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Sunday, December 20, 2015

A Look Back At "Christmas Comedy Classics"

Christmas is a time of family, traditions, family traditions, and the looming specter of insurmountable debt. And nothing shrieks "tradition" like Christmas music, which has not evolved one bit in hundreds of years, give or take. In my family, one of our annual Yuletide traditions was listening to the album Christmas Comedy Classics, or Triple C if you're of the Guy Fieri school of thought regarding abbreviations. A collection of humorous holiday favorites, this compilation got innumerable spins on our CD player, which was a new technology at the time. And to be honest, I was never sure whether or not I liked it. I found some of the songs hilarious, some of them annoying, and most of them either depending on my mood. As such, I decided it was time to take a look back at this album now that I'm a Big Mature Adult and determine once and for all whether Christmas Comedy Classics is overflowing with Christmas cheer or merely a lump of coal being pounded into your earholes. Let's go!

Track #1: Grandma Got Run Over By A Reindeer

I was watching the news a few days ago, and they mentioned this song, saying that it was impossible to hear it and not have a smile on your face. Which is really interesting, because it is one of the most shockingly dark pieces of music ever recorded. Here is a summary of what happens during the course of the song: an inebriated old woman staggers out into the snow on Christmas Eve, having left her meds at home. Her bloody corpse is discovered by her family the next morning, having been trampled to death (and possibly tortured, depending on what "Claus marks" might be) by Santa's reindeer. Christmas Day becomes a wake, as the surviving family members garb themselves in black and mourn grandma's violent passing, albeit while ghoulishly wondering whether to take her unclaimed presents for themselves. Everyone is devastated by the shocking death except for Grandpa, who reacts in the ambivalent, almost cheerful manner of a man who has just been unshackled from a decades-long, loveless marriage. There is a sinister, metallic noise that pops up throughout, reminiscent of a slashing blade. The song concludes with an ominous warning that the same grisly fate could befall anyone, and some lurid insinuations about the sort of man who "plays with elves."
This is such a cruel and unusual song that I could write a whole article centered around it alone. For example: it's a well-known fact that Santa Claus flies through the sky with his reindeer, right? So why would he ever run over an old woman walking on the ground unless he did it on purpose? You don't see 747s running over schoolchildren. So is the Santa of this universe just a Santa's Slay-esque monstrosity?  He certainly seems unconcerned about this particular homicide. Furthermore, why couldn't someone just go get Grandma's medication for her instead of sending an elderly woman outside on foot in sub-zero temperatures? Was the whole ordeal a plan by the family who, possessed of knowledge of Santa's penchant for vehicular manslaughter, got Grandma boozed up and sent her to her doom? Was Grandpa pulling the strings? We may never know. But the fact that such an intensely evil song, containing lyrics like "when we found her Christmas morning, at the scene of the attack," is a "Christmas Comedy Classic" has some ominous implications.

Track #2: I Tan't Wait Till Quithmuth Day

Now this is a complete 180 from the last song. Sung by the incomparable Mel Blanc, voice of Bugs Bunny and countless other iconic characters, "I Tan't Wait Till Quithmuth Day" is a rather charming portrayal of a child's excitement over Christmas. Sure, some people may find his nasal lisp annoying, but other than that, it's a pretty fun little ditty. I like the fact that this kid somehow believes that he can afford to buy his mother both a house and new fur coat, and I appreciate the frankness that he needs to get his father some money because the old man is broke. Keepin' it real at Yuletide.

Track #3: Green Chri$tma$

Speaking of keepin' it real, this is as real as it gets. Even though this song is nearly 60 years old, Stan Freberg's merciless critique of the jaded commercialism of Christmas applies more now than it ever has, with Christmas ads bleeding into the pre-Halloween season. Now, this is more of a skit than a song, and many of the products on display are hopelessly antiquated. Still, the message is a sound one, and it doesn't offer any forced happy endings, with a defeated Bob Cratchit slinking away, unable to convince anyone of the true meaning of Christmas as cash registers ring. My parents always skipped this track when I was a child. What a couple of soulless corporate shills.

