Friday, September 24, 2010

I also had one of these. I was a sort of (really super lame) one man band, as a kid. (The Best Underrated Instruments, 6)

You know what industry has suffered most at the hands of videogame makers? Jaw harp players.

I say that because while triangle players earn, on average, $56,000 per year playing an instrument which requires no rhythm or musical talent, Jaw Harp players have apparently gone the way of buggy whips and magic lantern shows and... um... other things that are old-timey.

I first learned about the jaw harp when I read Huck Finn. Or maybe I made that up, since I read Huck Finn a long time ago and I'm not sure what all I remember from that book and what I think I remember from that book, other than the scene where Huck dressed up a lady to sneak into town but then got caught out by that old lady who figured Huck was a boy because of the way he threaded the needle, bringing the needle to the thread instead of the thread to the needle. I gathered that Mark Twain wanted readers to think "Well, there's a clever old lady for you," but all I ever thought was "Really? She had no clue whatsoever that he's a grown-up guy instead of a young girl? What was wrong with old people back then?"

Also, I've always wondered why, when sewing, people don't tie the thread to the needle. When I first had to sew a button back onto a shirt, the thread kept slipping out of the needle, so I just tied it to the needle and sewed away, happily. And now that you know the secret, you can do that, too -- as long as you remember me as The Guy Who Revolutionized Sewing.

I'm pretty sure that Huck or Jim or someone had a jaw harp, or at least I'm pretty sure that someone in a book that reminded me of Huck Finn played a jaw harp, and it doesn't matter which is true because you're not going to check and I'm not going to check, so let's just say it's Huck Finn. (And don't bother correcting me about the actual title of the book, because by now Huck Finn is the title of the book the way the monster has become Frankenstein, rendering useless, but comical, those snobs who say "You know, Frankenstein was the doctor, not the monster. No, silly -- society has long since decreed that Frankenstein is now the monster, and now society [me] is decreeing the Huck Finn is the title of the book.) And I'm pretty sure that Huck, or Jim, or someone, called it a jew's harp, the way Wikipedia does, in a fit of antisemitism which it then tries to cover up by boldly making up fake names:

The instrument is known in many different cultures by many different names. The common English name "Jew's harp" may be considered controversial or potentially misleading, and thus avoided by some speakers. Another name used to identify the instrument, especially in scholarly literature, is the older English trump, while guimbarde, derived from the French word for the instrument, can be found in unabridged dictionaries and is featured in recent revival efforts.

There's no source given for the notion that anything, anywhere, at any time, has been called a guimbarde, and it's things like that that allow people like me to keep making fun of people who believe Wikipedia. And things like how Wikipedia sort of hints that Jewish people are satanic:

Since trances are facilitated by droning sounds,[3] the Jew's harp has been associated with magic and has been a common instrument in shamanic rituals.

Whatever it's actually called, it's clear that jaw harps are not very much in vogue anymore, a conclusion I came to scientifically by checking to see whether anyone anywhere on Youtube had covered a Lady GaGa song with one. There was no such video, proving conclusively that young people would rather play "Halo: Reach" than practice a jaw harp, a fact that was further proven conclusively by this video, which purports to be the Super Mario Bros theme played on the jaw harp:

And while some might say that the jaw harp's decline in popularity is directly related to the fact that it can only play one note and that anything played on it sounds exactly like everything else played on it, as can be proven by playing Bonanza on the jaw harp and comparing it to that Super Mario Bros version:

It's clear that playing only one note isn't fatal to an instrument's popularity -- because, remember, triangularists are raking in millions (well, theoretically)(but theoretical millions are better than no millions at all) while jaw harp players appear to be stuck in the last century:

And also stuck in a world where "dueling" is impossible to spell.

But it wasn't always so: Previously, the jaws harp was popular enough that Huck Finn (or Jim, etc.) would play it, and Snoopy actually played a jaw harp, doing so in Snoopy, Come Home, which, now that I come to think of it, may have been the place where I saw someone playing the jaw harp when I was younger... but, if so, it's best not to dwell on it, because it would give my high school English teacher, Mr. Schaeffer, a heart attack if he knew that I was confusing a cartoon with a classic work of literature.

Snoopy was even used to market jaw harps to kids, sort of a less-cancer-causing Joe Camel:

And from that picture I've also scientifically concluded that the jaw harp was featured in A Boy Named Charlie Brown, a motion picture I probably saw.

It's not that the jaw harp is totally dead. It has it's own blog -- called Boing! -- and that blog seems a lot more active than many blogs (17 posts!). The latest post was April 2, 2010 (not much happened in the world of jaw harpery over the summer, apparently, but maybe that's the offseason?) On the other hand, the blog was started back in 2007 with an almost word-for-word ripoff of the Wikipedia entry, so it would be fair to assume that there are not all that many jaw harp enthusiasts out there.

So why do I blame video game makers for the demise of the jaw harp? Two reasons. First, video game makers are to blame for everything, or at least for everything that we haven't yet blamed Obama for.

