To Do List 

Wednesday, January 24, 2007

Matt left me a to do list:
  • Change oil in car
  • Hug Matt
  • Inquire about lifetime membership to the Cockroach Museum
  • Walk the hamsters
  • Braid pubic hair
  • Sponsor "Stop Smoking" program for BC Salmon
  • Become more tolerant of minorities and lactose
  • Research guinea pig bacon as a small serving alternative to pork bellies
  • Protest urinary incontinence
  • Give coconuts a Brazilian wax
  • Review emergency bowel procedures


Protecting the Dwindling Mummy Population 

Friday, January 19, 2007

In my craze for all things zombie, I've neglected the majestic mummy!
If nothing is done, experts say, the Egyptian mummy will soon go the way of the Bavarian lycanthrope or the Transylvanian vampire, and vanish forever.


"My grandchildren have still never seen a mummy," said [Afterlife Preservation Society president James Amarcas], who vividly recalls his first mummy sighting in 1947, when he was just 3 years old. "These terrible monsters are little more than a legend to them. It's sad to think they might never see the bloodthirsty march of an undead Egyptian prince on a cool, calm night."


In response, a coalition group has proposed the so-called Mummy Conservation Act to the Egyptian Parliament, which aims to create a refuge to protect mummies, relocating them to reserves where they can guard their stone amulets in peace.

"In addition, inhabited tombs would be put on 24-hour surveillance, mummies would be tagged with tracking collars, and many items would be banned from all tombs," Amarcas said. "Especially torches, as mummies are very susceptible to fire."
From here.

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Béla Lives! 

Thursday, January 18, 2007

I finished reading Arthur Lenning's The Count: The Life and Films of Bela "Dracula" Lugosi about a week ago. Lennig, a child fan of Lugosi's, met his hero and actually became friends with the Hungarian actor in the 1940s.

Lennig's biography of Béla (pronounced "Bay-la") is what you would expect from a friend who wants to salvage something of his hero's reputation. The writer spends little time on the five wives and how the first four became ex Mrs. Lugosis: one returns to Hungary and the reader never hears from her again. When did the divorce happen? Or was Lugosi a bigamist when he remarried a year later?

Then there is Lugosi's drug addiction. The actor, after his fourth divorce and the loss of his wife's help in curbing his drug use, committed himself to Los Angeles General Hospital's mental health and hygiene department on April 21, 1955 (a year before his death).

It's not clear when Lugosi's addiction to morphine blossomed: he himself hinted at the years 1935, 1938, 1944 and 1948. Lennig, though, a true friend, estimates the last year (page 275), to stress that the strain of his failed career was what drove him to drugs.

What really did in the vestiges of Lugosi's career was was the 1943 Frankenstein Meets the Wolf Man. Playing Frankenstein's monster with the brain of Ygor implanted in his head, Lugosi performed the part of Shelley's original talking monster. However, Universal ultimately removed his spoken scenes from the film, leaving plot holes that studio heads then blamed on Lugosi. Thus, Lugosi's career with that studio came to an end.

In the same year, Lugosi filmed Columbia's The Return of the Vampire. This film ran afoul of the critics, driving another stake into Lugosi's career.

It was only in 1948 that Lugosi's agent, Don Marlowe, convinced Universal president to hire Lugosi for Abbott and Costello Meet Frankenstein. Marlowe "barged" into the president's office, explained that Lugosi had saved the studio in 1931, that he only made $3500 off the classic film, while Universal reaped millions, and that the studio owed the old man. The studio laid off Ian Keith from the role and replaced him with Lugosi. This meagre offering would be Lugosi's last major studio role.

One can appreciate Lennig's efforts in tracking down Lugosi's oeuvre and the gusto with which he describes the plot of each film, lovingly detailing how Lugosi would pronounce every cheesy mad scientist cliche with theatrical reverence.

Béla Lugosi not only defined the role of Dracula, starred in the first zombie movie, and perfected the mad scientist, he was also the first Ygor, in 1939's Son of Frankenstein.

In the end, Lugosi's contributions to American culture have created a career for Gary Larson; spawned movies, songs, books, toys, postage stamps; gave Transylvania's tourism board a raison d'être; and permanently removed Dracula's moustache.

