Friday, December 31, 2010

Christmas Fallout '10!

Well, it's after Christmas and ALMOST 2011, so I guess it's the right time to show y'all what I got for Christmas.

Bur first, I went over my uncle's house for Christmas Eve Dinner, and like the photog that I am, I took pictures of the spread:

Spinach Balls that were surprisingly excellent.

Shrimp Scampi and rice balls. It's quite obvious that no one can resist my uncle's succulent balls.

Here's some baby back ribs. Not pictured: Meatballs, another helping of my mom's stuffed mushrooms, and Filet mignon, which was the big hit of the dinner.

And here was the main attraction. It was a good Christmas. Now on to Christmas itself, and here is my spread:

DVDs and Vidya games! From top to bottom: Venture Bros Season 4.1 (awesome), Donkey Kong Country Returns (also awesome), Scott Pilgrim vs The World (the DVD version!), Kirby's Epic Yarn (pretty damn good game), and Super Mario Galaxy 2 (a sequel to a Mario game?! It happened) Not pictured: Chrono Trigger for the DS that was given by my friend Steve.

I also partook in my annual tradition of scratching off all the scratch-off lotto tickets from my Scratch-off Lotto Ticket Santa Advent Calendar, where all 24 slots are filled with tickets, and then I wait until Christmas Day to scratch them all off. I won $14.

Not pictured: Meta Knight bragging about his new Hess Truck in front of Dennis
I also got the 2010 Hess Truck! The plane is totally kickass, but I think the space shuttle still beats it. Yes, my other annual tradition will continue without Nana. I miss her.

And here's the highlight of my gifts: A hot sauce gift pack. No idea where it came from, but here it is. Note that these aren't novelty "Hot For The Sake of Hot" hot sauces. These are hot sauces of the "actual hot sauces that you put on stuff and eat it" variety. I tried the garlic sauce a few days later, and I thought it was quite good.

Stuff that's not pictured: Money, a Buffalo Wild Wings gift card, a gift card to Smokin Al's (my favorite place), and a Shick Hydro 3 razor (annual WTF gift...I already have 3 razors).

I also really need to mention that my area of Internetland was hit by that huge blizzard earlier in the week. This was the snow drift in my backyard:

Note: This is FOUR FOOT DEEP above-ground pool.
Fortunately, this pic was taken 2 days after Christmas and we had plenty of leftover food, so we sadly didn't resort to cannibalism. Maybe next year.

Speaking of last year, this is the last post before the ball drops in a few hours! I want to thank you all for the great year, and I'll see you in 2011!

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Friday, December 24, 2010

Better Know a Christmas: Australia

G'day mates, it's almost the Big Day, so let's see how they celebrate Christmas in another part of the world? Today, we're going to the Land Down Undah to see how they deck the halls in Australia.

But first, here are the other Christmases that I've Better Known:

Great Britain

Since Australia is located in the Southern Hemisphere, this'll be the first Christmas that I've better known that takes place during the Summer, which as you all know is the domain of the Heat Miser.

Now you have TWO songs stuck in your head thanks to this entry!

As such, the Aussies don't associate Christmas with snow, sleighs, and all that. That would be silly. Down There, Santa rides a dune buggy led by a team of kangaroos, all named Bruce (who don't fly, but CAN jump mildly well). Well, there was that ONE year when Santa rode a water ski pulled by a team of koalas, but that didn't end well...

"My god, this is absolutely horrible news! We won't remember a name like Santa Claus at all! Let's just call him Bruce to avoid all the confusion."

And while we up North murder innocent pine trees for their Christmas celebrations, the Aussies are just like those poor souls in the year 3000, where douglas firs are extinct, along with any hint of modesty.

The Prime Minister enjoying Christmas

It turns out they mostly prefer artificial pine trees, with the occasional tree built entirely out of beer cans.

"Problem, Yank?" "Nah, It's pretty big..."

Because Australia was founded by British convicts, their version of the holiday takes many cues from the UK (which I covered before. Yay for extra plugs! Wait.), like eating Christmas Pudding, having a full-on Turkey Dinner if they decide not to eat BBQ, embarrassing office Christmas parties, and the kids play some good-'ol games of Knifey-Spooney. And instead of using bells or crackers to make noise, they just use didgeridoos.

A traditional performance of "Bruce The Red-Nosed Chazzwasser."

There's also the region-specific foods, like Mangoes and Cherries because...why not? Hey, why not just leave Santa Bruce some Vegemite and Fosters while you're at it? You know, they don't even get the good Christmas specials until April because, like I said, it's Summer down there and they show nothing but reruns!

For all y'all, be lucky that you live in a place that celebrates Christmas in the Winter, you could be Australian. Or live somewhere between the Tropics of Cancer & Capricorn.

So there you have it, another Christmas Better Known. This will sadly be my last entry before The Big Day, work and all that kinda made me slack off on entries. And it's a good thing, too, because I'm currently on the run for mocking Australian Christmas. The punishment is a booting to the butt.

Disparaging the Boot is a Bootable Offense. For goodness sakes, it's on their flag!

See y'all for the Christmas Fallout Entry! Have a Merry Whatever You Celebrate!

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Friday, December 17, 2010

Christmas Thoughts

It's one week until the Big Day, and I've been having a few thoughts on my mind:

1) I don't know when I'll do another part of "Better Know a Christmas." My work schedule became rather hectic and the days where I AM free are times when I just want to sleep or do something else. I do guarantee that they'll continue. The next one's about Australia.

2) We're one week away, and I STILL haven't bought the new HESS Truck.

The Hess Truck's Back, and It's Better Than Ever! it's stuck in your head, too.

It's even really awesome this year. Look: A Jet on a Flatbed. I know it doesn't seem like much, since in past years we got race cars, motorcycles, helicopters, jeeps, fire trucks, race cars inside bigger race cars, even a goddamn space shuttle. But...there's a jet plane! With the HESS logo on it!

I think the main reason why I haven't got it yet is because, well, the HESS Truck was something my Nana always gave me for Christmas, and this is the first Christmas without her. I should at least honor her wishes and make the trek to a HESS station myself this time.

3) You know what I've never had before? Eggnog.

"'Tis the season, Marge! We only get thirty sweet noggy days. Then the government takes it away again."
Yep, I have yet to participate in the good ol' holiday staple where people decide to drink pancake batter for a month out of the year. I think that this is the year that I finally try it.