Track #4: The Happy Reindeer

On its surface a harmless little number sung by Santa's animal labor force, the combination of the distorted, high-pitched vocals, disembodied, freaky laughter and the accompanying trippy music video make this song pure drugs. It's very cheery, but it's also a song I could absolutely picture playing in the background as someone is brutally murdered. Also, the closing part, where the reindeer say, "Remember everybody: we're on our way to you...and you...and you...and you..." is vaguely unsettling. The fact that the names of the singing reindeer are Dancer, Prancer and NERVOUS speaks volumes. I think "The Happy Reindeer" is what happens when you drink eggnog a couple weeks past its expiration date.

Track #5: The Chipmunk Song

You've heard this, I'm pretty sure. Undoubtedly one of the most lasting Christmas novelty songs, "The Chipmunk Song" combines the high-pitched squeals of "The Happy Reindeer" with the foreboding good cheer of "Grandma Got Run Over By A Reindeer." I know the ostensible premise here is that respectable svengali Dave Seville coaches his merry band of singing forest creatures in a Christmas chorus, and that darn Alvin just keeps horsing around. But let's take a closer look here. We start off with Dave readying his "boys" to sing, and when Alvin doesn't immediately respond to his prompts, Seville starts screaming at him. This is understandable, as one of my biggest pet peeves is repeating myself, but let's keep going. The 'munks launch into their first verse, which sounds as pleasant as possible considering it is composed of normal human voices yowling at unnatural speeds. After this, Dave goes down the line, complimenting each chipmunk's performance (and eliciting a delightful chuckle from Theodore that is unquestionably the highlight of the song), but when he gets to Alvin, he has nothing positive to say whatsoever; instead, he tells Alvin that he's " a little flat," warning him to "watch it." Now, go back and listen to that verse. Did Alvin sound flat to you? Can you even tell which one was Alvin? Or is Dave just being needlessly cruel and antagonistic to the talent? THEN it gets even worse, because when Alvin doesn't respond to Dave's insults, Dave screams at him yet again. Is it any wonder that Alvin acts up, when his taskmaster is bellowing vague threats and groundless insults at him? It's bad enough that, due to being both a child and an animal, Alvin probably isn't getting paid for his efforts. And if the first take was so bad, why doesn't Dave just have them do it over? Instead, he actively discourages the chipmunks from singing the song again, to their great displeasure. As the song fades out, they appear to finally mutiny on Dave, possibly ending his Davetatorship once and for all. Such is the fate of tyrants.

Track #6: I Yust Go Nuts At Christmas

Probably my favorite song on this album, "I Yust Go Nuts At Christmas" starts off as a jaunty tune sung by a depressed-sounding fellow with a thick Swedish accent. He notes the difficulties of buying gifts for his wife, and the fact that giving his children the presents that their little hearts desire means dealing with The Ghost of Christmas Debt. Then, we segue into a spoken-work passage, wherein we find our narrator sneaking out of the house at midnight on Christmas Eve to go get drunk, then being badgered through his hangover the entire next day by screaming kids and assorted other annoying relatives. In the end, the tune picks back up as he wearily wishes us all a Merry Christmas.
I don't have much to add to this except for the fact that I completely relate to this song in nearly every conceivable way.

Track #7: Rudolph The Red-Nosed Reindeer

Well, it's the Chipmunks again, and Dave Seville is being just as much of a grinch as before. Just look at his face in the image the used for the video above! He absolutely loathes the fact that Alvin, Simon and Theodore are enjoying their Christmas morning. Ebenezer Scrooge would tell this guy to lighten up. This is a pretty standard Christmas song, though Rudolph sounds quite congested. You wonder if he's been hitting that snow a bit too hard. We also learn that Alvin never got the one present he asked for in "The Chipmunk Song" (a hula hoop, if you've somehow forgotten). And though Dave doesn't yell at anyone this time (he actually sounds quite subdued and, due to having been wandering the North Pole for a couple days, possibly suffering from hypothermia), he ABANDONS THE CHIPMUNKS that he is the acting father figure to in order to go off by himself in search of a "warm igloo." He leaves them alone in freezing temperatures, pantsless, and unless Rudolph takes pity on them and helps them out, they will almost certainly perish out there. Dave is the worst.
One more quick note on The Chipmunks: even though the high-pitched vocals can be grating, and the humor is pretty one-note, I'll gladly take any Chipmunks Christmas song over The Muppets' version of "The Twelve Days of Christmas" in the Holiday Standards Performed by Cartoon Animals category. The Muppets manage to take an already quite repetitive song and make it nearly unlistenable by having it center around Miss Piggy's obnoxious, hellish caterwauling about gold rings. That song is one of the leading causes of Yuletide Rage around my house, right up there with running out of Wild Turkey and that Jim Carrey Grinch movie.

