Cheap Christmas Thrills

By Megan Robb

Christmas decorating when you’re poor is a lot more fun than it sounds. For one thing, it’s the time of year when hanging gaudy crap around your house is permissible. Put an unfolded paper clip through anything and it becomes a Christmas ornament.

Paper snowflakes? That’s cool. Cookie cutters? Bring ’em on. The pendants from your necklaces? Nice. Tell everyone Martha Stewart said so.

Make a cranberry and popcorn garland and tell everyone you’re going for “eco-friendly fun with a vintage feel”. Go crazy. And if you live alone, it’s even better because you can make up your own traditions. I don’t have a Christmas tree. I’m not against them, but it looks unnecessary when it’s just me in the house.

Besides, there’s already one at my parents’ house. I do have a fake evergreen garland from the dollar store. I can dangle shiny things from that. I don’t have lights, either, but I do have an advent wreath made with dollar store candles. The need for conifer-based decor and a means to dangle shiny things are satisfied. Done and done.

One caveat: If you are going to make a cranberry and popcorn garland, be prepared to eat half of the popcorn off of the floor. In fact, just eat all of the popcorn and string the cranberries instead.

No one will judge you.

 Contributing writer Megan Robb is a writer, consultant and editor living in Raleigh, North Carolina. Her articles can be found at divot.com, wordhusterink.com, and cracked.com, as well as her personal website, megan-robb-writer.webs.com

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Santa vs. Santa

By Megan Robb

I’ve mentioned before how holiday shopping brings out the craziness in people, but there’s one story I’ve been saving until now. And that is the tale of two Santas.

I was a cashier at a department store in the mall. All right, it was Sears. It’s on my resume anyway, so it’s already lurking around the Internet. Besides, the fact that it was Sears and not Nordstrom or even Macy’s makes it funnier, in my opinion. Anyway, I was working in the “home fashions” cash wrap among the soon-to-be dusty popcorn tins and snowman-themed toilet paper covers when two Santas came to my register.

Sears is close to where you can get your picture taken with Santa, so they probably worked there and were probably on lunch break. That’s the only reason I can think of for why they were still wearing their beards and hats. I couldn’t see their faces. One of the Santas must have really loved his job, because he stayed in character during the entire transaction. I think he thought he was acting cute, but I refused to acknowledge his act.

I just wasn’t in the mood for it.

Then I asked him if he wanted a gift receipt.

“I don’t need a gift receipt!” he said. “I’m Santa!”

“I wasn’t sure,” I said, “seeing as he’s Santa too.” I nodded toward his cohort.

“Ho! Ho! Ho! It’s a good thing you don’t have a gun!”

That’s when I cracked up. I couldn’t help but laugh. “Yeah, it is,” I said. Yet it seemed appropriate to change the subject. “Do you want a bag?”

“Sure! Or maybe a sack?”

I handed him the sack and that was that. The talkative Santa, the silent Santa, and I exchanged Christmas greetings and they left. For the rest of the day I wondered if I ever did have to put a bullet into the Jolly Old  Elf, how would I know which was the real one? It’s cheating to say, “Well, you wouldn’t have to shoot anyone, because there is no Santa.”

That’s not how this dark version of Miracle on 34th Street works. I have to shoot someone. If no one is the “real” Santa, then anyone on planet could be shot. And that’s not very merry. So the question remains. I still can’t answer it, but at least the sheer ridiculousness of my encounter with the Santas gave me some Christmas cheer that day.

Holiday shopping brings out the craziness in people, but in its own twisted way, it brings out the good in them, too.

 Contributing writer Megan Robb is a writer, consultant and editor living in Raleigh, North Carolina. Her articles can be found at divot.com, wordhusterink.com, and cracked.com, as well as her personal website, megan-robb-writer.webs.com

 

The Clean Version

By Megan Robb

My fascination with radio edits continues, but this time I’d like to mention the best editing method of all: substitute lyrics. I’m not talking about “Forget You”. I mean ridiculous revisions; ones that can change the  entire meaning of songs. It’s been going on since the beginning of recorded music. This is a timeline of some of my favorites. Get ready for a long read, because I’ve given this one a lot of thought.

1. Tony Bennett (1953): “These Foolish Things”

There are countless versions of this song. It was written in 1936, and by 1953, “These Foolish Things” had hit the top music charts five times. Every one of the vocal versions included the following lyrics: “Gardenia perfume lingering on a pillow/Wild strawberries only 7 francs a kilo/And still my heart has wings/These foolish things/Remind me of you”

Yet in 1953, this verse suddenly became very, very dirty. Gardenia perfume lingering on a pillow? If a man sings this is, it hints that a woman had been in his bed! And worst of all, he liked it! The sudden moral concern was probably due to a new thing called rock and roll. That smut could give a any God-fearing American instant ear herpes.