To my readers: What does it taste like? And what should I pour into it for maximum drunkenness?

Saturday, December 11, 2010

Christmas in The Heart & Other Awkward Christmas Albums

I love Christmas, so much so that I just like to yell "CHRISTMAS!" to anyone I meet. Especially babies. They seem to need random screaming the most these days.

But today, in lieu of a "Better Know a Christmas" entry (ok, work schedule made me tired this week. I'm sorry.), I'll blog about some of the stranger Christmas albums that I've come across. Now, as the music snob that I am, I don't own MANY Christmas albums, so these are just a few that I feel that really need some exposure to the 12 of you who read this thing.

If you ever want to make your closest friends & relatives avoid your house during the month of December, put on one of these babies.

Christmas in The Stars

Fun Fact: This was John Bon Jovi's first album.
Ah yes, the infamous Star Wars Christmas Album. Not to be confused with the "Star Wars Holiday Special," which is much more intolerable than this. Many of the songs showcase the singing chops (or rather lack thereof) of C-3PO & R2-D2, plus a few other generic droids that have probably been given interesting backstories thanks to the Expanded Universe. Featuring such heartwarming classics such as "Bells, Bells, Bells," "What Can You Get a Wookie For Christmas (If He Already Owns a Comb)?" and "The Odds Against Christmas," the Jedi in all of us will be delighted to know that the prequels aren't the only blights on this great franchise.

Mr. Hankey's Christmas Classics

Yes, this is a real album cover.
Now here's an album I physically own, the album South Park put out. Quite a few years back, the show created an episode that promoted said album, showcasing many of the filthier songs that reside within it, such as "The Dreidel Song," "Christmastime in Hell," and the song EVERYONE remembers:

Merry Fucking Christmas, as sung by Mr. Garrison. Interestingly enough, this WASN'T the most vulgar song on the album. That honor belongs to "The Most Offensive Song Ever"...which was sung by Kenny.

For the episode itself, there was a great Christmas medley performed by Santa and Jesus in the form of a horrible lounge act that got cut thanks to rights issues. I blame it on Santa still being pissed off that there are only 4 songs about him, in comparison to the 800 that feature Jesus.

There's also a few songs that are only on the album, and they get kind of depressing, which is really saying something considering that most of the popular classics are incredibly schmaltzy and tearjerking. Songs like "Dead, Dead, Dead," an uplifting folk song about how we'll all be dead someday. Did I mention that this guy is backed with a chorus of children? Yeah...I'm gonna move on to the next bit.

Christmas with The Chipmunks

I love 60's Alvin & The Chipmunks the best. There, I said it.
Love them or hate them, EVERYONE has this album. Seriously, go into that place where you keep your records, cassettes, CDs, or hell, even iTunes, and it'll be there. Trust me. I used to like them as a kid, but their nails-on-a-chalkboard voices started to grate on me as I aged. It also doesn't really help that their popularity goes through 20 year cycles. Just look: They started in the 60s, got a new show in the 80s along with the introduction of The Chipettes, and then the current live-action abomination we have now. What will the 2020 version of the 'munks bring us? I have no idea, but I'll bet $30 right now that it involves Ireland somehow.

But, as I said in this entry, the famous "Chipmunk Christmas Song" lends itself to corruption quite well. For my imaginary screenplay, it's incredibly easy for me to imagine it playing during a murder spree. Said murder spree will likely begin when someone when someone asks me, er, someone about Theodore's version of "All I Want For Christmas is My Two Front Teeth."

Christmas in The Heart

Which one is Bob Dylan? You'll be surprised at the answer.
It's always best to save the best for last. I don't think this album is horrible, nor do I think that Bob Dylan is a bad singer. He isn't, and the overall instrumentation of each song is fantastic. But believe me when I say this: this album is one of the most unintentionally hilarious things that I've ever listened to.

Because this is a Christmas album, it's packed to the brim with the classic schmaltz that the holiday brings, like "The First Noel," "The Christmas Song," and whatnot, but what sets this album apart from "Generic Holiday Hits #87" is that someone is actually singing. Yes, it's truly a nice change of pace hearing songs from someone who doesn't need autotune or overbearing sluttiness to sell records. Dylan is a living legend, and you can feel genuine enthusiasm and emotion into every note that comes out of him. And it's his voice that truly sets this apart from me, sounding much like a blender grinding up a whiskey bottle. It's pretty much what I imagine Lady Gaga's true voice to sound like, really

So when he sings one of the depressing songs, you can honestly tell that he wants to down a couple of bottle of jaeger the second he's done with the record, and when he gets enthusiastic and happy, you can't help to dance and sing along. According to my dad, this is the only album in existence where "I'll Be Home For Christmas" sounds like a threat. I love my dad.

But that gravelly frog-cutting-logs-with-a-chainsaw voice makes me giggle in manner where your mom is like "Shut up, you can't laugh in Church," even through "Hark The Herald Angels Sing."

Suffice it to say, this entry has all been one elaborate essay to expose you all to my favorite song on the album: "Must Be Santa."

A mish-mash of polka, drunken chicanery, and lyrics that welcome the appearance of Santa, I have to sing along to this song whenever I hear it. I love this video, too and you could almost swear that Tom Waits is the person singing and not Bob Dylan. Gotta love the random old guys dancing, not to mention the inevitable brawl that ensues while the polka band is rocking out.

My favorite lyrics come at the two minute mark when he starts naming Santa's reindeer: "Dasher, Dancer, Prancer, Vixen / Eisenhower, Kennedy, Johnson, Nixon / Dasher, Dancer, Prancer, Vixen / Carter, Reagan, Bush and Clinton." Okay, this HAD to be the result of an ad-lib, because it's the only part of the song that generally makes no sense and is never mentioned again. This all gives credit to my theory that this isn't Bob Dylan at all, but some hobo the producers dragged out of an alley in the dead of winter to produce a Christmas album in exchange for a bottle of whiskey.

And I absolutely love that.

Got any weird Christmas albums that you've come across? Share it in the comments!

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Saturday, December 4, 2010

Better Know a Christmas: Germany

It's December fine readers, and you know what that means: The return of "Better Know a Christmas," my special series of entries about how Christmas is celebrated by countries that aren't America.

To get you up to speed, here are the Christmases that I've better known already:

Great Britain

Today we start the 2010 Christmas season with one of my favorite countries: Germany.

