The Haunted Coconut

The West Wing: Inside Goldfish Gail’s Fishbowl – Season 4

Gail the Goldfish, friend to C.J. Cregg and the rest of the gang at The West Wing, is in for a bowlful of drama during season 4. Boats, cows, flamingos, and more major closeups than ever before. Her Papa, Danny, is back and he’s bringing all sorts of new stress into C.J.’s life. It’s the beginning of President Bartlet’s second term and things are about to get crazy.

Here it is, a list of Gail sightings from season 4.

If you think that you can identify one of the mystery props, please do comment and if you can convince me, I will happily give you full credit for the spot!

By the way, if you’re enjoying these posts I’m doing about Gail, a great way to say thanks is to head over to Heifer International and make a donation. Thank you!


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Season 4, Episode 1

  • Prop: A boat labeled “Washington D.C.” is dominating Gail’s space
  • Gravel: Dark green
  • Nod to Plot: Josh, Toby, and Donna missed the motorcade. So either Gail’s building them a boat to get them home to D.C., or she’s making sure she’s covered for transport in case she’s ever left behind.

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Thoughts on a Disaffected Pigeon

Some weeks are harder than others.

Tuesday

The weeds are everywhere in the gravel driveway. I’ve jammed my fingers into the pebbled earth to rip their roots, but there are just too damn many. I had to arm myself with a spray bottle of vinegar and lemon juice and spritz them, plant by plant. Hunched over with vinegar misting back on to my clothing from the hilly breezes rushing past, it was a desperate and smelly attempt to avoid the commercial stuff.

That’s when the pigeon landed. He was a majestic, slightly pudgy fellow who had been tap dancing on the roof for some time leading up to my weed expedition. I had heard him from my oversized living room chair where I had been munching tuna salad on crackers. I was afraid it was mice in the attic. Or maybe Benny the Badger came back and somehow got on the roof. Sounds weird, but he’s the one who shut off the water supply to the house. That was a talented badger. It’s a shame his life was cut short attempting to cross a bendy part of the road. Such a waste.

When I saw the pigeon land on the gravel a few feet from my hunched form, I knew he had been my roof ghost. His landing was so deliberate and closeby that I got the distinct feeling that he was greeting me. I did the polite thing and said hello and complimented his feathers. No joke. I did this out loud. My neighbors should get accustomed to the strange new American lady who talks to her wildlife and names them. The pigeon, by the way, was instantly dubbed Herbie.

I didn’t imagine that my relationship with Herbie would last much longer than our initial greeting, so I continued to edge around the gravel weed beds spritzing vinegar. Herbie followed along. I observed aloud that he had a band on his leg and asked where he got that from. His head tilted. We shuffled across the yard for the next twenty minutes, with me occasionally chastising Herbie for walking through the vinegar. I plunked myself down at the bistro table set I bought myself for my first Irish birthday and sipped some Coke while watching Herbie peck at who-knows-what in the gravel.

That’s when it occurred to me to Google banded pigeons. Was he being tracked by an ornithologist? Did he escape from an aviary? No, indeed. He is either a very unskilled or disaffected racing pigeon.

Yes, this is the week I learned that “pigeon racing” is a thing. The birds are cared for like domestic pets, banded, and trained for homing. Then they are released with several of their compatriots at a reasonable distance from their homes. Each bird is clocked to see how quickly they get back. Herbie had not embraced the spirit of the competition, clearly.

I phoned in his appearance as a “stray”, which the local pigeon racing club politely asks you do. I’m still not sure why I felt compelled to report Herbie, and part of me still wonders if I should have. The gent on the other end of the line assured me that he wouldn’t be culled for his naughty sojourn and he would be well-greeted. Cool. I don’t want to be a bird narc.

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Game of Thrones Unanswered Questions

The Game of Thrones finale. It wrapped the season that Benioff & Weiss wrote strictly by writing character names on slips of paper and pulling them from a drawstring bag like a raffle.

