I don’t want to cast shade, particularly about  a Hallmark movie, particularly a Hallmark movie that has Robby Benson – the voice of the beloved Beast in Disney’s animated classic, “Beauty and the Beast,” and, of course, the star of movies from my youth, including “Ice Castles.”  (Note I do not mention “Ode to Billie Joe,” directed by Max Baer, aka Jethro Bodine on “The Beverly Hillbillies,” which could have been so much better and was a sad disappointment.  Spoiler alert: Why didn’t Billie Joe just fake his death and run away with Glynnis O’Connor?)

So I’m not going to trash the movie.  I just want to note two things not related to the plot; no spoilers here!  One, this particular movie, “A Feeling of Home,” featured the worst quasi-Southern accent (it wasn’t Robbie Benson’s character) I have ever heard in my life.  I actually paused the movie, went on IMDB, and found out the guy playing this Texas cowboy was Australian. I thought they could do accents!  Maybe that’s just English actors.  Two, an even more egregious crime:  this quasi-Southern, quasi-cowboy HELD ONTO THE SADDLE AS HE RODE!!!

I actually taped a second showing of this movie, so I could make sure I truly saw what I thought I saw.  I regret to say, I was right.  Here’s the photographic proof.  Now, I am not one to judge anyone for holding onto the saddle; who hasn’t?  I certainly did it plenty of times myself, back in the day.  But this horse was not jumping a fence, or slipping down a rocky trail.  It was not at a gallop.  I don’t even know if its pace would count as a trot; it was more of a jog — nay, a brisk walk.

Let’s just take a moment to compare this with another man from the very deep South, and by that I mean New Zealand, and I’m talking about New Zealand actor Karl Urban, who played Eomer in “Lord of the Rings.”  He had many battle scenes, and to do them authentically, he spent hours on his own time learning not merely how to ride, but how to ride mostly just using his legs, so he could use his arms for wielding a sword, holding a shield, or throwing a spear.  What a boss!

Enough about that.  Now, for balance, let’s talk about something good.  And by good, I mean, something it’s hard to imagine living without, and by that, I mean:  Q-Tips. How did humanity get along all these millenia without the cotton swab?  There are many brands, but accept no substitutes:  Q-Tips are the best!  Some brands will short you on the cotton.  And when you do what they tell you not to do but everyone does (stick it in your ear), if you don’t have the name-brand Q-Tip, you might scrape your ear with an inadequate cushion of cotton.  Also, some cotton swabs just have a wooden or plastic handle on one end, depriving you of the opportunity to get the other ear with the same swab.  Not cost-effective, people!

So, in tribute to the humble Q-Tip, I have written this haiku.

 

Beloved Q-Tip

Not just a one-sided wand

Cotton on both ends.

 

Sometimes, my ears itch

Water, after my shower.

Thank God you are there.

 

Cosmetic savior

For my eyeliner mishaps

Cotton swab, my friend.

 

Now, while I’m on the subject of life-changing items, can we please take a moment to give thanks for Kleenex?  Actually, Kleenex or Puffs with aloe.  The invention of the disposable tissue was a life-changer.  Yes, the handkerchief has been romanticized in literature and film… a lady drops her lace-bordered handkerchief.  A gentleman picks it up, and takes a moment to enjoy the delicate scent of her perfume.  Or a man lends a woman his handkerchief.  It is monogrammed, and she keeps it close to her heart forever.  Lovely images… but let us consider that people actually BLOW THEIR NOSES IN THESE THINGS.  Here’s her delicate perfume… and here’s her nasal mucous!  Wow, it’s a little off-color; I wonder if she’s got a cold or if it’s just allergies…  Or perhaps she simply cries and dabs her eyes… even then, there’s clean-up.  Here’s her mascara!  Here’s her eyeshadow!  Hello, Shout or Spray ‘n’ Wash, or Tide to Go Instant Stain Remover — other breakthroughs for our times, I might add.

And then, one one bright day for humanity and civilization as we know it, a person of true genius came up with a revolutionary idea:  Let’s throw this away!   Let’s just not have to deal with it later!  Let’s be free of it!  Let us chuck it in the waste bin!  Why isn’t the date of this invention inscribed and celebrated in the annals of history?

So, clearly, we have much to be thankful for.  Even a movie with an accent-mutilating cowboy hanging onto a saddle?  Well… at least the scenery was nice.

© Janet Farrar Worthington

 

My love for Hallmark movies and also Hallmark mysteries is deep and abiding.  One of my favorite things to do is put my jammies on, get all fixed on the couch with at least one and maybe three dogs and, if I’m lucky, my husband and/or one of my kids, and watch a seasonally appropriate Hallmark movie or a new Hallmark mystery series.

My daughter, Blair, is my long-distance Hallmark movie partner, so my even more favorite thing to do is text her while we’re both watching one of these movies together, although in different states.   I also like to pause the movie and take screen shots with my phone – which I always have nearby so I can go on the Internet Movie Database (IMDB) website for reference when I want to look up a cast member.

