25 February 2010

The ACORNan O'Brien Show?

You know you've got to be desperate when you invite squirrels to get into your act just to save your career.

Conan O'Brien is nothing if not desperate. He's not only employing squirrels lately, he's not even getting their consent, much less letting them unionize. And now he's tweeting about it on Twitter.

The late-night host has joined Twitter and his most recent post indicates he "interviewed a squirrel" in his backyard and then cut to a commercial. (My best guess is that it wasn't even a commercial for Blue Diamond almonds or an early preview of "The Nutcracker.")

I'm sure the squirrel had much more interesting things to say than O'Brien could ever spout. Hey Conan, just because you don't speak the language, don't deny the little fellow his 15 minutes of fame.

OK, now for a disclaimer: I don't watch TV, much less late-night TV. I find sleep so much more interesting than any quip an overpaid guy in a suit could spew at me while I do battle trying to resist the midnight Arms of Morpheus. And I know Conan's broadcast career hasn't exactly been enjoying a banner year. A lot of folks would love to catch him in a Hav-A-Hart trap and ditch him back in NBC's woods, assuming the network has any.

But here's a thought: Let Conan really put a squirrel on his show - and give that squirrel more than a few seconds' worth of idle chattering time - let him sit on the couch throughout the whole nighttime gig - and you might just make me a convert.

I might just stay up and tune in. This could have the greatest potential since "Rocky and Bullwinkle."

18 February 2010

Not amused

At first, when the news story about Britain's amusement park squirrel went viral, it seemed a clear-cut case of "Squirrels Just Wanna Have Fun." After all, a squirrel determined to hitch a ride on a roller-coaster seems like a natural contender for News of the Odd.

Except when you look at the photos, and look harder at the situation, it isn't quite so funny.

Squirrels are nature's own athletes, and every branch is their roller coaster, every shrub their bumper-car ride, every birdfeeder or high wire their amusement-park adventure.

That said, squirrels need humans' roller-coasters like squirrels need humans: They don't. Not unless they are very ill or injured. And if you look at any photos of this squirrel, Sonic (as this unfortunate creature was nicknamed) does not appear to be a particularly healthy eastern grey. His eyes are sunken and his fur lacks a healthy sheen. If he was stealing food from workers at the park, as reports indicated, you can also be sure this is a young squirrel starved for food, and likely seeking attention as much as handouts.

"Alton Towers Bans Daredevil Squirrel from Roller Coaster Ride," screams the headline above the article in The Mail. "Squirrel Banned from Riding Rollercoaster," is the spin given in the Telegraph. This is the same British theme park that features a ride called Squirrel Nutty, in which thrill-seekers ride along an elevated rail in a small car shaped like an acorn. This little squirrel, however, chose to make his appearance on the Sonic Spinball.

All those news reports were supposed to be cute but while everyone was busy making light of the situation, no one really looked hard enough to see what was really going on. Young wild animals such as this one do not come this close to humans unless there's a reason. And it's not a happy one. Certainly not a funny one.

It is several days since these articles first appeared online and in print.
I have to wonder if Sonic is even still alive.
I wish more people had been on the lookout for the animal's welfare instead of just a good laugh.

09 February 2010

Having a blast!

The East Coast braces for yet another major download of snow - 10 inches alone expected in New York, with additional frozen blitz expected to slam an already wounded Washington, D.C., area.

But let's take comfort in the fact that squirrels - most of them, anyway - are going to be ok. That was the reassurance offered by a Washington Post article a couple of days ago after that city started to emerge from near-suffocation by this record-breaking blanket.

The snow will blast many of us - and we are worried about ourselves as well as the local wildlife - but squirrels are, after all, hardy. They can hunker down, nibble on the snacks they have put away in their nests, or just sleep until the Big Melt.

That's a good thing.

And yet let humans try that and they're called slackers and slugs. Who stores almonds in the cushions of their couch, or broccoli bits beneath the throw pillows? Who sleeps well past the noon hour? Squirrels - and they get away with it. They don't need to wake up and shovel, or summon a plow, in order to get to work. When they wake up (if they choose to wake up, that is), they're already on the job!

Then there's this squirrel.

Captured just the other day by the well-trained lens of a friend in Pennsylvania, this ambitious squirrel is actually in the middle of doing something most weary motorists would not attempt: Commuting to work. The squirrel seems to have little need of a snow plow or a tow truck. Or, for that matter, even two pairs of skis. (Click here for the entire sequence of pictures.)

So as half the nation readies for yet another blustery winter assault, and as Chicago, Minneapolis and other parts of the U.S. Midwest take stock of the precipitation that has already fallen, you can't help but be just a little bit jealous. It's blowing and snowing out there, and the squirrels are having a blast!

07 February 2010

The Honda Acorn???

This squirrel's funky. He rocks to a song from Kool and the Gang. He totes an oversized, disco-style acorn. And he's into Hondas - and also, it seems, this year's Super Bowl, where he'll be seen during a commercial break.

Take a look at this latest ad from Honda, which features the stylized, animated squirrel boogeying to the beat as a way of introducing the carmaker's new 4-wheel-drive Crosstour.

That's an Accord, by the way, not an Acorn. During a creative team conference at the ad agency, the squirrel probably lost the debate and with it, the naming rights.

Now, what would a Super Bowl game be without at least one squirrel commercial? There was the famous "running of the squirrels" that parodied the annual frenzy in Pamplona. And then there was the Trident chewing gum squirrel, who chomped on a dentist's nuts and no, the good doctor wasn't holding them in his hand at the time.

Super Bowl games and squirrel ads just naturally go together. And even though a football team called the Squirrels - from the Republic of Benin, in Africa - failed a few weeks ago to advance to the championships this year in its game against Egypt, it seems that the name, and the species, are been vindicated after all.

It's always a winning moment whenever squirrels get to go back to the Super Bowl. And this guy's driving there in style, in a Honda Crosstour.

02 February 2010

Groundhogging the spotlight

Punxsutawney Phil and the Stork have something in common, it seems. Both herald births.

In the stork's case, it's kind of obvious, since the legendary long-limbed bird has spent generations arriving with a delivery of diapers, baby and (before he wised up and quit smoking) a pipe in his mouth.

In the groundhog's case, it's the delivery of spring - six weeks in advance of its often warmly welcomed birth. (This year, unfortunately, there will be a bit of hard labor before this birth is through: Six more weeks of winter was the proclamation delivered Punxsy Phil who, no doubt eased some of our pain and suffering by text-messaging his findings to people's phones in case they missed him on TV.)

Well, at least three humans in my circle of friends are celebrating Groundhog Day, regardless of Phil's predictions, and it's not because they love winter. They love having a birthday today.

In fact, Hannah, who turns 10 today, doesn't even believe in the groundhog's power. Still, she says, "I think it should be a more popular holiday," she adds, no doubt because it happens to be her birthday. Hannah offers her own feet-on-the-ground weather forecast. "I also think that we will have a early spring because we don't really have that much snow now."

Marsha, who turns 33 today, is an animal lover but still thinks the holiday should be renamed. "Why don't they make my birthday a holiday, like Marsha's Birthday Day? See how good that would look on a calendar?" She's got a point. But she didn't expect to see her shadow this morning and, by all accounts, probably didn't.

Marshall, another two-legged non-groundhog pal, shares this birthday day with his wife, Sherry. And Marshall says: "You just put a damper on my birthday that I have to play second fiddle to a rodent. As long as he predicts I will have another birthday, that is enough."

Good point. Phil predicts that all birthdays today shall be happy ones - days in the spotlight and days without shadow.

Now please, he asks, can this tired groundhog just go back to sleep?