1. The History of Television Syndication, Part II

    YESTERDAY, we discussed how in the past when various television programs were syndicated, often the networks would change the show’s title slightly so viewers could easily distinguish between those episodes they’d seen before and first-run episodes.

    Otherwise, a viewer might have tuned in during lunchtime and seen that episode of “I Love Lucy” where Lucy and Ethel get jobs in the candy factory, and that same night, watched the one where they build the barbeque; and thus be thrown into such a state of confusion and panic, he might be compelled to go out and shoot up a green stamps redemption center. By airing the reruns under the new title “The Ricardos of New York, Hollywood for a While, Europe For A Few Weeks and Eventually Westport, Connecticut” however, the potential for bloodshed diminished significantly.

    Flipping to the TV listings sections in that damp, soiled heap of 40+ year old newspapers Nana Parsnips calls her bed, I found a handful of actual examples.

    An example comparing both the original network title and the syndicated title of a popular television program:

    The original was broadcast Saturday nights at 10 / 9 central following “Love Boat” on ABC. The syndicated version aired weekdays following “General Hospital” over most of these ABC stations. Both featured frequent appearances by Gary Burghoff and Barbi Benton.

    “That’s all fine and good,” I hear you say. “We get it, we get it! Jesus, we get it! They changed the damned names. But what of our proud American television shows that were syndicated in other countries?”

    It seems like a perfectly stupid question of course – that is, until you realize that the Hanna-Barbera animated sitcom “Top Cat” was known as “Boss Cat” in England. (Apparently “Top Cat” is Cockney rhyming slang for “hedgehog penis” was the name of a popular brand of British cat food  – incidentally, virtually indistinguishable from British human food.)

    Above: Something I found on Wikipedia so my attorney says not to knock myself out trying to properly credit the image.

    Anyway, it got me to thinking: “What other title changes had occurred among our beloved television programs once they were syndicated ’round the world?” So I did some research and discovered that even in the best kind of countries – English-speaking countries, when television programs are syndicated, they often air under a different title.

    Of the shows above airing in England, the name changes were made due to already extant Cockney rhyming slang terms that made the original titles obscene to a proper British audience. In all other countries, however, the new titles were necessary as the series’ original names were already in use as brands of cat food.

    Of course the same show could very well be titled different things if syndicated in multiple countries. Take for instance the case of this sitcom from the early 1970s:

    Clockwise from upper left: Original title, syndicated title as it appeared in the UK, Japanese syndicated title (“Misesu Gojira,” literally “Mrs. Godzilla,”) and finally, Cyrillic titles from Russian syndication of show, roughly translated as “Petite Sexy Waif.”

    Other countries put their own take on various shows unique to their culture or circumstances. In Mexico, “The Brady Bunch” is known as “La Familia Pequeña.” In the Vatican, the Pope enjoys “The Flying Nun” under the title “I Can’t Believe Paul VI Got Screen Gems To Pay Us $6 Million To Put Our Seal of Approval On This Piece of Crap” and “Mr. Ed” as “Satan Horse.” In the late 1960s, then-USSR retitled “Lost in Space” as “The Heroic Adventures of Brave Dr. Zachary Smith, Secret Agent” and later simply as “Stupid American Cosmonauts.” And in France, “The Odd Couple” has been rebranded as “Felix Loves Oscar.”

    We’ve heard time and time again how the rest of the world loves American culture. Therefore, it shouldn’t come as any surprise that some countries with whom we have strained diplomatic relations still crave our television shows – but also use them as tools of propaganda, as well as to entertain:

    Some might argue that syndicating such shows helps to foster dangerous anti-American sentiment, and while this may indeed be the case, it’s important to remember that this is Hollywood, brother, and there’s money to be made.

    In many cases, however, those who purchased the rights to broadcast quality American-produced television shows in their countries spent enormous licensing fees to do so, which often resulted in little money left over to be spent on competent translation of dialogue and plot. It’s therefore not unusual for programs airing in different countries to have a vastly different feel than what we remember seeing here in America, evident by their foreign titles alone:

    Television history is filled with fascinating facts and tidbits, be it juicy behind-the-scenes stories, tedious canonical episodic data, or, as you can see, exciting information about marketing and syndication.

    So perhaps the next time you catch an episode of, say, “Bewitched” on TV Land, you’ll enjoy it even more, knowing that throughout the last forty-five years and across numerous parts of the world, it’s been known variously as “Bewitched & Friends” (ABC weekday mornings, 1967-1969) “Stevens of McMann & Tate” (ABC weekday afternoons, 1970-1972), “The Adventures of Samantha” (WOR-TV, Secaucus, NJ, evenings at 6:00, 1975-1979), “Triflingly Amusing Yankee Witch” (UK, 1980s), and “Magical American Whorebeast” (Iran, current).

    Posted by on September 25, 2012, 1:56 PM.

