Monday, December 30, 2013

How to fix the Bucs

As another sorry Buccaneers season comes skidding to a halt like the ninth car in a ten-car pile-up(they finished 4-12), it's time to assess what went wrong this season.
So far, people are chiming in to blame the coach and/or the owners.
I'm no football expert but I think those people are stupid. My theory: the team needs a new logo.
This is what they have now...
"What's wrong with that", you may ask. "Perfectly intimidating, it's a scary, scary pirate skull with swords. Certainly better than what was there before, a fey, Errol Flynn-esque character, winking acknowledgement that everything is just a jolly romp, it is."

That's mostly true, but not completely. Look at that current logo again; it's not actually a skull and swords, it's a flag with a skull and some swords on it. Our logo is a flag. Worse, it's a flag on a sword, a weapon rendered useless by turning into a pole upon which you display a colorful bit of cloth. If we really were buccaneers, this is what would happen:
"Bosun, are the men ready to take to the streets to loot, pillage, plunder and rape?"
"Mostly, captain."
"Well, we have this one goof, playing flag with his sword instead of brandishing it in a threatening manner."
That's us. Clowning around when we should be taking care of business. No wonder we aren't very good. We're clearly not taking things very seriously and applying ourselves. We should ditch the flag part of the logo and just put Mr. Skull, his swords and his little orange football on the helmet. We should probably do something about that godawful combover first. You're a frightening skull; just because the last logo had a glorious, long-flowing mane, you don't need to be self-conscious about your 'do, man!

Saturday, December 28, 2013

So long, Uncle Bob

My Uncle Bob passed away the other day. I called him Uncle Bob but most people knew him as "Chet", short for Chester, his last name. When I was little, he had this massive model train set-up. It filled his entire garage (you had to duck down and kind of crawl under tables and wires and then pop up into the middle of it to see everything) and had multiple trains running through tunnels in mountains, visiting little villages with cars and people and rolling through miniature acres of farmland. All that attention to detail just blew me away. I hadn't been to Disney World or anything like that so that was the most incredible thing that I knew existed in the world at the time, and my Uncle Bob made that happen. Needless to say, I was in awe of him. I have no doubt that his influence is a huge part of why I love toys and miniature things so much now.
He was also the first funny person I knew. He was a funny, funny cat and he lived that, and I mean all the time. He told funny stories and he loved practical jokes.
I remember the time he told a co-worker at one of the auto shops he worked at during his life that you could make a perfect hard-boiled egg by just putting a raw one in a microwave oven on high for about five minutes. That went as well as you'd expect but the beauty was in the fact that he convinced the guy that the problem was he'd pointed the egg in the wrong direction and got him to do it again.
I had entire conversations with him that consisted of nothing but jokes. He seemed to know all of them. For every one I'd tell, he'd counter with four. It was a serious accomplishment that required work and diligence to hit him with something he hadn't heard before, which he'd acknowledge with a big smile and a "Yep!". That happened about as often as I'd get an A on a report card, and I took more pride in it too. And not just any old jokes; he was always on top of all the current topical jokes. I'm convinced that he was part of the top-secret network that produces jokes about things that happen in the news and circulates them faster than the internet ever dreamed of. I can't tell you how many times he'd hit me with a barage of one liners about something stupid that had made the day's headlines and I'd say, "Uncle Bob, that just happened!". He'd just smile in response. Now that I think about it, he smiled in response to just about everything. I'm going to miss that.

Friday, December 27, 2013

Merry no longer Christmas but not quite New Years although it IS Friday, so that's good Day

"She's been like that since Wednesday. Should we do something?"
Like the last of the stuffing from Christmas dinner (come on, it's're just scraping the dish with a spoon now and it's embarrassing..all right, go ahead and lick the spoon...Jesus), we've reached the end of the epic Christmas poems. This one was inspired by that most dreaded of all Christmas songs, "The Christmas Shoes". This version, originally published on December 23rd, 2011,  is not nearly as sad, yet somehow, it's more pathetic (I guess I'm a genius).

The Christmas Velcro Shoes
As I get older every day, 
So many things that I have learned.
Like, an oven filled with microwaves 
Turned up to 10 makes popcorn burned

Some other lessons I've picked up
I choose to ignore or to use 
Like drinking whiskey from a coffee cup
Or not wasting time by tying shoes

Since I've discovered footwear with velcro
I can't be bothered with silly strings
To me, this is the way to go
More valuable than Five Golden Rings

There are no laces so I don't get knots,
That I would have to snip
I just grab
that velcro tab
Tug it once and hear it rip

Also, I don't worry about kids I meet
with crumb-encrusted faces
Crawling down between my feet
And tying together my laces

I have one pair in stealthy black
Another in a pearly white
Stylishly, I'm not held back
Even if I were to meet Jesus tonight.

