I was a bit shocked when I got to that age where everyone starts to wax nostalgically about the entertainments of their childhoods and when I was all “guys guys remember Betty Boop” everyone who had a normal childhood said “of course not, Alison, why did you grow up in the 1930s?” My family was the proud possessor of a Beta VCR well after everyone around us had purchased a VHS and the only Beta tapes available at the video store was obscure crap starring the less talented siblings of movie stars. So our options were limited to the stuff my father could find at this one hold-out Beta store in New York, where he went on business several times a year. And this store seemed to have a stock made up entirely of cartoons made between 1925 and 1960.

And that’s why I know every Cab Calloway song and trees and houses that breath in rhythm seem completely normal. What?

This particular cartoon has always been one of my favourites, mainly because of how the mother cat turns into a bed and also because Fearless Fred is a mega dreamboat. And “let’s put out the lights and go to sleep” remains a solid solution for dealing with any problem. See? Betty Boop. More educational than Dora the Explorer.

Funny how two items can perform the same basic function with completely opposite effects. Take, for example, actual sunglasses:

Ayyyyyyyyyyyyyyyyy.

Protects your eyes from light, not aesthetically reprehensible, make you look pretty cool.

Then consider the disposable sunglasses that fit under your regular glasses that you get from the eye doctor after he dilates your pupils way too much, thereby ruining the rest of your day:

Oh my god, what's wrong with you?

Protects your eyes from light, makes you look like a mental patient, causes people on the street to either (a) laugh or (b) say with extreme pity and condescension “You look like you could use a high five.”

Guess who wasn’t together enough to remember to take her real, non mental patient sunglasses to the eye doctor today? And guess who couldn’t actually use a high five?

I got caffeinated in an unusual way a few weeks ago, and wrote about it this weekend in the Post. Te Aro is one of the best of the many excellent coffee shops in my neighbourhood, and they will teach you how to taste coffee properly.

To be honest, I don’t have the most sophisticated palate, at least not coffee-wise. I’m a colossal food snob, but I wasn’t actually very good at identifying the specific flavour notes in the different coffees. I can appreciate good coffee, but I’m just as happy with a Tim Horton’s double double as anything else. Still, it was fun to concentrate really hard on slurping coffee for one morning, and I learned a few things about beans.

So I wussed out on the Popcorn Panel this week. The last time I watched a movie from the Nightmare on Elm Street canon, I was 10 and at a sleepover at SJ’s house. (Remember SJ? She was a great influence in all sorts of ways.) Actually, “watched” is not the right word. “Hid behind the couch with my Les Miserables tape in my Walkman and a Babysitter’s Club book” is a more accurate description, and after the movie, the other girls at the sleepover jumped around shrieking “Don’t look at me”, and I assumed I was just missing some creepy reference. I was able to sleep that night, though I still don’t understand the reference.)

And while there is plenty to be said for facing your fears, I feel that truism applies only to certain fears, and there are some fears that aren’t worth facing. For example, you shouldn’t face a fear of sharks by jumping into a shark tank in a bikini. That’s just stupid. Likewise, why subject myself to something unpleasant without purpose? I know some people find horror movies fun, but I’ve never found them fun. Only mildly-to-extremely traumatic, without any kind of pay-off for the trauma. (I feel the same way about Todd Solondz films.)

In any case, I was able to round up an excellent panel of fellas who do find scary movies fun, and they have a bunch of interesting things to say about Nightmare on Elm Street.

A is for Adios

My keychain broke. Not a big deal, really. The keys are all still connected to the ring, so it’s not even an inconvenience. Just a busted fob, Mickey Mouse leaning against an A, brought back from Disney World for me by SJ almost 20 years ago, and attached to any keys I’ve had since I was old enough to lock things.

You don’t really think about your key fob, don’t consider that maybe Mickey Mouse stuck to an A is not exactly a sophisticated thing for a grown woman to carry around in her pocket every day, it’s just the thing that’s attached to your keys, it’s just there. Only when it breaks, when the little loop of metal snaps off of the fake leather band and clinks to the ground, do you marvel at the oddity of this decades old chachka, made in Taiwan, purchased in Orlando, attached to your keys since you’ve been old enough to have keys. It’s held keys to one car, three bikes, and nine different living spaces. It’s resided in who knows how many jacket pockets. It’s outlasted the friendship that bought it by 15 years.

It’s funny that the Mickey Mouse A should break this past weekend, because SJ has been on my mind lately. Blame Dalton McGuinty. The sex education kerfuffle was all over the news in Ontario last week, and I can’t think about sex education without thinking about SJ.

We all had that friend, right? The one who develops early, who knows girls who do bad things in parks with boys (or says they do), who teaches you lingo like “sucked his wood” and “popped her cherry”, who makes jokes you don’t understand about other girls smelling like fish.

