Yeah, it really has been 20 years — 20 years of you Alicelanders bugging us with pointless questions; 20 years of Grandma Alice bugging us to separate the lights from the darks and not eat pie in the living room; and two decades of the research elves just bugging us in general. But, hey! This calls for a party! Noisemakers, door prizes, embarrassing games, hokey anniversary speeches, dumb hats with those cheap elastic chin straps that break right away — the whole deal! A celebration of the fact that we've endured this gig for so long and that most of you don't seem to have suffered too badly as a result. You haven't wandered into traffic or drowned in your soup from sheer amazement at the relentless brilliance of Team Matthew Alice. When we presented the party idea, naturally, Grandma wanted none of it. Would not fall for sweet talk or an offer of new aprons. The elves took off on their skateboards to the electronics store to watch CSI: Miami on a bank of 103-inch plasma screens. Something about David Caruso peering over his glasses, with a head the size of a monster truck tire, cracks them up. With such a universal lack of interest, we had to come up with another plan. For this to work, we'll need some cooperation from you, the inquiring public. We provide the entertainment: a survey of some of the most memorable, ridiculous, astounding questions we've ever received. And you supply everything else. Food, drink, music, a very large carrot cake with cream-cheese frosting inscribed, "Matthew, You're a God." So before you read any further, please assemble a roomful of your strangest pals, hang streamers and a disco ball, bring out the karaoke machine and Twister. To save money, Grandma recommends you don't rent one of those inflatable moonwalk things; simply turn the kids loose on your king-size bed. They'll have just as much fun. And remember, while we can't be there in person, we are with you in spirit. Which means we can't even drink your beer. What a deal.
Dear Matthew Alice:
How many bathrooms are there in the White House? In second grade, somebody told me there were 365.
-- Silviano, Harborside School, downtown
Here's a tip. Don't look at that kid's test paper for answers. The White House has 32 bathrooms. When the place opened in 1797, there were no bathrooms. Indoors, anyway. Thomas Jefferson added two wood-and-tin indoor commodes in 1813.... White porcelain toilets weren't even invented until the 1890s.... When the White House was renovated in 1948, President Truman's bathroom got a new seven-foot bathtub. Truman himself was only five foot eight, perhaps requiring a Secret Service lifeguard on standby. And even though we learn that the U.S. is a government of the people, by the people, and for the people, the people can't pee at the White House. So if you plan to visit George and Laura, better go before you leave home.
Mighty Morphin' Matt:
Being that next year is an election year, I ponder this question to you: Can convicts vote?
-- N. Carcerated, Vista
When was the last time you saw a candidate detour the campaign bus to Folsom or Chino to stump for that all-important felon vote? On election day, nobody in a federal or state lockup in California will be fretting about what time the polls close.... Until 1966, if you robbed a bank, let's say, or rustled some cattle (were convicted of an "infamous crime," according to the state constitution), California told you to take your ballot and stuff it.... A court challenge in '66 set off a decade of judicial decisions, legislative paper-shuffling, and ballot propositions. A very confusing time for the civic-minded ex-burglar. Finally, in 1976, we decided that only convicted felons still imprisoned or on parole could be barred from voting.
But let's say our friend N. Carcerated, legally registered to vote and unsullied by a felony record, is late to English class one day. He spots a nice little Mustang in a parking lot and figures that's the solution to his problem. But the cops pull him to the curb and take him downtown for booking. Soon enough he's sitting in the fish tank with the rest of the day's catch, eating dinner off a plastic tray and calling collect to all his relatives to snivel about raising bail. If none of the Carcerateds can come up with the dough, can N. legally cast a ballot? If on election day he's not yet been convicted of appropriating the Mustang, he certainly can. Being charged with a crime isn't a crime. Innocent until proved guilty and all that. So certain county jail residents would be eligible to vote. But it's not a high priority. One M.A. pal, a former sheriff's deputy, says that in six years of duty in county lockups, he never had anyone ask for an absentee ballot.
I read somewhere that California has an official state dance, the Western Swing. Huh?
-- Wondering, San Diego
Right off the top, to fend off any mail with an attitude, the official state dance of California is the West Coast Swing. Western Swing is something else entirely. Requires cowboy boots and old Bob Wills records, I think.
Whatever else ailed us in 1988, California's elected reps quickly solved the crisis of our being one of the few danceless states. A senator sponsored a bill proposing West Coast Swing to fill the void. The bill passed 21 to 9 with a minimum of smart remarks. But in the state assembly, the square-dance lobby bought a few key legislators (lifetime bolo tie discounts?), who held out for an amendment making square dancing California's official folk dance. A brief floor revolt by salsa radicals came to nothing.
West Coast Swing is a Hollywood adaptation of the East Coast's Lindy Hop (aka jive, shag, bop, jitterbug). The story goes that early movie directors, lacking wide-angle lenses, couldn't film a dance floor full of fast-moving, athletic Lindy Hoppers. So choreographers developed a version in which the man remains more or less in one spot and moves his partner back and forth in a linear pattern. It's less athletic, and the beat's a little slower than the Lindy, but the footwork and other moves are fancier. For Hollywood's purposes, it kept everybody in the frame and in focus.