Monday, May 23, 2016

Entertainment This Week

So far this summer, my entertainment options have been limited to movies and baseball games.  And no, that’s not a complaint.  I’m doing what I enjoy. 

What with it coming up on summer blockbuster season and all, I plan to keep myself occupied.  As I’ve been at the movies and watching trailers, I’ve been making notes to myself on which titles look worth attending and which I might look for on DVD.  The list is getting pretty big, though.  I may have to whittle it down as the summer progresses.

As soon as I got home from Florida, I went to see "Captain America-Civil War."  As a fan of the Marvel movies, don’t get me wrong, it was a great movie; but I had mixed feelings about it.  I don’t like to see the Avengers fighting amongst themselves.  Much like with Batman v Superman, I don’t want to see Mommy and Daddy fighting.  Everything is much more enjoyable when they’re all on the same team, fighting bad guys.

Last Saturday I went to see “Money Monster,” with George Clooney and Julia Roberts.  You may have seen the commercials; it’s basically a hostage drama, with a side of financial malfeasance.  The premise is that Clooney does a kind of clownish investing show, sort of like Jim Cramer on CNBC, with more flash.  Julia Roberts is the director in the control room. 

During a live episode, some poor schlub, who lost his life savings by following Clooney’s advice, sneaks onto the set and slaps an explosive vest on the host and holds everyone hostage.  It was the cinematic equivalent of when Jon Stewart got Jim Cramer to come on the Daily Show and roasted him over touting Lehman Brothers long after he should have been onto the scam.

While the hostage drama has been done to death, the interesting part of this movie was how they followed the money trail to get answers on what led a giant firm’s stock to suddenly tank (causing a loss of 8 billion dollars to investors). 

Anyway, as you’d expect, both Clooney and Roberts crackle with energy, chemistry and snappy dialogue, just like you’d expect from such old pros.  You may not need to see it in in the theater but it would make a good rental.

I usually only go to the movies to see big FX-laden blockbusters, but I did it backward this weekend.  After seeing a mostly single-set, dialogue-heavy drama in the theater, I then picked up “Deadpool” on Blu-Ray to watch at home.  By my usual standards, I should have gone the other way around.

If “Antman” was a step or two lighter for a Marvel Cinematic Universe (MCU) movie, Deadpool was several leaps darker.  It was far more violent, with lots of R-rated language and gratuitous skin and sexual references.  It was also hilarious and wildly entertaining.  It fairly drips with pop culture and movie references, breaks the 4th wall repeatedly, and is by far the most cleverly written of any in the MCU.

This movie is from the X-Men corner of the MCU, rather than the Avengers side, so naturally they had a couple bottom-tier X-Men show up, which led to a line that exemplifies the kind of snark in which “Deadpool” revels.

One of the X-Men, Colossus, wants to bring Deadpool back to the School for the Gifted, to talk with founder Charles Xavier.  Deadpool quips, as he’s being dragged off, “Which one, McElvoy or Stewart?”  (James McElvoy plays Xavier in the “flashback” X-Men movies while Patrick Stewart plays him in the present day timeline.)

I love “meta” schtick so I ate this stuff up.  Ryan Reynolds was perfect as the fast-talking quipster, with mad ninja skills and the power to heal from any injury.  Of course, the downside is he looks like a 3rd-degree burn victim, and so must wear a full face mask most of the time.  In fact, in the movie, in another brilliantly meta moment, he described himself as “a cross between Ryan Reynolds and a shar-pei.”

The balance of the movie is about his efforts to find the guy who made him this way, and force him to fix his appearance, so he could get his girl back, (played by the delectable Morena Baccarin).

Anyway, great movie, but clearly this one is for the grownups and not impressionable children… or impressionable grownups, for that matter.  All I can say is that as soon as it was over, I wanted to watch it again.  (But I didn’t because the Preakness was coming on.)

I went to see three Orioles games last week, Sunday against the Tigers, then Tuesday and Thursday against the Mariners.  The O’s lost all three (after winning the first four I attended), so I’m on a bad mojo streak.  Went by myself on Sunday and sat in the lower bowl, down the 3rd baseline.  Tuesday, I went with Sitcom Kelly, who had her mom’s company seats behind home plate.  (Of course, it drizzled the entire game.)

On Thursday, though, the Orioles were playing their only home weekday afternoon game of the year.  I like to take at least one “Ferris Bueller” day every season, so this one had to be it. 

“Sa-wing, batta!”

I sat among a lively group, including a cute 40-something woman attending with her parents (sitting in front of me) and a nice young couple of recent college graduates beside me. 

We were in row 7 of the lower bowl between 1st base and the outfield wall and I was the 2nd seat from the.  In the aisle seat, there was an old baseball “lifer,” which I surmised from the bag of snacks he brought and the battered baseball glove.  He never said a word the entire time.

Around the 4th or 5th inning, he got up and headed up the stairs.  A minute or so later, the lady behind me tapped me on the shoulder and asked if I knew the guy on the end. 

I said, “No, why?

She said, “Because he just fell down on the stairs here.”

I looked and there he was, lying in the aisle about 2 steps up from our row.  The ushers were attending to him and eventually got him on his feet and took him, I presume, to an ambulance. 

But on the bright side, I got some elbow room.

I had thoughts about asking out the woman with her parents.  She didn’t have a ring on and she seemed to spend a good deal of time turning around and talking to me, but I thought better of it.

First, she was there with her parents.  There must be some kind of rule about asking a girl out in front of her folks.

But more importantly, some other big-head dude came and sat with her for a couple of innings.  They seemed mighty familiar with each other, but not overly so.  I thought he might have been a brother, but he pretty much ignored the parents and only said perfunctory goodbyes.  Anyway, it was enough to spook me out of the moment.

Still, we had a lot of fun for the afternoon.  That’s why I keep going to games by myself.  You never know who you’re going to meet.

With all my regular TV shows winding up for the season, I’ve been relying on DVDs to fill in the holes in my life viewing schedule.  Last month, I picked up the first 2 seasons of Ally McBeal.  Yes, I know that doesn’t seem like something I’d watch, but I started with it during the first episode back in 1997 and watched every week until it was canceled. 

It was kind of like LA Law on hallucinogens… Law office staffed by weird, neurotic, gorgeous people.  I absolutely adore Calista Flockhart and might have even formulated plans to win her for myself, but unfortunately, she’s married to Harrison Ford.  And nobody steals Indiana Jones’s girl.  Or Han Solo’s or President Marshall’s.  So that’s pretty much a dead end.