In my sheltered childhood, SJ was an ambassador from Maturity, or at least what passes for maturity when you’re nine and clueless. She filled me in on all the “real” stuff I was too soft to figure out on my own, stuff she’d heard from her teenage uncle. But the problem with SJ, for all her worldly swagger? She was only nine, too. She didn’t know, not really. She just repeated bits of things she heard from her older cousins. Things about where body parts went and what happened to them, things that didn’t really make sense, but still sort of sounded true.

I was mystified by all this information and misinformation given and taken out of context. All I knew was that sexual maturity sounded horrible and I wanted no part of it and hopefully I would just die in some accident before the age of 13 so I wouldn’t have to deal with it (that was my morbid solution to a lot of things related to adulthood that I didn’t want to deal with). Finally, when I was about 11, I was at the Science Centre. Their Human Body section culminates in a very graphic display about the birds and the bees, including an interactive video about different types of birth control and how they work. That’s where I got it – when all the weird things I’d heard about what goes where finally made sense.

A little information, especially when it comes to sex, is a dangerous thing. It’s friends like SJ that make thorough sexual education from an early age very important. No euphemisms. No shame. Kids deserve to know how their bodies work, and how to keep them safe. I hope McGuinty keeps these things in mind while “rejigging” (or whatever the hell they’re doing now) the sex ed curriculum, and doesn’t bow to pressure from people who are trying to impose their own sexual hangups on the entire province.

I picked up The Play That Changed My Life a couple of weeks ago, which is a lovely collection of essays in which various American playwrights recall the seminal theatrical moments of their childhoods that made them crazy enough to select theatre as their lifelong profession. It’s really sweet and fun, and surprisingly inspiring – the writers all manage to twig that moment in time when everything is new and magical without being all twee and annoying about it.

There are a few plays that changed my life and right now I’m going to tell you about the most embarrassing one. I doubt that this story will inspire you. It’s definitely not cool. There’s a lot of crying on the couch and compulsively writing Sondheim lyrics in my notebooks instead of taking notes in class. But sometimes the truth is as ugly as a frizzy-haired 13-year-old bawling on the sofa and freaking out when well meaning relatives call it “Into the Forest”. And, for better or worse, this is the truth: I was not the same after I watched Into the Woods as I had been before.

It was a normal night in 1995, meaning I was probably scowling at my sisters, stomping around upstairs, and avoiding doing my homework. And then I turned the tv on and, since Seinfeld wasn’t in syndication yet (was it? Maybe it was. In any case, I couldn’t find an episode of it on), I flipped to Bravo, home to reruns of my favourite terrible show, Fame. A musical I didn’t recognize was playing, but since I liked musicals anyway, I stuck with it. Two hours later I was a blubbering mess, sure I had just witnessed the pinnacle of human creative achievement, and feeling like I’d been given something crucial that I hadn’t even known I’d been missing.

You're missing all the flowers.

Lucky for me (in retrospect, this is debatable), Bravo was showing Into the Woods again the next day, so I could tape it and watch it every single day for the whole next year. (That’s not an exaggeration for effect. If anything, it’s an understatement.)

No, I wasn’t the same after that first viewing of Into the Woods: I was far more annoying. I was an irritating and socially inept adolescent before I discovered Stephen Sondheim, but afterwards I probably could have used some anti-psychotic medication. Even my best friend, who would herself yammer on ad nauseum about The Yardbirds (no, no one I knew liked anything normal, like Oasis, or whatever the kids were listening to back then) got sick of my nonstop chatter about all the ingenious double entendres in Sondheim’s lyrics and how clever and symbolic the double casting was and how Joanna Gleason is the greatest actress of all time and why isn’t she more famous and OMG I WISH I HAD HER DARK AUBURN HAIR!

Into the Woods didn’t exactly change my life for the better, not immediately, anyway. Instead, it helped plunge me into the type of analytic obsessiveness mustered only by depressive young teenagers. (Of course, that was probably due more to timing than anything else. And it could have been much worse! Imagine if I’d watched Interview with the Vampire instead!)

This is how all my classmates looked at me when I wouldn't shut it about Sondheim musicals.

But Into the Woods did magnify the already festering inkling that theatre was all I really cared about, the only thing (aside from the occasional game of Tetris or maybe a Twix bar) that got the dopamine racing through my mopey little brain. I already liked theatre before I watched Into the Woods. But after that night, theatre wasn’t just something I liked. After that night, theatre was something that I needed: to watch, to do, to live. It was still a couple more years before I worked up the self-confidence to actually audition for a school play (that’s another story, and a much happier one), but I can pinpoint the moment when the hunger for art that would eventually send me to theatre school was born, and it was the night that Bravo decided to air the PBS recording of the original Broadway production of Into the Woods.