Monday, November 24, 2014

Odd Bits - The Regal Screwing Edition

Happy Thanksgiving Week!  I didn’t take a particular day off this week, but it should still be light.  Obviously I’ll be off on Thanksgiving (given that I don’t work for some greedy retailer or mall who insists on ruining their employees holidays by forcing them to go to work right after dinner).  I expect to get off work a couple hours early on Wednesday, just because it’s supposed to be the day before a major holiday, and NOT because we’re expected to get our first serving of snow.  Then Friday, there will be me and one other person bumping around our department, and that’s it.  Most of our building, as well as the entirety of downtown, will be a ghost town.

Most people want Black Friday off, but since I don’t, I always volunteer to come in and take up space that day.  I suspect my boss had the other person come in just to keep an eye on me.  She probably wants to be sure I don’t go frolicking through everyone else’s cubes and rub their office utensils on inappropriate body parts.  Again.  Stupid security cams.  At least, I can play the music at my desk a lot louder than usual.

Hit Me
If you have your own blog, have you noticed more activity from Google on your website hits counter?  Last week I noticed a huge bubble starting Wednesday night, peaking Thursday, and still running high.

Normally I’d be thrilled with a bump like that, but three quarters of all those hits are from Googlebot-Image.  Apparently, they’re cataloging all the pictures I’ve used. 
This was one particularly Google-heavy time period.

So, are you getting this too, or am I just special?  Or long-overdue for a good cataloging?

Mock… Yeah… Ing… Yeah… Jay… Yeah
Over the weekend I went to see the new Hunger Games movie, “Mockingjay Pt 1.”  Loved it.  Thought it was very well done, considering it was only half a movie.  I think this will be one of those DVDs (eventually) where you can’t just watch Part 1; you have to watch both together.  (And it still wouldn’t take as long as one “Lord of the Rings” movie.)

The acting was top notch; Jennifer Lawrence was amazing and totally grabbed your attention and empathy.  But there was one thing that kept distracting me from complete immersion into the film.

Did you see that article where Jennifer Lawrence’s co-starts were talking about doing kissing scenes with her?   Liam Hemsworth (who played “Gale”) told Jimmy Fallon, “She's one of my best friends, I love her, but if we had a kissing scene, she would make a point of eating garlic or tuna fish or something that was disgusting. Right before the scene she'd be like, 'Yeah, I ate tuna' or 'I had garlic, and I didn't brush my teeth.' And I'd be like, 'Fantastic, I can't wait to get in there and taste it!


Apparently there were a lot of practical jokes on the set and this was just Jen holding her own with the boys.  But still, that knowledge totally colored my viewing experience.  The one time they kissed in the movie, it was supposed to be moving, but all I could think was, “Bleah… I wonder if this one was garlic or tuna?”  Pretty much took me out of the moment.  Luckily for Hemsworth, this kiss was just a quick one, rather than a prolonged make-out. 

What a tragedy though, when kissing someone so totally kissable.

Regal Ripoff
My usual movie house is in the Regal Cinema chain, so at the beginning of the summer, I joined their Regal Club, which awarded you points based on your food and ticket purchases, to be redeemed for more food or tickets.  It was scaled thusly:

* 50 points: free small popcorn
* 100 points: free small soda
* 150 points: free ticket.

I don’t know about the food purchases, but every ticket I bought earned me 10 points.  So last week, when I went to go see “Interstellar,” the ticket guy just handed me a coupon for a free small popcorn.  I wasn’t in the mood for popcorn, so I held onto it; but I also had intended to save up the points for a free ticket.

When I went back this weekend, I asked about how that works; about how you can amass your points for a larger prize.  The answer shocked and disappointed me.  You can’t.  Not easily, anyway.

He explained to me that once you hit 50 points, the register automatically spits out the coupon for the popcorn, and that’s it.  So I said to him, “Your Regal Club material, right over there, (pointing to the table beside the ticket counter), says you can redeem 150 points for a free ticket.  How do you get 150 points of you have to take the 50 point popcorn?