You might be surprised to know that many of our modern Christmas (or how they say it, Weihnachsten) traditions began in Germany. Take for example:

As seen in "A Very Dennis Christmas Special."
The Christmas Tree, or as they say "Tannenbaum." Yes, in a land where trees, booze, and lumberjacks are plentiful, it was only a matter of time until someone got drunk enough to chop down a tree and drag it into his house to decorate it. All in the name of Jesus, I guess. You might also find it interesting that the insipid "O Christmas Tree" song is also German, translated word-for-word from "O Tannenbaum." There's three syllables in each word, so it's only natural that whoever translates things (I still say it's the Babelfish) would take advantage of the connection.

The tree itself is trimmed on Christmas Eve, without the children being involved. It turns out they're not supposed to be in the same room, as the tree is enchanted with some elf that "loves" children that won't go away until its tree is decorated with loads of crap.

Because Germany is one of those countries that aren't in the Western Hemisphere, they also celebrate St. Nicholas day, December 6th. Only there, it's called "Nikolastag," where St. Nicholas travels to the houses of good boys and girls to give them gifts the night before the big day. If the kiddies are good, they get gifts in their shoes. If they're naughty little boys (or girls), they get twigs instead.

How does St. Nick know if you've been bad or good? It turns out that the Naughty/Nice list owes its origin to Germany, too, only here it's a book full of sins. If you appear too often in the book, then you get the twigs. Leave it to good ol' Germany to inspire frightening imagery for mundane punishments.

But if you DO get twigs, there's another chance for material wealth. On Christmas Eve, Germany heralds the arrival of its version of Santa, Weihnachtsmann, who, as the Simpsons have shown us, has two eyes in the back of his head.

It might not look like it, but this is the back of his head!

I'm not clear on any stories that involve Weihnachtsmann having a demonic helper with him like in other European countries, but not unlike Link and certain annoying fairy, he does have an Angel buddy named Christkind, sent down to Earth from Jesus himself to deliver gifts. Presumably ones that don't involve twigs or XBoxes. I assume Christkind delivers intangible gifts like learning how to dance or getting your uncle to strop drinking for a minute.

But here's another Christmas tradition that started in Germany: Advent Calendars. For those of you not in the know, Advent is that time between the First and 24th of December, mostly there to remind you that you have a certain number of days left to go Christmas shopping before society deems you an ungrateful douchebag for waiting too long. Advent itself is counted down in the form of calendars, and these range from mantle knickknacks, to Lego boxes, to Playmobil Boxes, to the ones that everyone is familiar with:

Those cardboard calendars filled with those crappy chocolates. Whichever one you choose, they all work the same: As each day passes, you open up the little box with the corresponding date and you enjoy the goodie inside. With those chocolate're pretty much taking a gamble on whether or not today's chocolate will be your last. I've yet to find a single person who likes them...yet they fly off the shelves every year.

Germany's advent gave us another Christmas tradition: The Wreath. Again, drunks, lumberjacks and trees have something to do with its origin. For each Sunday in December, one of the wreath's four candles are lit up. When all four are lit up? Hell if I know, I doubt you can summon an elf with one of those. I don't even think a Dog would want to save it, and they've devoted an entire movie of one saving Christmas Vacation.

While we got wood on our mind, with all the trees that haven't been decorated laying around, Germany also gave us the Yule Log. No, not the dessert (That's French. I'll get to that country later), but the log itself. Britain might have claimed to start the tradition first, but it's since been discovered that its roots lay in Germanic Paganism. So in my book, the score goes to Germany.

You know you're from New York when a log burning on your TV set means it's Christmas! WPIX (aka Channel 11 aka WB11 ak CW11 aka Pix11) plays it every Christmas morning, and it's an awesome substitute for the real thing!

And finally, we can't talk about Christmas without talking about the food. The traditional German Christmas Eve Feast is commonly referred to as, and I'm not making this up, "Dickbauch." But get your mind outta the giblets, it means "Fat Stomach." It's called that because of the belief that if you don't eat well on Christmas Eve, you'll be haunted by demons during the night. I'm already on board, Germany, there's no need to convince me further.

And every awesome part of a German meal is here: sausage, beer, reisbrei (a sweet cinnamon bread thing), sauerkraut, beer, maybe a suckling pig, and beer.


On Christmas itself, the feast has many of the above but with added goodness like Goose, Boar's Head, and marzipan, along with baked goods like "Christstollen" and "Dresden Stollen." I looked up what they're known as in English, and "Christstollen" is the name given to Yule Log, the dessert. On the other hand, you might want to know what "Dresden Stollen" actually is: FRUITCAKE. Score another one for Germany! Why am I so enthusiastic about that?

On that subject, we also have Gingerbread. Gingerbread itself doesn't originate in Germany (it's more of an Armenian/French thing), but the Germans did develop the type of Gingerbread used for houses, like this one:

As seen on my other blog "In 10 Words"
People who realize that their gingerbread served better as a construction material than as an edible dessert remind me of the Doozers from Fraggle Rock. Interestingly enough, Doozers also remind me of Christmas. I'm going to find some to trim my tree with. And when I say "trim," I mean impale them on small hooks and hang them on a dead tree for the next three weeks.

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Thursday, November 25, 2010

Giving Thanks

I hope everyone's having a good Thanksgiving. And for those of my overseas readers, a Happy Thursday to you all!

I spent the day watching MST3K like any red-blooded American should do, and I ate too much as usual. Here's a view of the Galileo Family Spread:

Yum yum Turkey Yum. Well, that was just SOME of the turkey. The rest of it was, well, offscreen. Damn my hastily cobbled together thoughts of taking pictures for this entry!

Speaking of haste, here's a mini buffet because my Italian mom just HAD to use the entire table space for other food. From right to left we have Green Beans (ick), Corn (not in cob form), and my mom's awesome stuffed mushrooms. If the mushrooms were red, you would've been reading a heck of a traffic light joke. I'm not thankful for missing that opportunity.

See? Not red. And Blurry. They don't look like much (mostly due to said blurriness), but they are some of the best things you could eat. I don't know why people detest such a thing. They're probably communists.

Now here's the good stuff: Stuffing! Aside from the turkey, it's the most popular item on the menu. So much so that this is simply the overflow that couldn't fit in the turkey itself. So what if Alton Brown thinks "Stuffing is Evil?" It's a delicious evil. And in the upper left-hand corner? That's the traditional Americana side dish of Cranberry Sauce That's Shaped Like The Can It Came In. I'm surprised that this isn't available everywhere, it just doesn't seem like Thanksgiving without it. Again, I think the haters are communists.