“More Bitter Than Death”

The movie this time was the latest installment in the Emma Fielding mystery series:    “More Bitter Than Death.”  That’s a quote from Ecclesiastes 7:26. “And I find more bitter than death the woman, whose heart is snares and nets, and her hands as bands: whoso pleaseth God shall escape from her; but the sinner shall be taken by her.”  Study this.  Ponder it, and – just kidding!  The passage itself actually sheds no light whatsoever!

However (no spoilers here, don’t worry) a clue from this passage does lead our astute heroine, Emma Fielding, to identify and confront the killer. Also: nifty title for a movie!

In this movie – very important – we see Emma and FBI agent Jim Conner finally admit they like each other.  (Jim Conner, by the way, is played by the excellent James Tupper, who was so good in “Love’s Long Journey,” a favorite Hallmark movie from 2005, as Henry, the bereaved, disillusioned-but-deep-down-a-good-man-who-really-does-still-believe-in-God, ranch hand).   So, he’s great.  We also meet someone from Emma’s past – Duncan Thatcher (played by Mark Valley, aka Brad Chase from “Boston Legal”) a handsome archeology professor from Cambridge, whom Emma describes as “perfect.”  She should know; they used to be an item.

So, this guy’s a Brit.  (I hate to nit-pick, but he actually uses the word, “crevasse.” Does anyone, really, use that word? Besides screenwriters?)  He’s brilliant, well-dressed, and clearly interested in picking up where they left off.  But Emma was wiser than she realized when she dumped him years ago.  He’s actually not perfect!  You’d think, of all the people in all the places in the world, a professor from Cambridge University would be conversant with correct word usage.  But no! Not once, but twice! Both times, he’s speaking of his membership, during his college student days, in a secret society.  I took two pictures here, and you can see, twice he says, “I’m an alumni.”  Not the singular alumnus, or even the ambiguous, “alum.”

People, my mother was an English teacher and my father is a retired journalism professor.  I can’t help myself; it’s in my DNA.  This makes my flesh crawl.

Later, we hear an unfortunate grammatical error from the Dean of the College, or maybe even the whole university, I’m a little fuzzy on this point, because I was on IMDB, trying to look him up.  Alas, once again, IMDB has failed me, and I can’t give you the actor’s name.  I have noticed this odd phenomenon when I have been trying to look up actors in a Hallmark movie:  it’s hard to get a list of the entire cast.  I can’t imagine why this occurs, but it has happened to me with Hallmark movies numerous times.  IMDB just has a partial cast list (see my picture of it). So I don’t know who this actor is, and although I’ve seen him before, I can’t recall which movies.  It’s bothering me.

But I digress:  Here is a high-level college official using bad grammar, asking, “by who?”

Please.  By whom.  Please.

The Murder

I didn’t mean to get so sidetracked, but that’s just the way it is with the IMDB/Hallmark rabbit hole.  Now we come to the murder.  The victim – again, not listed on the IMDB cast list – looked familiar.  I thought she resembled Margot Kidder – who was, of course, the best Lois Lane ever in the best Superman movie ever, opposite the best Superman ever, Christopher Reeve.  So I looked on IMDB, and sure enough, there she was:  Janet Kidder.  Margot’s niece!  Isn’t that nice!  She has been in a few other Hallmark movies, and of course, she’s Canadian, so she’s doubly Hallmark-appropriate.

Basically, at a fancy dinner meeting, Janet Kidder gets up to a podium and keels over.  Now, this brings me to another very important issue I have with Hallmark murder movies: Why do they not even try CPR?  Come on, how about a chest compression?  Just try it! Check the airway!  Maybe she choked on a biscuit, or something, not that they had a biscuit at this fancy dinner, but still, she could have tucked one away, eaten it furtively and then choked on it!  What could it hurt to check for a biscuit?

But no.  Instead, the FBI guy gets up there, feels her carotid artery, and says, “She’s dead.”

Emma Fielding gasps.

The Friend

It’s always so nice to see Crystal Balint – Canadian, of course – although she also didn’t make the IMDB cast list (see above).   She’s a versatile actress and has been in a bunch of Hallmark movies, and she saved the day as a seamstress in “Royal New Year’s Eve,” for Jessy Shram’s Cinderella-like character.   Just a shout-out to one of my many favorites in the Hallmark family.

Interestingly, as I was trying to take her picture, I captured two of Emma instead.  Apparently, there was quite the discussion of saffron as an ingredient.

One Suspect

There were several suspects, but I just want to commend Professor Braverman for his ability to scamper like a hamster in a totally unexpected chase scene with Jim Connor and, at the end, Duncan Thatcher joining in.  Running up a VW Bug, jumping over fences. Just a nimble and speedy guy!   I’ve seen him before, but who is the actor?  I have no idea – because, again, he didn’t make the partial cast list.  Thanks for nothing (again), IMDB!

Cut to Commercial

Note to Emma Fielding producers:   The picture of Emma Fielding on the promo for the series looks a lot different from Emma today.  They are both beautiful pictures, but let’s make the effort to keep it current.