Some highlights from the biography and the quirky scripts:
  • Premiering on December 19, 1926, was The Devil in the Cheese, in which Lugosi appeared a Greek bandit masquerading as a priest. Worth noting is the synopsis of the play that Arthur Lennig describes: "The father, to find out what makes his daughter tick, eats a bit of mummified Egyptian cheese and so frees the little god Min, who subsequently takes Quigley into his daughter Goldina's head." If only her head contained anything of interest: "She dreams of adventure with her young hero on the South Seas, on a desert island, and finally in New York; she also envisions cooking, having babies, nursing, and some politicking from which her husband becomes president."

  • In the 1937 S.O.S. Coast Guard, Bela Lugosi played the mad inventor Bornoff who's involved in the disintegration gas weapons trade with Morovania (page 208). Who cares about the show. It's Morovania I want to fixate upon. Morovania is obviously a combination of Moldova and Romania, in the spirit of Molvanîa and Syldavia (Transylvania + Moldova - though more Balkanized than the real Romanian countries). In 1943, he finally played a real Romanian in The Return of the Vampire.

  • Another script to drool over is 1941's The Devil Bat: "Bristling with passionate resentment as only Lugosi can, he seeks revenge by breeding giant bats and giving his enemies a shaving lotion that attracts the creatures."
Oh the possibilities! Lennig recalls, on page 241, the old adage that "No one would ever go broke underestimating the taste of the American public."

(P.S. Dear Béla, though some people claim you have some sort of double-chinned-ness happening, I have to disagree. You were one sexy bastard and you stole the show in Dracula. Love, FG Maktaaq.)

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Games that Hamsters Refuse to Play 

Tuesday, January 09, 2007

Matt and I thought we came up with the cleverest game ever to play with a hamster.

We thought the hamsters would play along.

Hamsters really like to make nests out of tissue paper; my hamsters get a wad of toilet paper a week to build their nest; thus, we concluded, a whole roll of toilet paper would be a dream come true to a hamster.

We thought we would document the daily unraveling of the toilet paper roll and that the hamster would fill up the cage with scrunched up bits of toilet paper.

It would have been so cute.

Last January, when Crenguța still lived, we awarded her with a whole roll:

Crenguța's Cage

She tore off a bit of toilet paper. Then she stopped.

Crenguța's Cage After a Week

You can see the nest in the top left corner. (All the black oblong shapes are hamster poops.)

This is as big as her nest ever got:

Gootz in Bed 2

This January, we decided to replicate the experiment with Lucian.

After a week, here's what his cage looks like:

Lucian's Cage

The little guy only took what he needed. In fact, less than he needed. He built up the rest of his nest with the newspaper that lines his cage.

The hamsters' lack of a sense of fun leaves me disappointed in their kind. It may be a generalization, but I suspect the entire species of being no fun.

Where's the wanton greed? Where's the unfettered extravagance?

Hamsters have a lot to learn from humans.

Here's something to keep in mind, hamsters of the world:
Each American [human] will consume 700,000 kilograms (1.5 million lbs.) of minerals (mostly sand and gravel), and 24 billion BTUs of energy — equivalent to 4000 barrels of oil (40% in petroleum products, 25% each in natural gas and coal). In a lifetime, an average American [human] will eat 25,000 kilograms (55,000 lbs.) of plant foods (20% each in vegetables, sweeteners, fruits & juices, grains, and other plant products) and 28,000 kilograms (60,000 lbs.) of animal products (70% milk, 7% each beef, chicken and pork), provided in part by slaughtering 2000 animals (>90% poultry).*
Hamsters, you only have, on average, a two-year lifespan vs. a human's 70-80 years. I highly doubt you're even close to a two-year-old human's consumption levels.

Yeah, sure, you are eating your way to that 25,000 kg of plant foods, but have you stopped to think about how close you are to slaughtering your allotted 2000 animals? I haven't seen any hamsters lately sinking their teeth into any fat juicy steaks.

And how about those forests? Sheesh, you're making us humans do all the work in destroying them. Can't you at least do your part? A whole roll of toilet paper and you're like, what, saving it for something?

