## In Which I Remember The 90s For A Change

I don’t know why, but my thoughts have been drifting back to around November and early December 1994. I had tickets to go see a taping of Late Night with Conan O’Brien for the first time, over the break between semesters. They were real tickets, but I didn’t take pictures of them because we had film cameras then, so we could only take 22 pictures a year and hope one turned out in focus. Sorry. One of my apartment-mates wanted me to know that they tape the talk show segments all out of airing order. But I was sure that, except when some schedule problem requires, the late night talk shows record live-on-tape. I pointed out trip reports people had made to support my contention. No matter; he was sure that I had to understand it was going to be all different from what got on air.

Over the winter break I did get to the show, though. And it was recorded live-on-tape, everything in airing order. Even the breaks between segments were about the same length as the actual commercial breaks.

I never got to tell the apartment-mate that, though. He didn’t come back for the spring semester and I never knew what happened. If he got a new place to live or didn’t come back to school or what. Whatever it was, it seemed like a lot of effort to go to not to be told he was wrong about the typical production routine of Late Night with Conan O’Brien. And, like, Conan O’Brien in 1994. This was a couple months after that stretch when NBC left the show on the air because they forgot to cancel it. Who could care if your roommate knew you misunderstood its taping routine?

So it’s me remembering that some people will always be unknowable.

That’s not the only unknowable roommate I have from back then. Although the others it’s less that I can’t know them because of deep mysteries and more that I’m not exactly sure of their names. I feel bad about forgetting the names of old roommates but in my defense, it’s been a quarter-century. Since then I have met, without exaggeration, dozens of people. I have forgotten all their names too.

I am sure that year someone one of our other roommates was one of a set of identical twins. I remember because I thought he was telling a joke when he first mentioned being a twin. Fortunately when I finally, so far as I know, met the other twin I had that year’s moment of good social grace. Even though I was a mathematics grad student I knew not to blurt out, “Wow, really? I thought your brother made you up! As a gag!” If my old roommate, or his twin, is reading this, uh, oops? But hey, how about that other roommate, the one who didn’t think Conan O’Brien taped his show in order? Remember that guy?

Still there’s a great chance they don’t remember me, either. I say this because I don’t ever expect to be remembered, in any context, ever. If the dental hygienist steps out of the room for two minutes I expect to have to remind them who I am. And I’m pretty sure they have my name written down. That’s so they know which teeth they’re cleaning and can remark on what a good job I did flossing for the week leading up to my exam.

But I do know that at least one time with that roommate, or his twin, I met another guy. And that guy I remember because I met him again, only online, the next year. And he remembered meeting me, only offline, afterwards. We’re still friends. I mean, not friends close enough to talk about what we’re doing or whether we exactly remember how it is we became friends or where he lives anymore, if he does. I mean friends in that I’ll see him online after a gap of like three months, and he’ll be quite happy there are otters in the world. I bet you’d like to know someone like that. Some of you, the people I’ve been friends with online for a quarter-century, maybe already have. The rest of you, well, I’d like to tell you how to meet someone like that. The secret is to, years ago, have a roommate who’s in the fencing club with him. Or possibly a roommate whose twin is in the fencing club. Maybe both twins were in the fencing club and my friend just hung around them for the sword action. That’s the part I don’t remember.

## The 34th Talkartoon: Minnie the Moocher, you know, that one.

Today’s Talkartoon is a famous one. One that people might have heard of. Possibly by name; it often lands on the top of lists of all-time great cartoons and certainly of all-time great black-and-white cartoons. Possibly by reputation. It’s got images that define, for many people, the surreal world that pre-color cartoons did all the time. It’s a cartoon for which we have credits. The animators were Willard Bowksy, Ralph Somerville, and Bernard Wolf. Bowsky we’ve seen on (particularly) Swing You Sinners! and Mysterious Mose. Somerville is a new credit. Wolf was on Minding The Baby. From the busy 11th of March, 1932, here’s Minnie the Moocher.

Back around 2000, when the Star Wars prequels were still looked on with optimism, Conan O’Brien visited an animation studio. He played around with the motion-capture gear. They used it to render a particularly silly version of C-3PO. Jerry Beck, then with Cartoon Brew, noted that Conan O’Brien put in a great motion-capture performance. He was a natural, putting in big, expressive movements that turned into compelling animation well.

