Tuesday, December 25, 2012

Separated at Birth 6: Frank Asaro and The Bearded Who

Another in the continuing series dedicated to the Separated at Birth phenomenon.

So a few days back I was watching an old episode of the show "In Search of..." called "The End of the World" for a blog I was writing on the subject.  The episode came from the fifth season of the show, way back in 1981.

One of the experts consulted on the subject of various possibilities for the end of the world in this episode was a scientist from Berkeley named Frank Asaro.  Now, I can't say that I'd ever heard of Mr. Asaro before watching this old show, but for whatever reason there was something about him that seemed very familiar to me.

Frank Asaro: Scientist

I couldn't quite place it at first, but this familiarity seemed to have something to do with the epic beard he was sporting.  The first thought was that he resembled former U.S. Surgeon General C. Everett Koop.  A case could probably be made that Frank Asaro and C. Everett Koop were indeed separated at birth.  They were supposedly born eleven years apart, but are certainly contemporaries of each other.

C. Everett Koop
Frank Asaro

But, as you've probably noticed, the title of this edition of Separated at Birth doesn't mention C. Everett Koop.  No, there seemed to be something else nagging at my mind when I saw Mr. Asaro.  I saw the "In Search of..." episode less than a week before Christmas and it felt like Frank Asaro's long-lost "relative" must have had something to do with the season at hand.  The answer was found in the old animated Christmas special "How The Grinch Stole Christmas"(1966).  This Boris Karloff-narrated show was alway a favorite of mine as a kid (and still is, as a matter of fact).

In the show, when the Whos of Whoville started singing the song "Welcome Christmas" there's a moment when a bearded Whovillian appears alongside some of his fellow citizens.  This particular Who had a very distinctive beard.  A beard not unlike...Frank Asaro's (and C. Everett Koop's too for that matter).

Now, note the resemblance between the bearded Who and Frank Asaro.  Similar Beard.  Similar hairline.  Throw some glasses and a tie on the Who and it's almost uncanny, right?
The Bearded Who
Frank Asaro

I can't say for sure that Frank Asaro and the bearded Whovillian were indeed separated at birth.  The fact that one is a human being and one is an animated character would seem to make it rather unlikely.  But then again, we have seen some rather odd pairings in earlier Separated at Birth installments: like Tim Tebow and Bigfoot, and Reese Witherspoon and Sister Bear (from The Berenstain Bears).  I suppose a less dramatic explanation could be that Mr. Asaro was simply inspired (consciously or unconsciously) by a viewing of "How The Grinch Stole Christmas".  Either that or (probably more likely) he was a fan of Abe Lincoln's style.

Abraham Lincoln
Frank Asaro

I don't know what ever became of the bearded Whoville resident in the years since he helped usher in Christmas by singing "Welcome Christmas" back in 1966.  Does anyone happen to know what the average life span is for a Who?  HIs bald head and white beard would seem to indicate that he was already an elder of the town, but I really couldn't say how old he would have been back when the special first aired, or if he'd be likely to still be alive today.

However, thanks to the internet we do have a better idea of what happened to Frank Asaro in the three-plus decades since his appearance on "In Search of...".  According to his Wikipedia page he's still "an Emeritus Senior Scientist at the Lawrence Berkeley National Laboratory associated with the University of California at Berkeley."  And according to Berkeley's Environmental Energy Technologies Division website he's part of the Sustainable Energy Systems Group.  Here's a more recent photo of Mr. Asaro from that site:

Note that after all these years he's still rockin' his trademark beard!
...Even if it is cropped a little closer these days.

See more instances of people (and other things) that seemed to have been "Separated at Birth" below:

Friday, December 21, 2012

It's The End of the World ...Again

I'm writing this at a little after midnight, and December 21, 2012 is just getting under way.  Of course, December 21 started many hours ago on the other side of the earth, but that's beside the point.  Despite what many believe the ancient Mayans predicted, I have a feeling that December 21, 2012 will be a lot like December 20, 2012--and December 22, 2012 for that matter.  True, there are still twenty-four hours to go before I can safely say that nothing bad or "earth-shattering" happened on this date, but I feel pretty comfortable believing that the world is not going to end today.