Now with that crap outta the way, we come to the real reason why I'm writing this: Being Thankful. I didn't mention this before, but this was the first Thanksgiving without my beloved Grandma, who I called "Nana." She passed away two months ago, and I'm ever thankful that she was in my life as long as she was. If there was a family member who raised me when the parents were at work, gave me money for no reason, and loved and supported me whatever I did, it was her.

Yes, it's hard to experience the first holiday with a beloved family member (and we've all been there), but I got through it by overstuffing myself like I always do. She was one of those people who didn't want anyone worrying about her, and with that in mind, it was easier for me to try to move on. So far it's been working, save for the random bouts of depression.

Had I had the strength to write a long-heartfelt tribute to her when the inevitable happened, it probably would have been lovely, if not schmaltzy. As you know, I hate schmaltz and fortunately, so did she. She loved wrestling, after all! It's pretty much why I've had little patience to continue writing, but I've been getting better every passing day. December's coming up, so expect a whole slew of exciting entries!

So I'll sum up the last two months the only way I can: In 10 Words: "She died of natural causes. I'm still upset. The End."

But I don't want to end this thing on a downer. I'm thankful for each and every one of you for reading this, you people make my day with al those view counts I keep seeing. I rarely see comments...but that's okay by me. Okay, not really, but I'm still thankful!

So on this day of thanks, go re-read A Very Dennis Thanksgiving Special, and it just wouldn't be Thanksgiving without the traditional listen to Arlo Guthrie's seminal song "Alice's Restaurant."

Let's bring on Christmas! I'm finally ready for it!

Thursday, November 18, 2010

The Greatest B-Stories from The Simpsons

Y'all should know by now that The Simpsons is my all-time favorite anything, and I've told you several times that I've seen every episode, 469 as of this writing (and hopefully the next 46 that are coming our way in the next two years). 469+ episodes that are full of comedy, satire, tragedy, or even meh-ness that have all reached some level of infamy one way or another. But out of all those stories, we rarely hear about the B-Stories.

Yes, the B-Stories, those little side-plots that are there to fill time when the writers couldn't find ways to stretch the main plot to fit the 22 minute runtime (and believe me, there have been some pretty creative ways of doing that over the last twenty-two some-odd years). Some B-Stories tell a story about what the other members of the Simpsons family are up to that may or may not connect with the main story at the end, others are about some other plot that was too thin to support an episode by itself. And some are just about Cletus the Slack-Jawed Yokel doing his thing.

In recent years with the average episode length becoming shorter and shorter, the B-Stories are becoming rarer and for the ones that do show up, I think their quality suffers for it. Sure, you could argue that anything the show produced in the last 10-15 years is absolute garbage (depending on how much of a curmudgeon you are), but with so little time to tell a second story on top of the limited time to tell the main story, you can tell when some plot details are unfortunately left out. For the record, some of the B-plots from the last year have been some of the worst dreck I've ever seen from this show. I mean, Lisa can't win a debate because she's a blonde and then she dyes her hair? What the hell, writers? What the hell.

But anyway, some B-Stories, however, become memorable on their own. They have the wit, humor, and satire that the show does so well, but with a shorter runtime. Most of them support their parent story quite well, and a few have actually become more well-known than the stories they were supporting.

With that in mind, I have compiled this list of what I think are The Eleven Greatest B-Stories in the history of the show. Of course, this was a rather hellish task to stack these stories in any coherent order, but I think you'll be satisfied. Or not, I still get the view-count raised every time you look at this.

#11: CompuGlobalHyperMegaNet (Das Bus)

"Ooh, they have the internet on computers now!"

That above quote pretty much sums up Homer's latest get-rich-quick scheme. While the kids are on their Model U.N. Field Trip/Lord of The Flies Parody, Homer discovers that Flanders is making money on the side from his Internet company Flancrest Enterprises. So of course to try to one-up Ned yet again, Homer decides to grab his piece of the Dot Com Bubble Pie.

What I love about this is that unlike the dozens of second-jobs that he's taken over the years, Homer has absolutely no idea about what the hell he's supposed to be doing. While Homer usually has a tenuous grasp at best at whatever job the writers assign him to that week, his idea of "The Internet" is sitting at his dining room table that's adorned with knickknacks like a Drinking Bird and stick of butter to serve as a pencil holder while coming up with a snappy name like "Flancrest Enterprises" (which was sadly taken), and the people are expected to just show up to his house and give him money.

Despite Homer's lack of computer skills, or skills in general (gotta love how he somehow made a pop-up ad that conveniently covered up a sexy picture of Captain Janeway), Homer's bubble bursts like several net businesses did back then: Being bought out by Bill Gates. Of course, being "bought out" means that Bill Gates's hired goons trash your house for seemingly no reason. But hey, Homer got a check, and Moe somehow saved the kids from The Island. Everyone wins!

#10: The Ribwich (I'm Spelling as Fast as I Can)

Authentic letter-graded meat!

I'm not just putting this B-Plot here because the McRib is currently back in the hearts and stomachs of America. Okay, maybe I am, but that's besides the point. The plot can be summed up thusly: Homer becomes addicted to Krusty Burger's equivalent to the McRib, the Ribwich, to the point where he and other junkies follow it around the country like Deadheads. It's just a sandwich made from "Authentic, letter-graded meat," so what's so addictive about it?

I say the sauce. Much like all of fast food, the meat is nothing special, but the sauce that drenches the McRib (and most likely the Ribwich) has a flavor that borders on orgasmic. It's really no surprise that each bite has Homer re-enact a certain scene from "Requiem for a Dream"

This is pretty much all I can think of whenever I see someone bite into a sandwich these days. But for all the fast food pimping it does, Homer slowly realizes that he cares more for a sandwich than for Lisa, who just happens to be a finalist in the Spellympics (not affiliated with the National Spelling Bee portion of The Olympics). But when he finds himself nowhere near the contest, he trades The Last Ribwich Ever Produced for someone's new sports car to cheer her on in time as quickly as he can. Oh by the way, it turns out that the reason why the Ribwich was discontinued was because the animal they made it from became extinct. No, not the cow or the pig. Think smaller, think more legs...

I think I'll stick to the Krusty Partially-Gelatinated Non-Dairy Gum-Based Beverage next time.