So for the good of the people, the lyric “Gardenia perfume lingering on a pillow” was changed to “A seaplane rising from an ocean billow.” It’s still a rather Freudian image, but at least it was more subtle.

Only Tony Bennett ever recorded the edited song. Nat King Cole and Frank Sinatra both sang a version that not only didn’t involve gardenias or seaplanes, but had some entirely different verses. They also didn’t mention strawberries costing 7 francs a kilo, because that’s a rip-off.

2. Frank Sinatra (1954): “I Get A Kick Out Of You” This is another song that has been covered by almost every person with vocal cords. The first time it was rewritten was in 1936 for the movie Anything Goes. Back then, the content in movies had stricter regulations than music lyrics.

The original had a bit of a “Just Say No” quality: “Some get a kick from cocaine/I’m sure that if I took even one sniff/That would bore me terrifically too/Yet I get a kick out of you” Hear that, kids? Coke is boring. Love, on the hand, now that’s a hell of drug.

It gets worse. Another published version of the song replaced “Some get a kick from cocaine” with “Some like a bop-type refrain.” But this was in 1972. No one objected to cocaine by then.

3. The Them (1966): “Gloria”

This is one of the more extreme examples. The horribly named band The Them came up with a nice little song about a gal who’s always up for a booty call:

“Comes a-walking down my street/When she comes to my house/She knocks upon my door And then she comes into my room/Yeah, and she makes me feel all right”

Thirteen years after “These Foolish Things” it still wasn’t cool for a man to have a lady friend in his room. A Chicago radio station commissioned a local band, Shadows of Knight, to rerecord the song with new lyrics: “Comes a-walking down my street/Once came to my house/Knocks upon my door/And then she called out my name/For having me feel all right”.

Okay, so in this one, Gloria only came over once. In fact, she may not have gone in the house. However, she does call out her gentleman friend’s name either to or because she made him feel “all right”. Not only is this confusing, but it depending on how you interpret it, it’s not all different from the original. And that was glaringly obvious to the major stations that had made the Them version a hit the year before. They gave the new one very little airplay, but among smaller stations that had not played the previous and indecent version, the Shadows of Knight did well enough to be among the Top 10 singles of year.

Their follow-up single, a cover of Bo Diddley’s “Oh Yeah”, was a hit, too. Their original songs, not so much.

4. Wang Yuong (1996): “Samsara”

The US of A isn’t the only country to censor music. In China, record labels are run by the government, so everything is suspect. All lyrics are written on the album’s jacket over there, so the labels only change the written lyrics. They replace the objectionable words with ones that sound similar, but often the new words don’t fit in the song. Wang Yuong’s song “Samsara” had the phrase “wo jiu cao ni made” (f*** your mother) replaced by “wo jiu qu ni ma?” (shall I marry you soon?) It’s important not to get those phrases mixed up when proposing to your Chinese girlfriend.

5. Eminem (1999): “My Name Is”

Sometimes the replacement of offensive lyrics gets out of hand. If a whole song has to be rewritten, it usually misrepresents the artist. That’s what happened to Eminem’s debut single. The radio/TV-friendly version of “My Name Is” gave the impression that Eminem was a novelty act. He was seemed like another playfully rude, pop-culture obsessed kid. It didn’t help that white rappers in the U.S. are mainly used for laughs.

Take this verse about the brutal destruction of innocence:

“Well since age 12/I’ve felt like I’m someone else ’Cause I hung my original self/From the top bunk with a belt” In the clean version, it loses its meaning: “Well since age 12/I’ve felt like a caged elf/Who stayed in one space/Chasing his tail”

We won’t pursue the question of whether elves have tails or not. But a lot of people didn’t know the real Eminem until the controversy over “97 Bonnie and Clyde” got media attention. It almost compromised Mr. Mathers’ work, although it didn’t keep him from selling millions of records.

6. D12 (2003): “Purple Pills”/”Purple Hills”

The first single from Eminem’s pet project D12 took the situation with “My Name Is” five steps further. There are so many differences between “Purple Pills” and its clean counterpart “Purple Hills”, it’s surprising that they even bothered to make the first one. Here’s the original:

“I think I did too much/This substance equals cups/Red pills, blue pills, and green big pills/Mescaline pleasant.”

Now let’s see the clean version:

“I think I did too much I think I got the runs Rolaids, Pepto, and Tums Watch out HERE IT COMES!”

