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Thiel-A-Vision Christmas Classic: It’ll Make Your Living Room All A-Kilter

December 24th, 2013 No comments

Originally posted December 16, 2008.

The Thiel household has a number of unusual Christmas traditions, such as the gay snowmen that enjoy a place of honor atop our living room television. But the one with the most staying power is our annual screening of a 1967 episode of Dragnet . The plot, in which L.A. police detectives Joe Friday and Bill Gannon track down a missing Jesus statue, might be the stuff of banal, treacly TV Christmas specials. However, viewed through the deadpan filter of Jack Webb, it becomes an inadvertent comedy delight.

Or maybe it’s just us.

Earlier this year, I transferred my aging VHS copy–recorded some two decades ago from a “Nick at Nite” holiday marathon–onto a shiny DVD, and I’d planned to upload some highlights to YouTube in clear violation of their copyright protection policies (which I believe actually include the phrase “wink, wink”). However, Hulu has saved me both the trouble and the potential legal entanglement!

Our story opens on the day before Christmas, with Friday working the day watch out of Burglary Division. His partner Gannon (M*A*S*H ‘s Harry Morgan) enters carrying a desktop Christmas tree that’s basically a twig with a stand. “It sure brightens the place up,” Bill declares.

“I bought it from this round-headed kid named Brown.”

He sees Friday writing out a stack of Christmas cards, and says “You oughta get married, Joe. Only system. Eileen does all this stuff for me. Mails cards, laundry, only system.” One wonders how Eileen feels about the system.

Bill hopes to get off early, as he still needs to complete his holiday shopping. (Laundry detergent?) Joe, however, has already bought his girlfriend a gift: a stationary set.

Gannon: “Joe, you never learn.”

Friday: “What’s the matter?”

Gannon: “No woman wants a stationary set. You get her something personal.”
Friday: “It’s got her initials on it.”

Gannon: “No, no, no. You want something more sentimental. Romantic.”

Friday: “What’d you get Eileen?”

Gannon: “Well, it’s different in her case.”

Friday: “What’d you get your wife?”

Gannon: “A sewing machine.”

Friday: “That’s romantic.”

Gannon: “Well, it is, in a way.”

Friday: “Why didn’t you buy her a catcher’s mitt?”

This banter–which is downright frivolous by Dragnet standards–is interrupted by a call. Father Rojas from the San Fernando Mission Church has reported that their statue of the infant Jesus has been stolen! Even though it’s in Foothill Division territory, Friday decides to meet with the father.

Father: “I’m sorry to bother you men.”

Gannon: “That’s alright, Father.”

Father: “Especially now, the holiday season.”

Friday: “We cash our checks, Father.”

I feel like this is something more of us in the service industry should say.

“Thanks for coming to fix my toilet.”

“We cash our checks.”

“This ice cream cone is tasty!”

“We cash our checks.”

Soon, Father Rojas and Joe Friday are in a full-fledged quip-off:

Friday: “How late is the church open?”

Father: “All night.”

Friday: “You leave it wide open, so any thief can walk in?”

Father: “Particularly thieves, Sergeant.”

Even Friday doesn’t have a smart-ass reply to that one.

Gannon: “Just for a check on the pawn shops, how much is the statue worth?”

Father: “In money?”

Friday : “Well, that’s the point in pawn shops, Father.”

Father: “Only a few dollars. We could get a new one, but it wouldn’t be the same. We’ve had children in the parish; they’ve grown up and married. It’s the only Jesus they know.”

Gannon: “We understand.”

Father: “And we’ve had children who died. It was the only Jesus they knew. So many of the people who come here are simple people, they wouldn’t understand, Sergeant. It would be like changing the Evening Star.”

A frequent paraphrase between me and Mrs. Thielavision: “They’re a simple people; they wouldn’t understand.”

“No, really. They’re fucking stupid. It’s a wonder they know to breathe.”

The detectives promise to continue looking for the AWOL messiah, and, if possible, return it for Christmas Mass. But before they go:

Father: “It’s sad, isn’t it?”

Friday: “How’s that?”

Father: “In so short a time, men learn to steal.”

Friday: “Yes, but consider us, Father.”

Father: “Us?”

Friday: “If some of ’em didn’t, you and I would be out of work.”

The thought of continued employment comforts Father Rojas.