#9: Grampa Works at Krusty Burger (Lisa vs Malibu Stacy)

"Come in. Come in! Mayday! I’m losing your transmission!”

We go from one Fast Food plot to another when Grampa decides to get a job to feel young. Of course, Wal-Mart wasn't mainstream yet in season 5, so ol' Abe resorts to working at Krusty Burger and pretty much becomes a hilarious burden to the staff. In a few short minutes, we learn just how much it sucks to work at Krusty Burger: People hate you if you can't understand them, old people complain at you, your manager is a teenager, and the secret sauce is just mayonnaise left out in the sun. We also got Grampa thinking the drive-thru is a WWII-era radio, and that completely great moment where he sticks his dentures between a bun...which is then wrapped and eaten. "Damn sandwich took a bite outta me," exclaims the offscreen angry guy.

I personally think that this plot gives us one of Grampa's finest moments when he finally tells off the Squeaky Voiced Teen after realizing that his time is better spent complaining: "Mr. Peterson, you can take this job and...fill it. And one more thing: I never once washed my hands. That's your policy, not mine!" So awesome.

#8: Pray. For. Mojo. (Girly Edition)

Maybe I'll get a few more Google hits if I type the quote again...

Well, this was a weird one, but pretty memorable nonetheless. While the kids get their own news show, Homer decides to get a helper monkey of his own after seeing an injured Apu use a helper monkey to aid him in his job. Sure, having a little monkey do everything for you to further your own laziness sounds awesome on paper, but we eventually learn that Mojo is no Laddie. While The World's Best Dog could take care of himself, Homer's oafishness begins to rub off on poor Mojo after he commands the poor monkey to do nothing but fetch donuts, drink beer, and dance around for his own amusement.

Eventually he becomes a fat, beer-swilling monkey in a diaper, and Mojo gets into some pretty sad shape as well. This all leads to the most infamous portion of the story when Homer unceremoniously drops Mojo back where he got him from, and can only type out three of the most infamous words in the entire series: "Pray. For. Mojo."

Does Homer learn anything from this? Not really, but at least he practices what he preaches about weaseling out of things. If we don't remember that it's what separates man from the animals...except the weasels, why even bother?!

#7: Uniforms (Team Homer)

"Ah, these uniforms are a godsend. Horseplay is down 40%, youthful exuberance has been cut in half, high spirits are at an all-time low."

When you're a kid, you absolutely dread the possibility of your school implementing uniforms. And if you went to a school that did, you were pretty much screwed from the get-go. I'm pretty sure that the modern disdain for this practice comes from this very episode, as the uniforms literally strip the children of all personality and free will to the point where they blink in unison.

As a kid I thought that this was one of the creepiest things the show ever did outside of a Treehouse of Horror episode, especially when Nelson forgot his catchphrase. Luckily, my public school system never gave us uniforms, possibly because there was zero room in the budget for them or maybe that soulless children were thankfully too creepy for any teachers to deal with, which made it completely satisfying to me that the uniforms's effects wore off in the rain. To think this all started with Bart being influenced by MAD Magazine. Marge warned us that it was producing a dangerous amount of laughter...

#6: Adil The Sparrow (The Crepes of Wrath)

Now with its own caption!

Now this one is a little overlooked, since it appeared at the tail end of the very first season. When Bart is sent to France for the Student Exchange Program after flushing a cherry bomb down a school toilet (damn, he's gotten softer punishments for more than this in later years, hasn't he?), the family gets an Albanian boy named Adil Hoxha to live with them. Despite not being "all white with pink eyes," Adil is the complete opposite of Bart: Clean, respectful. and intelligent enough to hold his own in an argument with Lisa. So much is Adil superior to Bart that Homer and Marge actually have the gall to hang a portrait of Adil over their bed.

It's really nice to see Homer still having some kind of light on in that fishbulb of his when he breaks up Adil and Lisa's argument with stuff like "Maybe Lisa's right about America being the land of opportunity, and maybe Adil's got a point about the machinery of capitalism being oiled with the blood of the workers." It's a real nice gem that doesn't get mentioned often, and who else but Homer can say that America has its faults like that.

But what I find the most amusing about this plot is that Homer (and the rest of the family) are completely oblivious to Adil's true nature of being a communist spy known only as "The Sparrow." Yep, the reason WHY he was so inquisitive about Homer's job at the power plant wasn't much out of genuine respect as much as needing to gather nuclear secrets for his comrades back home to use against us, and I really love that. Hell, Homer is only happy to oblige Adil's every request, even promising to send him civil defense plans as he's being carted away by the FBI. It was one of the more ambitious plots in one of the first ambitious episodes so far, and it only gave us a small taste of the greatness that was to come.

#5: Lionel Hutz: Babysitter (Marge on The Lam)

"Oh sure, like lawyers work in big skyscrapers and have secretaries, and look at him, he’s wearing a belt. That’s Hollywood for you!"

See, this plot is more of a C-Story to this episode (Marge/Ruth Powers and Homer seemed to be dueling A and B stories before they dovetailed at the end), but a pretty damn funny one nonetheless. When Marge and Homer go on their respective Girl's Night Out, Homer's forced to get a babysitter for the kids ("Blast that infernal card!") and finds Lionel Hutz at their door. Of course when the shenanigans ensue, Hutz stays with the kids for a grand total of thirty-two hours to earn eight bucks, two popsicles, and an old birdcage. The number of scenes this subplot lasts for? FIVE, with each scene lasting no longer than forty-five seconds.

In just those five scenes, we learn the following details about Mr. Hutz's life: He digs around in garbage, he sleeps at the YMCA, it's implied that he's been paranoid enough to knife someone there, refers to lawyers that work in an office building as "Hollywood," and I'm pretty sure that the suit and the ratty clothes he's wearing in the episode is his entire wardrobe. But my favorite bit of the entire episode is when he burns all of his personal papers and happily declares himself as "Miguel Sanchez." Just HOW pathetic is Hutz's life when he has to resort to that? Pathetic enough to be hilarious, that's what.

In short, every single bit of this is hilarious, no moment is wasted as each scene is woven perfectly into the narrative of the main story, and each line gives us insight to one of the show's greatest side characters. It's also great to see that Homer's suggestive personality has been taken advantage of so many times that he needs to carry around a card that says "Always do the opposite of what Bart says."

#4: All You Can Eat (New Kid on The Block)

"That man ate all our shrimp, and two plastic lobsters!"

