Dear Ides of March,
It may be tempting fate to say it, but I am not scared. Not the least bit wary. Should I be? How did an expression that originally meant “Look out Caesar! You’re gonna get stabbed today!!” turn into some kind of universal superstition about March 15th? Ok, I wouldn’t call it a universal superstition – it’s not like the average person gets out of bed today and worries that a ladder’s gonna fall on them, or their cat’s gonna develop a cocaine habit, or that the milk that was juuust this side of fresh yesterday will SUDDENLY TURN WITH A VILE AND PUTRID VENGEANCE. “Beware the ides of March” is something only your Nana says anymore, to no consequence whatsoever. (Except for a roll of the eyes and a mental note to start doubling her meds.) Yup, “the Ides of March” can pretty confidently be added to the pile of obsolete expressions without too much worry that it’s going to spring back into vogue any time soon.
(…unless toga parties regain their 70s appeal. According to Wikipedia, in Rome the Ides are celebrated with an annual toga sprint through the streets, and there’s nothing like a boyish frat prank to make me fear for my life! I don’t know about you, but an all-male street riot with optional bed sheets would give me MORE than enough reason to “beware” – I’ve lived through St. Patrick’s Day in midtown Manhattan.)
Anyway, I was thinking the other day about obsolete expressions: phrases like “radio silence” that, by virtue of the ever-accelerating march of time and progress, will be entirely meaningless to any person born after 1990. They may use the expression, in air quotes, as a quaint tip of the hat to their parents’ generation, but they will have no visceral sense of what it actually means. Not that that’s a bad thing – I mean why would they need to? Radio barely exists for ME anymore (aside from a few local or indie stations that I REALLY wish I could arm with enough money and wattage to blow the morning cockjocks and adult contempo shitpeddlers off the airwaves for good.) But I digress.
It was less a thought about linguistic nostalgia, and more about becoming aware that expressions I use with some – ahem – frequency (ie I repeat myself – like a certain parent I could name) are becoming extinct. Basically, the cognizance gap between me and the Millennials is widening, and into that gap is falling all kinds of sayings and figures of speech that shoot off bright metaphorical fireworks spelling out “OLD LADY HERE! DON’T SPEAK TOO LOUD OR EXPECT ME TO UNDERSTAND DONKEY PUNCHING!! JUST TURN ON DR. PHIL AND HAND ME A TUB OF ACTIVIA!!”
(The Millennials are the kids under 25, right? I can never remember if they’re separate from Gen Y or not. Either way, whoever thought of that label shafted an entire generation. You think “Generation X” is bad? “The Millennials” sounds like a straight-to-video buddy flick starring Chris Kattan and Keifer Sutherland as aliens who perform vaudeville in space.)
So yeah. I’ve been getting pretty cozy with my mortality lately. In its honor, I’ve assembled a list of expressions that, to me, represent the border of comprehension between my generation and the next; expressions that will drop dead right when we do* (then probably rise again once the Sexicentennials – or whatever the following generation will be called – discovers retro-irony and starts wearing Skechers the way 20-somethings today wear sweater vests and monocles.)
*Btw, it’s much harder to think of expressions that the next generation won’t get than cultural references – if it was a cultural literacy test I was after, I’d need go no further than one of the 3,000 facebook groups called You know you were a child of the 80s if you had a crush on Skeletor and wanked off to a Muppet . Finding figures of speech is MUCH harder. Just so you appreciate what I’ve done here…
- Radio Silence (now a modern classic!)
- Rolodex (as in “Open my Rolodex and help yourself to a cigar”)
- “Doing” lunch (I’m pretty sure lunchtime cuddling has supplanted lunchtime sex among the young)
- To “nuke” something (as in “I need to nuke this tomato soup; it’s a threat to our national security”)
- Dial Tone (as in “I’d like to paint my bathroom walls Dial tone, to match the soap”)
- Reasonable facsimile (as in “Saying that a document is ‘like the original’ is a reasonable fax simile.”)
- To “crunch numbers” (in the future all numbers will be smooth, like peanut butter)
- American Craftsmanship (ha!)
- Writing in “cursive” (redundant; in the future, written language will consist exclusively of swear words)
- “Telemarketing” (instead of marketing by phone, it will refer to buying groceries using one’s holographic avatar)
- To “carbon someone” (as in “I don’t know how to use this bong. Please carb me on it.”)
- Going postal (once postal mail is obsolete we’ll all be free to antagonize ourselves!)