Hitting the pawn shops, Friday and Gannon make the acquaintance of the absurdly cantankerous Mr. Flavin, owner of Flavin’s Religious Art. (“Fifty percent European items!”) The thing about Dragnet is that I’m never quite sure when it’s trying to be funny, but the things that come out of Flavin’s mouth are so bizarre that even Joe Friday begins rolling his eyes.

Actual dialogue (paraphrased): “How’d you know my name? We never met!”

Friday asks the shopkeeper if he has a large statue of the baby Jesus, to which Flavin responds as if he’s never heard of such a thing:

Flavin: “You don’t want a large one unless it’s fer a church. That’s where you want a larger one.”

Friday: “Could we see it, please?”

Flavin: “I guess. It’s not my due to butt in, but unless you live in a big place, this’ll make your living room all a-kilter.”

Friday: “Yes, sir. Do most of the people who go to the Mission Church trade here?”

Flavin: “Good many of ’em. Especially the kids.”

Friday: “Why kids?”

Flavin: “More religious! Check on yourself. See if kids aren’t more religious than you.”

Friday: “Might be so.”

Flavin: “That’s what’s wrong with the world!”

I’m pretty sure that no old person in the history of humanity has ever said that a resurgence of faith is the problem with the world. Especially not the owner of a religious paraphernalia store. However, Mr. Flavin is bugfuck nuts, so there’s that.

“You wouldn’t want this here Jesus! It’ll rob you blind!”

The interrogation continues:

Friday: “Do people ever come in and sell back a religious article?”

Flavin: “Like a prayer book or rosaries?”

Friday: “Yes, sir.”

Flavin: “Second hand, you mean?”

Friday: “Yes, sir.”

Flavin: “Not since I ever been around. It’s silly.”

Gannon: “Why?”

Flavin: “People don’t have religious articles so they can get rid of ’em. They have ’em so they can have ’em.”

Gannon: “But if a man had a statue and wanted to sell it, he’d come to a place like this.”

Flavin: “Sure, but he wouldn’t want to sell it.”

Friday: “He would if it was stolen.”

Flavin: “No, sir! If a man was to steal a statue, he’d be crazy or something like that. The only place he’d want to go is where crazy people are.”

Friday: “You may be right, Mr. Flavin.”

Flavin: “I don’t know what you fellas are looking for, but if it’s somebody who stole a statue, he’s crazy and you won’t find him. You won’t find him as long as you live, or in a million years!”

Friday: “That should cover it.”

Point to ponder: If crazy people are impossible to find, why do I encounter so many of them?

You too can enjoy a visit with Mr. Flavin! Click here!

Confronted by this unassailable logic, Friday and Gannon retreat. They continue to check religious stores, but “none of them were as encouraging as Mr. Flavin.”

The flatfoots return to the office to be met by one of the Mission’s altar boys, John Heffernan, played by a pre-Brady Bunch Barry Williams. When Joe tells little Greg Brady that he didn’t have to come in (“A phone call woulda worked”), the boy replies, “My father said to get on over. He said that any kid that uses phones is lazy.” My, times have changed.

“Is this about the time I stole that goat?”

Heffernan hadn’t noticed the statue being Jesus-napped, but mentions a man carrying a bundle. Friday jumps at the chance to lead the witness:

Friday: “How large a bundle?”

Heffernan: “It’s hard to say.”

Friday: “Come on, son! Was it large or small? The size of the statue?”

Heffernan: “About that big! Yes, sir!”

“Then, Marcia was hit by a football…”

The search for the man with the mysterious bundle–a church regular named Claude Stroup–leads them to a hotel for down-and-out old folks called “The Golden Dream.” Stroup is absent, and the desk clerk is worried that he won’t return in time to sing in the Christmas concert with the hotel choir.

The Three Tenors eventually went to seed.

Clerk: “I hope it’s nothing serious for Claude. Fella’s troubles oughta be over.”

Gannon: “Troubles?”

Clerk: “Way back. Wouldn’t count now.”

Friday: “Tell us anyway.”

Clerk: “It was something back where he used to live. He robbed somebody or something.”

Friday: “What else?”

Clerk: “That’s all. It was a long time ago, way far back. But he forgot it all, the robbing and everything.”

Friday: “No, not quite.”

Clerk: “Hmm?”

Friday: “He remembered it this morning.”