Since Homer and Gluttony go together like pie and, well, more pie, it was only natural for a writer like Conan O'Brien to sic him on the American institution that is the all-you-can-eat buffet. It's no surprise that after several hours he eats everything the Frying Dutchman could throw at him and he's kicked out before he could truly have all he could eat. Trust me, this is America. We've all been there.

"'Tis no man, 'tis a remorseless eating machine" is the only thing Capt. McAllister can say before Homer takes the Dutchman to court. Sure, it might seem silly and outlandish for some fat bastard to sue a buffet for kicking him out, but you gotta remember that this was when frivolous lawsuits were becoming the norm. And who else is there to take Homer's case but our good friend Lionel Hutz? He DID take a false advertising case against "The Neverending Story" after all, and even calls Homer "The Greatest Hero in American History" for even suggesting such a case.

There's lots of gems in the trial itself like the fake-out of dozens of bags dragged into the courtroom actually being full of letters to Santa, The Sea Captain admitting under oath that he's not a real sea captain, and of course Marge's great testimony where she collapses in tears after admitting that she and Homer went fishing at 3am after driving around all night to find another all-you-can-eat fish restaurant.

"Do these sound like the actions of a man who had ALL he can eat?" A bold statement, Mr. Hutz, and it sums up just about every red-blooded American Fatass out there (especially the ones in the jury). Did I mention that this was one of the few cases that Lionel Hutz actually WON? Granted, it settled out of court to have Homer eat at the Dutchman again as a tourist attraction, but I count it as a win.

#3: Uncle Moe's Family Feedbag (Bart Sells His Soul)

"Ah geez, and ya got the stink lines and everything."
This story is really interesting in which it's one of those "Simpsons Takes on a Topical Issue" plots, but surprisingly became more relevant as time moved on. In the FIFTEEN YEARS since the episode's debut, these dumb "family restaurants" have spread like wildfire and the show managed to satirize the whole system when the landscape only consisted of such places like Applebee's, Fuddrucker's and Bennigan's. Trust me, I'm really glad that Bennigan's is gone for good. You really weren't missing anything from that place, as it was the poor man's Applebee's...not to mention Applebee's itself being the poor man's Actual Restaurant.

Crazy crap on the walls? Bland, mass produced food? Said food having corny names? Uncle Moe skewers them all as he threw away his bar's trademark dank to attract customers who aren't Homer and Barney. It starts to go well, he's making money, getting the customers he wants, he even buys a giant fryer that can deep-fry a buffalo in 40 seconds to handle the traffic. But this is Springfield, and Moe is tossed out of his comfort zone by dealing with crap like friendly customers, bright colors, and little kids. Especially after the 80th time someone ordered Million Dollar Birthday Fries in a day.

Yes, it's impossible to talk about Uncle Moe without bringing up the Million Dollar Birthday Fries.
Whoever had done the research for this episode completely nailed that stupid song that the wait staff is forced to sing whenever someone says it's their birthday.

"Uncle Moe -- thank you, ma'am! This'll be a treat: Uncle Moe! Here I am, while you eat!"

My best pal Steve and I have been highly tempted to pull off that "We're twins" thing whenever we're at an Uncle Moe's-type establishment, but so far it hasn't happened yet. Maybe it's because of that respect for waiter dignity that I've heard so much about.

But with all this, it's no wonder that Moe eventually blows his top all over an innocent little girl and her cold teef. But what I especially love about this plot is after everyone leaves after this ONE outburst, he dismantles the restaurant to return to the status quo as quickly as possible. You'd think he'd just let it blow over, but come on, he's Moe and it's bound that he'd freak out more often and more vulgar after that. This was also the time when the show would start putting all of its recurring characters into group scenes instead of generic drawings, so pretty much every important person in Springfield saw him freak out, and would most likely blab to everyone else.

But maybe I'm just thinking too deep into this. While my brain recovers for the next entry, here are some really great quotes from this B-Plot:

Homer: "Bart, you didn't finish your Spaghetti and Moe-balls!"
Homer's Brain: "Silence, you fool. It can be ours!"
Homer: (while eating) "Run, boy! Run! Run for your life, boy!"

Moe: "So, come on: I need a name that says friendly, all-American cooking."
Homer: "How about, Chairman Moe's Magic Wok?"
Barney: "I like it!"
Moe: "Mmm, nah. I want something that says people can have a nice relaxing time."
Homer: "I got it! Madman Moe's Pressure Cooker!"
Barney: "I like it!"
Moe: "Hey! How about, Uncle Moe's Family Feedbag?"
Barney: "I hate it."

Moe: "Now that's Moe like it! So bring the whole family. Mom, Dad, kids -- er, no old people. They're not covered by our insurance."

Moe: "Ooh, sorry, kid, sorry. I'm not used to the laughter of children. It cuts through me like a dentist drill. But no, no, that was funny, that was funny taking away my dignity like that, ha ha ha."

Todd: "Ow, my freaking ears!"
Maude: "Oh, let's go, dear."
Ned: "Well, I expect that type of language at Denny's, but not here!"
(everyone leaves en masse)
Moe: "Aw, come on, folks. Wait, please come back! Please, I got a new offer: whenever Uncle Moe threatens you, you get a free"

#2: Homer's Sugar Pile (Lisa's Rival)

Read your town charter, boy. "If foodstuffs should touch the ground, said foodstuffs shall be turned over to the village idiot." Since I don't see him around, start shoveling!

Sure, it's another of Homer's Get Rich Quick Schemes, but I view this as the quintessential version of the story. Homer, ever the seeker of id, finds a sugar truck damaged on the highway and decides to take its contents for himself. It's just classic Homer for him to answer the question of "What can you do with a pile of sugar?" with "What CAN'T I do with a pile of sugar?"

It's only natural that first thing he does with his bounty is try to sell it. It's too bad that he sells his bags of sugar for three times the supermarket price (I long for the days of 35 cent/lb of sugar), not to mention said sugar is filled with "prizes" like blasting caps. And because he's out selling sugar and finding moldy dollar bills at bus stops, he lost out on a day's pay, which all leads to one of the greatest exchanges in the show's history:

Marge: The plant called and said if you don't come in tomorrow, don't bother coming in Monday.
Homer: Woo-hoo! A four-day weekend!

