31 October 2011

The Ghost-Grey Cat Presents: (9) Time and Again

Episode 22:  Time and Again
First aired:  27 January 1974
Author:  Ian Martin
A clock maker times the time:

And the last thing I heard that night... was the triumphant beat of the clock, sounding my inner ear.  Or was it the sound of my heart?  -- Ethan Vigil

Back in 2000, I was thrilled to learn that someone at a Pacific 12 university had posted almost the entire run of CBS Radio Mystery Theater.  As a relatively affluent and experienced Internet user, I was happy to have an ultra-fast 56k modem with which to download.  Sure, it took 45 minutes to pull in one episode; but at two (maybe even three!) a night, I could have the whole set loaded onto Zip cartridges sometime in 2003.  Woo-hoo!  Progress!

Well before then, I had downloaded my favorites, and even put a few of them on a CD I took to Chicago as 2000 came to a close.  As usually happened every Christmas holiday season until 2003, my sisters brought their kids (and one grandchild), and we had a family reunion.  My original plan was to listen to my freshly downloaded episodes on my father's computer his den, by myself.  Now that the kids were also in town, I came up with a better idea.

One night just before the New Year, at a few minutes to midnight, I convinced three cousins -- aged 8, 8 and 6-1/2 -- to join me.  While I sat at the computer, they formed a small arc behind me.  As second- and third-graders, my nieces and nephew were too young for most horror stories, but "Time and Again" held exactly the right amount of terror and excitement for supervised kids that age.  They shook and fidgeted with fear, combined with a grim, shared determination to stay until the end.  To their credit, they stayed -- and then they asked me to play "Time and Again" for them again.

The youngest of them will graduate from high school next May, but all three still cherish the memory of that amusing night.

So far as I know, "Time and Again" is entirely original, but the if teaser has brought a Twilight Zone episode or two to mind, that would be easy to understand.  Like the hyperlinked teleplays, Ian Martin's play, his fourth for Radio Mystery Theater, centers on someone who finds an object that can stop time.  But only in "Time and Again" does the using that object exact a price.

Oddly enough, this story about time doesn't specify when the action takes place.  It's certainly in the past, because host E.G. Marshall tells us that he's reading a note left behind from one Ethan Vigil (John Beal).  The note quickly tells its reader that Ethan ekes out a living by making and repairing clocks.  His work, in fact, doesn't pay the bills -- he has to share expenses and his home with his chronically ill wife Henrietta (Grace Matthews) and her hard-nosed sister Harriet (Bryna Raeburn).  Even then, they've been able to wire a telephone into their residence, but must still rely on kerosene lanterns to fulfill their lighting needs.  Some people have cars, but not the Vigils.  All the clues point to a Prohibition-era urban setting, but nothing more definite.

As the story begins, Ethan has closed his shop for the night when a derelict barges in with an unusual clock with several unusual features -- including the number 13 at the top of its face.  His decision to buy the clock draws Harriet's ire, not least because he's been burning too much kerosene for her comfort.

No matter how much Ethan tinkers with it, the clock itself refuses to work -- until sickly Henrietta sticks her hand in its hourglass-shaped case.  The moment she pricks her finger inside the case, the clock starts.  It runs, all right, but with a bizarre rhythm.

Like all the other working clocks, this one eventually strikes midnight, as Ethan and his doctor are playing chess.

For everyone but Ethan, time stops.

Ethan finds himself able to move about freely, but for exactly one hour, the world stops frozen around him.  That hour passes for him and him alone, and he can now explain the number 13 on his clock's face.  It happens again at noon, then at midnight, and so on.  Twice a day, the rest of the world freezes, leaving Ethan to do whatever he wishes, unopposed.

It all seems like harmless fun until Henrietta falls ill again.  Whatever is ailing her this time proves unstoppable, sapping her life force until she's finally too tired to take another breath.  Although it doesn't happen right away, Ethan eventually discovers a connection between his extra two hours a day, his wife's passing and "that damnable machine."  Meanwhile, we listeners get to observe the destructive power of Ethan's new addiction -- something that proves well beyond the reach of any twelve-step program.

One of my big objections to horror stories is that so many of them require stupid protagonists to work.  "Time and Again" comes awfully close to that cliché, but much of its suspense comes from watching Ethan finally "get it."  Anyway, it worked out for my nieces and my nephew when they were grade-schoolers.  They got to experience the creepiness, while avoiding the gore that had become too common in horror movies even in 1974.  It would work as well in a Goosebumps novella as it did for adults 37 years ago.