Joe Friday has heard of the presumption of innocence, but holds no truck with it.

Later, back at the station, Captain Mack attempts to send Joe and Bill off to pick up a captured fugitive, but Friday is adamant about finishing his work for Father Rojas.

Captain Mack: “What is it, a ten, fifteen-dollar chalk statue?”

Friday: “Since when’s the price determine a case?”

Well, considering that the Champaign police never called me back after my Halloween decorations were stolen, I’d say that price very much determines the case. But this is Dragnet, so instead Joe Friday adroitly guilt trips the Captain into letting him continue in the search for Jesus, leading to one of the queerest looks I’ve seen in a police drama.

Click here to watch Friday play “Good Cop, Guilty Cop!”


At 4:45 pm, there’s a break in the case: Stroup has returned to the Golden Dream. As Joe puts it, “The desk clerk was right, Claude Stroup looked like a man who’d had his troubles at bargain rates.”

“How many badges do you see?”

Impatient about being unable to present his sweetheart with her personalized stationary set, Joe Friday gets cranky:

Stroup: “Honest, I didn’t do nothing against the law.”

Friday: “You haven’t been accused. We want to talk to you downtown.”

Stroup: “No, sir, I’m not goin’. I’m not goin’ anyplace. I’m not goin’ to talk to nobody.”

Friday: “You’re half wrong already.”

And so Friday and Gannon drag his happy ass halfway across town. A couple of hours pass, and Stroup still refuses to talk. Ultimately, the real reason for his reticence is revealed: earlier that day he’d gotten into a minor parking lot accident with a borrowed car. The suspicious bundle was nothing more than his spare pants for the Christmas Eve concert. Joe glumly releases him, and tells Claude to go home. Not that he offers the poor guy a ride. Or cab fare. Go home, Stroup. Get walking. Bargain rates, indeed.

With the pawn shops closed and all leads dried up, the defeated duo return to Father Rojas with the bad news. Just then, a small Mexican boy enters pulling a wagon…inside which is the baby Jesus!

Jesus makes Paquito’s nose itchy.

The father recognizes him as Paquito Mendoza, one of the locals, and translates his Spanish:

Father: “He says that all through the years, he prayed for a red wagon. This year, he prayed to the child Jesus. He promised that if he got the red wagon, the child Jesus would have the first ride in it.”

Paquito: (speaking Spanish)

Father: “He wants to know if the devil will come and take him to Hell.”

Friday: “That’s your department, Father.”

Father: (to Paquito) “El Diablo, no.”

At which point, Vic always shouts, “El Diablo! Si!” And then she hisses. That’s what we Thiels call Christmas spirit.

Paquito returns the statue to the creche, to be watched over by its chipped and worn Nativity-mates.

God in His natural habitat.

Approving Donkey approves.

“No, you see, you are simple, Paquito. You wouldn’t understand.”

All is well. The Whos down in Who-Ville will wake up on Christmas morn and never face the prospect of being hopelessly confused by a Replacement Christ. Paquito gathers his wagon and hightails it back to his life of petty larceny.

Paquito will soon learn that there are no red wagons in Hell.

Gannon: “I don’t understand how he got the wagon today. Don’t kids wait for Santa Claus anymore?”

Father: “It’s not from Santa Claus. The firemen fix the old toys and give them to new children. Paquito’s family, they’re poor.”

Friday: “Are they, Father?”

Off to solve the Case of the Purloined Dreidel.

And with that, we draw a close to the Dragnet Christmas special. I hope that it will become a tradition in your household as well.

Merry Christmas!

Lesson #1: Do Not Piss Off The Gypsy Woman

May 31st, 2009 No comments

Okay, I think that I’m going to have to officially call “bullshit” on the possibility of there ever being another film in the cult favorite Evil Dead series. For years, the excuse has been that director Sam Raimi is too busy with the Spider-Man franchise to make a modestly-budgeted horror film. And yet, here is Drag Me to Hell.

Not that I’m complainin’. It’s great to see Sam Raimi back to his roots, and even if it doesn’t quite match the manic glee of Evil Dead 2, I can’t recall the last time I had so much fun being scared.

witchDrag Me to Hell is an old-fashioned tale with a bit of modern relevance. A young bank officer played by Alison Lohman, seeking to show a bit of spunk in hopes of winning a promotion, turns down a loan extension for an old woman behind on her rent due to medical expenses. Except that Granny Deadbeat is a gypsy, and she places a horrible, demonic curse on Lohman’s character. The loan officer has three days to dispel the evil before being, well, dragged to Hell.

