CBC V, or Why I’m Not An Actor Anymore

You’re a Good Man, Charlie Brown performed for two weekends in June of 1982, one weekend at Barnsdall Gallery Theatre in Hollywood and one at Pierce College in the San Fernando Valley. By all accounts, it was awful, as most of the kids had any idea what they were saying or why it was supposed to be funny. I, of course, was genius. Sheer %$^&ing genius.

So Charlie Brown was over. Kaput.

Or WAS IT?!

See, after the show’s initial run, a remarkable transformation took place.

The Los Angeles Children’s Choir, a staid, conservative sort of dealie with hordes of children standing on risers and singing Bach cantatas, was rechristened the “Kids of the Century,” where every song required dancing or a simulation thereof, and everyone eventually had to dress up like Michael Jackson. (I actually, at one point, owned a pair of parachute pants. I did not, at the time, own a single glove with sequins, although I do now.)

I was ill-suited for this particular transformation, yet I stubbornly hung on and/or refused to go away. So I became the Kids of the Century’s Human Tree – a tall, dippy guy in the back who sort of flung out his arms on occasion but never really did any actual dancing. I was always in the back row – and there weren’t enough back rows to hide the inadequacy of my boogie. Lucy, on the other hand, was a spectacular dancer and perfectly suited to the new format, so she soon became the group’s centerpiece, thereby putting her even further out of reach.

Another equally remarkable thing happened at the same time. You’re a Good Man, Charlie Brown refused to die.

It didn’t make any sense, really. I had been in L.A. Children’s Choir-produced shows like The Wizard of Oz, Hans Christian Andersen, and Tom Sawyer, and all of those stayed dead after the final curtain came down. (Okay, they revived The Wizard of Oz for Christmas that year, but it died forever after that.) It had been everyone’s understanding that Charlie Brown would suffer the same fate. But somehow, it didn’t.

I’m very fuzzy on the details. I don’t remember a moment where they decided to bring it back, because it never really went away. The rehearsals just sort of… continued. We met every week at a scary, dilapidated school on Hollywood Boulevard across the street from Barnsdall Park – Los Feliz Elementary, to be exact. Necessary modifications to the show were made – the tall and small cast combined into a single cast, and the ensemble of thousands was stripped down to a handful. Our Charlie Brown left for greener pastures, but I had no illusions that I would be picked to replace him. I was Schroeder, and I would remain so indefinitely.

What’s interesting, though, was that as the Kids of the Century became increasingly cult-like, the Charlie Brown cast became the cult in the center of the cult. There was no need to actually rehearse anything at these rehearsals, which usually degenerated into free-for-alls where we just enjoyed the chance to hang out. (How could they not? We were rehearsing a show we already knew with no performance date in sight.) But Charlie Brown gave us inside access into the inner circle, so we suddenly became the cool kids, even though I was far less cool than most of the other kids by any objective standard.

The timeline here is very, very fuzzy, but between 1982 and July 13, 1985 – more foreshadowing, but earlier in the post this time – we would put on excerpts of the show in school assemblies all across the greater LA area. My Schroederdom wasn’t really a problem, because we never really did any dialogue from the show – just the big group numbers where everyone more or less had a piece of the action. We got photographed and written up in the paper, and I got to ditch school more than a few times, which is always a good thing.

Sometime in early 1984, I think, we finally remounted the whole show in a professional setting at the hole-in-the-wall 99-seat Tracy Theatre in beautiful downtown Burbank. The only original cast members left were myself, Lucy, and the small cast Snoopy. We got reviewed by actual newspapers, and, if you take their word for it, the show was actually pretty good by this time. The one weak link, though, was the stringy oaf playing Schroeder.

I’m not an actor anymore for a number of reasons, but I think the seeds of my disillusionment with the acting profession were planted during that Burbank run. It was there that I discovered that acting is not an intellectual exercise, and that, for actors, intelligence is not necessarily an asset.

That’s somewhat self-serving of me to say that, as I’m happy to blame my poor acting skills on how wicked smart I am. But it wasn’t the fact that I was brilliant- it’s the fact that I thought too much, that I tried too hard. By this point, I felt like I was too old and too tall to be playing on stage with these other kids, and so I overthought every moment. Why am I doing this? Isn’t this silly? Why isn’t this working? Every joke became labored, so I never got laughs. So that led me to overanalyze the whole thing even more, and I ended up giving stilted, lifeless performances.

Don’t get me wrong. There are many intelligent actors, and some of them are very gifted performers, too. But in order for that to work, they have to find a way to mute the self-critical director’s commentary that runs through their brain every second of every performance. Stupid actors don’t have that commentary running, and so they perform uninhibited, without fear of consequence. That’s one of the reasons why some of the most talented stars of our generation are also mindless boobs when it comes to their positions on the issues of the day. They’re in a profession that rewards the effective bypass of critical thinking.

Anyway, if this whole trip down memory lane is boring the snot out of you, don’t worry. There’s only one more Charlie Brown story to be told before we get to July 13, 1985…

CBC IV: Crushed by Lucy

You should know that I’m dreading this post. As I consider the subject matter, all the awkwardness and embarrassment that defined much of my adolescence comes rushing back in waves, and it amazes me that I ever got it under control enough to persuade a beautiful woman to marry me.

See, one of the reasons why You’re a Good Man, Charlie Brown is seared into my consciousness is that, at some point in time, I developed a debilitating crush on one of the girls who played Lucy. (I say “one of the girls” because there were three Lucys – one small cast Lucy and two tall cast Lucys. For the record, it was not the girl pictured with me in the preceding post where I’m brilliantly pretending to play the piano.)

