Adam Selzer's Blog

November 25, 2014

Here's Imperial Commander, from the Return of the Jedi era of Kenner's Star Wars action figure line.  My friends and I used to call him "The Imperial Stockbroker," and he used his evil skills at middle management, corporate cronyism, teambuilding, and insider trading to serve the Empire.

These same games also usually had Obi-Wan playing a crotchety old man who turned the hose on anyone who tried to get into the Rebel base, and Boba Fett as a kamikaze guy whose rocket pack was not a rocket at all, but a bomb strapped to his back. He would blow himself up at the base, but have just enough muscles left in his butt to crawl back to to his assistant manager, the Imperial Stockbroker.


Looking back, I'm a bit amazed that we had such a good sense of the absurdity and inherent comic possibilities of mid-level management meatballs, and while taking some pics of the new Rebels figures with the old guys, I found that the hang-dog expression on the Imperial Stockbroker's face was a gold mine. Taking shots of him is WAY more fun than taking selfies. So here are some emotive portraits, taken around town in the last couple days, when I've had about three days of continuing tour work, which I've been documenting on my instagram.

PORTRAITS OF AN IMPERIAL MID-LEVEL MANAGER:
Imperial Commander cruises through the galaxy, looking for the heart of Saturday night.

With an Olmec head that has roughly his same expression as him. 

"So, it was like the Death Star of Chicago?" Imperial Commander at the site of the H.H. Holmes "Murder Castle" in Englewood. 

Paris Street, Rainy Day
In an early 19th century painting.
"Yes, m'lord. The Empire must establish an outpost in Canada..."

"He'd look good in a hologram."



Diagon Alley, London. Lots of people trying to scare me with their sorcerer's ways...



Off to the next adventure...




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Published on November 25, 2014 05:19

November 18, 2014

Archaeologists and paleontologists debate a lot of points regarding the ways that our ancient ancestors lived, but they’re in a agreement about several things.  They are reasonably sure that the rate of autism was far lower for babies born thousands of years ago, for instance, and skeletal remains indicate that obesity was not the epidemic 12,000 years ago that it is today (ever seen an obese skeleton? Neither have we! “Big bones” are a myth).  
We also know that our ancient ancestors jumped off many more cliffs than we do.
We know what you’re thinking: “Why would they have had to jump off of cliffs?” Well, it’s obvious if you think about it. For one thing, some times jumping off a cliff was the only way to get away from a woolly mammoth. For another, elevators hadn’t been invented yet. Even stairs were in their infancy, and our ancestors were wise enough to know that escalators are actually really problematic. Even when they weren't being chased, the best way for them to get from high ground to sea level, where much of their food was found, was by jumping off a cliff. They lived the benefits of cliff jumping every day, and so can you!
Here are five reasons to go jump off a cliff right now: 
1. Vertical Thrust    The sudden movement of the particles in your body - known as the vertical thrust - that comes from jumping off of a cliff accelerates your atoms, energizing your skin at a tremendous rate. 
2. Endorphins - without the smell! The energy burst you get from a cliff jump is incredible - each 10 feet you jump is equal to one cup of coffee, without the afternoon slump. There’s no chemical substitute for releasing endorphins and getting your adrenaline pumping the way jumping off a cliff does. You can get a similar "high" by running, but think of the smell! By the time you’ve run enough to equal the rush of a 20 foot cliff jump, you’d be stinking something fierce.
3. Well, maybe SOME smell...Did you know that people who were being hanged often evacuated their bowels in the process? It’s true! And it was partly because of the downward jolt, which you can recreate by (you guessed it) jumping off a cliff! A cliff jump dump (known as "C.J.D." on message boards for cliff jump practitioners) is not only deeply cleansing,  but many report that it feels “more natural” than modern toilets, and many report that jumping off a cliff with a baby leads to earlier potty-training, among other benefits. Note: this is also why jumping off a cliff naked is usually better than just plain jumping off a cliff. For one thing, you don't mess up your pants. For another, it's probably how our paleo-ancestors did it!
4. Collective ConsciousnessFollowing the crowd (or, as our paleo-ancestors called it, “Running with the Herd” (RHD on the boards)), makes you feel connected. Get into jumping off a cliff every morning, and you’ll find a whole new family of die-hards ready to support you online! Also, the more people get involved in this exciting trend, the more mental energy will collect at popular cliff-jumping spots, leaving positive vibes for everyone.  Standing with your friends and knowing you’ve all just jumped off a cliff makes you feel far closer, far more like “chosen family,” than standing around knowing you’re all on the same social media sites (again, especially if you're all butt naked). Turn off the screens, strip down, and get jumping!
5. Jump Away from Modern Problems!Autism and obesity are only a couple of the issues that earlier people - people from the age of the cliff jump - didn’t deal with as much as we do. Hardening of the arteries, graying of the hair, liver spots, varicose veins… none of these things have ever been found in fossilized remains or early humans. It may just be because everyone died in their 20s back then, but couldn’t it also be because they all used to jump off a cliff? Forget the skeptics and so-called “experts.” Jumping off a cliff has benefits we're only beginning to understand.  So, get started! One of the best things about cliff jumping is that you don’t need a lot of fancy equipment - just a cliff and your (preferably nude, see #3) body. Get up a good run, then JUMP at the last second. For added fun, shout out "YAAA hoo hoo hoo hooie," like Goofy, or hold up a sign that says "Uh oh" right before you begin your descent, like Wile E. Coyote. Be warned, the landing at the end can be very painful, but the pain just shows you that it’s working! 

note: this is just because I posted a thing saying I was drinking a cup of coffee out of a bell pepper because the internet told me to, and someone asked if I'd jump off a cliff if the internet told me to. Don't jump off a cliff for real.       (also, I'm not making fun of autism, just the tendency of articles to link autism to gluten, carbs, lack of acai, or whatever it is this week). 
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Published on November 18, 2014 18:13

November 6, 2014

A friend recently posted a challenge on facebook. He kept running into the following quote attributed to Groucho Marx:

"Each morning when I open my eyes I say to myselfI, not events, have the power to make me happy or unhappy today. I can choose which it shall be. Yesterday is dead, tomorrow hasn't arrived yet. I have just one day, today, and I'm going to be happy in it."

