Everyone is approaching the ‘Stranger Things’ song challenge incorrectly

Pick your favorite song.

No, not just your favorite song.

Pick a song that’s so good it can bring you out of a funk and restore your soul.

Pick a song that would drive out a demon and prevent you from being dragged to the Upside Down and devoured.

OK, the previous paragraph needs an explanation.

“Stranger Things” is a show on the streaming service Netflix about a bunch of teenage misfits who save the world by basically understanding Dungeons & Dragons and a little bit of high school science.

Many movies in the 1980s worked this way. Pre-adolescent children saved the world while clueless adults watched the news.

“Stranger Things” is in its fourth season. In one episode, the character Max is about to be dragged to the Upside Down — the show’s version of hell — but she’s saved at the last second by her ex-boyfriend remembering her favorite song is ”Running Up That Hill” by Kate Bush.

He plays the song on her Walkman cassette, and she avoids a trip to hell.

This is silly, but it tugs at the heartstrings of many people from my generation who were raised on movies, TV, and music.

This plot point inspired scores of columns and news stories about what song people would choose to prevent being dragged to hell by a vampire tree monster.

This is silly, too, but the larger the news outlet is, the sillier its stories are.

But I’ll play along.

Let’s say I buy into this premise that a pop song could save me from a demon.

My first instinct would be the Lord’s Prayer rather than a pop music song.

I was raised Methodist. I don’t practice, but with an actual demon dragging me to the Upside Down, I’ll start reciting the prayer with emphasis.

Alas, this is modern content on a streaming service.

The only way religion can be presented is to be totally ignored, as it is in “Stranger Things,” or alluded to with snide mockery, as it is far too many other places.

So, if religion is off the table, what song would I pick?

I used to have a CD collection that numbered in the high thousands.

Side note: Parents 2.0, the kindly couple who raised me after my parents died, gave me my first CD player and five CDs to fill up the 5-disc changer.

As my collection started to pile up around the house, Dad 2.0 offered a note on frugality that I wish I had considered earlier in my life.

“You can only listen to one at a time,” he said.

Anyway, back to the “Stranger Things” song challenge.

I thought about this for weeks and I don’t have a good answer.

Part of the problem is I’m a middle-aged man. Music doesn’t occupy the same space in my life that it did when I was an adolescent or college kid.

My friend Tracey Doyle always seemed to know about every band and their story before anyone else had heard them play a note.

She might take a while to answer this question because the breadth of her musical knowledge is so huge.

Me? I learned most of my favorite songs from movie soundtracks and commercial radio. The songs I’m fondest of are tied to specific memories.

“Lady in Red” by Chris De Burgh reminds me of my first girlfriend, my first kiss, and a lovely dance at the 12-B formal in 1992.

If the demon’s tendrils were around my ankle, I don’t think a love song that recalls a long-ago-ended relationship will be the thing to inspire me to kick free.

My favorite band is Creedence Clearwater Revival. I constantly play their greatest hits in my car.

Would “Fortunate Son” going to wrest me free from the demon?

I don’t know. I think of CCR as my chill music. I like to put on the headphones, close my eyes, and space out.

My favorite artist is Taylor Swift. I love “No Body, No Crime” from her “Evermore” album, but is a country noir murder ballad going to prevent my murder by demons?

I doubt it.

I think the only thing that would shake the demons out of me is a song I despise more than the idea of being eaten by a tree vampire.

Only one song fits that bill: “Ebony and Ivory,” by Paul McCartney and Stevie Wonder.

Two of the greatest songwriters and artists combined to make this simplistic, sentimental pap.

I hate this song. I know others love it. It might even be some poor, lost soul’s favorite song.

That’s fine.

We’re all free to choose which things we love and hate in this world, especially unimportant things like pop music.

And I hate “Ebony and Ivory.”

Just a few notes of it pouring into my ears would have me fist-fighting the devil himself.

By the time they reach the chorus, I would be free of the demon and running down the road.

The only stop I’d make is at church, to say the Lord’s Prayer.

Middle school teacher Daniel P. Finney writes a column for the Marion County Gazette.


Daniel P. Finney writes columns for ParagraphStacker.com, a free, reader-supported website. Please consider donating to help me cover personal expenses as I continue writing while I pursue my master’s degree and teacher certification.
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Coverage of man who threw cake at the Mona Lisa fails to answer basic question: What kind of cake?

Journalism really disappoints me.