It's not that I can't tie a bow
(I'd learned how by second grade)
But shoelaces come from...where? I don't know
While velcro is American made

That's why I mentioned to Santa Claus
In my lengthy annual letter
Don't give me no shoes with inherent flaws
When velcro makes it all so much better

I'm already planning to leave him cookies in a dish
Santa's cool and oh-so-smart
I know that he will grant my wish
Because I saw him wearing some at Wal Mart.

Thursday, December 26, 2013

Merry (day after) Christmas 2013

"You know, Mildred, I don't believe that boy actually knows how to play that guitar..." 
Hey, did you get everything opened, played with, cleaned up, cooked and eaten yesterday? Ready to sit back, relax and enjoy the cheery, warm afterglow of the season? Well, go ahead. You've earned it. Let me play a little song for you while you do, all right? Okay, good.

Christmas is over (if you want it) 
Originally wriiten and published December 26, 2008 

(This is in C, if you're singing along) 
So this was Christmas 
And what did I do'd? 
Sat in my apartment 
And ate Chinese food 

And so this was Christmas 
Without any cryin' 
Caught up on old re-runs 
Of Conan O'Brien 

(This is the part where my Japanese girlfriend, an off-the-wall avant-garde conceptual artist who would absolutely refuse to wear a school girl's uniform no matter what, would join in...if I had one) 
A semi-Merry Christmas 
Crack open a beer 
Let's try to get excited 
About a Happy New Year 

(me again) 
And so this was Christmas 
Guess I'll take down the tree 
Or just leave it up all year 
For the neighbors to see 

I'm almost that lazy 
And I could start a new trend 
What do you think, 
Japanese conceptual artist girlfriend? 

(She would sing in Courier for some reason. I don't know why) 
Everybody loves a freak show 
That's why we are here 
But that idea is stupid 
Without merit, I fear 

(Children's choir joins in...) 
Christmas is over 
Quit your whin-ing 
Get off your ass 
Do some shop-ping 
(repeat until you feel utterly compelled to get up and go to Best Buy)

Wednesday, December 25, 2013

Merry Christmas 2013

"Huh? Oh yeah. Murry Chrizmuzzz."

Merry Christmas to you and your friends, families and associates, known or otherwise. Please celebrate with this poem I wrote and origihnally published in 2009

(Sing to the tune of "Silver Bells" if you're so inclined)

Scattered, smothered, chunked and covered
World's greatest hash browns
In the air
There's a feeling of breakfast
Bikers, truckers
Smearing Smucker's
On pieces of white toast
And in every corner booth you'll hear

"Waffle House, Waffle House
Only place open on Christmas
It's a treat, when we eat
Here, every year, Christmas day"

Waffles, pancakes
Pork chops and steaks
Grilled bacon patty melts too
You won't find much health food
On this menu
Orders shouting
Coffee spouting
Martha Stewart's nightmare
And above all the bustle
You'll hear

"Waffle House, Waffle House
Only place open on Christmas
It's a treat, when we eat
Here, every year, Christmas day"

But next year, maybe dear,
Perhaps we could have Chinese
Perhaps we could have Chinese

Tuesday, December 24, 2013

For Christmas, I bring thee... a foul-mouthed robot. Enjoy!

The rest of this week will be encore episodes of holiday special editions of this blog. In other words, re-runs. Let's start things off with this classic favorite (in other words, old) entry. Why, look who it is! Our robot pals, Erzatz and what's-her-name, ol' Boxhead, same as every year since 2011, here to perform a song for us and teach us all something special about sharing or family or whatever. I made this two years ago. I don't remember. Or care. I have been crazy drunk since Sunday. Anywho...
Merry Christmas!

Monday, December 23, 2013

The elf on the pot

I've noticed a lot of negative backlash toward The Elf on the Shelf this holdiay season. Suddenly people seem to be tired of the classic Christmas prankster and his antics. "He's/It's creepy" is the most repeated complaint. It's hard to argue against that. There's no telling what that shifty-eyed bastard is capable of, being as his goal is to cause "mischief" and "mischief" is such a subjective concept; one elf's leaving the top off the toothpaste could very well be another's sexual abuse of a family pet. Why take that chance? You can still enjoy elf-based Yule-tidey shenanigans, thanks to
El Caganer
(From Wikipedia): "A Caganer (Catalan pronunciation: [kəɣəˈne], Western Catalan: [kaɣaˈne]) is a figurine depicted in the act of defecation appearing in nativity scenes in Catalonia and neighbouring areas with Catalan culture such as Andorra, Valencia, Northern Catalonia (in southern France) and the Balearic Islands. It is most popular and widespread in these areas, but can also be found in other areas of Spain (Murcia), Portugal and southern Italy (Naples). The name "El Caganer” literally means “the crapper” or "the shitter". Traditionally, the figurine is depicted as a peasant, wearing the traditional Catalan red cap (the "barretina") and with his trousers down, showing a bare backside, and defecating. "

See? El Caganer has exactly one idea of a good time: crapping on yours. Sure, that's disgusting but at least you know what you're up against. The legend of El Caganer dates back to the 17th century or so, although the origins and reason for it's existence are muddled. many seem to think it symbolizes fertilization of the earth which is a wish for a bountiful harvest in the upcoming new year. I'm willing to bet somebody just thought it would be funny to poop-bomb a nativity sceene. Either way, El Caganer is a big deal, apparently.