As to the commercials themselves:  I make my living writing about medical problems.  My husband is a doctor.  Our families have had their share of serious medical conditions.  I’m no stranger to illness.  But for the love of God, are there no healthy people who watch Hallmark? 

On a regular movie-watching night, it’s pretty common to see commercials for:

  • Walgreens, particularly people on Medicare Part D.
  • The Hurry Cane, although I like that one, because the one scrappy guy with the better cane gets the girl.
  • This happy disposable undies lady (this photo I actually took from a magazine, but it’s the same lady).
  • Medicine for metastatic breast cancer.
  • A terrifying one about a poor man with Parkinson’s disease who is suffering from hallucinations. He sees multiple Chocolate Labs, so I guess if I had to hallucinate, I’d rather see Labs than monsters, but still.
  • Some commercial for medicine that includes this phrase: “blood clots that lead to death.”
  • This commercial (see photo) for bipolar medicine, featuring some poor woman who is looking at all her binge purchases, and then when the medicine kicks in, she has a happy interaction with the delivery guy who is taking them for returns.

 

Hallmark, as far as I know, people of all ages like your movies.  Some are even in good health!

There are some commercials that are not medical.  If I had a nickel for every time I’ve seen this one featuring the cute little girls who make “princess toast” for their mom, I’d have several dollars by now.  It’s for Nature Made gummy vitamins, but I like the commercial mainly because I like to hear the mom say, “Oh!” in a delighted way. She’s just so happy!  Hallmark, put her in a movie!

But then there was this one for Reese’s Easter candy.   Don’t get me wrong: I love Reese’s Cups.  But this commercial makes me feel uncomfortable.  A chocolate bunny makes its way toward a jar of peanut butter, and suddenly we hear Marvin Gaye singing, “Let’s Get It On.”  Ew!  No!  I don’t want that!

What was wrong with the old Reese’s origin story commercials like this one , featuring teen heart throb Robby Benson and “Happy Days” star Donny Most, aka Ralph Malph?  They are walking along, one eating a chocolate bar, one eating peanut butter, and they bump into each other:

“Hey, you got your chocolate on my peanut butter!”

“You got peanut butter on my chocolate!”

The result:  Two great tastes that go great together. That was genius!  That was classic!

Not a cringe-worthy, creepy, weird chocolate bunny sidling up to the peanut butter jar.

Also, I don’t want that bunny near my kids.

 

© Janet Farrar Worthington

 

 

 

 

 

 

You know I love Hallmark movies.   I love both kinds – country and western, as they said at Bob’s Country Bunker in “The Blues Brothers.”  Or, in the case of Hallmark, the romantic comedies and the mysteries.  The dramas are good, too, but since I feel there’s enough drama in the world, I prefer the lighter movies.

            Yes, I’ve had my little issues with Hallmark over the years.  One, the hair dye thing, which I’ve mentioned before.  Somebody there dyes the hair of the leading men too dark; also, the hair of some the leading ladies is too dark.  Add a highlight or two, people!  

And there’s the whole Santa thing.  The Christmas movies hardly ever mention the reason for the season – the birth of Jesus Christ.  Instead, it’s generally all Santa, all the time, and it’s kind of creepy sometimes, like kids pray to Santa.  Something good happens, and the kid says, looking upward, “Thanks, Santa!”  Santa is the kindly, godly figure who tweaks fate to bring two people together, or, at a child’s request, finds a soulmate for a single parent.

            So that creeps me out a little, but it’s still pretty much fine.  I love Hallmark!

            Even the ads, for cancer medicines, medicines for people with diabetes, the Hurry Cane, Benefiber, some kind of hair removal device that looks like a pen but, if I were to bet any money on it, probably hurts to use.  But I fast-forward those ads, so really, they don’t bother me.

            I love the royal movies!  I love the holiday movies!  I love the mysteries!  I truly do!

            In fact, I love them so much, that last night instead of watching the Oscars, which are political and stress me out, I watched installment two of the “Chronicle Mysteries,” starring Alison Sweeney and Benjamin Ayres as her probable love interest as the series develops – although I have to say, I think there’s some chemistry there with Toby Levins, who plays fireman Shawn, and who also played her brother-in-law, Bill Todd, on the “Murder, She Baked” series – because Hallmark movies, like the old Warner Brothers movies long ago, basically use the same people.  I actually really like this. It’s nice to see familiar faces. Comforting and homey, in fact. So, instead of having Peter Lorre, Sydney Greenstreet, C. Aubrey Smith, Alan Hale, Sr. (not Alan Hale, Jr., aka the Skipper on “Gilligan’s Island”), Claude Rains, Basil Rathbone, Eugene Pallette, or others in the Warner stable, you get – well, a bunch of Canadians!  

            Because Hallmark actors are Canadian!  

            I’m not questioning it; I just accept it.  Nay, I embrace it! Pardon my digression.