What ensues owes more than a little to 1958’s Night of the Demon (aka Curse of the Demon). Both films rely heavily on suggestions of monstrous forces at work in the form of sinister winds and strange shadows. In fact, unlike the earlier film, Drag Me to Hell never actually shows its devil. 

That’s not to say that Hell is always subtle in its scares. This is a Sam Raimi film, and like Evil Dead 2, it is painted in buckets of ichor. (Amazingly, it won a PG-13 rating. I guess as long as you don’t show boobies, you’re golden.) And if I do have one criticism, it’s that it goes for the “boo!” moment a little too often. 

Still, it’s also like Evil Dead 2 in that it’s all so over-the-top that it’s hard to get too grossed out. Raimi’s love of the Three Stooges makes its presence known from time to time, most notably in the shape of a falling anvil.

Oh, and then there’s the bit with the goat. You’ll know it when you see it.

One thing that impressed me was that so many of its scares take place in broad daylight. It’s one thing to frighten someone alone in the dark with only an unreliable flashlight, another to manage it on a nice, sunny day.

The other way in which Drag Me to Hell resembles Night of the Demon is that it deals with a curse which can be physically passed from person to person. Lohman’s character, ever more desperate, begins to seriously consider whom she might herself consign to Hell. And there are several strong contenders. 

What I found most interesting about Drag Me to Hell is my own reaction to Lohman’s moral choices. She starts off such an appealing character that I was initially inclined to forgive her tossing an old woman out of her home. A moral lapse to be sure, but an understandable one given the circumstances. And besides, the old gypsy is so loathsome, vicious and relentlessly cruel in her retribution that it’s hard to give her much sympathy.

Yet, Lohman continues to make questionable choices. (You’ll know that when you see it as well.) And she never accepts responsibility for her actions until it’s far, far too late. Maybe these weren’t worth a one-way ticket to Hades, I pondered, but I began to think that perhaps the old lady had a point.

Drag Me to Hell is a fun night of terror. With Raimi’s trademark camera tricks, a wonderful musical score by Christopher Young, and one truly angry goat, it left me hoping that this won’t be the last word in horror from our old friend Sam.

Me Of Little Faith: The Not-So-Great Escape

April 11th, 2009 No comments

On a recent trip to Borders, I was surprised to find Escape from Hell, Larry Niven and Jerry Pournelle’s newly published sequel to their 1976 novel Inferno. I had greatly enjoyed the original when I read it back in ’86 during my tumultuous year in Hollywood. I was taken with the tale of a science-fiction writer who found himself in a Hell patterned after the one described in Dante’s Divine Comedy

The notion of Hell has always fascinated me. At first it was something I feared, due in no small part to watching too many Twilight Zone episodes. Later I was obsessed with the dissonance of a loving, fatherly God meting out eternal punishment. I came to believe that no earthly sin, no matter how heinous, justified torture for all time. Yes, that includes Hitler.

Niven and Pournelle’s Inferno came to a similar conclusion, as its narrator encountered souls suffering horrible and cruelly ironic fates for what, in some cases, were relatively minor “sins”: for example, an FDA attorney doomed to an eternity of immobile obesity because she banned a sugar substitute. It was she who spoke the line echoed in Escape from Hell, “We’re in the hands of infinite power and infinite sadism.” Ultimately, Inferno suggested that Hell must be only temporary, and that even the worst of humanity could be redeemed. Indeed, at the conclusion of that novel, the protagonist watched a reformed Benito Mussolini climb his way out of the pit.

Escape from Hell seemed to promise that it might address some of the remaining questions from Inferno regarding the purpose and nature of Hell*, but opts instead for posing those questions a second time. In fact, it struck me as less sequel and more remake, with its hero being blown all the way back to the beginning and having to make the perilous journey a second time. In a recent interview Pournelle says that the reason he and Niven revisited the setting after so many years was that they “had a story.” I’m not entirely convinced of that. While there are hints of changes in Hell wrought not only by Mussolini’s escape but by real-world events such as the Vatican II council, these never quite boil into a full-fledged expansion of the plot.

