Thursday, January 31, 2008

The Best Candy Bar To Eat In Sections


Why can't you buy a Peanut Butter Twix in the candy aisle or at the gas station anymore?

I know, they're not "gas stations," they're "convenience stores." But I only go there to get gas, except when I have to get milk and don't want to wait in the lines at the grocery store just for two gallons of milk. Although we need more and more milk every day now. We go through milk faster than I go through gas, and a fair amount of the gas I use is used going to get milk.

Must focus. Peanut Butter Twix. Must focus. Peanut Butter Twix.

Only the most-tired of you out there will be in doubt as to what The Best Candy Bar To Eat In Sections is by now, but I will spell it out for you in case there are some readers who did not begin their day, as I did, with a giant cup of coffee and Mika's "Love Today" on CD in the car. The Best Candy Bar To Eat In Sections is "Peanut Butter Twix."

Now take a moment to watch "Love Today." Really crank up the sound. Your boss won't mind. Not once he hears the song:

Don't you feel more upbeat and happy? I do. That's not the official video, by the way; it's a commercial or commercial wannabe by this guy, TonyDivine, who is clearly very talented.

Must focus. Peanut Butter Twix. Must focus. Peanut Butter Twix.

Why can't you buy a Peanut Butter Twix as a regular candy bar? And why are they in red wrappers? And why do I have to buy six of them just to get one? And why do I have to get them in the 'snack' aisle at the grocery store? And why doesn't Sweetie buy Peanut Butter Twix instead of Milky Ways, which I'll eat but I won't be very happy about.

Sweetie: I ate the Milky Ways under protest. All four of them.

Peanut Butter Twix was the first time in my memory that a candy bar "branched out" and used the name of another candy bar to establish a brand and lure in the people who already loved the 'original' version. Back in my day -- 1983, the year Peanut Butter Twix was introduced -- people were forced to buy products, watch movies, and wear clothes that had no apparent relationship to products they'd bought, movies they'd watched, or clothes they were wearing.

That's right, kids. You can't imagine the horrors we faced, walking through a store with no clue about whether or not we'd like something, having to constantly go outside of our comfort zone. You people have all grown up watching endless "Star Trek" and "Star Wars" movies and remakes of "The Brady Bunch" and "Starsky and Hutch." Your sodas all have names that begin with "Coke- ", "Pepsi-" or "Mountain Dew-."

I'm not just exaggerating, either. Over at MountainDew.com (Yes, there's a "MountainDew.com." It's here) they list seven brands, all beginning with "Mountain Dew." They include "Baja Blast," "Live Wire," and "Code Red." Note that none of those names give you an idea of what the soda tastes like. It's enough to know that it's "Mountain Dew," right?

There's also "Dew Iced... With Mountain Dew." There should be a special award for the PepsiCo employee who managed to fit "Dew" in their twice. I bet Generation Y members cry with relief when they see that.

But in 1983, marketers didn't know that we would all just blindly buy something if it had a familiar word in front of it. They had to convince us to buy things like soda and candy bars even though those sodas and candy bars might be entirely unrelated to anything we'd ever bought before. (They weren't entirely unrelated, of course: everyone knows that there's only three companies in the world that produce all the products we use and all the entertainment we watch. Just like everyone knows that all colas use the same exact formula and the differences are only in our heads.)

So in 1983, and before, marketers had to convince us that "TAB" was something we wanted to buy. (A task they largely failed at; "TAB" in my memory is associated with fat women in leg warmers and with cancer.) (Please don't sue me, Coca-Cola. I can't help my memory.)

Then came Peanut Butter Twix. The candy that changed the world. I know, I give a lot of credit for changing the world to seemingly innocuous things like Jennifer Aniston's hair, but I'm always right when you stop to think about it. And I'm right here, too, because I'll bet that this was the first real instance of rebranding (unless you count the 1 zillion varieties of "Bun" candy bars, but nobody does.)

Twix had a real image at that time: The chocolate candy with the cookie crunch. At least, that's how I remember it. It might actually be "The only candy with a cookie crunch." (See, Coca Cola! I'm unreliable!) The manufacturers then messed around with that, and came up with Peanut Butter Twix, which originally sat there in the yellow wrapper -- the yellow wrapper that I can't even locate on Google but which I know existed -- on the candy rack at the Piggly-Wiggly, drawing your eye in with its blaze of unfamiliar mixed with the familiar. Twix? But Twix isn't in yellow. And what's this about peanut butter? Twix doesn't have peanut butter. But it SAYS it's a Twix.