            Anyway, last night, there was an unrecognized, integral player in “The Chronicle Mysteries: The Wrong Man.”  It wasn’t Peter Benson, always delightful to see, although I always think of him as Arthur in the “Aurora Teagarden” movies.  (Note: I saw him in a Hallmark Christmas movie, “Christmas List,” and although he was the doomed first boyfriend – in Hallmark land, the boyfriend at the beginning of the movie is a workaholic and does not get the girl – he was a darned good ice skater.  I was impressed.  Nice skating, sir!)  Nor was it another favorite, Dave Collette, who plays Bubba Rankart on the “Aurora Teagarden” series.  It was so nice to see him here as Chuck.

            No, the very important player I’m talking about was a messenger bag.

            Benjamin Ayres’ character is a reporter, and somewhere, maybe in Canada, some props master thought:  Reporter. Aha!  Messenger bag!

            Also:  leather jacket!  Maybe he takes it off to shower, swim, or sleep, but we don’t know.  

            Anyhoo, God bless him or her, that props master made sure that in just about every single scene, Benjamin Ayres had that messenger bag.  

            It was like “the football,” or “the atomic football,” the emergency satchel that accompanies the President everywhere with top-secret contents that would authorize a nuclear attack.  

            I became obsessed with the messenger bag, worn diagonally across Benjamin Ayres’ shoulder.  I started texting my daughter, Blair, about it. 

            I have only one regret:  I only started photo-documenting this bag with my phone about halfway through the movie. I should have been on it sooner. Darn, darn, darn.  

            Here’s the first one.  (Note: I was lying on the couch with the three dogs, so I was at a slight angle.)

This isn’t the greatest picture, but here’s the messenger bag, on a mission with Drew (Benjamin Ayres) to a newspaper office in Philly.

            Here’s my initial text to Blair, as I was gradually realizing the momentum and power of the bag.  “Drew, the reporter, wears a bag diagonally… in every scene!”

The bag went with Drew and Alex for coffee, and conversation.

            I added, “Note to self:  put on messenger bag.”

The bag likes Uncle Miles.
The bag is excited, because Drew has important information.

            This scene prompted some reflection:  “But maybe I am completely wrong… maybe it’s got his portable dialysis machine or something.”  “Maybe a supplemental organ.”  “Or hair product.”

Close-up of the strap, and the leather jacket.

            Blair said, “You could have prepared a lovely slideshow.”

The bag notes that while Alex has an umbrella, Drew does not.

            The scenes kept coming.  Thank God for Direct TV, which lets me pause the movie.  

            Blair told me not to stop documenting.  “The people need to know!”

Back at the Chronicle, giving vital information to Alex.

            Toward the end of the movie, the action really heated up, and there was a dramatic change:  He was carrying the bag, instead of wearing it diagonally over the shoulder! What are we to make of this development?

You can’t see it so much in the picture, but my goodness, look at the shadow! The bag has left the shoulder!

            And finally, here’s a shot from the movie’s last scene.  Holding the bag in both hands! Is it closure?  I don’t know!

You could say that Alex and Uncle Miles have left Drew holding the bag.

            Hallmark, how you taunt me! And haunt me!

            Also, I can’t allow Michael Kopsa, who plays Uncle Miles, with those piercing blue eyes, to go without a shout-out.  Another Hallmark regular, also Canadian, he has been in many of my favorite Hallmark movies, including the “Father Christmas” and “In the Vineyard” series, and he adds dignity.  

            I can only hope to see all of these old friends, and the new one – the messenger bag – in the very near future.

            Also the leather jacket!

            © Janet Farrar Worthington

Can we just pause for a minute to bask in the glory that is “Murder, She Wrote?” Thank God for Hallmark showing this on TV – several episodes, every night. My sons are even getting into it. They like Jessica Fletcher, played to perfection by Angela Lansbury. Well, really, Angela Lansbury is perfection, that goes without saying… But Jessica is just awesome. She doesn’t judge, she’s compassionate, she’s really smart, with an eye for the smallest detail that could be a clue, and she is deeply loyal to her friends.

And man, does that woman have a lot of friends. Distant relatives, old college chums, former neighbors – she’s got connections all over the world, and when she’s not in her home of Cabot Cove, she’s off visiting one of them. That’s the excuse to take her to the next murder, of course. But “Murder, She Wrote” draws you in, not just for the mystery itself, but for the unparalleled stable of guest stars. It’s a veritable “Who’s Who” of Hollywood.

I have actually bookmarked the “Murder, She Wrote” page on the Internet Movie Database, for quick and convenient reference – because God help me if I don’t have my phone handy and I get sucked into an episode.

“Oh, that guy,” I’ll say. Then I have to pause the show and go look him up. It’s Bo Hopkins, playing Lt. Ray Jenkins, in “Armed Response,” Season One, episode 19. And how do I know him? Well, let’s check the old IMDB… oh, looky here, he was on “The Andy Griffith Show” in 1967, in the episode, “Goober the Executive.” And then, of course, I have to take a minute to ponder the glory of George “Goober” Lindsay, because I loved him and that show. But I refuse to get sidetracked for too long, because here Bo is on “Bonanza” in 1969, playing Stretch Logan in the episode, “The Witness.” He was in a couple episodes of “Mod Squad,” but I skip over that because I never really got into that show – and may I point out, lest you think I am considerably older than I actually am, that I saw all of these early shows as reruns on after-school TV in the seventies and eighties.