Before motion-capture there was rotoscoping. The Fleischer Brothers hold the patent, United States patent number 1,242,674, on it. The technique, filming some live-action event and using that to animate a thing, made it possible to draw stuff that moved like real stuff did. If you don’t see what I mean, look at anything animated by Winsor McCay. This line work was always precise and well-detailed and fantastic. Then look at how any object in his cartoons falls down. Yeah.

It got a bad reputation, especially in the 70s, as a way studios would finish animation cheaply. Film a guy doing the thing, and then trace the action, and you’re done. But as with most tools, whether it’s good or not depends on the source material. Use the rotoscope footage to guide the line of action and you get better results. Start from interesting live-action footage and you get interesting results. And here, finally, is my point: this cartoon starts with great live-action footage.

It starts with Cab Calloway and his Orchestra, in what Wikipedia tells me is their earliest known footage. That’s worth watching on its own. Calloway moves with this incredible grace and style, beautiful and smooth. There’s moments I wondered if the film was being slowed or sped up, with the tempo of the film itself changing. Surely not; that sort of trick is easy enough today but would take far too much coordination for an animated feature of 1932. They’re building the short on rotoscoping some awesome footage.

So awesome it barely matters that Betty Boop is in the short. Even less that Bimbo is. There’s a bare thread of a reason for any of this to happen. A hard-to-watch scene of Betty’s father berating her, leavened by the weirdness of her father’s rant turning into a well-played record. And to ramp the weirdness up a bit, her mother changing the record. Betty’s given comfort by inanimate objects around her that she doesn’t notice, then decides to run away from home. She writes a farewell letter, and about 3:06 in draws Koko the Clown out of the inkwell. It’s a cute joke; most of the Koko the Clown cartoons did start with Koko being pulled out out of the inkwell. Koko’s also the figure that the Fleischers first used rotoscoping to animate. They can’t have meant that subtle a joke. It’s enough to suppose they saw someone dipping a pen in an inkwell and referred to that. But it does serve as this accidental bit of foreshadowing of what would happen.

What happens is Cab Calloway, rotoscoped and rendered as a walrus and singing “Minnie the Moocher”, then a brand-new song. Betty and Bimbo spend the song watching the walrus sing and dance. The backgrounds smoothly dissolve between nightmare scenes. Weird little spot gags about skeletons and ghosts and demons and all carry on. Eventually a witch(?) arrives and everybody runs off, possibly chasing Betty back home, possibly running from the witch(?).

(Quick question: why is Bimbo here? He doesn’t do anything besides be scared, and Betty’s already doing that. Is he lending his star power to the short? … Well, I can think of a purpose he serves. There’s a sexual charge in a strange, powerful menacing a lone woman. That the being is a rendition of a black man adds to the sexual charge. That the woman is here depicted as young enough to be living with her parents heightens that further. But having Betty and Bimbo together diffuses that charge. It’s not eliminated, and I think the short benefits from that charge being present. But it leaves the menace more exciting than worrisome. I don’t know that the animators were thinking on that level. It’s enough to suppose they figured the series was a Betty-and-Bimbo thing so of course Bimbo would be there. Betty hasn’t had a solo vehicle yet. I think it’s a choice that makes the short work better though.)

So there’s not much of a plot. And Betty and Bimbo don’t do anything interesting. That’s all right. This short is built on its technical prowess. Cab Calloway’s dancing is this wonderful magical thing. It turns into animation that’s magical. (For the most part. There’s a bit of the walrus chucking ho-de-ho-de-ho at about 6:58 in that my brain insists on reading as Homer Simpson laughing. That’s not this short’s fault and I hope I haven’t infected you with the same problem.)

There’s all the body horror you could want in this short. To me, the creepiest moment is the cat nursing her young; you, take your pick. The joke that I think it’s easiest to blink and miss has a well-established setup. That’s in how Betty, running away from home, rolls up the one thing she plans to keep, her toothbrush. The joke is she tosses it aside before jumping out the window. It’s so quick a thing did you even notice it when you first watched? I don’t spot any mice in the short, which surprises me since they could fit the ghosts-and-spirits styling easily. Maybe they ran out of time.

## Also In Local Baffling Fish-Related Eating News

So apparently Guy Fieri dropped in at the Eastside Fish Fry a couple blocks from us. We didn’t encounter him. I’m really not perfectly sure Guy Fieri really exists, since I haven’t understood anything that’s been added to the pop culture since that day in 2000 I realized I had seen enough Scooby-Doo for my life and chose to not participate in any more, ever. I see him made fun of on Conan O’Brien’s show and that sort of thing, yes. But we need higher standards for reality than “is a reliable punch line for late-night talk shows”.