  2. The History of Television Syndication, Part I!

    HAD I SEEN the Emmys last night it would have reminded me again of one of the greats of the small screen we recently lost – Andy Griffith. As a kid I watched “The Andy Griffith Show” at night and then tuned in for what I presumed was the same show during the day. Yet the daytime version was called “Andy of Mayberry.” I remember, too, back then, poring over the TV Guide, reading the names of other shows that seemed familiar, but just weren’t quite right.

    Later I learned that the networks changed the titles to distinguish first run episodes from reruns. This makes perfect sense – most people back then were incredibly stupid and would have become confused and disoriented had they tuned in at, say, ten-thirty in the morning and seen a program by the same name with the same actors playing the same characters as one broadcast at nine at night. Those in charge were right to rename the shows; in doing so they evidently prevented widespread panic, a national economic meltdown and, likely, enormous loss of life.

    Today, the practice is long gone – we’ve become more sophisticated as a viewing audience. So if, God willing, “Here Comes Honey Boo Boo” reaches that magic number of episodes needed for syndication, we can watch it under the same name during the day, between “The $25,000 Pyramid” and “Card Sharks.”

    Just for posterity, I’ve done some research and compiled a list – by no means complete! – of some popular shows and what you might remember having known them as when they were first syndicated.

    Above: A screen grab from the opening titles of the rarely seen, half-hour syndicated version “Star Trek,” retitled “Kirk & Friends,” which aired weekdays on NBC between “Concentration” and “The Pat Boone Show” in 1967.

    Oh look, I found some more!

    Some of them may seem a little awkward, but again, at the time, networks felt this was necessary to avoid confusion.

    Above: Screen grab from syndicated “Brady Bunch,” retitled “Alice’s Gang.” Original title is black with white outline, while syndicated title is all white. Ironically, Ann B. Davis, who played the titular Alice, appears on-screen only after the title disappears, due to her location in center square.

    More?  As you wish.

    Above: “Friends” syndicated title, briefly used when the series was initially syndicated in 2001 before it was decided that it was unnecessary and looked like something some jackass did by adding a line of text to a paused YouTube video. “Friends” was the last show to employ the “different syndicated title” practice before it was abandoned industry-wide, though likely not abandoned on this website where it had immediately been recognized as “an easy way of coming up with quick content.”

    I’ve always been something of a student – and fan – of television history and discovering such little-known but admittedly fascinating minutia of all aspects of the television industry’s proud legacy is something I enjoy sharing with you, my readers.

    Tomorrow: It gets wackier.

    Posted by on September 24, 2012, 2:11 PM.

  3. A Fond Farewell to Hill, Virginia!

    AS WE WRAP UP our extended travelogue of beautiful Hill, Virginia, I am reminded of what a pal once told me he said upon being cornered at the office by a co-worker and her 3-inch wad of vacation photos.

    “Show me your ten best pictures.”

    That way he was polite, he didn’t offend…but he made it clear he wasn’t going to sit through ninety-four pictures of the parking lot shuttle approach to the ticket booth at Santa’s Workshop in Cascade, Colorado, either.

    So here’s the best of the rest – no more delightfully anachronistic packages design or disturbingly arachnidistic wildlife – just a small sampling of good ol’ fashioned vacation photos.

    …Hey, get back here!

    Here’s a shot of the back room of a junk store in a creaky old three story house. This place was pretty amazing. I could have spent my entire trip perusing its various and sundry wares but the storekeeper and, eh, my driver had gotten into a heated political discussion that threatened to erupt into something involving either us getting riddled with buckshot or, worse, me being intentionally overcharged for that vintage linen Tichnor Bros. postcard I found.

    Speaking of buckshot…

    Back at the ol’ homestead, we relaxed ’round back with some honest-to-goodness moonshine (true!) when my host, eh, Janko we’ll call him, spotted a woodchuck in the pasture below. Such creatures, while undeniably cuddly to the naked eye, are a danger down on the farm: they dig holes big enough for a horse to put a hoof in and break a leg – and then you’ve got to wait on them hand and foot for weeks!

    Woodchuck sighted, Janko headed inside, lay his rifle on the window sill and took aim. (Look carefully at the edge of the house.) Don’t worry, PETA freaks, the little bastard scampered back into the woods before he got off a shot. And that’s the true story that only my, what, six readers will ever know.

    I’m showing everyone else this photo and telling them it was just another day in the 160+ year-old Parsnips / McCoy Feud.

    Speaking of shocking backwoods surprises (it would have been, for the woodchuck, if he’d stayed around another minute)…

    It’s nearly ten miles of long, long rural hilly road from my Hill, Virginia lodgings to the business center of town – your Walmart, your Lowes, your Peebles and so on. In-between? Pretty much nothing but idyllic farm country, populated by peaceful gladefolk and their God-fearing cows. …Except for one tiny convenience store a mere quarter mile from the inn, and very recently opened, right next door, this place:

    To find a dollar store here of all places had me laughing out loud in a most delighted fashion. Ha Ha ha, I laughed, delightedly. I was further enchanted to hear it being advertised on the crazy talk radio station the innkeeper forced me to listen to six hours each day. (I need to start reading the fine print on these Groupons.)