The End of the World, Doomsday, The Apocalypse, Judgment Day, Armageddon and many other ideas about  how and when our planet will end have been predicted for centuries.  It seems like every couple of years we are presented with a new date for the end of the world.  Heck, it was only about a year-and-a-half ago that we were hearing all about Judgment Day and The Rapture (which passed very quietly).  Sometimes these dates are based on translations of writings/predictions from centuries ago.  Sometimes they come from some mystical cult leader who will somehow manage to convince a dedicated following that he/she knows what they are talking about.  With any luck these predictions will simply pass, the leader will be discredited and those poor souls under the cult's spell can try to get back to their lives.  Unfortunately, in some instances the leader's personality and magnetism are so strong that his/her followers might be led to believe that they must kill themselves to satisfy some need of the Gods or aliens or whatever crazy story the leader dreams up.

Predictions about the end of the world can come from biblical passages, from oracles and prognosticators of the future (like Nostradamus), from self-styled messengers of God (see cult leaders above) or many other sources.  While most of these predictions seem mystical and religious in nature there was also a very real threat of global destruction which for decades had the world teetering on the brink of disaster.  This was the threat of atomic and/or nuclear disaster known as the Cold War.  It's probably hard for someone growing up today to imagine how real this threat felt at the time.  From the late 1940s right up until 1989 there was a general sense of potential doom as the United States and Russia held a dangerous stalemate between them.  One bad decision or one small mishap or miscommunication could have ushered in a man-made disaster the likes of which had never been seen.  Over the years the two main combatants of the Cold War were joined by other countries which managed to develop their own nuclear arsenal.

Even though the Cold War is now over, there is still a very real possibility of all-out nuclear war.  While stockpiles of weapons have been lessened, I'm sure there are still plenty of them left to devastate large swaths of the planet if they were to be detonated.  And unstable governments like North Korea and Iran are still trying to gain access to the not-so-exclusive-anymore club of countries that possess those weapons.  Whether the end comes by way of nuclear weapons, a meteor or asteroid (or rogue planet), natural disaster, biblical prophesies come true, some form of Super Flu, global warming, alien invasion or even the Zombie Apocalypse, there are many possibilities to continue to worry about if one so chooses.  But at least we can say that, despite what Hollywood might have us believe (see movies like "2012" and "2012: Doomsday"), the earth should live to see the dawn of 2013 and perhaps beyond.

I'm no expert on this topic, but from what I've been reading it seems that the Mayan calendar responsible for all this December 21, 2012 stuff simply ends on that date, only to start over with a whole new cycle.  I suppose it's pretty boring to say that you just go back to the beginning to start that new cycle and it's more "interesting" to say that the cycle ends with death and destruction before a new cycle can begin ("re-cycle"?).

For a look at the Mayan civilization and its "predictions"--from a 1970s point of view--here is an episode from the classic TV series "In Search of..." from 1977 titled "Mayan Mysteries".

In Search of...  Mayan Mysteries

Interestingly, this episode says that the ancient Mayan calendar we hear so much about ends on December 24, 2011 instead of December 21, 2012.  I believe that this discrepancy is due to the fact that the Mayans didn't have leap years.  Thirty-five years after this episode we have finally reached the end of the Mayan Calendar.  Hopefully December 21, 2012 will end the same way as thousands and thousands of days have ended before it and we will live to see December 22, 2012.  Then perhaps we can finally feel safe again.  ...But, for how long?