Being the pretentious logophile that I am, a part of me actually enjoys the idea that someday no one will be able to understand what the hell I’m saying. My outdated witticisms will make me and my contemporaries seem wise, mysterious… adorably senile. It’ll be like having a generation-specific version of creepy twin language, or Vulcan! (Actually it’ll probably sound more like Vulcans speaking English – they do it with such a sexy, stoic formality, am I right?) I’ll be the cantankerous (but funny!) great aunt who all my nieces and nephews bring their friends to interview for their Technology Pre-History class. I’ll say “Speak through my ear chip; I can’t hear you! It’s like radio silence in here!” and they’ll laugh, recharge my electric heart, and fill my IV bag with bourbon (“Irished up” with a little whisky.) And once their kids are old enough, they’ll rediscover the quaint joys of speaking like an 80-year old in skinny jeans and Uggs. And me? I’ll just smile and tell them all about the Ides of March Riots of Twenty-Ott-Twelve.
If you’ve seen Booby Hatch on stage, in a questionable internet video, or at a potluck dinner you’ve probably wondered the same thing: “Wow…how’d you…come up with that?” The answer is complicated. But mostly it involves the four pillars of good sketch comedy: writing, re-writing, improvisation and vodka. We come up with fresh material by stretching our minds and dunking our hands into uncharted waters hoping to find a floater of fabulosity. In this post, you the reader can listen in as we plumb the depths of our own creative methods with the plunger of TMI:
* * *
INTERIOR: A plastic pink playhouse in the wilds of Central Park. Twilight.
Alex: Is this the part where we tell the nice people how the magic happens? Hmmm, ok. Hand me the tape recorder. (Fumbles with the buttons) So clothes are important. My writing wardrobe of choice is pajama pants, a Playtex 18 Hour Bra, and a foil beanie (it keeps the voices quiet.) If I’m writing alone, Bob Ross is on the TV and there’s a family-size martini nearby. (Actually, that’s probably true if I’m writing with Kath and Sabrina too.) I come to the table with a notebook of random ideas scribbled down while drunk on the subway or bored at funerals – you know, comedy GOLD! I recite my ideas out loud in French and if they’re not immediately greeted by a standing ovation, I storm off to pout in the bathroom for at least six hours, leaving broken lamps and (emotionally) shattered pets in my wake. Once the other ladies coax me out with Oreos soaked in wine, the sun has set and we fall asleep in a kitten pile. There, we mind-meld and write a sketch. Fun Fact: the idea for The Audition came from a sex dream we all had while watching Fame.
Sabrina: It’s true. Another Fun Fact: Booby Hatch was formed because Kath, Alex and I discovered we have joint sex-dreams, and we either had to form a sketch group to deal with the awkwardness or never speak again. Personally, my comedy juice is orange soda. And I know what you’re thinking, but you are WRONG, because you are thinking of one of those cheap, over-the-counter orange sodas like “Crush” or “Shazoo”–one of those neon orange deals that cures hangovers or strips the paint off of your imaginary car–and I am RIGHT, because I’m talking expensive, organic orange soda. It’s Nom de Rue’s “God’s Sunrise” and it costs $900 an ounce. I drink that stuff until the funny just bubbles out of me. Organic orange soda seems to kill subjectivity. We don’t need to ask ourselves “Is this funny?” because the answer is always yes. Do all the people who listen to “Suck It” on their iPods know that the “G” in the “props to the G” line refers to Robert Goulet? You bet they do. Is a Bea Arthur reference still funny if Bea died after we wrote the sketch? FUNNIER. Her ghost told us so in a sex dream. This soda is so great, it got me kicked out of the Eagle Scouts.
Alex: I had no idea you were an Eagle Scout.
Katharine: Right? And to think, my Girl Scout ass changed clothes in front of her, him, her. I’m so confused now…
Sabrina: I’m not sure that actually happened, Kath. I think that was sex dream #234. Remember? The one with all the Thin Mints? I kept yelling “Get a Hat!”? I think we filed that one under “Winky Funkerbeans.”
Alex: Yeah, that was the dream that won us the Honorable Mention at the Beaded Shag Amateur Burlesque Contest. Kath sure was flexib—(Kath wrestles the tape recorder from Alex.)