This was driving him nuts; anyone who knows thing 1 about Groucho Marx would have a hard time imagining Groucho saying anything like this. The man never seemed to be happy a day in his life. It sounds more like AA recovery-speak or something. Yet, the quote shows up, attributed to Marx, on innumerable webpages, books of inspirational quotes, and such-like.
A blotter given to school kids by
The brown trading stamp co
(obviously), reprinted in the
Jersey Journal in 1906
This is just the kind of detective work I like to do - it comes up a lot in the ghostlore research, particularly the upcoming Ghosts of Lincoln book - so I got right on it. The quote seems to have first become commonly attributed to Marx in the late 1990s, thought it did appear in a newspaper in the early 1970s, where it was presented as a philosophy that worked for Groucho. No source was given, though.

Working on the assumption that the quote that's being spread around probably isn't an exact quote, I started looking up stray phrases from it, and found a few similar things. Slogans along those lines appeared in ads and lists of inspirational lines from time to time throughout the early 20th century; my favorite was a list of advice from the Brown Trading Stamps co that was apparently given to school children in the early 20th century. #6 is "have all the fun you can today; yesterday is dead and tomorrow has not yet been born. #11 was "using Brown Trading Stamps will make you happy. (#s 3 and 19 had similar advice).

I finally hit paydirt with a 1955 article where commedian Danny Thomas told the story of a 104 year old contestant on Groucho's You Bet Your Life TV show had said a very similar quote when Groucho asked him the secret of a long, happy life  - something to do with "When a man wakes up, he can choose to be happy or unhappy, I choose to be happy."

That being a heck of a clue, I started looking up more things of that nature and found two columns Groucho wrote in the early 1950s in which answered frequently-asked questions. One o them was "who has been your favorite contestant?" In both columns he mentioned several, but both times included Hannus Von Yannah, a 102 year old contestant, who had created a bit of a sensation by saying something of that nature. Here's the 1951 version:


And the 1952 version, with a slightly different version of the quote in question:

Now, this still left open the question of whether all of this really happened, exactly. I couldn't find a thing about Hannus Von Yannah being a real person from  quick search, and it seemed entirely plausible that Groucho just made the thing up.  There was a 102 year old man on an episode of the You Bet Your Life TV show that was easy to find on youtube, but when Groucho asks him the secret of a long life, the man says "I eat whatever I want." And that episode is from 1958, years after the columns.
A bit more poking hit paydirt again: A widely-circulated column by Erich Brandeis in April, 1951 reconted the story of hearing a recent episode of You bet Your Life (the radio version, not the TV show), in which a 102 year old Scandinavian said that he chose to be happy every day. Brandeis then went into a little sermon about why that was such a great philosophy.
All that this left was to find the actual show. Like most old time radio shows, it's easy enough to find most episodes simply by googling. Most are in the public domain and easy to download for free. In this case, since no exact date was given, the name Hannus Von Yannah only led to Groucho's columns, and "102 year old man" only brought up the 1958 TV show, I simply downloaded a bunch of March and April, 1951 episodes and browsed through them.
And there it was: on the March 28, 1951 episode, one of the contestants in the second half of the program said he was 102 years old, born in January, 1851. The first president he remembered was Abraham Lincoln  - "You must be pretty old to remember a Republican president!" said Groucho. He then asked him, "What is the secret of long life, longevity?" The man replied, "I think the secret of longevity is to be happy. Every day a man wakes up, he has the choice whether he will be happy or unhappy. I have chosen to be happy." "That's a wonderful philosophy," said Groucho.  You can download the episode for free here. 
So, there you have it. Like many lists of inspiration quotes, the attribution is shaky, at best. I've learned this the hard way; the Leonard Cohen quotes I worked into a zombie romance satire a few years back get attributed to me by skin care companies who post inspiration quotes on twitter all the time. 
Now, what a skin care company would be doing looking in a zombie book for skin care tips, I'll never know. 


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Published on November 06, 2014 06:22 • 4 views

November 1, 2014

Well, I was all over the media this past week! That's October in the ghost busting biz. It seemed like every day I was doing a phone interview, taking a meeting, talking with someone who was researching an article, or going to a radio studio for an interview. Here are some highlights:

Pretty Late with Patti Vasquez on WGN had me back to talk about Play Me Backwards and some local ghost stories. I love this show! I come in at about the 37 minute mark. Patti had first hand accounts of the supposedly haunted Hooters at Erie and Wells (a location that always gives me a chance to talk about grave robbing - my favorite thing!)

WBEZ Curious City met up with me twice to record segments for their story on local ghost stories (The Iroqouis Theatre and Resurrection Mary)


And RedEye did a whole spread:

Adam Selzer in the RedEye, Oct 2014

Adam Selzer in the RedEye, Oct 2014 page 2




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Published on November 01, 2014 07:31 • 3 views

October 18, 2014

Excerpted from The Smart Aleck's Guide to Bootleg Soda, our soda syrup recipe book. It's not every textbook company that has its own in-house beverage! Most of them just drink a lot of gin.


PUMPKIN ROOT BEER (Staff Pick)
One taste of this and we knew: this is why there is a Smart Aleck Staff. So we could make stuff like this. Sure, we’re also good for making fun of historical hats, teaching subtle lessons about info literacy and contextualizing history, but this may be our finest accomplishment.

This quickly became our in-house root beer. It may look like there’s not THAT much root beer in it, but the flavor of the root beer syrup is a stronger than the flavor of the pumpkin spice syrup, really, and, after all, root beer is really just a spice soda to begin with. This is a particularly spicy version of root beer that has just a bit of pumpkin in it, which makes it a fantastic autumn soda to pair with stews. Like “Pineapple Habanero,” this is one flavor that we mention to people just to see their mouths water. And it lives up to the hype!
We made it from mixing two syrup bases together, so there’s a bit of work involved here: One COULD make it all at once, but we haven’t been able to fully replicate the results in one saucepan yet that we get from combining the bases. You can just up the level of cloves and cinnamon in the root beer base and toss in some pumpkin, though, and the results will probably be just fine.  

This is our two-syrup method:
MODIFIED BLONDE ROOT BEER BASE (without the honey or vanilla):1/4 cup sarsaparilla (or 1/8th cup sarsaparilla and 1/8th cup sassafras roots, if you have some)2 star anise pods, freshly ground5 whole cloves1 teaspoon orange zest3 small mint leaves1.5 teaspoons fresh ginger5 allspice berriesDash of nutmegDash of fennelDash of coriander1.5 teaspoon cinnamon1/2 teaspoon of freshly squeezed orange juice2 cups


 As with the colas, you can also try a tiny bit of gum arabic (web link) (for a fuller “mouth feel.”) Or a tiny dash of citric acid. Add a couple cups of water - you can use a bit more here than you would in some recipes. The amount of liquid left after straining tends to be lower than you’d think with this one. Some people even put in 4 cups of water to 1/4 cup sarsaparilla.Simmer all ingredients for 30 minutes, then strain. 
Pumpkin Spice Base:1 cup water3 teaspoons canned pumpkin1.5 teaspoons ground cinnamon1.5 teaspoons ground cloves
Simmer spices and pumpkin in water for 20 minutes, stirring to make sure the pumpkin is dissolved, and strain. Use whole cloves and cinnamon sticks if you feel like it and want some extra artisan points. Even if you use the ground stuff, though, you’ll want to stir thoroughly and strain it, or you’ll get a chalky syrup in the end.
TO MAKE PUMPKIN ROOT BEER SYRUP:
Ingredients:1 part modified blonde root beer base 2 parts pumpkin spice base6 part sugar
Combine one part root beer base with two parts pumpkin spice base (the root beer flavor will still dominate). Mix the combined liquids with sugar (1 part liquid to 2 parts sugar) in a saucepan and bring to a boil, stirring constantly. Remove from heat at once and let cool. Mix one part of the resulting syrup with 4-8 parts carbonated water. 

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Published on October 18, 2014 10:03 • 2 views

September 4, 2014

Reviews for PLAY ME BACKWARDS are trickling in this week, and I couldn't be happier with them!

Cite Something calls it "immensely readable" and says it will have "wide appeal...this one will be easy to move off the shelves." (boy, I hope so!)

YA Books Central says that the book is "hysterical, disgusting, endearing, perfect."

A Staff Recommendation from Mabel's Fables, an indie book shop, calls the book a masterpiece and compares it to the second Meat Puppets album, which, they note, Kurt Loder once called a "cultural trash compactor." I've never been compared to a trash compactor in a five star review before, but I'll take it.

Benni the Blog calls it honest, sincere and funny.

Falling for YA  liked it, as well.

VOYA gave it a 9/10 (which counts as a starred review, according to S&S) and called it "hilariously subversive, but also tender and poignant."

I've been compared to Rob Thomas, Stephen Chbosky, Andrew Smith, and Seth Macfarlane in various reviews. One noted that the whole book had her humming Mountain Goats song, which I sort of hoped would happen. There's one whole chapter composed of the sort of clever similes about love that populate so many Mountain Goats tunes :)

I know of a few more are coming this week, so I'll add to this post as they come.
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Published on September 04, 2014 06:34 • 6 views

August 22, 2014

So they’re showing every episode of The Simpsons, in order, over the next 12 days on FXX. I just spent the summer showing highlights of the series to my eleven year old stepson, and now I’m sitting here, watching episode after episode and getting a bit misty, remembering where I was when I first saw this one and remembering where I was when I first saw them. I’m transported back to my old house in suburban Des Moines, my grandma’s old house, my friends’ old houses…classrooms where we’d talk about the show, break rooms at my first job that had a little TV…. this marathon is like watching my life flashing before my eyes.

One promo clip keeps saying "There's no way you've seen them all." But I have. I haven't re-watched the last 10-15 seasons nearly as much as I have the first 10, but I've been watching religiously since the old days. Sometimes I used to have to go to great lengths to see episodes that got delayed due to football so the VCR didn't get it, but I always managed it in the end.

 Here are some thoughts and memories, to be updated as I go along. It's really just for my own amusement and nostalgia, but I'd love to hear what YOU remember about the old days of these early episodes.
SEASON 1
“Bart the Genius.” This was the first episode I saw; I was watching when it first aired. Official pilot, if you don’t count the Christmas special, which I missed. i remember the newspaper TV guide had an article called “The Simpsons breaks all rules, gets prime time shot.” I watched this at my grandparents’ house in Windsor Heights, Iowa. Grandpa laughed a lot, but the next time we were over and the show came on he grumbled and said he didn’t like this show.   It's one of my last memories of him.

I was in third grade. The Bart Craze started right up; my dad tried to give me the “Bart” haircut I wanted in our family room using pinking sheers. It didn’t work.

“There’s No Disgrace Like Home.”  I was in my grandma’s basement for this one, watching on the boxy old TV with a wired remote control thingie....  

“Bart the General” - the ‘war with nelson’ and the one where he goes to France in season 1 were episodes that stood out for me this season; it was a big, big deal five years later when we finally saw them again in syndication. It’s easy to forget now how previous season episodes of a show were hard to find back then.

“The Tell Tale Head” I remember my mom saying “Looks like Bart is falling in with a bad crowd” and using this to give me a little talk about peer pressure. I was about that age. 
SEASON 2
“Bart Gets an F” may have been my first experience with a “water cooler.” There was a lot of discussion in my fourth grade class about whether Bart really should have passed the fourth grade or not. 
“Homer vs Lisa an the 8th Commandment” - I missed this one when it first aired; I was excited about it after hearing a radio ad (I specifically remember being in the car in the parking lot of the mall), but for some reason I didn’t catch the episode until a re-run, during which I was at a friend’s house in Omaha.
The rest of season two I have vague memories of catching in my parents’ bedroom, in grandma’s basement again, and sometimes in my own family room.
SEASON 3
It was during Season 3 that I noticed that this show had gotten REALLY good. The animation was better than it had been before, and the writing was “smart” in a way that I hadn’t really been conscious of in other shows. It occurred to me that the lack of a laugh track, in addition to being animated, allowed them to do comedy in a way that other shows could never do. It was all in the timing. “Radio Bart” stood out for me in particular, and the “to be continued” tag at the commercial break for “Separate Vocations." It was this year that I started saying The Simpsons was my favorite show; it had been Full House before.
For “Bart the Lover” I remember seeing the first ten minutes - the part with the yo-yo team - at Gold Medal, the baseball card store at Merle Hay Mall, where I would have been buying Marvel Comic Cards, which was my gateway out of baseball cards and into comic book collecting. The store is gone now - the whole basement level of that mall is gone, along with the statue of the naked guy with angel wings riding a tricycle that used to be in the main walkway.
Some months after “Homer at the Bat” aired, my friend Seth wrote up a parody of Talkin’ Softball about the ’92 election. It went “Well Bush be in the bushes hunting Quayle….Clinton claims he’s from the south, but he’s runnin’ away at the mouth with his campaign….we’re talking ODD BALL / describin’ Ross Perot! / talking screwwww ballll….”    I knew “talking baseball,” the original, from a Baseball’s Greatest Hits tape they sold at K-Mart and had memorized; i’m not sure if Seth knew the original or not, but I think every kid in town had that tape.

Around the time this one first aired, Spring of 92, I was graduating Cub Scouts and went to an orientation for Boy Scouts. When they told me the meetings were on Thursday at 7pm, I blurted out "That's when the Simpsons comes on!" A few people groaned, looked at me with scorn, and said "So what?" I didn't join the Boy Scouts.

"The Otto Show"  "Hail to the Bus Driver" is sort of a mystery song; I run a blog tracing the origins of songs like that called Playground Jungle, and as far as I could tell, this episode was the earliest "publication" of the song. But it was already a known thing; I remember going around singing it right after the episode aired at a post-production party for the cast of a play I was in a the Des Moines Playhouse, and some other kid bragged that he'd learned it at camp a year or two before - an early instance of someone slagging me off for not being into something before it was famous. A couple of years later, when I got Metallica tickets and dreams of the show came nightly, I usually imagined it would be just about like the Spinal Tap concert in the episode.

"Bart's Friend Falls in Love" was a standout, one that I considered my favorite episode ever at the time. I loved the Indiana Jones parody at the beginning, and the "Homer Says: Learn These Words" tag at the end. No other show was doing stuff like this - little surprises and easter eggs that made you have to tape the show so you could hit pause and see it again. Of course, now just about every show does it. I've often wondered how much the perceived decline in the show's quality over the years is really a decline in quality, not just that the show isn't as revolutionary now that a few generations of shows building on it  have come and gone.   The line "there stands a broken man...it's recess everywhere but in his heart" is still one of my favorite lines from the show, ever.

 Interestingly, my brother says he missed this one when it first aired and thought it was a new one when he first saw it in syndication (he didn't know quite how syndication worked at the time). Syndication was still a few years off.
SEASON 4

"Kamp Krusty."  Sixth grade. I started hanging out with Seth, my first equally-obsessed friend.  One day in class we were talking excitedly about how it was "Simpsons Night" and a few people gave us odd looks. "You guys still watch that show?"

The episode that night was Kamp Krusty, one of the finest episodes of them all, and the opening of Season 4. Season 3 was great, but somehow Season 4 took things to new heights.

For my money, the show really hit the peak of its powers in season 4-6, but during that whole period, no one seemed to know how good it was. The Bart Craze was pretty much over by then, and a lot of people seemed to forget there had ever been a show attached to it. It wasn't until the show had been in syndication for a year or two that I started hearing people talk about how it was a "thinking man's cartoon" and seeing articles listing it among the top sitcoms ever - all through middle school, I'd get weird looks when I told people I watched this show, and weirder ones when I talked about how good it was.  But when syndication DID start, I was in 8th grade, working my first job as a bag boy at Hy-Vee Grocery Store; when this episode came on in the break room, people recited the dialogue along with the show. Knowing that The Simpsons was awesome felt like being in on a secret back then.

Now my stepson is going into sixth grade, just the age I was when this one came out. The Simpsons Lego mini-figs got him more interested in watching the show this past summer, so we watched several together. It was the biggest rite of passage of fatherhood for me since sharing my Star Wars toys with him when he was five. This was one of the first ones I showed him.

"Lisa the Beauty Queen" - this is the one with Bart dealing three card monte at the school carnival. By this time my sixth grade lunch table was the bane of the school - we were always in trouble for our rowdy antics. After this episode, whenever we were getting in trouble, I suggest we rob the school bank, use the money for bus fare to Italy, and make a living dealing three card monte on the street. It seemed hilarious at the time. 
Thoughout this season I'm having random flashes of remembering watching it in my old family room, or in my grandma's basement, or my parents' bedroom (where I'd be relegated to watch TV if people were watching something else downstairs). I'm gonna be at work when the Monorail episode comes on. And it looks like I have to get an ice water bucket on my head right around the time that "Last Exit to Springfield" comes on. I remember thinking both of those were a-listers when they aired, and arguing with Seth in gym class over whether Mr. Burns's "Listen to them singing.." routine was a reference to The Grinch or Horton Hears a Who. I didn't get most of the references in these episodes at the time; I'd never seen Citizen Kane or read Ahab's last speech in Moby Dick. Even now I'll still see something that clears up a reference to an episode I've been watching and rewatching for 20 years. This tought me a valuable lesson for kids book writers: kids don't have to get all your references right away. If they don't get them til later, they might end up liking your book more in the long run. I've never been hesitant to work Nixon jokes into kids books.

"The Front" - got back home and done with work in time to catch this one. The Itchy and Scratchy outing that ends with them just saying "Kids: Say No to Drugs!" inspired a sketch comedy thing my brother and I would do - he would play "Mark, the Quick and Clumsy," a once-great athlete who now couldn't run down the street without getting hit by a car, etc. He'd end every sketch by saying "Say no to drugs, kids!"

Overnight, I slept through "Treehouse of Horror IV," the one with the Dracula parody. Still probably my favorite. My freshman year of high school, I convinced the seniors in the theatre department that I was cool by knowing the hand motions one should do when saying "Super Fun Happy Slide!" This was a few years in the future yet, though.

"Homer the Vigilante" I remember watching on our old blue and white checked couch, using this remote control whose battery cover looked like a Pac Man ghost. Really an under-rated episode, if you ask me. I remember talking with Seth about what the chase scene at the end was based on, but I can't remember if we knew.

My 7am #SimpsonsSelfie: "Say the line, Bart!" I think I was in my grandma's house when this one aired; I seem to remember watching it in her basement.


After that episode we came to a run that I just watched with my stepson, so I tied an onion to my belt and wandered around Chicago. Grandpa said "it was the style at the time," and I'm bringing it back. 

SEASON 5

"Sweet Seymour Skinner's Badasssss Song" I remember this one VERY well. In the family room. Same blue couch. This was the 100th episode, and they aired it along with "Bart the Genius," the first episode of Season 1 proper. Reruns hadn't started, so I hadn't seen a season one episode in about 3-4 years - ages to a seventh grader. A couple of days later during a bike ride on Douglas Ave, Seth and I talked about how weird Homer's voice seemed.   During promos I remember Kelsey Grammar saying "May you make a hundred more."  I remembered that when they got to 200. And 300. And 400.....   I rewatched the tape I made over and over. At one point, I had every episode on VHS. Took up a lot of space here in my small apartment, though.

"The Boy Who Knew Too Much."  I've quoted the "hey kid...you wanna see a dead body?" line in ghost tours nightly for years. You can find room for that line on every route. Sometimes I'll just say it to passers-by from the doorway of the bus.

SEASON 6

It was around this time that I went into eighth grade and the show went into syndication. Seth was concerned that "Simpsons Night" would be less special, and maybe he was right. But season 6 was the series at the very height of its powers, my favorite of them all. And still, people would say "you still watch The Simpsons?"

"Lisa's Rival" I remember watching at  Superbowl party - just googled around and confirmed that Fox aired it against the Superbowl in 1995. A few of us dorks snuck away from the game to watch The Simpsons. I brought a two liter "Coke II," the rebranding of "new Coke," to the party, and one girl said "I knew he would bring something weird." This was the height of my Star Wars action figure collection days (a hobby that dominated my life in middle school, back when you could still find them at garage sales), so I loved Ralph using them as his "diorama," though the geek in me noted that packaged Star Wars action figures didn't look anything like they did here (though later some later series of them did, now that I think about it......). I might have missed the original airing; I was working props at a play in the basement of the Playhouse at the time, and you never knew when a VCR would mess up, a game would get slid by a football game, etc.

"Itchy and Scratchy Land."  I remember seeing this at Grandma's house, same TV as we watched "Bart the Genius" on. It wasn't one of my favorites then, but is now. A few weeks ago on a family vacation/reunion I asked my brother to pick his top 10 to show my stepson, and this was the first one we watched. I hadn't seen it without syndication cuts in ages. It aired October 2, 1994. That's a month that stands out for me as a big one. I was working in the theatre, got my first REAL job bagging groceries, was starting to talk with the family about moving to Atlanta. On the day before this aired I went on a bike ride around town that was nothing special, but I felt fantastic. I had a song I thought of as "artsy" stuck in my head and it was nice and gray outside. Halloween decorations were going up. It's weird, but it felt like such a momentous day that I tried to do something cool after October 1st that came after. Years later I started saying that day was the first day I felt like the person I grew up to be. Ten years to the day later I moved from Atlanta to Chicago. This is getting me all nostalgic. It'll be twenty years since that day in about six weeks. So much of my life has changed since then. I'm a grown-up now. My stepson is about the age I was then. We weren't even online yet back then. The whole world has changed.  But through it all, there's been The Simpsons, marking the time. Measuring my life like coffee spoons.  Excuse me.

"Sideshow Bob Roberts" - maybe I missed this when it first came on; I mostly remember seeing it in the apartment outside Atlanta where we lived for the Spring/Summer while we waited for the house to be built.There were quite a few early season 6 episodes that I think got messed up by football or something, because I didn't seem them til spring or summer. I was just starting to get my head around politics and figure out what "liberal" and "conservative" meant when Sideshow Bob ran for mayor. My parents weren't that political, at least around me (though I remember they caucused for Jesse Jackson in 1988). I knew they were for Clinton, though Grandma voted Bush. Now I was hearing about this Bob Dole guy who didn't like my favorite bands. Between this episode, and a MAD magazine thing about conservatives taking over Sesame Street around this time, I started to figure things out and figure out where I stood.

"Homer the Great" - the Stonecutters episode. We're getting close now to the time I moved away. I remember hearing a radio ad for this one when Seth and I were being driven to the flea market at the fairgrounds, where we went looking for 1980s action figures (mostly); the made a big deal out of Patrick Stewart being a guest star. We liked Star Trek: Next Gen quite a bit, so this was exciting. Loved the episode.

I'll be at work for the next stretch, which includes "Bart vs Australia" (maybe the last one I remember watching in Grandma's basement), "Lisa's Wedding" (which I saw 2/3rds of in Omaha, where I was visiting a friend. He was a bit shocked that I still watched The Simpsons, as I recall. Didn't see the first ten minutes for a long time). "The PTA Disbands" was the last one I watched in Des Moines, and the next one, in which Bleeding Gums Murphy dies, was the first one I saw in my bedroom in the apartment outside of Atlanta. I remember thinking they were really on a roll with great episodes at the time; a few weeks later came "Lemon of Troy," the war on Shelbyville, which has long been my go-to answer when someone asks for my absolute favorite. I remember calling Seth long distance and cracking up over this one. Now and then on a tour, when we're a space with a name in cement, I'll do the old "Who was this person? How did they write their name in solid cement?" line.

I'll get back right around time for "Who Shot Mr. Burns" part 1. After that one aired, my brother and I spent the whole summer watching it over and over, looking for clues. I remember how THRILLED we were when we noticed that "Pardon My Zinger," the comedy central show Smithers said he never missed, was playing in the scene in Moe's Tavern. We saw clues in every strange shape. Watching and re-watching that episode is the best thing I remember about that summer in the apartment, besides taking pleasant strolls out to the mailboxes to pick up rejection slips for my fantasy and horror stories. The rest of the time, we spent at the complex's pool, hanging around with a couple of girls, one of which I had a crush on mainly because there was no one else around to have a crush on. I can't remember if they liked The Simpsons, though I don't recall ever watching an episode with them. They were into shoplifting, mostly.


I remember my brother and I also having contests when reruns aired to see who could "Name the Episode" first. He recognized "Homer the Vigilante" in one frame. I'm still not sure if he'd checked the TV Guide or something. It beat hanging out with shoplifters.  There wasn't much else to do in that complex; back in Des Moines I'd been able to ride my bike to the comic book store, garage sales, the mall, and any number of places that sold candy and magazines. In Atlanta I was basically stranded until I could drive.

  When Part 2 finally aired, Mom guessed that the shooter would turn out to be Maggie, without having actually even seen part 1. Most of the TV references to Twin Peaks and Dallas were over my head at the time. I didn't get the Twin Peaks reference until just last year.

Overnight, I'll be sleeping through all of the other episodes I remember from the apartment, and the first ones from when we moved into our house. We missed "Treehouse of Horror VI" due to messing up on the VCR. This was devastating at the time; I love Halloween cartoons in general, and those episodes had always been highlights of the seasons. Shortly after ingratiating myself to the seniors in the drama dept with my knowledge of "THH IV," one of them told me that VI hadn't been all that good, really. That guy is now directing a Friday the 13th movie. I was in a play wit him about Wrigley Field bleacher bums; it took place about 3 miles from my current apartment. Small world.  When I finally did see THH VI, it really was a lackluster outing. The first of several lackluster THH outings, unfortunately. Perhaps this was the first crack in the wall.


TO BE CONTINUED throughout the marathon; I'll keep going through and adding as it goes. 
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Published on August 22, 2014 09:57 • 4 views
So they’re showing every episode of The Simpsons, in order, over the next 12 days on FXX. I just spent the summer showing highlights of the series to my eleven year old stepson, and now I’m sitting here, watching episode after episode and getting a bit misty, remembering where I was when I first saw this one and remembering where I was when I first saw them. I’m transported back to my old house in suburban Des Moines, my grandma’s old house, my friends’ old houses…classrooms where we’d talk about the show, break rooms at my first job that had a little TV…. this marathon is like watching my life flashing before my eyes.

One promo clip keeps saying "There's no way you've seen them all." But I have. I haven't re-watched the last 10-15 seasons nearly as much as I have the first 10, but I've been watching religiously since the old days. Sometimes I used to have to go to great lengths to see episodes that got delayed due to football so the VCR didn't get it, but I always managed it in the end.

 Here are some thoughts and memories, to be updated as I go along. It's really just for my own amusement and nostalgia, but I'd love to hear what YOU remember about the old days of these early episodes.
SEASON 1
“Bart the Genius.” This was the first episode I saw; I was watching when it first aired. Official pilot, if you don’t count the Christmas special, which I missed. i remember the newspaper TV guide had an article called “The Simpsons breaks all rules, gets prime time shot.” I watched this at my grandparents’ house in Windsor Heights, Iowa. Grandpa laughed a lot, but the next time we were over and the show came on he grumbled and said he didn’t like this show.   It's one of my last memories of him.

I was in third grade. The Bart Craze started right up; my dad tried to give me the “Bart” haircut I wanted in our family room using pinking sheers. It didn’t work.

“There’s No Disgrace Like Home.”  I was in my grandma’s basement for this one, watching on the boxy old TV with a wired remote control thingie....  

“Bart the General” - the ‘war with nelson’ and the one where he goes to France in season 1 were episodes that stood out for me this season; it was a big, big deal five years later when we finally saw them again in syndication. It’s easy to forget now how previous season episodes of a show were hard to find back then.

“The Tell Tale Head” I remember my mom saying “Looks like Bart is falling in with a bad crowd” and using this to give me a little talk about peer pressure. I was about that age. 
SEASON 2
“Bart Gets an F” may have been my first experience with a “water cooler.” There was a lot of discussion in my fourth grade class about whether Bart really should have passed the fourth grade or not. 
“Homer vs Lisa an the 8th Commandment” - I missed this one when it first aired; I was excited about it after hearing a radio ad (I specifically remember being in the car in the parking lot of the mall), but for some reason I didn’t catch the episode until a re-run, during which I was at a friend’s house in Omaha.
The rest of season two I have vague memories of catching in my parents’ bedroom, in grandma’s basement again, and sometimes in my own family room.
SEASON 3
It was during Season 3 that I noticed that this show had gotten REALLY good. The animation was better than it had been before, and the writing was “smart” in a way that I hadn’t really been conscious of in other shows. It occurred to me that the lack of a laugh track, in addition to being animated, allowed them to do comedy in a way that other shows could never do. It was all in the timing. “Radio Bart” stood out for me in particular, and the “to be continued” tag at the commercial break for “Separate Vocations." It was this year that I started saying The Simpsons was my favorite show; it had been Full House before.
For “Bart the Lover” I remember seeing the first ten minutes - the part with the yo-yo team - at Gold Medal, the baseball card store at Merle Hay Mall, where I would have been buying Marvel Comic Cards, which was my gateway out of baseball cards and into comic book collecting. The store is gone now - the whole basement level of that mall is gone, along with the statue of the naked guy with angel wings riding a tricycle that used to be in the main walkway.
Some months after “Homer at the Bat” aired, my friend Seth wrote up a parody of Talkin’ Softball about the ’92 election. It went “Well Bush be in the bushes hunting Quayle….Clinton claims he’s from the south, but he’s runnin’ away at the mouth with his campaign….we’re talking ODD BALL / describin’ Ross Perot! / talking screwwww ballll….”    I knew “talking baseball,” the original, from a Baseball’s Greatest Hits tape they sold at K-Mart and had memorized; i’m not sure if Seth knew the original or not, but I think every kid in town had that tape.

Around the time this one first aired, Spring of 92, I was graduating Cub Scouts and went to an orientation for Boy Scouts. When they told me the meetings were on Thursday at 7pm, I blurted out "That's when the Simpsons comes on!" A few people groaned, looked at me with scorn, and said "So what?" I didn't join the Boy Scouts.

"The Otto Show"  "Hail to the Bus Driver" is sort of a mystery song; I run a blog tracing the origins of songs like that called Playground Jungle, and as far as I could tell, this episode was the earliest "publication" of the song. But it was already a known thing; I remember going around singing it right after the episode aired at a post-production party for the cast of a play I was in a the Des Moines Playhouse, and some other kid bragged that he'd learned it at camp a year or two before - an early instance of someone slagging me off for not being into something before it was famous. A couple of years later, when I got Metallica tickets and dreams of the show came nightly, I usually imagined it would be just about like the Spinal Tap concert in the episode.

"Bart's Friend Falls in Love" was a standout, one that I considered my favorite episode ever at the time. I loved the Indiana Jones parody at the beginning, and the "Homer Says: Learn These Words" tag at the end. No other show was doing stuff like this - little surprises and easter eggs that made you have to tape the show so you could hit pause and see it again. Of course, now just about every show does it. I've often wondered how much the perceived decline in the show's quality over the years is really a decline in quality, not just that the show isn't as revolutionary now that a few generations of shows building on it  have come and gone.   The line "there stands a broken man...it's recess everywhere but in his heart" is still one of my favorite lines from the show, ever.

 Interestingly, my brother says he missed this one when it first aired and thought it was a new one when he first saw it in syndication (he didn't know quite how syndication worked at the time). Syndication was still a few years off.
SEASON 4

"Kamp Krusty."  Sixth grade. I started hanging out with Seth, my first equally-obsessed friend.  One day in class we were talking excitedly about how it was "Simpsons Night" and a few people gave us odd looks. "You guys still watch that show?"

The episode that night was Kamp Krusty, one of the finest episodes of them all, and the opening of Season 4. Season 3 was great, but somehow Season 4 took things to new heights.

For my money, the show really hit the peak of its powers in season 4-6, but during that whole period, no one seemed to know how good it was. The Bart Craze was pretty much over by then, and a lot of people seemed to forget there had ever been a show attached to it. It wasn't until the show had been in syndication for a year or two that I started hearing people talk about how it was a "thinking man's cartoon" and seeing articles listing it among the top sitcoms ever - all through middle school, I'd get weird looks when I told people I watched this show, and weirder ones when I talked about how good it was.  But when syndication DID start, I was in 8th grade, working my first job as a bag boy at Hy-Vee Grocery Store; when this episode came on in the break room, people recited the dialogue along with the show. Knowing that The Simpsons was awesome felt like being in on a secret back then.

Now my stepson is going into sixth grade, just the age I was when this one came out. The Simpsons Lego mini-figs got him more interested in watching the show this past summer, so we watched several together. It was the biggest rite of passage of fatherhood for me since sharing my Star Wars toys with him when he was five. This was one of the first ones I showed him.

"Lisa the Beauty Queen" - this is the one with Bart dealing three card monte at the school carnival. By this time my sixth grade lunch table was the bane of the school - we were always in trouble for our rowdy antics. After this episode, whenever we were getting in trouble, I suggest we rob the school bank, use the money for bus fare to Italy, and make a living dealing three card monte on the street. It seemed hilarious at the time. 
Thoughout this season I'm having random flashes of remembering watching it in my old family room, or in my grandma's basement, or my parents' bedroom (where I'd be relegated to watch TV if people were watching something else downstairs). I'm gonna be at work when the Monorail episode comes on. And it looks like I have to get an ice water bucket on my head right around the time that "Last Exit to Springfield" comes on. I remember thinking both of those were a-listers when they aired, and arguing with Seth in gym class over whether Mr. Burns's "Listen to them singing.." routine was a reference to The Grinch or Horton Hears a Who. I didn't get most of the references in these episodes at the time; I'd never seen Citizen Kane or read Ahab's last speech in Moby Dick. Even now I'll still see something that clears up a reference to an episode I've been watching and rewatching for 20 years. This tought me a valuable lesson for kids book writers: kids don't have to get all your references right away. If they don't get them til later, they might end up liking your book more in the long run. I've never been hesitant to work Nixon jokes into kids books.

"The Front" - got back home and done with work in time to catch this one. The Itchy and Scratchy outing that ends with them just saying "Kids: Say No to Drugs!" inspired a sketch comedy thing my brother and I would do - he would play "Mark, the Quick and Clumsy," a once-great athlete who now couldn't run down the street without getting hit by a car, etc. He'd end every sketch by saying "Say no to drugs, kids!"

Overnight, I slept through "Treehouse of Horror IV," the one with the Dracula parody. Still probably my favorite. My freshman year of high school, I convinced the seniors in the theatre department that I was cool by knowing the hand motions one should do when saying "Super Fun Happy Slide!" This was a few years in the future yet, though.

"Homer the Vigilante" I remember watching on our old blue and white checked couch, using this remote control whose battery cover looked like a Pac Man ghost. Really an under-rated episode, if you ask me. I remember talking with Seth about what the chase scene at the end was based on, but I can't remember if we knew.



TO BE CONTINUED throughout the marathon; I'll keep going through and adding as it goes. 
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Published on August 22, 2014 09:57 • 12 views

August 1, 2014



August 26, 2014 
from Simon and Schuster


Pre-order links: 
Indiebound
BN.com
Indigo
Amazon







Leon previously appeared as an
eighth grader in How To Get
Suspended and Influence People,
now available in a "Now With
More Swearing" edition.PLAY ME BACKWARDS
by Adam Selzer
even the most dedicated slacker is devoted to something...

"Hilariously subversive, but also tender and poignant. 9/10." - VOYA

"Timelessly true to life...diabolically funny...in the tradition of Rob Thomas' Rats Saw God" - Booklist

"Mordantly funny" - Publisher's Weekly

"Refusing to rely on burning passion or overwrought sentiment" - Kirkus

#satanicYA

Related Posts on adamselzer.com
Youtube Playlist
Pinterest Board
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A committed slacker enlists the help of his best friend (who may or may not be the devil) to get his act together in this novel filled with humor and honesty, ideal for fans of The Perks of Being a Wallflower.

Leon Harris isn't exceptional and he isn't popular. He's the kind of guy that peaked in middle school, when once upon a time he was in the "gifted" program and on the fast track to Ivy League glory.

Now, a high school senior, he's a complete slacker who spends his time hanging out in a third-rate ice cream parlor with his best friend, Stan, a guy who (jokingly, Leon thinks) claims to be Satan. Committed to his sloth, Leon panics when he finds out that Anna, the love of his life aka middle school girlfriend, might be moving back to town.

Determined to get his act together, Leon asks Stan for help. Stan gives him a few seemingly random and mysterious assignments. Date a popular girl. Listen to "Moby-Dick," the audiobook. Find the elusive white grape slushee. Join the yearbook committee.

As each task brings Leon one step away from slacker city and one step closer to Anna, he starts to wonder if maybe he shouldn't have promised Stan his soul after all...

Also: there's plenty of sex and swearing in it, and no hidden religious messages, so don't worry, kids.
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Published on August 01, 2014 05:42 • 6 views


August 26, 2014 
from Simon and Schuster


Pre-order links: 
Indiebound
BN.com
Indigo
Amazon







Leon previously appeared as an
eighth grader in How To Get
Suspended and Influence People,
now available in a "Now With
More Swearing" edition.PLAY ME BACKWARDS
by Adam Selzer
even the most dedicated slacker is devoted to something...

"Timelessly true to life...diabolically funny...in the tradition of Rob Thomas' Rats Saw God" - Booklist

"Mordantly funny" - Publisher's Weekly

"Refusing to rely on burning passion or overwrought sentiment" - Kirkus

#satanicYA

Related Posts on adamselzer.com
Youtube Playlist
Pinterest Board
Soundtrack EP
FAQ

Twitter
Facebook



A committed slacker enlists the help of his best friend (who may or may not be the devil) to get his act together in this novel filled with humor and honesty, ideal for fans of The Perks of Being a Wallflower.

Leon Harris isn't exceptional and he isn't popular. He's the kind of guy that peaked in middle school, when once upon a time he was in the "gifted" program and on the fast track to Ivy League glory.

Now, a high school senior, he's a complete slacker who spends his time hanging out in a third-rate ice cream parlor with his best friend, Stan, a guy who (jokingly, Leon thinks) claims to be Satan. Committed to his sloth, Leon panics when he finds out that Anna, the love of his life aka middle school girlfriend, might be moving back to town.

Determined to get his act together, Leon asks Stan for help. Stan gives him a few seemingly random and mysterious assignments. Date a popular girl. Listen to "Moby-Dick," the audiobook. Find the elusive white grape slushee. Join the yearbook committee.

As each task brings Leon one step away from slacker city and one step closer to Anna, he starts to wonder if maybe he shouldn't have promised Stan his soul after all...

Also: there's plenty of sex and swearing in it, and no hidden religious messages, so don't worry, kids.
 •  flag
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Published on August 01, 2014 05:42 • 10 views