“The person to kill Dany will be….[crinkle, crinkle]…..Jon Snow!”

“Okay, next up, the person to sit the throne will be….[crinkle]…wow, it’s Bran!” 

I think we can all agree that we, as fans, deserved a lot better than the stew of comic book battles and character pivots that comprised the last few seasons. Under the guidance of Benioff & Weiss, the”Song of Ice and Fire” became a very swift and shallow tune: Fire melts ice.

Fire melts kids and buildings. Fire melts Spiders and Hounds and Mountains. Fire wins. The insane and power hungry leverage the element for the brute force of it, sidestepping the dominions of cleverness and wisdom. Fire wins because fire destroys. And destruction is always far easier (and flashier) than creation. Once Benioff and Weiss left the source material, they had a rare opportunity to create a world and its rulers, schemes, traps, and games. Instead, they quite symbolically stuffed Tyrion in a crypt and burned it all down. All of it. That isn’t creativity. It’s a waste.

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And if the “Song of Fire” was short and brutal, the Song of Ice was cut off before it ever finished. The North’s tale was far more complicated than that of King’s Landing, so it is understandable that superhero fanboys B&W had a hard time crafting a deep resolution to the issues of The Children, the White Walkers, and the Three-Eyed Raven. Once Hodor died and Cold Hands popped in for a quick “hello”, Bran’s story just stopped, as if Old Nan was called away for lunch.

So now I will pour out a little Dornish red for the plot threads, logic, and common sense that B&W scrapped in favor of CGI fire and dragon fights. Here are some of the biggest unanswered questions from Game of Thrones:

  • Where is Hotpie?
  • Why wasn’t Gendry a serious contender to take the throne after Dany’s demise?
  • Is Ellaria Sand dead? Is anyone checking to see if she survived the castle crumbling? (Because she might be hungry and pissed)
  • Why were the White Walkers (and the Night King) created by the Children?
  • What was the Night King’s motive?
  • Why did the White Walkers never hassle Bran and his slow, clumsy traveling party tromping north to the Three-Eyed raven?
  • What happened to Cold Hands (Zombie Uncle Benjen)?
  • What happened to the Children? Are they gone?
  • Why is Bran the Three-Eyed Raven and not someone else? And what the hell is the Thraven?
  • Who was the old Thraven?
  • Why did Melisandre go to Volantis after being shunned from Winterfell? That was a long way just to escape the Onion Knight’s wrath. Was she supposed to have a purpose in Volantis?
  • Why does there need to be a Nights Watch if the Free Folk and the Children aren’t the enemy and the White Walkers are gone?
  • How is Bran the Broken going to justify giving away High Garden to Ser Bronn? Lady Olenna had other grandchildren (as part of the TV canon), and presumably there are many Tyrells left.
  • What happened to the Warlocks of Qarth? Even after Dany freed her dragons, they sent an assassin after her. Why did they stop pursuing her?
  • How is it that The Mountain died from a long fall into a pit of fire, but not from lots of stabbing? Will his charred corpse still emerge from the fire?
  • How is it that Samwell can instantly become a maester when he never finished earning his chains at the Citadel and he stole a bunch of their books and ran away? How did he get robes so fast?
  • What ever happened to Ser Ilyn Payne?
  • The first time Samwell saw a White Walker, it saw him but ignored him. Why?
  • What has happened to Cersei’s new loan from the Iron Bank? Will Bran & Co. have to assume the debt? How on earth can they afford to rebuild?

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And of course…

  • What on earth does Podrick do that makes him such a sex god?

This mystery, as in the others, will persist  until the sun rises in the west and sets in the east, until the seas go dry and mountains blow in the wind like leaves. Oh, Podrick.

The Final Word: Bran Stark Has Always Been the True Villain of Game of Thrones

Our watch is ended. The eighth season of Game of Thrones, which at times seemed to have been penned by Benioff & Weiss as a sort of Westerosi Mad Lib, has aired in its entirety, and now we know the small screen vision for who wins…the equivalent of the Iron Throne.