Katharine: I come to our writing sessions with notes and plans and the ability to throw it all away. Swallowing my pride is how I contribute to Booby Hatch. That and amazing poop/vomit jokes. There was this great sketch we did where we went to Narnia through a wardrobe to perform our rap ‘Suck It’ for all the woodland creatures! On our return home, we jumped up in joy from having such a wonderful adventure and I threw up on the floor. It was funny, trust me. And we filmed it in only five takes! Five times I kept warm creamed corn in my mouth, to do a spit take that we never ended up using. That is what I bring to Booby Hatch. A masochistic desire to F myself in the B.
Alex: The ‘F’ is for Fudgsicle, right?
Katharine: Yes. And the “B” is for balls.
A bear (in chaps and a Frankie Say Relax t-shirt) bursts into the playhouse and eats them.
* * * FIN * * *
So, as you can see a lot of effort and brainjuice (mixed with vodka) goes into the brilliance that you eventually watch on the computer while shelling peas or taking a crap. Sweat, tears and whole lotta Bloody Mary mix. And not all ideas make it from the page to the soundstage (hands off Busta – that rhyme is copyright-protected!!) Believe it or not, many ideas borne of Stoli and pillow fights can seem…less funny the morning after. Some even bring on a kind of “comedy blackout” where we read the garbled notes the following morning and have NO idea what we meant. Some of those gems are pasted below – maybe you can explain them?
- Pee Purée
- ‘Print is Dead’ the musical
- Empaňadas at the last supper
- Small Wonder: Slavery of a White Girl
- Immigration Comedy Hour
- Night Court with Puppets
- Wii Kegels
- The lesser known Disciple, John the Cheapskate bringer of Tupperware.
- The demure G spot
- Need to rehearse a murder? There’s an App for that.
- Schundler’s Lust
Toothbrushing, am I right? Who thought of that bullshit? “Hey everyone, let’s scrape hard plastic bristles against our tender pink gums! Poke around in our mouth crevices with teeny tiny spikes! And stinging peppermint disinfectant!!” Sure, the scrubbing may feel good at first. Until you see the blood. In your spit (what the HELL’s it doing there??) In the sink (DITTO!!) All of a sudden brushing seems barbaric, aggressive, violent. Like an unholy congress with a crafty porcupine, jabbing its spines under your gumline like it’s trying to knit a sweater from the leftover spinach stuck there since lunch.
Alright, I concede that I might be exaggerating juuuuust a tetch. It’s just that brushing my teeth has always been one of my least favorite rituals. (That said, I’d like to take the opportunity to reassure anyone reading this that I DO IT REGULARLY, AND WITH VIGOR.)
So before you judge me, and forward me all sorts of links to dental urban legends about “flossing”, hear me out. This morning was different.
This morning I enjoyed the saucy tickle of a new toothbrush that changed my life: so soft, it might as well have been made of chinchilla. Like a minty nuzzle from the Doublemint Twins, it felt like America. Sunshine. Warm laundry. I damn nearly danced out of the bathroom, ready for anything.
Yeah, that’s right: I keep my expectations low. Goal for the day = plaque-free teeth? DONE! What else ya got for me, Universe?? I may be a disappointment to myself, others, and all those who came before me, but I will no longer be held back by the Scylla and Charybdis of diamond-hard bristles and razor-sharp floss. EVERYTHING WILL BE BETTER FROM NOW ON!
Dissolve to: A tree-lined street on a Hollywood backlot. Cue jaunty horns!
I high-step along the street like I’m in a musical with Judy Garland from the 40s. She’s dressed as a friendly Technicolor wino. Judy smells great: a heady mix of Thunderbird and that mush-in-a-bowl the Hare Krishnas give out on Avenue A. She’s missing some teeth but hey – it’s charming, like she lost ‘em playing dice with Mickey Mouse instead of knocked out in a brawl with her dealer over two dollars. We fall into step together and grin, thumbs hooked into our suspenders and faces lifted to the sun. A syncopated bass line plays and we tip our faded, fraying hats to a campy extra who will go on to own an Arthur Murray franchise, then design orthopedic inserts for retired dancers. Our smiles widen, and we break into a song about the three precious teeth we got between us – they bring us luck and we ain’t never lettin’ ‘em go! Never mind the teeth we lost – that’s all in the past and THIS IS SHOWBIZ! Our dental hygiene routine involves a rag, some Old Granddad, and JAZZ.
Seriously though – Celebrities in the ‘40s had the right idea:
- Maintain your dental health through booze (WIN!)
- Turn tooth loss into a hilarious comedy chestnut
- Spend your sunset years hawking denture cream
Truly, it is the American Comedy Dream. And I am living it.