Track #8: Nuttin' For Christmas

This song focuses on the original face of the Stop Snitchin' movement, some brat who did a bunch of terrible things and is now paying the price by being denied Christmas presents. Personally, I prefer the version by Art Mooney and his Orchestra with Barry Gordon, which at least has an actual child sing the song. In this case, the singer has an incredibly grating voice, like a wacky cartoon dog, and repeatedly falls behind or chokes on the lyrics. It just feels like this song was written specifically to piss parents off. What's more, this iteration of the song ends with a skit in which the rotten kid not only helps a burglar steal his parents' belongings for a cut of the ill-gotten loot, but indicates he has done so before as well. It's enough to make you wish that this little bastard was one of the kids in Flowers in the Attic. It might have done him some good.
And if you think I was kidding about the Stop Snitchin' reference above, check out this song by Tony Yayo that samples "Nuttin' For Christmas."

Track #9: The Hat I Got For Christmas Is Too Beeg

Another Mel Blanc joint, and to be perfectly honest, I'm not sure if this song would fly today. As in, it might be considered racist. It's goofy and not mean-spirited, but it's also a song sung by a white guy in an exaggerated Mexican accent painting its subject as a bit of a buffoon. Personally I think it's more just a product of its time than something offensive, but I'm not particularly sensitive either, so who knows.
All that aside, this one is pretty funny. It's an absurdist tale of a man who is given an overly large hat for Christmas and for some reason feels the need to constantly wear it anyway, causing him no end of troubles. His health and well-being suffer immensely, and he harbors some intense resentment toward Santa Claus for what he views as a "dirty trick," though he ends up thanking Saint Nick at the end of the song. This seems strange, but then, there are several things about this story that don't quite add up. The most glaring example is the fact that, allegedly due solely to the sombrero grande, this fellow ends up married to his brother. Married. To his brother. Because his hat is oversized. So you mean to tell me that just because his eyes were covered with hat, he was unable to discern that his bride to be was in fact his brother? The voice, the tendencies, the physique...none of this tipped him off? And even if this was the case, what's his brother's excuse? Had he been waiting to pounce his whole life, finally seeing an opportunity present itself when his sibling found his vision impaired by a gargantuan chapeau? It's frankly quite bizarre, but if the two of them are happy together, who am I to judge? As the old saying goes, it ain't Christmas without a gay incest wedding.

Track #10: Monster Holiday

I don't think I had ever heard this song before today. I'm thus assuming that my parents must have hated it. And I suppose I could see that, since it's just a Christmas-themed takeoff of "The Monster Mash." But it has its redeeming factors, considering that the Wolfman himself, Lon Chaney Jr., provides the vocals, and the story being told here is fairly heartwarming. You see, the monsters want some Christmas presents, so they decide to attack Santa and steal the objects of their desire. Upon cornering the fat man, however, they learn that he already knows what they want for Christmas, and happily gives it to them without any need for bloodshed. For a song featuring a bunch of grotesque freaks, that's pretty sweet.
And there is a 310% chance this song was the inspiration behind Werewolf Bar Mitzvah, which, I mean, if you've never heard it, here you go.