Anyway, the message board outside the Fish Fry now proclaims, “Guy Fieri Ate Here”. I trust they’re bragging. Other interpretations seem gloomy and we’ve got enough of that these days, especially considering the auto care place still has that blank-besides-an-apostrophe sign. On the other side of the sign, I guess they’ve misplaced a few letters, because it announces, “WATCH FOR US ON OOO”. Maybe one of those last letters is supposed to be ‘D’. I hope it’s the middle ‘O’. But I’m the one being childish about this.

## Statistics Saturday: E.T. Fitted Into The Titles Of The Air Bud Cinematic Universe

• E.T. The Extraterrestrial
• E.T. World Pup
• E.T. Seventh Inning Fetch
• E.T. Spikes Back
• Air E.T.s
• Snow E.T.s
• Space E.T.s
• Santa E.T.s
• Spooky E.T.s
• Treasure E.T.s
• Super E.T.s
• The Search For Santa E.T.
• Santa E.T. 2: The E.T. Pups

## Another Blog, Meanwhile Index

The index rose four points today as traders got caught up on watching Conan O’Brien on the DVR.

# 198

## A Dream Game Show

I figure any regular readers here know I sometimes get clear messages of some sort of mischief afoot from the dream world, like when I got in the way of His Majesty, King of the Nuditarians. If you didn’t know that, well, sometimes that happens. Usually there’s a clear message, like I’ve been unintentionally messing up Tina Fay’s costumes and should stop whatever I do that causes that to happen, even if it just seems to be existing. But sometimes I just don’t know what to make of one.

So you know how the world is full of TV shows in which celebrities get into quarrels with people, who are then delighted because they’ve been yelled at by a celebrity? Apparently the dream world has those too, and in one of them a Russian game show consists of getting into insult-matches with a host who looks strikingly like Conan O’Brien, which is plausible since the last fifteen years have taught us the parts of Europe that aren’t Ireland are full of people who look strikingly like Conan O’Brien. And somehow I was there for a taping.

I suppose it’s one of those shows done on the street, because the host was hanging around what looked like a desolate CVS. You know the sort, where there’s several metal shelves empty of everything and you’re not perfectly sure the place didn’t close two weeks ago and they haven’t got rid of everything yet. It can’t have been an ambush, though, because the contestant could see the cameras and us-the-audience hanging around as Russian Game Show Host Conan challenged him.

Apparently there’s topics in competitive insulting these days, which shows how out of touch I am. I know insulting from being with my siblings, where you just tried to hurt the other’s feelings, and if that didn’t work, you dropped an empty glass cake pan on their heads. (Um, also, sorry about that. But I won.) Maybe it’s just the game show does that to keep the contest challenging. Anyway, the topic got to be insulting one another about the weather, even though most people aren’t responsible for that, what with the historically low turnout for weather-board elections.

The contestant I thought gave a pretty good go at it, especially when Russian Game Show Conan pounced on some kind of issue with the way the contestant had used the word “glacier”, which didn’t seem to be getting anywhere but was causing a small, perfectly formed, pillar of ice about the radius of a manhole cover to rise up from the Desolate CVS floor and push into the display shelves. I must conclude that insult-based game shows are filmed on magic-realist sets these days. But Russian Game Show Conan’s turn ended without his getting to the actual point of all this definition-quibbling and very-localized pillar-of-ice raising. I thought it was going to be a walkover.

The audience was having a good time of it, though, and I guess I was too, laughing pretty dramatically and smiling widely and all that, which I guessed look good on camera because one of the production associates waved me over to the aisle where Desolate CVS stores the stuff left over from no precisely identifiable holiday. I figured she was having me sign a release because I’d been caught on camera saying something too good to pass up, although when I looked at the card I realized she was writing in my name as a team captain.

At this point I woke up, which is probably for the best. I’m not really in form for insult contests these days and who knows if Desolate CVS stores even carry glass cake pans, and I was distracted by the whole pillar-of-ice thing which seemed more important to me than anyone else.

Still, there’s the problem of what message I should draw from this dream. It’s clearly not something simple, like, get out of important nude people’s way or apologize. That I should be wary of Russian insult-based game shows is apparent, but hardly seems like a lesson I needed to learn, given my preference for parlor-game and trivia-based game shows. I guess there’s something about being aware of where glass cake pans are at all times. Any ideas, readers?

