melts in your mouth, not on the bulletin

I cannot wait to tell my father about the children’s sermon at First UMC this morning.

You have to understand that my father is a big M&Ms fan (as are we all, but in his case particularly so). He loves the M&Ms themselves and loves various dispensers and merchandise with the M&Ms characters on them. I gave him a heads up a couple months ago when a temporary pop-up M&Ms World store opened in Cleveland, Tenn. (Did you know M&Ms were manufactured in Cleveland? I didn’t, until I happened to get the press release about the pop-up store.) Sure enough, he and Ms. Rachel made a special shopping trip to Cleveland, which is on the other side of Chattanooga.

mmsAnyway, there’s a corny old joke, which I’ve told more than once, about the joke-teller’s stupid uncle who got fired from the M&M factory for marking all the “W”s as factory seconds and throwing them out. In a sense, that’s what our director of children and youth Alden Procopio played off of in her children’s message. She gave each child a few M&Ms and showed them that, depending on how you held a piece, the marking looked like an “M,” a “W,” an “E” or the number “3.” Then, she read a little poem in which the E stood for the star in the East, the M stood for the manger in which the baby Jesus was laid, the 3 stood for the three wise men* and the W stood for the fact that they came to worship the child.

I just thought it was a fun visual aid, and you can immediately see why I want to share it with Dad for him to use at his church.

*Yes, I know there weren’t necessarily three wise men, and that the child was no longer in a manger when they came to see him.

Chad bounces checks

As I was getting ready to head out the door for work this morning, a western was starting on Turner Classic Movies. The names of the stars flashed boldly on the screen: “GLENN FORD … ANGIE DICKINSON … CHAD EVERETT.”
I had to smile when they got to Chad Everett. In the early 1970s (according to Wikipedia, 1969-1976), Everett starred in a drama on CBS entitled “Medical Center.”

Long before “ER” or even “St. Elsewhere,” TV medical dramas were about saintly, all-powerful doctors who had all the time in the world, who seemed to know all their patients socially, and who stopped by unannounced to check on their patients at home. “Medical Center” was an heir to “Dr. Kildare” and a contemporary of “Marcus Welby, M.D.”
My mother swooned over Chad Everett — the most vocal I ever heard her get about liking a handsome leading man.
Then, all of a sudden, she dropped him like a hot potato. Apparently, he was on a talk show — could have been Johnny Carson, or maybe a daytime talk show like Mike Douglas on a day when Mom happened to be home. I didn’t see it, but apparently he was telling stories of his days as a struggling young actor and was laughing at some scheme of his that involved writing bad checks. My mother, who was working for First National Bank at the time and who’d worked for other banks earlier in life, was horrified. She’d have gladly forgiven him, I’m sure, if he’d shown remorse, and portrayed this as a youthful indiscretion, but he was laughing at it, almost boasting about it, and that mother clearly could not countenance. She never felt the same about him again.
I was surprised by a couple of things in Everett’s Wikipedia page. Apparently, in 1972 Lily Tomlin walked off the set of the Dick Cavett show in protest after Everett, who was also on the show, referred to his dog, his horse and his wife as “my property.” Also, Everett apparently did a great John Wayne voice, and was personally selected by the Wayne family to perform it for a Hollywood-themed ride at Walt Disney World. He also did the Wayne voice for a bonus scene in the VHS release of “Gremlins 2.”
Anyway, it’s funny the little memories you have and how they come back at unexpected times and places.

broken record, I know

Turner Classic Movies: TCM keeps running an (excellent) interstitial with Laura Dern talking about her admiration for Barbara Stanwyck, but when it ends they use it to promote an upcoming showing of Meet John Doe. Fine, fine. It’s just that the Stanwyck movie I *really* want to see this time of year is Christmas in Connecticut.

I just checked, and TCM will be showing it 11 a.m. (Central) on Sunday, Dec. 13. Go ahead and set your DVRs now; I certainly have.