It’s hard to say which one’s more offensive. Of course, overdosing on drugs is the more heinous act, but there is a long and rich history of drug-themed songs. There’s a reason there aren’t too many songs about diarrhea, and that’s because it’s just a foul mental image.

7. Enrique Iglesias (2011): “Tonight (I’m Loving You)”

Over the years, Enrique Iglesias went from singing syrupy love songs in Spanish to syrupy love songs to English. Then he suddenly switched to dance music that’s more sticky than sweet. “I Like It” was the unofficial theme to Jersey Shore‘s second season and the lyrics and sound fit accordingly. No problem. I do have a problem with his follow-up, “Tonight”. The clean version obviously uses “loving” to replace a less lovely-sounding verb. This naturally changes the meaning of the song, as the two acts don’t necessarily go together. Nothing says lovin’ like:

“From the window to the wall/Gotta give you my all/When I get you on the springs/Imma make you fall”.

The best part, though, is the line: “Excuse me, I don’t mean to be  rude.”

Now we have two songs. One’s about a guy who’s so much of a gentleman that he asks to pardon any offense he may bring when he declares his  sudden  romantic interest in you. The other is about a potential date rapist who doesn’t need to ask if you want to engage in sexual activity with him. You’re already doing it as far as he’s concerned. But it’s okay, because Enrique Iglesias (or as I like to call him, Henry Churches) he also  tells you he doesn’t mean to be rude by doing so.

Every kind of music is the devil’s music once it’s captured. I’m convinced that Satan lives in recording devices precisely for this purpose. It just depends on the listener to find him.

 Contributing writer Megan Robb is a writer, consultant and editor living in Raleigh, North Carolina. Her articles can be found at divot.com, wordhusterink.com, and cracked.com, as well as her personal website, megan-robb-writer.webs.com

The Black Friday Diary

By Megan Robb

I never liked the term  “Black Friday”. I get that it comes from Christmas shoppers bringing businesses out of the red and into the black, but it still adds a funereal undertone to a time when we’re supposed to be celebrating our love of trans-fats. It also serves as a reminder that this very special day for business owners and shoppers comes at the cost of millions of retail workers’ sanity.

I’ve been a cashier on two different Black Fridays for the same retail chain. These were three years and several states apart, but as the second one was only last year, the memory’s still fresh in my mind. I don’t know what it’s like to be on the shopper’s end of Black Friday because I enjoy sleeping too much to find out, but I can see its appeal. Waking up in the middle of the night to do anything comes with its own surreal excitement, and it’s no different for mall workers. Last Black Friday at 4am, while everyone else was still sleeping off their tryptophan overdoses, I was scoring a 4-pack of energy shots at the gas station and driving to the parking lot of an insurance company’s headquarters with the then-latest Girl Talk album blaring in my car stereo. All of the mall’s employees had to use this parking lot, which was up the street from the mall itself, and then take shuttle buses to our respective stores. It worked this way every weekend until Christmas.

So when you’re circling the parking lot and cursing the lack of spaces during your post-Thanksgiving mall shopping, remember that the employees have done everything they’ve can to try to avoid this.  It’s not just Black Friday, either. The days from Thanksgiving to Christmas bring out the true weirdness in shoppers. I’ve found that Black Friday shoppers before 12pm and Christmas Eve shoppers after 5pm are generally more patient: it’s the people in between that you have to watch out for. People want discounts for everything from a box having a worn corner to the day happening to be December 24th. Please get this straight: cashiers have no control over prices.

If you want to haggle, go to a mom-and-pop store and ask for Mom or Pop. Do not go to a department store and expect a pregnant high school student or career-stalled college grad to give you 50% off of a Snuggie simply because it’s been taken out of its box. It’s a shame that store cashiers don’t have the food court workers’ option of spitting on your purchases and considering justice served.  It’s not all bad, though. Last year’s Black Friday also gave me one of my proudest moments, as I was the only cashier at my cash wrap from the peak hours of 5 to 10am.

Despite this blatant staffing error on my employers’ part, I did not receive any complaints, nor did I lose any customers to a different register. One person was visibly annoyed at waiting behind a particularly time-consuming  customer, but it was nothing a coupon torn from the circular couldn’t immediately fix. I used the story of this feat of strength during job interviews afterwards and I’m convinced that it helped me. I will also admit that there’s a special camaraderie that builds among mall employees on and after Black Friday. We bring in breakfast treats and sometimes deliver wake up calls after break-room naps.

We’re all in the trenches together. And attention, shoppers: we all hate you.

Happy Thanksgiving!