## The Big Picture

We’ve started looking at maybe buying a new TV. Our current TV is working fine, which has been part of the problem, since it’s your old-fashioned standard-definition tube-model TV screen hewn by Alan B DuMont himself from his shadowy hidden laboratory deep in the highlands of North Jersey. It was a fine TV in its time, and it’s clearly determined to outlast the entropic heat-death of the universe, but it’s starting to get annoying watching TV shows that assume screens are wider, like they are anymore. The Daily Show is pretty good about not putting stuff outside the bounds of the standard-definition screen, but it’s getting tiresome to guess what’s happening on the missing edges of Cona O’Brie.

The obvious change in TV technology since our old set was made has been the size, of course. There’s now no way to buy a TV set smaller than a tennis court in area, which will demand we rearrange the living room so it fits. We might have to have a carpenter come in and take out the stairwell, and just get to our bedroom by way of a rope ladder, trampoline, or perhaps a very patient giraffe (possibly mechanized). On the bright side modern TVs are only half as thick as other units of the same model, so if we buy a flatscreen we’ll be able to slip it in-between the wall and the paint on the wall.

The other thing is that shapes have changed. Picture-tube TVs all had that slight outward curve made. That curve was great as you could just place a large enough number of picture tubes near one another and automatically form a ball of television sets thirty feet across, allowing anyone to create an art installation about the disposability of modern pop culture whenever they wanted. But then they started making screens flat, so that every TV show you looked at seemed to be weirdly impacted in the middle, like someone had smooshed Bob Barker right in the belly. They’ve fixed that now, by finding a pre-smooshed host for The Pric Is Righ, and I suppose they’ve worked out what to do for other shows too.

And now the stores have innovative new shapes, too. The big one at the store last week was screens curled inward, giving us the experience of watching a couple seconds of a waterfall then a roller coaster then fireworks then the Grand Canyon while staring at the inside of a bowl. I guess that’s got advantages in how it makes the picture look curled inwards, and how the eyes of the Best Buy sales associates follow you wherever you go until in a fit of shyness you curl up behind the bin of \$4.99 games for the Wii.

Besides these inverted-bowl shapes there’s exciting new concepts in solid geometry coming, such as the saddle-curve hyperboloid which wowed people at the Consumer Electronics Show. It expertly suggested the experience of horse-riding, what with how as you get closer to the screen it looms higher and higher over you, until you get right up close to it, at which point the it bites your hair, covers your head an inch deep in horse boogers, and stomps on your foot, which any horse-expert person like my sister will tell you is a show that the horse likes you and it’s all your fault anyway. I didn’t even know my sister watched that much TV, what with her horse-experting to do. Anyway, television boogers clean up easily, but cleaning them off leaves you open to charges you’re one of those people who announces “I never watch television” every four minutes, even to empty rooms.

Personally, I think the most exciting new TV shape is one that projects the image onto the contact surface formed in the tangent space $M \times \textbf{R}^{2n+1}$ so that for any fiber bundle $\alpha$ you can find a sympletic coordinate pair perfectly matching, say, the statistical entropy to the chemical potentials of the system. I think most of you agree with my assessment because you’re hoping if you nod vigorously enough I’ll stop talking what might be mathematics or physics or possibly some conspiracy theory linking Nikolai Tesla to the Knights Templar and go on to literally any other topic at all. (Hi, LFFL!)

Anyway, this is all very thrilling stuff and it makes me figure that I should go back to watching narrower programs on the old TV set.

## An Impostor’s Dream

So apparently in my dream-world life, I’ve been a staff writer for Conan O’Brien for about five years now and despite that it occurred to me during some kind of special event show that I couldn’t remember having ever had anything I’d written turn up on air, ever. Which is a bit humbling, but what was really bad was during the taping of the show I realized I didn’t even know who I’d give a comedy sketch to, if I ever wrote one, if I ever wanted to see it maybe get on the air, which it wouldn’t. So that’s a bit humbling.

Anyway, I was mulling over whether I had any kind of job that meant anything in the dream-world, when I got caught up in one of those conversations which will not end with the guy playing the Conan show’s newly-minted midwestern-mayor character Roberto Boblo (his primary gimmick being an obsession with what he insists is a gold bar, but which is obviously a plastic hairbrush spray-painted kind-of-gold-ish), who refused to break character as he tried to shake me out of my funk. The upshot of this is that while wandering away from the taping I got hopelessly lost in an unfamiliar area of the Great Adventure amusement park in Jackson, New Jersey.

I think this offers lessons useful for all of us.