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January 23, 2005

  • Mundane Unsolved Mysteries
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    Good evening I'm Robert Stack and this is Unsolved Mysteries. Actually it's not. I'm Graeme Burk, but in my mind I'm wearing a suitably impressive overcoat and standing in the fog as I announce that tonight we are delving into the unknown, the unsolved, the non-cogitated.

    Except we're not looking at vital unsolved mysteries, like was TV's Superman George Reeves a victim of suicide or murder, or did spaceships visit Roswell in 1947 or is the hockey lockout a giant conspiracy created by beer companies? No, these are Mundane Unsolved Mysteries. The sort of mysteries that are too small, too ordinary and just too weird to deserve attention by Robert Stack back in the 1990s, but nonetheless occupy my attention. Ralph Waldo Emerson once said, "a foolish consistency is the hobgoblin of a small mind" and these are the things that plague my tiny mind.

    Such as, why do squirrels keep dying in the alleyway to my apartment?

    No, really. This all started a couple of weeks ago when I was blithely coming home from another day of nursing a bad cold at work. I came into the alleyway leading to my apartment and discovered a dead squirrel lying in plain view. The squirrel was lying legs up, which now that I think of it leads me to wonder how it got into that position—did it fall from the roof? Was it a peculiarity of rodent rigor mortis?

    Whatever the case, I did what all grown men do in these situations: I screamed like a girl and bolted toward my landlord's door.

    Failing to find my landlord, I then did what any mature person might do when confronted by a dead animal. I covered it with my recycling box and ran to my apartment and left a voice mail message for my landlord explaining I had no idea how to dispose of rodent remains and could he please pick it up because it turns out I'm squeamish at the site of dead animals.

    Somewhere out in the great yonder, my Grandfather, George Edway Burk—from whom my middle name is taken—is, I am sure, rolling his eyes with disgust to discover how citified his grandchildren have become. A rugged, manly, outdoorsman, he would have not only disposed of the body, he would have flayed it and fricasseed it I am sure.

    And perhaps he was having a joke at my expense from beyond the grave, because I have subsequently encountered dead squirrels in my alleyway repeatedly. One had not only died, it had been buried under a snowfall—I discovered its remains sticking out of some melting snow. On the subsequent occasions, I did not scream. Nor did I get out a recycling box. But I did still call my landlord to take care of it. Might as well give my Grandfather's spirit something to disdain.

    How it is that I can live in this apartment for five years and not find a single dead animal during that time but encounter several in rapid succession is bizarre to my mind and is a mystery that does not seem to be solved. Nor does the mystery of who took the last one? The last dead squirrel apparently wasn't collected by my landlord nor my neighbour. Perhaps the spirit of my grandfather collected it as a favour to me. Whatever the case, it still hasn't been safe for me to walk down my alleyway.

    Other mundane unsolved mysteries involve less dead things—physically anyway. Which brings me to my second mundane unsolved mystery, which is why do I find Celebrity Poker Showdown so damn watchable? It's not like I understand poker very much, but Texas Holdem is to poker what stock cars are to auto racing. It's a dumbed-down form of poker that doesn't require nearly as much skill as other games. Which is, I suppose, the point—but the result is that it's just a small cut above being a game show. There's something about celebrity poker that screams you thought we were really big, but we're prepared to look as cheesy as possible. The faux-jazzy music, the way they attempt to punctuate the boringness of the game with comic monologues from the celebs, the breakneck editing—it looks unremittingly tacky.

    And yet I can't take my eyes off of it. Day or night if I find Celebrity Poker Showdown on the tube, I'll watch it. I don't understand the siren call of it at all but there's something about watching the beautiful people pretending to play cards which is commentated upon with all the solemnity of a golf game.

    Whatever the case, perhaps the biggest mystery of all with regard to Celebrity Poker Showdown is what the hell happened to Dave Foley's career? Going from Kids in the Hall and NewsRadio to hosting this is not so much downward motion as complete freefall. There's something about the smarmy way he hosts that seems desultory, as though he's really saying "I might as well start a cocaine habit because there's no place left for me to go."

    Elsewhere on the tube, there's a mystery that has been driving me nuts lately. Which is what happened to the missing year in The West Wing? Previously the series has established that elections in its universe take place two years after our own, so Bartlet was elected for a second term in 2002, and the next election should be in 2006. Well, this season they're doing the primaries and getting ready for a fall election (and presumably for Jimmy Smits or Alan Alda to replace Martin Sheen). That's in 2005, not 2006. What happened?

    Apparently, producer John Wells decided to compress timelines a smidge so as to allow a cast change since Martin Sheen's contract is up at the end of the year. Okay, I get the Hollywood behind-the-scenes reason, but onscreen what happened to the missing year? Did they not think that faithful fans can count? If they're going to do episodes a year into the future, could they not have at least had a "One Year Later" graphic come up at some point?

    This really bugs me. Part of me wants to scream "Aside from there being a Democrat White House with policies that are a jillion times better and elections that take place two years after our own this is completely against the realism of the show" but I think better of doing so.

    Things like this keep me from going insane while I try to ponder the mundane unsolved mystery of how I keep losing audiocassettes of interviews I've recorded for the Doctor Who fanzine I edit. Last year I had an interview with a former Doctor Who that was pure gold—the actor in question was in a foul mood and answered questions dyspeptically and argumentatively, which makes for the best possible print interview. And in spite of putting it where I put all my interview tapes and in spite of seeing the aforementioned tape a dozen or so times as I waited for the right time to transcribe it, it was nowhere to be found.

    Which was frustrating, but now I've lost another interview tape—and my tape recorder.

    Where are they going? Is there a secret cabal of Doctor Who fans who have decided what interviews I shall and shall not publish? Or did the Doctor Who actor hire ghurkas to steal stuff from me?

    Or perhaps all these mysteries tie together. Joshua Malina, who plays the badly-served-since-Aaron-Sorkin-left character Will Bailey on The West Wing, produces Celebrity Poker Showdown. Maybe the missing year on West Wing went into R&D to make Celebrity Poker Showdown irresistible to viewers. Perhaps the squirrels have been in on this until they were silenced. Perhaps, it was squirrels and not ghurkas that stole my tapes, and the tapes were then used to kill the squirrels, in order to make it appear they had died of choking on my interview with a grumpy Doctor Who actor.

    It all makes sense. At least till the next time I scream a girly scream in my alleyway. Then it will be time to exhume Robert Stack and his overcoat once more.

    Posted by graeme | (0) Comments | Permalink

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