Waste already! It's so much fun! That's why we live in a free country! We can do whatever we ---

Hey! Punk! I'm talking to you! Are you even listening?

Aww, screw it!

He went to sleep.

Sleeping Lucian

*From "The Environmental Consequences of Having a Baby in the United States", via Dave Pollard, himself via Darren Barefoot.

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I'm Sticking to Veggie Dogs 

Monday, January 08, 2007

After years of curiosity, I finally watched the 1931 film M.

The Criterion copy reads: "Behind every great suspense thriller lurks the shadow of M. In this, Fritz Lang's first sound film, Peter Lorre delivers a haunting performance as the cinema's first serial killer, a whistling pedophile hunted by the police and brought to trial by the forces of the Berlin underworld."

I've ony known Peter Lorre in Arsenic and Old Lace, Casablanca and the dreadful 1939 Mr. Moto Takes a Vacation (where he plays a Japanese man), and thus saw him more as a creepy gagster. Now I know how far creepy goes in describing him.

But what I didn't know is that he was Jewish and fled Germany soon after the film's release, supposedly warned by Josef Goebbels himself.

Peter Lorre was born László Löwenstein in Rózsahegy, in 1904 a part of the Hungarian part of the Austro-Hungarian empire, now Ruzomberok in Slovakia. By 22, he was a bank clerk by day and an actor by night (from The Lost One: A Life of Peter Lorre by Stephen Youngkin).

The actor fled first to Paris in February 1933, then to London to play in Hitchcock's 1934 The Man Who Knew Too Much, and, in July of that same year, he made his way across the Atlantic to the US.

The 1933 Nazi propaganda film, The Eternal Jew, used his image in M as the stereotypical Jew, and the film was finally banned in July 1934.

He also played the first Bond villain, Le Chiffre, in the 1954 Casino Royale. He inspired numerous cartoon versions of himself, in Bugs Bunny and Daffy Duck episodes, in Porky Pig's portrayal of Mr. Motto, a fish in Dr. Seuss's Horton Hatches an Egg, the Booberry cereal mascot, Ren in The Ren & Stimpy Show, a character in Corpse Bride, and others.

Much like Bela Lugosi, he never managed to avoid typecasting as a villain and later as a parody of himself. As one critic put it, Youngkin, the author of the exhaustive biography, wonders if Lorre thought "he should have stayed in Europe and faced Hitler."

Fritz Lang, the director, left in 1933, soon after Goebbels offered him (and he refused) the role of the director of the German Cinema Institute. The position eventually went to Leni Riefenstahl.

M was based on a number of Weimar murderers:
Peter Kürten (1883-1932) - The Düsseldorf Vampire attacked men, women and especially little girls, starting with a burglary in 1913 and sometimes stabbing as many as three people in a day. On his way to the guillotine, he asked, "Will I still be able to hear, at least for a moment, the sound of my own blood gushing from the stump of my neck?"

Fritz Haarmann (1879-1925) The Butcher of Hannover, had a Hitler moustache like Kürten, but got away with more murders because he killed vagrants and male prostitutes. He killed his victims in true vampire fashion, nipping them at the neck, and later sold their clothes and their flesh as "pork." Once, a merchant took the "meat" to the police to air his suspicion that it was human flesh; the police said it was definitely pork.

Karl Denke (1870-1924) This organ player killed and ate at least thirty people, sometimes selling the meat on the loca market. The Mass Murderer of Munstberg hanged himself in his cell the night of his arrest. He had a full beard.

Carl Grossmann (1863-1921?) The Berlin Butcher also committed suicide in his cell; police found the remains and blood of at least four victims in his apartment; he may have killed up to fifty young women. He sold the flesh on the market, and, like Haarman, throwing away the "non-edible" bits into a river. Now, are you ready for this? He also had a hot dog stand. The extent of his facial hair is unknown.
Peter Kürten is most often recalled as the single inspiration, though someone pointed out that the children's rhyme at the beginning used Schwarzer Mann ("Black Man") which originally was "Haarmann" for Fritz Haarman.