And, second, I've got to blame video game makers because it's pretty obvious that it's triangle players who are responsible for wiping out the competition in one-note, no talent musical instrument genres, but there's no way I'm going to take on Big Triangle again. I noticed a lot of weird things happening after my post making fun of them, things like how one day my Raisin Bran didn't seem to have all that many raisins in it, and then, on another day, when I went to McDonald's, I couldn't really hear the guy through the drive-through because there was a lot of static, and based on those two facts, I could only conclude that Big Triangle had started infiltrating my family to get to me, plotting their revenge, raising and static-style, as only they can. I barely survived my brush with Big Penguin, and I can't go around making these hush-hush, illuminati groups mad at me. So video-game makers it is, and I'm sorry, Big Triangle, and can I please have my raisins back?

Previous Instruments:

1. Tuba

2. Harp.

3. Triangle

4. Glockenspiel.

5. Bassoon

Friday, September 17, 2010

Needless to say, we did not stop in for this wrap. (The Best Underrated Instruments, Five)

You know you're kind of a loser when you don't even warrant your own group. When I began my in-depth investigation into today's instrument, the bassoon, the first thing I thought was I bet there's an International Bassoon Society; there's an international society for everything, after all.

Actually, that's not true. The first thing I thought was Bassoon is a funny word. Then I thought about that McDonald's sign that Sweetie and I saw lasts week inviting drivers to "Stop In For An Angus Wrap" only someone had removed the g from Angus, and I couldn't stop laughing about it. Still can't.

But then I thought the thing about the bassoon society, because there really is an international society for everything. I know that because I googled "list of international societies" and what I found out was that there's a Union of International Associations, which I gather is some sort of mega-association made up of groups, and it publishes a yearbook of international groups and claims that there are more than 30,000 such groups in existence now. Since it's pretty obvious that there aren't even 30,000 things in existence, period (I'm using math to make that assumption), it's clear that there's an International Organization for everything (and probably more than one for some really important things, like "cashews."

Then there's the bassoon, which is clearly far less important than a cashew because it can't even get its own society: it has to share with the oboe, as both are represented by the "International Double Reed Society." In existence since 1972, the IDRS boasts that "75% of is accessible to the public," which immediately raised the question in my mind: what is the IDRS trying to hide? Obviously, something, because they won't let people like me, ordinary people minding their ordinary business snickering about scatological modifications to fast-food restaurant signs and trying desperately to not work on a Friday, see what's behind the Iron Curtain put up by the double-reeders.

Whatever it might be -- black helicopters, a secret army of robot bassoon players to take on the Robotglockenspielers, a stockpile of cashews-- we cannot, as a society allow this to continue, and that's why I am using my position as a blogger to call on the IDRS to make their full site available to the public -- or, if they don't, I am calling on the federal government and all fifty states to use every legal and militaristic means at their disposal to force the IDRS to reveal the remainder of the hidden content.

And if that doesn't work, then I'd at least like those guys who changed the fast-food sign to keep doing stuff like that, because I enjoy the laugh on my commute home.

The bassoon, according to Wikipedia, was invented in the 1800s, a claim that at first dismayed me and made me believe that Wikipedia was even less reliable than appellate courts have found it to be , since I know for a fact that everything everywhere was invented in the 16th century -- but a click on a quick link assuaged my concerns, as I learned that the bassoon is actually a descendant of the dulcian, an instrument that was invented in the 16th century. The dulcian was a bassoon, essentially, except that the dulcian, unlike the bassoon, wore a leather jacket, making it the Fonzie of double-reed instruments.

I'm not lying, either: from Wikipedia:

The dulcian is generally made from a single piece of maple, with the bores being drilled and reamed first, and then the outside planed to shape. ...The outside of the instrument can also be covered in leather.

See? I don't make stuff up. Wikipedia may make stuff up, but once it's on that site, I'm free to treat it as a fact. Because it's in print. If it's in print, it's true.

Generalizing from that one paragraph that I bothered to read, I can conclude (using science this time) that dulcians were amazingly popular, until the leather covering was lost and they became bassoons, at which point they faded in popularity until the present time, when only 1 in 23,000,000,017 people actually knows what a bassoon is, and Rainn Wilson feels free to attack it as an instrument for no reason whatsoever other than that Rainn Wilson wants desperately to be considered quirky.

But before you join Rainn Wilson in his ad hominem attacks on underrated instruments, consider this: Can you play Bohemian Rhapsody on Rainn Wilson? Probably, but it wouldn't sound as good as this:

And then consider this: Why does every person who plays any minor instrument feel compelled to cover a Lady GaGa song on it?

Seriously. Type in the name of any weird instrument on Youtube and you're going to come up with a billion videos of people playing Lady Gaga songs on that instrument. Which means it's time for us to start The International Society For People Who Are Against Lady GaGa Covers. You can join by sending me twenty bucks, in exchange for which I'll text you a picture of that McDonald's sign.

Previous Instruments:

1. Tuba

2. Harp.

3. Triangle

4. Glockenspiel.

Monday, September 13, 2010

An Update On The Best Part Of Breakfast Cereal

It's just a tad over two years since I challenged America to develop the technology that would let me have a bowl of nothing but cereal marshmallows, and America, God Bless You, answered that clarion call.