29 October 2011

Friday Double: (10) They might be edifying

Sorry I'm late.  This year's last two World Series games made me care about baseball (beyond the Giants and Athletics) again.  Congratulations to both the Cardinals and the Rangers for two determined, resilient efforts.  Anyway, here's a roundabout way to introduce this week's selections.

I really like soccer commentator Jorge Ramos's* English-language work.  He knows both North American and South American fútbol really well, and ESPN's coverage since August (when he crossed over from ESPN Deportes) has improved as a result.  As an English speaker, he can easily hold conversations, and his diction has improved dramatically, but his phrasing style makes it clear that (a) Spanish is his native language and (b) he didn't grow up in North America.  [He's Uruguayan.]

That little annoyance reminded me that English, especially its American dialects, has a lot of weird rules that don't occur in other languages.  For example, in English, several words can be used as both nouns and verbs.  That rule even applies to really popular brand names, like "Xerox" and "Google."

While I doubt that Pete Townshend ever intended to create a song just for ESL students, "Face the Face" would be a great song to hear for someone who's learning English as an adult.  Besides its snazzy music and lush instrumentation, its lyrics are full of words being used as both nouns and verbs.  Here's part of a verse:
We've got to judge the judge
We got to find the finds
We've got to scheme the schemes
We got to line the lines
We got to fight the fight
We got to fall the falls
We got to light the light
We got to call the calls
Try to place the place
Where we can face the face.
Educational and fun!  Here's the whole of "Face the Face," including the preamble that didn't get much radio play. 

* Not to be confused with Jorge Ramos Ávalos, the Univisión news anchor.

On the other hand, we have They Might Be Giants, who've made whimsical songs about school subjects a habit.  I like their work, too, but "Istanbul (Not Constantinople)" is still my favorite from them after all these years.  Something about "nobody's business but the Turks'" just appeals to my inner pedant.  Cheers!

25 October 2011

Tuesday Football: Tebow Zombie Edition

Yep, The Walking Dead just got renewed.  Congrats, AMC.

For someone who only started his first NFL game two days ago, Denver Broncos quarterback Tim Tebow has become an amazing cause celébre.  The coverage of his exploits in the last two weeks has reached such a level that people are complaining about its sheer volume.  It actually is amazing to see how many sports fans have pinned their hopes on Tebow.  But why?

Tebow is unconventional, and he likes to run a lot.  He's hardly the first quarterback, or the best, with those characteristics.  [His contemporary Cam Newton, for one, is better.]  Anyway, many of Tebow's (and Newton's) fans today are the same ones who glommed onto Michael Vick six years ago.  Before that, their attention turned to the likes of Randall Cunningham and even Donovan McNabb.

Of course, Tebow is the only white man on that list, so it's tempting to consider race as a factor.  But Vick was only a little less popular when he wore red and black in Atlanta.  Also, even though I didn't include Aaron Rodgers in that list (his style is more conventional), some fans do.  In those lights, the racial theory loses some of its force.

Race doesn't lose all its force, though -- and that might be because evangelical Christians can count Tim Tebow as one of their own.  To them, he may, indeed, be a great white hope.  I suspect that, as a group, they're following Tebow they way African Americans rooted for Joe Gilliam and James Harris back in the 1970s.  I watched my elders pull just as passionately for fellow Mexican Americans Joe Capp, Jim Plunkett and Tom Flores.

In short:  Tim Tebow isn't popular for his quirky quarterback style, or because he's white, or because he wears his religion on his sleeve.  It's because they're all in effect at the same time.

Almost perfect:  With both starting quarterbacks and Ahmad Bradshaw all on bye weeks, and my receivers beyond Devin Hester struggling, I needed to make a perfect set of waiver-wire pickups and roster moves to win both my games.

It almost worked.  Between them, the Fluttering Horde and the Ghost-Grey Cats started four of the five best running backs this week.  Almost.

For no reason other than pure shock -- no one else in my public league wanted him -- I added Tim Tebow, and he started for the Cats (4-3) this week.  I could have started the miserable Curtis Painter and still picked off one of the league leaders.  Arian Foster and Matt Forte combined for 66 points as the Cats rolled to a 29-point win over The Pack.

