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Sometimes I worry I might have an obsessive personality … for example, after I’ve heard about 20 different versions of the “Heat Miser/Snow Miser” song.

Earlier in the week, I was listening to samples, trying to figure out which cover I heard in the office bathroom. Then last night it occurred to me to try YouTube. Then I could share my findings right here. (I love embedding videos.)

First of all, I finally figured out that the version I’d heard in the bathroom was, most definitely, from Big Bad Voodoo Daddy. I had to hear the whole song, not the snippet on Amazon. Here it is, with a slideshow of images from The Year Without a Santa Claus for video.

If you don’t like the images accompanying the music, search on YouTube for “heat miser snow miser” and you can find any number of mashup videos using either the original version of the song or the Big Bad Voodoo Daddy song. I like this one with Coraline (although the picture quality is crummy) but you can also find a delightful one with Thor and Loki from the recent comic-book movies, as well as the X-Men and (for Debby) The Doctor and The Master.

I didn’t realize that The Year Without a Santa Claus had been remade as a live-action TV special in 2006. I haven’t seen it, but the cast sounds like fun: John Goodman as Santa (which he did so well in the Spongebob holiday special), Ethan Suplee as one of the elves, and Carol Kane as Mother Nature. Here’s the Heat Miser/Snow Miser number from that show, featuring Michael McKean as Snow Miser and Harvey Fierstein as Heat Miser. I’m amused that they took full advantage of live action and changed the backup singers from dumpy clay men to scantily clad young women:

But wait, there’s more. Apparently the “Heat Miser/Snow Miser” song is so beloved that choral groups enjoy performing it during the holidays, and you can find a bunch of these on YouTube. I like the Snow Miser in this 2007 performance from the Columbus Gay Men’s Chorus (be patient and he’ll show up):

And then there’s this one from the Philadelphia Men’s Chorus in 2009 — the narrator is hard to hear and therefore a bit annoying, but the performances are enjoyable:

Are you sick of this yet? Because I’m saving the best one for last. But first, if you prefer those beefy horns over the singing in this number, you’ll probably like the U.S. Navy’s Seventh Fleet Band, with the video footage from the TV show above them:

I got a little tired of the song after listening to dozens of versions, but I wondered why no one had thought of it as a male/female duet instead of two brothers. There’s a lot of possibility there. And apparently a morning deejay in New Hampshire thought so too — Greg Kretschmar, performing the song in a very much family-unfriendly way with Liz Armano as Lady Heat Miser. (I liked the idea of “Mistress Heat Miser” better, but no one else seems to have tried that one yet.)

I’d tell you to feel free to share your own audio or video versions of this song, but at this point I’m ready to take a break and go listen to A Charlie Brown Christmas instead. On the other hand, wouldn’t an a cappella version of “Heat Miser/Snow Miser” be great? Are The Bobs still around?

I have mostly been ignoring this whole “woo, the world is going to end tomorrow!” “woo, people who think that are soooo crazy!” thing that’s been going around, because it’s silly. But I do have a grudge against the Mayan calendar. It is because of the Mayan prediction about the end of the world — or someone’s interpretation as such — that I was once terribly rude in a theater during a press screening. I am still slightly embarrassed.

For some reason passing my current understanding, back in 2009 I went to the press screening for the movie 2012. I wasn’t reviewing the movie. Maybe I was just bored. Actually, now that I look at the release date, I do understand, because it was November 2009 and I was between jobs, and probably just wanted to hang out with film critic friends and go to daytime screenings while I had the chance. And of course there is always the chance that a movie that looks like it might be dreadful could surprise you. (Also, there was John Cusack and Oliver Platt.)

But 2012 was just awful. It wasn’t even an entertaining disaster movie in an Irwin Allen-ish way. The movie is about the epic disasters that occur in December 2012 when the whole Mayan calendar thing kicks in and the earth boils and collapses or whatever it does. The plot was dumb, the characters were dumb, the CGI-a-go-go special effects were implausible, and it had all the subtlety of a sledgehammer. I sat next to a colleague who she was shaking her head at me a little in a teasing way because I kept checking my watch, wondering if it would ever, ever end. It was 158 minutes long and I felt every second of those minutes.