First, there was the genius who set up, a then-33-year-old woman from Montana who began selling cereal marshmallows in bulk (and has a "Frequent Buyers Club" that resulted in Sweetie taking away my credit cards.)

Now, though, comes The Man Who Would Be Marshmallow King, a guy the name of Nathan Wratislaw (which I think is a palindrome). Nathan has a personal website, the use of which he says is

to list a bunch of Personal stuff & to Show Family and Friends Websites that I own/manage.

As opposed to my site, which is used to brag about my kids or talk about glockenspiels.

Nathan's sites include something called CareKleen, which has something to do with diet pills. I couldn't tell what because I, like the rest of our internet-addled society can't read a block of text anymore. Put it in cartoon form, Nathan!

But what drew my interest was the posting on Gamma Squad that alerted me that Nathan Wratislaw was now running -- and that he'd posted a series of videos showing what happens when you combine non-marshmallowed cereals with marshmallows.

The videos are important, because absent that proof, there's no way I could ever wrap my head around a concept like Cereal Marshmallows in Lucky Charms without seeing it in front of my eyes.

Double marshmallows? Crazy.

So we can't win a war in Afghanistan, or provide decent health care to anyone not literally made out of hundred-dollar-bills, but we are the World Leaders in marshmallowization. Which seems fitting.

Saturday, September 11, 2010

Surrounded by a raging pack of glockenspiels? (The Best Underrated Instruments, 4)

Today's instrument is the glockenspiel.

It's 6:19 a.m. and I'm thinking about "glockenspiels."

Each morning, I wake up, and each morning, something pops into my head that I can't quite account for. Today, it's the word "glockenspiel." But one day, it was the song "C'mon, C'mon" by Bronski Beat:

That's a song I woke up one morning, humming, for no apparent reason, just as one morning I woke up with a craving for chicken salad and one morning I woke up about 45 minutes late for work and thinking nothing.

I used to think maybe I had dreamed about these things, but then I realized that's crazy, because (a) who dreams about a minor (if catchy) reggae-pop-song from the 1980s? and (b) I remember all my dreams, and they mostly feature me solving minor mysteries in Disney World, with a pet alligator, like the time we realized that the person taking the mouse ears from the shop was a mad scientist living below the park, and that he was also planning on retrofitting them with broadcast devices that would make the wearer's thoughts audible to anyone within earshot. Poor guy, he was only doing that because he, himself, had once blurted out in eighth grade that he liked the head cheerleader, and been so embarrassed when everyone laughed that he'd dropped out of school to become a mad scientist. But me and Al still had to bring him in. Sometimes being a Disney Detective is tough work.

(If you think that sounds like a good TV show, write to whoever is in charge of Disney right now [I think it's Buzz Lightyear] and tell them to buy my idea. Thanks!)

Today, the thought of the morning was, and is, glockenspiel, and it occurred to me that other than the use of the word (and the instrument) in the song Tubular Bells by Mike Oldfield, I really know nothing about the glockenspiel. For all I knew, it could be a kind of chicken. That's our public schools for you: I know all about The Canterbury Tales, but nothing about whether I might, at any time, be surrounded by a raging pack of glockenspiels that I'd have to fend off through some unknown means.

Also, I never read The Canterbury Tales. I faked it. So that's a failing of the US Public School system, too, and we ought to scrap the whole works and just go back to a Hobbesian state of nature.

Because it's quiet at our house at 6 a.m., I had the time to do some research into what a glockenspiel might be and whether it's poisonous the way all spiders are (don't let "scientists" fool you. They'll tell you most spiders aren't dangerous or poisonous, but they've clearly been paid off and are in the pockets of Big Arachnid. And even if "scientists" weren't just lobbyists for black widows, who can trust them when they spend all their time playing Dance Dance Revolution and calling that an experiment?)

I went to Wikipedia first, because I wanted to see what the answers were not, and I was not disappointed by Wikipedia's page on the glockenspiel, which featured talk about a keyboard glockenspiel and pictured (among other instruments) a sousaphone. The page also claimed that glockenspiels are in all kinds of popular music, ranging from hip-hop to jazz. Why it pictured a sousaphone is beyond me, but at least I got the free misinformation out of the way.

For a more reliable source, I went anywhere, and ended up at the Vienna Symphonic Library. I don't know who runs that page, but the word "Vienna" was in it, and anything associated with Vienna is automatically smart and classy, so I'll take that as a good reference. That page said that there's three types of glockenspiels: Two are the kind almost nobody plays, and one is the kind nobody at all plays anymore.

The kind nobody plays at all anymore is what I'd say is the official glockenspiel, because it was first. It's a keyboard glockenspiel, played by hitting keys that then cause hammers to strike little bells or bars. The keyboard glockenspiel was invented in the 16th century, and most likely caused the first copyright infringement claim as the inventor of the piano (Buzz Lightyear, I think) sued the pants off the inventor of the glockenspiel (Buzz Glockenspiel, I'm pretty sure), but the joke was on Mr. Piano because according to what I remember making up about that era, pants weren't invented until the 17th century, so it was a hollow victory.