It was irresistable. Or so I thought, but it turns out lots of people could resist it because Peanut Butter Twix didn't last forever or take over the candy world or make it to the cover of Time or anything. They pulled it off the shelves for a while, and then it resurfaced, this time in a red wrapper and located in the snack aisle, but it was too late for me and probably for others, because I'd moved on to Butterfingers and Sweetie does the grocery shopping, and because candy bars are not supposed to be bought in the snack aisle, they're supposed to be thrown onto the conveyor belt at the end of your groceries, or grabbed while you wait in line at the gas station. Candy bars should come in ones, not packs of six or 10 or 50. They should be eaten on the ride home from wherever you bought them, either sitting in the back seat while Mom drives, or sitting in the front seat while your babies have a contest in the back to see who can say aaaaaaaaaahhhhh the loudest and longest.

And, to finally get to the point of this, they should be eaten, if at all possible, in sections and using a system, and that's what Peanut Butter Twix was The Best At. For all the hoopla about how to eat a Reese's, or that you can eat M&Ms without them melting (a lie, and I can prove it!) in your hand, Peanut Butter Twix was both the first and the best for eating in sections.

Here's how I'd do it: Open up the candy bar. Take out the first one. (Remember, with Twix, you get two, and not a cheesy, miniature "two" that's really less than one, like with Heath and Mounds and Almond Joy. You get two full-size bars.)

Eat the peanut butter off the cookie first, carefully scraping the peanut butter and chocolate top, but not the sides or the cookie, until there's no peanut butter left.

Then nibble the chocolate off all the ends until there's just cookie, with a little bit of chocolate and peanut butter that you missed.

Finally, eat the cookie. Savor it, mingled with the memory of peanut butter and chocolate that still lingers in your mouth.

Then-- voila!-- another one awaits you!


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Monday, January 28, 2008

The Best Music Video


I was alive when MTV first came out. I remember watching MTV with my uncle (who was just a little older than me -- those crazy Catholic families!) and my older brother (also just a little older than me) when I was about 16 or so, and MTV had been around long enough that the novelty had worn off.

This was long before I noted the trend in music videos that lets you instantly know, even with the sound turned off, what kind of music you're watching.

I just re-read that sentence, and had to stop and think whether it made sense. But it did. Imagine if you could go back in time and say to Mozart, "There will come a time when you can use the phrase "what kind of music you're watching" and it will make sense. I bet I know just what he would say:

Ich bin traurig, spreche ich nur Deutsches, also verstand ich Sie nicht, verr├╝ckte Person von der Zukunft.

(Which is German for "I'm sorry, I only speak German, so I didn't understand you, crazy person from the future ")

My theory on music videos is this, before I get further sidetracked from the sidetrack I was on: Each category of music has its own "type" of video that it doesn't stray far from. Take emo/pop punk (Like Jimmy Eat World or The All-American Rejects). Groups like that make videos that show the group playing in some unusual location with people going about their ordinary business around them. So they play their music in a pool (Jimmy Eat World's "The Middle") or on a beach (Blink 182's "All the Small Things") or a parade (My Chemical Romance's "Welcome To The Black Parade.") This is meant to show, I think, how unusual and out-of-step the bands, or we, are.

Meanwhile, rappers and hip-hoppers videos are only parties or dance contests (Rihanna, "Pon de Replay," Jay-Z and Beyonce, "Crazy In Love") while heavy metal and hard rockers invariably lean towards concert footage mixed with drinking. The messages here are even more obvious -- hip hoppers are crowd-pleasing dance partiers, while rockers are, well, rockers.

I know, I know: there are those who break the mold, but far fewer than you think.

So I was about 16, and we were watching videos, and the video for The Police's "Synchronicity II" came on. That's the one that has a post-apocalyptic Sting looking all Billy-Idoled and singing from what appears to be a dump equipped with sound equipment. And, frankly, none of it makes sense. The song title itself is dumb -- "Synchronicity II?" Nobody ever heard Synchronicity I, which is also apparently a song. The lyrics also talked about the mundanity of everyday life, painting a picture of people's daily existence, while, apparently, Grendel was coming forth to attack them. Or the Loch Ness monster. I'm not sure what Sting meant. But worst of all, the video had nothing to do with the song. Nothing at all. And I said so to my brother and my uncle; I said "This video has nothing to do with the song."

