Tuesday, December 06, 2005

Throwing wet paper towels against the wall: Words, Rodeo, and TV Mayors

It's been a distracting series of days around the 19 Minutes World Media Headquarters. The End-of-the-Year pledge drive is about to get underway in Public Radioland, leading listeners to bombard us with questions like, "Didn't you just finish your last pledge drive?", and leading us to consult our calendars to determine whether we did, in fact, just finish our last pledge drive.

We're also undertaking a major overhaul of our website, which allows us a fun-filled opportunity to spend time listening to web professionals talk to us on a speakerphone and clicking the "next" icon on the demonstration page.

We've accompanied our 17-month old daughter to the symphony and a book-signing, which was distracting insofar as we spent most of our time staring in amazement as she sat through both as though she'd been a music and literature fan all of her life. (If only the symphony had played "Mahna Mahna"...)

And we were on the cusp of posting yesterday when the US Supreme Court decided to take up a case that originated right here in Flagstaff, Arizona, which caused much scrambling around in Public Radioland to get a story to air - a task made more difficult by the fact that we don't typically cover many Supreme Court cases in Flagstaff and thus had all sorts of basic questions that Nina Totenberg hasn't had to ask in 40 years.

All the while, though, we've been throwing metaphorical wet paper towels at the wall, hoping one of them would stick. Unfortunately, none of them was a full-sized paper towel. But those pick-a-size towels are pretty cool, anyway, so here goes:

The topic of First Words has been on the minds of some key 19 Minutes staffers (well, my mind, anyway). My 17-month old, Sylvi, launched into her first real word a couple months ago -- "breakfast". But since then, she's figured out it's way more efficient to just use the first letter. So "breakfast" became "B-b-b-uh", and so, for that matter, did "lunch" and "dinner". This is somewhat confusing - not because we might accidentally feed her breakfast at 6:00 pm, but because "B-b-b-uh" is also her word for "ball", "butterfly", and "bee". So one must take a contextual approach to understanding her.

Anyway, we're waiting anxiously for her first word that sticks (not unlike a wet paper towel). If first words are a reflection of the time in which we're living, I suppose she might well say "iPod" when I get home tonight. Of course, if first words are a reflection of the prevailing culoture, there's probably a whole generation of 1970s-born people whose first word was "Convoy". My own first word, for reasons unknown, was "ten".


For other reasons unknown, my late night attention has again turned to ESPN2, as it's the week of the National Finals Rodeo. I have no legitimate reason to be interested in rodeo. I own no large hats, nor large belt buckles. I do agree that many of the events are pretty cruel to the animals (except bull riding, which actually offers the animals a legitimate chance at revenge). And I've ridden a horse exactly once, which was enough to convince me that horseback riding is an activity best-suited to people who possess a butt.

But for the past few years, I've found myself strangely mesmerized by the NFR. Perhaps it's the advertisements that run during commercial breaks - you have your usual ESPN fare - beer, pickup trucks, etc. - but also products that don't often make it on national TV, such as remedies for something called "lung flukes". On last night's broadcast, local viewers were treated to a commercial break which included spots for a trailer hitch company, an anti-domestic violence PSA, and a commercial for the Flagstaff Symphony Orchestra's music-in-the-schools program. So apparently the NFR casts a pretty wide net. It's also strangely soothing to watch the Barrel Racing event, which basically consists of a seemingly never-ending littany of horses and riders going into the arena, circling three barrels, and heading out of the arena. They go one after another, circling the barrels, and circling the barrels, until I drift off to sleep. It's the most relaxing television experience I've had since I broke my arm playing baseball in 2000 and for weeks afterward, drifted off to a Vicodin-induced sleep while watching the Andy Griffith Show.

The Vicodin is long-gone, but I'm still watching the Andy Griffith Show, which was the genesis of the final wet paper towel, brought to my attention by my wife. She noted that the show's Mayor Pike (and later, Mayor Stoner) were emblematic of the larger trend of TV sitcoms portraying mayors as buffoons. It's a trend that continued into the '90s with Barry Bostwick's portrayal of New York Mayor Randall Winston on "Spin City" and the ongoing Mayor Quimby character on "The Simpsons". Interesting, in that governors don't seem to get quite the same treatment (see Gov. Gatling on "Benson") and presidents (see Jed Bartlett on "The West Wing" and MacKenzie Allen on "Commander in Chief") are depicted with a degree of reverence.

My guess is that most actual mayors are too dull to inspire TV characters. Our own mayor here in Flagstaff is a pretty decent guy, though he does have the unfortunate habit of pronouncing "business" as though it were spelled "bidness". But most of his public career seems to involve meetings with other mayors, appearances at the Elks Club and pictures with representatives from Flagstaff 72,000 Sister Cities, which hardly inspire the kind of revelry required on TV sitcoms these days.

On the other hand, he's a former Safeway store manager, which means he should still have easy access to wet paper towels.

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