    So of course I had to drop by. What was even more awesome was that the store is owned and operated by  Sam Drucker!

    Naw, I’m kidding.  But that would be cool, right?

    For the record, it was run by a very nice lady.

    Speaking of a very nice lady…

    …there was this lady.

    One day I went into town to sample some of the region’s famous, down-home, country-style, free-range, cornfed Wi-Fi. And what better place to try it than Wendy’s? As you know, I’m a big fan of Wendy’s. And as much as Los Angeles is a disgusting toilet where most of its quick-serve (industry term) restaurants are staffed by hopeless morons, LA Wendy’s are always a cut above the rest. Still, it struck me that this sort of plaque, just inside the door of the Hill, Virginia Wendy’s, is something you’d just never see in Los Angeles. It is therefore quite charming and deserved to be recognized photographically.

    Dorothy, you were like a grandmother to me, and I never met you.

    Speaking of Wi-Fi, and by extension, checking one’s email at Wendy’s,  a pal wrote, in part, “Oh my God they have candy corn Oreos!!! I am now officially living on these things!!! Breakfast, lunch and dinner!!! Do yourself a favor and buy a few cases today!!!!!!!”

    I don’t have the email handy, so he either wrote exactly that…or implied that he was mortified like any normal person would be. (I can’t remember which it was.) Not being normal myself, I was intrigued. Walmart is in the same shopping center as Wendy’s so I headed right over. Once inside, I visited their Oreo aisle.

    Nothing! Two hundred forty-seven different varieties of Oreos, but none flavored or colored like candy corn. Clearly they don’t exist and I had been the victim of a clever prank. Nice one, friend. I worked through the disappointment, humiliation, pain and ensuing depression by buying, and consuming forty-three bags of these things instead.

    Speaking of disappointment, the chief cook and bottle-washer at Field View Tavern closed the local watering hole for the day and took the whole family to the national historic landmark, Natural Bridge, despite insisting it might be a big let-down. Here’s me and the wife & kids:

    Oh, wait, no no no – my mistake! That’s just the image on the attraction’s webpage.

    Ha! Like I would ever allow a child, much less two, to clamber all over me. And I wish my wife were that attractive! (Don’t worry – like the rest of my family and close personal friends, she never reads my blog!)

    Anyway, our hostess, Katarina we’ll call her, sure, emphasized on the way there that Natural Bridge might be rather anticlimactic. That it could be potentially underwhelming. “Don’t get your hopes up, brother,” she cautioned me. “This ain’t the Tillamook Cheese Factory Tour!”

    Indeed, I was disappointed. I was hoping for some tacky overblown tourist trap to snap photos of to mock later on my blog, and it turns out that the damn natural bridge was spectacular!

    Look! Look!

    The only solace I have in you seeing this now is that you really can’t appreciate the goddamn scope and majesty of this thing from a mere photo. It’s a lot bigger in person. And the snack bar didn’t sell cheese curds.

    Speaking of cheese…

    All that viewing (and oohing) Natural Bridge helped us build up a healthy appetite. Lunch was at a 50s-themed diner, where I probably had a cheeseburger. (Ugh, these segues – they seem like a good idea at the beginning…)

    Anyway, outside the diner was this happy fellow.

    Like you, when I think of the 1950s and diners, I think of the 1933 film, King Kong. (Although sometimes think of the stunning 1976 remake.) I shouldn’t bother even mentioning the 2005 version, as this thing looks like it’s been here much longer than that.

    I asked my Hill, Virginia Bed & Breakfast innkeeper, Janko, to stand below the legs so that you might see the monster’s enormous scale. To no one’s surprise, he used this opportunity to make a most inappropriate gesture and the resulting photo is, alas, unpublishable.

    Speaking of unpredictable hairy creatures…

    …meet Country Whiskers, who of course is the cousin of beloved and oft-referenced Mr. Whiskers. Much like Mr. Whiskers, Country Whiskers runs into elaborate shots I’ve spent hours setting up and ruins them just as I press the shutter on my expensive blogging camera. In this case I was trying to photograph my shoe, when suddenly the cat darted in, rubbed his cat head-pheremones all over them, and then was off  again, just as quick as you please, to hunt field mice, a local delicacy. For cats.

    …Oh, what the hell – you love him, I love him – here’s another pic of ol’ Country!

    Hey, this is nothing! I’ve got one where I’ve picked ‘im up and he’s got his nose buried in my armpit. (Sorry, saving that one for this year’s Christmas card.)