Wednesday, November 28, 2012

Resurrecting The Past: Hostess Choco Bliss (Part 1: The Past)

Twinkies, the de facto face of the Hostess company

The Hostess company has been getting a lot of press lately for threatening to go out of business.  It seems like every year or two we hear new reports about the demise of the maker of Twinkies, Hostess Cupcakes, Ho Ho's and many other confectionary treats.  It looks like this time it might actually happen.  I actually regret not buying one last box of Twinkies before they all disappeared off the shelves.  It really didn't seem possible that I could walk into a store and not see Hostess products for sale, but that is the way things are at the moment.  It would seem that Twinkies have become a victim of the times.  People are more health conscious today.  Yes, there will always be people who will buy Twinkies and other fat, sugar and cholesterol-laden treats, but nowadays there just aren't enough of them to sustain a gigantic company like Hostess.  I'm as guilty as anyone for the company's downfall.  I have a huge sweet tooth and admit to still loving the taste of those golden, creme-filled cakes that have been rumored to be able to outlast cockroches after the apocalypse.  Yet, even though I could probably be happy eating a package of Twinkies a day I do realize that's not a good idea.  Just to get a taste of them I'll buy a box or two a year.  That's not going to keep Twinkie The Kid from joining the ranks of the unemployed.  I have no doubt that we'll see Twinkies again one day--when another company swoops in and buys the reicipe and name from Hostess (or whatever legal title owns the rights at the time).

Hostess Choco Bliss
Anyway, I thought this would be a good time to talk about another in the long line of Hostess products: the Choco Bliss.  This fabled snack was introduced back in the mid-1980s--a time when I was a youthful teenager with a taste for sweets.

Choco Bliss were billed as a "Chocolate Lover's Dream", and it was hard to argue with that description.  Check out the expressions on the faces of these kids and adults from the only two commercials for Choco bliss that can be found on YouTube.  They may be staged, but looking at these ecstatic expressions you can get an idea of what the experience of diving into a Choco Bliss was like for a chocolate lover in the 80s.  I won't mention anything about the apparent use of vague sexual imagery used in these ads, other than to acknowledge it.  Judge for yourself.

So, what made Choco Bliss a "Chocolate Lover's Dream"?  Well, the cakes in a package of Choco Bliss were larger than Twinkies.  From what I remember they rivaled the size of Hostess' other giant snack cake, Suzy Q's.  Granted I was only a young teenager at the time and they might have seemed larger to my not-yet-fully-grown hands, but  did eat Suzy Q's at the time so it should be a valid comparison.

Like Suzy Q's, a Choco Bliss consisted of two oversized devil's food cake sticks with a creamy layer in between.  While the Suzy Q had (and still has) a white creme center Choco Bliss had a chocolatey middle layer.

Then, just to cement Choco Bliss' place in the heart of dreaming chocolate lovers, another layer of chocolate icing was applied to the top, making a total of four layers of chocolate (three completely different ones) in a single snack!  The two non-cake layers were different from each other too: the top one was a denser, frosting-like covering or icing with lines running the length of the cake while the middle layer had a creamier consistency and a lighter color.

Unfortunately, the Choco Bliss went the way of the dinosaur a few years later.  I don't know exactly when they stopped being produced, but can't recall seeing them on shelves in the early 1990s.  It seems like they had a rather short heyday compared to gray-beards like Twinkies, Hostess Cupcakes and Hostess Fruit Pies.  Chocolate lovers everywhere must have lamented the demise of Choco bliss while diabetics probably rejoiced.

Image from Choco Bliss ad that could just as easily be a tombstone for the long-gone snack

Back in the 1980s I was a fan of most snack treats made by Hostess and other companies like Drake's and Little Debbie.  I don't recall having a favorite.  Sometimes I would get Twinkies.  Other times it would be an Apple or Chocolate Pie, Cupcakes or Suzy Q's.  It all depended on what I felt like that day.  About the only thing I wouldn't eat was Snowballs because I don't like coconut.  While I might not have considered Choco Blss to be my official "favorite" I had a friend who swore by them.  He frequently called them a chocolate lover's dream and I actually thought he made the line up himself until I realized it was on the packaging of the cakes.  All these years later we still recall those heady days when you could buy a quick overload of chocolatey goodness at the corner store whenever the craving hit.  There are plenty of chocolate-based sweets available in stores today, but nothing really seems to compare to what Choco Bliss offered a hungry, snack-seeking world.  A lot of this feeling can be attributed to the fact that Choco Bliss hasn't existed for so many years.  A nostalgia for the "good old days" and looking at the past through rose-colored glasses might add some extra goodness to what Choco Bliss actually was, but it does seem true that nothing has really come along in the ensuing years that really compares to them.