“Crush” is an entirely appropriate noun to describe this phenomenon, because this sudden dump of teenage romance angst was like an anvil dropped from the top of the Empire State Building onto all of my reason, confidence, and common sense. I had had crushes before, but none were as heavy or as devastating as this one was. It fell without warning and squashed my soul into a gelatinous puddle whenever I came within twenty yards of this poor girl. It was almost physically painful to be in the same room with her, and I found myself unable to form a coherent sentence when addressing her directly.

Witness these examples:

Stallion to non_Lucy person: “Hello. Nice to see you. How have you been?”
Stallion to Lucy: “Yes. Hi, um, you see been. Sure. Nice? Fern, uh, me go now. Ugh. (Fern.)”

One of my friends took to calling me “Dribblenose” whenever Lucy came into the danger zone. She made me acutely aware of my every real or imagined physical flaw when in her presence. Just sharing the same planet with her reminded me that I was seven feet tall and twenty-two pounds, that my nose was the size of the Hindenburg, that my complexion looked like a relief map of the moon, and that three-quarters of my last meal was still lodged in the front of my teeth.

Yet somehow, inexplicably, word got back to me that Lucy was marginally interested in me, too, which made the whole thing exponentially worse. It put pressure on me to actually do something about the situation, and I had no idea what that something should be.

After sifting through a mountain of panic, I decided that it boiled down to the idea that I ought to ask Lucy to “go” with me.

I put “go” in parenthesis because use of that verb in this context bears no resemblance to its general vernacular in common speech. Back when such things were popular among my set, “going” didn’t involve going anywhere, like, say, “going out” would. It wasn’t even “going steady.” It was just “going.”

Near as I could tell, it was the formation of some sort of romantic attachment, but one with ill-defined parameters. The only concrete fact about “going” that I could figure out was that when you found out that one person was “going” with another person, it gave you license to giggle behind their backs. Beyond that, everything was sketchy. Was there smooching involved? (I hoped yes, but I was sure my lips would fall off and my face would explode if I ever made the attempt.) Maybe some hand holding? (Gallons of sweat on my palms would make contact difficult to maintain.) Did it require a certain number of telephone calls? Would I have time to write down all my sentences in advance?

I had a brief window of opportunity to pop the “will you go with me” question early in the rehearsal process, so, of course, I botched it. I couldn’t get the words out. I think I was no longer capable of speaking English whenever I considered making the attempt. So I tried to play it off by saying that “going” was a childish and silly thing, one which sophisticated folk like me would never stoop to doing. So my strategy to get Lucy to “go” with me was to utterly dismiss the idea as a ridiculous concept and hope that it would happen anyway.

Ah, good plan!

Alas, not all of my fellow castmates were as intellectually flatulent as I was, and so a guy named Ralph, who, as the small cast Charlie Brown was about head shorter than Lucy, asked her to go with him instead. To my everlasting horror, she accepted and thus secured Ralph’s place in my Pantheon of Hatred. I have no evidence of this, but I’m pretty sure Ralph became a terrorist shortly after the run of the show. Or a hobo. Maybe a terrorist hobo. One that dealt drugs and ate babies.

Of course, Ralph was no longer in the picture by July 13, 1985. (This final foreshadowing allows me to now change the subject, or at least end this discussion until another day. On second thought, let us not speak of it again. I’m been drowneding in flashback embarrassment as I wroted this. Me, um, fern been go hackeysack.)

CB Chronicles III: The Curse of Schroeder

When the Los Angeles Children’s Choir finally decided to mount a full-fledged production of You’re a Good Man, Charlie Brown in 1982, I was a shoe-in for the lead. I’d been playing the title role in my Rex Harrison’s Baseball Game solo for over a year, and I was, you know, due. So when the auditions came, everyone assumed I’d get the top spot. At least, I assumed that everyone assumed I would get the top spot. So when they posted the cast list, I was not surprised to see my name, but I was very surprised – shocked, even – to see where my name was.

They didn’t cast me as Charlie Brown.

I looked further down the list and saw my name. Apparently, I was Schroeder.

SCHROEDER?!

To me, Schroeder was an afterthought. He was the Sweathog who replaced Barbarino; he was Chuck Cunningham or Pete Best; he was the fourth Ghostbuster. Schroeder was nobody’s favorite. He had no funny lines or memorable scenes. He was and is the Aquaman of the Peanuts Superfriends.

And suddenly, my Charlie Brown dreams had been shot down over a sea of Schroederdom.

It didn’t help that the lead role when to Patrick, a great guy who was perfect for the part. I couldn’t even muster up enough of a grudge to resent him. All I could do was resign myself to my lot and be the best darn Schroeder I could be. Which, of course, sucked.

The casting choices were remarkably progressive, all things considered. Lucy was blonde and Linus was black, which was a fairly enlightened example of color-blind casting for 1982. In addition, Snoopy was a girl, which balanced out the cast at three dudes and three chicks – except the cast had about thirty people in it.

How did this happen, you say?

Well, they had two casts – the “tall cast” and the “small cast.” (I was about thirteen feet taller than anyone else, so you can guess which cast I ended up in.) That brought the number up to 12. Then they double-cast Lucy in the tall cast, bringing the number up to 13.

Then they added the “ensemble.”

The play didn’t call for an ensemble – it’s a very intimate six-person piece. But the L.A. Children’s Choir had about seventy-five members, all of whom wanted to be in the show. So, in order to accommodate the tuition fees of a dozen more parents, they added a bevy of onlookers who cluttered up the stage with nothing to do except sing along during the group numbers. That almost worked in the big showstoppers like “The Baseball Game” and “The Book Report,” but when Charlie Brown was singing to his Lucy as his psychiatrist in “The Doctor Is In,” you had to wonder why all these extra people were sitting around and listening in. And when Charlie Brown tries to fly a kite in a singular, personal moment of triumph and despair, why were twenty of his closest friends cheering him on? How could this guy be such a loser with so many sycophants?