Example: A man disguised as a woman in a wheelchair threw cake at Leonardo da Vinci’s famed Mona Lisa painting at the Louvre Museum in Paris.

The cake chucker apparently wanted to protest climate change.

Bulletproof — and apparently cake-proof — glass protected what is likely the world’s most famous painting.

French police took the assailant into custody for psychiatric evaluation.

Most of the news websites covered the details above well enough.

But correspondents worldwide failed us in the basic question that plagues most readers: What kind of cake was it?

The pictures showed a white splatter.

I’m ruling out pancake.

Layer cake or sheet cake?

If it was a sheet cake, did they put frosting a pudding between layers?

It could have been a sheet cake or made in a cake pan.

Vanilla or chocolate?

Or did the cake hurler throw a chocolate cake with vanilla frosting?

On the matter of frosting, are we looking at a cream cheese mixture or a sugar coating?

Coconut flakes?

I hope Amnesty International gets involved.

The suspect stands accused of both attacking a priceless art treasure and wasting cake.

The French take their pastries seriously.

I mean I think so.

I’m an American. I don’t know much about France.

I hear they’re famous for cheese, pastry, and being invaded by Germany.

Let’s hope it wasn’t a German chocolate cake.

That could raise international tensions and cause more supply chain interruptions.

I hope they find the suspect’s manifesto.

Everybody interested in social change has a manifesto.

I imagine his to be written in comic sans font (ironically, of course) and published to a Reddit subtheme.

If you don’t know what the previous paragraph meant, that’s OK. I don’t either.

I just throw language like that into my columns in hopes of catching the occasional reader under 45, if such a creature exists.

Somewhere in the manifesto, I hope, the climate change avenger links the crimes of the Mona Lisa to the problem of man-made global warming.

I am no expert in climate volatility, but it seems to me that the Mona Lisa is innocent. Da Vinci painted it in the early 1500s.

He certainly didn’t do it with the window air conditioner blowing while under tungsten lightbulbs.

Older readers remember tungsten lightbulbs. They cost about 50 cents for a box of four and burned bright enough you could see to read by them.

Today’s lightbulbs cost $10 for one and give off just enough light to convince you you’re going blind.

We’ve largely done away with tungsten lightbulbs because they used most of their energy creating heat than light.

Newer lightbulbs use most of their energy giving off light, even though it sure doesn’t seem very bright.

Then again, I’m middle-aged. It’s possible I am going blind.

Anyway, I would have understood if the cake guy had thrown a tungsten lightbulb — those vile, disgusting things — at the Mona Lisa in protest.

Cake crime is not new to the French.

History inaccurately attributes the sentence “Let them eat cake” to Queen Marie-Antionette.

The Queen lived a lavish lifestyle while France’s poor struggled.

Historians say the young, virile Marie-Antionette sympathized and cared for the poor, but some people didn’t like her and spread lies.

The “eat cake” lie went, for lack of better terminology, went viral, eventually leading to the Marie-Antoinette’s execution by guillotine.

Our modern-day cake-thrower won’t face such harsh penalties if he’s convicted of a crime.

Besides, I’m no expert in French law, but I believe he already has an excellent defense.

After all, everybody knows you can’t have your cake and eat it, too.

Former journalist and future teacher Daniel P. Finney writes columns for the Marion County Express.


Daniel P. Finney writes columns for ParagraphStacker.com, a free, reader-supported website. Please consider donating to help me cover personal expenses as I continue writing while I pursue my master’s degree and teacher certification.
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Will Drake Jethro’s ever reopen? Its biggest fan’s heart says ‘yes,’ but all visible signs point to ‘no’

The black-and-white Instagram post shows chairs turn up on tables and neon lights look hot white in the otherwise darkened bar.

The caption reads: “Closing time at #Jethro’s 1.0, the original and my favorite. They say they’ll be back by March after a remodel. I miss it already. Until Jethro’s 2.0.”

I posted the picture on Dec. 9, 2021.

March came and with it the NCAA Men’s Basketball Tournament.

Jethro’s remained dark.

The Drake Relays came at the end of April.

The parking lot was filled with cars, but the doors to my favorite restaurant and watering hole remained locked.

The state track meet ran this weekend. Again, the parking lot was filled. Again, Jethro’s remained closed.

Student teaching kept me in the northwest corner of the metro since January, but I still live in the Drake University neighborhood, as I have for all but two of the 18 years since I moved back to the city from St. Louis.