Here's a stamp. Go on, lick it.

A children's book...

An interactive children's book (hint: buy extra brown pencils)

Good heavens, this one is in 3D for some reason!

Funny how they all look so blissfully zoned out, isn't it? But maybe you don't want a stoner with the squirts hanging around your house either. Maybe you want your pooper to have a little more gravitas.
Empathy for the brotherhood of man plus poop, ala John Lennon

Reverence for the spirituality which binds us together as one plus poop, ala the Dalai Lama

The spirit of action and adventure plus poop, ala Spiderman
The point is, why put up with crap like this...

When you can have crap like this?

This will be the last (new) blog post of 2013. Tomorrow we'll resume our annual Christmas tradition, but aside from that I'm taking some time off to play pinball and watch The Hudsucker Proxy (New Years tradition). Also to work and work, plus work and work and work. Merry Christmas and Happy New Year!

Friday, December 20, 2013

Smells like school spirit

CEO Katie Masik
The other day, I received this email:

Hi Clark,

I was wondering if you’d be interested in covering Masik Collegiate Fragrances.

Masik recently collaborated with University of Florida and Florida State to create an official men's cologne and women's perfume for the schools. The science behind these signature scents is inspired by elements like school colors, campus style, flowers and trees, traditions and location. The hope is that these original scents will remind people of the past - long after days on campus come to an end, alumni and fans can smell that special scent and be reminded of that unique time – the campus, the sporting events, the traditions and most of all, the memories.

The way it works is Masik pitches their perfumers a ‘fragrance brief’ that outlines the school’s specific elements along with pictures of the university campus, sporting events, students and alumni. Once Masik formulates scent options for the school, the universities conduct smell sessions to determine which fragrances they like best – these scents then become the official men’s and women's fragrance for each school.

Would you be interested in a sample for consideration or speaking with the CEO Katie Masik? I’ve included links below to view the fragrance line along with a video to learn more about Masik.

Well, of course the answer to all of those questions is yes, because what is this blog about if not style and fashion and smelling nice and higher education but mostly free stuff for me? I also really wanted to use that headline up there. So I interviewed Ms. Masik last week and that went like this:

ME: Can you tell me a little bit about your company and what you do?
KATIE MASIK: We started this company to create collegiate fragrances a couple of years ago and started out with Penn State and North Carolina. Now we've expanded the line to 17 schools, to include the two in Florida, the University of Florida and Florida State. We worked with the individual schools to create their scents and we kind of go through the same process with each school. We look and we research things like school colors and the campus as far as the trees, the landmarks, the architecture and the overall style of the school. And then we create the signature scent of the school. The schools are actually involved in selecting the fragrances they like the best.
ME: How do you turn colors into a fragrance?
KM: We can use Florida and Florida State University for example. If you look at the University of Florida, obviously the orange and blue, we pulled a lot from the orange color for Florida. So we used scents like mandarin, mimosa flower, citrus, things that are orange scents. For a school like Florida State you have the garnet and gold so that garnet color inspired apple and pomegranate scents. And then for the gold, with the women's we added a golden amber. And in the men's, a very subtle pineapple and those colors translated to those scents that way.
ME: I didn't go to either school but my understanding is that those people are, um, not fond of each other.
KM: They do! They hate each other. Just like Auburn and Alabama, and we do fragrances for both of those schools too.
ME: So wouldn't the true mark of success be if a Florida State person smelled the Florida fragrance, they would just go nuts with rage?
KM: That would be ideal, but I don't know that that always happens. Hopefully, it does, just by seeing the logo, it angers them.
ME: That's very cool! When does this product hit the market?
KM: It's on the market now. All of our retailers are listed on our web site and we have a department store exclusive with Belk.
ME: Now, I never got into college because those institutions discriminate against dumb people but I think a fragrance aimed at somebody like me would consist of desperation and fear, not wanting to disappoint my parents along with questionable hook-ups plus beer. How much of these collegiate fragrances rely on things like that?
KM: Um, I'm sure you could use your imagination but none of those things actually made it into any of our fragrances. Those not-so-positive and exciting experiences would definitely bring back memories but it's not something you want to smell like all day, that's for sure.
ME: For lack of a better term, are these "experiential fragrances", are these representative of a new trend? Is that something anybody has done outside of the college experience?
KM: When we launched the line, we sort of looked at the market place and I'd always wanted to do a fragrance different from what you already find out there. And at that time, it was a lot of celebrities and fashion designers. You know, scent is linked to memory. So there is definitely science behind smelling things and being part of a memory or an experience and bringing that back and that was the concept we built on.
ME: Like, could you do a Tampa fragrance or a Pittsburgh experience?
KM: Oh sure! I've seen some of that out in the marketplace in recent years. I know there's a line here in New York that I love called Bond No. 9. They do fragrances for different New York City neighborhoods. They do one for Bryant Park and Chinatown and various areas in New York. Pretty cool concept.
ME: Isn't the fragrance world really super competitive.
KM: It's extremely competitive! Which is why as an entrepreneur looking at corporate America, I thought, "wow, I really need to do something totally different". Because I'm not a celebrity, I'm not a fashion designer. There are so many different fragrances that launch each year, it's really hard to come out with a winner that is something different that people embrace. The market is quite saturated with fragrances.
ME: Are you looking for celebrities to endorse these fragrances or is it not necessary because the alumni appeal is so strong that you don't need to go that route?
KM: We're certainly open to it. We've had a few sports agents reach out to us looking for endorsements and things like that. We tried to send bottles from time to time to certain alumni as gifts but we haven't really actively approached it. Of course, if there's some high-profile alumni out there, like an actor or an athlete, who'd like to wear our fragrances and say nice things about it, we'd certainly be open to it!
ME: And without getting into specific sales figures, how are things going? Are you pleased?
KM: Yeah, we are. We had a great fall. We launched for the first time in a major department store with Belk. You never know what to expect going up against brands with huge advertising budgets and celebrity endorsements and things like that. But we've really been able to hold our own and its going very well with Belk, so we're really happy. I feel very fortunate actually.
ME: Any other schools launching fragrances soon?
KM: I can tell you, some brand spanking new ones we've rolled out are Kentucky, Ole Miss, NC State, Texas A&M, Princeton and South Carolina. And we're in talks with some schools in California right now.
ME: Do you ever worry about people from rival schools infiltrating your focus groups and giving intentionally bad input? 
KM: We do the test sessions on campus, so if we we're on the Auburn campus and an Alabama fan were somehow able to get in there and try to steer things in the wrong direction, I guess that could happen. But we try to take steps to make sure the people we're talking to have the school's best interests at heart.
ME: You wouldn't want some Michigan fan as part of the Ohio State test group saying things like, "needs more poop".
KM: No, so far we haven't had anything like that happen. Although, a lot of people on the North Carolina campus suggested we launch a Duke Puke fragrance.