Near the end of the movie, John Cusack is doing something heroic underwater — I honestly can’t remember what — and he’s submerged longer than expected. And his wife, who has done nothing at all of any interest throughout the previous two hours or so, just starts screaming and carrying on. And I was thunderstruck. Let me tell you, if Chip were underwater saving all of us and it was longer than 30 seconds, I would be diving down there immediately. No woman in that situation who wasn’t a movie character would just stand there and do nothing.

“Bitch, please.”

And then I realized that I’d said it out loud.

And then I realized I had probably not used my inside voice, either.

And my friend is sitting next to me trying to fight the urges to frown at the noise or laugh at the outburst or maybe even applaud, who knows, and I suspect had quite a struggle herself to remain composed. Press-only screenings are generally not lively affairs. My first press screening was Clerks 2 and I can remember worrying that I was laughing too loudly..

The wife eventually did go after the husband, although it took so long it was a miracle he hadn’t died and been eaten by a killer shark (not that there were killer sharks, but in this movie, I wouldn’t have been surprised if one appeared out of nowhere just for kicks) and they all lived happily ever after on a cruise ship, which made no sense at all, but oh joy, oh rapture, the movie was over at last.

My colleague teased me about it afterward, but no one else said anything. We were in the front row of people, so maybe the sound didn’t carry? Maybe it was drowned out by the industrial-strength soundtrack? Or maybe everyone else was asleep. Still, I am not proud of having shouted at a movie in a theater, any movie that isn’t Rocky Horror, and I blame the damn Mayans. Also Roland Emmerich, the writer/director who perpetrated this atrocity. And Amanda Peet, too, now that I think of it, for not protesting at the inanity of the character she played.

But mostly the Mayans. The world is ending tomorrow, is it? Bitch, please.

Someone at my place of employment decided it would be delightful to install satellite radio boxes in all the bathrooms. (All the women’s bathrooms, anyway — I can’t speak for the gents.) This frankly has bothered me from day one, when I escaped to the bathroom after a really extrovert-friendly first day of orientation and was bombarded with very very loud country music.

For whatever reason, the radio in the bathroom nearest my desk had been silent for months. No one wanted to figure out how to make it work. But someone has finally learned how to use it. Someone who likes mellow, easy-listening Christmas music. The bathroom has lost its feeling of respite and now I hurry up and get the hell out of there before I have to hear Justin Bieber or something. (Actually I don’t know who most of these musicians are. Not Bruce Springsteen or John Lennon, although I did hear Paul McCartney yesterday.) It is worse than the years I worked in The Domain and they played Mariah Carey holiday tunes outdoors. At least one could hide in the building.

(I realize now that all I have to do is to compare my current office bathrooms to the ones near my office in the Flawn Academic Center at UT, and everything is coming up roses. A bathroom heavily used by undergraduates is not a pretty sight. But I digress.)

I ducked into the office bathroom this afternoon for the usual reasons, and I found myself actually enjoying the background music. It was a cover of the “Heat Miser/Cold Miser” song from the 70s TV special The Year Without a Santa Claus, very familiar to those of a certain age and upbringing. I bet some of you could sing it. I bet some of you are singing it right now that I’ve mentioned it.

This was a lively cover, R&B-ish, not too goofy, the singer getting a little Tom Waits-y during the Cold Miser bit, but mostly letting the lyrics be the silly part. I looked at the satellite radio console to figure out who was performing it, but the console claimed the song was “Jesu, Joy of Man’s Desiring.” I think that would come as a surprise to Bach.

So after dinner tonight, I started researching. We live in such a wonderful age, where you can go to Amazon or iTunes and type in “heat miser” and get a long list of covers of this song, listen to samples, and buy what you like right then and there. I prefer Amazon over iTunes because I like the MP3 format, and the site had 15 or so versions of “Heat Miser and Snow Miser” (there seems to be no standard title for the tunes), not counting the karaoke versions, of which there are about a half-dozen. I admit this would be a helluva karaoke selection with the right crowd.