What it does allow is for Niven and Pournelle to toss a whole new batch of sinners into the pitch, including Ken Lay, the Virginia Tech shooter, and Carl Sagan. I was disappointed by the book’s handling of Sagan. In the above-linked interview, Pournelle claims a relationship with the astronomer, so I won’t dispute the authors’ reasons for consigning him to the Inferno. I just felt that, pragmatist or not, Sagan came off as too quickly accepting of a Biblical Hell, and too willing to cooperate with its masters.

It also gets a bit talky at times, with the characters frequently digressing into philosophical discussions. Natural enough, I suppose, but I didn’t feel like they were saying much that hadn’t been covered in the first book. Plus, the authors presume that I have as much interest as they do in the life and work of Sylvia Plath. (The poet is a major character in the sequel.) I can assure them that I don’t.

That said, there were some clever bits in Escape from Hell. One of the most striking images is of a post-9/11 Ground Zero in which an endless series of proposed replacements for the Twin Towers rise, each in turn proving insubstantial and collapsing due to a lack of commitment. In moments such as those, Escape from Hell demonstrates that while it’s far from a necessary sequel, it at least has something new to say.

*In our own world, Hell appears to serve several purposes. The threat of eternal damnation is an inducement for “good” behavior. It’s one method by which religious leaders exert control over their flocks and influence over the rest of us. But I suspect that its most important purpose is to allow us some measure of satisfaction over the rampant injustice we see. We know damned well that–despite aphorisms such as “crime never pays”–horrible people do prosper, and all too often they are never held accountable. Hell allows us to believe that even those who go to their death on a pile of money and whores will meet their just punishment in the afterlife.

An Elegant Solution

April 6th, 2009 No comments

Here’s a fun segment from the ’80s Twilight Zone: “I of Newton,” based on a short story by Joe Haldeman, is about a mathematician (Sherman Hemsley, The Jeffersons) who unwittingly summons a demon (Ron Glass, Firefly) and has to figure out a means of getting rid of him. Glass is especially fun in this, charming and more than a little bit menacing. (Pay attention to his T-shirt.) The writing is snappy and the conclusion is clever. It runs about eight minutes, so you can watch it while enjoying a snack. Might I suggest devil’s food cake?

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Feed Me, Bike King

April 3rd, 2009 No comments

I am not the first nor will I be the last to blog about the trailer for the film The Bike King & the Ten Commandments. Still, I can’t resist taking a couple of pokes at it.

Take a look at it yourself, and be sure to stay to the end.

First off, I am totally digging the python and his modulated, ’70s-exorcism-film Voice of Evil. Not every snake would be willing to laugh directly into the camera. And, while one infirmity would clearly have been enough to prove God’s love, he made Johnny both blind and lame! Now that’s what I call a Prince of Darkness!

On the other hand, I’m a little uncomfortable with the trailer’s portrayal of God in the form of Charlie Brown’s Kite-Eating Tree. For one, it depicts God as being too cheap to spring for a slim case for His Almighty Mix CD. He also comes off really needy and insecure, with all His “I Love You, Love You, Love You…” And His voice sounds suspiciously like that of Audrey II. Don’t feed the plants, Johnny!

Unfortunately for us, in the worldly battle between the Laughing Python and the CD Burning Tree, the snakes seem to be winning, as seen in this recent Daily Show segment.

The Daily Show With Jon Stewart M – Th 11p / 10c
Florida Pythons on the Loose
comedycentral.com
Daily Show Full Episodes Economic Crisis Political Humor

Flame-Broiled Chicken

April 1st, 2009 No comments

Apropos of nothing, while surfing Hulu I just stumbled across this clip of my favorite scene from the 1977 horror film The Car, in which James Brolin squares off against a demonic automobile. You may have thought you’d seen everything, but you probably haven’t seen this…

It’ll Make Your Living Room All A-Kilter

December 16th, 2008 No comments

The Thiel household has a number of unusual Christmas traditions, such as the gay snowmen that enjoy a place of honor atop our living room television. But the one with the most staying power is our annual screening of a 1967 episode of Dragnet. The plot, in which L.A. police detectives Joe Friday and Bill Gannon track down a missing Jesus statue, might be the stuff of banal, treacly TV Christmas specials. However, viewed through the deadpan filter of Jack Webb, it becomes an inadvertent comedy delight.