For information about Masik Collegiate Fragrances, and participating retailers, or to buy direct, click here.

Thursday, December 19, 2013

Merry Christmas to me!

Ever since I was a young boy, I've played the silver ball...
Similarities between me and The Who pretty much end there (although Pete Townshend could have been looking at any of my high school report cards when he coined the phrase "teenage wasteland" for "Baba O'Reilly") but I have always loved, and still do, the game of pinball. My dad got me started, no doubt as a way of passing on his beloved juvenile delinquent tendencies from the '50s. I'm of the first generation of kids to grow up with video games, and those are lots of fun too, but while I like video games, I've always loved pinball.

FUN FACT: The night I was stood up for my senior prom, I spent much of the evening in a diner somewhere along 196 near Saugatuck, Michigan, playing pinball while wearing a tux.

One reason I prefer pinball to video games is that there are no patterns that can be followed for success in pinball. You can have a strategy in going after targets and bonuses, but success or failure is going to be determined by impossible-to-predict bumps and bounces. No two games will ever be exactly the same. I also love the bells and flashing lights. Pinball machines always remind me of miniature amusement parks. And as someone who grew up loving comic books, the artwork appeals to me.

FUN FACT: Most summer nights between high school graduation and when I left for basic training in August were spent with my friend Mark and his girlfriend Pat playing the Xenon machine at the Benton Harbor Holiday Inn.

I've always wanted a pinball machine of my very own. A real one, not a toy; not some pinball game, with Snoopy or The Six Million Dollar Man on it. I'm talking about a big, heavy piece of machinery with lights and bells and buzzers that you put quarters in. And now, finally, I own one. Specifically, this one:
For those keeping score at home, it's Pinball Machines: 1, Furniture People Can Sit On: 0.

It's a "Big Brave", manufactured in 1974 by D. Gottlieb & Company, bka Gottlieb (who knew there is such a thing as an Internet Pinball Database?) and I can still hardly believe it's in my house!! Manufactured at the very dawn of people worrying about political correctness, it was originally called "Big Injun". The theme and graphics aren't that offensive but they're not something anybody would dare put out today. If I had the time and resources ($$$) to really shop, I probably would have preferred something with a sports theme and/or depictions of voluptuous cartoon babes.

Like this!
But I didn't have those options. I wanted an older machine because while the modern ones can do some pretty incredible things with lights, sound and gameplay, I wanted something more "classic". I like the simple bells and flashing lights and I really like the spinning numbered wheels that go "ka-chunk, ka-chunk, ka-chunk" as they rack up scores. The backglass of a classic pinball machine reminds me of Bill Veeck's exploding scoreboard at Comiskey Park, which brings things full-circle, since a pinball machine was the inspiration for that scoreboard.

