Saturday, July 27, 2013

My Dinner with Hannah Montana and/or Miley Cyrus

Last weekend while I was out running errands I decided to swing by McKay's to see if Paula Deen's cookbooks were on clearance yet. (Oh, like I'm the only one. Don't you give me that look.) They were not, which was surprising, but in the bargain cookbook section I did notice something else. While there were the usual crockpot cookbooks and generic "Make 500 ______" cookbooks filling most of the section, I made a sudden and horrible realization:

I had somehow wandered into the celebrity cookbook bargain basement graveyard.

I'm familiar with the whole concept of celebrities also writing cookbooks. I just didn't realize that there were so many, and that so many are from celebrities that I don't associate with food. It's not surprising that Trisha Yearwood has a cookbook, since she has a cooking show, but why does Maya Angelou have a cookbook? Or Sheryl Crow? Stanley Tucci? Does anyone think "teach me to cook, please" when they think of Boy George? Or Sarah, Duchess of York? I was flipping through the books in amusement, wondering how these people's agents talked them into this, when I saw one that was both dirt cheap (75 cents!) and bizarrely intriguing:

Hannah Montana cookbook

Hannah Montana's Sweet Niblets, a name that is somehow sugary sweet and also disgustingly perverted at the same time.

Which of Hannah's sweet niblets did I feel like trying first? (See? Just typing that sounds obscene.) I settled on an easy one to start with, figuring I'd save the chicken fingers breaded in Fruity Pebbles for a really adventurous day:

sandwich recipe

The "Best of Both Worlds Breakfast Sandwiches" sounded easy enough, but as fried peanut butter and banana sandwiches they also seemed oddly familiar. Hannah Montana, did you steal this recipe from Elvis?

peanut butter and banana sandwiches

Not exactly. Hannah's version is dipped in egg wash, which makes it more of a stuffed french toast than the Elvis version. Not surprising for a cookbook geared toward children, it was shockingly easy to prepare:

First, I made sandwiches, being careful to follow the directions to only place bananas on one side:

sandwich preparation (1)

Hannah said to put honey on those, too, but Hannah and I parted ways on that point. Honey is vile, sticky, and difficult to work with. I don't keep it in the house.

We also parted ways on the egg wash. Hannah said to mix cinnamon into it, but I don't have any cinnamon and used nutmeg instead:

egg wash

After that, all that was left was frying:

sandwich preparation (2)

and eating:


Helpful tip from me, not Hannah: When you are dipping the sandwich in the egg wash, dip all the way around the edges, too, to seal them and keep the peanut butter in.

Then eat, while basking in the endless repeat of "Party in the USA" on your iTunes.

The louder it is, the more your neighbors love you.

Tuesday, July 23, 2013

71 Hours of "Pretty Little Liars"

My cable has been out for a few weeks. Since I have Comcast, I frequently have problems with cable and internet outages, but my apartment complex doesn’t allow any other company, so when it goes out I have to call it in. Often, using the automatic “hey, yeah, our stuff is totally broken again” menu (which they have because their stuff so often breaks) to send a refresh signal will correct it, but this time my cable box seems totally dead.

There hasn’t been a good day in the past few weeks to wait around for them to come fix the cable, so I started out by watching movies. Then I started thinking that maybe I didn’t need cable after all. Then I started thinking about how much I miss “Gossip Girl” (even if the reveal at the end was a bit of a crock, since there were a number of times throughout the series when that person couldn’t possibly have been Gossip Girl), and somehow I decided I would start watching “Pretty Little Liars”, to determine if it was a suitable replacement.

I’ve now watched the first three seasons of PLL, one episode after another, an average of four or five episodes a night on weeknights and we won’t even talk about how many episodes in a row on the weekends.

For those who are unfamiliar with the show, the basic premise is that four girls, Aria, Hanna, Spencer, and Emily, were all friends with Alison. Alison was the Queen Bee, the Regina George, the Heather Chandler of Rosewood High, and she knew secrets about each of the girls, keeping them bound to her until the night she disappeared. Now, a year later, the girls are receiving texts from a mysterious “A” with a blocked number. They assume it’s Alison, until Alison’s body turns up, and A seems to be leading them to Alison’s killer… or is she framing them instead?