Contributing writer Megan Robb is a writer, consultant and editor living in Raleigh, North Carolina. Her articles can be found at divot.com, wordhusterink.com, and cracked.com, as well as her personal website, megan-robb-writer.webs.com

 

 

The Invention of the Viral Video

By Megan Robb

Recently I wrote a piece for a different site about the multimedia art group Negativland’s infamous legal battle with the band U2 over a song called “I Still Haven’t Found What I’m Looking For (Special Edit Radio Mix)”. But here I’d like to discuss the real highlight of the song, which doesn’t have much to do with U2. Actually, it’s the samples from a recording of Casey Kasem losing his Scooby-Doo cool. The samples are presumably from two different episodes. In one, Kasem is frustrated that he’s left to dedicate a song to a listener’s recently deceased dog (named Snuggles, no less) immediately after an upbeat song had just been played. I can’t say I blame him for that one. In the other, he’s had enough with U2, Bono, and The Edge’s names:” These guys are from England. Who the **** cares?” Maybe he was wrong about the England part, but Bono and The Edge do sound kind of silly.

I’d assumed the clips were really the work of an impersonator, but after some research, I found out that they’re real. A radio engineer captured Kasem’s outburst on tape and the tape was passed around among other radio engineers for their amusement. This is what people did before viral videos came along. This is why vintage clips like Bill O’Reilly’s “We’ll Do it Live!” were in existence long before they became YouTube classics. In Kasem’s case, though,  because you keep expecting him to say “Zoinks!” at some point.

Before the Internet, underground media-sharing was a very cool and secretive and sometimes seedy institution. You didn’t have to be famous. Recordings of The Tube Bar prank phone call series circulated long enough to inspire Bart’s calls to Moe’s in The Simpsons. You can thank the people who were the equipment managers of different Major League Baseball teams in the 1980s for that, since they passed them around the most.

In the 1980s two San Francisco roommates recorded their neighbors Peter and Ray having vicious yet painfully entertaining arguments over the course of a year and a half. The tapes circulated, copies were made, and Peter and Ray became infamous. So much so that decades later, (nonprofane) bits of the tapes were quoted on Spongebob Squarepants. Last summer, a documentary premiered at Sundance that chronicled the Peter and Ray phenomenon. It’s called Shut Up, Little Man! 

The recordings involved in this kind of media sharing was were things that generally stayed out of the mainstream. Of course, once those same recordings hit the Internet, they’re immediately mainstream. This isn’t a terrible thing. Musicians and artists who would have had to spend years on the mixtape circuit can be easily discovered online. Bits of pop culture history can be experienced by those who may otherwise be unable to find them. Of course, laws are sometimes broken when you see or hear some of these clips, but that’s one of the last pieces of its underground history that they retain when they hit viral fame. That and poor sound and/or video quality. But even those can be smoothed over: the Casey Kasem rant has a “definitive edition” with enhanced sound. You could probably look for a hi-def version of the Buddy Rich tapes soon–including the ones that were quoted on Seinfeld.

Contributing writer Megan Robb is a writer, consultant and editor living in Raleigh, North Carolina. Her articles can be found at divot.com, wordhusterink.com, and cracked.com, as well as her personal website, megan-robb-writer.webs.com

OMG. Shoes.

By Megan Robb

The notion that all women go absolutely insane over shoes is something that both annoys and fascinates me. I’d like to pretend that it doesn’t exist, but my TV tells me otherwise. It’s not just Sex and the City. It’s on The People’s Court, where a woman sued her landlord for throwing out the designer shoes she left in a garbage bag in the hallway and it was revealed that she was living in Section 8 housing. It’s on CNBC’s interesting but always unsatisfying reality show Princess, where just once I’d like to see one of the women who live outside their means fail to learn their lesson. (It’s not entertainment without schadenfreude, in my opinion).

It’s in TV commercials as well–and the notion of women enduring pain for their pretty shoes goes way back.

There’s a theory that Cinderella’s glass slippers were the product of a mistranslation of the French; the word for glass is similar to that of a type of fur similar to ermine. Yet no one questioned it for centuries because it was perfectly plausible that a woman would wear undoubtedly painful glass slippers for the sake of magical fashion. In the Grimm version, one of her stepsisters cuts off one of her toes just so she could fit in the glass slipper.  Hans Christian Andersen, the man whose fairy tales make the Grimms’ look like Disney’s, wrote the ultimate cautionary tale of loving shoes too much. In The Red Shoes, a little girl loves dancing in her red shoes so much that she wears them everywhere, including in church, which is very improper.