The problem is, finding old pinball machines isn't easy. There simply aren't as many around as there used to be. It takes patience and luck to find one that is in pretty good shape (playable) and not crazy expensive. I've been looking for years and finally got lucky.
So this is my Christmas present to myself this year. If anybody is wondering what they can get me, quarters would be nice.

Wednesday, December 18, 2013

Come back tomorrow

No new material today, but come back tomorrow when I reveal my 2013 Christmas present to myself!
Hint: Part of it is kind of this shape.
See you tomorrow. I can't wait!

Monday, December 16, 2013

Flaw-some and shame-azing!

I, like most people, overuse certain words. It's a natural habit. You find certain words with which you are comfortable expressing yourself so you turn to them again and again. There's nothing wrong with that. But it's something I wish I did less, especially with certain words. For one thing, it hints at a limited vocabulary and for a writer, that isn't good. For another, overuse diminishes and dilutes the meaning of a word. "Dude" is one of the words I overuse. I use it all the time to refer to people, often regardless of gender. Also, the words "awesome" and "amazing". I'm not alone with those. You probably hear several people use these words more than once a day, yet few things described as "awesome" or "amazing" actually inspire awe or amazement. Most of the time, when somebody says something is "amazing" or "awesome", what they mean is it's pretty good. I don't believe I've ever really had an awesome or amazing meal, yet I constantly find myself using those term in conversations with virtually anyone I encounter.
SERVER: How is everything?
ME: Awesome!

FRIEND: Hey, how is the food at that place? I've never been there?
ME: You should go. It's amazing!

OTHER FRIEND: What do you recommend?
ME: Get a cheeseburger. They're awesome! And a side of onion rings. Amazing!

That's like four biblical miracles worth of awesome amazingness, all for a burger-and-beer joint in Ybor City called The Green Iguana. There's nothing wrong with The Green Iguana. It's a fine place. I like to go there and I do enjoy their cheeseburgers, but there's not one single thing about it that causes me great surprise or astonishment and inspires an emotion variously combining dread, veneration, and wonder that is inspired by authority or by the sacred or sublime. I'll go so far as to say it's really good, but from now on, it's not awesome or amazing, at least as far as I'm concerned. This is a decision I made last Tuesday.

You might think that my effort to improve my vocabulary while simultaneously not contributing to excessive hyperbole would at least be met with support if not enthusiasm. But no. Instead, this happened when I ran into a friend I hadn't seen in some time (not one of those referred to above).
ME: Hi, good to see you! How's it going?
FRIEND: Oh hey, Clark! Did you hear the news? You won't believe this; my sister beat cancer!
ME: What??
FRIEND: Yeah, she just got her most recent tests and it's in complete remission! We're so excited!
ME: Hey! That is... well, that's just... great.
FRIEND: "Great"?
ME: It is. It really, really is. Congratulations! I know your mom must be thrilled!
FRIEND: Wow. Try not to get so worked up about it. Geez.
ME: No, no, I really am happy. It's great news.
FRIEND: Most people who hear about itl think it's awesome news. Like the most awesome thing they've heard in weeks, months. Maybe all year.
ME: Yeah. Hmm. I can see where people would say that.
FRIEND: Not you though. Things must be pretty damn exciting in your life for you to ho-hum someone beating cancer.
ME: It's not that. I think it's fantastic. It's wonderful. Incredible. It's really really... great!
FRIEND: You said that already. Wow. Great!
ME: But I'm doing this thing, where I'm weaning myself off the word 'awesome', You know, because it's overused.
FRIEND: Overused?
ME: Yeah, like people will say a restaurant or the cheeseburgers they serve are awesome. Ha ha. Stuff like that.
FRIEND: This isn't like that.
ME: Right, I know.
FRIEND: This is somebody beating cancer. Cancer. A disease that destroys people. Like, the most devastating thing in the whole world. And she not only lived through it, she defeated it. You can't compare that to cheeseburgers.
ME: That's sorta my point...
FRIEND: You're amazing, you know that?
ME: That's funny because that's actually another word I'm not...
ME: It was awesome seeing you today.

