Operation Empire

This is obviously my personal site but my online content arsenal is vast. It includes Greater Gotham: Going Global, a blog about being out and about in New York City and what happens when you turn Gotham Girl lose on the UK; Fabulous Foodie, where food and food culture are served up a la carte. Last but not least, there is Modern Parlance -- home to my hard-working writer alter ego and headquarters in my nefarious plan to take over the world. It is also home to my work blog - Personal Parlance, where I hold forth on publishing, books, social media, communication, indexing, writing, education and anything else content-wise that catches my eye. 

I had wanted to call the whole thing Operation Empire but several of my friends suggested that might put people off. Upon consideration I decided that a) they were right (so went with Modern Parlance) and b) to effectively take over the world, I would need fewer friends and more minions. Applications being accepted now.

Scribbles & Notes

Of course, the word-smithing started long before the plan for world domination. At one time or another, my personal writing projects have included:

Take 2 Movie Reviews which proved indirectly that I once had a social life where as TV Rants & Raves suggested perhaps that I didn't. (I take comfort in the fact that I haven't updated it lately - which suggests that things are looking up.)

The only thing my ongoing Bibliomania ever suggested was that I needed more shelves and the patience to wait for  paperbacks. Publishing Grunt's Bible came about because working with books isn't the thrill ride that reading or buying them is. 

There were pure flights of fancy like Staving off Ennui, the Server Sees the Sights; there were answers to hypothetical questions like "what should go in a toy hall of fame and then there were the snarkathons - first site website I ever did - Alias Smith & Jones Site and the Dark Shadows Snarkathon.

Much older material is kept in the Ephemera Archives - moved to the backburner but not completely forgotten. Who knows what'll end up catching my attention next...


I got home a little early the other day and was listening to the radio. The afternoon drive time DJ's were discussing a recent article about toys that would be included in the "Toy Hall of Fame". Now, I don't know if that is an actual Hall of Fame or whether it was just one of those things that they use as filler on slow news days but I thought it was a fun question. The ones mentioned in the article -- Slinky, Jacks, and Monopoly. So, they tossed the question out for comments and I thought I'd throw it out to ya'll.

What would you include in the Toy Hall of Fame?

My choice, if I had to keep it to one -- Tinker Toys. If I could include more -- Spirograph, Candy Land, Lite Brite and Battleship. Classics. Much more entertaining than the "Tickle me, Elmo"s of today, in my opinion. And could someone tell me what is so darned amusing about "Sleep and Snore Ernie"?

What Others Have Said on the Subject.

From Abby: Legos!!! Most Assuredly, Legos. They gave me hours of fun creating whole towns and stories.... Legos are cool...The Little People garage and house and castle were very fun too. (Yes, I got grumpy when I found out they gave Little People arms. ;) Scrabble... Oh, and those el cheapo boxes of water color. You know the ones that has six colors and they all look oogy after two days...

From Anna: Easy-bake oven *must* be part of the pantheon. Also: Trouble (and, for my money, anything that features "pop-o-matic" technology), Battleship, Chutes and Ladders (for the kiddies), Twister and yes, goddamn it, Barbie!

Boys and girls, what *is* the problem here?? Has Barbie ever done you a wrong turn? I have a newsflash for parents across the nation -- Barbie is not, and was never intended to be, a realistic portrayal of adolescent girls. She was created as a teen-age *fashion model* fantasy. Fantasy? Yes. Because ALL dolls are essentially a fantasized, idealized representation of what-have-you -- babies, models, soldiers, whatever. true, Barbie's physical proportions are -- shall we say -- blessed, but again, she was not designed with the measurements of your average 12-year-old in mind. They are going to fix that, I hear, giving Barb breast-reduction surgery and adding a coupla pounds around the waist. I say, why bother? As has been pointed out, you still won't see premature-gray Barbie, cystic acne Barbie or premature-ejaculating Ken.