Of course, first and foremost, you can buy the original rendition from the TV show. But you can also find rockabilly, big-band-ish, grunge, punk, hip hop, and reggae-beat-with-female-vocalist versions of the song. Some feature only the Heat Miser or Cold Miser half, some hit both. Artists covering the song include Bag of Donuts, Big Bad Voodoo Daddy, The Badlees, Deizal Nuncia, and Lushy. (But not the Asylum Street Spankers, surprisingly.) I hadn’t heard of most of these musicians/bands either because my musical taste is stuck somewhere in KGSR circa 1998.

I couldn’t find what I thought was an exact match, although the samples I heard weren’t from the same part of the song I heard in the bathroom, so it was difficult to tell. My money is on Rich Chambers, Big Bad Voodoo Daddy, or Ernie Haase & Signature Sound. I may buy all three and see which one I like best. I’m tempted to get some of the other ones just for fun. I figure even if I go crazy and splurge on all the ones I like, it’ll still be under $10.

I recommend going to Amazon or iTunes or wherever you go and having a good listen. If you find a good cover elsewhere, let me know.

And perhaps I should figure out if I can hook an MP3 player into the satellite radio speakers, and subject my female coworkers to ten different versions of the “Heat Miser and Cold Miser” song, all day long. That’ll teach them to figure out how the damn thing works in the first place.

When you write about movies, you see a lot of movies. It’s hard not to feel jaded and cynical and sometimes bored by the predictable. It’s very hard to go into some movies with an open mind. But there’s always that little spark in the back of my head that remains eternally optimistic.

The best moment for film critics is the pleasant surprise. Perhaps we are too affected by surprises, even. But you might have noticed that critics get very very happy when a movie that for all intents and purposes looked like it would suck, or be dull, or just stupid, turns out to be wonderfully entertaining. I think it’s one of the reasons the first Pirates of the Caribbean movie did so well. A lot of my critic friends were thrilled with Madagascar 3, and I believe it’s because they dragged themselves to the theater on assignment, not pleased about it, and saw a better movie than they expected. (Which I didn’t think was all that wonderful, apart from the scene in which Frances McDormand since “Non, je ne regrette rien,” which was — again — very surprising.)

I watched Wreck-It Ralph because I needed to see more animated films for awards consideration. I figured I would give it maybe 15 minutes and half my attention. I hoped there would not be too many poop and snot and burping jokes, which is the kind of humor you get from kids’ animated movies these days. (Even Pixar, a little, in Brave. Tch tch tch.) I had very low expectations. I suspected it might be gamer/fanboy-ish and I wasn’t thrilled about that either.

And Wreck-It Ralph turned out to be a delightful movie. Well written characters, a story that was not terribly predictable, wonderful voice talent (Jane Lynch!), fun to look at, and one movie reference involving Oreos that had me nearly falling off the couch.

As a film critic, I have to think carefully about the effects of the surprise. If I had been hyped up for the film, would I have enjoyed it as much as I would have with low expectations? The other end of the spectrum was Holy Motors, which everyone was going ga-ga over when I saw it, and it took me about a week to realize that I had felt slightly disappointed because it wasn’t the best movie of the decade, it was simply a good movie. Very good. But I had to wait for the expectation effect to die down before I felt like I was having an authentic reaction.

I’ve waited several days for the Wreck-It Ralph expectation effect to wear off, but I still want to see it again, in a theater, hopefully this weekend if it’s still around (and not in 3D). Go see it and let me know if I’m right. A few silly-kid jokes, but a lot there for adults. Surprise!

Rockefeller Center

The problem I am encountering with Holidailies is that my goal was to post a photo and perhaps a few descriptive sentences about it. “A few” means three. “A few” does not mean three photos plus a long series of recollections that shift too suddenly from amusing to melancholy. But here I am wanting to tell stories about the location of my current place of employment, and what happened to me and my job status in the past year, and buying new ornaments for the Pink and Sparkly Holiday Tree, and the weird commercialization/exploitation of the Loop 360 tree-trimming, and who knows what-all else.

But I have to go see a movie about FDR, or something, so instead I am going to restrain myself and ask you to enjoy this very nice photo of Rockefeller Center that I took last December when I visited New York. Isn’t that nice?