Track #11: Jingle Bells (Laughing All the Way)

The first time I heard this song, I loved it. Thought it was hilarious. The second time, I loved it even more. The third time, even more! By the fourth time, however, I noticed something very strange: I loved it less than I had the previous time, thus breaking the previously established pattern. I needed to listen to it again to see what would happen next. To my dismay, upon my fifth listening, I found I liked it even less than the fourth! By now, the level of appreciation had dipped below what I felt upon the second listen. I had almost evened out to where I was when I began. Grimly, I listened a sixth time, hoping against hope that the pattern would reverse itself. It did not, and I was definitely at sub-first listening levels of enjoyment. Things were in decline, and the good times seemed so far away. What was once a mirthful experience had become a morose death slog. My faith in the magic of laughter itself began to flicker like a candle's flame in a monsoon. As laughter was the language of the soul, was my soul itself dying? A tear ran down my cheek as I accepted the horrific truth, the candle being snuffed out at last and everything falling into darkness.
It is worth noting that this is the least necessary Youtube Lyrics video of all time.

Track #12: Auld Lang Syne

The CD cover indicates that this is a bonus track, but I'm still baffled as to its inclusion here. The name of the CD is Christmas Comedy Classics. This is neither a Christmas song nor a comedy song, though I'll concede the classic thing. In terms of thematic relevance, they may as well have included "It's Halloween" by GT on here.

So that's Christmas Comedy Classics. Is it magical, or just obnoxious? You make the call. Personally, I've decided that I like it quite a bit. Several of the songs are darker and more disturbing than they seem at first listen, but there's nothing necessarily wrong with that. I would absolutely be hitting the Skip button on a few of these songs if I were to go back in time to a society in which CD players were still a thing, but I like or at least respect the majority of the material here. And the fact that this album made enough of an impression on me to write an article about it 20ish years after it came out means it's certainly memorable. You can buy it right now on for the mere price of a gently used kidney if you for some reason want to relive my childhood. Merry Christmas everybody!

OK, fine. He's angry because they're opening their presents a few days early. I don't care, Dave Seville is still a bastard.

Joey Marsilio has written about weird Christmas music before. He also wrote the novel Henry Garrison, which you can preview here.

Saturday, November 21, 2015

Even More Stephen Gammell: Thanksgiving Poems

     After three Scary Stories to Tell in the Dark Power Rankings articles (here, here and here), as well as another post delving into some of his more obscure horror artwork, you can probably tell that the artist Stephen Gammell has a special, terrifying place in my heart. It therefore always brings me great joy when I find Gammell's artwork lurking in the most unexpected of places. Like, say, this book of Thanksgiving poetry.

Koala not included.
   When I ordered Thanksgiving Poems from Amazon, I had no idea what to expect. Which is funny, given that the title is pretty self-explanatory. This thing is, though...the poems aren't really what I'm here for. they're nice and all, but I'm far more interested in what Gammell is bringing to the Thanksgiving table. Would the book be chock full of grotesque imagery, like reanimated turkey corpses hunting for human giblets, or perhaps gravy bowls oozing bloody tendrils? Unsurprisingly, no. Actually, when you open the book you are greeted by this fellow:

     Now, granted, this turkey/man abomination is an affront to God and nature, but he seems friendly enough. He's scholarly and dignified, and his suit-with-desert-island-tie-and-Adidas ensemble is the perfect mixture of class and sass. Let's call him Cornelius.

     Up next we have this portrait of an interaction between the Pilgrims and Native Americans. Here it becomes apparent that even in a non-horror context, Gammell's artwork retains its ethereal and otherworldly qualities. Which is to say, it looks really damn cool. The guy in the middle kind of reminds me of the head from the cover of the first Scary Stories, though. In the poem itself, the Pilgrims thank God for only killing off half of them, which is maybe the ultimate example of a glass-half-full way of looking at things.

     This page has the distinction of making the Mayflower (in the upper left corner) resemble a ghostly pirate galleon. Based on the illustration, if you had told me that the first Thanksgiving was a party thrown by a bunch of skeletons in tattered rags, I wouldn't have been the least bit surprised.

     This image of the first Baby Bjorn prototype makes sure to emphasize the baby's distaste for his portable faux coffin.

     Is this some folksy artwork depicting family members arriving home for the holidays together, or a grisly portrait of one man strangling a child in the snow? You make the call.

     This is a rather lonely, eerie illustration that could very well depict the surface of some alien planet. But at least the little guy down in the corner is happy, at least according to the poem.