One of the early sound films, M uses sound to heighten the foreboding, as detailed in a Criterion essay - in the opening shot, the children sing of the murderer and how he chops his victims; the mother's frantic calls for her daughter over a shot of an empty attic; the murderer's whistling before we even see him. Visually, I was delighted with the idea of the M and of the would-be victim politely and unwittingly handing Lorre his dropped knife.

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On to the Merry-Go-Rounds! 

Sunday, January 07, 2007

Maktaaq: I've made real progress with my novel. Listen to this: instead of November - minor character description - main character introduction - visitors - horrors! I altered the order of the first few chapters to tier two character quirk description - November - visitors - second tier two character quirk description - horrors!

Matt: That sounds good.

Maktaaq: Yes, I am excited! The new order seems more dynamic. I've been researching bearded women, Guevedoche - those Latin American girls who at puberty sprout penises, the auroch - the national animal of Moldova, and merry-go-rounds.

Matt: So, um, why you are you reading about cesarians?

Maktaaq: Oh. They're horrific. Listen to this:
You press a No. 10 blade down through the flesh, along a side-to-side line low on the bulging abdomen. You divide the skin and golden fat with clean, broad strokes. Using a white gauze pad, you stanch the bleeding points, which appear like red blossoms. You slice through the fascia covering the abdominal muscle, a husk-like fibrous sheath, and lift it to reveal the beefy red muscle underneath. The rectus abdominis muscle lies in two vertical belts that you part in the middle like a curtain, metal retractors pulling left and right. You cut through the peritoneum, a thin, almost translucent membrane. Now the uterus — plum-colored, thick, and muscular — gapes into view. You make a small initial opening in the uterus with the scalpel, and then you switch to bandage scissors to open it more swiftly and easily. It’s as if you were cutting open a tough, leathery fruit.
Ha! A plum-coloured uterus! A tough, leathery fruit! It's such an old metaphor for the female reproduction system!

Matt: Huh? Your novel?

Maktaaq: Ok, yes. I've been having very severe writer's block. Here's my research on merry-go-rounds:
  • The earliest merry-go-round, with baskets hanging from a pole, appears in a Byzantine bas-relief from around 500 A.D.

  • The word comes from the Italian garosello and Spanish carosella ("little war").

  • The crusaders first saw Turkish and Arabian horsemen use the contraption as they practiced "attacking" enemies. The object was to successfully catch perfume-filled clay balls: good horsemen would not let the balls burst.

  • In Europe, the carousel was first kept secret within castle walls as a martial training device.

  • The first carousels used by civilians were made for royalty (i.e. Le Place du Carrousel in Paris, between the Tuileries and the Louvre).

  • Louis XIV gave (or inaugurated? received??) the first one in 1662.

  • The first carousels were moved by people, horses or mules.

  • George Alexander Stevens, a poet and all-round theatre dude, first used, in a 1729 poem, the word merry-go-round. He also performed his Lecture on Heads, "a satirical 'lecture' on heads and fashion, which parodied the popularity of physiognomy," in 1764, travelling throughout Britain, Ireland, and to Boston and Philadelphia with the show. Read the lecture here.

  • Carousels flourished in the early nineteenth century.

  • Early merry-go-rounds had no platforms; "the animals would hang on poles or chains and fly out from the centrifugal force of the spinning mechanism, these are called 'flying horses' carousels."

  • The flying horse carousels operated with animals walking in a circle, or someone cranking or pulling ropes.

  • It was only in the mid-1800s that the platform appeared: "sitting on a suspended circular floor which was hanging from the centerpole; these machines were then steam powered."

  • Nineteenth century ads touted the merry-go-round as good for blood circulation.

  • The Columbia double-decker carousel was built in 1976.

  • The most lavish side of the horses is the Romance side and this faces the outside.

  • The outside horse behind the chariot is the Lead (King) Horse.

  • The benches (the chariots or gondolas) are the Lover's Seats.
From Wikipedia, History of Carousels, and the Merry-Go-Round Museum.

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Hamsters that Mean Business 

Saturday, January 06, 2007

Cranky Crengut,a(

Above: My former, very much feral hamster, Crenguţă.