They just laughed. They never even explained why they laughed, and I was left, as usual, wondering what it was that the cool people got that I didn't.

So that's yet another reason why I hate people. But it's also a reason to hate music videos-- because MTV showed me (as so many other things have shown me) just how uncool I was, but also because the videos made the lyrics to the song pointless; why write a song about people's everyday lives being threatened by something crawling from a dark Scottish loch if you're going to illustrate it by having Sting strut around a garbage dump in Billy Idol's hand-me-downs?

But one video, ultimately, cut through and won me over, and that video is The Best Music Video. It's the video for Fatboy Slim's "Weapon of Choice." Here's the lyrics for "Weapon of Choice:"


Don't be shocked by the tone of my voice
Check out my new weapon, weapon of choice
Don't be shocked by the tone of my voice
Check out my new weapon, weapon of choice
Listen to the sound of my voice
You can check it all out, it's the weapon of choice
Don't be shocked by the tone of my voice
It's the new weapon, weapon of choice

[2x Chorus:]You can go with this,Or you can go with that,You can go with this,Or you can go with that,You can go with this,Or you can go with that,Or you can throw with (us)

Walk without rhythm it won't attract the worm
Walk without rhythm and it won't attract the worm
Walk without rhythm and it won't attract the worm
If you walk without rhythm ah, you never learn
. . . .

Organically grown, through the hemisphere I roam
Too big love to the angels of light
Yeah, and my girl
She just don't understand
Is gone beyond being a man
As I drift off into the night, I'm in flight
She's a Boy scout no doubt
but I'm going to hold my cool,
because of easy rules
Yeah, so move on baby, yeah
Halfway between the gutter and the stars, yeah
Halfway between the gutter and the stars, yeah

How are you ever going to illustrate that and have it make sense? Simple. You get Christopher Walken to dance around a hotel:




I love this video, and named it The Best, for two reasons: first, it so completely divorces the song from the video -- is so devoid of any link to the song-- that in a tantric way it comes completely around and could not be more related to the song. (Don't think about that too long.)

Second, because of how cool Christopher Walken's dance is. If I win the lottery, I am going to spend all of my time teaching myself to do that dance, and then buy a hotel to do it in. That's right: I will devote my life to recreating this video. Keep your fingers crossed for me.


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Tuesday, January 22, 2008

The Best Children's Book


Have you noticed that many things intended for children are awful?

I've noticed it, probably because I have 16-month-old twin boys who have been showered with things intended for children, but who, despite having been showered with those things, insist on playing with a cut-up-cardboard box and bouncing on the couch. I probably would have noticed it anyway, even without Mr F and Mr Bunches, because I like kid stuff -- good kid stuff-- and use it in my everyday life by (for example) watching Disney's "Hercules" to clear my mind after having watched "Jeepers Creepers" by myself one night.

I'm a careful consumer of kids things because, like I said, many of them are awful; they just assume that kids are brain-dead and that parents will show them anything that encourages hugs. And among the awfulest can be childrens' books. I read to the boys every night. Okay, almost every night. Some nights, football is on. And some nights, Daddy is just plain tired. You try hauling two boys around in a laundry basket for 30 minutes. I'm not as young as I used to be. But most nights I read to the boys, because I want to spend time with them and because I want them to like reading. I think it's a shame that kids don't like reading anymore. I'm not going to go off on some old-fogey rant about how kids wouldn't know a good book if it bit them in the butt. I'm just saying: kids don't like to read.

And part of that, to go back to my original point, might be because books, especially books for kids, are so frequently bad that we forget how good a good book can be. So I read my guys good books every night. Those books range from Disney stories to Winnie the Pooh to Shel Silverstein poems to Dr. Seuss; I focus on the good ones, the ones that are fun and imaginative and stick in your mind.

Then I came across The Best Children's Book, which I got for only $1 at our library as a used book and only then found out that it was very recently on the best seller list; the used books I get from the library are usually not major smash hits, but this one was.

The Book is Mo Willems' The Pigeon Finds a Hot Dog.