As for me, all I could do was try and find some way to stand out. I managed to accomplish this by means of really, really good simulated piano playing. As Schroeder performed Beethoven’s “Moonlight Sonata” while Lucy sang to him about getting married and buying saucepans, I perfectly mimed each note with precision and plenty of snooty panache. In fact, if gayness were environmental and not inborn, I would have have drained myself of all my heterosexuality by the last performance.

I knew I had succeeded when a couple of old ladies came backstage to shake all our hands. They were lavish in their praise. “Oh, Charlie Brown – you were just perfect!” they gushed. “Snoopy, you were adorable – you stole the show!” “Oh, my goodness, Linus, you were so funny! I couldn’t stop laughing!”

And then they turned to me.

“You know,” they said with strained smiles, “it really looked like you were playing the piano up there.”

Schroeder. Damn him. Nobody collects Aquaman comic books, you know.*

*And that was true even on July 13, 1985. (Foreshadowing abounds.)

CB Chronicles II: Roy, Glee Club, and The Baseball Game

My Charlie Brown experience almost got off the ground circa 1978, when my mother had been enslaved by the Boy Scouts of America to serve as Cub Scout Den Mother to myself and my fellow almost-Webelos. She got the idea of doing a production of You’re a Good Man Charlie Brown at church, but when she did the math, she realized there were only four boy parts – CB, Schroeder, Linus, and Snoopy – and five actual boys. I suggested adding a section to the show so one of the boys could play Roy, a minor character that only appeared in the strip when Charlie Brown went to camp. I was even willing to write Roy a camp-oriented song, but my mother was wise enough to recognize both my songwriting limitations and the inevitable copyright lawsuits, so the show was shelved indefinitely. (Not scrapped altogether, mind you – just shelved. Behold more foreshadowing! Foreshadowing is a very effective literary device.)

The tidbit that came out of that experience was that my mother had wanted to cast me not as Charlie Brown, which was, I thought, my destiny, but rather as Snoopy, which she insisted was a better part. She was right, of course, but I drew the line at her suggestion that I should study how my dogs behaved in order to research the role. My dogs spent far more time licking things than I thought would be appropriate in my interpretation of the character.

But life went on, and I was neither Charlie Brown nor Snoopy until about two years later, when I was asked to sing a solo for the Los Angeles Children’s Choir, which I had joined the year previous against my will. (That was my mother’s influence again. Other kids my age were playing little league, but my disastrous track record with organized sports required an alternative extracurricular solution to get me out of the house.)

Serendipitously, the L.A. Children’s Choir had a history with the Charlie Brown show, having produced the musical at Barnsdall Gallery Theatre in Hollywood the year before. In their concerts, then, they included two excerpts from the show – “Glee Club Rehearsal” and “The Baseball Game.”

“Glee Club Rehearsal, ” which may well be the funniest number in the entire show, involves Schroeder leading his fellow Peanuts in a rehearsal for tomorrow’s school assembly performance. While singing “Home on the Range,” CB, Linus, Lucy, and Patty slip in musical asides that continue their feud about a stolen pencil and Linus’ labeling of Patty as “an enigma,” which causes problems because none of the other characters knows what an enigma is.*

For some reason, they changed the whole thing to reflect the idea that this wasn’t happening in the Peanuts universe, but rather in a children’s choir. So the stolen pencil became a stolen sheet of music, the whole enigma thing was mangled beyond recognition in ways I can’t remember, and the line “what are you trying to do, stifle my freedom of speech?” became “what are you trying to do, ruin my chances to sing?”

In other words, it had all the Peanuts and all the funny drained out of it. Why? I guess it’s just one more enigma.*

The one funny part I do remember, though, is that the centerpiece of the whole number was a very nice kid who couldn’t carry a tune if it had handles on it, so the director gave him a part in the manufactured drama in order to give him something to do. When he wasn’t in the number, the director called him our “tacit” singer, meaning he should just stand there and mouth the words and not befoul the choir with his actual voice.

“The Baseball Game” was far more faithful to its source material, and it involved me – FINALLY – playing Charlie Brown, the (non-licking) role I was born to play. The rest of the choir was my baseball team, with My Esteemed Colleague leaping out at one point to shout “M!” with ludicrously precise pronunciation when the players were called upon to spell the word “TEAM.” Without prompting, My Esteemed Colleague also decided to play a janitor at the end of the song, sweeping up after everyone else has abandoned poor Charlie Brown when he single-handedly loses the game.

My problem, though, was that my voice had entered that Peter-Brady-mid-puberty-cracking-at-the-high-notes range, and I couldn’t really sing the piece, per se. I pointed that out to the director, who told me that Rex Harrison couldn’t hit the high notes, either, so he spoke all of his songs. I tried that once, I think, and I found that while that might work when you’re performing “Why Can’t a Woman Be More Like a Man,” its application to “The Baseball Game” is iffy at best. So, instead, I dropped parts of the song by a full octave, which didn’t sound much better. But what did that matter? My Charlie Brown journey had begun, and July 13, 1985 was a full five years away. (More foreshadowing. If you don’t know what foreshadowing is, look it up.)

* e·nig·ma
[uh-nig-muh]
noun, plural -mas, -ma·ta  [-muh-tuh]
1. a puzzling or inexplicable occurrence or situation: His disappearance is an enigma that has given rise to much speculation.
2. a person of puzzling or contradictory character: To me he has always been an enigma, one minute completely insensitive, the next moved to tears. (I think this is the one that applies to Patty.)
3. a saying, question, picture, etc., containing a hidden meaning; riddle.
4. ( initial capital letter ) a German-built enciphering machine developed for commercial use in the early 1920s and later adapted and appropriated by German and other Axis powers for military use through World War II. (Maybe this applies to Patty, too.)