These are the (partly spoiler-filled) things I’ve learned during my 71 hour stay in the town of Rosewood. Come, spiral into madness with me:

1) The cops are staggeringly incompetent. By the end of the third season, we have discovered that the following people were present at the scene of Alison’s murder: Aria, Hanna, Spencer, Emily, Melissa, Jenna, Toby, Ian, Duncan, Jason, Aria’s dad, and Red Coat. It is also implied that Spencer’s dad and Mona may also have been present at some point during the evening’s murder, but the police somehow have no leads. None. The entire town of Rosewood showed up to help kill Alison, but the police can’t find a single witness or shred of trace evidence.

2) We’re supposed to think Aria’s romance with her high school English teacher is a good thing. It took me a few episodes to realize that we’re supposed to be in favor of a secret relationship between a sixteen year old and a guy in his twenties who should know better. We’re supposed to think it’s romantic, not felonious. Sorry, but I agree with Aria’s parents on this one: it’s terrible. On the other hand, this tragic clichĂ© of a relationship is the only thing Aria brings to the show. Why? Because…

3) Aria is the worst. Emily is the athlete. Spencer is the brain. Hanna is the rebel. Aria? She has no skills. She has no special talents. She’s dating her English teacher. The horrible secret that Alison was holding over her wasn’t even about her. Spencer made out with her sister’s fiancĂ©e and broke up the wedding, Emily was a closet lesbian who was secretly in love with Alison, but Aria’s secret is that she knew her dad was having an affair. She’s not even interesting enough to have her own secret. Adding insult to injury, she’s a horrible dresser. During the first season, when she once wore a feather earring that seemed made of an entire bird wing, the strategy in the costume department seemed to be, “They sent over ten outfits. We picked out one for each girl. Now put the seven remaining outfits on Aria. All seven. At the same time. We have to do something to make her interesting, for Christ’s sake.” Even when she’s down to only three or four layers, they’re still terrible layers. Nobody should wear a belly shirt with a rib cage printed on it outside of a Halloween episode. If Aria is the worst, though…

4) Hanna is the best. Hanna is the girl you want in your corner, because Hanna gets shit done. You might think you want Spencer, but eventually Spencer will have a breakdown, lock herself in her room, and stop showering. You might feel like you want Emily, but the first time she stabs a murderer in the stomach she gets PTSD. And Aria? Jesus, don’t get me started on the ways in which she can screw up the simplest task, but Hanna is your girl for pushing cop cars into deserted lakes, helping you embezzle $50,000 from the bank, slapping blind girls who totally deserve to get slapped and then handing the blind girl her black glasses and saying, “By the way, that was Hanna,” dressing up like a nurse to sneak into the morgue, or doing whatever else she needs to in order to save herself and her friends. Hanna even gets run over at Mona’s birthday and continues running the show from her hospital bed, cast and all.

5) Abs are for everyday, but pecs are for special occasions. This is, for some odd reason, only true for Jason’s character, and I only noticed it because I watched so many episodes back to back in rapid succession. While the rest of the guys wander around with their shirts off fairly regularly (not all that shocking in a show marketed toward straight teenage girls and, one assumes, gay boys of all ages), Jason spends a lot of time walking around his house, his creepy shed darkroom, and lounging on his porch in an unbuttoned shirt with nothing underneath. It’s an odd look that says, “My abs need air.” It happens often enough that my thought was, “Did he forget to button that?”, which probably wasn’t the effect the producers were going for. He so rarely appears without a shirt that I wonder if the actor has an “abs are fine, but nipples cost extra” clause in his contract, because really, who walks around with their shirt unbuttoned all the time?

6) Alison kept her secrets hidden, except when she didn’t. One of the key plot points of the show is that Alison was holding everyone’s secrets, and she brags in flashbacks about how good she was at it. Your secrets are safe with Alison… unless they’re the ones she hid in her storage locker. Or on her computer. Or in her secret notebook. Or in her wooden box. Or in the bundle of blackmail letters she saved. Or inside of a doll. Or in the pocket of the coat she wore while disguised as Vivian Darkwood. OR TACKED TO THE BULLETIN BOARD AT THE POLICE STATION FOR MONTHS WITH NO ONE NOTICING BECAUSE JESUS, WHAT THE HELL IS WRONG WITH THE COPS ON THIS SHOW? No one can find any clues but she left enough of them behind to wallpaper the high school.

