it out of the parking garage exit confirmed that this was the guy--this was the nutcase who thought it was a good idea to challenge me to a duel smack in the middle of rush hour on the interstate. If I had seen him away from the driver's seat, I would guess he was meek. Shy, even!

I guess some of us really do change once we're strapped into a two ton, 200+ horsepower exoskeleton.


Didn't Ask

Generally people don’t talk on the train. If you see someone wearing headphones, take that as a blatant sign that they intend to be left alone. If I’m wearing headphones, and you talk to me, I will take one out to listen and respond, but I am not there for conversation. I’m there to get home, or get to work, depending on the direction of the train.

You can tell when someone wants to engage in conversation--they make an extra effort to make eye contact until you look up and you're trapped. They smile. You smile. Then it's too late to pretend it never happened. You have to interact now.

“What’s that book about?” said a smirking guy who happened to read the title of the book I was holding (“Naked," by David Sedaris--that was fun to explain.) Sometimes you get a smile, or a “Good morning” and that’s it. Or else the train operator will make a humorous announcement and for a moment, we all laugh, but seconds later we’re back to our papers, or iPods, or Blackberrys. Don’t lament the realization that people can ride in the same train and not have a meaningful bonding experience. Please. I have ridden with the same people for years and I don't speak to any of them or ask where they work or what their lunch sacks contain. They see me too, and no,they don't ask me anything either. Well most of the time they don't.

A few weeks after returning from maternity leave, I was waiting on the train platform and a guy approached me to ask how the baby was doing. That warmed my cold, cold heart just a fraction of a degree. We introduced ourselves and maintained a quasi friendship, but I assume he’s moved to a different route because I haven’t seen him in months. Maybe years. It was nice while it lasted, but I’m not striking up new conversations to fill the void. Tragic, I know but don't cry for me; I’ll be okay. Really.

Yesterday’s seatmate was a talker. I started writing a letter to my friend in my notebook, and he asks if I'm writing my memoirs or a manifesto. I pulled out my earbud and told him I'm writing a letter, and like the smart ass I am, I added "You know, people still write those."

Then (though I didn’t ask) he showed me his book and informed me that he was reading up on how to save money on mortgages. I faked a smile and said that was good to do. Then I popped the earbuds back into place and continued penning my manifesto.

The ride was uneventful until we approached the end of the line, when I put away my notebook and pulled out my iPhone. I was just getting into the 15 game when my seatmate says, "Are you still in school?"


I don’t know why he asked. I would like to think it’s because I possess the youthful glow of an undergrad but let's not kid ourselves. I said, "No. I'm done." (I realize that was a very final answer. The truth is, I don’t know if I’m done—maybe I’ll go back at some point, but when you know the guy next to you is a yackity mofo, you state the facts and hope they shut up.)

He didn’t shut up. Just as I lifted the earbud to my ear (which was the unspoken cue for him to end the conversation), seatmate says,

"So what do you do?"

"I'm a government contractor" (Yes, I know, this is as vague as it gets, but remember, “just the facts.” Then hope they shut up.)

"I'm a consultant" (Note: also vague. In fact, more vague than my response. Also note: I didn’t ask.)

Then he pulls out the business card. It’s a glossy thing, and kind of homemade looking--the card stock was flimsy and the print was crooked. At this point, I figured out that this was yet another Amway-Quixtar-like pyramid scheme (okay, okay, multi-level marketing "business").

I stuff my earbuds back into my bag because I know what follows a business card is a pitch, especially if the card is advertising a borderline pyramid scheme. I’m not at the point where I can totally ignore the person next to me when directly addressed, but I imagine attaining that skill is very freeing. Maybe one day I'll know that freedom. For now, I will pretend to listen, and I’ll nod periodically so you believe I’m listening.

The pitch went something like:
“I work for an energy company--utilities are being deregulated and now people can choose their utility company and …Dallas…opportunity…free trips…points…we’re different because…and not everyone does that…”

Me: *nodding*

"...so there are a lot of opportunities out there, so if you or your husband..."

Me: (thinking) Whew, this isn’t a pick up; he mentioned my husband.

“The website is right there on the business card.” (points to the web address in case I couldn’t recognize it on my own)

Me: "Okay, I'll look into it."

Me: (thinking) Not.

Everyone in sales, pay close attention, I’m coming to the part where my seatmate failed as a salesperson. Ever notice how some people ask how you’re doing and after you provide your generic one sentence answer, they launch into a soliloquy? They didn't REALLY care how you were doing, they only asked get it out of the way so they can talk about themselves without seeming rude for not asking about you. People want to talk about themselves. The trick to sales is simple--you do just the opposite of what most people do. You get people to talk about themselves, and you listen. And act interested. Learn the names of the people they care about, listen to them tell you what they want to do when they grow up. People like talking about themselves and they like doing that with people who appear to care. Once you’re in good, you’re just an interviewer collecting the story and once you’re in really good, you become family. They forget it’s about business and boom, you're in like Flynn (who is that guy, anyway?). Beyond the school question, did this guy do any of that? Nope. He talked about himself.

Here's what I learned without even having to ask:

Seatmate was enlisted in the Air Force and then got commissioned through ROTC

He has a dual bachelor's degree

He has a triple master's degree (in aerospace engineering and two more things listed after I stopped listening)

In the middle of his monologue, seatmate turned to greet a random Asian man on the train. How he knew the right language or that the man would understand, I don’t know. But the man answered and the two chuckled. Then seatmate turned back and said:

“I’m also learning Chinese.”

Me: “Oh.”

Me (thinking) Am I supposed to applaud?