The Charlie Brown Chronicles: Volume I

VOLUME 1: IN THE BEGINNING

“I hate to think that all my current experiences will someday become stories with no point.”
― Calvin, It’s a Magical World: A Calvin and Hobbes Collection

Last month, my brother gave me a DVD copy of the animated version of the musical You’re a Good Man, Charlie Brown for my birthday. Driving home from the party, I encouraged my kids to pop it into the car’s DVD player, which they did. I was awash in nostalgia in the front seat as I listened to this show for the first time in years. This show, along with a sense of generically unfulfilled lust, was the centerpiece of my adolescence. I expected my children to listen gratefully to the genius that was pouring forth from the speakers, but, instead, I was inundated by a grundle of unhelpful comments from my five opinionated kids. Those went something like this:

“Why did you say this was good?”
“I don’t get it.”
“Charlie Brown is so pathetic! Why is he such a loser?”
“This is really stupid. Nobody does anything.”
“Is there a story to this? It’s not going anywhere.”
“This doesn’t make any sense.”
“Can we watch something funny instead?”

Aaaaaaaargh! I can’t stand it! I just can’t stand it!

I was perturbed, yes, but mainly because, as I searched my soul, I realized I honestly had no answer to any of those questions. In fact, I had a question of my own:

Why on earth was Peanuts so popular?

My kids still read Calvin and Hobbes, because it’s laugh-out-loud funny. For the most part, Peanuts isn’t. Other than to mock its posthumous inclusion in the Sunday funnies, the fruit of my loins have ignored Peanuts altogether.

So why do I adore it?

You have to admit that there’s never been anything like it, before or since. It doesn’t go for belly laughs very often. Instead, it’s gentle and whimsical, filled with ponderous philosophical musings, and more than a little sad.

It spoke to me, I think, because I was Charlie Brown.

Yeah, yeah, I know. Everyone thinks they’re Charlie Brown. But all the pathetic clichés really applied to me. I was picked last for every team. (Sometimes the teams even fought over which side had to take me.) I cried readily as a little kid, so I was an easy target for a succession of bullies from first through eighth grade. I was often mopey and sullen, and my young life was dominated by a string of little red-headed girl surrogates that I would admire from afar with no hope of requital. You didn’t need to waste any time feeling sorry for me, however, because I felt sorry enough for myself to compensate for it all.

(Cue the violins.)

So, naturally, Charlie Brown was an inspiration to me. Except I that’s using the term “inspiration” rather loosely. He didn’t spur me on to great heights of accomplishment; he just reminded me that I wasn’t alone in my loserdom. In some ways, that was enough.

We had all the little paperback books with the reprinted cartoons. I was so proud of myself because I could read them all in one sitting, which gave me the illusion of accomplishment. There was a much more comprehensive hardcover Peanuts collection at the elementary school library that I wanted to get my hands on, but it was always checked out, and the reserve wait was something like two months – an eternity in elementary school years. The book had thousands of strips reproduced in a single volume, and the book was worth its weight in gold.

So while I was waiting for the Peanuts horde to become available at the library, I would listen to an old record we had lying around. It had Charlie Brown on the front, and pictures of grown-ups trying to dress up like Charlie Brown on the back, along with some groovy colored boxes, which I only assumed were colored, because the pics were black and white. I didn’t really understand why adults were pretending to be Charlie Brown, but I was pretty sure that if Charlie Brown ever grew up, he would look like the guy on the back of the record.

(That would be Gary Burghoff, who originated the role in the original off-Broadway production of You’re a Good Man, Charlie Brown before going on to live forever in the sitcom pantheon as M*A*S*H’s Radar O’Reilly.)

I listened to that thing until it was scratched beyond recognition. I knew every song backwards and forwards. Yet I had no idea how big a role that particular show would play in my life in the decade that followed, up to and including July 13, 1985.

(That’s what they call a “teaser.” My next few posts are going to continue this saga with no point until I’ve spewed all of it forth from my memory hole, and you have no choice but to wallow in it until your fingers are pruny with the Charlie Brown juice.)

Dear Mr. Jagger:

Dear Mick:

Hello. I spoke to President Obama yesterday, so it’s only fair I speak to you today. He told me to tell you hello. (Actually, he didn’t. I’m imagining he told me to tell you hello. You probably won’t read this anyway, so it doesn’t matter much.)

Mick, I’m one of your more unusual fans, in that I didn’t discover you by means of your work with the Rolling Stones. The first time you were seared into my consciousness was when you performed solo at the televised Live Aid concert in 1985. Bette Midler introduced you as “everybody’s idol,” and then you came bursting out onto the stage singing “Lonely at the Top,” a song from your ignominious solo debut album, She’s the Boss. You were flapping in the breeze like one of those plastic wind guys you see at all those car dealerships – you were flailing this way and that, looking awkward and goofy and cool at the same time.

At the time, I was awkward and goofy and not as cool, so I was inspired by someone who moved as dilapidatedly as you did and still got kudos for it. I stole your every move, your every smirk, even your little rooster tail you do with your fingers behind your bum. It got me laughs, but it also got me to embrace my own physical awkwardness and celebrate its grotesquery in a respectable way. I can never thank you enough for that.

I confess, though, that I haven’t listened to She’s the Boss since around the time I purchased it back in 1985.

Mick's solo debut

It’s very much a product of its time, filled with synth drums and electronicy keyboards. Sad to say, it hasn’t aged well. And if I’m being honest with myself, it wasn’t very good at the time, either. But I didn’t know any better. It seemed funny and silly, and I still saw you as sort of a joke, but a good joke, the kind of joke I wanted to associate myself with in order to get people to laugh at me, too.

Then I picked up Dirty Work in 1986.