He said, “You have to earn the tickets all at once, like buying multiple tickets, or a larger order (translation: “a fuck-ton”) of concession food.”

That left me severely pissed off.  I didn’t argue with the kid… hell, I have underwear older than he is; I know he’s not making policy.  But damn, what chance does that give a single guy?  Maybe if I was a member of Cassie’s family, and a night out at the movies entailed tickets for 2 adults, 4 kids, and several dogs and cats, all with corresponding concessions, maybe I could earn a free small coke.  But as a dude buying one ticket at a time?  I guess it’s a popcorn life for me.

So what the hell, I cashed in my free popcorn ticket.  And then I promptly realized the true evil of the setup.  You can’t just buy popcorn for a movie.  You have to have a drink too, to wash it down and to keep you from going into salt-driven dehydration before they roll the opening credits.

If I would have thought about it at the time, I should have immediately turned in (or cut up) my rewards card right there at the desk.  What a freakin’ ripoff.  Their program is not nearly what they claim it to be.

If this racket was like a carnival game, it would go like this:

Carnie: Step right up; sink one ball, get a small prize, sink two for a medium prize, sink three for this tractor-sized stuffed unicorn with a glow-in-the-dark horn.
Bluz: [Sinks one, is handed a small prize.]
Bluz: [Sinks another, is handed a second small prize.]
Bluz: [Sinks third, is handed another small prize.]
Bluz: Wait, I sunk three balls, I’m supposed to get the unicorn.
Carnie: No, you sunk one ball three times.  You get three small prizes.
Bluz: How do you get the unicorn?
Carnie: You have to sink all the three balls at once.
Bluz: I’m about to remove your two balls and stuff them up the unicorn’s ass!
Carnie: Hold that thought.  Security!

I figure I’ll wait until I see a more “senior” ticket person, when there’s no one else in line, and ask about it again.  Then I can take a little more time to argue it out, drop in lots of phrases like “discriminates against single people,” and “false advertising,” and if I don’t get any traction, culminate with whipping a pair of scissors out from my coat and cutting up the card.  Of course, they’ll probably claim I was going to stab someone, and call the cops.  I should find a pair with the rounded tips, like from grade school.

Or maybe I’ll just start smuggling in Milk Duds.

Tuesday, November 18, 2014

Odd Bits - The Cheesy Edition

Just a couple of odds and ends to cover today; in fact, this post may be entirely free of significant content.

Milestone Alert
We hit a milestone here at the old D-fish blog, but I never got around to mentioning it.  But back on October 15th, we rolled the old “hit odometer” over to 100,000 hits. 
OK, so I missed capturing the moment by a couple of hits.

First off, I should probably thank Mom and Dad for 80,000 of them, and comment spammers for another 15,000.  No wait… those spammers never show up on the stats page.

Anyway, if you’re reading this now, thank you for any past contributions, and to contributing toward the next 100K.

Bright Collage Days
I meant to do this back when I summarized my famous “Summer of Bluz,” but I still had a couple of events still to come.  But here, in collage form, are the tickets from every sports or entertainment event I attended in 2014.
 Click to embiggen, if you wish.

Now maybe someday, if I’m ever sufficiently motivated, I’ll recreate this kind of thing in a photo album, rather than keeping them all clipped together in a cigar box, which I can no longer even shut.  See, it’s not just full with this year’s tickets… I have ticket stubs going back to the 80s.  I wouldn’t just be doing a page or two of ticket collage, I’d have to do like 30.

Which means I’m much more likely to go find a bigger cigar box.

An Admiral’s Work is Never Done
As you may also recall, the bulk of my job is managing our company’s fleet of cars.  Technically, I am the Fleet Manager, but I prefer Admiral of the Fleet.

As such, our parent company’s other Fleet Managers and I have been evaluating a new car to possibly replace our current model.  A couple of us have been given approval to test drive the proposed model for a couple of days, to formulate an educated opinion.

Because I had a couple of days off, (last Friday, and today), I figured that made a good span of time to check out the car.  They worked through a car rental company, a branch of which happens to be about 5 minutes from my place.