Other stuff I was told by seatmate without asking:

He owns a million dollar business

He has teenaged sons

At some point I mentioned that I had been in the Army. This was the guy’s chance to redeem himself as a salesperson and ask about ME. He didn’t. Which is actually okay; I was just testing him and he didn’t disappoint. I suppose he exhausted any more opportunities to tell me about himself because he finally fell silent.

Then he started talking to the Air Force sergeant to the left of me. The unsuspecting guy was reading something and all of a sudden he’s interrupted with:

“Hey Sarge…”

(I don't know ANY non-commissioned officer outside of Beetle Bailey that wants to be addressed as "Sarge," and the fact that the man asking had served added insult to injury—he should have known better. Who does that?)

This pretend interest in “Sarge” turned out to be more opportunity for seatmate to brag. He started grilling this dude on his specialty and plans for life after retirement (strangely enough he didn’t produce a business card and sales pitch, though). Then seatmate took the opportunity to tell the sarge how he had ten of the ribbons that sarge was currently wearing. Then he asked sarge if he knew any languages. “No,” Sarge replied. Seatmate looked mildly disappointed. I half-expected him to brag about his skills in Chinese, but he didn’t go there. The conversation ended (thankfully) when seatmate explained to Sarge that he retired from the Air Force as a (wait for it) field grade officer.

Mind you, “Sarge” didn’t ask. No one asked. We just wanted to get off the train and go home.


Selectively Yours

Friends, acquaintances, relatives, crushes of years gone by, classmates (high school and college), the ladies I met through a wedding planning website, people who knew me from 7th grade and earlier and last but not least, my dear husband—
Lend me your ears. Or, rather, your eyes.

Let’s talk about Facebook.

I know, I know. I was born in the ‘70’s, the era of bad hair, bad car designs and mostly bad music. Given the site's original purpose of having college-aged members, I have no business there. Facebook is where you broadcast your most miniscule thoughts, post the most obscure photos from your meager existence or sign up to be a fan of Duran Duran simply by clicking the link on their page. What respectable 30 something does that? Okay, I do that here too, but Facebook lets you gather all of that information from looking at just a few pages. As much of your life that you want out there is available for the world or just your “friends” to see, neatly catalogued in a series of tabbed pages.

“What’s the point of those ‘networking’ sites anyway?”

This was asked of me by my husband, who, within a few short months easily surpassed me in the number of “friends” in his account. It’s not surprising—even at my own reunion, more people remembered him than me. That's just the kind of guy he is. ♥

“I never got into the Facebook thing,” said my sister. In other words, “I’m too cool for that bullshit.” “Hm. I didn’t know you were on there,” I replied, “’Friend’ me!”

Days later, she had reconnected with her best friend from junior high school. Junior high! Now it’s not uncommon to find my sister lurking there when I’m on as well. Too cool, indeed.

I have no idea what spurred me to get an account. Curiosity, I guess? I wanted to know what was the big deal about Facebook. I had already seen MySpace and was none too impressed. The bad wallpaper, the musical loops some people attached to their craptastic pages—unless there’s some reason that I find myself in need of raising my blood pressure, testing my retinas or inducing a seizure, I say good day and no thank you to all of that.

Then there’s Facebook—relatively bland in comparison, with its blue border and white pages. Fine, I told myself, let’s give it a whirl.

Now here comes the weird part—if you arrive uninvited, you get tempted to do searches. “Let’s see if so-and-so’s on here?” You think.

Then you do the search. Then you sift through all of the people with the same or similar names until you land on who you presume is the right person. The thought that follows is this:

“If I send out a friend request, the person will know I searched for them.”

And therefore:

“…this person will think I’m a stalker.”

I have a tough time with those friend requests because I’m overly concerned about what the recipient is going to think of me.

Is it going to be:

Heh-heh-heh, I knew she would never forget me.”


“Is this the same person I knew from school/work/the Army/(and so on)?”

Or, simply, a harmless but kind of mortifying:


I have a pretty recognizable name, but just because I think it’s recognizable is no guarantee that everyone else will remember.

I have to get over this, I know. I have gotten a few requests that were complete shockers, taking me back two decades to the days when life was so much simpler (even though I didn’t know it at the time). Never have I thought of someone as a stalker even if they obviously went through the task of typing my name into the search engine.

Once in awhile I have gotten a request and thought, “Who?” but it’s rare, I promise. If I forgot you, let me say in my defense that the memory is the first to go. Did I already mention I was 33?

So what about these "friends?" Some friends are closer to the true meaning of the word than others, but here they all carry equal standing, and they're all a mouse click away, neatly arranged in an alphabetized list.

After you sign up you get to the business of setting up your profile. This includes schools you attended, places you work, where you live and of course, the part where you talk about you, yourself and a few of your favorite things. At first I had all kinds of stuff about favorite movies, TV shows and quotations. Then I looked at it and thought, “So what?” So I deleted it. But to those following my saga, I am halfway through my definitive collection of the Twilight Zone, my TV watching is spotty these days and I have a couple of quotations, but they're both from Stephen King. What does that say about me?

Then there's the photo. What face do you want to present to the rest of the world? This is kind of nice because you can choose one where you have on a cute outfit or where your hair looks good. You have the benefit of choosing one of your better days versus the hand you were dealt when you woke up that morning. You can look bored, maniacal, happy or furious. Why not add in the kid(s), the pet, or the significant other? You can be portrayed in an artistic black and white headshot or standing at a distance, at a creative angle. Or be edgy and represent yourself in a "Where's Waldo" fashion as a face in a crowd, or better yet as an image of some other random person, place or thing. Those who truly know you won't have to ask; they'll get the joke. And if you don’t like the photo, no worries, you can change it anytime.

Back to the original question: what's the point? You get to show summarize your life to everyone else, but you show only what you choose to display. And so does everyone else.

Deep, right? (okay, not really, but work with me, I had to wrap up this up eventually)