Or maybe it’s just us.

Earlier this year, I transferred my aging VHS copy–recorded some two decades ago from a “Nick at Nite” holiday marathon–onto a shiny DVD, and I’d planned to upload some highlights to YouTube in clear violation of their copyright protection policies (which I believe actually include the phrase “wink, wink”). However, Hulu has saved me both the trouble and the potential legal entanglement!

Our story opens on the day before Christmas, with Friday working the day watch out of Burglary Division. His partner Gannon (M*A*S*H‘s Harry Morgan) enters carrying a desktop Christmas tree that’s basically a twig with a stand. “It sure brightens the place up,” Bill declares.

“I bought it from this round-headed kid named Brown.”

He sees Friday writing out a stack of Christmas cards, and says “You oughta get married, Joe. Only system. Eileen does all this stuff for me. Mails cards, laundry, only system.” One wonders how Eileen feels about the system.

Bill hopes to get off early, as he still needs to complete his holiday shopping. (Laundry detergent?) Joe, however, has already bought his girlfriend a gift: a stationary set.

Gannon: “Joe, you never learn.”

Friday: “What’s the matter?”

Gannon: “No woman wants a stationary set. You get her something personal.”
Friday: “It’s got her initials on it.”

Gannon: “No, no, no. You want something more sentimental. Romantic.”

Friday: “What’d you get Eileen?”

Gannon: “Well, it’s different in her case.”

Friday: “What’d you get your wife?”

Gannon: “A sewing machine.”

Friday: “That’s romantic.”

Gannon: “Well, it is, in a way.”

Friday: “Why didn’t you buy her a catcher’s mitt?”

This banter–which is downright frivolous by Dragnet standards–is interrupted by a call. Father Rojas from the San Fernando Mission Church has reported that their statue of the infant Jesus has been stolen! Even though it’s in Foothill Division territory, Friday decides to meet with the father.

Father: “I’m sorry to bother you men.”

Gannon: “That’s alright, Father.”

Father: “Especially now, the holiday season.”

Friday: “We cash our checks, Father.”

I feel like this is something more of us in the service industry should say.

“Thanks for coming to fix my toilet.”

“We cash our checks.”

“This ice cream cone is tasty!”

“We cash our checks.”

Soon, Father Rojas and Joe Friday are in a full-fledged quip-off:

Friday: “How late is the church open?”

Father: “All night.”

Friday: “You leave it wide open, so any thief can walk in?”

Father: “Particularly thieves, Sergeant.”

Even Friday doesn’t have a smart-ass reply to that one.

Gannon: “Just for a check on the pawn shops, how much is the statue worth?”

Father: “In money?”

Friday : “Well, that’s the point in pawn shops, Father.”

Father: “Only a few dollars. We could get a new one, but it wouldn’t be the same. We’ve had children in the parish; they’ve grown up and married. It’s the only Jesus they know.”

Gannon: “We understand.”

Father: “And we’ve had children who died. It was the only Jesus they knew. So many of the people who come here are simple people, they wouldn’t understand, Sergeant. It would be like changing the Evening Star.”

A frequent paraphrase between me and Mrs. Thielavision: “They’re a simple people; they wouldn’t understand.”

“No, really. They’re fucking stupid. It’s a wonder they know to breathe.”

The detectives promise to continue looking for the AWOL messiah, and, if possible, return it for Christmas Mass. But before they go:

Father: “It’s sad, isn’t it?”

Friday: “How’s that?”

Father: “In so short a time, men learn to steal.”

Friday: “Yes, but consider us, Father.”

Father: “Us?”

Friday: “If some of ’em didn’t, you and I would be out of work.”

The thought of continued employment comforts Father Rojas.

Hitting the pawn shops, Friday and Gannon make the acquaintance of the absurdly cantankerous Mr. Flavin, owner of Flavin’s Religious Art. (“Fifty percent European items!”) The thing about Dragnet is that I’m never quite sure when it’s trying to be funny, but the things that come out of Flavin’s mouth are so bizarre that even Joe Friday begins rolling his eyes.

Actual dialogue (paraphrased): “How’d you know my name? We never met!”

Friday asks the shopkeeper if he has a large statue of the baby Jesus, to which Flavin responds as if he’s never heard of such a thing:

Flavin: “You don’t want a large one unless it’s fer a church. That’s where you want a larger one.”