Dirty Work has been hailed as “the worst Stones album ever,” but it was my first Stones album, and I quite liked it, thank you very much. See, with Dirty Work, I got it. I understood that the Stones worked because they were raw and authentic. No cute keyboard riffs; no synth anything; just guys with snarling guitars and you with your snarling vocals. (The day-glo colors on this album makes it look like another 80s cheese romp, but it isn’t – except for, you know, the cover.) The whole Stones oeuvre, even with a lesser outing like this one, was all ugly and nasty and all kinds of fun. Your eel-like shenanigans made sense in the Stones context in a way they didn’t with your vapid solo material. The stones weren’t polished or pretty; they were all rough edges. So of course their singer flailed like a ferret in heat.

(By the way, parts of Dirty Work haven’t aged well, but other parts have. “One Hit to the Body” is in my top ten all time favorite Stones tunes with its speeded-up Gimme Shelteresque hard driving riff, and “Harlem Shuffle” is still a groovin’ delight. And Keith’s “Sleep Tonight” remains his best ballad ever, hands down. The rest of the album sucks out loud, but you probably already knew that.)

I left on a mission for the LDS Church in the fall of ’87, so I missed your second solo album, Primitive Cool.

I’m so grateful I did.

Mick, all you have to do is look at the cover of that thing, with you as a hobbit or a Vulcan or something holding that dippy ring, and you knew something was wrong. Watching the video for the brain-dead anthem “Let’s Work” makes me want to poke my eyes out with a sharp stick.

With all that background, I had very low expectations for your 1993 solo piece, Wandering Spirit. Boy, was I wrong. You didn’t try to run from your Stonesiness – you embraced it head on, making Wandering Spirit the best Stones album the Stones never recorded.

Seriously, it’s some of your very best work, within the Stones or without. It recognized that you knew what your strengths were, and that you were willing to play to them even outside the context of the Stones.

Which brings me to the purpose of my letter today.

As soon as it became available, I downloaded a copy of your latest magnum opus, the debut deluxe edition of your self-titled album of your supergroup Superheavy. I’d heard the first single “Miracle Worker,” and it seemed pleasant enough. So I listened to the rest of the album.

Mick, it’s no Primitive Cool, but it’s no Wandering Spirit, either.

The fact of the matter, Mick, is that when you try to dress yourself up all respectable-like, you look absolutely ridiculous. With lush arrangements and soaring melodies or ethnic, across-the-world mash-ups, your performance highlights a reality you should have realized long ago:

You can’t sing.

Please recognize that that hasn’t been an impediment to your career. Indeed, it’s been one of your greatest strengths. No one wants to hear a real singer wail his way through “Start Me Up.” Can you imagine Pavarotti sneer his way through a lyric like “My hands are greasy, she’s a mean, mean machine?” You work as a performer because of your attitude, your chutzpah, your defiance of convention, not your pretty voice. Your voice is ugly. It’s raw. It is not the voice of a man of wealth and taste. When you sing alongside Joss Stone with these otherworldly arrangements and modern autotuning and whatnot, you are the aural equivalent of a guy who wears jeans and a wife-beater T-shirt to officiate at a church wedding.

Mick, next year marks the 50th anniversary of the Rolling Stones. Your bandmates want an album and a farewell tour. So does your public. And you don’t want to give it to them, because you’re too busy trying to be something that you’re not.

As a lifelong Mick fan, please reconsider. Don’t make me make you watch the “Let’s Work” without being under heavy sedation.

(AAAAAAGH! MY EYES! MY EYES!)

Your friend,

Stallion

P.S. I would vote for your for president before I would vote for Jon Huntsman.

Dear Mr. President:

Dear Mr. President,

How’s it going? It’s me, Stallion. We’ve never been properly introduced, but I did shake your hand once on a rope line. You have very nice teeth.

I know you are very concerned about both the faltering economy and your faltering reelection chances. (If you’re not, I can introduce you to plenty of Democrats who are.) The fact is, though, that nothing you’ve proposed – or that the Republicans have proposed, for that matter – would do anything to kickstart America’s economic engine. Getting reelected with a nominal unemployment rate of 9.1 percent is next to impossible.

And the reality is actually far, far worse than what the numbers say.

Self-employed and underemployed people are also suffering through the worst economic conditions in over 75 years. You can continue to blame it all on George Bush and make your base happy, but that’s kind of wearing thin for the non-ideological Americans who constitute the majority of voters, and they’re the ones who will ultimately decide whether to give you four more years. Right now, they blame the people they think can do something about the problem but, for some reason, don’t seem to be doing it.

For better or for worse, that’s you.

Is that fair? Is that appropriate? Probably not. But that’s the perception, and in politics, perception is reality. You need to accept that, suck it up, and do something about it.

So how do you fix it?

Well, your ideas kind of suck, but you already knew that. Nobody expects any piece of your two goofy proposals to go anywhere, including you. They’re cravenly political, and maybe you think that’s the best you can do. (Case in point: we have the highest corporate tax rate in the industrialized world, Mr. President. How is RAISING it going to prevent the hemorrhaging of jobs overseas?)

But I digress. Debating the finer points of your D.O.A. proposals is a waste of time. Regardless, most people will tell you there’s no quick fix.

Most people, however, are wrong.

Take a look at North Dakota. Their unemployment rate is 3.2%. Their economy is booming. Why?

One word.

OIL.

You heard me. Oil. Fossil fuels. Black gold. Texas Tea. Dinosaur turds.

The price of oil is skyrocketing, and the Glenn Becks of the world are telling us the world is running out and that we’ve reached Peak Oil, which means inevitable economic decline, civil unrest, cats and dogs sleeping together, the works. But that’s nonsense. There is enough oil in the Four Corners area, for instance, to fuel the entire world for generations. And it can be extracted for about forty dollars a barrel. With the world oil price well above twice that, it might be time to give oil shale another look.