Sometimes I wonder if anyone ever takes my classic movie suggestions. I don’t know that I’ve ever heard back, “Hey, John, I watched Topkapi on your recommendation and loved it.” But I guess I’m enough of a narcissist to keep putting myself out there anyway. I’m relatively harmless, in any case.

Although I have blogged about “Christmas In Connecticut” on multiple prior occasions, I guess I will go back and talk about it again. Narcissist, and all that. It was a bad day at work, and so I need to get my mind off things.

“Christmas In Connecticut,” despite its title, is really a straight romantic comedy which just happens to have a holiday setting. Elizabeth Lane (Stanwyck) is Martha Stewart before there was a Martha Stewart – the ultimate cook and hostess, whose monthly column in “Smart Housekeeping” magazine is closely read by much of America. She vividly describes her idyllic life on her Connecticut farm with her husband and infant son, and includes her mouth-watering recipes.

There’s just one problem: It’s all a lie. She’s single, lives in a Manhattan apartment, and can’t cook. The recipes come from her restaurateur friend Felix (S.Z. Sakall, whom you know from “Casablanca” and who is billed in some movies as “Cuddles” Sakall), and everything else comes from her imagination and her talent as a writer. Her immediate supervisor knows the truth, but the publisher of the magazine, Alexander Yardley (Sydney Greenstreet, speaking of “Casablanca”) does not – and would be horrified at the deception.

Yardley receives a letter about a war hero (Dennis Morgan), who has no family and nowhere to spend the holidays. Yardley summons Elizabeth Lane and tells her that she and her husband should invite Jefferson Jones to their Connecticut farm for the holidays – and that he, Yardley, would love to join them for Christmas dinner and sample some of Elizabeth Lane’s famous cooking. It would be patriotic! It would be good publicity for the magazine! It would be in the spirit of the holiday!

Elizabeth Lane, who has just bought a very expensive mink coat on credit, can’t afford to lose her job and can’t bring herself to stand up to the forceful Yardley and refuse his plan. So she has to come up with a farm, a husband and a baby, all on short notice.

If you know anything at all about romantic comedies, you know that once she has all of these things in place, she’ll begin falling head over heels in love with the veteran. Oh, what a tangled web we weave ….

Seriously, this is just a fun, funny movie, with great performances all around.

There’s also a TV movie from the 1980s with Dyan Cannon and Kris Kristofferson, directed by …. Arnold Schwarzenegger (because when you think “romantic comedy,” you immediately think “Arnold Schwarzenegger”). I’ve only seen bits and pieces, but there’s no way it could measure up to the original.

Why haven’t you set your DVR yet?

out of the mouths of babes

It was a long and crazy day, full of unexpected twists and turns.

It began with my normal volunteer hour at Learning Way Elementary School. This week, I was to help several different groups of second-graders walk through a booklet on what life was like in colonial times.

The first group was well-behaved, paid close attention, and we had a lovely little discussion springing from some of the things they’d noticed in the book.

The second and third groups? Well, not so much. We had a little bit of a behavior problem, to the extent that with the last group, I did something I try never to do:

“Do you want me to have to call Ms. Aymett over here?”

I can’t remember which group – it may have been the second – but one of the kids said to me, “Mr. Carney, do you know you have a really big belly button?”

Let me clarify here that my torso was fully covered throughout my visit to Learning Way this morning. What the child was seeing, and reacting to, was a bulge visible under my pullover. I do, in fact, have a walnut-sized belly button. It’s called an umbilical hernia. A few years ago, when I had a membership to Shelbyville Recreation Center, I overdid it on some weight machine or other and a small portion of my intestines pushed itself through my abdominal wall. It’s harmless; it can be corrected by surgery, if I were ever in a position to do that, but it’s no real problem except from an aesthetic standpoint, unlike the turn-your-head-and-cough sort of hernia.

Anyway, I and my Really Big Belly Button got out of the hour more or less unscathed. I felt bad that I hadn’t been able to hold the kids’ attention, but Ms. Aymett – as always – took it in stride.