(Funny aside: Calista Flockhart played Supergirl’s boss on “Supergirl,” and in one scene, she comes into the office talking on her cell phone, “You tell Harrison Ford I’m not going out with him.  He’s too… OLD. And too married.”  I love that meta shit.)

In the second season, they added Portia de Rossi and Lucy Liu to the cast.  First of all, I forgot how smoking hot a young Lucy Liu was as “Ling.”  RAWR! 

But Portia de Rossi’s character, Nell?  I almost did a spit-take when she came on.

Nell had a very strong resemblance to my old college roommate, “Diane,” who you may remember from my “Summer of Bow-Chicka-Wow-Wow” posts.  I don’t know how I never saw it before, during the original run.  And then Nell mentioned how she’s turned on by sex in public.  Almost choked.

I had to sit for a minute and figure out if there was any possible way “Diane” could have given up her career as a technical writer and gone to Hollywood to seek fame and fortune (and Ellen Degeneres) as Portia de Rossi.  (There was not a possible way… the ages don’t line up and Portia is Australian.)

Anyway, it’s been enjoyable to watch again.  Eventually, I’ll pick up the next season, but in the meantime, I just ordered two more shows to fill up my unplanned nights, “The Unbreakable Kimmy Schmidt,” and “House of Cards” (1st seasons for both).

Both are Netflix series so I haven’t had the opportunity to watch.  But everyone has told me I’d love House of Cards, which I don’t doubt. And Tina Fey produced Kimmy Schmidt, so I’m sure I’ll like that one too.

Next time I’m this hard up for ideas, I’ll let you know.

Monday, May 16, 2016

Hurry Up and Wait

Everyone knows that Comcast has a terrible reputation for customer service; we’ve all seen the horror stories recounted online.  Nevertheless, I decided to get (deeper) into bed with them and naturally, there’s a story.

It all started with my crappy Verizon internet service.  Starting last October, upload and download speed slowed to a crawl.  In fact, it was slower than my old pre-2004 dial-up service.  It would literally take several minutes for a simple Facebook screen to load.  When measured, I was getting about 1 MB or less per minute.

Because I hadn’t changed anything settings, I believe they were trying to give me the squeeze.  See, I’ve had the same uncapped internet service since 2004, for $30 per month.  They weren’t making much on me, that’s for sure.  I’ve heard from internet message boards that they’ve been known to throttle service to prod the consumer to call them, where they then are sold a more expensive data package, usually with data caps.

So I figured, rather than fight with Verizon over this, I’d use it as a cost-saving opportunity and let Comcast sell me a cable/internet/phone Triple Play package.  I’d been paying Comcast $155/month for cable and Verizon about $100/month for phone and internet, so if they could come across with something for under $255/month, I’d be in Fat City.

(Yes, I know that’s already a lot for cable, but they get you for everything… HD service, DVR service, HBO, sports package for NFL and NHL channels plus Big Ten Network.  Plus the laundry list of fees and taxes; it adds up.)

So, Friday, April 1st, (I should have known), I called to pull the trigger.  Sales rep quoted me a price of $177.92 for internet/phone/cable, including HBO and Starz.  Said it would go up by $10 after a year.  I didn’t even care about Starz, but what the hell?  I’d be saving about $80 per month.  Unfortunately, they didn’t have any installation openings until the following Friday.  But no worries… I’d just work from home that day.

They would contact Verizon to port over my phone number, but first I had to call them to unfreeze it.  In years prior, I had my phone service “slammed,” wherein a third party changes my phone service to their own, on my behalf… without my permission.  So I had Verizon freeze my account so I’d have to call personally to approve any changes.

The next evening, someone from Comcast called me to see if I’d removed the freeze yet.  I hadn’t.  I told them I would on Monday.

There was another message on my machine when I came home from work on Monday, asking if I’d made the call.  So I made the call and then called Comcast back, at the number I was provided for this purpose, to tell them my account was unfrozen.

The next Friday came and I didn’t hear a peep from anyone during my appointed “window,” from 10:00 to 12:00.  About 1:00, I called in and learned they had cancelled the installation… without bothering to tell me.  They couldn’t even tell me why it was cancelled.  But they said they could get a guy out the next day, on Saturday.  The rep was very nice about it all.

The installer came out at the specified time and got me all hooked up.  He had to do run some cable because it comes into my apartment at the opposite side of the main room from the computer.  The cable would have to cross my sliding glass doors and my front door, so he stapled it up over the doorways, running it up along the ceiling rather than down by the baseboards.  (I made sure they brought white cable.)  I wish he would have tucked it in a little better, though.
Everything worked when he left.  TV was up, I had a new remote, internet service was crisp and fast, and my phone worked, albeit with a temporary phone number until they could port over my original phone number.

The first thing I noticed was that when my temp number was called, only the phone plugged into the new modem rang.  But when my original number was called, it rang on the phone in my bedroom (an old corded phone I have for emergencies and power outages).

Unfortunately, this arrangement remained long after my number original number should have been active.  I then spent the next two weeks calling Comcast to ask them to fix it.  All the while they were very nice and quite polite.  And each time, I was given a date 2-3 days in the future when everything would work as advertised.

Finally, three weeks after installation, my phones were in working order.  Well, except for the one in the bedroom.  They never mentioned that the wall jacks would no longer work.  Had to figure that one out myself. 

In order to keep a phone in the bedroom, I’d have to get a new phone set.  I didn’t mind that because one of my wireless handsets was getting wonky and I really didn’t like that landline phone.  It had belonged to Temporary Girlfriend and much like her, it was clunky, inefficient and didn’t work out as advertised.

So late last week, I got my first bill… for $427!  I was like, “Are you fucking kidding me?

I found the problem right away.  They were billing me for two full bundles; one with Starz and one with HBO.  Plus, they had me down for a pro-rated amount that almost matched what I was already paying just for the cable.

So, I had to call Comcast again, this time from work.  I talked with a very nice rep, who agreed that I had been double billed and incorrectly assessed my pro-rated amount.  She gave me a new figure, which I asked to have emailed to me.  I’m certain that when I pay this new amount, my next bill will contain an “overdue” portion, with late fees.  I wanted proof of my new amount.