That’s what’s going on in North Dakota. They’re fracking for oil like gangbusters, and they’re employing new techniques that are far more environmentally friendly than the old-school oil derricks you see in all those Bugs Bunny cartoons. New processes produce less CO2 than traditional techniques, use minimal amounts of water, and actually reclaim the areas that are drilled after the oil is removed. Expanding domestic oil production would make us energy independent, create scads of jobs, and free us from having to trade with countries that want to blow us up.

I know, I know. You don’t like oil.

That’s an understatement. In the first few weeks of your administration, you cancelled 77 oil and gas leases in Utah alone. These leases had undergone seven years of rigorous environmental scrutiny, but, overnight, you pulled the plug, threw thousands of people out of work, and depressed the economy of eastern Utah with the stroke of a pen.

I know, I know. You want green energy instead.

That’s why you dumped billions of dollars in stimulus money on companies that are incapable of producing green energy – or jobs, for that matter. See, green energy is wonderful, but it doesn’t really exist yet. (Solar, wind, et al aren’t even close to ready to pick up the slack.) I’m confident that green energy will exist someday, because even the government can’t stifle innovation forever. In the meantime, we need oil. And the US has it in abundance. So why not drill for it?

Global warming? Please.

Let’s assume, just for argument’s sake, that Al Gore isn’t full of as much crap as he demonstrably is. If we don’t drill for oil, does that solve our problem? Not at all. It means other countries drill for oil instead of us and produce more carbon emissions than we would if we were to do the same. It means the oil costs more and is dirtier to the planet, but it’s not happening in our backyard, so we can ignore it. That’s idiocy.

You also have to measure, too, the reliability of climate models to predict possible suffering in over a century’s time with the pressing concerns of the now. We need oil. We need jobs. We need economic activity. You can make that happen virtually overnight by unshackling the economy and letting people get back to work. The green jobs will come as the technology comes. If it makes you feel better, you can promise all the tax incentives and such that you like, but the green jobs are going to get here when they get here.

In the meantime, there’s oil.

Please follow my advice, Mr. President. It comes from a good place. Neither of us really wants Rick Perry in the White House.

Your pal,

Stallion.

P.S. You wear very distinguished ties.

Order of the Arrow Ordeal Secrets – And More!

So I’ve finally figured out how to make Google Analytics work with WordPress, and, in the process, I find out that most frequently visited post on my blog is an ancient post from 2007, and it’s not even gay-themed! It’s this post right here – the Order of the Arrow. It’s a fine post where I discuss the hideous Order of the Arrow ordeal, an event that perfectly embodies the more al Qaedaesque extremes of the Boy Scouts of America. Still, as near and dear as this subject is to my own heart, I couldn’t account for why the page has remained so darn popular after four years. People still visit it on a weekly and almost daily basis. Is it because I’m such a great writer? A genius, even? Or could it be that the silent majority shares my loathing for hazing from awkward teens in neckerchiefs and loincloths?

I got my answer when I entered the phrase “order of the arrow ordeal” in the little Google box up in the right hand corner of my Safari browser. The second choice in the suggestions Google pulls up is “order of the arrow ordeal secrets.” If you Google that phrase, guess what link is at the top of the page?


Yep. Turns out zillions of terrified young Scouts use the Internet to get a sneak peek at just how wretched their ordeal is going to be, and the Internet thinks that out of 6,820 possible sources, I’m the most trusted voice on the planet on this particular subject.

I can’t emphasize just how sick, twisted, wrong, and delightful that is.

I wish I had revealed more secrets than I did. Those looking for specifics are bound to be disappointed by these revelatory gems:

“The Order of the Arrow is a secret society within Scouting, one with secrets so secret that I can never reveal them, mainly because I can’t remember any of them.”

And…

“I was allowed to open my eyes to see some weird, creepy Indian ceremony in front of a campfire, which would last a couple of minutes or so, and then you were led to the next station, where you did the same thing. It’s here that I think the Order’s deepest secrets were revealed. I’m sure they were very important. I had to go the bathroom.”

I did manage to remember the menu – breakfast was some matches and a dixie cup filled with water and a raw egg. Then there was a half a slice of baloney and a half a slice of bread for lunch, and a carrot and a gumdrop for dinner. I also remembered the activity for the day – slave labor digging and hauling and chopping, all done under a vow of silence.

Only a scant few of the thousands who have visited had the courage/gumption/chutzpah/pinheadedness to leave me a comment. But, oh my stars and garters, what zippy comments they were. I share them with you below, with their original spelling and punctuation preserved.

Anonymous said…

I’m sure this will be a story for which your spirit family will comfort you in the next life. Geez, don’t get your holy underwear in a bunch.
October 21, 2007 9:08 PM

My “spirit family?” Is that an Order of the Arrowism I missed when they were starving me to death? (As for my underwear, people in glass loincloths shouldn’t throw stones.)

SGT Baker- Eagle Scout and Brotherhood member said…

… or you could just pretend to be a man and quit your bitching, you little girl! How about you come out and try the U.S. Army Special Forces selection, sally!
November 26, 2008 9:13 PM

Sgt. Baker, Eagle Scout and Brotherhood Member, just what do you think you’re doing? You dare Google sacred secrets of the Order? No gumdrop for you.

Proud Arrowman said…

wow I really think that you got your underware in a twist and you need to pick it out. If you don’t like it than don’t talk about it. Everything in the ordeal has a pourpose and it really soulds like your just a wuss cause if you wine about ants in your sleeping try going to philmont but you wouldn’t do that because once again you are a wuss
January 1, 2009 9:57 PM

So standardized spelling, apparently, is not a prerequisite for order membership, but porpoises are.

Anonymous said…

Hey thanks a lot you jerk. I’m about to go on my ordeal, and you got me all freaked out.

Also, i’ll bet you never made it to Eagle. (am i right?)
April 29, 2009 3:33 PM

Yes. You are right. Perceptive little freaked-out punk, aincha?

bakark omaba said…

u r a pussy. r u a fag 2?
June 6, 2009 6:02 PM

Alas, I am neither cat nor cigarette. On the plus side, I’m less illiterate than your average bakark.