But back to Bo Hopkins… how do I know him? Oh, he was on “Hawaii Five-O” – the real one, of course, with Jack Lord as Steve McGarrett. Nope… here we go: he was on a bunch of episodes of “The Rockford Files,” as a character named John Cooper. And on two episodes of “Charlie’s Angels,” one in 1976 and another in 1979.   And he was on “Dynasty!” Dang, he played Matthew Blaisdel.   He’s still alive and kicking, got a couple things in post-production. Good for him.

Whew! Now I can get back to the show. Holy cow, that was Eddie Bracken! God bless him, he was brilliant in “The Miracle of Morgan’s Creek,” the 1943 comedy written and directed by the wonderful Preston Sturges. Betty Hutton was in that with him, what a hoot… No, I must get back to Jessica Fletcher!

Last night, my son, Josh, and I were watching an early one, Season Two, episode 1, “Widow, Weep for Me,” from 1985. I do believe this is the first one to feature the recurring character Michael Hagarty, an Irishman played by Len Cariou – who, I now know from IMDB, is actually Canadian.

“My God, that’s Cyd Charisse!” I said to Josh. “Who?” he said. “You remember “Singin’ in the Rain?” He vaguely did. Note to self: make him watch that incredible movie again. It’s part of his cultural heritage. “She was a dancer, and she could do this vertical split, it was just incredible. Her legs seemed to be longer than Gene Kelly. She was amazing.  The song was ‘Gotta Dance,’ and Gene Kelly was tossing this coin up in the air…” But in this episode, she’s secretly married to Mel Ferrer at this luxurious tropical resort.

Howard Hesseman was on this episode, too, as a shady cop. “He was on this show called WKRP in Cincinnati,” I explain to Josh, “playing a deejay named Johnny Fever who got fired for saying the word, ‘Booger.’” In an age where people routinely scream the F word, Josh found this hard to believe.

Oh, it’s a swirling vortex, that “Murder, She Wrote.” You think you’re just watching a simple TV show, but it’s actually a space-time-continuum wormhole, that simultaneously pulls you back and forward in time as you remember all these stars and then veer off down one path after another, looking at this show, and that movie, and this cast, and remembering, always remembering…

Mary Wickes was in this episode, too, as a wealthy widow who gets bumped off for her jewels. “I think she was in ‘Meet Me in St. Louis,’ as Katie, the maid, who says, ‘Cabbage has a cabbage smell,” I say to Josh.   Hold on, I must check to verify this. Oh, no! I was completely wrong – it was Marjorie Main! “Who was Marjorie Main?” And of course, this leads me to the “Ma and Pa Kettle” movies, which spun off from “The Egg and I,” a great book by Betty McDonald… the movie starred Claudette Colbert and Fred MacMurray, who of course played a bad guy in “Double Indemnity” but redeemed himself on “My Three Sons,” which of course brings me to the wonderful William Demerest as the big softy, Uncle Charlie… But back to Marjorie Main. There she was in 1946 in “The Harvey Girls,” another movie with Judy Garland, which featured that great song, “The Atchison, Topeka and the Santa Fe”…

Yes, it’s a treacherous web, that “Murder, She Wrote.” One must tread cautiously. Let us remember Daedalus, the genius inventor from ancient Greece – who, among many impossible jobs, was tasked by King Minos to solve the unsolvable puzzle of stringing a thread through a conch shell (this in itself was part of a plot to trap Daedalus, but let’s just try to stay on the path here). Daedalus poked a hole in the conch shell, smeared it with honey, and tied a string to an ant. The ant wound its way through the spirals of the shell, taking the string with it.

So the moral to this story is, when you watch “Murder, She Wrote,” keep a tether nearby, lest you get drawn into the many twists and turns of Memory Lane and stay there for hours – or, at least, until the next episode.

 

© Janet Farrar Worthington

 

I was watching a Hallmark movie, and an ad came on. I started to fast-forward, as I usually do, then I thought, “Did I hear what I think I did?” So I backed it up. A woman in her bathrobe says, “My She Shed has no rules… no shoes, no bra…” It’s an ad for Fiber One Brownies! So basically, “I take off my bra and eat fiber brownies!”

My She Shed has no rules, but it has a state-of-the-art toilet, plenty of scented candles, all the latest magazines and an industrial-strength vent fan, because I deserve it!

            Those tight-waistband pants? They hit the floor when I walk through the door.

            Then, I just go where the night takes me… maybe set out a little All Bran, some Benefiber.

            Sometimes I get a little crazy, wake up on the couch covered in Shredded Wheat. But what happens in the She Shed stays in the She Shed.

I made up the rest of it, but I think that ad is hilarious. I can only imagine it was thought up by some guy who saw some Pinterest pages on She Sheds and thought, “This is what the women want! We can tap into this market!”

I’m having a little fun with the idea, because I hope it will make you laugh, too. See, I think our humor needs to be more gentle, like the fiber-containing food products in the Fiber One Brownie She Shed, or perhaps as Activia, the probiotic-containing yogurt that helps Jamie Lee Curtis stay regular. And not harsh, like chemical-containing laxatives.