And speaking of everyone's favorite eunuch, why does all the blame lay at Barbie's high-heeled feet? Why don't parents take to the streets protesting Ken or G.I. Joe's above-average muscle mass? Surely this is an adolescent boy's invitation to steroid use

Why don't baby dolls come in colicky or hydrocephalic versions? Because dolls represent an idealized, none-too-accurate view of people. that's what makes them fun to play with. It's escapism. We can fantasize with Barbie because we don't have to think about her bad skin or sagging boobs or (horrors) low self-esteem. We can just dress 'er up and have fun, forgetting our own incipient bad skin, sagging boobs, etc. deep down inside, kids, we don't want to see ourselves in our toys. It's the same thing with advertising -- nobody's ever going to hire a pitchman for aftershave who's got nose hair a mile long. because we wouldn't buy anything from him

Advertisers and toy-makers provide the air-brushed, perfectly proportioned images we tell them we want, and then our part of the bargain is to remember that these images are not reality, not true representations of real people, much less (god help us) freakin' *role models*.

I wonder about parents who take away Barbie for this very reason. Hey, I had a *heap* o' Barbies when I was a kid (and still have them, safely ensconced in their vintage '71 camper, thank you) and never once asked my mother why I, too, did not have a perpetual tip-toe shape to my feet like Barbie. I never once chopped off my hair in rage and disgust that my hair didn't come in neat little tufts of nylon. I never wondered why I didn't have my own camper, townhouse and mustang. because, bad as I was at math, I did have a semi-firm grip on reality. And, moms and dads, if Barbie is the primary role-model for your daughters, more so than, say, *yourselves*, you got a helluva lot more problems than banning Barbie is ever going to solve.

I say, proclaim Barbie the rightful, beautifully accessorized queen of the toy kingdom! Long may she reign

I must leave now to wipe the foam off my mouth. Back later if I think of more toys...

From Ashley: Etch-a-Sketch. Definitely Etch-a-Sketch. For the simple reason that all those web-page-designers probably could trace their desire to create web pages back to fiddling with the knobs on that TV-screeny-lookin' thing & coming up with a picture. Silly Putty: A Xerox machine for people with techno-fear! Fur-lined handcuffs...Oh, sorry, wrong kind of toys.

From Beth: Well, how about Silly Putty and Twister (I guess this is a "game" rather than a toy). I remember really wanting a "Lite Bright" when I was little. But, oh wow, how about Etch-a-Sketch! I'll have to think about this some more.

From Catherine: I'd have these elaborate toys that I'd spend hours setting up and then I'd get bored and wander away and go read a book.

But, re. Celeste's Barbies and Cynthia and Jane's Action Babes . . . ever since I've been into AS&J, I keep thinking about these dolls I had -- the three females in the "Johnny West" set -- Jane (the mom, I guess, since she was an adult and the other two were girls), Josie and Janice. They were pretty "off" historically, since they came with horses and chuck wagons, a la the Old West, but had short hair and blue jeans and optional knee-length skirts. They came in plastic molded denim jeans and shirts, and had plastic "leather" vests and skirts and holsters and hats and so forth. Jane West was no Barbie -- she was a strongly-built woman. I wish I still had them. They were probably the most egalitarian dolls I've ever seen.

From Celeste: I had a Spirograph and Lite Brite, I guess I liked them, but they don't stand out for me. They, like Etch-A-Sketch and Spin Art, were fun for a short time, then seemed a bit constricting in the self-expression department. I was into drawing in a major way as a kid and that's a lot freer way to express yourself. Didn't own a Candy Land Game, but they seem pretty engaging for a small child--visually stimulating, but simplistic enough in the rules department so that they can play it without grownups hanging over them. As a second kid, I confess I didn't like to play "kiddie" games or read "kiddie" books--I was always trying to be a big girl, like my older sister, and do what she did. If she expressed disdain for something I was doing, calling it baby stuff, I'd be off it immediately. Battleship sounds interesting, but I've never owned or played it, never even saw it close up--probably that sex-discrimination thing that was so popular in the 60's and 70's when I was a kid. Battleship = A Boy's Game

I hate to admit it, but I was a major Barbie doll fiend. Of course, the Barbies of my era didn't look like hookers, but still, I hate to admit how much I adored them. OK, I was actually most enamoured of Francie, a friend of hers, who was undoubtedly modeled partly on Twiggy, partly on the "California girl" prototype--a skinny, flat-chested, blonde chick with a killer smile & a fresh-scrubbed face (my early 60's Barbies were all city-slicker sophisticates with blue eyeshadow painted on). I adored her, and she had bendable knees (for surfing?) that made a ratchet sound when you bent 'em. Eventually the skin-colored rubbery vinyl that covered her knees ripped when I bent her knees once too often--it must have just gotten old & dry. Fortunately this didn't happen until I was getting to be old enough not to have it cut my heart out. Cynthia chopped off her hair, as she did or tried to do with all my dolls eventually, and she either fell to the bottom of the toy closet (Dante's hell for dolls) or my mom tossed her in the garbage.