Friday, December 13, 2013

Heaven help me, I think I'm mellowing

Something is wrong with me. Wrong, in that I'm changing and as everyone knows, change is bad. What's happening is I'm finding I get emotional over things I never even cared about before. Now instead of watching and laughing at hour after hour of "fail" videos (the skateboard always just keeps going!) on YouTube, now I watch heartwarming sports videos, babies being adorable, animals being even more adorable and nice people doing nice things for each other (examples of each below). All of them wreck me.
It's not just these shamelessly manipulative videos. I get gooey over certain performances of certain music. Songs by obviously skilled performers who infuse their work with joy make me smile like a big, dumb doofus. That's when I don't catch myself starting to sob like an infant with a glandular condition.
Worse, I fear that I'm losing my natural-born-but-finely-honed ability to hate stuff. Things still annoy me and get on my nerves, but it's fewer things, things that are actually important and I'm finding it much easier to let things go. I'm not sure I could hold a grudge right now if I wanted to. My God, listen to me! Why wouldn't I ever want to hold a grudge?!? I always loved holding grudges and I was soooo good at it. Oh ho ho, you people don't even know! Well, some of you might... and you'd be surprised to learn that you're totally off the hook. I get over things now. Easily!
I have a Christmas tree and a wreath on my door.
A couple of weeks ago, I picked up a check for a table of soldiers at Pop n Sons (I left before they knew).
Yesterday, I listened to Christmas music. Mariah Carey. On purpose!
I'm turning into a big, damp blubbery sponge of feelings and emotions.
I'm seriously afraid to check and see if I have a vagina. Not that there's anything inherently wrong with a person having one, particularly if they're women or men who want one, but if I have one, I'm pretty sure I'll go right out and get pregnant. That's because I'm emotional and I have no self-control. That's a bad combination. I'm a human bomb, waiting to explode and lay waste to everything in my path in the form of hugs and affection.
One of the things that makes me emotional is something at work called the Community Heroes Program. Our organization gives away a grant of $50,000 at every Tampa Bay Lightning home game to someone who is out in our community, doing good work on behalf of other people. They make a big presentation and every single time, the stories hit me right in the gut. In my unique position of being able to work for the team by day and cover them as a member of the media by night, I had the opportunity to write about the program recently. Here's a link to that story on Raw
I don't think I want to mellow. I was really looking forward to being a bitter old man who might drop his trousers with no warning and heckle Little Leaguers. Now I don't think that's going to happen...and I'm okay with it.
My God, if my dad was here right now, he'd smack me right in the face.

Wednesday, December 11, 2013

People: The worst

People ruin everything.
Doubt the validity of that broad swipe at humanity? Think of one thing that used to be better than it is now whose decline can't be directly traced back to human beings screwing it up.
Can't do it, can you? no. And do you know why? Because people ruin everything.
Amusement park rides? Pro sports? Movies? The Grand Canyon? All destroyed. I'll give you a more recent, relevant and important example: my dinner last Friday.
I got off from work a little earlier than I thought I would and decided to treat myself to dinner at Jimbo's, my favorite local BBQ joint. Early for me, but a little later than the standard Friday dinner rush, so the place was basically empty, with only one table occupied when I got there. Here's a not-to-scale drawing of the dining room layout...

Okay, so there's one table occupied when I arrive. Those people are sitting here...

So I decide to sit here...

See how we have our own little territories? Not all up in each others business, enjoying the peace and privacy. Nice! Except guess where this jamoke who shows up after I've ordered my food decides to sit? Right HERE...

That's right, there are 20 empty tables and he picks THAT ONE. Not only THAT table, but THAT seat, facing me. Not only is he staring at me as I'm trying to eat, I have no choice but to look at him while I'm eating, unless I want to look weird and awkward by obviously making an effort to look elsewhere and not look at him. Then things get worse when a couple on a date shows up and sits here...

Aw, come on! Four tables of customers and three of them all smooshed up into one corner of the whole restaurant. And the couple is one of those that sits on the same side because they love each other or whatever and either don't know or don't care how much the rest of us hate it when they do that shit. For my part, I become incredibly self-conscious. How could I not? These people have arranged their seating like I'm there to perform for their dining pleasure. Any hope I had of barbecue sauce running down my arm and making loud slurping noises as I drank the last of my sweet tea with an entire rib, bone and all, stuck between my teeth, were gone. In fact, every time they picked up their phones (because I can see their every move) I worried that I was doing something YouTube-worthy. Instead, I found myself cutting the meat off my ribs with a knife and a fork like I'm a member of British Parliament, leaving behind perfectly good meat that I could have easily just sucked right off the bone, all the while dabbing at the corners of my mouth with a napkin.
In other words, my dinner was ruined. Why? Because of people. They're just the worst.

Monday, December 09, 2013

How boxing was invented

A jousting tournament field somewhere in England on March 24, 1624...