Brandon Stark.

Bran the Broken.
Bran the Staring.
Bran the Evil.

I’ve been saying it publicly since January, 2017 (and privately since the autumn before)–Bran is a super villain who was overlooked because he was physically broken. Perhaps it’s because I was raised by a very loud, very tough wheelchair-bound mother that I did not ever underestimate Brandon Stark.

From the moment he set out to find the Three-Eyed Raven, everything about that boy’s quest was entirely self-serving, and at the peril and sacrifice of his family, friends, servants, and bystanders. And now we understand why he cut a path through the northern woods: The boy who was cheated out of being a knight decided that the alternative of sitting the throne was acceptable. No matter the cost.

Bran the Broken.
Bran the Breaker.

Granted, show runners Benioff & Weiss did not openly acknowledge Bran’s villainy. They scripted him as just this really interesting, keen totem from a noble family. He won’t father children or spend his days whoring. He won’t wed. He won’t ride dragons. He won’t scream and rant. And his mobile throne is made of wood, so he probably won’t play much with fire. He is merely a quiet, creepy, seemingly harmless man in a wheelchair who stares and sometimes goes comatose for a little while.

B&W may even believe in their talentless hearts that this was a happy ending of sorts. But they are wrong. Without realizing it, they have served up a Westerosi tragedy with a very ominous ending.

The Tale of Bran the Broken

Once upon a time, there was a boy with a darkness in his heart who lived in a keep far north in the icy wilderness. He has disturbing dreams about a mysterious three-eyed raven and was filled with a sense of purpose to follow that bird. His trusted friends, Jojen and Meera Reed appear unprompted to guide him north to find the Thraven, bringing along servant Hodor for assistance.

During their expedition, it is a curious thing that none of the predatory and lethal White Walkers cross their paths, as if they are shielded from afar. All others who tread north of the wall can scarcely avoid the monsters. Nevertheless, Bran and his crew wend their way north, dodging the attention of any family or friends, wishing to remain completely secretive. Along the way, Jojen Reed is killed by a zombie ambush while Meera and Hodor get Bran to his goal tree. Then servant Hodor is commanded to hold the door to allow the newly minted Three-Eyed Branven to escape.

Upon returning to his childhood home, Winterfell, Bran the Broken dismisses weary and mourning servant Meera without any thanks, sending her back to her home, never to be heard from again.

Meera and Bran - HauntedCoconut.com

Sitting in front of a warm fire, the Three-Eyed Branven declares himself no longer human, and speaks to no one unless pushed to do so. Even when he does speak, he withholds valuable information. He doesn’t raise the alarm when an ice dragon begins melting the wall. He doesn’t suggest that a nimble little assassin be positioned to take out the Night King. He doesn’t tell the women and children to stay out of the crypt when fighting a necromancer. He doesn’t intercede to save Varys or Theon. And he sits by knowing full well that Daenarys will burn King’s Landing to ash, innocents and all.

Curiously, he does speak up only to spread word of Aegon Targaryen, knowing that it will cleave the fragile alliances, and that Sansa will fan the flames. He sows discord at precisely the right moments to bring about his envisioned fate: To rule the [six] kingdoms.

Arya in the Ashes, Game of Thrones Season 8 - HauntedCoconut.com.jpg

In the ashes of the fallen city, as the newly formed council convenes to choose a new leader, Bran whispers into a few minds that he is the perfect choice, even though clever leaders of Westeros should be rightfully weary of an omnipotent man with limitless control over time and thought, that such a gift is too powerful to wield a kingdom. And come to think of it, how did he get that gift and why? Who wanted him to have that power? Never mind, whispers a voice in their heads. His story is so interesting. He should be king.

Just as he taunted Joffrey that sparing Ned Stark’s head would make him as weak as a woman. Just as he whispered “burn them all” to two different Targaryens, father and daughter. Historically important people making unlikely judgment calls at critical junctures for the kingdom. All a means to an end.