There’s a lot of harshness out there right now in the world of public discourse. Harshness and bloating. It’s agitating!

I have cut back on Facebook, I never watch the TV news, and if I could, I would prefer to read the news in print – because people who write letters to the editor can’t do it anonymously, thus they tend to have a little more self-control – i.e. maybe they actually read over it and think about what they said before they hit “send.”

Have you ever read the comments on the Washington Post, or LA Times, or basically any newspaper or news site? Most of them, first off, have trolls. Jerks. Sometimes, I understand, they are jerks who get money from somebody to demean anyone with an opposing viewpoint, but I think most of them aren’t paid. I think they like being mean, and justify it with self-righteousness because of course, their view is the only right one. They’re enlightened.

They’re not that enlightened, because they can’t tolerate even hearing from the other side. Also, I think there are a lot of people out there who might not be very nasty in public, but they sure let it fly in private.

There’s something undisciplined and unsavory about that. Have an evil thought? Fire it off in a Youtube comment or Facebook rant. Use plenty of F-bombs. Spread a little dirt, like Pigpen.

Maybe it makes people feel good, for about a second. Then that little burst of feel-good hormone goes away, and they do it again, like a hit of a bad drug.

It’s just unpleasant. I’m not going to bring you down with examples; I’m sure you’ve seen them, from every political party and pro- or anti- social viewpoint you can think of. The worst thing is, it incites others to behave just as badly – like the crowd shouting, “Boil that dust speck!” in Dr. Seuss’s Horton Hears a Who. It’s easy to get sucked into the group mentality.

As a culture, we’re getting sloppy. I’m picturing a bunch of military raw recruits, shirts not tucked in, poor posture, not knowing how to make their bed with a blanket so tight you could bounce a quarter off it, or shine their shoes, maybe badly in need of a haircut, too. That’s us. We’ve stopped making the effort to be civil. There’s nobody like Sergeant Carter on “Gomer Pyle, U.S.M.C.,” or Louis Gossett in “An Officer and a Gentleman,” to whip us into shape. Now, don’t get me wrong – I don’t want anybody telling me to drop and do 20 push-ups, or telling me that I can’t express my opinion.

But I do think there should be some standards of common decency that wouldn’t compromise anybody’s ability to put their point across.

At least one website out there has a policy I really like: “This is a salon, not a saloon.” Bad language is not allowed. Insulting other posters is not allowed. Crudeness is not allowed. A moderator makes sure of this, and deletes posts that don’t follow these simple rules.

Many people weren’t as lucky, as I was, to have parents and grandparents and teachers and Sunday School teachers and friends’ parents to set standards and expect you to stick to them. People to say, “Do you kiss your mom with that mouth?”

Maybe that’s part of the problem: If everybody talks like they’re in the sewer, why shouldn’t they be that way in social media, too? When even prime-time network TV shows have basically nothing that’s off-limits, when a lot of songs have bad words and crude themes and celebrities have profanity-packed diatribes in public, how would anybody know that’s not actually a good way to comport yourself?

I could go on, but you get the idea. I just have one simple suggestion: How about all those big newspapers, Youtube, Facebook, Twitter, etc., set a standard or two? No profanity. No personal attacks at the someone who doesn’t agree with you. Attack the ideas, instead.

That doesn’t mean you can’t get your point across. But it also doesn’t mean you have to take the cheapest, lowest-class road to get there, either. H.L. Mencken eviscerated his critics; so did William Randolph Hearst, and William F. Buckley, and Dorothy Parker, and Jonathan Swift, and Juvenal, the ancient Roman satirist. Heck, they weren’t always gentle, either. But they weren’t as harsh as chemical-containing laxatives, and they didn’t resort to profanity. Maybe we could all just try to have a little more self-control – at least leave the bra on, until we get to the She Shed.

© Janet Farrar Worthington

Could we just talk for a minute about the creepiness of the song, “Baby, It’s Cold Outside?”

If for some inexplicable reason you haven’t heard this song in one of its many iterations at the mall or on holiday radio stations, it goes way back to 1944. I know, because I looked it up on Wikipedia, which describes the song as a “call and response” between a man and a woman, originally identified in the song sheet – creepily – as “mouse” and “wolf.”

Clearly, this was before “no” meant “no,” and a wolf whistle was … what, a compliment?

Here are some lyrics: The woman says, “I really can’t stay,” and the man says, “But Baby, it’s cold outside.” Then:

“I’ve got to go away”

“But Baby, it’s cold outside.””

“This evening has been”

“Been hoping that you’d drop in”

“So very nice”

“I’ll hold your hands, they’re just like ice.”

Okay, so we go from maybe he’s concerned about her safety in hazardous weather, to, he probably doesn’t actually give a crap about her safety or the hazardous weather. He just wants her to stay for two reasons: she’s there, and she has a pulse! He can work with that!

Also: he calls her “Beautiful,” and “Baby.” Does he even know her name? Does it matter?