So on Friday, I went out to the branch and they took me out to what would be my car for the weekend, a brand new 2015 Chevy Malibu.  The car rental rep and I walked around the car, checking for pre-existing dings and dents, but all I could comprehend was a single thought repeating endlessly in my skull.  I finally spit it out to the rep…

“But… but… it’s PURPLE!”

Sure, the car was a real beauty, but how could I possibly drive a purple car??  Purple is the color of the despised Baltimore Ravens.  I wouldn’t even let Pinky have purple towels in the bathroom here.  I have a reputation to think of!

And even more importantly, I hadn’t had a chance to work out the mojo implications of driving a purple car for the weekend.  I’d have to think of various counter-charms and reverse mojo, in order to counteract the bad vibes.

Lucky for me, the Ratbirds were on a bye last weekend, so that removed half my worry.  The Steelers played last night, and scored a 4th quarter comeback win over the Titans.  I figure that if I hadn’t had the purple car, they probably would have won more convincingly.  Good thing the car was a lighter purple than the Rats wear.  A dead-on match might have spelled disaster.

So this is what my life has come to… agonizing over game-day mojo.  But what else would I expect from this wheezy, cheesy life?


Thursday, November 13, 2014

Sudden Death

You’re probably thinking this is a sports post, but it’s not.

I’ve been working on kind of a weird project lately.  I was thinking, a while back, “What would happen if I were to drop dead?”  You know, massive heart attack, pushed in front of a subway train, or hit by some Baltimore driver who was too busy texting to look where she’s going.  Something besides a long (or even short) illness.

We all toddle along with our messy lives with lots of things going on, fully intending to tidy everything up later, but what if later never comes and someone else has to step in and wrap up your business? 

This is especially important if, like me, you live alone.  How would someone else know how to get into your computer, or access your bank accounts to pay your bills and close the account?  How would anyone know you have recurring bill payments set up, which could drain an account over time?  What about your insurance information, or investment accounts or 401k?

Obviously you’d want to make things easy on them, so that nothing gets missed.  So I was thinking, “I’d better leave some serious bread crumbs here, just in case something happens to me.  I’m sure not getting any younger, and Baltimore isn’t getting any safer…”

I’ve never had a will drawn up… mostly because I haven’t had anyone I felt the need to designate as a beneficiary.  (You know, like a wife.  The one I had was leaving all her shit to her kids, so I never took any action.  Then before I knew it, it was unnecessary.)

To address this situation, I decided to write up a list of everything someone would need to know, in order to settle my affairs, in the event of my tragic demise.  At first, I planned to seal it in an envelope marked, “In Case I Drop Dead,” and tack it to the bulletin board in my kitchen.  (It doesn’t do any good if it isn’t conspicuous.)

But then I figured, “What if someone breaks in, or it’s seen by some crooked maintenance guy.  This envelope will have the “Keys to the Kingdom,” if you will.  Someone could use that information to clean out everything I have.

So now I decided it will have to be a two-part thing.  I’ll still tack up an envelope, but it will only contain a clue to where I’ve hidden the “real” envelope.  It will be something only a relative (likely, my brother) would know.

What will be in the envelope?  Here’s what I’ve got so far.

·    Most importantly, it will reveal the existence of the spreadsheet on which I keep all of my user IDs and passwords, to every account, service and utility I have.  (Like I said, in the wrong hands; that alone would be big trouble.)
·    A breakdown of what’s on my computer and why it might matter.
·    Instructions to place one final message on my blog.  (I’d never just disappear and leave yinz hanging!)
·    The location of my important documents, like birth certificate, Social Security card, insurance information, bank statements, and bill payment statements.  The bill statements, (which I insist on being mailed to me, despite the feverish efforts of every utility and bank to move me to electronic statements), will provide the necessary information to cancel all services, or at least indicate which services need cancelling.
·    Notes on how to pay my last bills via my bank’s online service, with the payees already set up, and also to stop my recurring rent payments.
·    Notes on the various checking, savings and investment accounts I hold, with instructions for the disbursement of said funds.
·    Instructions on what to do with all my crap.  (Take what you want, then sell/donate it all!)
·    A list of people I would like to be contacted, and informed of my passing.  (Is it wrong that I have my local sports bar on the list, so they don’t think I just left them for some other bar?)  Also, instructions to put some kind of status update for me on Facebook, if there still is such a thing. 
·    My preference for a “Going Away Party” rather than a funeral, and a list of songs to play. 