Here are the two commercials for Choco Bliss from the 1980s that have provided most of the photos for this installment of of Resurrecting The Past.  The first one is geared toward kids.  Check out this post about the ad from the site X-Entertainment for an absolutely hilarious moment-by-moment dissection of the commercial.

The second commercial shows that Choco Bliss cakes weren't simply kids' stuff.  A man and a woman in this ad can't hide their excitement as they partake of the embarrassment of chocolatey riches provided by their beloved snack cakes.

Many months ago I got to thinking about Hostess Choco Bliss once again.  I was trying to think if there was anything out there that was similar to them.  A less-than-exhaustive search provided three contenders, but none of them could measure up (literally or figuratively) to Choco Bliss.  I'm not a cook by any means, but I decided that the only choice was to make an attempt to recreate (in some small way) the magic that Hostess had captured during the short but sweet reign of the Choco Bliss.  Part Two of this blog will detail that mission.  Stay tuned and stay hungry...

Wednesday, November 14, 2012

Seven Years of Monster Dad

Seven years?  Really?  Well, no.  The blog Monster Dad has actually only been around for about two-and-a-half years.  But, my Little Monster was born seven years ago today!  While the term didn't exist yet, on that day I first became Monster Dad.

I didn't start inundating The Little Monster with all the old monster movies and other interests of mine that I've shared with her until she was a couple years old.  At first she was simply a baby, and I was simply a new father who had no idea what to do or just how much life was about to change.  Fatherhood has been a real "adventure" and a true life-changer (naturally).  Of course a few years later we just had to do it all over again and now have two of these Little Creatures underfoot.  The whole experience has at times been much scarier than some of the monster movies I love, but it has also been rewarding too.  And it definitely helped that The Little Monster was willing to indulge some of my interests--and even seemed to enjoy many of them herself.

Watching "Star Wars: Episode IV" together at my 40th birthday backyard drive-in party

Preparing to watch "Ghostbusters" on the big screen last month

Preparing to watch "Abbott and Costello Meet Frankenstein" at the local library

Now that she is seven we are starting to really see evidence of her "growing up", and I don't like it one bit.  The Little Monster recently lost the second of her two front teeth.  The Wife informed me told me that she asked her if the Tooth Fairy was real after she found her tooth replaced by a five dollar bill (inflation is a real killer!).  While certainly a valid question and concern, it was the first time The Little Monster has questioned the reality of something that most little kids simply accept as the truth.  I wonder if Santa is next?  Yikes!  Luckily, she still has some of that innocent side in her.  She still asks me "Daddy, is this real?" pretty much whenever we see anything even slightly scary in a movie or TV show that we watch.  She's growing up, but I still love to see that childish (not in a negative) sense of imagination that allows her to be frightened by stuff that in reality isn't all that scary!

I know that as The Little Monster gets older and older we'll have less and less in common as far as my geeky interest in all the old and childish things that have captivated me since I was a kid myself.  But I'll always cherish the time we've spent together and all the things we've watched, read and experienced as Monster Dad and Little Monster!  How many kids of the 2010's have an appreciation for not only Barbie, Disney Princesses and Spongebob Squarepants, but also old Godzilla movies, Mystery Science Theater 3000, Abbott & Costello, The Three Stooges, Bigfoot, The Abominable Snowman, The Loch Ness Monster, Tom Baker-era "Doctor Who", Styx's song "Mr. Roboto", old (1960s-70s) cartoons like Spiderman and Scooby-Doo, and even classic old-time-radio shows like "The Dark" and "The Chicken Heart"?