Jethro’s BBQ opened in 2008 and was an instant treasure to the neighborhood.

It brought a bright spot to the then-dismal Forest Avenue side of Drake’s campus.

With all the development on University Avenue around campus, it’s hard to remember that a dozen years ago, Mars Café, China Place, and Jimmy John’s were the pillars of off-campus life.

That’s not a knock on any of those establishments. I’ve eaten many roast beef sandwiches from Jimmy John’s and gotten takeout from China Place.

I’ve sat for our sipping a cup of coffee at Mars and trying to look important and writerly hunched over my laptop.

But Jethro’s was my place. I got to know the staff so well I knew their schedules.

When I was a columnist for the local newspaper, I picked up a lot of story ideas at Jethro’s just listening to what people talked about at the bar.

I don’t drink much, but I gulped down iced tea over boneless wings, burgers, brisket, ham, jalapeno cream corn, and macaroni and cheese.

I got to know my fellow customers, first by their faces and then by names.

I often closed the restaurant, staying late to talk to my favorite bartenders or managers.

I became friends with Bruce Gerleman, Jethro’s owner.

Jethro’s became a franchise. The original at Drake spawned one in Johnston, Ankeny, Altoona, West Des Moines, Waukee, Ames, and a southside store in the old Orlando’s Pizza building.

It irked Bruce when I called that one Jethlandos.

I ran into Bruce some months back, around the holidays I think, out at the Waukee restaurant. We chatted.

I asked him about the Drake store. He said big things were coming.

Bruce always says that. He’s not lying. He’s just positive that way. He’s a real estate man and restaurant mogul.

In his mind, big things are always coming.

This doesn’t seem true for the Drake Jethro’s.

I don’t know if Drake Jethro’s will ever reopen.

Bruce said it would.

I don’t share his rosy assessment.

To be fair, I haven’t peeked in the windows. I don’t know if renovations are underway.

The truth is I’m afraid to look because I worry the answer is no.

They’ve done a good job keeping the lot clean. The bit of grass by the restaurant is mowed. Weeds aren’t poking up through the cracks in the lot.

But it’s been so long.

People’s habits change so quickly.

David Halberstam, one of America’s greatest journalists, wrote a book about the 1949 American League pennant race.

He described what it was like for a rookie to take the place of an established star.

The first year, they say the new kid isn’t as good as the old star.

The second year, they say the new kid is all right, but he’s not the old star.

In the third year, they say “What old star?”

Twenty-first-century life moves faster than baseball in 1949.

I fear the Drake Jethro’s has faded from people’s memory.

There are new restaurants along University Avenue. The old guitar show is now a burger joint. There’s a variety of diverse new cuisines across from Old Main.

Mars, China Place, and Jimmy John’s are still open.

Forest has gotten more crowded. Casey’s opened a convenience store without gas across the street from Jethro’s.

There’s a Mexican restaurant on the site of a former Taco Bell-KFC where the lot is filled with cars only — unlike Drake Jethro’s — people can go inside and eat a meal.

Maybe it’s ridiculous to put up this fuss for the restaurant.

There are plenty of Jethro’s in town. And I occasionally get my fix at them.

But it’s not the same. My people have all scattered to different locations. I miss them as much as the food.

The regulars are regulars somewhere else.

I know this is silly, but one night I got takeout from the Jethro’s in West Des Moines. I drove to the Drake Jethro’s lot.

I turned off the car, put on the radio, and rolled down the windows.

I ate and thought about the old days. I could see all the TVs were gone.

The Christmas wreaths were still on the roof and the Christmas lights lit up at dusk.

The neon signs still glowed. A few had burned out. I saw the Ruthie beer sign that always begged Bruce to give me one. I’m a fan of local pop culture and things that light up.

I finished my food. I couldn’t shake the feeling that this felt like visiting a grave.

I drove away before a cop came by and asked what I was doing loitering in the parking lot of a closed restaurant.

If it was up to me, Drake Jethro’s would return.

But it isn’t.

All I can hope is that Drake Jethro’s was.

And it might be again.


Daniel P. Finney writes columns for ParagraphStacker.com, a free, reader-supported website. Please consider donating to help me cover personal expenses as I continue writing while I pursue my master’s degree and teacher certification.
Post: 1217 24th St., Apt. 36, Des Moines, 50311.
Zelle: newsmanone@gmail.com.
Venmo@newsmanone.
PayPalpaypal.me/paragraphstacker.