    Speaking of whiskers, horses have whiskers too, prickly whiskers on their chins (just like Nana Parsnips, actually). Anyway, one day we went to a horse show!

    People in the country love horse shows because it’s their first chance to see what the horsamotive industry has planned for next year. We had a fine time looking at some of the 2013 models, including the new Hershrolet Equusnox.

    Seen here is the LX model – anti-deerfly tail-swatter (not seen) comes standard!

    Of course we saw a lot of amazing concept horses as well, some with crazy features – in-saddle GPS, self-hitching autorider technology, glucose boosters which propel the rider from zero to gallop in 3.8 seconds with just the push of a sugar cube into the horse’s mouth. Who knows if and when any of these things will ever be available to the general public, but it’s fun to see them.

    We weren’t supposed to take pictures of any of the concept horses, but I managed to snap one quick shot when we were leaving:

    The engineers had a great time with this one: They’ve managed to make an invisible* horse. First they created a skin made of tiny glass beads only 50 microns wide that doesn’t absorb light but rather lets light waves wrap around the horse itself. That got expensive real quick so they just ended up painting stripes on the damn thing and having it stand in tall grass.
    *to predators

    Speaking of tall grass, which is a plant, let’s talk tobacco which is also a plant. When you drive through the glades of Hill, Virginia, you’re going to see a lot of these things:

    Now here’s some history for you: These are tobacco shacks.

    They were used to dry tobacco, which used to be the area’s main crop. But they’re mostly abandoned because in the 1970s, the Government bought out most of the tobacco farmers in the area; that is to say, they paid them enormous amounts of money to no longer grow tobacco, making every single resident of Hill, Virginia filthy rich! Even the town drunk could buy and sell you a hundred times over, you better believe it.

    So guess what: An overreaching, over-spending government trying to change the behavior of its citizens didn’t start with the current administration! I’m as surprised as you are! Also, there will be no further discussion because as I have said before, this is not a political blog!

    Anyway, these tobacco shacks – dotting the landscape as they do – are wonderfully bucolic and slightly spooky; and like you, I presume every single one of them is haunted.

    What’s that?  ‘Wrap it up’…? You mean I’m over ten photos already…? But I’ve got like eighty more to go! I didn’t even get to the damn cows!

    My producer is telling me we’re running long, and we need to finish here.

    Where was I?  …Tobacco shacks…all probably haunted, scary…ah yes!

    Speaking of things that are scary…

    When traveling, I always try to book the seat farthest back in the plane – er, when I’m not flying first class, that is. Anyway, on one flight, from Roanoke to Chicago, I had about the last four rows to myself. (The, eh, family, they flew home ahead of me. Sure.)

    Since I had my expensive blogging camera with me and there was no one around me to bother, why not take some shots for that elaborate photo library I’m creating in hopes of building my fortune? (Forget buying gold! Licensing fees for generic photos for online use is where the real money is!)

    So there I am sitting in the back of the plane, snapping photos of stuff like this:

    Eventually, the flight attendant came up to me and asked me why I was taking photos of the inside of the plane.

    “Um, I have this blog, see…?”

    It never occurred to me – naturally angry-looking white male that I am, with that severe crewcut I for some reason insist on, traveling alone, on September 10th yet – that taking pictures from the back of the plane might somehow might raise a red flag.

    Surprisingly, TSA didn’t meet me as I deplaned.

    Frankly, I’m a little disappointed. Imagine the spike in traffic to this site if that had happened!

    Posted by on September 22, 2012, 7:25 PM.

  4. Delightfully Anachronistic Package Design: Virginia Edition! Part III!

    MY fascination with delightfully anachronistic packaging is easily explained: It reminds me fondly of simpler times and days gone by. You see, I was born in 1930 and when I was in my twenties, I worked at the Finast supermarket on Main Street in Galesburg.

    One day ol’ Mr. Finney had me setting up a large cardboard “Tom Corbett: Space Cadet” display for Kellogg’s Pep when the flashlight battery-driven spinning antenna on Tom’s ship, the Polaris, came in contact with my box cutter which had evidently built up quite a charge of static electricity slicing open cases of Ipana toothpaste earlier that morning.  Zzzzzap! The next thing I know here I am in the twenty-first century.

    Okay, enough.

    Let’s get down to business: In a store in lovely Hill, Virginia, I came across this bag of cat litter. I was of course charmed by its delightfully anachronistic package design; now you are, too. Especially once I tell you this is the last one of these stupid things for a while.

    You’re saying “Come now, Ted – surely you don’t take us for fools! Judging by what we see below, that bag of cat litter is thirty years old if it’s a day! This is an ad from an old magazine you’ve scanned, is what! And now you’re going straight to hell for trying to perpetuate such a fraud on us, your trusting readers!”