While his Small Council will debate matters and rebuild “the wheel”, Brandon will rest in front of his royal fire, staring into the flames. Only then will he go back in time and send green dreams to Jojen Reed to begin the quest.

Bran the Bootstrap Paradox.
Bran the Broken.

Brandon has always known he would rule, because Bran the Broken made sure that he would. Now he has exiled his best rival to the vast northern wilderness and positioned his loyal sister in the north. The Starks now have tentacles reaching from far north to south, and even to the west.

Brandon Stark has become one of the monsters from Old Nan’s stories. Maybe he craves power and reach. Maybe he is being used by the Children to exact revenge on mankind. Maybe after all he is the blue-eyed giant named Macumber.

All we know is that Benioff and Weiss scripted his ascent to power as a noble and diplomatic compromise, without any acknowledgement that the lords and ladies were bowing to a creature who considers himself no longer human.

Bran the Broken.
Bran the Monster.

Bran - HauntedCoconut.com


Theory
Epilogue

If I am correct in my suppositions, there is a bit more to the story that I can easily envision for the books:

Bran the Broken is King of Westeros, and slowly the Old Gods reawaken. The Sept of Balor has been burned and the reputation of The Seven among the people of the land is tarnished due to reports of Sparrow abuses. Some still quietly and discreetly worship The Seven, but from north to south spreads a fervor for the gods of old. Come the spring, the people of Westeros notice saplings sprout from the ground that hadn’t been seen in ages. The Heart Trees are regrowing, this time in lands where they had never been previously seen. The eyes of the Old Gods are upon all of Westeros and beyond, perhaps only blind to a small assassin who has sailed beyond the reach of the roots. In the north, the Children gather and grow and decide how next to act.

The West Wing: Inside Goldfish Gail’s Fishbowl – Season 3

Gail the Goldfish has already seen a lot during the first two seasons of The West Wing, and season 3 only gets more exciting! Gail gets active in the re-election campaign, launches a protest for women’s rights, meets some diseased livestock, and has a close encounter of the Charlie kind!

Here it is, a list of Gail sightings from season 3.

If you think that you can identify one of the mystery props, please do comment and if you can convince me, I will happily give you full credit for the spot!


NoGailSeason 3, Episode 01

No Gail. She is still in shock over the tragedy that occurred at the World Trade Center.


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Season 3, Episode 2

  • Prop: Curious. Appears to be some sort of pagoda-like structure, but it isn’t clear how this ties into the plot.
  • Gravel: Dark green and white
  • Nod to Plot: Could it be a nod to Haiti? Somehow? I don’t think so. Maybe it is a pagoda and it is Gail’s way of telling CJ she needs more zen in her life right now!

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Season 3, Episode 3

  • Prop: Complete mystery. A shark? We never get very close to Gail. I blame Blabbish.
  • Gravel: Dark green
  • Nod to Plot: If it is maybe a toy shark, it would be because that’s what CJ needs coming after the Bartlet administration.

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Season 3, Episode 4

  • Prop: A whiteboard on an easel. It appears that Gail is helping out Sam, tracking the House votes.
  • Gravel: White
  • Nod to Plot: President Bartlet wants to veto a repeal of the Estate Tax, but House shenanigans threaten a veto override.

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The Meaning of Being Unemployed and Staring at Cow Arses

Sometimes the universe sculpts an entire day out of mockery and disillusionment.