7) The show has lost its way. Trying to come up with a new, shocking twist for who A is/was every season and piling three seasons of “everything you thought you knew was wrong!” on top of themselves have left a show where A’s motivations and the willingness of the PLL to continue playing along with them no longer make sense. Sometimes A wants to help them, sometimes A wants to hurt them, sometimes A wants to hurt other people, sometimes there’s more than one A, sometimes A is insane and institutionalized, A is Mona, A is Jenna, A is Mona and Jenna, A is Red Coat, A is a squad of people working for Red Coat for unknown reasons, A is Alison faking her own death (which may explain why the police can’t find any clues), A is Alison texting from beyond the grave, A is Lucas, A is Toby, and in the series finale everyone will march through the streets of Rosewood in a black hoodie together because A was my brother, A was my mother, A was my father, A was my friend, A was me, A was you, A was everybody and A was nobody and just like at the end of “V for Vendetta” everyone will stand before the Rosewood courthouse and pull off their A hoodie while the building explodes to the tune of the “1812 Overture”. Nothing makes sense anymore because the writers can’t decide with any kind of finality who anyone is or what they want.

Despite all of that, it’s still sort of entertaining.

I’ve just given it way, way more thought than it deserves, and hope the cable is back soon.

Monday, July 15, 2013

Return of the Super Muse

Way back in January I had this random photographic inspiration, where I carried my Superboy figure around the city and photographed it as if it was a real person rather than a plastic toy. This weekend I really wanted to get out of the house on Sunday, so I thought I would try it again, but I gave up in an hour after severe frustration.

What went wrong?

1) I chose my initial setting poorly. Mapping out the pattern of where I wanted to go in my head, the UT Gardens seemed like the logical choice for a first stop, since it was the furthest place on my list from my house. The photo that inspired the whole idea back in January was taken at the gardens:

superboy at the gardens

so I thought retracing my steps a little might inspire me to success again. Unfortunately I forgot the basics of why that photo works and why this photo doesn't:

superboy with red stripe

Scale and perspective.

The photographs that worked best from the original experiment were the ones where I worked to make it look like Superboy was part of the scene, in proportion to other objects in the frame. A blurry grove in the distance offers the illusion that Superboy might just be a person that you're standing behind, both of you staring off toward the horizon. A beer bottle the same height as Superboy confirms that Superboy is the same height as a beer bottle, and destroys the suspension of disbelief that the first set of pictures is built on. I initially forgot this when I began taking pictures on Sunday, and got more and more irritated as I moved through the gardens taking photos of Superboy among the plants that looked dissatisfyingly like photos of an action figure standing in some plants.

I might have worked my way out of it given enough time and concentration, as these pictures I took at the far end of the garden suggest that I was starting to fall into the groove of an interesting idea:

super reflection (1)

super reflection (2)

but I didn't get to concentrate and think through what I was doing, because of the other thing that I did wrong:

2) I left my house too late. I didn't go out until after noon, and that meant the gardens were full of people.

Annoying people.

Every time I set Superboy down somewhere and started to carefully pose him, someone walked up.

"What are you doing? What's that? Is that a toy? What are you working on?"

It meant that I rushed out of every location before taking more than a shot or two, and getting this right takes way more than two shots at a time. I was asked if I was almost done, if I worked at the gardens, and then the worst comment of all came when I was in the back by the rusty truck, taking the reflection photos above that are the only good ones I took in an hour:

"Are you almost done? I wanted to get some pictures of my kids by the truck before the light changes, and you're in the frame."

The gardens are for everybody, jackhole. I bet that woman's kids are horrible little entitled snots, just like their mother.

Next time I leave the house at seven in the morning, and give up as soon as I start to see other people.

Friday, July 5, 2013

"The Gun That Mastered Men" and Shot Me In the Eye

A few weeks ago I wrote about not meeting Adam West and mentioned that one of the times that I could have paid to meet him I instead spent $40 on an action figure that shot me in the eye on the way home. A friend was catching up on my blog yesterday, and sent me a note to ask what the rest of that story was.

Since you asked...

Allow me to introduce Tyr:


Tyr is an action figure from the third wave of Kenner's "Super Powers" toy line, and was produced in 1986. In the spring of 1996, when I was a junior in college, Tyr was the action figure that I wanted most of all, because Tyr was the only action figure out there that was based on a character from "The Legion of Superheroes".