    No! Look closer! This cat litter does in fact exist here in 2012! The giveaway that it’s a currently available item is (of course) the bilingual cat. He’s thinking in English and Spanish! It’s cartoon mascotas like this that do the jobs American cartoon mascots are too lazy to do!

    Anyway, I think you’re ready for this. You make the call: Package originally designed when? Late 1970s? Early 1980s? Whaddaya say? Come on, don’t be shy.

    1981…? Really! That specific! Good. Good for you.

    I’ve taught you well.

    Posted by on September 19, 2012, 6:00 AM.

  5. Delightfully Anachronistic Package Design: Virginia Edition! Part II!

    YEARS AGO I cut in front of a hideous old hag in the express lane at Pathmark. This ancient hump-backed crone was all ratty black shawls and hairy purple warts. She stunk of unwashed hair and kielbasa, and carried in her shopping basket a single tube of Preparation-H, as she evidently had hemorrhoids. Which I reckon were painful for her because she moved so goddamn slow.  Jeez!

    I, on the other hand, was an active seventeen-year-old, too busy for hemorrhoids, with a cart full of six cases of Foster’s Lager, a package of Drake’s Devil Dogs (it’s an East Coast thing), a pound or so of Voortman cookies (back when you could buy them loose!), a box of Kudos (remember them?),  a few bags of Wise potato chips (Sorry! East Coast, again!), a couple dozen other odds and ends, and a newly-minted fake ID (for the Foster’s).

    This was in Port Chester, New York — just across the border from Greenwich, Connecticut. (But I’m telling you, economically and culturally, the two places were worlds apart! Worlds apart!) In Port Chester, privileged Greenwich kids like myself were allowed, neé encouraged, to illegally purchase alcohol. There existed a tacit understanding between the municipal governments of both towns that if Greenwich would send their teenagers to Port Chester to spend their underage drinking money, Port Chester would not send their teenagers, or God forbid, any of their other residents, to Greenwich beaches.

    Anyway, Baba Yaga there was taking for-frickin’-ever, rooting through her dingy little coin purse – so I just took the initiative, pushed my cart ahead of her (“ahead of,” “into” – whatever) and started piling my groceries onto the belt. It’s okay – remember, I’m from Greenwich.

    The old hook-nosed, bekerchiefed witch squinted at me with one milky white eye, reached into her sleeve and pulled out a packet of Beemans gum, shook it at me and intoned something – I can’t quite remember what exactly, it’s been years – but something like,

    “Vei deveni obsedat de fermecător vechi cu aspect alimente…!”

    Something like that.

    Ever since that moment I’ve been obsessed to the point of being practically crippled by an admittedly bizarre fixation with delightfully anachronistic packaging design. Christ almighty these stupid setups just keep getting longer each time!

    Anyway, last week, in the very same store in Hill, Virginia where I found Mrs. Sullivan’s pies, I came across these amazing creatures:

    Prairie Belt Smoked Sausage!

    Holy cow – this package could be Mrs. Sullivan’s pies’ nephew! Yellow background, brand name in red script, the whole nine yards!

    And by “the whole nine yards” I mean, of course, the main anachronicity (a word I first coined here) of this package: a tenth-generation photo of a bowl of smoked sausage coupled with artwork of a cute little fella in the foreground comprising a label designed when canned food label lithography was still in its infancy! Probably!

    Given the juxtaposition of sausage and small boy we must therefore assume that Prairie Belt Smoked Sausage are made from small bo–  Oh, look, my attorney just popped one of his blood pressure pills.

    I’m joking! My only point is that the image of the prepubescent Mathersesque young man looks like it was painted over six decades ago! The subject of the painting, if he’s even still alive at this point, is well into retirement, dealing with the horrors of those infamous Obamacare Death Panels, or being pushed off a cliff by Paul Ryan, depending on your political persuasion. (Remember, we are not a political blog! I’m Ted Parsnips and I approved this parenthetical aside.)

    Actually, comparing the Prairie Belt boy to Jerry Mathers would be inaccurate. Perhaps a better descriptor would be Boothesque.

    Indeed, he bears a stronger resemblance to little Billy Booth – you know, Dennis’ pal Tommy on the 1959-63 series “Dennis the Menace.”

    Look!  Look!

    He kinda looks like him, right? Little bit?  Sure.

    So after discovering these anachronistic delights, I did exactly what you’d have done: I bought like thirty cans.

    I mean, when am I going to find this stuff again? Besides, Christmas is right around the corner. (This year, give the gift of good taste, mechanically-separated chicken and pork spleens. Give Prairie Belt. Clearly I should have gone into advertising.)

    Unfortunately, I wasn’t thinking when I was getting ready to come home – I packed them all in my carry-on bag. As the 5-ounce Prairie Belt Smoked Sausage cans were over the 3-ounce TSA limit and resembled, in size and shape, containers of Sterno, I was required to throw them away there at the gate or consume them before boarding. As you would, I chose the latter.