The shoes get possessed by Satan or something and they get permanently bonded to her feet. Her feet start dancing all by themselves, all of the time. She ends up feeling such excruciating pain that she begs an executioner to chop off her feet. Oh, but it doesn’t end there. While the little girl is hobbling back to the church, she notices her disembodied feet following her around. Meanwhile, the church people refuse to let her in because according to them, she hasn’t repented enough.  Finally, after years and years of suffering, the no-longer-little girl is brought into the church by an angel–she’s so happy that she dies on the spot. The end.

Even that feel-good fable couldn’t stop the shoe obsession. I would love to say that it has no basis in reality, but last weekend, I bought a new pair of shoes and it really made me happy. The only pair of casual shoes I wore for the past year were the ones I wore while working as a cashier at a store that required black shoes. I wore them every day whether I was at work or not.

They saw me through the holiday rush. While I’m grateful to the store for hiring me at a time when no one else would, I didn’t get a B.A. in Cash Wrap Arts with a minor in Explaining Coupons. So when I finally got a more professional job, the shoes were relegated to weekends. What I lovingly called the Cashier Clodhoppers weren’t worn to pieces, but they stank. When you can smell your shoes from across the room, that’s bad. When you can smell your shoes while sitting at your desk at work and you’re wondering if your co-workers notice, that’s also bad.

It was time to let go. I got some new ones, threw the old ones in a bag, and unceremoniously flung them into the dumpster.  It was a relief. The Stink of Post-College Career Failure was gone. I now know the power of new and beautiful shoes. Now I walk proudly and comfortably in my Converse-knockoff sneakers. I could wear them so often that you may have to cut them off me.

Contributing writer Megan Robb is a writer, consultant and editor living in Raleigh, North Carolina. Her articles can be found at divot.com, wordhusterink.com, and cracked.com, as well as her personal website, megan-robb-writer.webs.com

Epidemiology 101

 By Matt Lawson

Last week I was sick with an unfortunately lingering cold. It just so happened that I’d stocked up on clearance-priced generic cold medicine the weekend before, so at least I was armed. I hadn’t had Alka Seltzer-type cold medicine since college. It’s cheap and it works as long as you keep taking it every three hours. I know I’ve alluded to the illnesses of college life before, but now that the fall semester’s in full sway and cold and flu season’s coming up, I’d like to brief the new class of college freshmen on what to expect.

Back when you were wide-eyed high school graduates eagerly waiting the excitement of collegiate life, you were probably warned about meningitis and its tendency to spread in college dorms. You may have been vaccinated for it. Good for you. Now you’ve got that one out of the way, your body is open to all of the other dorm-bred contagions. You may think to yourself, “But my dorm’s not dirty.” Let’s assume that the building’s staff does its best to keep clean. I don’t doubt that colleges do their part to keep the dorms as disease-free as possible. They want parents to know that their little ones are getting the most for their money.

However, there’s only so much that the staff can do. They can’t make your roommate shower regularly. They won’t go through your mini-fridge and throw away the fuzzy black spaghetti you’ve forgotten about. They could crank the thermostat down so you don’t go from hypothermic outdoor temperatures to the raging sub-Saharan heat indoors, but that doesn’t create the problems so much as it just doesn’t help them. Besides, you learn to live in extreme temperatures pretty easily. It’s when you go home for winter break and find yourself yelling to your parents that their 70-degree house is inhospitable that it really becomes a problem.

Along with the expanding awareness of the world and evolving self-knowledge that comes with higher education, you will experience a variety of new physical symptoms. A Technicolor parade of all kinds of substances will come out of your body that you never knew you were capable of producing. Become familiar with words like “bile” and “gastroenteritis” and “Giardia”. Do not over-Google your symptoms because the search engine will end up diagnosing you with cholera or that old Oregon Trail favorite, dysentery. This will just give you another disease called cyberchondria that is already a threat to society without claiming you as another victim.

I recommend just going with the (greenish) flow. Of course, take medicine and go to the infirmary and all of that. Always wear sandals in the shower. You do have your studies to think about. Keep in mind, though, that this is the time you can legally experience Kafka-esque dreams, delirium-fueled night wanderings, and philosophical breakthroughs, along with the complete dissipation of time and space. Let them fuel your creative fires. As an added bonus, you will earn the sympathy of others. Professors will understand if you can’t attend class due to staph poisoning. Your children still will want you to chauffeur them to the mall after you just coughed up a lung in front of them. (I may not have children myself, but I have been on their end of the situation).

Being sick in college has its temporary cost, but it will make you a stronger person inside and out. In the end, that’s the essence of a good education.

 Matt Lawson…er, “Matt Martin” is the editor of Hennen’s print publication.  When he isn’t editing stories or doing layout, he can be found chugging brews with his bros…er, family.  Honest.