Maybe I should write a children’s book: “The Really Big Belly Button.”

I bet that one they would pay attention to.

a long day, but a good one

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Since the 1990s, I’ve been a United Methodist lay speaker – which, when I first got into the program, simply meant someone who was not an ordained minister but who was approved by the church to preach. A layspeaker might fill in for a sick or visiting pastor, and some churches have “laity Sunday” observances in which the entire worship service is presented by members of the church.

When I got involved, you would take a basic lay speaking class, about 8-10 hours of instruction – after which you were approved to speak at your own home church. Then, after you’d taken any of the available advanced classes, you became a “certified lay speaker,” approved to speak in any United Methodist Church. You had to take some sort of advanced course at least every three years in order to remain certified. Many people would take courses more frequently, just because they’re usually enjoyable, and you get to know and reconnect with other lay speakers.

A few years ago, the United Methodist church re-worked the program a bit – it’s now known as “lay servant ministries” instead of “lay speaking ministries,” and more different types of people are encouraged to get involved, even those with no desire to stand behind a pulpit. Within that program, there is still such a thing as a “certified lay speaker,” which now has more stringent requirements than before. Instead of becoming certified after one random course, you have to take at least one course each in five different topic areas. I was grandfathered in under the old requirements – not automatically, but based on an endorsement from the director of lay servant ministries for the Murfreesboro District, Ruthan Patient. But of course, I still need (and want!) to continue to take courses.

In recent years, the format for the course was either Friday-night-and-Saturday or Saturday-and-Sunday-afternoon. At any given event, the basic class will be offered for those who need it, while there will be one or more advanced classes going on at the same time.

After a couple of recent training events failed to get enough registrations to “make,” they decided to monkey with the format and whole the whole thing on Saturday.

That’s where I was today – at Blackman UMC in Murfreesboro.

The new format proved popular with students – we had forty some-odd people today – but it also made for a long day. We gathered at 8:15, started at 8:30, and were supposed to dismiss at 6. But the closing worship ran long, and so we didn’t get away until 6:30 p.m.

WP_20151114_10_30_23_ProI’ve spent too many words setting this all up. What I really wanted to say was that today was a good one. I was in a class on United Methodist heritage and how it relates to our beliefs, taught by the Rev. Karen Barrineau. I’d thoroughly enjoyed reading the text, Living Our Beliefs by Bishop Kenneth Carder, and Rev. Barrineau did a terrific job with the class. I learned a lot about Methodist history – although now I want to go and read full autobiographies of John Wesley and Francis Asbury. (And I definitely want a John Wesley bobblehead.)

One of my classmates was Wayne Bradshaw, with whom I’ve served on a committee and who I’ve been with at previous training events. Wayne goes to Morton Memorial UMC. I saw several others at the event; Ruthan, of course, was running the whole she-bang.

Others I knew at the event included Tom and Nita Wright from Smyrna and Jim Overcast from Shelbyville. Later in the day, District Superintendent LeNoir Culbertson and Rev. De Hennessy dropped by; Rev. Culbertson officiated at the communion during our closing worship service.

going deep with david rees

The best show you’re not watching started its second season tonight, and has moved from National Geographic Channel to the Esquire channel. If tonight is any indication, they’re running a new episode followed by a rerun of one of the first season episodes – perfect if you’re just discovering the series and catching up. Fortunately, I was in on this gem from the very first episode.

Going Deep with David Rees is devilishly hard to explain. Host David Rees starts by telling you that he’s going to teach you how to do something you already know how to do – make ice, for example, or swat a fly. But then, as he explores the topic, he reveals details and nuances and background that you would never have expected. It ends up being remarkably informative, but it’s presented in such a unique and humorous voice that it’s remarkably entertaining.

Tonight’s episode, “How To Pet A Dog,” addresses Rees’ fear of dogs (which I assume is real and not just something he put on for the show), talks about how dogs were domesticated. Rees talks to the very funny author and comedienne Amy Sedaris about how to pet rabbits to see if any of that knowledge will transfer to dogs. He talks to astronaut Chris Hadfield – the one who made all those great educational videos, as well as a David Bowie cover, while on board the International Space Station – about how Hadfield overcame a fear of heights.