That Vienna Symphony library says that keyboard glockenspiels make an inferior sound, and the site has a clear preference for your more modern glockenspiels, including the "mallet-played glockenspiel" and "The glockenspiel that isn't even called a glockenspiel."

The popularity of the "Mallet-played glockenspiel" the Vienna library attributes to the greater clarity of tones and something called "nodal points," while I attribute the growth in popularity of that version to the fact that it's played with mallets. I'd have been much less opposed to piano lessons when I was a kid if I'd been allowed to use mallets to play it. Mallets make everything more fun to do.

The glockenspiel that isn't even called a glockenspiel is called a bell lyre, getting that name because it's shaped like a lyre but in place of the... strings? Is that what a lyre has? I don't know; Wikipedia claims that a lyre is a kind of a duck... so we'll go with strings... in place of strings, the bell lyre has... bells. It's a kind of upright glockenspiel that the library claims is popular in marching bands, but obviously we're using "popular" loosely since I've never heard of a bell lyre, and if I don't know about something, it's not popular. (Which, technically, makes Jerseylicious more popular than every book I was supposed to read in high school.)

True fact: Jerseylicious was based on The Marinator's Tale from The Canterbury Tales, especially this part:

Auf tim'd many a woman'd
Ask for cured meats, but they'd been
Left in th'sun too long themfelves,
Pouf'd hair and mafcara running.

The "cured meats" was a bawdy joke on the part of the author of the Canterbury Tales. (Buzz Lightyear.)

The Vienna Library wasn't the only source for information on the glockenspiel, of course. There's also the DSO Kids site, where you can hear what the glockenspiel sounds like, and learn that the name means "to play the bells." They weren't much for creativity in naming instruments back in the 16th century, were they?

More fun than that is the site that will tell you how to build your own glockenspiel, if that's the kind of thing you're into. When I first saw the site, I thought who would ever want to build their own glockenspiel, but then I thought wait, that's right, they're played with mallets, so now I'm kind of leaning towards building my own. The site will also let you play a virtual glockenspiel if you'd like. I spent about 20 minutes trying to play In A Gadda Da Vida on it, before remembering that I don't really know how that song goes.

Here's some glockenspiel songs for you:


Here, you rockenglockenspiel wannabees, is the ELECTRIC glockenspiel:

And here, you people who think that there is a job out there that can't be done better by machines, is a robot playing the glockenspiel:

Which means that all those futuristic apocalypse movies had it wrong. It's not a roving army of killer robots we'll be facing. It's a roving army of Killer Robot Marching Bands.

(And if you think that would make a great TV show, write to the head of Disney, too. I'm willing to bend on my artistic vision and have Al and I take a break from the mysteries to fight the Killer Robot Marching Bands.)

Previous Instruments:

1. Tuba

2. Harp.

3. Triangle

Friday, September 03, 2010

The Best Jennifer Aniston

Both Jennifer Aniston and I, and the rest of you if Sweetie is correct, got a little bad news recently.

For my part, my poem submission to The New Yorker was rejected. I'm sure that you recall that in the course of writing The Best Songs That Make Absolutely No Sense, I discovered the significance of the hyphen and also accidentally wrote the poem "Inside Emily's Mind":

I have to say--
It-- actually looks with those hyphens
As though--
it means -- something
Maybe Emily was really --
On-- to something.

And then I on purpose submitted my accidental poem to The New Yorker, the only place that publishes poetry anymore. Recently, I found out that they'd rejected it, which means that The New Yorker felt that my poem was less worthy than this actual poem by David Musgrave that appeared in the August 30 issue of that magazine:

On The Inevitable Decline Into Mediocrity of the Popular Musician Who Attains a Comfortable Middle Age

O Sting, where is thy death?

Really. That's the whole poem. At least my poem had the poetic sense to reference Emily Dickinson instead of a guy who's most recently claim to fame is that he managed to reference The Canterbury Tales while making a pun on his name.

I'm a little bitter about rejection, true. I may just write a poem called The New Yorker Rejected My Poem, and then submit that to them. People still like irony, right?

As bad a week as I'm having after that, and as bad a week as Sting's having -- imagine, a former English teacher being ridiculed via poetry! Talk about irony!

(Please, do, talk about irony, while I get back to my point.)

My point being that as bad a week as Sting and I are having, we're probably having a better week than Jennifer Aniston, who had to find out again that America is not so crazy about "Jennifer Aniston, Rom-Com Star," the previous, what, 7 or 8 times she'd been told that not having sunk in.

It seemed to sink in this time, when moviegoers uniformly opted to see things like "That one movie with Arnold Schwarzenegger Briefly In It And Doesn't He Have More Important Things To Do," or, God forbid, moviegoers stayed home and watched Tosh.0 on their DVRs so they could catch all the subtle humor they'd missed the first time around, options that, in exercising them, sent a message to Jennifer Aniston, that message being:


In response to that message, Jennifer issued a message of her own: she announced that she'd be going topless in a movie called Wanderlust, an announcement that registered on the American male public as "Jennifer Aniston to go topless...", with none of the men reading any further than that.