Here's "The Dark" and "The Chicken Heart"
in case you are interested in hearing them

Here are a few more of the many special moments from the past seven years:

The Monsters watching "A&C Meet Frankenstein" last year

The Monsters watching "The Berenstain Bears Meet Bigpaw"

Godzilla preparing to go for a stroll with Finz

Hanging with Penny Dreadful and Garou of the show "Shilling Shockers"
(Note Witch Barbie)

Passing an old Abominable Snowman children's book of mine on to a new generation

Watching "The Incredible Shrinking Man" for the first time last year

The climatic tarantula scene from "The Incredible Shrinking Man"

While I wouldn't try to say that these things will serve her well as an adult in her pursuit of an education and a successful career, I can't help but think that she'll be just that much more well-rounded as an individual (even if it's only in some small, weird way) with all these odd things enjoyed in her childhood.  I could be wrong, but I'd like to think that I'm not.  Only time will tell...

Which reminds me...  A long time ago I wrote about the problems I have with Time and the passage of Time (in Monster Dad vs. Time).  Looking at my Little Monster as a seven-year-old and seeing how much she's grown up has only reminded me of just how cruel and uncaring Time really is.  What happened to that little baby who would fall asleep in my arms as I read books to her at bedtime?  Where is the little girl who fit into that tiny dragon costume she wore at Halloween a few years back?  How can it be that she is now in first grade, learning so much and growing so much every day?  Before I know it she's going to be older than I was when I first discovered all the wonderful things of my youth that I've been sharing with her.  I was about to suggest that maybe someday she will be sharing some of those same interests with her own children, but THAT thought would be the ULTIMATE terror for this particular Monster Dad!


Saturday, October 27, 2012

Who Ya Gonna Call?

Monday, October 22, 2012 was a pretty special day for Monster Dad.  I went to see "Ghostbusters" (1984) at the Coolidge Corner Theatre in Brookline, MA.  What makes this such a special event?  Well, please allow me to explain...

I was fourteen years old when "Ghostbusters" was first released.  For someone very much into movies in general, and horror/sci-fi movies in particular, "Ghostbusters" was pretty close to a perfect movie for me at that age.  It had a ton of supernatural elements that were superbly balanced with some of the best comedy I had (or have) ever seen in a film.  I was already a big fan of Bill Murray and Ivan Reitman's brand of comedy from watching and enjoying "Stripes" (1981) on TV.  "Ghostbusters" was very much the same sort of movie--with a different plotline, setting and cast (besides Murray and Harold Ramis of course).  The fact that the main difference was a supernatural one was...well...perfect.

I saw "Ghostbusters" four or five times in the theaters.  That might not sound like all that much for a supposed "favorite" movie, but keep in mind that I was only fourteen and needed to get someone to take me to see it.  If I had my license at the time I'm sure that number would have been a lot higher.  I loved listening to Ray Parker Jr.'s song "Ghostbusters", regardless of how overplayed it was on the radio.  I'd tape it on my portable tape recorder over and over again, despite the fact that I also had the soundtrack on cassette tape.  I even joined the Ghostbusters Fan Club.  In the days before the internet there were only so many ways to keep up with and feel involved with interests like "Ghostbusters".  I did my best to read everything I could about the movie in the magazines like Starlog, and watch anything I could about the movie on TV (reviews on shows like "Sneak Previews" and "At the Movies", and coverage of the movie and its stars on shows like "Entertainment Tonight").

The years passed and my love for "Ghostbusters" remained with me.  While I never picked it up on VHS, I was very happy to finally get my hands on my own copy of the movie in the little DVD boxset that also included the flawed and far inferior (in my opinion) "Ghostbusters II".  A couple years ago I introduced The Little Monster to "Ghostbusters".  At about four she was obviously a lot younger than I had been when I first saw the movie, but I felt like she was ready for it.  In my attempt to share my interests with her and transform her into a Monster Kid I had shown her many of the movies I had enjoyed as a kid.  She liked most of them and "Ghostbusters" seemed like it would be a good choice as well.  Other than a couple mild PG-13 sort of "adult situations" and a few swears it is pretty tame.  As it turned out, she did indeed love the movie and wanted to watch it over and over again (as she's known to do with a current favorite).  The added bonus was that she found a few of the "scary" scenes actually scary.  It was nothing that would traumatize her or anything, but it was really fun to be able to watch it through her young and imaginative eyes.