Tyr has always been a slightly baffling choice for the "Super Powers" line, as he is the only character out of the 34 figures released that was from the Legion of Superheroes comics, and he's not really that big a name. You see Tyr a lot in the Legion as a member of crowd scenes. He shows up with the Legion of Supervillains a lot, or with a bunch of criminals breaking out of Takron Galtos (the prison planet), but rarely solo. It's like the "Super Powers" designers looked at the whole roster of Legion characters and decided to pick a backup singer, rather than a headliner. As a matter of fact, Tyr only had two solo appearances: he fought the Legion (and was defeated by them) in "Superboy" #197, and then his semi-sentient gun-arm returned two issues later to fight the Legion and try to break him out of jail:

"Superboy starring the Legion of Superheroes" #199

I hate to call him a one-shot character, since it seems like a bad pun given that we're discussing his gun-arm, but really the only memorable scene out of his entire two issues is when the gun locks them all inside their headquarters and Princess Projectra melts down into hysterics and gives Brainiac 5 what could charitably be referred to as an "anti-pep-talk":



This coming from a woman who, a few years later, would snap Nemesis Kid's neck with her bare hands and then tell the rest of the Legion that if they had a problem with it they were welcome to some of what he got.

Anyway, back to the Tyr figure itself, I wanted one. The mid-1990's were a booming time in action figure collecting, with variant figures, special editions, and everyone convinced they were going to make a fortune on them someday. Action figure collecting was so popular that once or twice a year the New York State Fairgrounds hosted a toy and collectible show and filled a giant building, normally used to host livestock or exhibits, with dealers and vendors and, occasionally, Adam West. I'd already been to a show there in the fall and had come away without Tyr, but I had a good, lucky feeling about the spring, and convinced my hall director, Vicki, to drive me to the show and spend the day walking around looking at toys.

I don't know if Vicki remembers this, but there was a lot of walking. A lot. There were somewhere around two hundred vendors, and I was determined that we were going to look at every table because I wanted to find that figure and, possibly, an Ice Man figure from the "Secret Wars" collection, which had only been released in Europe. To this day, I have never seen that figure in person, and do not own one. There was no sign of Ice Man at the Toy Show, but at the very last table Vicki and I stopped at, three hours after enterng, I saw a loose Tyr figure in a locked case, pretty much just like he looked at the beginning of this entry.

"THERE IT IS!" I shrieked, grabbing Vicki's arm. I might as well have just handed the dealer my opened wallet. I jabbed a finger at the case, eyes wide. "HOW MUCH IS TYR? HOW MUCH?"


"Forty dollars."


No attempt at negotiating, no talking him down, nothing. I handed him $40, he handed me a Tyr figure, and I announced to Vicki that we could now go home.

(Side point: I have never seen another Tyr figure besides the one that I own. While I should have negotiated, I would not have left that show without that toy.)

In the car, I cradled my Tyr figure in both hands, babbling excitedly to Vicki about how rare it was, how there were no other Legion of Superheroes figures (there are now), and how I had no idea of what my figure's power was. As I explained to Vicki, every figure in the "Super Powers" line had a power action. I had several of them, having been the exact target market age in the 1980's when they came out, so I knew that if you squeezed Green Lantern's legs together he raised the fist that his power ring was on. Squeeze Parademon's legs and he flapped his wings. Squeeze Flash's arms and his legs moved back and forth, running. Brainiac kicked, Dr. Fate raised his arms to cast a spell, Hawkman swung an arm to swing his mace, Aquaman had a deep sea kick, Firestorm a nuclear punch, Darkseid raised his arms in a fit of omega rage, Lex Luthor raised his to shoot death rays from his power armor, but I had no idea what Tyr did.

The internet was of no help to me, as the internet of 1996 and the internet of now are very different places. I knew that a Tyr figure existed, but couldn't find any information in the limited online resources to tell me what it was supposed to do, and since I'd bought a loose figure without packaging I had no hints.

Terrified of breaking a figure that I'd just spent $40 on, as this was a rather large chunk of my Resident Assistant paycheck for the semester, I gave Tyr's arms an extremely tentative gentle squeeze, but nothing happened.

I tugged the arm, ever so slightly, wondering if it came off since I knew that the character's arm did in the comics, but it seemed rather sturdily attached.

I checked his back for a button. Finding none, I ever so gently pressed his knees together... and his gun arm raised!

"Look! I figured it out! His arm goes up and down!"


Enamored with my achievement, I continued to squeeze: arm goes up, arm goes down, arm goes up, arm goes down, arm goes up a little higher each time you squeeze a little more, arm goes down, arm goes up parallel to the floor...




"Oh my God, did you break it?"




Vicki started laughing so hard that she almost ran off the road, and in a minute, after I had retrieved the stray arm from the side of my seat, I did, too.