Wednesday, January 30, 2013

The (possibly short-lived) return of fancy cable!

About a year ago, I ditched my fancy cable in favor of sub-basic cable. No more AMC, no more Comedy Central, no more ESPN. As it turned out, no big deal; I didn't turn the tv on as often as I'd used to but I also found, somewhat to my suprise, that I didn't miss it that much.
Last week, a salesperson from the cable company called and offered to set me up with the full assortment of cable channels again, free for a month on a trial basis and if I decided to keep it, it would be cheaper than what I was paying before. With absolutely nothing to lose, I said sure.
After a week of having fancy cable again, here are my observations:
  • I was kind of over ESPN a year ago, with what seems to me a greater focus on their part to establish themselves as a brand, rather than a provider of worthwhile content. Their on-air talent was going out of their way to establish themselves as personalities with quirky traits and catchphrases and they flat-out neglected sports and leagues that they didn't have contracts to broadcast, specifically NHL hockey. Would things be different now? Well, my first glance upon getting ESPN back showed Stuart Scott presenting an NBA update in spoken-word poetry. I didn't stick around for a second glance. 
  • There are an awful lot of "Family Guy"-style animated series. Emphasis on awful.
  • The other night, I was on the couch watching something and eating dinner. A commercial came on with someone I know in it. Not a celebrity I recognized but a regular joe that I actually work with and see every day, suddenly appearing with his face and voice in my home, under less-than-ideal circumstances for me to welcome company. I mean, he wasn't actually there, but slumped on your couch, pantsless, snarfing down a Lean Cuisine with your fingers (I couldn't find a fork or spoon, okay? All right, I knew where the forks and spoons were but they were all the way out in the kitchen and I had already taken off my pants and sat down and everything.) waiting for "30Rock" to start isn't when you want to hear Matt from work just start talking to you out of nowhere, you know?

Monday, January 28, 2013

Friday, January 25, 2013

Your horse might not be as high as you think it is

I was just wondering how many people saw this story that ran in USA Today and on NBC news about the restaurant server who stood up on behalf of a kid with Down syndrome. It's a great story, the kind that lets us feel a little bit better about the world we live in by illustrating the fact that there are still people willing to take a stand that may be uncomfortable or unpleasant. In this case, the guy put his job at risk by confronting a patron. Then we draw even more satisfaction when we find out that not only didn't he get fired but that his employer fully supported him and what he did. It's the kind of story we enjoy inserting ourselves into, indulging in a little self-congratulatory roleplay;
"If that was me, I'd have done the same thing, except I would have scissor-kicked that intolerant son of a bitch and his whole family into the salad bar and dared them to say something. 'What? You didn't want to sit by the adorable kid with Down syndrome, right? Well, consider yourselves relocated, bitch!' Then the manager would have given me a high five while all my co-workers and the other diners responded with a standing ovation. God damn it, I sure am a good person!"
What I wonder specifically is how many of the people who have a reaction like that to this story are finding great joy in making fun of Manti Te'o and that whole situation. You know, the Notre Dame linebacker who was apparently duped into thinking he was involved in a long distance relationship over a number of years with a woman he was led to believe suffered a severe traffic accident and then later died of leukemia, a woman who, as it turns out, never existed. If you're one of them, how do you rationalize that? Is it because he's a big strong football player, playing for a high profile NCAA program, which makes him a celebrity, who is still going to be among the first 10 players selected in this spring's NFL draft? Do you figure that certain people, because of their status, simply can't qualify as a victim of bullying? I guess I can see that. Heck, even pro sports teams are jumping in with both feet. What fun, getting an entire arena full of people (well, in the case of the Cleveland Cavaliers, "full" is a relative term) to participate in the ongoing humiliation of an individual! A whole bunch of people ganging up on one? How would that ever qualify as bullying? Never mind that in spite of whatever else he is, he might also be a naive college kid who was scammed, humiliated and who lied to lessen his embarrassment over the whole thing. Even if he was more complicit than that in the whole thing, he still didn't commit a crime or harm anybody else in any way. If you're willing to ignore all of that plus the fact that at the very least, it's a human being going through something that any one of us would consider an absolute nightmare even if nobody knew about it, well, what a chump, right?
Before you get the impression that this is some whiny, Chris Crocker-esque appeal to "leave the poor celebrities alone!", it really isn't. Hey, he is a public figure who is involved in some strange behavior. It's the kind of situation that organically invites scrutiny and ridicule. And if that's what amuses you, hey, have at it. I'm just here to point out that you may not be the enlightened, champion-of the-underdog that you hope other people see you as, just because the waiter story gave you a lump in your throat. While you may be able to speak out of both sides of your mouth, you only have one head, which means you can only wear one hat and the white one might not be the best fit. You should own it, whatever "it" is, that's all.
This is why, with all due respect to Dan Savage, it doesn't necessarily get better. It CAN get better. It MIGHT get better. It SHOULD get better. But there are no guarantees. Kids who are bullies frequently grow up to be adults who are bullies. They may narrow their focus, rationalize their behavior and be slightly more subtle in their actions, but these assholes don't simply cease to exist because they suddenly develop empathy on some certain birthday (and if you're a young person currently on the receiving end of bullying behavior, you need to be aware of this or else, trust me, it probably will not get better). The same thing applies to the people who allow bullies to get away with their behavior. They don't necessarily get better either.
See, here's the thing; posting quotes from the Dalai Lama on your Facebook page while you treat people like shit doesn't impress anybody but you. Same with all the sudden civil rights awareness people displayed for all of 24 hours on Martin Luther King Day earlier this week; quoting Medgar Evers was the equivalent of the "Kiss me, I'm Irish" shirt you wear on St. Patrick's Day or the sombrero you put on for Cinco de Mayo. 
The fact of the matter is that with very few notable exceptions, most of us spend our days floating around in the gray area that exists between Saint and Scumbag; trying not to harm others as long as that doesn't get in the way of doing what we really want. Which is fine! Most of the time, that's good enough. My problem isn't with those people; it's with you high-minded frontrunners. And it's you people who just need to know that if you're a bottom feeder rummaging around down there in the muck most of the time, the occasional flamboyant outburst designed to present yourself as something else isn't fooling anyone, except maybe you.