Homer's cluelessness knows no bounds. Seriously, that one scene must've been running in syndication ads for like 10 years. We also learned here that Homer only makes $40 a day. That's it? Even in 1995, that's a pittance for the only breadwinner to raise a family of five.

And just when things couldn't get worse, Homer's sugar pile gets raided not only by bees, but also by a random British Gent who pinched some of the stuff for his tea the second Homer lets his guard down. I just love that guy, and any of the other times the show brings in an over-the-top stereotypical character for a single gag (the Old Irish Guy comes to mind, too). Of course, just when the bees' keepers offer Homer money for the pile and the bees, the rain comes to wash the pile away and it somehow ruins the gent's tea. I love how Homer reacts to his sugar melting much like the Wicked Witch of The West, then suddenly reverts back to classic "I'm done now" mode. Only this show...

But what I find amazing about this bit is that through the magic of DVD commentaries, we learn that the entire plot was pitched beat-for-beat and nearly word-for-word in one shot by George Meyer. He's probably the second greatest writer the show's ever had, right behind the legendary John Swartwelder. Most of the cynical, depressing bits that have come from the show's great seasons can be traced back to Mr. Meyer's amazing way with words. He's the only person who could imagine Homer treating his mountain of sugar like Scarface to his precious cocaine, the British Gent I mentioned earlier, the bees "defending themselves somehow," and this awesome, awesome speech:

"Never, Marge! Never. I can't live the button-down life like you. I want it all: the terrifying lows, the dizzying highs, the creamy middles. Sure, I might offend a few of the bluenoses with my cocky stride and musky odors -- oh, I'll never be the darling of the so-called 'City Fathers' who cluck their tongues, stroke their beards, and talk about 'What's to be done with this Homer Simpson?'"

Combine this pinnacle of greatness with the equally solid A-Plot (written by Mike Scully and originally pitched by CONAN O'BRIEN), and you have one hell of a classic episode.

But what get's the #1 spot?

#1: Mr. Sparkle (In Marge We Trust)

"Hello? Why am I Mr. Sparkle?"

Yes, Mr. Sparkle is #1 for a very specific reason: It has become more remembered than its A-Story. I'm pretty sure most of you refer to this one as "The Mr. Sparkle Episode" rather than calling it by its actual title. Seriously, if you mention "Japan" and "The Simpsons" in the same breath, "Mr. Sparkle" will most likely appear in your mind. Hell, I was even surprised that this was the B-story when I looked up the episode when I picked up "The Complete Guide" all those years ago.

If you remember back in my Underrated Episodes entry
, the main plot was about Marge becoming the Listen Lady at the church and how she deals with the crisis of faith in herself, Rev. Lovejoy, and good ol' Ned Flanders. The rest of the episode deals with Homer finding a weird box in a landfill that somehow has his face on it. After a trip to The Happy Sumo, we find out that it's a brand of dishwashing soap from Japan and it's off to the library to call up the main factory in Hokkaido. I really love that sequence where Homer is awkwardly dialing that insanely long number for the factory because he's also glancing at the librarian the entire time because Homer "promised" him that he was only making a local call.

After a hilariously awkward engrish conversation with a Mr. Sparkle representative, Homer gets a video tape where, well, I'll let it speak for itself:

The writers took every stereotype and trope of Japanese advertising and mashed it all together into a minute-long clusterfuck of imagery that's rarely been matched by anything western animation has offered in the last 25 years. And it's very, very awesome. Crap like a toy monkey helping Mr. Sparkle transform sexy women into sumos with a breeze (while underwater, I might add), a reporter asking a two-headed cow about its plans for summer...then the cow shatters into glass after looking at Mr. Sparkle, and dialogue like "I'M DISRESPECTFUL TO DIRT! CAN YOU SEE THAT I AM SERIOUS?" and "OUT OF MY WAY, ALL OF YOU. THIS IS NO PLACE FOR LOAFERS. JOIN ME OR DIE. CAN YOU DO ANY LESS?"

All being screamed at us by the great Sab Shimono. (Fans of Jackie Chan Adventures might recognize his voice as Uncle, and he's shown up in Avatar: The Last Airbender, too.)

Before I digress, it turns out that it's all a coincidence that the brave corporate logo looks like Homer, as Mr. Sparkle is simply an amalgamation of the mascots of Matsumura Fishworks (a googly-eyed fish) and Tamaribuchi Heavy Manufacturing Concern (a light bulb). In one fell swoop, America was given the word "Fishbulb" and we got a good meta joke about the shape of Homer's head.

Believe me, crap like this leaves a lasting imprint on your mind, because Mr. Sparkle's face can be found on stuff like T-shirts (which I own), posters, skateboards, boy shorts, action figures, Farmville, blinged-out race cars, a band name, a big part in The Simpsons Game, a spot in the HD Intro:

And in the minds and hearts of all who love The Simpsons.

Honorable Mentions: Happy Dude, Bart owning a factory, Homer & Lisa bonding at the Power plant, Maggie at the Ayn Rand School for Tots, Homer trying to beat Bart at Super Slugfest, Senor Ding Dong's Doorbell Fiesta, the kids thinking their parents are reverse vampires, Frostillicus and The Freak-E-Mart, Homer trying to pass Remedial Science 1-A.

Got any I missed? Comment below!

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Saturday, November 13, 2010

Filling Time...

Well, the writing of a really good entry has been taking longer than I thought it would, so here's a few videos to tide you over until then:

Saturday, November 6, 2010

Beaming For Bunnies Turns 200! Entries!

It's finally happened folks, the blog has officially reached its 200th entry.

This is one hell of a feat, since #100 was reached in October of 2008. In that span of time, you'll see my writing improve, then suck, then slowly improve again. Also, I got less productive as it seems. At first it was school, then my overall enthusiasm began to wane once I graduated. But the ratio of good to crap entries seems to have improved...right?!

I try my best to post at least once a week, usually late Friday/Early Saturday. It doesn't really help that my most popular days are Tuesday and Thursday for some reason.

Since that entry was pretty much a clip show of the first 100 posts...this one will be, too. So if you don't mind yet ANOTHER list entry from me, here are my favorite entries from the second 100 posts!

Beaming For Bunnies: The Essentials (Oct. 27, 2008)

Yep, the 100th entry. If you want to know which entries from the first nine months of the blog that I thought were significant enough to mention, go there!