The gigantic Stay Puft Marshmallow Man is hilarious,
but understandably a bit scary for a little kid

We recently moved to Brookline, MA and I was very excited to be able to go to the Coolidge Corner Theatre on a regular basis.  We live so close in fact that I can actually walk there!  Last month I saw a flyer at the theater announcing that they would be screening "Ghostbusters" on October 22nd.  Other than really wanting to see it and take along The Little Monster I didn't give it a whole heck of a lot of thought.  What hadn't occurred to me was the fact that, despite having seen the movie dozens of times over the past couple of decades, this would be my first time seeing it on the big screen (and on film too) since its original release!  Of course that meant it would be The Little Monster's first time seeing it on the big screen too.  Suddenly our little father/daughter pre-Halloween date night took on a greater importance.

The Coolidge's flyer for the Big Screen Classics screening of "Ghostbusters"
The Coolidge corner Theater's marquee,
with "Ghostbusters" advertised on it
Ticket to the show!

I ended up totally geeking out and picking up one of those adult Ghostbuster costumes (complete with inflatable proton pack) at Newbury Comics.  It also seemed like a good time to finally buy The Little Monster the plastic Stay Puft Marshmallow Man bank that I'd wanted to get her for a couple of years.  I'll admit that I felt a bit odd going to see the movie with a six-year-old and being the one dressed up as a Ghostbuster.  I alleviated that feeling by letting The Little Monster wear the proton pack as well as bringing along her new Stay Puft bank.

Apparently a lot of people besides us were looking forward to this night too.  While the crowd was predominantly adult, quite a few other people also brought their kids along to share the experience with them.  There were even three other people in Ghostbusters costumes that were a LOT more realistic than my store-bought version.  I believe that at least a couple of them were part of a group called Bay State Ghostbusters.  The show was sold out and the theater was packed (I should have gotten a photo of the crowd before the movie started).  We got our seats and had to wait to get popcorn until the movie was under way because of long lines and a shortage of popcorn (the machine couldn't keep up with the demand).  The Coolidge crew had a little pre-show entertainment where they brought people who claimed they had seen ghosts up to the stage to tell their stories for prizes.  This was probably the scariest part of the night for The Little Monster--as well as the most disappointing, since she was hoping to get some of the prizes.  Of course she already had a Stay Puft Marshmallow Man toy and a Hot Wheels Ectomobile, but that didn't stop her from wanting more.  The only one of the prizes she didn't already have was a Lego set of some sort.  Oh well, there's always Christmas, right?

The Little Monster's Ectomobile

The movie itself was wonderful to see again.  I always forget how much better it can be watching a film in a theater than on DVD on your own TV.  The capacity crowd was very much into it and laughed in all the right places.  No matter how many times I see it I still find myself laughing out loud many times.  The kids in the audience (and there were a pretty good number of them too) were obviously a tad nervous during a few scenes.  As much as I don't want my Little Monster to be terrified by anything I show her, it was just so rewarding turning and seeing her with her fingers stuck in her ears a few times during these scenes.  It had been a while since she'd seen the movie and I think she kind of forgot that it really wasn't all that scary.  I think my favorite moment of the night might just have been when I looked at her during one of the "scarier" moments and she nervously said "Daddy, cover my eyes...while I block my ears.  Teamwork!"  The movie is chock full of awesome quotes too numerous to list, but with that line The Little Monster managed to add yet another one to my personal favorites!  Honorable Mention: when Stay Puft explodes and everything gets covered in marshmallow she asked, in all seriousness, "Can they eat it now?"  Aah, the mind of a child and the magic of a child's imagination.  Priceless!