Today I was asked to herd cattle for the first time in my life, which is a very Green Acres experience for someone who has only seen a real living cow up-close at the zoo or (once or twice) at a petting farm. The cows from the next pasture had invited themselves into the road and my yard for some green snackage, and somehow this became a situation where I was walking through my front gate and into the road, with my cellphone to my ear, following bobbing cow rumpuses toward my farmer neighbor. It seems like it should be easy to keep the cows going down the road, but I had doubts about being too aggressive. What if I anger one of the mamas, or worse yet, the bull? Even if they don’t turn and charge me, they could spook and cause a massive upset much like the antics caused by Billy Crystal’s coffee grinder in City Slickers. So with the cell phone in my jeans pocket, I casually picked up a stick long enough to tap on the ground and strolled behind the stragglers, tapping the stick on the asphalt whenever they slowed to munch some grass. It worked, albeit very slowly. I thought it was a lovely stroll. The farmer who was waiting with the open gate was less than impressed at my leisurely approach. He smiled and shook his head, then made a remark that I didn’t have an ounce of farmer in me–and it wasn’t even a zippy come-on line.

I laughed and agreed, but that surprisingly stung. Okay, it’s true, I have no farm experience outside of video games and children’s books. I’ve watched Babe a lot, and Baby Boom. But those don’t prepare you to drive cattle down a road while wearing a faded “Nasty Woman” t-shirt and blue jeans. I didn’t have any Paulie Shore chaps or straw hat, nor did I have any John Denver playing. I wasn’t ready. We’ve only just moved to rural-rural Ireland, and I was raised in Metro Detroit.

On my equally leisurely stroll back to my rental house I silently curated quips to explain my “urban skillset” that farmers wouldn’t possess. I came up empty. I know that you should chain your barbecue grill to the house or it’ll get stolen (my dad lost three Weber kettles that way). I know how to time rush hour to the best advantage and when the mega grocery stores are emptiest, but them I’m out.

And that really bothered me, because today’s developing theme is “SKILLS!”.

It first emerged when I updated my LinkedIn profile. See, I quit my job of six years this past weekend, and now I need a new one. Nothing is a more haunting assessment of one’s life than staring blankly at the “Add New Skills” section of LinkedIn. The mouse hovers and my mind is a dark sea. I can reenact The Big Chill. I can cook homemade chicken noodle soup (on tonight’s menu). I can move my fucking family across an ocean. I can draw a very wonky Garfield cat. I know the entire Greek alphabet. I can drink an entire bottle of wine in one sitting. I can take my bra off without removing my shirt.

And still the mouse hovers waiting to add a skill. SKILLS! After six years of wonderful and instructive employment, shouldn’t I be overflowing with credentials? I have had a mad and exciting life!

I’m a certified Master Gardener. I am a citizen of two nations, and I live in a third. I was a ghost writer for a squirrel guide booklet. I buried a beloved sister. I won awards for my charity work. I published an article in Canada’s History magazine about an ancestor of mine. I’ve gone from assistant to manager in my last three jobs. And I can complain really, really well. I mean, like an art form. I vote in every election and I diligently recycle. Kind of.

Still the mouse hovers. My life has been anything but boring, but I can’t drive cattle. And I haven’t gotten any certifications in “project management”.  I wasn’t training for another company’s job this whole time, I was training for my job. My job! The one I left so I could watch cows eat my freshly planted shrubs and leave liquid brown puddles in my gravel driveway. And the farmer’s laugh echos in my brain, and my phone buzzes with texts from my husband. He’s on a business trip and showing me the exciting new machinery he’s overseeing. Or something like that. I try to listen whenever he explains, but then “The Ride of the Valkyries” starts playing in my brain and…I lose track. But whatever makes him so proud of those machines, I bet that’s a skill. He and the farmer and the cows and the people at LinkedIn are probably somewhere together right now laughing and laughing.

While they’re off chomping cigars and toasting their lives of deliberate purpose and clarified direction, I will just keep telling myself how scrappy I am, damnit. I haven’t cultivated my life around corporate labels or agricultural knowhow, but I’m damn good at working hard and being a lovely, bold monster. And tonight, after I settle in with my bowl of homemade chicken noodle soup, I’m going to flick off my bra from under my t-shirt and celebrate being skilless. Tomorrow, I order steak. Lots and lots of steak.