Anonymous said…

you’re an idiot! The ordeal is a bad part of the OA introduction but it’s to prove you’re ready to be part of the organization. Although i see you obviously failed. It’s an honor to get in and you should treat it as such.
August 18, 2009 12:20 PM

Here’s how I treated it, Señor Anonymous. Right from the outset, I moaned and whined about what a piece of rat crap the whole experience was, so I got harangued by the guy who was supposed to be my sponsor/mentor/parole officer, who demanded I give him my phone number so he could drag me to a single one of your brain-dead meetings, which meant that I was honored to give him the phone number of the girl I sat next to in English class, who apparently received dozens of phone calls demanding that she keep current with her/my Order of the Arrow dues, which paid for the Boy Scout uniforms of grown men who have nothing better to do than boil eggs in dixie cups and send prepubescents into the woods to freeze.

Thus, with the wisdom that comes with years of hindsight, I now treat the experience with all the honor it deserves, which is precisely the amount of honor I just treated the hot, steaming pile my puppy left on the bottom bunk of my six-year-old’s bed.

I wonder where this post will end up in the Google rankings.

10 Things I Don’t Believe

We’ve already determined that I, as a Mormon, believe some really weird hoohah. (Jackson County, Missouri? Really?) But just as it’s important to know what I believe, I feel it necessary to point out that there is a great deal I do NOT believe. I covered some of these in my post on Mormon folklore, but some of those non-beliefs need to be clarified and expanded upon. This post, then, shall both recap and expand on ten things I most certainly do not believe.

Drum roll, please…

I don’t believe…

1. … that angry Mormon missionaries have employed foot dust to make blasphemous laundromats explode.

Again, see the folklore example. I also don’t believe sister missionaries are knocking on the doors of Nephites with drawn swords that hang out with serial killers.

2. … that Lionel Richie, Steve Martin, Bill Bixby, Ron Howard, or other celebrities are clandestine Mormons.

Gladys Knight IS a Mormon, but she’s told everyone so. I have a feeling other celebs would likely make their membership a matter of public record.

3. … that John the Beloved and/or the Three Nephites have ever changed a single tire.

I do believe they will remain on the earth until the Second Coming, but I think they have more important things to do than provide 24-hour worldwide roadside assistance.

4. … that temple garments stop bullets, ward off flamethrowers, or are in any way “magical.”

I believe they provide spiritual protection by reminding us of sacred things, not by serving as cotton body armor.

5. … that Adam is God.

Anti-Mormon literature always trots out an obscure, inscrutably anomalous sermon by Brigham Young to claim we Mormons secretly believe this. We don’t, and, what’s more, we never have.

6. … that Cain is still alive, wandering the earth as Bigfoot.

There’s a weird journal entry from some 19th Century Mormon guy I’d never heard of describing an encounter with an immortal, hairy, nine-foot tall guy who identified himself as Cain and claimed he was cursed to wander the earth forever and, apparently, appear on some episodes of The Six-Million Dollar Man. Don’t know if the guy recording this visit was dreaming, drunk, or daft. Regardless, I don’t believe this.

7. … that the Lost Tribes of Israel are anywhere other than the earth’s surface.

I’ve heard quacks describe the lost tribes living in caves, in the center of the earth, or on other planets, Battlestar-Galactica style. After a U of U institute instructor boldly announced at the beginning of the 1989 fall semester that the Lost Tribes were “not on this earth,” I boldly decided I would not be attending any more of his classes.

8. …that missionaries are forbidden from swimming because “Satan controls the waters.”

There’s a revelation in the D&C that describes “the destroyer riding in power upon the waters,” which has spurred speculation that this section supplies the foundation for the rule that full-time missionaries are never to go swimming on their missions. A General Authority came to Scotland and told us he knew nothing about Satan’s unique evil aqua powers, but he did know that the Church didn’t want to worry about legal liability for missionaries that drown. Besides, if Satan controls the waters, why do we still baptize by immersion?

9. …that Joseph Smith translated the Book of Mormon by sticking his face into a hat and reading the magically glowing translation word for word off of a seerstone.

This is the thesis of South Park’s goofy Mormon episode, and it’s based on a faulty memory of an aged David Whitmer in 1887, almost sixty years after the Book of Mormon was first published. It contradicts the process contemporaneously described in D&C 9, and it contradicts the statements of those who participated in the translation, something Mr. Whitmer, bless his heart, did not do.

10. …that skin color correlates in any way with righteousness.

Selective readings of texts ancient and modern have confused many who wish to find divine justification for racism, but the whole story makes it clear that skin color is cosmetic and spiritually meaningless. But fortunately, I’m covered either way. If I’m wrong, and white skin is in fact a sign of holiness, then I am the holiest man who has ever lived.

I Believe in Angels in the Age of Railways: Part Deux

When we last left our goofball hero singing in the Book of Mormon musical, he was mocking us Mormons for believing in patently ridiculous things that clash with modernity – what Dickens called the “Age of Railways.” He was setting up a three-line stanza – known as a “tercet” or a “triplet” – wherein the first two lines describe relatively mainstream beliefs, but the third line gets a belly laugh for its obvious asininity. As the song continues, the beliefs get loonier – and they come earlier in the Age-of-Railways tercet.

Consider the next verse:

I believe that God has a plan for all of us...

Ok, sure. So do I.

I believe that plan involves me getting my own planet...

And starting at line 2, we’re back to wacky.

I have lived my entire life in the LDS Church. I spent two years knocking on people’s doors in a country across the ocean to teach them about the restored gospel. I have attended at least three hours of LDS meetings every week for the past forty-three years.

I have never, ever once heard a lesson about planet-getting.

