Two nights ago I helped out with Camp War Eagle Christmas dinner, serving families of campers. DO YOU HEAR THAT GIRLS? I SERVE CHILDREN. FOOD. Actually, I don’t think any girls read this, so let’s keep that information between us. This month I’m going for more mysterious, less kind, and also vampire.

After the dinner, a few of the guys retired to Ricky Shade’s house to watch a movie. There was much indecision, over what, until someone made the hard choice and put in a random DVD.
I’ve never watched Mortal Kombat. I’ve only played the game a few times. It was always during sleepovers at Lee Zodrow’s house, in elementary school. I never told my parents. I don’t think I was forbidden from playing Mortal Kombat – I think that it never occurred to my parents that I would want to play it. More likely, they didn’t (and still don’t) know it existed. However, while watching it at Ricky’s house, it became obvious that everyone else had seen it. Several times.
Ricky is a Cherokee Indian, and grew up with three brothers in a house on Moonshine Road. I could have made that up, but I didn’t. You can ask Ricky. He told me that the four of them together probably had over a thousand VHS tapes, all of movies like Kickboxer and Army of One and Best of the Best. He showed me his copy of Best of the Best, which he had just found on DVD. It’s about a karate tournament. James Earl Jones is in it. He told me the entire plot, including the twist where Jones turns out to be the coach of the team which included the competitor who killed Tommy Lee’s brother. Lee defeats his brother-killer, by the way.
They had other favorites, too, but he couldn’t tell me what they were, because all the films had codenames. Child’s Play was “Chuckie,” and Nightmare on Elm Street was “Freddy.” The whole Steven Segal canon was referred to by the actor’s name, which I’m assuming they repeated as “Stevie.”
When I was seven, and eight, and nine, and so on up until my senior year in high school, I watched three movies: the original Disney version of Old Yeller, an animated Dickensian David Copperfield, and Muppet Treasure Island. Friday nights I would fold out our terribly uncomfortable couch and use the recliner to block the doorway into my father’s study, which I thought was haunted, and I would watch one of these movies, alone. Out of the three, I think Muppet Treasure Island has aged the best. I’ve watched it several times in the past years, and it still makes me laugh. I haven’t watched Old Yeller in a long, long time and now I cannot tell you what my attraction to it was. It may have been that Travis’ dog was willing to die for him, and my dog was fat.
Since reading the book, I can now say that the animated version of David Copperfield is a near travesty. I can handle all the characters being animals, but it’s as if the book was run through a shredder and one of the animator’s assistants tried to assemble a script from the scraps, like a ransom note, and upon reading it the director decided that he could do much better and would much rather have the actors ad-lib anyway. Even if you don’t know the plot of the book, the climax of the movie occurs when David frees the cheese monsters from the sewers under the factory, and Mr. Murdstone locks himself in his tower and has a shoot out with the local constables. There are some great songs, though.
For the record, Mortal Kombat is a terrible movie. But Ricky could not stop himself from quoting Luke Cage and pointing out goofs. The best part for him was when I first saw Prince Goro, but he couldn’t understand why I wasn’t as amazed as when he first saw him, fifteen years ago.
I can’t make fun of him. This all reminds me of my first summer at War Eagle, when I took a pretty girl on a date during our mutual day off. I convinced her to watch Muppet Treasure Island (I had to take the VHS player out of the hall closet). I tried to get her to sing along, and even played the “Cabin Fever” sequence twice to give her a chance. After Long John Silver took over the ship in the middle of Act 2, she told me she had to leave to do laundry. That’s why I’m going for mysterious in the month of December.

When Love Is Gone

Over Thanksgiving break, I had dinner with a friend from high school, Mary Kate. She lives in L.A. and works as an actress, among other jobs. We have written some things together, and, through collaboration, have gotten to be good friends, on the basis that we know things about each other that few others do. When you write with someone, you learn about things that don’t come up in conversation. Like where the dinosaurs really went. But I actually use that bit in regular conversations, so it’s not a good example.

Mary Kate is currently in rehearsals for a stage musical version of A Christmas Carol. This beloved holiday tale is based on a novella by Charles Dickens, who was paid per word, so the real Christmas miracle is that the story is so short. I realize that currently there is an adaptation in theaters, but the previews for it make Jim Carrey look like one of those Terminators which had rubber skin, before Skynet figured out how to clone human tissue. At least that’s how I explained it to my niece.
Mary Kate’s role is Belle, Ebeneezer Scrooge’s one-time squeeze, who pops up during his time travel tour with the Ghost of Christmas past. I was delighted to hear this, because Belle has the best solo in what is now believed to be the greatest Dickensian adaptation, A Muppet Christmas Carol.
Wikipedia says that despite using muppets, the film is a fairly close adaptation, as if someone might have assumed Dickens originally wrote the character of Cratchit for a frog and had envisioned Scrooge’s school teacher as a patriotic American bald eagle. To Wikipedia’s credit, they’re right – there were no muppets in the original book. But they didn’t cite their sources.

When I was younger, as in a senior in high school, my family would watch A Muppet Christmas Carol every winter break, multiple times. For some reason it was adopted as a yuletide mascot, to represent our Christmas spirit. We know all the songs. Then, when I finally read the original story, I was amazed at how closely the muppet’s film followed the narrative. Most of Gonzo’s pertinent lines are unadulterated Charles. Except for “Light the lamp, not the rat.” Though it has no literary basis, this catchphrase has been popular in my family for some time.
I told Mary Kate that when I relayed this information to my mom, she wouldn’t reply, but her face would slide down as if anesthetized, and she would begin to sing Belle’s solo, “When Love Is Gone.” I also told her that I wouldn’t be able to resist, but that I would join in and sing Scrooge’s part when the solo becomes a duet around the bridge.
The best part is, they stand on a physical bridge when they sing that part. Don’t believe me? Watch the video. IN COLOR!
And when I told my mom, she became sober, and began to sing, “It was almost love/It was almost always…” And I sang with her.