LEOFRICK, VALET TO SIR CEDRIC OF CRANAPPLE: Sir Cedric! I have just learned your next opponent is to be none other than Lord Destro of Shambles-On-Pie!
SIR CEDRIC OF CRANAPPLE: Lord Destro! He's very good, isn't he?
LEOFRICK: He's never known defeat! No one has so much as scored a single point against him!!
SIR CEDRIC: Then this is the greatest challenge I have ever faced. We must come up with a strategy that he has never seen before. One he can't anticipate and for which he will have no defense. He will be on horseback and approaching me at great speed armed with a lance, correct?
LEOFRICK: Aye, sire. Such are the standard rules of jousting...
SIR CEDRIC: Ah ha! Then I shall present myself without a horse nor a lance, standing relatively still in one spot. He would never expect me to employ such a tactic!
LEOFRICK: That's probably true...
SIR CEDRIC: Then when he gets very close, I shall pepper him with blows from my fists. Delivering damage to the body and head, inflicting punishment to the degree that he becomes disoriented and incapacitated and eventually falls to the ground unconscious. The judges, seeing him prostate at my feet for a count of, oh, say, 10 or so, will declare him unfit to continue and I will be declared champion!
LEOFRICK: I... guess that's not theoretically impossible... but he will undoubtedly still be wearing his armor, my liege.
SIR CEDRIC: Ah yes, good point! For the sake of consistency, I shall wear none. I shall fight him naked. Thank you.
LEOFRICK: That isn't why I...
SIR CEDRICK: No, you're right. I should maintain a level of modesty and decorum for the sake of the non-combatants in attendance as spectators. Instead, I shall wear the briefs you so thoughtfully got me as a Boxing Day gift.
SIR CEDRICK: It is decided. Prepare my Boxer Briefs for battle.

Sir Cedric lost his match that day, suffering a head wound the size of a jousting lance which caused all of the blood inside of his body to end up on the ground outside of  his body. Those in attendance who had placed wagers on the match were outraged and bedlam ensued. Most of the wagers were resolved via fisticuffs which probably turned into boxing at some point, I guess.

Friday, December 06, 2013

Dummies are getting dumber

There really can't be any more doubt that we are getting dumber as a society and as a species, can there? I mean, we're aggressively pursuing stupidity now. Forget that we haven't invented anything really significant (produced variations, yes; invented, no) in at least 50 years. We used to cure diseases; now we give out ribbons to kids who finish in sixth place. The kid that gets a ribbon for being a Good Participant may have the self-esteem of a champion but is not going to grow up to cure AIDS. And I'm not just beating up on America and our shortcomings. The whole world is getting dumber. For years, we've worried about how the Japanese are so much more technologically advanced than we are. A valid concern, except the Japanese have used that edge to design vending machines that dispense fresh lettuce. This is a global "We" that has hit bottom and decided to respond to that by coming up with more efficient ways to keep digging. In the 1870s, we invented the telephone. Today, we have beer cans that tell us whether the beer inside is cold or not. Also, yesterday a guy used a telephone to ask me if he should bring a 3 1/2 month old baby to a hockey game, after his doctor said it would be a bad idea.
Yep. Smart enough to seek the informed opinion of a licensed physician; not smart enough to follow his advice without getting MY opinion on the matter.
"Well, how old have you seen babies at a game?"
"Sir, I see people bring babies to hockey games all the time. But just because I've never seen one obliterated by an errant slap shot doesn't mean it couldn't happen. I've also seen people with infants at baseball games sit right behind the dugout where junior could be rendered a pulpy mass by a screaming foul ball. But just because I've seen people do that, doesn't make it a good idea. I don't know, you said you talked to a doctor. Exactly what did the person with the actual degree in medicine say?"
"He wasn't worried about the baby getting hurt. He said it would be too loud, bad for his ears."
"Okay then. There you go."
"I don't know. I really want to bring him."
"You don't think it might be a good idea to follow the doctor's advice and maybe wait a couple of years?"
"Yeah, I don't really feel like doing that."
"You know what, don't do that then. Go ahead and bring him. Bring him on a motorcycle with no helmet. Stop off for a father-and-infant-son steak dinner on the way. Not because any of those are good, smart ideas. No, do that because with you as his father, he's pretty much doomed anyway and you might well cram in some good times together before you get him killed. It's not like he would have grown up to cure AIDS or anything."

Wednesday, December 04, 2013

Vengeance, hot or cold, is delicious!

Have you ever gotten real, true revenge for a situation in which you felt like you were wronged? I don't mean an act of retaliation, which is meant to get even but in reality, usually only escalates the hostility until somebody gets either hurt or bored and calls things off. Sure, that's fun, but it doesn't rate on the satisfaction scale the way that honest-to-goodness vengeance does.

Regular readers might probably recall how I spent the better part of August and September depressed and anxious over my living situation. In particular, how I spent the 27 days between September 3rd and September 30th living in a hotel, seperated from most of my worldly possessions, my two pet cats as well as any semblance of order and stability, and how that was because the whole process seemed to get hung up on one small detail and how I could never get any good, consistent communication from the bank that was issuing the loan. It was gut-wrenching, first-person proof that small details that impact the lives of individual customers are not what the big financial institutions that govern our lives consider worthy of their attention, an ordeal I never want to repeat and wouldn't wish on anyone. Remember all that? I sure do.
Imagine my sheer terror when I received a phone call from the lender's home office in Minnesota on Friday, November 8th:
"Hi Mr. Brooks, this is Michael with Wells-Fargo. I helped close your home loan. How are you today?"
"Um... fine?"
"That's great. Listen, we were reviewing your paperwork and found a form that wasn't completed."
"Yeah, it's literally one small check box. I can fax or email it to you, you just put a check mark in that one box, initial and send it back to me and we'll be all set."
"Oh. That sounds simple."
"Yes. Unfortunately, I need to have that or I can't file your paperwork as completed."
"Is this something you need right away or...?"
"Well, the sooner the better. The company doesn't like it when we have files sitting in 'pending' status, especially when it's something easy like this."
"Am I in danger of losing my house over this?"
"Oh no, not at all. This is strictly a clerical matter."
"So we have this one minor detail that needs to be cleared up and until it is, you can't go forward. I'm the only one who can do that and the sooner I take care of it, the less stressful it will be for you. Do I have all of that correct?"
"Yes, Mr. Brooks. Exactly."
"Oh, you have no idea how much I understand your situation, Michael. And I'm thrilled to be in this position of being able to help you. Thrilled!"
"Oh. Um, okay. Well, that's good. I will send the document over via email right away then."
"Yes, yes, please! The sooner the better!"