She also wondered why my original pricing was only for 1 year.  She said they didn’t even HAVE a Triple Play package that featured both HBO and Starz.  I said I really didn’t care about the Starz; that was what the first rep volunteered.  She also said it would go up by $60 after a year and not $10.  Both reps told me that when the time comes, to call back and arrange a new package to avoid the upcharge.

She ended up comping me not only Starz but Showtime as well.  (I still have to check and see if I’m actually getting it.)  All told, I should be looking at a monthly bill of around $190, which will be a $60/month savings if her quote is actually true.

See, I have to wonder about that because when I finally did get that email, it said my bill was $10 higher than the rep quoted me.  And even after I paid the bill, my new Comcast app still shows a bill for $427.

When I got home from work that night, I went to watch something I’d DVRd over vacation and what do I find?  DVR service was not working.

So I had to call fucking Comcast AGAIN.  I think that’s how I’m going to enter their number into my new phone directory: Fucking Comcast. 

By now I know all the recorded prompts…

We have an address associated with this phone number, is it…”


UFC 130 is this Saturday. Do you want information on…”


I talked to another very helpful representative and it seemed when they updated my package, they hadn’t included DVR service.  So there was the extra $10.  He got me back in the game, though.  For now.

I know Comcast is cognizant of their reputation for lousy customer service so they try to be extra polite.  But that’s not their problem.  From my experience, it’s not the attitude of their reps but a total inability to follow through on what they say they’re going to do.  Besides all the issues I just told you about, I was promised an email describing my situation during each conversation I had with them.  The only email I ever got, ever, was that last one with my adjusted bill.

And each time they promised an email, they’d ask for an address and I’d give them my new Comcast address, which they’d just set up.  Every time.  Where did this information go, a black hole?  The last guy even started out by saying, “I see we don’t have an email address for you.

I wanted to pimp-slap him right through the phone line.

Anyway, I assumed knew what I was getting into with these guys, but I obviously underestimated that amount of follow up I’d need to get this thing going correctly.  In the end, you just have to be more stubborn than they are.  I don’t think I’m going to change anything again until I’m retired.  Then I’ll have nothing better to do than fight with the cable company.

Last Saturday, I thought I had one more atrocity to report… When I was about half-done charging up my new cordless phones, I saw the readout said “No line,” and when I checked, I didn’t have a dial tone.  Thinking I’d done something wrong, I looked at the instructions and I saw a line that said, “If you subscribe to telephone service from a cable company or a VoIP service provider, contact your cable/VoIP service provider for more information.


But then I noticed that my internet was down and the cable was out too.  I figured they either bombed out my whole account or there was an area-wide service issue.  After calling in, I heard a recording saying it was the latter.  Whew.

That’s when they recommended getting their phone app, so I could track the expected repair time.  It was pretty nifty, I’ll give them that.  And it also has your current charges, so that’s how I know how much they think my next bill will be.
But has anyone else ever been relieved to hear there was a complete cable/internet/phone outage in their area?  Service ended up coming back after another couple of hours.  No harm done.

And thankfully, no more calls to Comcast.  At least until I get that Balance Due notice for that $427…

Tuesday, May 10, 2016

What I Did on my Summer Vacation Pt 1

As is my custom, I went down to see the folks in Florida over Mother’s Day weekend, Thursday through Tuesday.  (Hence no post last night.)

I had a couple nice surprises on the flight down.  First off, I scored the coveted “Empty Middle Seat!”  "Wahoo!  Armrest, you’re all mine!"  The other cool thing was that I was in a brand new 737-900ER.  The overhead luggage racks folded way up out of head-bumping range, AND, there was a cool, interactive video touch screen on the back of every seatback.

Not only could you track where you are and get all the flight data, it offered games, music and video streaming.  Not that I used any of that, but it was a nice diversion.

On the second leg into Pensacola, I had no such luck.
“Where is my damn touch screen?”

I get spoiled so easily.

You know, every time I see the wing flaps come up upon landing, I expect to see clothes and luggage come flying out.

Random question: I wonder how many celebrities I’ve passed in airports, without noticing, because I was so focused on getting where I had to go?  I’m usually pretty focused on my destination.

This day, I had about an hour and a half to kill so I figured I’d get lunch.  I then had the best fried chicken I've had in years. Who knew it would be from a place in the Atlanta airport?  Crispy, tasty and juicy all the way through.

Funny, I just wanted something light. My Airport Eats app said there was a Nathan's on my concourse. I figured a couple of dogs would be just right; I'd have something to do to kill the time without ruining the big dinner I was anticipating upon my arrival.

I went to where the app said it was, but no Nathan's. Checked the terminal map, which confirmed it. So I had to troll for someplace else to park it and grab a bite.

Then I saw this Southern Fried Chicken place, Pascal’s, and once the smell hit me, it was all over. I only ordered a 2-piece, which I thought would be light. Then I saw it came with two sides. And a biscuit.

Oh well, I tried.

And somehow, I managed to eat dinner too.  Oy.

Going down to see my parents isn’t exactly a thrill-a-minute ride (nor do I want it to be).  But each day we usually have one particular event or excursion to do.  On Friday, it was going down to Joe Patti’s fish market.

Subtlety is their middle name.

The place was jammed and I could see why.  There was a huge assortment of fish laid out on ice.  I swear, with this many fresh fish options, I could give up meat.

After Joe Patti’s we went to a place called Five Sisters Blues Café.  Wouldn’t you know, they also specialize in fried chicken and blues music.  So I had some more tremendous fried chicken.  (Dad had a rack of ribs, which were also delectable.)  Sorry I’m omitting so many food pictures… by the time I thought to snap a pic, the meal was gone.

We got home in time to put on the Buccos game.  I rarely get to see the Pirates play, but Dad has the MLB package and on Central Time, the games start early.  Was nice to catch up.

Because we were all pretty jammed, it was a light dinner of crock pot back macs and salad.

Many childhood memories are contained within a crock pot.

By Saturday, I remembered that maybe I should enjoy the pool! 

My last couple of visits, the weather was pretty crappy. But this week, it was absolutely glorious out.  No clouds, blue sky, all week.  Score!

Even the famous Weather Stick was pointed in the right direction.  (Or maybe it was just glad to see me.)

I’ve always enjoyed watching all the geckos run around in the backyard, but this week, I learned that my mom is naming them.  There’s Maurice, Cecil, Marcel and Cedrick (pronounced Ceedrick).  I don’t know why they’re all boys and skew European.  I guess when you’re retired, you have time to work on stuff like this.