Wednesday, January 23, 2013

Rest In Peace, Earl Weaver

In one of those Forrest Gump-ian twists that pop up in my life from time to time, I once got to spend a day with legendary former Baltimore Orioles manager Earl Weaver, who passed away Saturday at the age of 82. Earl was the standard by which all other managers are measured when it comes to getting thrown out of games. Even if you don't follow baseball, you've probably seen him lose it with an umpire... and he hasn't been active with Major League Baseball since 1989. More than just some guy who was angry all the time (in baseball, we call that "having the red ass"), he was wildly successful, winning the World Series in 1970 and the American League pennant in 1969, 1970, 1971 and 1979. In 17 years, he had one losing season.
Back in 2000, the (then Devil) Rays had a promotion where they brought some old-timers to Tropicana Field for a day. Dom DiMaggio (brother of Joe), Rich "Goose" Gossage, Frank Howard, Frank Robinson, Bobby Thigpen and Earl Weaver. Each of them was assigned a team staff member to escort them around the ballpark and to attend to their needs. Meet them at the gate, get them to the executive dining room for lunch, down to the field for pre-game festivities, to a table to sign autographs during the game, etc. I was chosen to help out with this and was assigned to Earl. The man I met was very friendly and extremely humble. He had stopped following baseball after his retirement and didn't even know that Tampa Bay played in the American League. Since he wasn't up to speed on baseball current events, he was really afraid of some fan putting him on the spot and asking him a question he couldn't answer and asked me to look out for that for him. Happily, everybody he encountered wanted to talk about his time with the Orioles, and dealing with Jim Palmer, Frank Robinson, Boog Powell, Al Bumbry, Ken Singleton, Brooks Robinson and Bobby Grich, and facing down the Miracle Mets, the Big Red Machine and the "We Are Family" Pittsburgh Pirates, subjects on which he more than held his own.

Frank Robinson, Bobby Thigpen, Dom DiMaggio,
Earl Weaver and Rich Gossage at Tropicana Field.
 During a private lunch prior to the game, he, DiMaggio, Gossage, and Thigpen bantered back and forth, telling great stories from their days in baseball. It was a fantastic experience and I spent the whole time being entertained and wondering how I'd been so lucky to be a present for it.
Once all the festivities were over, I drove him from the ballpark to the airport in Tampa. The team had supplied him with a vintage Baltimore Orioles jersey with his name and number to wear during the day. On the drive across the bay, he said, "I have all the souvenirs I need at home. Do you want this jersey?". What do you think my answer was?