    I’m not a greedy man, so when I started slowing down by can 17, I offered some to the others in line at 75¢ a can, exact change only (a potential 24¢ per can hit I’d be absorbing), but there were surprisingly no takers. I managed to get down one more can but then cursed my small, trim abdomen as well as the TSA bastards who would be feasting like kings that night on the dozen cans I surrendered to the trash. (In retrospect I should have opened them all and dumped the contents directly into the garbage to prevent this.)

    And here’s the thing: Turns out the Sterno comparison was rather apt: Six gin and tonics into the flight we hit some turbulence and  everything came back up, burning the hell out of my throat. What I wouldn’t have given to be sitting next to that wicked old gypsy woman who could have conned me out of my first generation iPod Mini for a stick of Beemans to get the taste out of my mouth! I bet the two passengers on either side of me would have appreciated this as well.

    Tomorrow: Something shorter.

    Posted by on September 18, 2012, 6:00 AM.

  6. Delightfully Anachronistic Package Design: Virginia Edition!

    AS YOU KNOW, due to a chemical imbalance in my brain that’s been traced to my childhood habit of sneaking into the attic, tearing off swaths of insulation and eating it like it was cotton candy, when I see a package of something – usually food (but not always), usually at a dollar store (though there are exceptions) – and it has the look of something that has existed just as it is now for the past twenty, thirty, forty, fifty, even sixty years, I get all tingly – as though the tiny Fiberglas shards permanently impaled throughout my organs have suddenly become electrified.

    That is to say, it’s neat-o when you find stuff where they probably haven’t changed the design of the package for decades.

    On my recent trip to Hill, Virginia, I found not one, not four, but three such items! Today we’ll look at the first one!

    Mrs. Sullivan’s pies!

    Since we’re in the country, I felt it appropriate to ask the pie box to pose atop a fence post in a field.

    The checkerboard element on the sides, the cropped pie photo, the thick, red script of “Mrs. Sullivan’s” – it all adds up to just one thing: This package looks like something you’d find on a shelf back in oh, say, 1937. As though they haven’t changed their packaging for seventy-five years. And, Land O’ Goshen!, when you go to their website, you’ll find that that’s precisely how long they’ve been in business!

    Oh, sure, they’ve added stuff – “No Trans Fat,” a website address, hats you can buy, and a heartpie shaped logo with the unfortunately spelled “I Luv Pie” motto – but the core of the pie box, the pie box core, if you will, looks like it’s three-quarters of a century old. And by Godfrey, that’s why we love it!  Or, eugh, “luv” it.

    I sampled the coconut pie and the pecan pie. They were both magnificent. Don’t believe me? Want to try some of Mrs. Sullivan’s pies for yourself? Perhaps you want to buy some related pie-ma’bilia? Or download the free track “Haulin’ Pies”? Go to their website and poke around. And don’t worry about your personal information being compromised – according to carefully worded verbiage thereon, “Mrs Sullivan’s ® first priority is your online security that is why we protect you with the best secured site Certificate the web has to offer.”

    I made sure to bring home a few pies, too. They don’t have Mrs. Sullivan’s pies here. I told you Los Angeles is a filthy toilet!

    Whoa, Evalina, stop-a ringin’ my cellular phone! ‘Cause I’m a-haulin’ pies in Memphis, and I don’t think I’m ever comin’ back home!

    Posted by on September 17, 2012, 10:22 AM.

  7. Clearance Sale, Eh?

    I guess they’re really trying to move that gorilla.

    Hey, consider yourself lucky that you’re probably among the five of my, what, six readers who are too young to get the reference.

    Posted by on September 14, 2012, 1:22 AM.

  8. Mutual of Roanoke’s Wild Kingdom! Of Spiders!

    YESTERDAY, friends, I promised you a little something. Or rather, a bunch of big, hairy, evil, deadly somethings, plural. And today…? Well, today I deliver.

    Because as I find out again and again, over and over, on each trip there…

    Now understand this: I saw a good deal many more than I photographed. But after a while, you become desensitized to the horror. You go numb. You’re in a constant state of shock. Your fingers are trembling too much to work the knobs and dials on your blogging camera.

    That or you’re running for your goddamn life.

    Look at this monster. And I pray to God you’re not eating.

    On my screen the damn thing is life size, and I have a big screen. Oh, some will claim it’s a harmless orb weaver – a common garden spider that keeps down the pest population. I ask you: If this is the good guy, what in holy hell must the “pests” be like?! And did you get a good look at those pedipalps?!

    Next up – and I warn you, it just gets worse – is this eight-legged spawn of Satan:

    Again – on my computer – about life size. Consider yourself lucky if you’re looking at this on a smartphone. The body alone was the size of a big ripe cherry tomato, which was ironic because he and his extended family were living…

    …in a large garden of cherry tomato plants. And among my chores while visiting was to pick cherry tomatoes for the salad for dinner! (The website said “charming bed and breakfast;” it was more of a socialist granola-y hippy commune. Everyone had to do their  share of the work all while singing folk songs about Obama. On the plus side, clothing was optional.)