Friday: “Could we see it, please?”

Flavin: “I guess. It’s not my due to butt in, but unless you live in a big place, this’ll make your living room all a-kilter.”

Friday: “Yes, sir. Do most of the people who go to the Mission Church trade here?”

Flavin: “Good many of ’em. Especially the kids.”

Friday: “Why kids?”

Flavin: “More religious! Check on yourself. See if kids aren’t more religious than you.”

Friday: “Might be so.”

Flavin: “That’s what’s wrong with the world!”

I’m pretty sure that no old person in the history of humanity has ever said that a resurgence of faith is the problem with the world. Especially not the owner of a religious paraphernalia store. However, Mr. Flavin is bugfuck nuts, so there’s that.

“You wouldn’t want this here Jesus! It’ll rob you blind!”

The interrogation continues:

Friday: “Do people ever come in and sell back a religious article?”

Flavin: “Like a prayer book or rosaries?”

Friday: “Yes, sir.”

Flavin: “Second hand, you mean?”

Friday: “Yes, sir.”

Flavin: “Not since I ever been around. It’s silly.”

Gannon: “Why?”

Flavin: “People don’t have religious articles so they can get rid of ’em. They have ’em so they can have ’em.”

Gannon: “But if a man had a statue and wanted to sell it, he’d come to a place like this.”

Flavin: “Sure, but he wouldn’t want to sell it.”

Friday: “He would if it was stolen.”

Flavin: “No, sir! If a man was to steal a statue, he’d be crazy or something like that. The only place he’d want to go is where crazy people are.”

Friday: “You may be right, Mr. Flavin.”

Flavin: “I don’t know what you fellas are looking for, but if it’s somebody who stole a statue, he’s crazy and you won’t find him. You won’t find him as long as you live, or in a million years!”

Friday: “That should cover it.”

Point to ponder: If crazy people are impossible to find, why do I encounter so many of them?

You too can enjoy a visit with Mr. Flavin! Click here! 

 

Confronted by this unassailable logic, Friday and Gannon retreat. They continue to check religious stores, but “none of them were as encouraging as Mr. Flavin.”

The flatfoots return to the office to be met by one of the Mission’s altar boys, John Heffernan, played by a pre-Brady Bunch Barry Williams. When Joe tells little Greg Brady that he didn’t have to come in (“A phone call woulda worked”), the boy replies, “My father said to get on over. He said that any kid that uses phones is lazy.” My, times have changed.

“Is this about the time I stole that goat?”

Heffernan hadn’t noticed the statue being Jesus-napped, but mentions a man carrying a bundle. Friday jumps at the chance to lead the witness:

Friday: “How large a bundle?”

Heffernan: “It’s hard to say.”

Friday: “Come on, son! Was it large or small? The size of the statue?”

Heffernan: “About that big! Yes, sir!”

“Then, Marcia was hit by a football…”

The search for the man with the mysterious bundle–a church regular named Claude Stroup–leades them to a hotel for down-and-out old folks called “The Golden Dream.” Stroup is absent, and the desk clerk is worried that he won’t return in time to sing in the Christmas concert with the hotel choir.

The Three Tenors eventually went to seed.

Clerk: “I hope it’s nothing serious for Claude. Fella’s troubles oughta be over.”

Gannon: “Troubles?”

Clerk: “Way back. Wouldn’t count now.”

Friday: “Tell us anyway.”

Clerk: “It was something back where he used to live. He robbed somebody or something.”

Friday: “What else?”

Clerk: “That’s all. It was a long time ago, way far back. But he forgot it all, the robbing and everything.”

Friday: “No, not quite.”

Clerk: “Hmm?”

Friday: “He remembered it this morning.”

Joe Friday has heard of the presumption of innocence, but holds no truck with it.

Later, back at the station, Captain Mack attempts to send Joe and Bill off to pick up a captured fugitive, but Friday is adamant about finishing his work for Father Rojas.

Captain Mack: “What is it, a ten, fifteen-dollar chalk statue?”

Friday: “Since when’s the price determine a case?”

Well, considering that the Champaign police never called me back after my Halloween decorations were stolen, I’d say that price very much determines the case. But this is Dragnet, so instead Joe Friday adroitly guilt trips the Captain into letting him continue in the search for Jesus, leading to one of the queerest looks I’ve seen in a police drama.