     Nothing much to see here. Just a child's floating head. A masterfully rendered child's floating head.

     I admit it: I don't know why there is a turtle here. I get that the turtle is in the poem itself, but why? Why is there a turtle in there at all? It's actually a pretty morbid reflection on Thanksgiving from a turkey's perspective, but why a turtle instead of literally anything else? Is it because "turtle" and "turkey" sound vaguely similar? In any case, all my questions are moot, because the picture of the turtle is cute and that's really all that matters.

     And speaking of morbid reflections on Thanksgiving from a turkey's perspective, we have this bit of gallows humor right here. An ugly turkey (wearing a hat?) gloats as his better-looking compatriots are slaughtered and consumed on Thanksgiving Day. It's probably the closest this book comes to actual horror. One thing is certain: Cornelius would certainly be far too dignified to engage in such schadenfreude.

      These guffawing drunks flanking a pair of bored, uncomfortable children constitute perhaps the most accurate portrayal of Thanksgiving Day that I've ever seen.

     Then we have the Children of the Corn here, hoping that you'll be the next blood sacrifice to their dark lord of the harvest...

     ...while an ersatz Veruca Salt presides over a Thanksgiving feast she undoubtedly had no hand in creating.

     What follows is the sad saga of one Jake O'Leary, whose misguided plan to choke down an awful pumpkin pie to appease his grandmother backfires in the form of another pie being baked just for him. Amateur. Just fake a stomach flu next time, kid.

     The pissed off cat depicted here is adorable beyond words. Poor kitty. He's probably just annoyed because Martin hasn't showed up yet. #scarystoriesjokes

     Finally, there's this gorgeous, if desolate, landscape. Though certainly not the Thanksgivingiest image you've ever seen, it is emblematic of the book as a whole: a lovely, serene showcase for Stephen Gammell's artistic talents. Though the man may be most famous for his chilling portrayals of eyeless specters and macabre hellscapes, the fact is that his creative vision and ability to execute it are second to none. His work elevates whatever material it accompanies to an absurd degree. Hell, the strength of his name alone made me buy a book of Thanksgiving poems! You wanna talk holiday miracles? Well that's one right there.
     I hope you and yours have a happy Thanksgiving and find some time to just relax and enjoy the season. If you're bored, you can always read my other seasonally-appropriate articles about a book of Thanksgiving stories from the early 20th century and Trader Joe's turkey lunchmeat. It's a cornucopia of shameless plugs!

Joey Marsilio, author of Henry Garrison: St. Dante's Savior, gives thanks this year that he didn't swallow the staple he accidentally dropped in his cup of water.

Sunday, October 11, 2015

My Little Halloween Town Display: A Portrait in Words and Also Portraits

     It started in the early 90s, I think. While flipping through the monthly edition of the Oriental Trading Company catalog, I had spotted something I just needed to possess. You see, one of the great virtues of the Oriental Trading Company, besides sounding like an organization that would possess a fleet of merchant ships to be plundered by Jack Sparrow and his ilk, was their yearly cornucopia of Halloween merchandise. Every year in the late summer, OTC's usual inventory of cheap party favors and candy sold by the gross was joined by a plethora of goodies featuring ghosts and goblins, often in the form of cheap party favors and candy. On this particular year, though, one of their seasonal offerings stood skull and shoulder bones over the rest: a haunted village. Consisting of resin statuettes of various structures and characters, the components shared a unique and interesting tall, thin visual style, from the haunted house with a many-windowed pumpkin for a top floor to the gangling mummy loping around. I managed to snag the package deal, containing all the available figures for a reduced price, and that year I would proudly display a Halloween town of my very own until about mid-November, when my parents forced me to take it down.
     Of course, like any good god-emperor, my thoughts soon turned to expansion. Fortunately, the next year I would receive a great gift in the form of "Scare Acres," another spooky village that I could merge into my growing monstrous metropolis. The design of these pieces was more goofy and cartoony than my original village, but they added a vital component: light-up houses! No longer did my citizens have to lurk in darkness, lit only by the pale, flickering glow of tiny, D-battery-eating jack-o'-lantern lights. Thus did my village escape the Dark Ages. Progress was under way, and nothing could stop it.
     Since then, the town has never stopped expanding. A few pieces have broken here and there, and many more have been added to take their place. At some point, I found a store (either Michael's or MacFrugal's...I can't recall) that was selling the original OTC statuettes, with some minor differences. The paint job was not quite as good, and there were a few new figures. I added the new ones and a smattering of doppelgängers of old favorites. Eventually, a company called Lemax changed the game with their Spooky Town collection, a near-overwhelming assortment of tricksters, treaters, and haunted houses of every shape and size that grows every year, allowing for near-infinite customization of my once humble village. I always swing by Michaels every October to pick up a piece of two to add to my display. Unfortunately, I have held off on buying the larger and more lavish pieces of this collection, both for space and budgetary reasons. Still, I'd like to think that my Halloween village's rather meager size gives it a sort of quiet dignity, and still serves as an impressive departure from those humble beginnings decades ago.
     All this is to say that I just set up my village for this year, so without further ado, I present a series of photos showcasing some elements of the display in all their glory.