I’m not sure Mom can tell them apart, though.  My theory is that the first one she sees on a given day becomes Maurice, and the others are named from there.  They probably fight over who gets to be Maurice that day, because Mom says he’s the one in charge.

TV was the big excursion for Saturday… The Buccos came on even earlier, then there was the Kentucky Derby followed by the Penguins playoff game vs the Capitals.  For such an auspicious occasion, Dad broke out the good stuff:

Woodford Reserve Bourbon Whiskey.

This stuff was seriously smoooooth.  Probably the best bourbon I’ve ever had.  Thanks Dad!

The Penguins played the night before I left for Florida and the night I came home.  There was only one game while I was there, which meant I only had to bring one game jersey.  For once events conspired to help me pack light.

My carefully selected game jersey mojo failed me though, as the Pens went down in flames.  I’m going to have to sit in another chair next time I’m there for a game.  Pittsburgh never wins anything when I’m watching from the folks’ house.

Mother’s Day was Sunday but that didn’t keep my folks from making their weekly pilgrimage to Walgreen’s.  If they don’t show up Sunday, the cashiers start calling the hospitals.

After some more pool time, Dad grilled some steaks to go with Mom’s chicken, sautéed mushrooms and roasted potatoes. 

We tend to pick the “off days” to go down to the beach, so that was our Monday excursion.  We had lunch at a new place right on the beach, beside the pier.

Their fries were kind of strange… I’ve had curly fries before, but these were like curly wedges. 

It was like you had to corkscrew them into your mouth.

It was conveniently placed so that we could enjoy a post-lunch mosey along the pier.

Shot from the pier, you can see why they call this the Emerald Coast.

There’s a lot of weird stuff on the pier, from excessive signing explaining the myriad of things you’re not allowed to do, to this guy.

I think this is a warning to prospective kitchen help, demonstrating what happens if you screw up an order.

Tuesday was the first rainy day of my trip and luckily, that’s the day I came home.  (I heard through the grapevine that the weather stick looked very sad to see me go.  Not so sure about the parents, though…)

You may think that all we did over this trip was swim, run menial errands, watch TV, have cocktails and eat… Well, that IS what we did; what’s it to ya?  That’s my kind of vacation.

Thanks, Mom and Dad, for the great good hospitality!  Tell the geckos I’ll miss them.

Director's DVD Commentary: Part 2 of this series will continue after my annual Ohio vacation, this August.

Monday, May 2, 2016

The Benefits of a Highly Attuned Bullshit Filter

One of the best things about getting older is that you’ve had a lot of practice at sniffing out deception from sales clerks, public service reps and other people you encounter throughout your day.  It can turn you into a really suspicious SOB, that’s for sure.  But it comes in handy.

Take, for example, a couple of weeks ago when I was heading home from work via the Baltimore Metro subway.

When I got down to the underground platform at the Shot Tower stop, I heard them making an announcement.  Not that I could actually hear what they were saying.  Even after I took my earphones out, it sounded like Charlie Brown’s teacher: “Whonk whonk whonk…”

Everyone else must have understood, though, because they all started heading back up to ground level.  I joined them but when I stopped at the little glassed-in room where the attendant is, she was hollering to the crowd, “The subway is closed.  Please go to the nearest bus stop up on the street.  They know what is going on and will take you where you need to go.  And I am NOT taking any questions.”

OK, there’s so much to dissect there, but first off, you’re “not taking any questions???”  What kind of civil servant are you?  There’s mass confusion here and you’re actively promoting it by withholding information!  So that got me all jammed up right off the bat.

Still, I waited until the crowd thinned out a bit and she started talking with more people.  Ever the rebel, I dared to ask a question, “Did you say the whole subway line is shut down, or just this station?

She said the whole subway was shut down.

That got my BS detector pinging.  I figured, there are only two things that will shut down the entire system.  One is a massive, area-wide power failure (which we obviously weren’t having).  The other would be a bomb threat.

While a bomb threat was certainly possible, I thought it was highly unlikely.  Why would anyone care about our piddley one-route subway line, when you’ve got a much more expansive and widely used subway system right down the road in Washington?  Or one that was much more heavily traveled in New York City?

Nah, something was off here.  Most likely, someone fell or jumped onto the tracks and ate a subway car.  It wouldn’t be the first time.

The other thing that I was skeptical about was that crap about just going to the nearest bus stop and waiting for a bus, who would know what’s going on and where to take everyone.  Huge, steaming pile of BS, right there.

Each bus has its own route and there are dozens of them running throughout the day.  What are the odds that the closest particular bus is going to run in the direction I need to go?  Minimal, if you ask me.  I was NOT going to go get on some random bus.  Lord knows in what kind of urban hellscape I might end up?

So I came up out of the subway and began to consider my options.  One of them was to walk about a block and then jump on the east/west Charm City Circulator line to take me over to the light rail.  (The Circulator is a free commuter bus service for downtown Baltimore.  The light rail is a 2-car on-road rail line, powered by overhead electrical lines.  It runs straight north/south through Baltimore and the surrounding areas.)

So as I was waiting for the Circulator, it dawned on me, “Dummy, this is no good.  So what if you get to the light rail?  Your car is still at the subway parking lot!  You’d still be stranded.”  (The subway and light rail only intersect near Lexington Market, in downtown Baltimore.  My home neighborhood is another 10-12 miles north.)

I stepped away from the Circulator stop and decided to go back to the subway.  I figured I might be able to pull out some more information.  The MTA website was no help.  Service had been shut down for 20 minutes and they still showed “On Time” status for the subway.  Useless.

When I got back to the subway, there were two guards at the top of the escalator, preventing people from entering the station.  There were several clusters of people standing around, peering at their cell phones.  I went up closer to the guards and overheard them tell another passenger that the problem was at the next station over, Charles Center, where they thought someone got hit by a train.

Aha!  Just as I thought.  This is highly relevant because I know for a fact that whenever there’s any kind of incident at a subway stop, they just close off that stop and continue service on either side.  They either provide a bus to bridge the gap or fly straight through without stopping at the station in question.

My original plan was back in play.  As I was reasoning it out, I was joined by another commuter, a woman with a nice “Island” accent.  She asked what was going on, I told her what I’d heard, and what I was considering next.