    Anyway, let’s go in for a closeup of that particular behemoth.

    As you can see, it’s a little out of focus. My hands were shaking. Yours would be too.

    Like I said, I had to reach in there and pluck off cherry tomatoes roughly the same size and shape as these spider’s abdomens, or as they’re scientifically known, bloated venom sacs. Thank God I finally got that cataract surgery last year or I probably wouldn’t be coming home with all eleven of my fingers intact.

    Onward! We need to get through this, gang. We’ll be stronger people for it if we do. Yeah, keep telling yourself that.

    Check out this obscene colossus of hair and legs:

    I honestly don’t know if it’s a good or bad thing that moments later, a huge wasp appeared, attacked and stung it, and began dragging its lethargic, paralyzed body into a hole. (True!) Because that brings up the issue of the other entomological wildlife in Virginia, this veritable statewide Jurassic Park for insects. But more on that later.

    Have a look at this unholy beast:

    Disgusting. And not merely because he still hasn’t redeemed that Groupon to have his webhole bleached.

    I’m pretty sure this is the same bastard from the second picture in this photographic essay (industry term). There were easily dozens of this particular repulsive and horrifying variety all over. Some were just easier to photograph than others. And might I, once again, point out those pedipalps? This vile creature could bench press a freaking cicada.

    I alluded to other heinous bugs. These leaping hellions, for instance:

    Is it just me or does the one on top, with its abhorrent insectoid features, somehow manage to look indignant at being photographed? (But, hell, if such glares were enough to detract me from snapping pictures of hideous creatures furiously engaged in an unholy act, my Tumblr page of fat, bearded men in their sixties in the bushes at San Onofre wouldn’t be getting so many hits, right?)

    Where was I? Ah yes – walk across the lawn and these foul creatures fly up all around you in enormous numbers. I, and now you, can’t help but to find it amusing that in such a God-fearing part of the country, these locusts are busy procreating in anticipation for when the Creator orders up a new plague. (As though the never-ending profusion of stinkbugs He’s already sent wasn’t enough!)

    Speaking of Him, what in God’s name is this abomination?

    Don’t bother answering. No one knows. Apparently I’ve discovered a new species of freaky, disgusting bug with a tail nearly the length of its reptilian body that we must assume is razor sharp, stronger than steel, and can puncture flesh and bone to deliver a deadly toxin – for which there is no antidote – directly to the heart. I shall name it Musca colubrus daemonus ted parsnippus, or Ted’s Demon Serpent Fly. Why don’t one of you get started on the Wikipedia page for it for me?

    Virginia doesn’t just have gigantic spiders, locusts and stinkbugs by the truckload and Ted’s Demon Serpent Flies™, oh heavens no, that would never be enough. Jesus. It also has those coronary-causing house centipedes.

    From US Department of Agriculture Chief Entomologist Charles Lester Marlatt’s 1902 masterwork “Circular #48 – The House Centipede”:

    Now you know why I stopped wearing women’s clothes.

    And don’t even get me started on the horrifying monster locally known as the “bell hornet” or as it should be known, the “Hell Hornet.” And I’m capitalizing it to show it respect.

    Once again – on my computer screen…? Life-size, folks. Life-freakin’-size!

    Now I’ll say this: It’s unclear exactly what type of evil, stinging monster bedevils the good glade-people of Hill, Virginia because “bell hornet” is indeed a regional name for this winged horror – the few references to “bell hornet” I can find online seem to be from folks in this part of the state (which is kind of refreshing, right – that local colloquialisms still exist, right?). The above photo is actually of a European hornet, from a European website, taken in the proud country of Europe.

    But everything I’ve read about these malevolent European giants dovetail (hornet-tail?) with what I was told as well as witnessed firsthand in Virginia – they’re enormous, they destroy apples right on the tree, their sting burns for days, they are active at night and attracted to light – and the ones I saw looked just like this!

    The relaxing tranquility we were enjoying one evening at local hotspot Field View Tavern was shattered by the sudden and house-shaking pounding on a sliding patio door – a bell hornet looking for fresh victims. Disaster was thankfully averted before the glass gave out only when one of the proprietors managed to scare it off with a crossbow. But they knew the hornet would be back. Hopefully, they’ll again be ready for it.

    I think we’ve cleansed our palate enough. Back to the spiders.

    The lion’s share – or lion spider’s share, if such a spider exists, and I think at this point we can all presume it does exist and lives in Virginia – the lion spider’s share of enormous Virginia spiders will of course be found in the state’s copious fields and meadows, where they don’t bother building dainty little frou-frou webs but rather actively stalk their prey – insects, field mice, voles, woodchucks, livestock and, yes, in the cases where ranchers have developed a tenuous but symbiotic relationship with the ferocious arachnids,  the occasional trespasser.