Just as quickly as Jennifer made that announcement (doing so in the traditional Hollywood style of letting rumors leak out so that she could see what people thought of that), it was denounced by Sweetie, who is Jennifer Aniston's most ardent fan, so devoted to Jennifer and protecting Jennifer and rejecting anyone who hurt Jennier that I still haven't been allowed to watch Mr and Mrs. Smith, something I used to regret until I realied that Brad Pitt is among the 10 most horrible people on the planet, so now I won't watch anything with him in it. That makes Sweetie and I sort of the Jack Sprat when it comes to Brangelina; she won't watch her, I won't watch him, and between the two of us we spend a lot of time watching The King Of Queens reruns. (Sweetie loves the one where Carrie learns pole dancing.)

It's easy for me to skip watching Brad Pitt movies. He hasn't made a good one, really, since The Mexican, so all I'm really missing out on is a bunch of portentous Oscar bait, and Burn After Reading, but I heard that's not so good.

And, just as quickly as Sweetie denied the rumors that Jennifer Aniston had floated, Jennifer Aniston announced that, a la Meg Ryan, she was going to launch a "sexy new career" but that sexiness and newness would not include "full-frontal nudity."

All you guys who stop reading everything about Jennifer Aniston in the first sentence probably missed that part, but don't despair. Not only will Jennifer's career no doubt continue to feature full-side-al nudity, and full back-al nudity and full supposedly-accidental-frontal-nudity-but-it-wasn't-supposed-to-be-in-the-film, honestly, and even full office-casual-nudity, but it will also, according to someone in a story I read, feature as a part of her career more "aggressive sexuality," which I think might mean that she is going to become one of the ladies of WWE, although how she's going to fight a 6'9" amazonian wrestler, even in an aggressively sexual movie, is beyond me.

Everyone, or at least everyone who was quoted in that article I read, thinks this is a great idea, for Jennifer Aniston to become a wrestler or go nude or at least stop taking long pensive walks on the beach and looking wistful when she talks to John Stewart.

Me, I'm not so sure. And I'm really very qualified to make that kind of judgment, because...

... because...


...look, I write this blog, okay? That qualifies me. Also, remember, I'm married to Sweetie and she's the world's pre-eminent expert on Jennifer Aniston. In fact, I was going to ask Sweetie whether she thought Jennifer Aniston should go naked in a movie to help her career, but I'm about 100% sure that the response would be "Oh, is that who you like now? You don't think I'm attractive? I suppose you want to move to Hollywood and marry Jennifer Aniston."

So let's just assume I'm qualified; it's entirely possible, after all, that somewhere in all that schooling I had, I took a class that qualified me to make judgments about Jennifer Aniston's career. After all, I looked at my transcripts once and found out I'd taken not one, but three math classes. And anthropology. And I'm not even sure what anthropology is. (It's probably a kind of math, I figure.)

As a possibly-math-major, then, I thought it would be helpful for me to review all the Jennifer Anistons that have been bestowed upon us, all the various incarnations of America's Runner Up, and see which of them were the most popular -- doing so not just because it gives me an excuse to keep Googling Jennifer Aniston while I try repeatedly to explain to Sweetie that I love Sweetie very much and hate Hollywood, but also because it's An Important Public Service, the kind I keep doing for you readers, helping you sort things out so you know what's the best.

I've identified Seven Jennifer Anistons for review, and I'll go over the basics, and plusses and minuses, of each, to help you, and Jennifer Aniston who probably reads this blog, decide which one we like best, to help her determine if an Eighth Jennifer, "Aggressively Sexual But Not-Yet-Fully-Frontally-Nude Jennifer" should be created.

The Seven Current Existing Jennifers are:Leprechaun/Newcomer Jennifer, Rachel Jennifer, Grown-Up Rachel Jennifer, Indie Film Jennifer, Romantic Comedy Jennifer, The Jennifer Nobody Sees, and Real-Life Jennifer (a/k/a "Sad Jennifer.")

Leprechaun/Newcomer Jennifer:

Basic Characteristics:
Young. Haunted by a demonic mythological creature in an ill-advised attempt to make a cute, charming creation morph into a horrible monster (a/k/a gremlinizing). Obviously, Hollywood, it works one way - - horrible monsters can become cute and charming (a/k/a EdwardCullenizing) but not in reverse.

Other than that, very little is known about this Jennifer, as your writer has never seen the actual movie Leprechaun. Your writer did see Leprechaun In The Hood and from that can reliably file this report: "Seriously? That's a movie?"

Plusses/Minuses: Newcomer Jennifer had little to recommend her, unless she was the one who survived the leprechaun's depredations. But, since she (so far as I can pretend to recall) was not the character in that movie who wore glasses or took school seriously or did not want to go past first base with her boyfriend, the odds are that she died like everyone else in an 80s horror movie who was not one of those archetypes.

What I Assumed To Be True About Jennifer Aniston Based On This Character: That she would do anything to get ahead of the competition.