The phone call was followed that afternoon by an email, which was followed by another on November 14th, November 18th, November 19th, November 27th. That day, another phone call...
"Hey Mr. Brooks, it's Michael with Wells Fargo."
"Oh hey Michael, how's it going?"
"Fine, fine, but I haven't received that document yet. Any reason I can't have that by the 30th?"
"Not a good one, no."
"Okay. Because it would be really great if I could get this cleared up by end-of-month."
"You got it."

I hung up and immediately did absolutely nothing. There have been a number of phone calls kind of like that. Sometimes I answer them, sometimes I don't. Early on, I claimed to have not received the document. I've also said I received it but accidentally deleted it. I've said I forgot but would do it before the end of the day. Twice, I've sent it back just like I'd received it, with no changes whatsoever. Michael got fed up with me after about ten of these exchanges and handed me off to somebody named Brett who passed me off to someone named Angela after only four. Of course, I apologize every time. I am doing it on purpose, after all. Why wouldn't I take responsibility for it since it's totally my fault? But I'm having the time of my life. To wield this kind of control via something minor over people who made my life miserable over something minor is just so poetic and beautiful that it feels like a gift bestowed upon me from a divine power. It's like having someone beating your ass with a belt stop, hand it to you and say, "Could you hold this for a second while I bend over and tie my shoe please?". They call or email every day now and I'd be lying if I said I don't get sexually aroused when my phone rings with a call from the 612 area code. If this were to go on much longer, I just know I'd eventually pick up the phone laughing. That's okay though. Today is the day I will send them the properly filled-out form, completing the minor-but-necessary steps they need to put this matter to rest exactly 27 days after they asked for it, which is exactly how many days I sat twisting and turning in a cramped hotel room, waiting for them to complete the minor-but-necessary tasks that would allow me to get on with my life or at least a straight answer as to why that wasn't happening.

Monday, December 02, 2013

Just the tip, please

There's a twist in the latest case of someone using a server's gratuity as a platform to make some sort of social statement, in that it may not have even happened.
The short story, if you don't feel like clicking the link for whatever reason, is that somebody stiffed a presumably gay server and then wrote "I'm sorry but I cannot tip because I do not agree with your lifestyle" on the receipt. Except the party in question has come forth with their copy of the receipt, as well as a credit card statement, that shows they actually didn't write any notes and in fact did leave a tip of $18 (just under 20%). So someone is lying, either to hide from their own previously-stated distasteful opinion or to unfairly cast someone in the role of bigot in order to draw attention to a cause. Both are shitty things to do and somebody in this case (probably the server, it looks like) is an asshole.
Whichever way this shakes out, let's hope it puts an end to the restaurant receipt as yet another way to get something off our chests. This has actually become something of a trend lately:

Nasty or not, how about everybody just knock it off? Because here's what most of us want from the diner/server dynamic:

  • Order food. 
  • Receive food as ordered. 
  • Eat food. 
  • Pay for food. 
  • Show some appreciation for the effort of the server in the form of a tip. 
  • Get out.

That's all there is to it. That's all any of us need. It's very simple and it's worked for centuries. Yet once again, you attention-starved grandstanders feel some kind of pathological need to get in the way and ruin a perfectly good thing for no good reason. As long as the eggs and bacon get to the table on time and on target, whether the person who brings them to you is male, female, gay, straight, old, young, black, white, fat, skinny, all or none of the above doesn't matter. It just doesn't! This is a person who exists in your life for a very short time to perform a small set of very specific tasks. If they accomplish those tasks in a satisfactory manner, they deserve to be recognized for it. If not, a complaint to the establishment's management might be in order. Regardless, this is the extent of your relationship with one another. Nothing else needs to brought into the equation. If you feel the need to express yourself, then paint or sculpt or start a blog or get a Twitter account or use all of those things to ask your mommy and daddy why they didn't love you.

Hint: You didn't deserve it.
Also, this is a picture of you as an adult.
If you can't follow those simple steps, stay out of our restaurants (diners and servers) and leave us the hell alone.