Board-game-wise, we played Monopoly (many family rifts were caused by this game--sometimes just over who got the dog piece), Trouble, Twister, and a cool game called "Mille Borne". We were all totally addicted to Mille Borne, and I'd kill to find a copy of it. When my father & Uncle Danny were caught cheating at it (they were smart asses more than anything else,) everyone was put off and stopped playing it. Yatzee was then taken up, as it was more difficult to cheat at. Boggle & Scrabble were big, too.

Doll-wise: Thumbelina for me, Chatty Cathy for Cynthia. Thumbelina was a sleeping-baby doll with a big knob on her back, when you turned it then put her down, she'd move her arms and legs in sleep, like a real baby. Cynthia chopped off her hair when I outgrew her. Chatty Cathy had real-looking little teeth in her smiling mouth, which fascinated us. She said perky stuff when you pulled her string.

Celeste, whose father built a toy *closet* in the hall. Every kid should have a toy closet!

From Daren: It seems to me that the test of a "classic" toy or game is not just that it was a great toy/game, but that it has made its way into the (American) cultural iconography. As such, I would also nominate:

Yatzee (is this the correct spelling?)
Play-Dough (sp? again. Does this qualify as a "toy"?)
Silly Putty
Mr. Potato Head (I personally hated this thing, but it seems to qualify)

Of course, if one includes Jacks (not so much a specific toy from a specific manufacturer but a kind of plaything), it seems to me that you also have to include the Hula-Hoop and the Frisbee, but perhaps this is stretching the category a bit. Toys (games really) from my own childhood that spring to mind but probably aren't as universally recognized include: Sorry!, Master Mind, Connect 4, Boggle.

> could someone tell me what is so darned
> amusing about "Sleep and Snore Ernie"?

I personally find it amusing because it is inadvertently preparing young women for future experiences with adult men with the same annoying characteristics, minus the orange skin of course. I imagine that the next incarnation will get up in the middle of the night and drive home ("sleep, snore and sneak out Bob")...  

From J.B.: Well, Dino got Legos and Boggle off...I think that your basic building blocks count, but I guess they're too generic. I'm also partial to the Big Wheel, if that counts, and Etch-a-Sketch. --J...whose toys now run along the lines of six-cylinder British-mobiles and large electronics. But who has a Pez dispenser of Darth Vader, a Slinky, a Matchbox Ferrari and a Magic 8-Ball on his desk.

From Kath: First off, Daren kills me. Second, hmm, toys, well, I'm all for Monopoly. and of course, The Game of Life. Not that I played these much as a child - but played them quite a lot in McCracken. Candy Land - a classic. I'm also big on Clue and Battleship. So Agatha Christie and Tom Clancy of me.

From Laura: Spirograph, yeah! Etch-a-Sketch -- I have one in my desk at work. Silly Putty. Superball. The Visible Man. Risk and Stratego. Legos. Those really good-quality model horses that were available in the 60's and 70's. But the camp toys are funnier -- GI Joe with the Kung-Fu Grip

> Classics. Much more entertaining than the "Tickle me, Elmo"s of today, in
> my opinion. And could someone tell me what is so darned amusing about
> "Sleep and Snore Ernie"?

Hey, I'm still trying to figure out the charm of Betsy-Wetsy.
Laura, who doesn't know what Lite Brite is.

From Laurie: This is a toughie. And I think it changes, based on age. And I'm not sure that with more thought, I might not change my answers. But, with all these equivocations , I would say:

Legos. I adored - still adore - legos. Luckily, I have Aurora's son Andres to spoil, and he also adores Legos.
Monopoly. Hey, have you all seen the Star Wars version?
Clue. Bergdorf Goodman has a Xmas window of Ms. Scarlet in the library.
Creepy Crawlers. My brother and I loved these. Went through I don't know how many sets. Was *amused* to see they still sell them, though I think they did something now to keep kids from eating them.
Stuffed animals? teddy bears? Not sure how you would characterize them, but they have to be there, surely.

My brother also had these forts that you built and stocked with all these men, which I appropriated for myself and used to create all sorts of imaginary scenarios. No idea what they were called, though.I also loved jacks. And Life. And Chutes and Ladders when I was younger - I think that's every kid's first board game.