Thanks Earl, for one of the greatest days I ever had.

Monday, January 21, 2013

This could have happened


The other day I was at the grocery store, picking up some assorted items. I had finished shopping and had unloaded all the groceries into my truck and was pushing my now-empty cart towards a nearby cart corral. An elderly black woman on her way into the store smiled and said, "I'll take that." I smiled back, passed the cart off to her and she went inside. As she walked away, I had one thought; she's lucky I didn't shoot her.
Seriously, I could have invoked Florida Statute  776.013, known commonly as the "Stand Your Ground" rule and blasted her into oblivion.
First of all, she was black. I mean, I haven't actually read the statute, but that's more than half of it, right? It's just another way for white people to shoot black people, isn't it?
Also, she threatened me. "I'll take that." She declared an intention to take something away from me, never mind that it was something that didn't belong to me and that I was finished with anyway. What matters is I had every right to pull out a gun and open fire on that nice old lady right there in the Sweetbay parking lot, blasting away at someone's mom and grandmother until the gun was empty, reloading and firing a few more shots into her lifeless body just to make sure I was absolutely safe from this woman who was probably on her way inside to get stuff to make cookies, but I didn't.
Oh well.
Happy Dr. Martin Luther King Day, everyone! 

Friday, January 18, 2013

Present-day retro crush

Recently, through the wonderful world of Netflix (and I say that with zero sarcasm whatsoever), I have been catching up on old tv shows and movies I missed when they were in standard circulation. Apparently, this activity is trending. One of those shows is "Freaks and Geeks", a comedy with some dramatic undertones that ran for all of 18 episodes between 1999 and 2000. Created by Paul Feig and produced by Judd Apatow, it's one of those shows (right up there with "Arrested Development") that received all kinds of critical acclaim but never really got the commercial success it needed to survive and was cancelled before its time. 

It takes place in Michigan during the early '80s and centers on the struggles of two disparate groups of high school students. I also took place in Michigan during the early '80s where I was a struggling, disparate high school student, so I feel like there's an organic connection between me and this show. I was talking about it recently with a friend of mine (the same one who wouldn't eat the pickles at Jimbo's)...

ME: The lead character is played by an actor named Linda Cardellini and I think I have a crush on her.
FRIEND: This is a high school girl?
ME: The character is. Or rather, was. The show has been off the air for over ten years now.
FRIEND: Yeah, but you have a crush on her from this show?
ME: Yeah.
FRIEND: Okay, first things first, this is the kind of thing you should only talk about with me or some other close friend or maybe a therapist. It's absolutely not the kind of thing you should be putting out for public consumption via the blog. That's a bad idea. Do you understand?
ME: Yep. Absolutely.
FRIEND: Secondly, I don't think you should watch that show any more.
ME: Why not?
FRIEND: Because it's creepy and inappropriate for you to have a crush on some girl in high school!
ME: I feel like you're missing the part about her being an actor, not a high school student.
FRIEND: An actor you developed a crush on as she was playing the role of a girl in high school.
ME: Yeah, but she's not in high school now! She wasn't even in high school back then. She was, like, 24 then and is 37 now. And she was playing a character that would have been my age at the time of the show. It would have been perfectly normal for me to have a crush on her then. Because Lindsay Weir, the name of the character, is exactly the kind of girl I would have had a crush on then. See?
FRIEND: I thought the show aired in 1999, not 1982.
ME: Yes, but it took place around 1982.
FRIEND: But it didn't exist in 1982.
ME: Which works in my favor!
FRIEND: How do you figure that?
ME: If I had watched the show in 1999 and developed this crush then, I would have been 35 and infatuated with an actor playing a high school girl while the show was still on the air. Now, that's creepy and inappropriate. But this way, with the show being cancelled long ago, it's completely harmless and actually, kind of charming!
FRIEND: No, it really isn't. However, I'm not concerned for Linda Cardellini's safety for one reason only; that being that you have so many of these "crushes" that you can't possibly act on any of them.
ME: Which is also charming.
FRIEND: Let me have one of those pickles.