I didn't preview this book before buying it; I'll buy anything that looks remotely good and is only $1, and I liked the cover illustration's hand-drawn crayon-y feel: (Plus, I liked the liberal use of exclamation points!) So when I sat down to read it to the boys, I had no idea what to expect. But from page 1, I was enthralled.

The story is simple and is spelled out, mostly, on the cover: the pigeon finds a hot dog. But before he can eat it, the duckling butts in and wants to know what the hot dog tastes like, and the pigeon gets testy because he thinks the duckling is angling to get the hot dog.

That description doesn't do it justice, quite, because the way the story unfolds, Willems does an excellent job of showing the character of the Pigeon and the Duckling and giving them each distinct personalities. There's no narrator; the Pigeon and Duckling talk directly to each other and to the reader (I'm a sucker for books that break the fourth wall).

What makes it the best for me, I think, is that the Pigeon and the Duckling are not saccharine-sweet characters that are all about hugging and loving, like they're the Charmin Bears absent bodily functions or something. These are fun, interesting characters in a kid's book. The Pigeon, at one point, goes on a tear about the Duckling and mimics him because he's so upset that the Duckling is bugging him, while the Duckling just keeps working on the Pigeon.

And the book is fun to read out loud, which is important. I do the voices, wherever I can, and the Pigeon and Duckling are fun to do the voices of (for your info, I do the Pigeon as a sort of street-hustler, while the Duckling has a higher, fake-innocent voice.) The boys love it when I get to the part where the duckling asks "Would you say that it tastes like chicken?" At least, I think they love it. They stop wiggling and trying to hit each other with bottles at that point, and if that's not love, what is?



Saturday, January 12, 2008

The Best Knock Knock Joke

My nephew is 6 years old now. He’s tall enough that I keep thinking he’s 10 or 11, but he’s only six. And he loves jokes. Which is lucky, because I love jokes. Or lucky, that is, until you realize that kids never get tired of jokes. Tell them one joke:

A guy walks into a bar and says “I’m looking for my friend.” The bartender says “Who’s your friend.” The guy says “He’s got a wooden leg; name’ s Pete. Have you seen him?” The bartender says “I don’t know. What’s the name of his other leg?”

And they want a zillion more.

How come you can’t starve in the desert? Because of all the sand which is there.

And you have to keep them coming until you run out of jokes and fall back on “Pete and repeat were in a boat. Pete fell out. Who was left?” and you hope they grow tired of it but they don’t.

And also that last joke is not as funny if the kid doesn’t know what “repeat” means.

And that last joke is not funny when the kid tells it to you. I recommend quickly saying “the other guy,” except that then you’ll be just another boring old uncle.

Luckily, I have The Best Knock-knock joke of all time. Little kids love knock-knock jokes, even when they don’t get them. They love “Boo!” “Boo who?” “Don’t cry, I didn’t mean to scare you,” and “Dwayne,” “Dwayne who?” Dwayne the tub, I’m dwowning,” and more.

I thought, until I happened, just happened, to be home on one Friday night, that this was The Best Knock-Knock Joke:


Person A: “I’ve got a great knock-knock joke. You start.”

Person B: “Okay. Knock knock.”

Person A: “Who’s there?”

Person B: Jaw drops a little. Stands there dumbly. Laugh at him/her.


That’s a great one. And it can also, sometimes, end the joke onslaught.

But a few years ago—10 – I happened one Friday night to be home. I know, you’re shocked, and so was most everybody, given that I was known in my day as a carouser. (Note: nobody who uses the word “carousing” or any variation thereof to describe “carousing” is a “carouser.”)

(Also note: people who say “let’s party!” or any variation thereof are losers.)

(I'm just saying.)

So I was home on a Friday night, a stunningly rare event, and I happened to turn on the TV and see a short-lived show called “Brother’s Keeper.” (You can read more about it here if you want.) That show didn’t last long, but it made an impact on me that all the seasons of Lost will likely never achieve (and I’m only ½-way through Season 2 so no spoilers!) It gave me The Best Knock Knock Joke.

What I present to you in this nomination is the Best Knock Knock Joke because it allows you to yell a little, act like an animal, interrupt, and at the end of it, it still makes the listener think a minute and then laugh -- it's an intellectual knock-knock joke that involves yelling and animal noises. Plus, kids love it. So, without further ado, I give you the first ever TBOE Players Production of The Best Knock-Knock Joke:


video