Defining Characteristic That We Loved About This Jennifer: Her willingness to take part in the worst distortion of Irish mythology since "Irish Springs" soap.

Rachel Jennifer:

Basic Characteristics: This Jennifer was the type of person who is able to run out on her wedding and in full wedding regalia find the one New York City coffeeshop overrun not by college students working on their novels, but on people who apparently never have to work and also are her best friends in the world (as explained by flashbacks) but who she seems strangely unfamiliar with when she meets them. Also, she wore suspenders from time to time.

She's a plucky coffee waitress with the gumption to date an Italian womanizer while also learning how to do laundry. Is she everywoman? Is she us, at a young age?

Well, no. She's actually kind of spoiled and appeared to decide to learn how to actually exist in society (as opposed to just moving through it) in order to spite her dad, who's deserving of that spite because he doesn't want to pay the credit cards for a young woman whose only motivation in life is to spite him. And she really wasn't very nice to Julie.

What I Assumed To Be True About Jennifer Aniston Based On This Character: That even when she really had nothing to offer the group, she just expected people not only to love her, but to support her every endeavor.

Defining Characteristic That We Loved About This Jennifer: Her hair.

Grown-Up Rachel Jennifer:

Basic Characteristics: The evolution of Jennifer continues, as people like me become more and more comfortable assuming that Jennifer Aniston is exactly like her character on the TV show we only began watching because it was on before Seinfeld. Grown-Up Rachel Jennifer has evolved and moved beyond her younger days' obsessions with money and status and clothing: now, she's a junior executive at Ralph Lauren who's not above using her friends' lies to get ahead at work, and who is dishonest with her boss when interviewing for new jobs. Also, she practices unsafe sex. (But wouldn't any sex with David Schwimmer meet that definition?)

Plusses/Minuses: Grown-Up Rachel Jennifer reflected our late 90s society back at us in the same exact way that Gordon Gecko had all those years earlier: From Greed Is Good, we as a people had moved on to I'd like a cushy job that in no way challenges me but is high status, please. Which isn't so much moving on as just getting more specific. Grown-Up Rachel Jennifer also showed modern, late-90s women that they could, like their forebears, have it all -- "it all" in this case being a job with no apparent responsibilities, a crippling emotional kneejerk reaction to any serious relationship, and a baby who even at the age of three weeks was already comfortable playing a niche role in her mother's life. That message sunk in with this proviso: "But you can only have It All, nowadays, if you already had a big chunk of It and also have a group of friends who also have It and they are willing to do, say, 75% of the work for you."

On the other hand, her hair was still really great. And she could play drums.

What I Assumed To Be True About Jennifer Aniston Based On This Character: That she benefitted enormously from the presence of other people in her life... but never really understood that to be the fact.

Defining Characteristic That We Loved About This Jennifer: Even in her 30s, with a child and executive job, she was not above crying to get her way.

Indie Film Jennifer:

Basic Characteristics: What a shift! Suddenly, there's a listless, drifting Jennifer who's bored with life and looking for meaning in the most unusual places: Texas, Zooey Deschanel's monologues, places like that. And there's Jake Gyllennhaal, for some reason. (note: I'm not at all worried about whether that's spelled right, as it's a Universal Truth that there is no wrong way to spell a Gyllenhall.) Indie Film Jennifer spends most of her time looking pensively into the middle distance, and thinking about poisoning people with blueberries.

Plusses/Minuses: Somehow, and in complete contravention of logic, Indie Film Jennifer seems to be the most likeable of the Jennifers, in a superficial way -- and "in a superficial way" is the only way people ever like indie film characters. Admit it. You saw this movie, and like Indie Film Jennifer, and then later on, you thought to yourself "I don't know. I guess there wasn't really that much to recommend about her, plus she really did try to kill her husband, didn't she?" Just like you saw Juno and were charmed until the drive home when you thought "She really was a smug little piece of artifice, wasn't she?" And then, after that, you looked back at your memories of John Krasczynksi* in Away We Go and thought "Really, we were supposed to believe that he talked on the phone that way, and that his job required not even having an office?"

(*John's name is also subject to the Law Of Gylenhal)

I don't know what, exactly, it is that I'm saying here, unless it's that that kid in Angus remains the only consistently likeable character in an indie film.

What I Assumed To Be True About Jennifer Aniston Based On This Character: That Brad Pitt ought not to eat anything she sends him.

Defining Characteristic That We Loved About This Jennifer: It's a tie between "She didn't like her dead-end job anymore than we do" and "She dated Jake Gyllenhaal."

Romantic Comedy Jennifer:

Basic Characteristics: I've already discussed Romantic Comedy Jennifer in other posts on this blog, pointing out that if, as a movie character, you're going to get dumped, you want to get dumped by Romantic Comedy Jennifer. But that's not all there is to Romantic Comedy Jennifer; she's not just there to further your career by having no further interest in you. Romantic Comedy Jennifer also has a vaguely-defined career or life of her own, maybe doing something in an art gallery, or maybe owning a ferret and being kind of a hippie. Whatever her career is (felon on the lam is a career?), it's certainly more meaningful than working in fashion. That's how you know she's not Rachel anymore.

Plusses/Minuses: Do you ever wonder how people end up working in some jobs? I see people at the JCPenney's shoe department and I think "Did you go to college hoping to work there?" Then I try to remember what classes I took in college.

Romantic Comedy Jennifer has as a plus the idea that we all could have interesting jobs that don't involve offices and bosses who try to buy our babies (and, hopefully, don't involve ferrets, either.) In fact, Romantic Comedy Jennifer builds on Grown-Up Rachel Jennifer by pointing out that not only can you have It All, but you no longer need your friends to help you out; Romantic Comedy Jennifer frequently gets pregnant and raises children without her friends, and runs businesses where her boss doesn't need her to be around, and does something-or-other while her husband experiments with his new godlike powers, and otherwise goes it alone entirely. She's an Army Of One, Romantic Comedy Jennifer is.

I'm not sure if that's a plus, or minus. But it's something.

What I Assumed To Be True About Jennifer Aniston Based On This Character:

Husbands? She don't need no stinkin' husbands.
(Imagine I'm doing an accent, there.)

Defining Characteristic That We Loved About This Jennifer: Romantic Comedy Jennifer really opens our eyes and shows us ourselves. Whatever our best trait might be, she'll bring it out in us. Whatever our worst problem is, she'll help us get over it. Whatever other movie might be also opening the weekend Romantic Comedy Jennifer's movie opens, she'll make sure we go see.

The Jennifer Nobody Sees.

Basic Characteristics: Just as we all have a little part of ourselves that we share with nobody, not even our wives, not even if they catch us secretly watching Ace of Cakes one night at about 1 a.m. and say "why is this show on" forcing us to feign sleep and claim that we must have rolled over on the remote... so too does Jennifer Aniston have a secret side -- but, like the Purloined Letter, this secret is right there for us to find, if only we would look. This Jennifer maybe helped kill someone. This Jennifer loved her life as a girlfriend to a cover band lead singer. This Jennifer cleans houses in french maid outfits. This Jennifer might have... um... made out with a guy who was also her grandfather?This Jennifer is, in a word, interesting. (And also a little gross.) The problem with her, though, is that nobody bothers to look at the interesting Jennifer. Sweetie and I went to see that one movie with Clive Owen, and we were the only people in the theater. Plus, I can't even remember what it's called now, and whether she was a murderer in it or not. I barely remember the movie, at all, and I can't be bothered to go look it up. So it's not so much that it's the Purloined Letter of movies, maybe, as it is that there's a blind spot; we don't want to see Interesting Jennifer, which is why this version is The Jennifer Nobody Sees and not Interesting Jennifer.

Plusses/Minuses: But why is that, exactly, that we don't want to see this version of her? Everyone wants to know somebody who's interesting, right? least, until you realize that the person who's so interesting is also kind of exhausting. It's one thing to spend a couple of hours talking to a possibly murderous rock-star french maid. It's another thing entirely to have that person in your life, always not having money and always having to kiss Kevin Costner, and then probably calling you up late at night to complain that ever since you became the lead singer of that metal band you really don't have time for her anymore. It's a mixed bag, in the end. That, and if we admit that Jennifer Aniston can be an interesting person, that's going to really challenge our world view, something nobody wants to have happen. It took 1,492 years to acknowledge the world was round -- how long will society cling to a world view of something that's less important than "knowing we won't fall off the edge of the planet?" A long time.

What I Assumed To Be True About Jennifer Aniston Based On This Character: That she's actually -- contrary to what The Hater says -- capable of being interesting even when she's not Rachel.

Defining Characteristic That We Loved About This Jennifer: She's the person you'd want to talk to at that one party or wedding or office function.

Real-Life Jennifer (a/k/a "Sad Jennifer.")

Basic Characteristics: Real-Life Jennifer is the Jennifer Aniston who is constantly being conflated with her movie and TV show characters, as tabloids proclaim that she's having a baby without having a husband and bloggers write lengthy posts about the Various Jennifers when they should be working. But Real-Life Jennifer is more than that. She's also the Jennifer who turns up on talk shows and in interviews with magazines who seems to be trying just a little too hard. She's laughing just a touch too early at jokes, and a touch too long. She's rumored to be working out 7 hours a day to keep her body looking great. She's in charge of a production company and going to be guest-starring on TV shows and in general has a fabulous life... except that she's laughing a touch too early at jokes and so on.

This is the Jennifer that I tell Sweetie I picture: The Jennifer Aniston who takes long, sad walks on the beach, smoking and looking out to see and not really thinking anything. Sometimes, too, in my imaginary-Jennifer-on-the-beach image, she's got a metal detector.

Plusses/Minuses: Real-Life Jennifer is supposed to be the real Jennifer Aniston, and that alone would be a significant minus -- because who wants real life? But, then, even Real-Life Jennifer isn't real, because of that whole trying too hard thing. In interview after interview, Jennifer Aniston insists too much that things are just perfect, and in doing so, seems to prove just the opposite -- and thus Real-Life Jennifer spends her time trying to be anything but Real-Life Jennifer. She tries to be Perfect Jennifer and I'm Happy The Way I Am Jennifer and Brad Who? Jennifer and even, now, Aggressively Sexy Jennifer, but none of those ring true, either. So we don't get real life, and we don't get anything better than that.

What I Assumed To Be True About Jennifer Aniston Based On This Character: In the end, Real-Life Jennifer is just another character, right? So what I assume Real-Life Jennifer says about Real-Real-Life Jennifer is that I'm a lot closer to the truth in that Jennifer On The Beach idea than most people would assume.

Defining Characteristic That We Loved About This Jennifer: That, when we see her on the magazine covers or in the interview chair, at least she's not a Kardashian.

So which Jennifer wins, in the end? Which Jennifer Aniston is The Best Jennifer Aniston? It's obvious, isn't it? Remember, I referenced that Sting poem -- the point of the poem being that sometimes, it's better when the celebrities we liked don't hang around being nonlikeable anymore, better when they don't try to reinvent themselves, better when we're just stuck with the memories of the celebrity that we had at the start.

Why do we want, or why do some celebrities think we want, them to keep coming at us in new incarnations? Do we really want that? I don't think so. Look at how the public turned on Meg Ryan, who stopped pensively biting her lip in a cute way because Billy Crystal or Tom Hanks befuddled her, and instead started having semi-shadowy makeout sessions in weirdly-named movies. Look at the way we rejected Julia Roberts when she tried to play Frankenstein, or Mary Shelley, or someone like that. I'm not that clear on the part she played that drove her into seclusion in Florida, but she did play a part and was exiled from Hollywood for decades, and even now, her attempted return isn't working out.

Demi Moore, Drew Barrymore, Sandra Bullock... all actresses who had to learn the hard way that once you're established in the public's mind as this, you'll never be that, so don't even try.

It's not just actresses, either: Actors face the same problem, or the same opportunity. It's the rare actor who gets to change his public persona to something else, and even then it doesn't work to change again. It took Bill Murray decades to become Serious Bill Murray -- and now he's not really allowed to not be serious Bill Murray anymore. Some never get to change: John Travolta was and will always be Vinny Barbarino, forever. It doesn't matter if he's Disco Vinny or Talking Baby Dad Vinny or Hitman Vinny, the only characters we let him play are versions of Vinny Barbarino. Even in Face/Off, which was a brilliant movie, he was essentially Terrorist Vinny. When he tried not to be Vinny, like he did in the movie Phenomenon (a movie I loved, except that when I think of it I (a) get sad and (b) also think mahna mahna), we reject him.

The fact of the matter is, once you're someone in Hollywood, you're really not allowed to be someone else. That's why the best and biggest stars become someone who blandly can be anyone. Leonardo DiCaprio has built a career on being a good-looking, slightly twisted kind of guy. Tom Hanks is blandly affable. George Clooney is likeably good-looking. Tom Selleck has a moustache. That's them. In every movie by those guys, really, they're just playing themselves, or at least the self they began playing and are now stuck playing -- the same way Arnold Schwarzenegger or Sylvester Stallone or Bob Denver got stuck always being that guy.

It's no different for women, and that's Jennifer Aniston's problem: She rose to fame as Rachel Jennifer, and that's who we want her to be. Some women know that -- Courtney Cox is essentially playing Divorced Monica on Cougartown, while Julia Roberts' sassy hooker became a sassy paralegal for a while -- and some women never get it.

Jennifer Aniston, I think, is one who'll never get it, which is too bad; as Rachel, she was a cultural (albeit hair-based) force that transformed Hollywood and the world (I explain better how that is in this book), but as anything but Rachel, she's either uninteresting or, worse, she's interesting but we don't care.

O, Sting, where is thy death? could, in a less-pretentious way, be rewritten as Oh, Rachel, where is thy acceptance of thy fate? Society doesn't want -- we don't want -- Jennifer Aniston as a reporter being tracked by Gerard Butler, or as an aggressively-sexy this, or a down-on-her-luck that. We want Jennifer Aniston as Rachel, the flustered-but-trying waitress, and it's just too bad if Jennifer Aniston doesn't want to be Rachel anymore, because it's not up to her. I can't make The New Yorker publish my poem, and Jennifer Aniston can't make the public accept her as a high-flying executive or whatever she's going to be aggressively sexy about.

And that's not that bad. She had a great run and is super-rich, and is popular, and could probably date just about any guy that she wants (except me, 'cause I'm taken, and Sweetie's prettier than Jennifer), so I'm not feeling sorry for her. Plus, she could go on being Rachel, which might not be artistically fulfilling for her but which would accomplish what she apparently wants to get done, that being that she wants the public to go back to loving her and making a big deal about her.

Which will happen when she makes "Rachel: The Movie," about how she's got the perfect life with Ross in the suburbs, raising their kids comfortably until one day something happens to Ross and... she has to take a job to support the kids, and the only job available is working as a coffee waitress at a New York coffee shop, where she runs into some old friends...

See? You'd go see that movie. So would I -- because we all like Rachel Jennifer best, naturally, as she was The Best Jennifer Aniston.