Wednesday, January 16, 2013

Said without being said


Seriously, has there ever been a
guy named Larry who wasn't a tool?
 "And Friday morning on CNN, the chair of “Gun Appreciation Day” suggested that slavery would not have occurred had guns been available to everyone in America at the time. “I think Martin Luther King Jr. would agree with me if he were alive today that if African Americans had been given the right to keep and bear arms from day one of the country’s founding, perhaps slavery might not have been a chapter in our history,” said Larry Ward on Friday’s CNN Newsroom." -- Emma Margolin, MSNBC

That happened. I think it's important for us to expand upon what Mr. Ward expressed here, to fully illustrate the "logic" involved...

"I think Martin Luther King Jr. would agree with me if he were alive today, a condition which is impossible due to his being assassinated by James Earl Ray with a rifle in June of 1968, that if African Americans had been given the right to keep and bear arms from day one of the country's founding, a time when they were known simply as 'Africans' because they had yet to forcibly be assigned dual citizenship, perhaps slavery might not have been a chapter in our history. Because presumably those guys would have come over here, somehow gotten some guns, which shoulda/woulda/coulda been their constitutional right, even though we weren't really bringing them over here for the purpose of bestowing constitutional rights (let alone weapons!) on them, and said, 'hey, back off; we don't want to be slaves.' Then there would have been some shooting back and forth and I predict the white guys would have given up first because, in spite of being vastly outnumbered and not knowing what guns were before coming here, black people have proven to be good at adapting to their environment. Then the black guys would be all, 'well great, we won, but don't you think it could have saved a lot of trouble and heartache for everyone if you guys just hadn't dragged us from our homes against our wills to come over here in the first place?' and the surviving white guys would be all, 'yeah, but now you have guns. Lucky!'. Then one of the black guys would have said, 'can we play baseball and vote and court your women, not necessarily in that order?' and somebody would have said, 'whoa, let's take it easy! Give us one or two hundred years to think about that, okay?'. To this, the black people would have said, 'well, okay, since you were so kind in letting us have these guns and all. We'll wait patiently for you to grant us the privilege of being treated as equals and not take what we want by force, since, you know, we're capable of taking up arms against what could most certainly be accurately described as an oppressive government and that would be totally okay under certain interpretations of the second amendment', to which we'd say, 'hey, thanks!'.
And so, yeah, obviously no slavery, thanks to guns!"

Monday, January 14, 2013

Pickled

This is a picture of the fresh pickles they put out at Jimbo's Pit Bar B-Q here in Tampa. Jimbo's is my favorite BBQ in town and these pickles are a big reason why. There's always a huge stainless steel bowl just full of these huge chunks of pickled cucumbers (most take at least two bites to finish).
I was there recently for dinner with a friend and she was less than enthusiastic about partaking.
"I guess they're good, but no thanks."
"You guess they're good?"
"Yeah. But I'm not that excited about them."
"What is wrong with you?"
"Well, mainly, it doesn't seem that sanitary. They're just sitting there, out in the open."
"Let me tell you something; if I walked in here and saw somebody performing a baptism in that bowl, I'd be standing there with a plate in my hand, right behind the kid's grandparents, waiting for them to finish so I could scoop up a plateful of those pickles.
"... "
"If they pulled the baby out of there and there was one of the nice, thick juicy ones I like the best stuck to his right buttock, I'd reach over and say, 'excuse me a sec, if I can just.. get that... ah, perfect, thank you'. Then I'd bite right into it while the family and minister were staring at me and I'd give them a big ol' smile. And if my hands were occupied, I'd just lean right in and eat it right off the ass like a giraffe eating an apple off a tree branch. Yes, you heard me right; I would eat Jimbo's pickles off a stranger's baby's ass."
"Wow."
"I'm just trying to say that I like those pickles. That's all."