I’m sorry; I was an English major in college. I can’t help myself.

But at best it’s awkward. Later on, she says flat out, “The answer is no.”

Then, as Bill Cosby’s dates allegedly wondered, “What’s in this drink?”

Meanwhile, he says, “What’s the sense in hurtin’ my pride?” Yes, because it’s all about you! Followed by, “How can you do this thing to me?” Seriously? Is he Charlie Rose, casually standing around naked after his shower? Or maybe he’s Matt Lauer, with his secret Austin Powers: International Man of Mystery buttons under his desk that lock the office door? What’s missing, Harvey Weinstein telling her that either she’ll never work in this town again, and/or he’s going after her family?

And toward the end, when she repeats, “I really can’t stay,” he says, “Get over that hold out,” or “old out,” I can’t really tell, but it sounds a little bit like the tone has turned from playful to: I already paid for your drink; let’s cut to the chase! I’m on the clock here!

Then in unison – symbolic unison, my English major self says – they both sing, “Baby, it’s cold outside.” And suddenly everything’s supposed to be peachy.

Now, I’m going to come right out and say, the song is catchy. It’s clever, and the tune kind of gets into your head. The Dean Martin version is very good. My personal favorite rendition is by Brian Setzer, who also adds a delightful guitar solo, with Ann-Margaret, whose singing voice is as lovely as ever.

But the giant elephant in the room is the clear fact that the guy is not going to take no for an answer.

What’s in this drink?

“I Believe in Christmas.”

Changing the subject: You know my love for Hallmark movies. In fact, I even own a shirt that says, “All I want to do is drink tea, bake Christmas cookies, and watch Hallmark movies.” I adore Hallmark Christmas movies. But just like the phenomenon I have previously mentioned, about the hair of the leading men and ladies dyed a shade too dark, there’s just a shade too much Santa.

“I just want my son to believe in Santa Claus.”

“We all need to believe in Christmas Magic.”

See, the thing is, Christmas is a holiday dedicated to celebrating the birth of Jesus Christ! Christ, Christmas… the reason for the season… And frankly, why go to great lengths to make your kid believe in Santa Claus – I admit, I’ve done it, once snipping a curly lock of snowy chest hair off of our liver-and-white Springer Spaniel, Penny, and pretending to find some of Santa’s beard hair, which, I acknowledge, was weird – when, eventually, they’re going to suspect that maybe, just maybe, it was not actually Santa?

Instead, we see supernatural Santa doing magic, matchmaking, transporting from the North Pole to a train, to a street in a small Hallmark town, putting up roadblocks to delay the wrong suitor so that the right suitor can finally make his move. We see a magic stocking acting as a sort of divine Providence. We see Santa’s wife having her own powers, going around helping people find love. We see Santa’s daughter helping people and actually finding love. We see Santa’s lovable and sometimes cranky elves busy making toys in undercover towns in the far north. We see Santa’s reindeer… well, they don’t have speaking parts, but still.  And kids write letters that are like prayers… to Santa!

It’s not about Santa! Believe it or not, it’s not even about presents!

Similarly, Easter is not actually about a large rodent tenderly breaking into your home and placing candy and toys in baskets lined with plastic grass, although some might argue that Peeps are heavenly, and so are malted eggs, and of course jelly beans.

© Janet Farrar Worthington

You know why I look so good in my makeup mirror? The lighting. Whoever figured out that bright, whitish lights, coming from below, produce flawless skin and just generally make the world a better place was a genius.

Light from below, you say? Like Lon Chaney or Boris Karloff, or Severus Snape in Harry Potter? No, of course not! Don’t be ridiculous! A flashlight put directly under the chin makes anyone look spooky and awful. That’s not what I’m talking about at all.

All I’m wondering is why they don’t have light like that everywhere.

Restaurants! Who needs candlelight? Just beauty-light me, and I’ll sail through dinner with confidence and poise!

Department stores! Ka-ching, ka-ching! Glorious beauty lighting makes everything look good! Your customers will be more likely to buy things instead of putting them back and skulking away in shame. Or maybe that’s just me…

Instead, dressing rooms are so very dreary, with hideous fluorescent light that imparts a greenish, bilious skin tone, invents or highlights bags under the eyes, gives you cellulite where you don’t actually have any, adds 20 pounds, and just generally makes you look like crap.

Let me just take a moment to say that when I was a kid, we used to shop at Sears and when that Wish Book came in the mail around Thanksgiving, I immediately stopped everything, lay on my stomach on the living room rug and read that thing cover to cover. I dog-eared numerous pages of things I didn’t even want – like sheets! Just because they showed a pretty canopy bed with matching pillows and beautiful bedspreads. They really knew how to make stuff look tempting and good.

But now? Fuggetaboutit. Walk into Sears and, first of all, at least in the Sears stores I have ventured into and quickly escaped over the last decade, there’s the dead silence. Pipe in some cheery music! Then there are the grocery carts. And zero sales clerks in the individual departments; they’re at centralized checkout stations that exude the efficiency and joy of Eastern Europe in the Cold War. I remember when people used to be clerks in one department, like lingerie, or hardware, or children’s shoes, and that’s all they did for years. They were experts, and the best of them knew you and your whole family. It was their career.