Matt found this passage in David Foster Wallace's 1996 novel Infinite Jest (page 93):
It's a herd of feral hamsters, a major herd, thundering across the yellow plains of the southern reachs of the Great Concavity in what used to be Vermont, raising dust that forms a uremic-hued cloud with somatic shapes interpretable from as far away as Boston and Montreal. The herd is descended from two domestic hamsters set free by a Waterton NY boy at the beginning of the Experialist migration in the subsidized Year of the Whopper. The boy now attends college at Champaign IL and has forgotten that his hamsters were named Ward and June.

The noise of the herd is tornadic, locomotival. The expression on the hamsters' whiskered faces is businesslike and implacable - it's that implacable-herd expression. They thunder eastward across pedalferrous terrain that today is fallow, denuded. To the eat, dimmed by the fulvous cloud the hamsters send up, is the vivid verdant ragged outline of the annularly overfertilized forests of what used to be central Maine.

All these territories are now property of Canada.

With respect to a herd of this size, please exercise the sort of common sense that come to think of it would keep your thinking man out of the southwest Concavity anyway. Feral hamsters are not pets. They mean business. Wide berth advised. Carry nothing even remotely vegetablish if in the path of a feral herd. If in the path of such a herd, move quickly and calmly in a direction perpendicular to their own. If American, north is not advisable. Move south, calmly and in all haste, toward some border metropolis - Rome NNY or Glen Falls NNY or Beverly MA, say, or those bordered points between them at which the giant protective ATHSCME fans atop the hugely convex protective walls of anodized Lucite hold off the drooling and piss-colored [sic] bank of teratogenic Concavity clouds and move the bank well back, north, away, jaggedly, over your protected head.
Matt is already on page 103 and says tha hamsters have not returned.

Meanwhile, here's Lucian trying to look feral:

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Burnt Rum Punch and Dracula 

Friday, January 05, 2007

Burnt Rum Punch & Dracula

Three months late, our little book club finally met tonight. The book for October had been Dracula. To celebrate the book, MaikoPunk, MaikoPunk's Husband, Matt and I held six commemorative activities:

1. We made a batch of mămăligă, which Jonathan Harker ate in Klausenburgh (or Cluj in northwestern Romania) a day before he met the count. Mămăligă is cornmeal (grits to southerners and polenta to Italians), which I served with sour cream and goaty feta cheese. If any had been left over, I could have eaten the rest with cold milk in the morning.

2. We made Bat Bites, a rum-and-cranberry concoction.

3. We made burnt rum punch. When Renfield meets Arthur Holmwood in chapter XVIII, he blurts out, of Arthur's father, "He was a man loved and honoured by all who knew him; and in his youth was, I have heard, the inventor of a burnt rum punch, much patronised on Derby night."

The Annotated Dracula provided a burnt rum punch recipe from The Art of British Cooking by Theodora FitzGibbon:
5 lemons
1/2 pound lump sugar
1 piece cinnamon stick
2 cups water
1 bottle rum

Rub lemons with the lumps of sugar until you have removed all the yellow zest. Put the lemony sugar into a saucepan with the lemon juice and the cinnamon stick; pour over the water and bring just to a boil. See that the lumps of sugar dissolve. Then add the rum, heat up, but do not boil, for fear of destroying the strength of the rum. Remove the cinnamon stick and serve hot.
I thought that, unlike paprika hendl (or paprika chicken) or impletata ("eggplant stuffed with forcemeat," or patlagele impulute, according to the Annotated Dracula), mentioned, with mămăligă, early in the novel, burnt rum punch sounded like something worth attempting.

No, it isn't. Burnt rum punch tastes like Vicks Cough Syrup.

4. We watched Nosferatu, the third-known film treatment of the novel. A 1920 Russian version and a 1921 Hungarian version by Karoly Lafthay called Drakula preceded the 1922 F. W. Murnau film. Most of us had seen this best of Dracula adapations numerous times; however, how can one not watch the classic again?

5. We watched Bela Lugosi's film White Zombie, which he filmed two years after he made Dracula. Tonight's crowd had all watched the 1931 film last October, so it was too soon for a re-viewing. White Zombie, however, was new to almost everybody except myself.

