Tales from the Lardbutt Turbo-trainer, December 23, 2004
Team Lardbutt isn't the fastest team in the US, it isn't the best-equipped team, and although we have photographic evidence, we sometimes wonder if it exists at all outside the imaginings of Chief Lardbutt Greg Taylor. Here's a very Lardbutt take on turbo-training, Santa and how too much television just isn't good for you...
I've got to stop watching television. It just gets me into trouble.
Not that I didn't have an excellent excuse to be watching it the other day. Yes, an excellent excuse indeed.
All I wanted to do was get in an hour's worth of spinning on my stationary trainer. That's all. Just a little workout, tone up my fitness, loosen up my legs. But, as anybody knows who has spent more than thirty minutes on a stationary bike, the time just crawls by as you pedal to nowhere. You need a distraction if you want to remain sane, so it wasn't unusual at all for me to troop down to the family room and set up my bike and trainer in front of the television. Any one of you out there has probably done it hundreds and hundreds of times.
So after surfing up and down the channels through what seemed to be about a billion cooking shows, I finally settled on a bit of light holiday fare: "Rudolph, the Red-Nosed Reindeer." It's a Christmas story is based on a popular novelty song that was written back in the 1940's. It looked pretty harmless, so I hopped on the trainer, clicked in, and started to spin.
Being stuck indoors for a long time can do funny things to a person, so it's hardly a surprise that I just couldn't shake the feeling that I had seen this show before. Something about it seemed awfully familiar. First of all, there were no flashy visual effects or snappy Japanese-style animation. This was too old and too low budget for that.
No, what we had here were puppets.
Elf puppets and reindeer puppets, and a jocular singing snowman puppet with the voice of Burl Ives, a famous, rather rotund, folk singer from the early 1960's.
Then it hit me. Burl Ives. Oh good lord, I remember this show.
It all came back in an instant, like a Bad Cartoon Flashback. Suddenly it's 1968, and I'm six years old, curled up in my pajamas in front of the family television at Christmas-time, watching Rudolph and Santa and Hermie the Misfit Elf, the one who wanted to be a dentist, and…and…
And, after more than 30 years, I'm still really torqued-off at the way that the other puppets wouldn't let poor Rudolph join in any reindeer games. And, I'm especially torqued-off at that evil Santa puppet. He was the ringleader, you know.
Uh oh. Here comes trouble. I can feel it. I probably should have changed the channel, but I had tossed the T.V. remote over on the couch, out of reach. My mind starts racing, I unconsciously pick up the pace and shift down to a smaller cog, and we aren't even through the opening credits yet.
I think that I can fairly blame Santa Claus for everything that happened next. Yes, I blame it all on Santa, or at least that evil Santa puppet who ruled the North Pole with an iron fist. Okay, I know that I'm really not supposed to watch too much television because, well, I tend to get a little, um, excited. A little too wrapped up in the story, if you catch my meaning. But if you think about it - and, trust me, sitting there in my basement, spinning away on my stationary trainer like a gerbil on crack, I had LOTS of time to think about it - it really is fair to say that just about all of the awful things that happened in the story to poor, poor Rudolph can laid at the feet of that evil Santa puppet.
Let me explain. On the surface, "Rudolph, the Red-Nosed Reindeer" looks like any one of a number of treacle-sweet Christmas Spectaculars that the television networks used to pump out every year like so much stool softener. Legions of singing elves? Check. Dancing snowflakes? Check. Toys for all of the good little girls and boys? Check.
A mutant glowing reindeer with low self-esteem? Check.
Yes, a mutant glowing reindeer. You can forget the happy banality of a show like "Sesame Street" or the serene trippiness of "Teletubbies;" what we have here is children's television that relies upon a more "traditional" formula to entertain: good old-fashioned Grimm Fairytale-style psychosocial cruelty. The result is just so off-kilter, so weird for a Christmas Special that even back in 1964, when the show first aired, the reviewers at "TV Guide" were scratching their heads trying to figure out just what the hell was going on:
"Fantasy Hour - Children: Burl Ives dons the suit of Sam the Snowman to narrate this animated fantasy of the reindeer born with a glowing red nose. Rudolph, not to be outdone by humans, develops a complex about his incongruity, and this is heightened when the other reindeer ban him for their social gatherings - until a blizzard threatens to cancel Christmas."