Shopping carts in a department store! What moron came up with that idea? When I go buy clothes, I don’t want to be pushing around a grocery cart. Maybe the big idea is something like: “Give people a cart and they’ll fill it up.” If I want a cart, I’ll go to Walmart, and buy some canned goods or cleaning products while I’m there.

No. Mall stores should spend their money on better things – like vacuuming the bleak, depressing carpet in the dressing rooms. In a lot of them, it’s dingy and stained, too. And who hasn’t been simply minding his or her own business, trying on clothes, and stepped on a straight pin? That’s a mood-killer. The worst was in a mall in Baltimore, where they actually had to put up signs asking people not to change their baby’s diapers and/or go to the bathroom in the dressing rooms. What is the thinking process there? One stall’s pretty much like any other? No, see, one actually HAS PLUMBING.

Misuse of the dressing rooms aside, I feel that many retail stores are out of touch, and this is a shame. I grew up going to the mall. I love malls – when, that is, they’re full of life and people and not dismal, half-empty shells with boarded-up windows from stores that have folded. We have a really nice mall here in Prescott, but the genius owners imposed rents that were too high, and stores couldn’t stay there. Many have folded. Right after we moved in, the Barnes & Noble folded, and it broke my heart. I can’t tell you how inexpressibly sad it was to see it empty – and then how much sadder it was, for me at least, to see it with the walls painted black for an indoor lunar mini-golf course, which that space briefly became.

Books are sacred. Bookstores are, too. To lose one is like saying goodbye to a friend.   The remaining merchants at our little mall are trying so hard to hang on, and many of us here in town are shopping there and rooting for it to come back. J.C. Penneys and Dillards seem to be doing well, and amazingly, we just got a Sephora.

I love Dillards and although we don’t have one here in town, I love Nordstrom. I get emails from both all the time with suggestions “just for me.”   These are not good suggestions! Here are some fashion trends these stores recently suggested for me in emails:

“Romantic bodysuit.” As in, crotch snaps. No, thanks. I did that in the 70s, and they never stayed snapped. True story: I was not a svelte child. My mom enrolled me in a ballet class and she bought me a leotard, but she didn’t realize that it was actually a body suit. Every time I moved around too much, snap, snap… Not good.

“High-waist jeans.” No! The only trend worse than this would be, “high-waist jeans with PLEATS and peg legs.” Designed to give you the shape of a bowling pin.

“Menswear details.” This one sounds possible… Kathryn Hepburn pulled off that look all the time. But this particular menswear detail they’re showing me is a shoe that looks like something the Pilgrims might have worn, with a high chunk heel, except with a fringe tassel instead of a large buckle. And it’s metallic gold! Hello, Rust-Oleum!

“Bell sleeves.” Three inches longer than my hands, guaranteed to get in any plate of food. Not recommended for eating biscuits and gravy, maple syrup, spaghetti, or soup.

“Giant gaps between the sleeve and shoulder.” I don’t actually know what these shirts are called, but they look stupid and if I were to get one and wear it often, people would say, “There she is again in that shirt with the big holes in the shoulders.”

“Flare-leg jumpsuit.” No. Whom do they think they’re dealing with here? I lived through the Seventies! I was there, Gandalf! Yes, it looks great and dramatic, very Diana Rigg as Mrs. Peel.   Imagine yourself wearing it… and then having to use a Port-o-Pot, or a public restroom. Maybe one with an under-sized stall, the kind where you have to take your purse off your shoulder so you can turn around and get the door closed, and you end up holding it because you don’t want to set it down because there’s moisture on the floor, and/or something worse: grossness. Ugh. See, with a jumpsuit, unless they come up with a Union suit-type butt flap, you’re out of luck if you have to go. You can’t just lower the pants only. The whole thing has to come down. Not good.

And yet, I also realize that today, we don’t make enough of an effort to be beautiful at all times. Not like they did way back when. Even the pioneers looked better than I do half the time: I know this because I’ve seen Fess Parker’s wife, Rebecca Boone, played by Patricia Blair on the old TV show, “Daniel Boone,” and even though it was back in the early 1800s, she managed to keep her hair sprayed, her updo looking smooth, and her false eyelashes on straight.

Similarly, “Big Valley,” late 1800s in Stockton, California: Barbara Stanwyck and Linda Evans managed to convey “respectable gentry” with their turtlenecks, bolero jackets, and blue eye shadow. And they didn’t even have electricity! Shame on us looking less than our best, with all our modern conveniences! We need to try harder, ladies!

But not too hard. I say this with love to Hallmark. I love Hallmark Channel movies, but somebody needs to do an intervention and dial back the hair dye on the men and women in their mystery movies. That’s about all I’m going to say on that, but just look at it sometime. The hair is way too dark on many of the people in Hallmark Land.

They just need to go back to the basics, and focus on the one thing that makes everyone look good: Beauty lighting.

© Janet Farrar Worthington