Friday, January 11, 2013

Life in what I think of as a big city


The other day, I called a friend to touch base and possibly schedule a get-together. He informed me that he wasn't feeling up to any revelry because his friend had died in the helicopter crash earlier that week. This caught me off guard as I hadn't heard about a helicopter crash, but I offered a sincere apology and my condolences anyway because that's what thoughtful people do. When I hung up, I really thought about it.
I've stated here many, many times that I'm from a small town up in Michigan. I've also stated here a time or two that I now live in Tampa, Florida, which, for all intents and purposes is a big city. I mean, we don't have Los Angeles-like traffic, but we have traffic. We don't have New York-like culture but we have museums and performing arts. We don't have Chicago-like nightlife but we have pro sports and nightclubs. So while sometimes it just seems like a small town with lots of people spread out all over the place, Tampa actually is a big city. Certainly when compared to small towns like the one where I grew up.
I mention this because we never saw a helicopter there. If we had, it would have been a pretty big deal.
"Did you see the helicopter that one time?"
"I sure did! It was incredible. I'll never forget it!"
"I didn't."
"Oh, so you're the one."
We definitely never had one crash. If we had, that would have undoubtedly become the defining moment for the town and everyone who had ever lived there, eclipsing every bit of history that had previously transpired. It's how people would have marked time.
"Hey, do you remember when the school caught on fire?"
"Which time, pre-helicopter crash or post-helicopter crash?"
"This would have been the time post-crash."
"Oh yeah. Hell of a lot of damage to the gymnasium!"
Having grown up in a place where something like a helicopter crash would have been all anyone ever talked about for years and years, I find it strange that I now live in a place where that doesn't even make a big enough ripple to make it into ambient small talk. Not that helicopters are just constantly falling out of the sky around here with such frequency that people don't bother mentioning it. But there's apparently so much going on around here that something that terrible doesn't merit discussion. Nobody I know was talking about it and I didn't hear it in the news. I find that kind of sad. No matter how big of a city you live in and/or how "Go! Go! Go!" your lifestyle is, you should be able to take a second or two to acknowledge something as terrible as a helicopter crash. Jesus, Tampa, that wouldn't make you a small town full of rubes
Then I started thinking, what if I'm the one who's all jaded and too busy? What if people were talking about it all day long and I was just so wrapped up in whatever it was I was doing (which I don't even remember now, illustrating how important that was) that I just didn't bother to notice? What if traffic was snarled that day because fleets of emergency vehicles were being routed to the crash site and I was just sitting there, getting mad, impatiently drumming my fingers on the steering wheel, oblivious to the fact that a freakin' helicopter had crashed?
It's impossible to tell at this point, but I might very well be the asshole here. I kind of hope I am, actually; it would restore my faith in the humanity of the city I've adopted as my hometown.

I, on the other hand, obviously need some work.

Wednesday, January 09, 2013

(They want you to) Be afraid! (Don't let them make you) Be very afraid!

If you're wondering whether someone might be trying to use fear to manipulate you, one of the first things you should look at is how much their message looks like it's actually from a monster movie.
Boo!

This is the banner that appears at the top of a page on the National Association for Gun Rights (NAGR) with a petition that opposes Senator Dianne Feinstein's proposed legislation seeking a ban on assault weapons. Specifically:

Bans the sale, transfer, importation, or manufacturing of:
  • 120 specifically-named firearms;
  • Certain other semiautomatic rifles, handguns, shotguns that can accept a detachable magazine and have one or more military characteristics; and
  • Semiautomatic rifles and handguns with a fixed magazine that can accept more than 10 rounds.
Strengthens the 1994 Assault Weapons Ban and various state bans by:

  • Moving from a 2-characteristic test to a 1-characteristic test;
  • Eliminating the easy-to-remove bayonet mounts and flash suppressors from the characteristics test; and
  • Banning firearms with “thumbhole stocks” and “bullet buttons” to address attempts to “work around” prior bans.
Bans large-capacity ammunition feeding devices capable of accepting more than 10 rounds.

Protects legitimate hunters and the rights of existing gun owners by:

  • Grandfathering weapons legally possessed on the date of enactment;
  • Exempting over 900 specifically-named weapons used for hunting or sporting purposes; and
  • Exempting antique, manually-operated, and permanently disabled weapons.
Requires that grandfathered weapons be registered under the National Firearms Act, to include:

  • Background check of owner and any transferee;
  • Type and serial number of the firearm;
  • Positive identification, including photograph and fingerprint;
  • Certification from local law enforcement of identity and that possession would not violate State or local law; and
  • Dedicated funding for ATF to implement registration.
Or, in the words of NAGR (those being words that don't actually appear in the legislation), "it will be the effective END of the Second Amendment in America" and "She's targeting EVERYTHING".