With Bela starring as zombie overlord 'Murder' Legendre, the Bela Lugosi school of acting is very much in evidence in this 1932 film. Lost until the 1960s, it is also currently the first known zombie film, albeit the zombies are of the voodoo variety and not the revenant ghouls.

6. We watched Freaks, directed by Tod Browning, the man who also did Dracula with Bela Lugosi. Of the treachery of trapeze artist Cleopatra, Matt said, "Seems like there's a special level of hell reserved for stealing a midget woman's man."

As for the real sideshow cast, in Cleopatra's words, "Great jumping Christmas!" Conjoined twins Daisy and Violet Hilton learned self-hypnosis from Harry Houdini so they could spend time alone; Mexican pinhead Schlitze (or Simon Metz) dressed as a girl for most of his career; despite having no arms or legs, Prince Randian could really roll and light his cigarettes as seen in the film (he could also shave and paint). We all marvelled at the Half-Boy's grace (played by Johnny Eck). Browning himself was once a circus contortionist. He made only four more movies after Freaks.


I was not able to find any of Bela Lugosi's other landmark films, Murders in the Rue Morgue or The Raven. I even went through Matt's WC Fields DVDs to try and find the 1933 International House in which, as General Nicholas Petronovich, Bela finally had the chance to break out of stereotype and act in a comedic role. No luck.

I do regret not borrowing the Spanish Drácula from the library. In 1930, while Bela and Browning were shooting the familiar Dracula during the day, a Spanish-language version with Spanish actors used the same set by night. Starring Carlos Villarías (who looks like Bela himself or Nicholas Cage, depending on the source) in the title role, the film's director George Melford knew no Spanish whatsoever.

Oddly enough, tonight we never got to doing the usual book club thing. We ran out of time to discuss What elements of the gothic genre are found in Dracula?, What is the significance of blood in Dracula? and What are the ways Dracula remains an icon in today's popular culture?

Oh well.

Our next book is Peter Høeg's Miss Smilla's Feeling for Snow. On with the crotch-grabbing!


Our previous bookclub meetings and books:

June: Margaret Atwood's The Edible Woman (and here)
July: Evelyne Lever's Marie Antoinette (not documented) with an initial foray into the attractiveness of Madame du Barry, some Zamor bashing, the deaths of Princesse de Lamballe and the Duc de Brissac, and the current vogue for Marie Antoinette.
August: Nick Hornby's A Long Way Down
September: Kurt Vonnegut's Slaughterhouse-Five (not documented)
October: Bram Stoker's Dracula with literary surprises and a Halloween diatribe.

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Top Ten Food-Related Celebrity Vaginal Descriptions 

Tuesday, January 02, 2007

With all the recent flap about the combined crotches of Britney Spears, Paris Hilton and Lindsay Lohan, I am reminded of the words of Sheik Taj Aldin al-Hilali:
If you take uncovered meat and put it on the street, on the pavement, in a garden, in a park or in the backyard, without a cover and the cats eat it, is it the fault of the cat or the uncovered meat? The uncovered meat is the problem.

If the meat was covered, the cats wouldn't roam around it. If the meat is inside the fridge, they won't get it.

If the meat was in the fridge and it [the cat] smelled it, it can bang its head as much as it wants, but it's no use.
As if proving the truth of the Australian cleric's words, pervy types roam around seeking out celebrity upskirt photos.* They also tend to use similarly colourful and oddly hunger-inducing descriptions to explain the pink taco.

Thus -

The Top Ten Food-Related Celebrity Vaginal Descriptions
  1. Weathered pastrami flaps
  2. Beef curtains
  3. Pork chops
  4. Vagigantic mufflepie
  5. Taffy crotch
  6. Saggy bat wings (possibly a food source in some cultures)
  7. Bacon lips
  8. Ham wallet
  9. Oyster ditch
  10. My neighbour's mastiff (also a food source if your city is under siege)
Who knew a bunch of white middle-class kids with an internet connection have so much in common with an old Egyptian imam? Hurrah for globalization!

Collected from comments here, here, here, here and here.

*Myself included.

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