 

2020 Democratic Candidates Compared

Everybody, we have a long and bloody road ahead of us until Election Day, 2020. The Monster Politic is just starting to awaken from its very short slumber, and the cable news channels are already feeding the beast and prepping the arena for some of the most ungladiator-like combat in the history of the worrrrrrld.

So, Dems, who are we going to throw in the arena with Lumpy the Orange Foul-Mouthed Blob? Will it be the DNA-tested woman who likes to video herself drinking a beer according to a script? Will it be the fuzzy-domed muppet who admits to loving socialism? Or maybe the dude who brags about watching porn with his mom.

So many choices!

Realizing you might need a little help picking which hero to give your favor to, I have devised a very helpful, very scientific overview of every current 2020 Democratic primary candidate:

2020 Democratic Candidates - HauntedCoconut.com

Choose your candidate wisely. We only get one chance to crowbar that orange lump out of the White House and spray for crabs.

How to Play Shanghai Rummy

A card game for 3-8 players that is good for a quiet evening at home, or some time ’round the campfire.

Many years ago I went on a camping trip with a friend’s family to a remote cabin in the Canadian wilderness where you could see the stars at night, and smell the fish during the day. I was only thirteen, but even way back in those ancient times, this was a vacation free of television, phones, and air conditioning. During those days when it poured rain, and late at night when the crickets sung to the stars, we had little to do but play card games, and my friend’s family had a clear favorite: Shanghai Rummy. It was competitive and exciting…and it helped pass long blocks of time without counting the cricket chirps.

Decades have passed and that friend and I had a very ugly falling out long ago, but I still remember loving that card game. Much more than I love her. So I pulled out a couple decks of cards not long ago to pass a quiet night, and realized I couldn’t remember a single damn rule. And worst of all, the interweb tubes cannot agree on any part of the rules.

In advance, I beg your forgiveness for not playing the way you and Granny or cousin BuberToober used to play. There are eighteen billion (no exaggeration) variations on how to deal, how to score, and even the round requirements. Are Jokers wild? Or should deuces be wild? Are there penalties for accidentally discarding a valid card? Make up your mind, Al Gore! Well, this is the awesomest, most consensusy set of rules that matches my memory.

Overview:

This is a card game that take a couple hours to play, and involves collecting cards in your hand until you have the right combo to dump them onto the table in front of you. The cards in your hand are your enemy, and threaten to saddle you with points that keep adding up until your shameful, shameful defeat.

Needed:

  • 2 decks of cards + 1 Joker (3-4 players)
  • 3 decks of cards + 2 Jokers (5-8 players)

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The Shawshank Redemption: Andy Dufresne’s Questionable Tax Advice

The Shawshank Redemption is one of the most peculiarly loved films of all-time. Something about a clever man dreaming behind bars speaks to more people than I would’ve ever thought possible. But Rita Hayworth and I have one little question about a pivotal plot point: Was Andy Dufresne’s tax advice to the Warden bullshit?

Here’s how it goes: It is 1949, and atop a roof at the Shawshank Prison, Warden Hadley loudly groans that he has inherited $35,000 from his brother, but he is livid that the government is going to “take a big wet bite out of [his] ass” in taxes.

Prisoner Andy Dufresne dangerously interjects himself into the conversation insisting that the Warden need not suffer any tax burden at all, suggesting:

“If you want to keep that money, all of it, just give it to your wife. See, the IRS allows you a one-time-only gift to your spouse. It’s good up to $60,000…Tax-free. IRS can’t touch one cent.”

But is that true? Or was it at least true in 1949? Or was Andy just bullshitting for some beers and the fun of it. Let’s take a look at the tax law to understand.

One reason this plot line may have crept into the deliciously warped mind of Stephen King (and therefore, that of character Andy Dufresne) is because there was a major reform of the United States Tax Code in 1948, specifically impacting estate and gift taxes–including marital exemptions. But did it provide a tax shelter for Warden Hadley’s inheritance?

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