Christ told his disciples that “All things that the Father hath are mine.” (John 16:15) Paul taught that those that Jesus saves will be the children of God, and “if children, then heirs; heirs of God, and joint-heirs with Christ.” (Romans 8:17) Mormons take these scriptures at face value. If the Father has everything, and we are to be his heirs along with Christ, then what is it, then, that we will inherit? Just a planet? Seems pretty tiny, all things considered.

Still, this is not the focus of our worship. The idea is that we will return to live in the presence of God. That’s talked about a whole lot. Interstellar real estate, not so much.

And, in what’s supposed to be the payoff of these three silly items:

And I believe; that the current President of The Church, Thomas Monson, speaks directly to God...
I am a Mormon,
And, dang it, a Mormon just believes!

Now, I actually do believe Thomas Monson speaks directly to God. In fact, I’ll go one step further. I believe that I, Stallion Cornell, speak directly to God. I do it every day – usually several times a day. It’s a process called “prayer.”

Of course, that’s not what he means. He means God speaks back, face to face, hanging out, kicking back, while the two are drinking coffee together – or, in a Mormon’s case, hot chocolate or Postum.*

Now there may well be Mormons who believe this happens on a regular basis, but I’m not one of them.

I don’t find the idea absurd on its face. I do believe that if the Lord had occasion to speak to the Church as a whole and needed to make a personal appearance, He would do so, and He would do so to Thomas Monson. Those occasions have occurred in the past and you can find detailed accounts of the same – here’s one for you – but I think those occasions are few and far between.

Again, the only thing that makes this belief wackier than what most Christians believe – they think Stephen saw Jesus on the right hand of God and that Jesus appeared to Paul on the road to Damascus, for pity’s sake – is time. Take away the railways and the angels are pretty much the same.

But I digress.  The guy singing the song then barges into the lair of the warlord who shoots people in the face and sings the next triplet directly to him.

I believe that Satan has a hold of you…

Um, OK.

I believe that the Lord God has sent me here…

Well, fine. Where is he going with this?

And I believe that in 1978 God changed his mind about black people…

What a flaming pile of haggis dumps.

This is easily the most offensive bit in the whole song, and, absent the profanity and vulgarity elsewhere, the whole show. I definitely don’t believe that in 1978, God changed his mind about anything. I don’t know of a single Mormon who does. In order to believe that, you have to determine what God thought of black people prior to 1978. Thankfully, the Book of Mormon gives us all the insight we need to answer that question in 2 Nephi 26:33:

“…he inviteth them all to come unto him and partake of his goodness; and he denieth none that come unto him, black and white, bond and free, male and female; and he remembereth the heathen; and all are alike unto God, both Jew and Gentile.”

That was published almost a century and a half before 1978, and it’s been a constant throughout the history of the Church. I do believe that something significant happened in 1978, but it had nothing to do with God changing his mind. To frame it in those terms is as ignorant and cruel as one can possibly be, but, golly, those South Park boys sure love the Mormons, don’t they? What a sweet, affectionate musical The Book of Mormon is.

The last “I Believe” triplet doesn’t even bother to set things up with a plausible belief and goes straight for the comedy jugular with the first line.

I believe that God lives on a planet called Kolob…

(It’s not a big deal, but it certainy doesn’t help that they pronounce “Kolob” wrong. It’s pronounced “COAL-lob,” not “CALL-ub.”)

Now do Mormons really believe this?

The only reference to Kolob is found in the Book of Abraham, which describes Kolob as follows:

And I saw the stars, that they were very great, and that one of them was nearest unto the throne of God; and there were many great ones which were near unto it; And the Lord said unto me: These are the governing ones; and the name of the great one is Kolob, because it is near unto me, for I am the Lord thy God.

- Abraham 3:2-3

So, already,we’re off to a rocky start. Kolob is a star, not a planet, and it is a star “nearest to where God dwells.” That’s about all we know. We’re not really given any more specifics re: God’s dwelling, and “He’s somewhere by a big star” is a poor substitute for a zip code.

What this demonstrates is that Mormons believe that God actually exists within time and space. That’s radical in comparison to much of the Christian world, but His mailing address  is certainly not central to what we teach. Still, given that we’ve already been singing about planet distribution, the implication is that each of us gets our own Kolob or some other K-named planet. Mine would likely be Planet Kornell; some biker dude would get Planet Kawasaki, and the Lakers shooting guard would be the Lord of Planet Kobe.

The next line implies that Jesus is part of this planetary Ponzi scheme, too:

I believe that Jesus has his own planet as well...

Again, we don’t believe that. We believe far, far MORE than that.

And worlds without number have I created; and I also created them for mine own purpose; and by the Son I created them, which is mine Only Begotten.

- Moses 1:33

Worlds without number. And remember, we are joint heirs with Christ. Mormons believe in a God who is God of an infinite universe, and that we are His children, who can one day become like Him and inherit all that He has. That’s far more audacious than the South Park gents seem capable of imagining. Their monorails and bullet trains look pretty chintzy in comparison.

But, of course, they save their goofiest idea for last. It’s a complete non sequitur to the planet stuff, but that’s to be expected. The juxtaposition of completely unrelated ideas makes them funnier, and they wanted to save the stupidest thing Mormons believe for the grand finale and present it as if it were the center of our faith.

So what could it be? What is the absolute goofiest thing you can imagine Mormons saying behind closed doors? I mean, it’s gotta be huge.  We’re talking off-the-wall, mind-bendingly, irresistibly stupid.

Ready? Here it is…

And I believe that the Garden of Eden was in Jackson County, Missouri…

OK, you got me.

*Alas, they don’t make Postum anymore. I’m somewhat bitter, although not as bitter as Postum is if you don’t put heaping helpings of sugar in it. I believe they should make Postum again. I like my Postum, and Postum just believes.