The front gate of town, from the Scare Acres set. I don't consider the whole village to be called Scare Acres, though; rather, this is a legacy piece, a singularly historic piece of architecture from a bygone age. Yet for all the thought I've put into this, I don't have an official name for the town as-is.

The pumpkin patch area, staffed by this enigmatic and dapper skeleton. I wish I could get pumpkin prices like that around here.

A mother bear takes her cubs out to trick-or-treat. I'm not sure this is the safest neighborhood for that, but judging by the size of Momma Bear, she can handle it.

This young lady, on the other hand, has no such savage beast for a bodyguard, and is rightly concerned for her safety.

The Forsaken Cemetery, which is basically the quarter of the display on the right. "Forsaken" is probably the wrong word for it, since it contains more figurines per square inch than any other area.

Outside the cemetery, this fellow just wants to chill in his rocking chair and jam on the guitar, unperturbed by the wailing souls of the damned behind him.

Down the street, these skeletons are living it up, dancing in the streets with not a care in the world. In fact, you could say they're having a skel of a time!!! I'm sorry.

Unbeknownst to these revelers, though, Death approaches the town from a nearby hilltop, wielding a scythe atop a pale horse. Then again, perhaps it's not such a big deal, since it seems most of the inhabitants here are already dead. Maybe Death just has a party to go to.

Finally, in the sweetest scenario, a little ghost buys a balloon from a skeleton. Is this the ghost of a dead child, or merely a living child in a ghost costume, and if so, what happens to him when Death gallops into town? Err, maybe this scenario isn't so sweet after all.

I hope you've enjoyed this glimpse at another one of my weird hobbies. Don't forget to soak in the Halloween season this can fly right by if you're not paying attention. And if you have any suggestions regarding a name for my village, feel free to run them by me. "Haunted Village Display" isn't really a suitable moniker for a thriving community such as this one, and I try to do right by my citizens, living or otherwise.

Joey Marsilio has written a variety of articles related to Halloween, including some about scary stories and pumpkin carving. He also wrote the novel Henry Garrison, which you can preview here.

Monday, September 7, 2015

(A Remarkable Lack of) Fear & Loathing in Japan, Part 4: The Conclusion

Welcome to the final installment of my Tokyo vacation chronicle! For those of you just joining us, you can read Part 1, Part 2, and Part 3 first if you're into the whole chronology thing. Now, onward to the conclusion!

Eric and Azusa's wedding was nigh, so Sheila and I bid a fond farewell to Shinjuku and tackled our next challenge: figuring out how to get to the wedding site. The ceremony was to be located in a small town named Kawaguchiko near the foot of Mt. Fuji, a picturesque hamlet that unfortunately was not reachable by the Tokyo subway system we had so recently mastered. Thus, we spent the majority of Friday trying to ascertain specifically which train tickets to purchase that would enable us to make it to our destination. It was more than a little stressful, especially given our...less than fresh state of mind after the last few days' festivities. Fortunately, we were able to eventually meet up with the spouses-to-be at the train station and move onwards to our destination. As you might expect, I purchased a can of lemon chu-hi to drink on the train.