Granted, if you're one of those people who frequently masturbates while thinking about "blowing away" somebody who comes to your home and threatens to try to take away some of your stuff, that's pretty scary.
"Rawr! I'm Dianne Feinstein and I'm here to take away your freed...EWWWWW!!"

But if real horror is your thing, as in, if you really want to be horrified by something, then you should check THIS out.

Monday, January 07, 2013

Resolutions don't make anybody happy

"The New Year is a time to take stock of where you are in life", they said.
"Examine the choices you make", they said.
"Replace bad habits with good ones", they said.
"Resolve to get in shape", they said.
"Just make a few lifestyle changes", they said.
"Little things add up to make a big difference", they said.
"Eat less", they said.
"Exercise more", they said.
"Climb stairs whenever possible, instead of taking gthe easy route", they said.

"You are such a disappointment", they said.

Friday, January 04, 2013

2013: The year in review

It's only been about a half a week but 2013 is already one of the craziest years ever. No Not many celebrities died and congress actually (kinda) got something (sort of) done (a little bit). One of those things alone would be enough to stand out as our century gets a first glimpse of its own pubic hair and lurches headlong into an extended awkward, moody, confused and surly adolescence.
For now, let's take a look back at this crazy, crazy year and how it affected me.

Tuesday, January 1st: I worked the Outback Bowl, where people were buying these tickets from some dude lurking in the parking lot:
Photographic evidence: Ticket scalpers are low-life parasites.
My dad believed that it was impossible for an honest person to get scammed and this is why. I don't necessarily agree with that as a black-and-white fact but I'm always amazed at how eager people are to abandon their common sense, basic life experience and gut instincts in order to get over. I know, there's the thing where people will say, "I'm still writing (last year) on all my checks! Ha ha!" in February, but come on; New Year's was yesterday! More importantly, as a general rule in life, there is absolutely nothing you should ever purchase from somebody lurking around a parking lot. 
Anyway, the Outback Bowl, won by the University of South Carolina Gamecocks, is the only sporting event I've worked or attended this year, so...

University of South Carolina Gamecocks:
2013 Sports champions of the year!
Later that night, I ate dinner at Shell's, a place I haven't visited in years. Shell's used to be IT! when it came to seafood in Tampa Bay. They were all over the place between Tampa and Sarasota and if you had your heart set on eating there on a Friday or Saturday night, you were going to stand in a line. Then the '90s and '00s and a bunch of business stuff happened. Now, there's only two locations (one of them just opened recently) and you can pretty much walk right in and sit down. It's still good though.

2013 Restaurant of the year!
Wednesday, January 2nd: Tonight was opening night for the Ringling Brothers, Barnum & Bailey Circus at the Tampa Bay Times Forum, where I work. The Forum hosts the circus every year around this time. Every one so far since the Forum opened. The Forum hasn't had a hockey game since early April of 2012 because there's a work stoppage in the National Hockey League (NHL). A lockout. The second one the NHL has had in eight years. The circus has been around for hundreds of years and has never had a lockout.

2013 Professional sports league of the year!
Thursday, January 3rd: Early this morning in Ufa, Russia, the United States defeated Canada 5-1 in the semi-finals of the World Junior Hockey tournament. And boy oh boy, Canadians are boilin' mad! People who take the fun-loving and easy-going nature of Canadian people for granted have never taken international hockey tournaments into account, where a loss to anyone in the world would be a huge disappointment but losing to the NASCAR-driving, Budweiser-swilling football monkeys in the U.S. is utterly unacceptable. But somehow, amid all the rancor, this happened:

Hockey is awesome.
2013 International incident of the year!

And now a completely arbitrary and nonsensical list of things that are "IN" or "OUT" for the New Year...
IN: Turkeys - OUT: Chiggers
IN: Jukeboxes - OUT: College
IN: Pens - OUT: Turkeys
IN: Shoes - OUT: Banjos
IN: Mimes - OUT: Dry cleaners
IN: Banshees - OUT: Parachutes
IN: Turkeys - OUT: Tablature
IN: Nebulas - OUT: Mrs. Pamela Kaeding of Baltimore, Maryland
IN: Frying pans - OUT: Brown
IN: Mattresses - OUT: Turkeys