I told her I was going to jump on the Circulator Orange Route, take it the 11 blocks west, then walk a few blocks north to Lexington Market station and catch the subway on the other side of the station closure.  She wasn’t familiar with the Circulator routes, so I invited her along.  It’s much more fun to have a travel buddy.

So that’s what we did and it worked like a charm.  Once we got to Lexington Market, we heard several more versions of what happened back at Charles Center.  It’s funny how word travels on the street.

When these things happen, the MTA never tells you anything, like they’re afraid of getting sued, or of bad publicity.  I think it would help their cause if they could demonstrate that they were truthful and cooperative, rather than dishonest and evasive.

The Lexington Market station was crowded with others who were scrambling to find their ways home.  We saw two trains heading back in the direction from whence we came before one finally came along from the right direction.  Of course, it was packed, but by that time, I was happy to jam onboard under any conditions.

All along, I knew I could use this occasion to try Uber for the first time, but I kind of kept that in my back pocket.  I’d rather demo Uber when I’m not in a state of duress, but I knew I could always use it if nothing else panned out.  But as it was, I went from “Holy shit, I’m stranded downtown with no way home,” to getting on the train at another station an hour later.

I’ll take it.  I know many people who have had it worse when faced with an unexpected subway closure.  But it would have been so much worse for me if I hadn’t disregarded almost everything I was told by subway “officials.”

At work the next day, I talked to some people who DID get on the bus and they said those bus drivers didn’t know squat about what was going on.  They didn’t even know how to get where they were supposed to go… the passengers had to direct them.  It was a total clusterfuck.

There was practically no coverage of the incident in the local media.  The only thing we found was a short blurb from a minor news page, giving only the minimum of information; someone jumped onto the tracks, was hit, but survived.

The important part, of course, was that I was inconvenienced during my daily commute... LOL.

No, really, the reason I’m telling this tale is to highlight the importance of a healthy skepticism.  Public officials lie to us, misdirect, or obfuscate constantly, so it behooves us to develop a stringent BS filter.  If someone tells you something that seems too good to be true, especially given the general incompetence of those they’re talking about, it should be sifted through the filter and disregarded.

Or else the next thing you know, you could be trapped on a crowded bus heading for parts unknown.  It’s enough to make you want to jump on the tracks yourself.

Monday, April 25, 2016

Debunkery - The Floral Print Edition

Sometimes debunking conservative memes is like shooting fish in a barrel.  Like with this one:

This is how you know that conservatives just don’t understand the situation.  People like Klinger, who last I checked, isn’t even a real person, aren’t the ones fighting for the right to use the women’s restroom. (Let alone hiding out in there and waiting to ambush women.)

MASH was a TV comedy and Klinger was a joke.  (Except for being a Toledo Mudhens and Tony Packo’s hot dog fan; that was totally legit.)  Using this character to back up prejudicial claims shows how weak a hand they’re trying to play.  It’s another symptom of the general GOP promotion of ignorance.  The truth is complicated, but everyone can understand biased generalizations (with a touch of dick fear).

The people affected by this issue are those with recognized psychological conditions… they identify, usually from birth, as a member of the opposite sex.  They live their lives as they feel they were meant to be, often times going through surgery or hormonal therapy.  These aren’t just dudes traipsing around in a dress for the hell of it.

Again I say, show me where there’s been an attack in a women’s restroom by a guy wearing women’s clothing.  It’s just not happening.  Fox “News” even admitted that this is a solution in search of a problem.   But I wouldn’t put it past conservatives to send some guys in dresses out into the women’s rooms just to make a scene, so they can go, “See?  There it is. We told you so.”

I think this is a bunch of rednecks finding a way to send some select “prey” into the men’s rooms for the sole purpose of getting their asses kicked.  Transgendered men living as women are the only ones at risk in this whole equation.

And I’m pretty sure that’s exactly the way Republicans want it.


Going hand in hand with the Klinger meme, I also spotted this one:

First off, this isn’t necessarily a conservative meme, although the person who posted it definitely was.  The bottom half is all about Congress and an appeal for term limits, using the Social Security system as a wedge.  But what pissed me off was the opening line about the media.  That’s a traditional “Kill the messenger” GOP strategy.

The thing is, it wasn’t the media that wrote and passed these repressive “bathroom laws,” it was the Republicans.  It’s the media’s job to report on what politicians do, especially when there is an uproar about it, and that’s what they’re doing. 

If a state government passes and enacts a law in a two-day span that’s so reprehensible that major business abort plans there and national touring acts cancel shows, in what world is that not going to be reported?  Not to do so would be a gross dereliction of duty on the part of the media.

What I ask instead is: why is a governmental body so concerned about so few people?  The number of transgendered Americans is estimated to be about 700,000, or 0.3% of the population.  Contrast that with the estimated number of LGB Americans, which is 8 million, or 3.5%.

Think in personal terms.  I can name (after a minute of consideration) more than a half dozen gay or lesbian friends or acquaintances (not including their significant others).  But the number of trans people?  None.  Maybe I’m sheltered (I don’t think so), but I don’t know any. 

Maybe that’s why it seems so easy for people to shit on trans people… they don’t know any and therefore, don’t really understand the condition or surrounding issues.  People fear what they don’t understand.

It was the same with gays for the longest time; then the more people came out, the more people who knew them changed their attitudes, until we are finally where we’re at today, in terms of acceptance.  (Which is not all the way there, by any means, but a hell of a lot further than we used to be.)

The meme is right on one thing: legislation like this bathroom law IS a distraction issue; it’s just that it’s not those reporting the issue at fault; it’s the creators of the issues.  They know as long as we’re fighting over self-created problems, we’re not looking for solutions to real problems from an ineffective government.

Monday, April 18, 2016

More Quick Hits and Odd Bits

Hey Bluz, what do you think about…

…the boycott of North Carolina?  National politics gets an awful lot of attention but the real news is happening at the local level.  Once you have one-party rule between a governor and state representative bodies, just about anything can get put into law.

That’s what happened with this mess in North Carolina, where the legislature borrowed language from a conservative website (specializing in creating legal language for use in bills), rammed it through the legislature in a single day and had the governor sign it the next day.

This wildfire process was executed because the city of Charlotte dared to pass their own “equal protections” law, which included discrimination shields for sexual orientation and gender identification.  The state law contained a whole slew of rollbacks, including the infamous “bathroom of your biological origin” edict.  It also banned municipalities from instituting their own protections, banned people for suing the state over the issue, and just for shits and giggles, prevented any municipality from raising its minimum wage.