Meanwhile, the Fluttering Horde nabbed Dallas rookie DeMarco Murray, who rewarded them with a team-record 253 rushing yards.  He and Darren Sproles contributed 58 more points.  Unfortunately, the miserable Curtis Painter did start, and his disaster cost the Horde (3-4) a 16-point loss to the Southside Hitmen.  A full-time NFL quarterback would've won it.

Next week, I'm going to have to decide who sits on the Horde bench:  Murray, Sproles or Bradshaw.  It's a nice dilemma to have.

Needless to say, I dropped Curtis Painter.

For a kicker.

And finally:  J-E-T-S! Suck! Suck! Suck! Suck!

18 October 2011

Tuesday Football: Wascally wabbit scores!

Well, I was going to post something about the recent talk of making the English Premier League membership permanent, but the arguments I've formed to date are really very fuzzy.  Maybe later, I'll have something to post besides "damned Yank money-grubbers," but by then, the English FA will have put this silly idea to rest.

In the meantime, enjoy this moment from CBS and TNT announcer Kevin Harlan, who was calling a Purdue-Michigan game in the early 1990s.  The things some announcers have to do to advance their careers... .

Imaginary teams go level again:  Both the Fluttering Horde and the Ghost-Grey Cats went 1-1 in the last two weeks, so both sit in marginal playoff position at 3-3.  The bad news is that both teams have to face league leaders this week.

The Cats' receiver struggles continue, but Matt Forte continues to keep them in the games.  Forte led a dramatic Week 5 rally a week ago, and would have led another two nights ago had the Bears not wrapped up an easy win so early.  Instead, Forte and nominal WR1 Percy Harvin both got the fourth quarter off, leaving the Cats 21 yards short of a comeback.  Unless one of my receivers dramatically improves, I may have to trade Arian Foster away; but that decision is still a couple of weeks off.

On the other hand, the Horde has barely missed injured WR1 Andre Johnson, as his Texans teammate Kevin Walter has managed to keep up the pace in a substitute role.  WR3 Eric Decker's disastrous performance undid Walter's Week 5 work, sending the Horde to a loss.  In Week 6, though, Walter had the team's weakest performance... which was still good for 8 points.  Ahmad Bradshaw and Devin Hester (5 touchdowns combined) carried the load, as the Horde scored a team-record 146 points, doubling its opponent for the second time in three weeks.  Unfortunately, both Bradshaw and QB Tom Brady have byes, so I'm expecting a loss this week.

14 October 2011

Friday Double: (9) Herman Cain's perpetual gift

I'm so happy about GOP presidential hopeful (and master crap marketer) Herman Cain's "9-9-9" tax scheme.  It's made this Friday Double so much easier to compose than usual.  Thanks, Pizza Guy!

Leave aside the fact that even other Republicans hate 9-9-9; just note that it might have been stolen from a video game.  One of Cain's rivals, Michele "Corn Dog" Bachmann, even poked fun at his plan by insinuating a connection to the number 666, that well known symbol of the Antichrist.

Naturally, then, my first selection today comes from Omen III: The Final Conflict.  This 1981 mess was (fortunately) the last* of the Omen movies, which centered on one Damien Thorn, who is meant to be Antichrist.  This selection contains both the main title and a second track ("The Second Coming").  Combinations like this aren't uncommon in modern films, but Jerry Goldsmith made it a habit.

I could have picked the better known "Ave Satani" from the first Omen movie, which Goldsmith also penned.  Since Herman Cain is running for President, just like Damien Thorn did, this choice made better sense.

The best thing about Cain's 9-9-9 scheme is that it's so easy to mock.  The folks over at Stephanie Miller's talk-radio show have taken to calling it "Nein! Nein! Nein!" and that inspired me to come up with another renaming:  "Plan 999 from Outer Space."

Oh, well.  I might as well just give you the theme to the classic Plan 9 From Outer Space (1959).  I'm not sure who wrote it.  Wikipedia credits someone named Frank Worth, but IMDB claims that it's Emil Asher, who didn't get the credit.  Neither man sported a long film résumé.

On the other hand, I could just follow the lead of these stupid birds from Finding Nemo (2003) and just call Cain's scheme the "Mine! Mine! Mine!" plan.

It's at least as stupid as those birds.

*There was a 2006 remake of the first Omen movie.  It was so forgettable, I forgot about it.