Eventually, he gives you some actual practical tips about approaching and petting a dog with which you’re unfamiliar.

Watch this show.

And now, since I mentioned the Chris Hadfield music video, here’s the Chris Hadfield music video:

MST3K II: Attack of the clones?

Is MST3K coming back? Or is it already here?

This is going to be geeky. You know I love Explaining Things, and this is a topic on which I’m passionate.

One of my all-time favorite TV shows was “Mystery Science Theater 3000” – MST3K to its fans — in which three characters were silhouetted against a really bad movie, which they made from bad to good by seasoning it with a constant stream of wise cracks and pop culture references.

MST3K started as a local show on Minneapolis television, then moved to something called The Comedy Channel, which a year or so later merged with HA! to form Comedy Central.

The show ran for seven seasons on Comedy Channel / Comedy Central, was cancelled and then ran for three more years on the Sci-Fi Channel (now SyFy).

The show was created, and originally hosted, by prop comic Joel Hodgson (whose character on the show was named Joel Robinson). He left midway through the fifth season on cable; the last 2 1/2 seasons on Comedy Central, and the entire run on Sci-Fi, was hosted by Michael Nelson (who used his own name). I like both, but I’ve always liked Mike better. Granted, in some circles this is tantamount to preferring Roger Moore to Sean Connery. (Kids, ask your parents.)

Making fun of movies was the meat and potatoes of the show, but the premise was that mad scientists (played, in various eras of the show, by Trace Beaulieu, Josh Weinstein, Frank Conniff and Mary Jo Pehl) had trapped the host (Joel or Mike) in an orbiting spaceship and was forcing him to watch bad movies as a cruel experiment. Joel/Mike shared the spaceship with wisecracking robots, two of whom – Crow T. Robot and Tom Servo – would join him in the theater when it was time to watch a movie.

After MST3K left the air, two different groups of alumni continued making fun of bad movies through their own self-distributed projects. Neither group used or had access to the MST3K characters or puppets.

Joel and some of the MST3K alumni who had moved to California had a group called Cinematic Titanic, which released DVDs and did live appearances.

Mike and the two riffers who were with him in the theater for the Sci-Fi years – Kevin Murphy and Bill Corbett – had a brief run as “The Movie Crew” before forming RiffTrax. RiffTrax started by releasing audio commentary tracks which the purchaser plays in synch with a store-bought DVD or on-demand movie, and that’s still a big part of what they do. That allows them to make fun of big-budget movies which would have been out of MST3K’s reach, since they don’t have to purchase the rights to the movie.

But RiffTrax eventually started releasing its own DVDs as well, allowing them to cover the type of low-budget movies and shorts which were MST3K’s meat and potatoes. And RiffTrax does two or three live shows each year which are simulcast to theaters across the country. They’ve even done nights of programming on the National Geographic channel, making fun of bad nature shows.

Although the two groups were competitors in one sense, they were still collegial friends and former co-workers. A few people from either camp even made guest appearances on the competing product.

Cinematic Titanic ran out of steam a few months ago and announced that it was shutting down, leaving RiffTrax the sole survivor.

Now, however, Joel Hodgson has a Kickstarter campaign to bring back MST3K under the original name and with the original robot puppet characters. But Joel would be involved only as a producer. A new, young host and a new, young mad scientist would be hired, and new puppeteers would be hired to voice Crow and Tom Servo.

Mike Nelson took to Facebook to explain that he wasn’t involved in the new MST3K – and  he’s not interested in it, although he says he wishes them well. He explained that he was a “hired hand” at the old MST3K, while now with RiffTrax he, Corbett and Murphy are running their own show.

Joel has set a $2 million goal for the Kickstarter campaign, which is ambitious – but not unthinkable, given the dedication of some MST3K fans.