Because the country has progressed so far in accepting the existence of gays and transgenders, (especially among the young, money-spending generations), businesses have stepped up to the plate to take direct actions in sanctioning the state.

PayPal and Deutsche Bank abandoned plans to build facilities there.  CEOs of more than 80 corporations signed a letter condemning the law and hinted at taking further action.  Several music acts have cancelled shows, including Bruce Springsteen, and Ringo Starr.

In response, the governor issued an “executive order,” which he claimed addressed the concerns of those opposed to the law.  Unfortunately, the executive order doesn’t really do anything to change the conditions on the ground or in the bathrooms.

I really don’t get this whole bathroom thing. Why are conservatives so obsessed about who’s in the bathroom?  They claim it’s all about safety, but that’s about as valid as their claim that their Voter ID laws are all about stopping voter fraud.

It seems to me they’re running in a blind panic over the prospect that there are people out there who they don’t understand in the least, and who might have to pee.  Like with the “voter fraud” issue, they’re putting out draconian laws designed to prevent a problem that’s not really a problem.

Show me one headline about some guy dressed like a girl, camping out in the bathroom with the intent to harm or perv on the other bathroom users.  You can’t.  It’s a solution in search of a problem, which just happens (coincidentally!) to go hand in hand with a Bible Belt government trying merge church and state... and making sure gays don't get too big for their britches.

You think a trans guy dressed as a woman is going to feel safe in the men's room?  I'm sure that's part of the plan too... GOP Trans Therapy!  By getting their asses kicked in men's rooms, someone just might knock some sense into them.

Maybe cooler heads will prevail in North Carolina when enough economic pressure is brought to bear, but I doubt it.  You can’t pressure ideologues. 

Just look at Kansas.  Their entire state is falling apart due directly to unchallenged Republican leadership instituting Republican tax and budget policies.  Within a year of said changes, they have a huge deficit and no money for education or infrastructure.  But have they reversed course?  Absolutely not.  Have you ever heard a Republican admit a mistake?  You think there’s any possible way they’ll admit that top-side, trickle-down economics works for anyone but the top side?

I just wonder what’s going to happen in Mississippi.  They passed a law similar to North Carolina’s, but as far as I can see, there’s nowhere near the same corporate disincentive effort going on.  I suspect it’s because there aren’t that many businesses looking to move into Mississippi in the first place. 

…Axl Rose joining AC/DC to finish off their current tour?  I was really hoping it wouldn’t come to this.  I mean, Axl Rose is a great lead singer… for Guns & Roses.  I heard a clip on the radio this morning, of Angus Young joining G&R on stage at Coachella over the weekend, to play “Whole Lotta Rosie.”  Axl sounded great.  But he’s a head case.

AC/DC is known for soldiering on under any circumstances.  They show up, they play their asses off, rock your world, and move on to the next town.  They’re professionals.

Guns & Roses history has been littered with inconsistency and unreliability, mostly due to their temperamental lead singer.  If you have tickets to a G&R show, you never know when (or if) it’s going to start.  You’re lucky if it’s only an hour or so late.

I was kind of hoping they’d find some guy in an AC/DC tribute band and give him the gig.  Maybe they could have gotten two… one to do the Bon Scott song and one to do Brian Johnson. 

…the Fart Barrier?  Last month, I saw this article online, which trumpeted the headline: “Here’s When it’s OK to Start Openly Farting in a Relationship.” 

I was probably overly optimistic that it would prove in any way useful, but I couldn’t pass up that kind of click-bait.  Turned out to be a small survey (only 129 responses), which showed a whole myriad of opinions.

Two descriptions are missing: Red 7% wedge at the top- “I will never, ever fart in front of a significant Other.” Purple 8% wedge- “Other.”

My answer would probably be to wait to see how my significant other handles it.  I’ve had a variety of scenarios in the past.  One would fart any time she felt the need, to the point where we’d be sitting on the couch and I’d have to say, “Hon, would you please point that thing the other way?  I can feel the lesions forming on my lungs.”

Another basically denied she even had a digestive system of any kind, so any acknowledgement to the contrary was met with a withering stare.  As far as she was concerned, her asshole was there merely for ornamental purposes.  (And no, I don’t mean ME!)

Anyway, I don’t have anything much to say on the subject… I just can’t believe that someone actually put forth the effort into a fart survey.  I think it probably started as a bar argument and blasted out from there.

…the Light City show you saw getting set up when you were showing Kernut around the Harbor?  Right, as we were walking around the Harbor back in late March, we saw the set-up in progress for a big light show extravaganza.  So when the exhibition opened that week, Sitcom Kelly and I had a happy hour and then took a walk down through the exhibits to see what we could see.

The verdict?  Some things were really cool, others were kind of ‘meh.’  I think the bottom line was that there should have been more things to see.  Or maybe we just didn’t go far enough, because it was crowded and kind of cold out.  But here are a couple of the cool things we saw:

This was my favorite.

We saw these being set up on Saturday and they were all white in the daylight.  At night, they changed colors throughout.

Old Glory, via little boats.

This was the 7-Foot Knoll Lighthouse that Kernut was so keen to see, with sheets of lights hung from it, which functioned like a scoreboard light display.

This was Sitcom Kelly’s favorite exhibit.

…the Penguins’ Stanley Cup run?  I’ll spare you the dedicated jersey mojo post this year because there was a game changer. 

Ever since I got these two jerseysin March, the Penguins went 13-2 when I was wearing them.  The black Malkin was 6-1 and the white Ron Francis was 7-1, with the loss coming in the last game, played with 6 starters missing.  I’m obviously going to work these two jerseys throughout the playoffs, assuming they survive the Rangers series (which is tied 1-1)

But it was a strange season, mojo-wise.  My main “away” jersey, a white Sidney Crosby, was 0-8.  The only reason I kept going back to it was because my only other current white jersey belongs to a player who’s gone.

I also spent 20 games wearing no jersey at all.  Granted, most of those were late-starting, west coast games, but there was a number of games where I just didn’t feel like getting up to change, or I wasn’t at home.  Or I was watching something more compelling on network TV.  Turned out the Pens went 10-10 when I wasn’t wearing a jersey.  Dressing neutrally ensured a neutral result.  Huh. 

That’s science right there.