Ho, ho, ho. A "complex about his incongruity"? Let's not beat around the bush here: I suspect that even a stuffed reindeer puppet with a poorly-wired light bulb for a nose would quickly recognize that life is not turning out according to plan when Santa Claus - yes, Santa Claus, the one guy on the planet who is supposed to love everybody - decides to have your furry butt run out of town on a rail. Banished. Forever. All because of his nose.
Let the kids spend an hour with Rudolph and you'd better have the child psychologist on speed-dial.
You might also want to have an EMT on call as well, because at this point all thoughts of me just sitting in front of the television and spinning easily have gone out the window. I'm working hard, sweating like a fat guy in a Twinkie factory, pushing a huge gear and jacking my cardio up waaay past my target heart rate, triggering the alarm on my monitor. And I'm gunning for Santa, for the way that he treated poor Rudolph.
Damn…you…Santa…you…candy…cane…eating…. (*wheeze*)… bastard.
Shunned by his family and neighbors, ostracized by Santa, Rudolph is left to wander the frozen tundra, a sad and broken reindeer with a red nose. Towards the end of this truly magical hour it looked like Rudolph's best chance get back a shred of his dignity would come when Santa found himself stuck between a rock and a truly hard place, a situation that only Rudolph can bail him out of. It's Christmas Eve, an impenetrable blizzard has rolled in, and Santa really, really needs his good buddy with the antlers and the glowing nose - you know, the one that he has just banished to a lonely, nomadic life spent wandering a godforsaken arctic wasteland dodging packs of reindeer-eating yetis - to pull his sleigh full of toys through the murk.
Ho, ho, ho right back at you Santa.
You could almost see the thought balloons float by in Santa's horse-hair brain as he pondered his predicament: "Hmmm…. No Rudolph means no Santa delivering toys. No Santa delivering toys means unhappy children. Unhappy children mean…"
Unhappy children mean a big problem for Santa.
Indeed, Santa knows all too well that if he ever failed to come through with the goodies on Christmas Eve, by daybreak most of the world's major capitals would be in flames, put to the torch by roving mobs of surly, disappointed youngsters. The United Nations would be forced to call an emergency session. Rome, London, Stockholm, and Moscow would be smoking rubble, all for the want of a few toys. And then, having done their worst, the evil Santa puppet knows that the angry, torch-wielding mob would then come for him.
Which would be great, except that it doesn't happen that way in the story.
No, what happens next is supposed to be a beautiful example of the Magic of Christmas. Rudolph returns to the North Pole, Santa slithers up and makes nice, hoping that Rudolph will forget about that whole Santa-inspired social outcast thing in exchange for the "privilege" of hauling an overloaded sleigh around the globe. The climax comes when Santa asks that immortal question: "Rudolph, with your nose so bright, won't you guide my sleigh tonight?"
At this point, I'd about had it up to here with Santa. And I sure wasn't about to let Rudolph - noble, guileless, brainless, Rudolph - be manipulated by the evil Santa puppet any longer. No, it will be different this time. I'm at a full sprint now, heart rate pegged, smoke coming off of the rear tire as I work the handlebars back and forth. I lunge out of the saddle, shove the bike forward and shout at the top of my lungs, "NOOOO RUDOLPH! DON'T DO IT! DON'T PULL HIS SLED! HE JUST WANTS YOU FOR YOUR NOSE! HE JUST WANTS YOUR NOSE! KICK HIS ASS, RUDOLPH! KICK HIS FAT LITTLE ELF ASS!"
And then I collapse in a heap on the carpet, victorious. Puppet justice has been served.
Cue Burl and the elves. Roll the credits.
After regaining consciousness, I untangle myself from the wreckage that once was my bicycle, unhook it from the stationary trainer, and turn off the television. I spent the rest of the afternoon tisking and tutting at myself about the dangers of too much television and getting drawn into the whole Ruldolph Saga, vowing to stay away from any electronic devices for the rest of the holiday season.
But, you know, my heart rate data for that session was pretty spectacular, and I could use another interval work out. Hey, I see right here in the TV Guide that one of my favorites, Dr. Seuss's "How the Grinch Stole Christmas," is on Channel 5 this Thursday. And, boy, that Grinch sure does torque me off…