From Lillian: I liked Pick-Up Sticks and Operation. I used to like Mousetrap, but I realized that I only put the the thing together to get it to trap the mouse, I stopped playing the actual game. My very favorite toy was my Indian Maiden doll, who I named Kiki. She went to the happy hunting grounds after I threw up on her. My mom said she learned to buy "washable" toys after that. And yes, my little wire chewing, devil-cat is named after the doll. Of course, Kiki (the doll) would only be in my Toy Hall of Fame.

From Lisa: All excellent toys although I can't believe someone mentioned 'Mille Bourne' -- a game I played in 6th-7th grade French class and completely forgot about. It really was the greatest game (even if it was French). Hmmm, for myself...I loved those idioit spaz games like 'Don't break the ice' and 'Ants in your pants' - games which sole purpose was to illicite the loudest, blood curdling scream.
Play-Doh is the ultimate toy. Shrinky Dinks. Connect Four, if only for their enormous advertising budget "I won, where? Here, diagonally!" and the fact that it was one of the only games my sister and I could play together for more than ten minutes wo/ threatening the other's life.
And despite the fact that I hated dolls, I did get this weird baby on anabolic steroids whose hair would grow and shrink if you pulled it - Carrie or something - and I remember being able to throw her for huge distances and she could withstand the hurdling so I developed some respect for her as a doll. But I think it's what gave me the hair issues I have today and it caused me to pull a lot of real hair on the playground which didn't grow but usually cried, slapped and/or called the teacher. Has this grown to complex?

From Nina: Darling Deborah asks: What would you include in the Toy Hall of Fame? Spiro-graph. I never had one but I would watch with numbing envy as other children created these fabulous line drawings with the aid of colored pencils and gears. Oh I tried to make my own Spiro-graph but it never worked. Never with the neat, swift precision of those other children and their damned plastic kits, mocking me...taunting me...forcing me to strike out on my own for creativity! Ha! Um, skip the Spiro-graph...how about a slinky?

Then Daren wrote:
>It seems to me that the test of a "classic" toy or game is not just
>that it was a great toy/game, but that it has made its way into the
>(American) cultural iconography.

You know that Barbie's going to find a way to weasel in there, though. That slut! Responsible for making life hell for those of us that are naturally voluptuous and refuse to wear plastic high heels. Oh sure, Barbie has become part of American cultural iconography and has been modeled and remodeled to reflect various other aspects of same. Bay Watch Barbie, Doctor Barbie...even Harley Davidson Barbie for God's sake but no Need to Lose 20 Pounds Before the Holiday's Barbie, no Gay & Proud Barbie, no Fast Food Restaurant Worker Barbie! I want to see a Barbie that reflects the appearance of the average woman in stretch pants and a navel ring trying to struggle into one of those ridiculous baby tees that no one over the age of ten should be seen out in public wearing. How about the Ten Years Later and Stuck With Those Bad Tattoos Barbie (with sponge aplicator "laser" remover to zap the tattoos away) or the What On Earth Posessed Me To Get Those Jade Ear Plugs Barbie (with lobes that dangle to her plastic shoulders).

> > could someone tell me what is so darned amusing about "Sleep and Snore Ernie"?

> I personally find it amusing because it is inadvertently preparing young
> women for future experiences with adult men with the same annoying
> characteristics, minus the orange skin of course. I imagine that the next
> incarnation will get up in the middle of the night and drive home ("sleep,
> snore and sneak out Bob")..
I LIKE this! It could be next year's hot selling toy...of course I'm kind of partial to Spit -n- Swear Oscar. Does anyone know if EZ Bake ever came out with an espresso machine? Because I just don't seem to be getting enough caffeine these days...

From Suzala: I don't think they sell it anymore but in the early 60's they had this "toy" that was a sticky firm goo that came in a small metal toothpaste like tube and with it was a white plastic straw. You squeezed out a bit of the goo on to the end of the straw, pulled down the edges of the goo a bit to create a tight seal and then you blew thru the straw to create these bubbles that could be removed from the straw . The best part of this "toy" was the way the goo smelled - right up there with memograph paper for those old enough to remember. The balloons were transparent magenta or blue much like the dipsy doodle flowers kits. Another fav which i don't see too often are wax harmonicas in orange for halloween. a musical intrument that doubled as really bad gum. Which of course sidebars me to exhault the virtures of candy corn. But that is for another site.

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