Monday, April 11, 2016

How You Can Tell if I'm Losing my Shit

I’m so happy to see baseball season here again!  I’ve been to two games so far, Wednesday night and Sunday afternoon.

This year, I resolved not to make the mistake of buying tickets when they first go on sale.  Every time I do that; when game day comes, it’s crappy out.  So this year I vowed not to buy any tickets until I’ve seen a weather forecast.  I went Wednesday because it was the first game after Opening Day and I was pretty antsy to go see a game.

It’s funny… Opening Day drew a sellout crowd… 44,000-plus people.  The very next game?  Not so much.

Attendance announced at 12,600. Most were dressed as empty seats.

What a difference between the first and second games of the year.

I had a nice spot, 1st row of the upper deck, behind home plate.  But it was cold and windy and I was rapidly having less fun as the night went on.  With the Orioles up 4-1, I made a break for it in the 6th inning and was home in time to watch the end.

Sunday, I saw it would still be cold, but sunny.  Game time temperature was about 48.  But I bought a seat where I knew I’d be in the sun the whole time; 3rd row up from the left field wall.  It was fun and I got on TV again.  (I’d run the picture but due to my Orioles hoodie, I’m only identifiable as a big orange blob.)

These two games were the first times I ever tried to use the “iPhone Wallet” app.  When I got my tickets, I had the options to print or add to Wallet app, or both.  I did both, for a couple of reasons.

First, I wanted to try the Wallet app because it’s the new shiny thing.  And it’s easier to deal with than trying to fish the paper ticket out of my pocket.  I have to have my phone out of my pocket anyway, when I go through the entrance metal detector.

My e-ticket from Sunday.

But I still like to have the paper ticket for the souvenir and for tradition.  Having both means of ticketing allows me to have a backup system in case something goes wrong, like if I lose the paper ticket or my phone runs out of juice.  (I won’t even consider the possibility of losing the phone.)

As you may know, I keep all my stubs and after the game, record the score and attendance on them.  Sitcom Kelly and I have had extensive conversations about my ticketing quirks, for example, that I don’t like printing paper tickets (although not so much that I forego the convenience of buying tickets online over getting standard cardboard tickets from the box office). 

The paper tickets are printed on a full page; then after the game, I cut out the “ticket-shaped” portion for permanent storage.  I always print them in color too; the better to simulate a traditional ticket stub.

Last summer, Sitcom Kelly and I were going to a game and she ordered our tickets online.  When she gave them to me, she said, “Sorry, there’s a fold in the ticket.”

I said, “That’s OK, I’ll smooth it out with the iron when I get home.”

I was totally joking, but she never even questioned it.  She just assumed it was just another one of those weird things I do.  She’s so used to all my strange habits and quirks; she figured this was just one more.

It cracked me up because it made me wonder what exactly I’d have to do in order for my friends to think I lost my marbles.  See, it wouldn’t be the normal stuff… It’d have to be on a whole different plane.

So as a public service... or rather, a personal service, here’s a list of ways you can tell if Bluz’s elevator is no longer going all the way to the top:

  • You see him eating vegetables with more than one syllable.
  • He only takes one trip through the buffet line.
  • He watches PBS.
  • He finds his car in a crowded parking lot, right away.
  • He turns on a Top-40 radio station.  Or any radio station.
  • He books a trip to a third-world country.  On purpose.
  • You hear him say, “No, I don’t want another drink.”
  • He says something nice about the Baltimore Ravens.
  • Wears an item of clothing without mojo implications, on game day.
  • He answers the phone when the caller ID says “Unavailable.”
  • He approaches a stranger and starts a conversation.
  • He goes for a drive.
  • He turns on a golf match on TV.
  • He opens the hood of his car, without jumper cables or windshield washer fluid in his hands.
  • He puts small, decorative pillows on the bed.
  • You see him cleaning behind a large appliance or piece of furniture.
  • He’s jogging.

Please; if you should witness this or any similar activity, please summon a representative from the Charm City Home for the Bewildered.

Monday, April 4, 2016

The Royal We

I could not WAIT to tell you about this, but alas, I had to because my day with Kernut had to come first.  But still, get a load of the dream I had last week.

I dreamt I was the recently-crowned King of a small African country.

Seriously!  I couldn't believe it my own self!

But you know how it is with dreams... No matter how far-fetched and ridiculous, in the dream, it all makes perfect sense and you just go with it.  And I totally went with it.  Here's how it went.

The dream began with me being set up in a kind of kingly bedroom/ready room, just off the main "throne room."  It wasn't traditionally opulent, but it was nice, like a very old but upscale hotel suite.  It was kind of dark, with plush drapery.  And that's when it hit me that I was now King of an African nation.  Which nation?  I have no idea. For purposes of this post, I'll call it "Burundi," as referenced in the 1993 movie, "Dave."
 "They know hats in Burundi."

That totally works for me, because I know hats in Baltimore.

As I was getting set up, someone from the Royal,Staff brought me breakfast, which was cool.  But the eggs were runny, which was decidedly uncool.  I debated with myself as to whether or not I should send them back, because in my non-dream world, I rarely send my food back, for anything short of an insect infestation. But then I thought, "Well hell, I'm King, after all... I can send my food back if I want to!"

And in that moment within the dream, I celebrated the fact that I could now quote Mel Brooks' "History of the World" and mean it when I say, 

As I waited for my less runny eggs, I began to consider the work before me.  I liked this gig, so I figured I'd better be a good King; a benevolent King; a King who got shit done.  My first decision was that I'd need to get a computer in the room immediately.  I'd need it to keep up on current events and to learn about my new domain.  I also decided to wear regular clothes, to better look the part of Man of the People.  No fancy robes or scepters for this guy.

My next thoughts were for my "subjects."  What would they need to make their lives better? Jobs!  If people were busy making a good living, they'd have less time to plot my overthrow, wouldn't they?  

So how would I get them jobs?

Aha!  They could build a wall, to keep out the neighboring country, with whom we were at war.

Yes, I know, you don't have to tell me.  Here I am proposing an idea straight from the Trump camp.  My subconscious is guilty as charged, although there ARE some key differences.

First, we, (the good people of Burundi and I), were being attacked by a bordering nation, so it was a public safety and security issue.

Second, my regime was paying for the labor, and you bet your ass my worksites would have been OSHA-approved.

Third, look; I'd only been on the job for a couple of minutes... And I hadn't even eaten breakfast yet.  I'm sure I'd have come up with something else shortly.  I was just spit-balling there.