Click here to watch Friday play “Good Cop, Guilty Cop!” 

 

At 4:45 pm, there’s a break in the case: Stroup has returned to the Golden Dream. As Joe puts it, “The desk clerk was right, Claude Stroup looked like a man who’d had his troubles at bargain rates.”

“How many badges do you see?”

Impatient about being unable to present his sweetheart with her personalized stationary set, Joe Friday gets cranky:

Stroup: “Honest, I didn’t do nothing against the law.”

Friday: “You haven’t been accused. We want to talk to you downtown.”

Stroup: “No, sir, I’m not goin’. I’m not goin’ anyplace. I’m not goin’ to talk to nobody.”

Friday: “You’re half wrong already.”

And so Friday and Gannon drag his happy ass halfway across town. A couple of hours pass, and Stroup still refuses to talk. Ultimately, the real reason for his reticence is revealed: earlier that day he’d gotten into a minor parking lot accident with a borrowed car. The suspicious bundle was nothing more than his spare pants for the Christmas Eve concert. Joe glumly releases him, and tells Claude to go home. Not that he offers the poor guy a ride. Or cab fare. Go home, Stroup. Get walking. Bargain rates, indeed.

With the pawn shops closed and all leads dried up, the defeated duo return to Father Rojas with the bad news. Just then, a small Mexican boy enters pulling a wagon…inside which is the baby Jesus!

Jesus makes Paquito’s nose itchy.

The father recognizes him as Paquito Mendoza, one of the locals, and translates his Spanish:

Father: “He says that all through the years, he prayed for a red wagon. This year, he prayed to the child Jesus. He promised that if he got the red wagon, the child Jesus would have the first ride in it.”

Paquito: (speaking Spanish)

Father: “He wants to know if the devil will come and take him to Hell.”

Friday: “That’s your department, Father.”

Father: (to Paquito) “El Diablo, no.”

At which point, Vic always shouts, “El Diablo! Si!” And then she hisses. That’s what we Thiels call Christmas spirit.

Paquito returns the statue to the creche, to be watched over by its chipped and worn Nativity-mates.

God in His natural habitat.

Approving Donkey approves.

“No, you see, you are simple, Paquito. You wouldn’t understand.”

All is well. The Whos down in Who-Ville will wake up on Christmas morn and never face the prospect of being hopelessly confused by a Replacement Christ. Paquito gathers his wagon and hightails it back to his life of petty larceny.

Paquito will soon learn that there are no red wagons in Hell.

Gannon: “I don’t understand how he got the wagon today. Don’t kids wait for Santa Claus anymore?”

Father: “It’s not from Santa Claus. The firemen fix the old toys and give them to new children. Paquito’s family, they’re poor.”

Friday: “Are they, Father?”

Off to solve the Case of the Purloined Dreidel.

And with that, we draw a close to the Dragnet Christmas special. I hope that it will become a tradition in your household as well.

Merry Christmas!

The Not-So-Great Pumpkin

October 29th, 2008 No comments

Halloween for me is like Christmas for a lot of other people, in that I have an idealized version of the holiday and usually wind up finding that it doesn’t live up to my hopes. I’ve always wanted to be the cool house where all the kids come for trick-or-treat, but that’s not going to happen in our current neighborhood. As there are no street lights, the few kids we have in the immediate area typically go elsewhere. In our old neighborhood we were getting upwards of 90 trick-or-treaters on a good Halloween, but here we’re lucky to get 25.

Still, I want to make at least a token effort. I made me a new iPod playlist that I’ve been running here in the office all week, and I put out some of my yard decorations.

I only put out a handful of my old foam tombstones, as the tree in our front yard is so full that it would be hard to see more than a few. I used a couple of my favorites, as well as the “Beelzebub for President” one that only comes out in an election year. However, I did spiff up the display a little with a couple of nifty 3D grave markers that Target offered this year.

Amusingly, as I was setting up the skeleton in the front porch rocker, a pair of door-to-door religious types came up to witness at me. I politely said, “Sorry, not for me,” and fortunately they took the hint. What I really wanted to say was, “Did you miss the Beelzebub for President tombstone? ‘Cause I’m thinking that I’m not the target audience.”

You can pick your friends, and you can pick your nose, but only a giant spider can pick your friend’s nose.