The train ride itself was a welcome respite from a day of panting and coping with the process of setting up the train ride, so it was with great relief that I sat back in my seat, sipped on my beverage and tried not to fall asleep. After several days in the city, the emergence of countryside was both refreshing and jarring. All of a sudden, the big buildings we had been ensconced in just ended, and there were these tiny abodes and rice paddies and mountains and grass, grass, grass.

Coming from brown-as-hell mid-severe-drought California, seeing so much green at once made me think the rods and cones in my eyes were finally collapsing after years of abuse. But fortunately for my aspirations to be a major league umpire, my eyes were just reflecting the very legit verdant landscape. The fact that I was heading somewhere quite different from Shinjuku was becoming abundantly clear. And if there was doubt of that, it would have been erased the moment Fujisan himself showed up.
Mt. Fuji is a real wonder, especially for someone like me; the most legendary peak I had seen up to that point was probably Space Mountain (with a possible argument for  Mountains Splash, Big Thunder and the Matterhorn). The icy blue, snow-capped figure loomed in the distance like a mythic colossus, its mystique compounded by the fact that it seemed to teleport away the minute you stopped looking at it. Seriously, you'd see it in the window to your left, look down at your watch for a second and then look up to find that it was suddenly in the rear window. It was so weird. It's not as though we were on the twistiest track in the world. OR WERE WE?

Anyway, once we got up to Kawaguchiko, Mt. Fuji was firmly fixated in one place and we were able to move on to the next odd sensation: the feeling of coldness. See, Tokyo had been pretty uniformly warm-to-hot and humid for the duration of our stay there, and any atmosphere to the contrary seemed weird and foreign. Suddenly, we stepped off the train into a crisp, semi-chilly environment, and it was like jumping into the pool on a hot summer day: a bit of a shock to the system, but incredibly invigorating.
Our hotel room was quite a departure from our previous experiences as well. Whereas the room in Shinjuku had been a modernized, albeit petite, hotel room, this one was straight up Japanese, son!

We're talking a tatami on the floor, a squat table with a tea set, futons instead of beds, and a unique bathing situation that was sort of a tub/shower/bucket combo.

Best of all, you could see Mt. Fuji right out the window!

It was, dare I say, magical. So we did what anyone else would do in such a unique, enchanting scenario: pulled out the iPhone, connected to the wi-fi and watched the video for CoCo.
After settling in, we took a twilight walk around the town to soak in the sights, get some fresh air and, most importantly, eat.

And it may have taken a week from arrival for some bizarre reason, but on that night I FINALLY got some real Japanese ramen. And it was every bit as delicious as I had hoped, although our server was a bit of an enigma. After meeting nothing but pleasant, courteous people in Japan thus far (the possible human trafficker we encountered the night before aside), she was...not like that, staring blankly and silently at us while seating us, taking our order, and serving us. She might have mumbled something at some point, or it could have been the wind. I suppose she could have been struck speechless by my tremendous beauty and charisma. Or she might have found me annoying. In any case, the ramen was good.

After that, we settled in for the night, while making some time for photos in the traditional robes the hotel had provided for us, including this picture of Sheila that turned out so cute that she's allowing me a one time breach of the "no pictures of Sheila" rule:

I awoke to find the room awash with light, despite the closed curtains, and wearily reached for my watch to check the time. It had to be at least 7 o'clock, I figured. Nope. If I recall correctly, it was 4:17 in the morning. Not only does the sun rise in the East; it rises with a vengeance. After a futile struggle to sleep some more while bathed in harsh solar rays, Sheila and I groggily went downstairs to claim our place at the hotel's buffet breakfast. It was a pretty tasty and diverse spread, though admittedly neither of us ate the cold poached egg in a cup that we both grabbed for some reason.

A quick shower and change later, it was wedding time, so we grabbed the Japanese equivalent of an Uber (they called it a "taxi"...crazy!) and headed off to the nuptials.
And a lovely nuptials it was. The main event was held outside, in a lovely garden at a picturesque restaurant/brewery.

After a beautiful ceremony (that must have been laden with pollen due to my teary eyes), we headed inside for a bacchanal of beer, liquor, wine and a metric ton (actual measurement) of amazing food. Seriously, any weight loss from my entire week of nonstop walking was completely undone by this one meal, but it was undoubtedly worth it. There was even an after party that evening at a local karaoke bar, where the revelry continued with even more beer and food. It was an excellent time, a great crowd of people, and the perfect opportunity for me to finally cross "karaoke New Kids on the Block in Japan" off my bucket list. The only downside was that everything in Kawaguchiko seemed to shut down early, as the karaoke bar closed and the party dispersed before most karaoke bars I've been to in the states even open up the singing portion of the night. But I suppose having a sunrise before five AM makes a first grader's bedtime acceptable, and besides, I needed the rest at that point. Not that I didn't continue to drink chu-hi in our hotel room afterwards, mind you. I thought about using the public bath at the hotel as well, taking a late night soak with some old dudes, but the bath rules were a bit complicated and I didn't want to commit any cultural faux pas. Besides, the room was so comfortable that I didn't need to leave. If you had told me in college that I would some day pay extra to sleep on someone's floor, I would have thought you were crazy. But here I was, snug and cozy on a floor futon. So ended a lovely day. My only regret was that I didn't have time to see the town's monkey show, though that is admittedly a huge regret.

Sunday was another heavy travel day. After another helping of breakfast buffet (this time bypassing the cold poached egg in a cup entirely), Sheila and I were on our way to our final destination: the Prince Park Tokyo Tower, a remarkably fancy hotel that lived up to its name, being within an actual park and in close proximity to the famous Tokyo Tower. I'm sure a prince has stayed there at one point or another, too.

Our room was beautiful and since it was located on a corner, we had a great panoramic view of our surroundings. It was remarkable, really, being in such a luxurious foreign setting while being able to just look out the window and get a glimpse of natives just sitting on their couches in their condos, watching TV and living their day to day lives. I'll be reminded of it every time I make a payment on the credit card bill for this hotel room over the next few years.

After resting for a while, Sheila and I decided to make the most of our visit and explore the hotel. We happened upon a rooftop garden, and as we strolled along it at dusk, the Tokyo Tower set aglow in the background with the encroachment of night, tiny dogs yipped and played with each other, enjoying these last moments before the park closed and they returned from whence they came.

Then it was dinner time, and being in such a fancy place in our final hours before the return flight home, Sheila and I splurged and ate at Brise Verte, the French/Japanese fusion restaurant on the hotel's 33rd floor. Sure, it was expensive, but the incredible view of the Tokyo cityscape from aloft, dotted with lights and bustling with energy, was priceless.
Around midnight, we found ourselves restless. Going to sleep almost felt like a concession, an admission that our time in Japan was over, so instead we went for a walk. It ended up being a great decision, as the late night provided a unique perspective on the local landmarks.

Staring up at the Tokyo Tower in the wee hours of the morning, all by ourselves, was an unforgettable experience.

We checked out a temple, and even accidentally strolled through a graveyard. I'm happy to report a lack of angry spirit attacks, though.

We closed out our night in the most fitting way possible: purchasing some tall cans of chu-hi from 7-11, as I accidentally told the sales clerk "good morning" instead of "thank you." It was technically morning by then, anyway.

And that's about it. We woke up, hauled ourselves to the airport, and returned home on a mostly uneventful flight. Well, OK, the guy sitting behind me spent the whole flight coughing so hard that I expected his lungs to fly over the seat, and I discovered that Man of Steel was not quite as bad as I'd heard, but that's all. Soon enough, I was home again, and despite having a marvelous vacation, I was perfectly happy to be in my own apartment, and to fall asleep in my own bed for the first time in what felt like months.
Well, until I woke up the next morning to find out that, in my absence, my apartment had been infested by bedbugs that came through the wall from my neighbors' place. Shortly thereafter, I had a panic attack and threw my back out.
I miss Japan.

Joey Marsilio has since located and purchased some other brand of chu-hi in America, but it just wasn't as good. He also wrote the novel Henry Garrison, which you can preview here.