I wish Joel all of the best, and there’s room for both MST3K and RiffTrax, but on any given day I’d rather watch something by RiffTrax than a new MST3K hosted and performed by unknown quantities. Mike, Kevin and Bill are the MST3K reboot I want to see. If I give to any Kickstarter campaign in the near future, it will be the one by my Facebook friend Jerry Chamberlain of Daniel Amos and the Swirling Eddies:

go west, young second-graders

“I can’t believe you haven’t written something yet,” posted Regan Aymett to Facebook just a few minutes ago. Come to think of it, I ought to.

RaiseYourHandLogocolorfinal%20(2)I haven’t been blogging about my weekly Raise Your Hand Tennessee volunteer hour at Learning Way Elementary School as much this year – not for any particular reason; I love it as much as ever. I just didn’t have anything specific to say.

But Regan’s right; today was a little unusual. The woman she usually has in the room with her working with some of the kids wasn’t there today, so it was just me and Regan. I spent the first few minutes helping a small group of girls finish an assignment they’d already been working on before I got there. But then I had a big group for the rest of the hour – it must have been seven kids, where I usually have about, maybe, five.

Turns out there’s a difference between managing a table of five second graders and a table of seven second graders. I hope I did OK; there were times I had to be really deliberate about making sure I paid attention to each child.

We had a worksheet with a few paragraphs about the California gold rush. The nit-picker in me objected to the summary, because – while it outlined the many hardships that kept settlers from making it all the way to California – it sort of implied that the people who did make it to California got rich right away. But this wasn’t a history lesson; it was a reading comprehension lesson for second-graders, and by virtue of that it was necessarily a little over-simplified.

Regan told me to read through the little story three times and then to spend 10 minutes letting them read it to me.

As Regan noticed – and teased me about in her Facebook post – the kids were disappointed that I didn’t pull out my smartphone and use it to time that 10 minutes. Regan commonly uses her iPhone or iPad for things like that, but I didn’t see a need since I was sitting where I could clearly see the clock on the wall. (And I didn’t need to time it that exactly). After that, there were some questions for the kids to answer on the worksheet.

Two of the boys were playing with change – one of them had several quarters, and another had a handful of pennies. One of them went and got the item he’d brought for snack time, and even though he didn’t open it he and the other boy were talking about it and it was a distraction. I had to try to keep the boys focused without spending so much time on them that I ended up ignoring the other kids who were already working on the assignment.

Even though I’ve been back in class for about a month now – and I’m not the only one – the Raise Your Hand Tennessee volunteers here in the county are supposed to attend an orientation session tomorrow at the school system central office. I think most of us are returnees and there are only one or two newcomers, so hopefully it won’t be too long. It is fun to hear about others’ experiences; some are signed up for one-on-one tutoring, others – like me – are signed up to work with groups.

Even after tomorrow’s meeting, I’m sure it’s not too late for other volunteers to sign up. I was a latecomer my first year in the program and didn’t start until January. Contact Pam Fisher at the United Way of Bedford County office (or your local United Way, if you’re elsewhere within Tennessee). It could be the most satisfying hour of your week.

A Hedy of her time

It was within the past two weeks that I posted a comment on someone’s Facebook post talking about Hedy Lamarr, who — during her peak as a glamorous movie actress in Hollywood of the 1940s — was also an inventor. She and a friend co-invented a technology called “frequency hopping” which they thought would help protect military radio transmissions from being intercepted during World War II. The military didn’t use it during the war, but it later became an important part of cell phone and WiFi technology.

It’s one of those too-strange-for-fiction stories. If I wrote a novel in which the protagonist was one of the top actresses in Hollywood and also a pioneering inventor, you’d laugh in my face and call it ridiculous. And yet, it actually happened. It’s a great story, and one that could be particularly useful in getting young girls interested in the STEM fields.

Don’t believe me? Go to google.com and check out today’s Google Doodle.

And, with all apologies to Harvey Korman, in this case we really are talking about Hedy Lamarr, not Hedley.