Seasons Greetings

My husband is a brave man. On a daily basis, he fights spammers and evil monolithic telecom corporations. He eats scary foods like baked beans and green bell peppers. He was president of our neighborhood association. Twice.

But he has his weaknesses. Mushrooms seem to worry him somewhat and he is always sliding them over onto my plate. He runs out of the room whenever I start watching a certain type of indie film.

And then there’s Mr. Bingle.

I find Mr. Bingle to be a delightful character from my childhood — and my parents — as do many people who grew up in New Orleans. I could sing part of the jingle, but I won’t. I remember the Christmas display Maison Blanche, the department store where Mr. Bingle got as much shelf and display time as Santa. He has holly wings and an ice-cream cone hat! I mean, how can you not love him? Here he is photobombing our childhood Santa photo from MB:

Santa picture, 1978

Mr. Bingle scares the hell out of Chip. Every year, I take the little snowman down from the highest shelf in the linen closet and arrange him on the sofa, and wait for the reaction. This year, I brought him in on Sunday, but Chip was so busy working that he didn’t notice until this morning, when I mentioned it. I should have waited for him to have more coffee first. He jumped back slightly, looked somewhat shaken and darted out of the room.

Sometimes when I walk into our living room I notice that Mr. Bingle is mysteriously face down, or hiding under a cushion. Chip blames it on the cat. But the cat is perfectly fine with sharing couch space with Santa’s cutest helper, as you can see from the photo at the top, and would not dream of molesting this adorable holiday icon.

He says it’s the eyes that frighten him. Back in the day, Mr. Bingle used to have metallic eyes, not blue, but I suspect these are safer for children in some way. I would think that shiny silver eyes would be far scarier than cute blue ones, but I’m not the one who keeps asking when Christmas will be over so we can get “that devil doll” hidden away again. There is nothing demonic about Mr. Bingle. I mean, Chip has a dog puppet in his office and that’s a lot scarier if you think about it.

On the other hand, I can’t see Mr. Bingle anymore without being a little bit sad. In August 2005, my maternal grandparents’ house in Lakeview was flooded — nine feet of water flooded — after the nearby levees broke. Chip and I visited the house that November with my mom (my grandmother didn’t even want to see it). We had to wear masks because of all the mold. The house had not yet been cleaned out or gutted, which would happen later … and much later, my grandfather sold it. They had been living in that house since the 1950s.

We walked into the living room, and I saw my grandparents’ sectional couch, completely ruined. And this:

Here comes Mr. Bingle

It’s a picture I can’t get out of my head whenever I see the little holly-winged helper. He’s not scary, he’s just a survivor. Battered and waterlogged and covered in mold but still looking oddly cheerful, for me Mr. Bingle is iconic of more than Christmas now.

Under the chandelier

The fact that the above photo looks like a fancy crystal snowflake is a lucky coincidence. It’s actually one of the chandeliers at Radio City Music Hall, taken from me standing underneath it and at a slight angle. I like it better than the photos I took of actual holiday decorations around New York from that trip.

Radio City Music Hall was one of the big reasons I went to NYC last year. My sister-in-law is a Rockette, and I had never seen her perform live as a Rockette. They put on a big spectacular Christmas show with a cheesy story and some silly laser effects, not to mention the live camels onstage, but the real reason to go is to watch the Rockettes, and they are pretty fascinating. Also, I liked trying to figure out how the huge pieces of scenery worked (they all ride in a very large bus at one point, and there are ice skaters onstage). Trying to figure out which dancer onstage was actually my sister-in-law was a challenge at first, but she’s one of the taller dancers and has a very distinctive smile.

I’ve got more photos from the afternoon but this is my favorite from that day. One advantage of having a Rockette sister-in-law is that I get to see some interesting behind-the-scenes photos of the costumes and the dancers and so forth. My favorite Rockette photos, though, are from backstage some years ago when my brother turned up and proposed to her. At intermission. How do you perform after that? She’s a trouper.

Window shopping

I have too much writing to do without signing up for Holidailies, but I convinced myself that it would be a nice way to publish holiday-related photos every day. Maybe it would encourage me to go out and take photos, which I haven’t been doing very much lately (see above regarding too much writing). A Tumblr would be better but I’m too lazy to go start another website.