Next, I realized that providing jobs was only part of the solution.  I had to publicize my plans.  But how?

I decided I needed to set up a Twitter account, like @KingBluz or something, but I had to wait until I got the computer I just asked for.  So much to do and there I was, waiting for tech support, like a peasant. And where were my damned eggs?

Luckily I stopped myself short of demanding everyone's heads.  Only five minutes into the job and I was already flirting with becoming a primadonna.

For the rest of the night, I was in and out of dreaming sleep, but in those half asleep stages, I kept returning to my royal duties and grand plans for the good people of Burundi.

I woke up with the radio, as usual, listened to the news and thought about the day's business ahead, (none of which had to do with walls or Royal Twitter accounts).  I got out of bed to begin my morning   Suddenly, in the shower, the details of the dream came washing over me and I was like, "Holy shit!  Where the hell did THAT come from?  What the F..."

It's good to start the day off with a laugh.

Often times, when I'm off on a rant, I'll say something like, "When I become King, I'll make a law..."

Well damned if I didn't just get the chance.  I just wish I could have worn the crown for more that 10 minutes.  Burundi would never be the same.

Monday, March 28, 2016

Tales from the Glassy Knoll

I had a glorious day on Saturday, playing Baltimore Ambassador to another visiting dignitary.  I had received an email from my long-time blog friend, Kernut the Blond, asking if she could take me up on an offer I once made.

Kernut writes a kind of life and travel blog, featuring lots of small towns, roadside attractions, and tales from the heartland.  I don’t remember how we came to start following each other’s blogs, but hers is a real pisser.

After living in California and making a living doing office work, Kernut decided to chuck it all, buy an RV, and ramble around the southwest and make do as she went.  She spent the last several years living in waterfront RV parks in Texas and Oklahoma, doing whatever kind of work she could find to keep herself afloat.  She documents all her adventures in her blog.  (It also includes an explanation of how her nickname came to be.)

I’ll say this, the woman is brave.  She faced an internal “put up or shut up” moment and went all in.

It was some time ago, I don’t remember the context, but I dropped a comment on her blog saying that if she ever found herself out this way, let me know and I’d take her out for crab cakes. 

Then several weeks ago, I heard from Kernut, saying she would soon be coming to southeastern Pennsylvania, and wanted to get together for those crab cakes.

As you know, I love to meet other bloggers so immediately accepted her accepting my original invitation.

When the day drew near, I emailed her with a brief rundown of things I thought she might like to do, which included the Inner Harbor, the National Aquarium and a waterfront lunch.

She also had some ideas after a little Google research.  She wanted to go the “Top of the World” observation deck of Baltimore’s “World Trade Center,” and to go find what’s known as the “Seven-foot Knoll Lighthouse.”

The former was easy; the latter… that gave me a brief twinge of heartburn.  This area is flush with waterways.  The Patapsco River feeds the harbor area and there are all kinds of offshoots here, there and everywhere.  This lighthouse could be anywhere, including clear down on the Eastern Shore.

Then I Googled it myself.  Turns out, I can see the damned thing from my office building. 

If you look to the left of the Marriott Waterfront, and the right of the Four Seasons construction, and just above the white Pier Six Pavilion roof, you can see a little red lighthouse.

I had no idea it was even a lighthouse.  In fact, I already had a picture of it, from when I went to see Boston at the Pier Six Pavilion two summers ago.

So it was perfect!  Everything we wanted to do was in about a 3-block area surrounding the Inner Harbor. 

It’s always a bit nerve-wracking meeting someone I’ve only known online. I get so amped up wanting to make sure everything goes well and that I’m sufficiently entertaining.  Then when the time comes, I find myself relating a story, which inevitably reminds me of another story and next thing I know, I have a dozen stories all fighting to get out at the same time, leaving me jabbering like a monkey.  Sometimes I just have to force myself to STFU.

So, it was gorgeous out on Saturday and the flowering trees were in full bloom.

My theory is that those trees look so good because they’re right next to the water treatment plant.  I’m sure they’re well fertilized.

The harbor area was also setting up for a massive Festival of Lights which starts tonight and runs through the week, so we could see the preparations taking place.

I’m assuming these will be all lit up, come nightfall.  (That’s Pier Six Pavilion in the background.)

We started our tour with the Seven-Foot Knoll lighthouse.  Built in 1856, it used to be out in the water at the mouth of the harbor but was moved to shore in 1988, to serve as a museum.
The National Aquarium tour was awesome, as usual.  We saw everything from happy turtles…

S'up guys?! grumpy fish.

Another day, another lap around this stupid tank…”

It takes a good couple of hours to get through the Aquarium, so by the time we were done, we were ready for a seat and a meal.  I picked the local McCormick and Schmick because it’s supposed to be good and it’s located right beside the lighthouse. 

Kernut liked her crab cake; I was less than thrilled with my fish and chips.  The fish were more like marginally puffier Mrs. Paul’s fish sticks.  The calamari, however, was wonderful. 

After eating, we walked up the pier to the “World Trade Center” and the "Top of the World" observation deck.  It’s a pretty lofty set of names for a mere 28-story building, but it’s a good place to take a look around Baltimore.

In this shot, you can see everywhere we’d been so far that day. Pyramid-looking buildings on the right are the Aquarium and you can see the little lighthouse between the “pyramid” and the Pier Six Pavilion.

After the high-level observing, we took a walk around the harbor to scope out some of the old, retired boats moored there.  You can buy tours of all of them, but we were pleasantly surprised by a visiting “tall ship,” the Stad Amsterdam.”

The Stad Amsterdam (with the “World Trade Center” directly behind it).

They were letting people look around the boat for free, so we had a walkabout.  It was pretty cool.

A look up one of the masts.

As we were wandering around onboard, a couple came up to us and asked if we’d take their picture for them, and in return, they’d take one of us.  So here we are.

As you can see, I was a very lucky guy to be squiring around such a treasure.  She looked great… I, however, looked like an unmade bed.  When the hell did I get so rumply?

After the ship, we made our way back to the car; we pretty much had our fill of walking around by then.  We also wanted to get Kernut back on the road, so she could make it home, (or at least close), by dark.

All in all, I had a ball.  I just hope Kernut had a good enough of a time that I can tempt her to come back.  As a lover of kitsch, she’s just got to see HonFest.

Kernut has posted her version of her trip to Charm City. You can see it here: