The Colonial Theatre Tea Garden

The beauty spot of downtown Richmond was, in 1921, the Tea Garden of the brand-new Colonial Theatre. Herein, we recreate the essence of elegance, joy and hauteur that was once found in Virginia's first real picture palace. Bathtub gin is available at the top of the grand ramps.

Friday, December 19, 2008

You can try to escape your childhood, but it will always haunt you. Whatever weirdness transpired when you were a toddler will be with you forever. I know this for a variety of reasons, and one of them came last night, like some freaky plush-stuffed banshee.

To this day, I don't like car antennas, because my mother was one of those moms who chanted "You'll put your eye out!" about pretty much everything, and our '71 Buick had a big antenna, and every time I had to walk past it in the garage, I envisioned it reaching out to spear my eyeball. My friend C., who is a large and scary jarhead, hates fireworks. Even though he's seen action overseas, he still doesn't like fireworks because when he was a little kid in New Orleans, he was frightened by the fireworks at that City's World's Fair. The booms shook his house and he thought monsters were attacking.

Some childhood memories are beautiful, of course. I still treasure memories of downtown Baltimore at Christmastime. (Please note that I am NOT going into a diatribe regarding the current dilapidated state of what was once a very impressive and beautiful city.) I also have good memories of various toys and games. I am a bit shocked, but pleasantly amused, that people are paying ungodly amounts of money for the lunchbox that I threw around in 1977. (Does anyone else remember Lunchbox Fights?)

Here's another one: the M&M Legend. I learned this evening that two of my most esteemed friends DON'T EVEN KNOW ABOUT THE M&M COLORS!!!! I thought that everyone, at least, knew that "the green ones make you horny." Crap, people, that's why the green M&M in the ads is a hot M&M babe! Back in the mid '90s they even sold a bag full of "the green ones." I know this wasn't just local; the marketing makes it clear and I have friends from all over the nation who know of the lore. FYI: green=horny, yellow=gay, brown=bad luck, orange=good luck, red=cancer, tan=diarrhea. (Blue didn't exist yet, when I first heard the canonical legend. I can only assume that it makes you frigid, which means that I probably ate too many green and yellow ones, and not enough blue.)

The childhood touchstone that came screaming back, with full nightmare potential last night, was:


I thought that this fucking horrible thing had died in about 1980, but here it was again at Safeway.

Monchichi is not exactly a high tech toy. It is, in fact, a fuzzy little monkey doll. The main reason that I remember the silly thing at all is that its ads back in the late '70s had a very catchy jingle that went "Monchichi, Monchichi! Oh, so soft and cuddle-ly!" They are extremely ugly monkey dolls, with nothing endearing about them at all. They do, however, have a rather pornographic mouth, built so that their thumbs can be inserted. Blech.

The '70s revelled in the ugly. Many of the toys produced WERE cute, and WERE amusing, but for every one of those, there were ten tacky or just abysmal offerings. I'm pretty sure that every afternoon on channel 45, WBFF, the Monchichi commercial was followed by a commercial for "Dancerella." This was a little battery-op ballerina. Had she been offered in 1928, she might have been dainty and charming. Unfortunately, she was given to us by the mid-70s. Barbie's stats may be unrealistic; Dancerella's were TOO realistic. If she were brought to life, she'd be 4'10" and 220 lbs. Her pudgy self was brought to life when you spun the crown on her head. The commercial warbled, in Drevierteltakt, "Dancerella, Dancerella, dancing ballet! She begins to spin when violins begin to play!" Glurg!

The more I consider the horror of '70s toys, the more I understand why I liked my toy soldiers. They were just what I was supposed to be when I grew up. (This does not adequately explain why I idiotically refused an Army career and ended up being an English teacher. Too bad that no one ever gave me a little box of chalk and red pens.)

As much as Monchichi sucks, I'm almost glad to see it back again. Sure, it connects my childhood to the modern world, but perhaps it also means that there lives yet a world in which one can still like and love fuzzy--if ugly--toy monkeys. Maybe Dancerella helped some fat little girls to believe that they could be ballerinas--and, frankly, it takes some muscle to be a ballerina.

And what about my toy soldiers? Well, I still have them of course! And this year, I decided that the manger scene should be in the middle of a fierce battle. My soldiers are now storming the battlements of the Emerson Tower while the Blessed Mother awaits Christ's birth, and a Thalhimer Brothers truck is waiting to deliver either baby clothes or ballistic missiles.

Merry Christmas, y'all!

Sunday, December 14, 2008

Oh, dear Lord, save me from crappy songs about Your birthday.

I just heard that hideous Christmas Shoes song again, and I very nearly swerved off the interstate to vomit. What an absolutely horrible song!

Perhaps the most horrifying aspect of this thing is that everyone on earth seems to think it’s the most wonderful and edifying song ever written. If that’s the case, it goes a long way to explain why this planet is seriously screwed.

In the event that you’ve been living under a rock that, fortunately for you, has no radio, the Christmas Shoe song is sung by a guy who, it seems, was at a department store (at Christmastime, of course) when he noticed a boy at the cash register. The boy is attempting to buy a pair of ladies’ shoes, which are “just the right size” for his mother. (Yeah, right, the kid’s probably a budding drag queen.) And, of course, he doesn’t have enough money. Turns out that the kid’s mother is about to “go see Jesus” and he wants her to look nice when she goes to heaven. He needs these shoes now because Daddy says there isn’t much time. The heartless clerk tells the kid to pay up or move on. Our hero, the singer, ponies up five bucks so the kid can buy these shoes. Inspired, the singer goes on to point out that he realizes the boy was sent there so that he, the crooner, will understand the true meaning of Christmas.

This piece of crap is just plain wrong on almost every level.

This kid’s mom is dying–the implication is that she’s going to croak this very night–and he’s out shopping? What’s up with this? And why is he shopping unsupervised? Maybe Dad is just waiting for Mom to kick it, and he wants to get rid of the kid so he can run off with the hot nurse in the ICU ward, so he sends him out to become milk-carton bait.

Is Jesus really so concerned with the outward appearance of potential new residents of Pearly Gates Lane? So, after a life of sacrifice and pain, Mom shows up in Heaven and St. Peter says “Damn, bitch, your shoes are UGLY. What are you thinking showing up in heaven wearing that shit?”

The part that really slays me is that the kid was sent to inspire the author to understand the meaning of Christmas. “Hard luck, kid! You’re poor and your mom is dying. Wow, that must really suck, but hey, your sacrifices haven’t been in vain, because now I get what Christmas is all about! Thanks for having a shitty childhood; now I get the whole deal!!!” I’m not sure how I would feel about being put through all of this just to help some jerk in the shoe department of Woodward and Lothrop understand Christmas.

And, so, what IS Christmas all about? Well, it seems to me that if you listen to the song, you will understand that Christmas is all about abandoning a dying loved one, contributing to crass commercialism, and buying a fashionable pair of shoes, since God doesn’t care about your soul or your faith or anything, as long as you’ve got hot kicks. This is certainly NOT the idea of Christmas–or of God–that I want to hold dear.

Oh, yes, and the song teaches us one more important thing: If you whine enough about your problems, and you have a good enough story, some dumbass will fork over the money you want and all will be well, at least until you want a nice new hat to go with the shoes.

I realize that most of our canonical Christmas songs are outdated, since–other than hymns–the vast majority of them came out in the ‘30s, ‘40s and ‘50s. The ‘80s gave us “Feliz Navidad,” which really just makes me think of hirsute Mexican singers, and the ‘60s gave it a shot with the thankfully-forgotten “Christmas on the Moon,” but most of the stuff IS pretty elderly. Then again, there’s a reason we still play it–it was good. If we need some new material, can’t we make it a little better than the drippy sentiment and the extremely flawed “lesson” of the Christmas Shoes?