Homestarloween Costumes (Oct. 31, 2008)

This one is a great one in my mind, poorly written as it was. It chronicled my favorite costumes from the various Homestar Runner Halloween cartoons from over the past ten years. It'll make up for the fact that the good folks over at that site didn't make one this year for whatever godforsaken reason.

A Very Dennis Thanksgiving Special (Nov. 28, 2008)

This is BY FAR one of the best things I've ever made. So far. Sure, most of the pictures are blurry, and most of the youtube videos no longer work, but it holds a very special place in my heart. I love Dennis, the little Bob-Omb character I created several years ago. After watching "Beware The Easter N***** Charlie Brown", I thought it would be really funny for Dennis and a bunch of other toys I had laying around, to do a holiday special. I'm completely serious about that one. Out of all the sources that a holiday special could arise from, I got it from a satirically racist Peanuts cartoon.

It's one of the few entries that I put some actual damn effort in. It took me at least a week to make it, and on my old compy, the process of uploading all the photos and editing them to be slightly lighter and less blurry took up a massive amount of time. Since you see that it was posted near Thanksgiving that year, I had to juggle the production of this entry with my school work AND my actual job, which was entering its busy season. The fact that I was able to post it in November was nothing short of an early Christmas miracle.

The whole reason I had Optimus just shoot El Ricardi (whose name originated from me changing Ricardo from Pee-Wee's Playhouse's name) was that I just didn't have any more patience to write an entire "History of Thanksgiving" speech and and produce the corresponding flashback, so I just had Optimus end the potential story right there. I later wrote the Optimus Christ portion of the Christmas Special to make up for it.

Another Fun Fact: I wrote Optimus Prime to match the personality of the one in the infamous "Rude Awakening of Optimus Prime" video

Because I think hearing Optimus swear like a sailor and randomly rename characters is just funny as hell.

A Very Dennis Christmas Special (Dec. 24, 2009)

Here's the sequel to the Dennis Thanksgiving Special, another entry that was made with actual effort. I actually had a set that wasn't my room for this one! Like the above post, it was a goddamn Christmas miracle that this one got done, let alone that I posted it on Christmas Eve, a time of year when no one is on the Internet!

I roughly had most of the ideas in my head as soon as I finished the Thanksgiving special, but I didn't have the time or patience to produce it until the following year. I really liked how it turned out, but sadly, it has very few views. Go read it, now!

More Fun Facts: Yeah, I had NO CLUE where the Optimus and Starscream figures I used in the previous special went, so I just had Dennis address the actor change at the end just to justify that I know that you people weren't stupid enough to not notice the difference between the actors. The house in the establishing shot isn't mine, but a house across the street from me. I lucked out immensely that there was actual snow on the ground that Christmas. Also, I pretty much said "fuck it" around the end of the special once again, and that's why the transformers didn't get gifts.

ALSO: Both specials have been reformatted to fit the new blog design, so they look much bigger and cleaner now! GO READ THEM!!

Carols For Christmas: The Good (Dec.  2008)

Carols For Christmas: The Bad (Dec. 13, 2008)

Carols For Christmas: The Ugly (Dec. 20, 2008)

These were my obligatory blog entries for Christmas songs, the Christmas equivalents of my Soundtracks For Summer entries, so to speak. The titles are self-explanatory: The first entry is good Christmas songs, the second had awful Christmas songs, and the third one had the really odd ones.

WARNING: Lots of the videos from the entries don't work anymore. Damn lawyerbots.

Haunts For Halloween (Oct. 16, 2009)
More Haunts For Halloween (Oct. 31, 2009)

Since the 100th post somehow left out Haunts For Halloween, the Halloween version of Soundtracks For Summer, it's only fitting that #200 covered it along with its sequel. Like the Summer and Christmas versions, these entry listed songs that remind me of Halloween. Like the previous entry, many of the videos may not work any more.

The Soundtracks For Summer Series

Vacation (June 18, 2009)
I'm on A Boat (July 12, 2009)

School's Out (July 21, 2009)
Walk The Dinosaur (July 30, 2009)
Tequila (Aug. 16, 2009)
Holiday Road (June 21, 2010)
Wanderlust King (July 5, 2010)

Red Red Wine (July 19, 2010)
Margaritaville (July 31, 2010)
Paradise City (Aug. 13, 2010)
Beach Boys Tribute (Sept. 3, 2010)

As I've said before, I'm a really big fan of my now-yearly summer series "Soundtracks For Summer," a series of short little love letters to songs that define "summer." In the two years since post #100, I since expanded the series to twenty entries as of this writing!

Like the previous two entries, Some videos might not work. Damn.

HI, BILLY MAYS HERE...WAIT, NO I'M NOT! (June 28, 2009)

My tribute to the late, great Billy Mays. I'll never be able to pitch my idea of the Billy Mays Alarm Clock now...

The 10 Worst Kirby Abilities (Jan. 25, 2009)

This one is really popular, not surprisngly among the Kirby fans out there. I put "Copy" from Kirby Super Star at #1, and I don't regret it one bit.

The Better Know a Christmas Series

Japan (Dec. 15, 2009)
Sweden (Dec. 16, 2009)

Great Britain (Dec. 27, 2009)

This was a series of entries that I really hope to continue this year. I love Christmas, and I love reading about how Christmas is celebrated around the world. So I made it my job to educate my fellow readers that America aint the only place that celebrates the hell outta Christmas. Japan's is probably my favorite so far, what with KFC and Annual Gift Man and all, but I've only just begun!

The 10 Geekiest Musical Instruments (April 21st, 2010)

I REALLY love this one, but this sadly has not gotten any response whatsoever. It makes me sad.

My 15 Favorite Conan O'Brien Characters (Jan. 22, 2010)

To commemorate the triumphant return of Conan O'Brien to the airwaves, let's revisit my entry that showcased my favorite characters from his two talk shows, shall we? I think it's pretty obvious who #1 is, but I'd like you all to read it again. And again. And again.

13 Underrated Simpsons Episodes (Feb. 16, 2010)

My Favorite Simpsons Episodes (July 9, 2010)

My Least Favorite Simpsons Episodes (July 15, 2010)

We end here with some of my most popular posts: The Simpsons entries! Really, the entries speak for themselves: My choices for Underrated, Favorite, and Least Favorite episodes. But I loved writing them, and I certainly hope to write more, like that "Best B-Stories" entry I keep teasing you about.

I'd like to thank everyone who believed in me this whole time! We made it to 200, baby! We're halfway there!

By the way, what were YOUR favorite entries?