I founded Holidailies and ran it with Chip until 2010, the year we tried Reddit, which didn’t go over well with a lot of people. Jennifer and Richard are now doing a fabulous job keeping things going on the website.

I used to encourage people to introduce themselves on the first day of Holidailies, but looking at the participant list, I suspect that these days we all know one another, or at least our blogs. Still, if I haven’t posted here in nearly two years, an update might be nice.

I’m Jette. I live in Austin with my husband Chip and cat Rufus. I work as a tech writer during the day, and a film writer on nights and weekends. When I’m not writing, I like to overcommit to doing other things. And then I vegetate because I’m exhausted and reread novels. I’m currently on the board of my local neighborhood association (I could write a book … maybe someday) through January; I’m president of the local film critics’ group, which at this time of year involves a lot of emailing to make sure everyone gets to see all the movies in time to vote for awards; I want to go to the gym every day but, um, that doesn’t happen.

I like to take photos of holiday decorations. I am not a big celebrator of specific winter holidays, but I love light displays and decorated trees and garlands. I could do without the blow-up lawn decorations and the people who think people like me are waging a War On Christmas. Anyway, the photos are what I’m hoping to post to the site this month because otherwise I would just rattle on about movies, which you can read elsewhere if that interests you.

I didn’t take many photos of Austin holiday stuff last year because I was laid off five days before Christmas and then got the world’s worst cold, but I did get some lovely pictures in NYC when I went the week before I got canned. The photo at the top is from the window of a store and I can’t remember the store — it was pretty crowded that day. More on that later, maybe.

Testing new camera

So my secret plan for posting here every day during Holidailies was this: I have a Flickr badge in the sidebar that displays three random photos from my Flickr set. I would pull up the website, pick one of the photos and post it with a paragraph or two about it. If I really hated all three photos I could refresh, but I hoped to avoid doing that too often.

Unfortunately, I ran into a snag. Apparently the “random” photo selection isn’t really random. It’s only the most recent 100 or so of my photos. And frankly, the last 100 or so photos are not very exciting from a personal writing standpoint: film-fest pictures, snapshots from my neighborhood’s Independence Day parade and a bunch of photos from a local event honoring Spike Lee. I have already written about most of that stuff elsewhere. I could swear that at first, I truly was getting a random selection, but maybe a photo of something recent reminded me of an earlier one. I don’t know.

I spent a lot of time searching Flickr, Google and WordPress and could find no good answer on how to fix this. I want three photos picked randomly from ALL my photos. Apparently I could get a random selection for photos with a certain tag, but which tag do I pick? I don’t want to pick just photos from Austin, as that would leave out any childhood and vacation snapshots. I don’t want photos from just one year, either. Read on »

My archives from previous incarnations of my blog/online journal/whatever are all hidden and password-protected. It’s like re-reading a high-school diary: really embarrassing, especially the unrequited crushes, and even the writing itself to a certain extent. But there’s still some good stuff in there.

And because it is the first day of Holidailies 2010, it seems like a great time to share a couple of entries from 2000, back when my website went under the name Anhedonia (yeah, that’s embarrassing too), and 2001, when it was Celluloid Eyes. These are just excerpts, although I’m tempted to include things like the paragraph where I said Rick Perry couldn’t do too much damage to Texas in what I was sure would be his brief stint as governor. Don’t ever ask me to predict politics.

I’ve made a few notes, which are in square brackets and italics.

December 5, 2000: days of treats and rants

I was rummaging around on the ThreeWay Action board [now The Simplest] yesterday and found a topic about “treats” that many people who keep journals give to their readers or notify list members for holidays or special occasions. My response was that, er, I thought that sharing my witty and wonderful prose with the world was treat enough. I couldn’t imagine making cards or sending little candy boxes or whatever else it is that these people do, even though many of them probably have more readers than I. I was admittedly being a smartass when I posted but honestly, I barely have time to write the entries, much less shower everyone with homemade gifts. Does this look like the Martha Stewart site to you? Read on »