    Don’t believe me? Well, then just try to step into that yonder meadow there.

    I reckon you won’t make it past the barbed wire.

    Posted by on September 13, 2012, 11:18 AM.

  9. Of Spinnehunds and Stinkbugs!

    AS YOU KNOW, each fall the Parsnips head to the glades of Hill, Virginia for a few days of horrifying spider-peeping. We usually go in October to witness the herds of magnificent, nightmare-inducing Daddy-Long-Legs descending from the mountains for the coming winter. But Courtney is on a stupid field hockey team and has stupid field hockey games almost every weekend next month and so apparently now we’re supposed to rearrange our entire vacation schedule around the “needs” of our children. (This is exactly why I haven’t encouraged Jacob to join anything at school – I’m not making that mistake twice!)

    So we missed out on the Daddies (thanks, Courtney), but by going early, we were there for the tail-end of their now summer-long Stinkbug Festival!

    It started off just a few years ago as “Stinkbug Days” but as this adorably pungent and hardy invasive species has multiplied exponentially and adapted to Virginia’s climate, it was decided to extend the event all season long.

    Look! Look!  Way off in the distance, beyond that cluster of trees, you can see the festival’s famous stinkbug-shaped blimp!

    The blimp takes folks up over the thick, black clouds of swarming stinkbugs to get a “stinkbug’s-eye view” of all the damage this mischievous little fellow has done to the local soybean crop, decimating the area’s economy. Adorable!

    We followed the airship to the fairgrounds where we enjoyed stinkbug tea (actually just iced tea a few stinkbugs fell into), stinkbug chili-cheese fries (regular chili-cheese fries a handful of stinkbugs clumsily dive-bombed onto), stinkbug funnel cakes (apparently they got into the batter), and a local delicacy –  fresh, raw stinkbugs (technically, a couple just flew into Jacob’s mouth when he yawned).

    What a wonderful time! Even getting stranded at the top of the Ferris wheel for three hours in the scorching sun and steaming humidity – after a mega-cluster of stinkbugs, attracted by the heat of the engine that powers the ride, crawled into the motor and irreparably burned it out – couldn’t dampen our spirits!

    Ah, memories to last a lifetime. (Nearly a week later and Courtney’s still pulling the little marmorated guys out of her hair.) But as delightfully malodorous the stinkbugs were, we were in town for the gross and enormous spiders.

    Brother, we weren’t disappointed!

    First thing you want to do when heading out on a Virginia spider safari is you want to rent a spinnehund from a local doggery. Don’t be fooled! Its small size belies its fierceness and bravery.

    These animals have been specially bred to fearlessly run into Virginia’s vicious field spider burrows and roust them out. They’re quick, too – much faster than the spiders they go after – and this breed has, over generations, developed a tolerance for Virginia field spider venom, should an angry arachnid manage to get its disgusting, hairy pedipalps on him. What would instantly kill you or me only temporarily stuns the small but brave spinnehund.

    This particular breed has been developed to also wrangle the more aggressive Virginia road spider. His coat helps him to blend into the pavement so the eight-legged bastard cannot see him as easily. Can you find our rent-a-dog in the photo above? Oh, look carefully, he’s there!

    With our trusty spinnehund packed neatly away in my napsack (A misnomer, really – there’s no napping with gigantic and deadly Virginia spiders around every corner. In fact, once you come face-to-pedipalps with one of these ferocious and bloodthirsty creatures, you’ll likely never sleep again) we were ready to see some spiders! Big, nasty, disgusting spiders! And hoo boy, we did!

    Tomorrow: Spider gallery!  Oh yes – there will be pedipalps!

    Posted by on September 12, 2012, 12:03 PM.

  10. ¿What’s Bueno? E-Z Eats Country Fried Beef Fingers!

    VERY little time here, folks – I’ve made a wager with some fellows at the club and am now on a race around the world with my trusted valet/irritating Filipino houseboy Kenji.

    Thankfully I’ve taken the precaution of scheduling in advance a bunch of these insipid What’s Bueno at the 99¢ Only Store posts that are nonetheless the lifeblood of this blog. Well, what do you know – here comes one now!

    E-Z Eats! Country Fried Beef Fingers

    Man, if you’ve got a hankerin’ for some good old-fashioned country fried beef fingers – deeelicious breaded strips of beef in a handy carrying cup – look no further than E-Z Eats Country Fried Beef Fingers! They microwave up just as quick as you please and—

    …Okay, okay, I can’t go through with it; I just can’t do it. These things were atrocious. Now I’m going to have to win the bet, if only to be able to return all that money to the country fried beef finger industry.

    Posted by on September 9, 2012, 6:00 AM.

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