           Pour the drinks and let the stories fly.

You know, we spend all our lives accumulating things and setting up ongoing systems.  You’d think we’d give more thought to how to stop the merry-go-round, after we’ve cashed in all our E-tickets.

Has anyone else ever given thought to the unthinkable, like this?  If so, am I missing anything?

Friday, November 7, 2014

Understanding Your Introvert

I read an article on the Huffington Post this week, called “10 Ways Introverts Interact Differently in the World.”   I found it interesting because I’ve always considered myself an introvert, despite being told by numerous people across the years, that I’m not.  I think it’s my basic nature, but not at all times in all places.  Because I could find so many exceptions, I could never really be sure.  Perhaps I’m just a hot mess.

But in the article, there were a number of times where they had me down cold; enough so that I’m inclined to believe my original assessment.  Here are (in edited form) the 10 characteristics, and the degree to which I match up.

* They withdraw in crowds.
The resulting crowd, which is often loud, noisy and congested, easily overstimulates introverts and drains them of their physical energy. They end up feeling more physically isolated than supported by their surroundings, and would rather be anywhere but that sea of people.

This one is not a major issue for me.  Being within a crowd doesn’t really bother me… as long as I’m not getting squashed or knocked around.  I mean, look how many ballgames I go to.  But then, I’m not required to do anything while I’m among the crowd.  I can hide, because I’m one among many. 

* Small-talk stresses them out, while deeper conversations make them feel alive.
While most extraverts are energized by such interactions, introverts often feel intimidated, bored or exhausted by them. It's not uncommon in large conversations for introverts to take on the role of the quiet listener and then take time alone once it's complete…  It ultimately comes down to how a person receives (or doesn't receive) energy from his or her surroundings. Instead, introverts prefer deeper conversations, oftentimes about philosophical ideas.”

Definitely me.  I hate small-talk and hallway chitchat.  I never know what to say.  Talking about the weather or other harmless platitudes makes me feel like a big, shallow phony.  That’s one reason I always come into our building at work, wearing earphones.  (Yes, WITH music playing.  I’m an introvert, not a sociopath.)  It gives me an excuse not to chitchat on the elevator.

Now, take the same person I’m avoiding in the hall and sit us down at a table for a while, and I’m fine with where ever the conversation takes us.  No, it doesn’t have to be “philosophical ideas,” (yech), but something real. 

* They succeed on stage – just not in the chit-chat afterwards.
At least half of people who speak for a living are introverted in nature.  They simply play to their strengths, and prepare extensively. In fact, some of the most successful performers are introverts. Remaining on a stage, removed from a massive audience, proves far easier than the small talk-filled conversations that follow.”

This is closely related to the preceding item.  In my world though, “the stage” is more like a conference room.  I have no problem preparing and presenting material and discussing it with a group.  The key point is that I’m prepared.

Now, in that same group, if someone cold calls me and says, “Bluz, will you talk about this issue we’ve been working on?”  I go into a cold panic and struggle to find words, especially if it’s not something related to my primary job.  I need a warning and time to get my thoughts in order, so I don’t sound like a bumbling idiot.  Luckily, my supervisors know this about me, so I usually have time to prepare.

* They get distracted easily, but rarely get bored.
If you're looking to destroy an introverted person's attention span, just put them in a situation where they feel overstimulated. Due to increased sensitivity to their surroundings, introverts struggle with feeling distracted and sometimes overwhelmed in large crowds and open office spaces.”

For me, yes and no.  From a cubicle, I can block out all the noise around me and focus on what I’m doing.  In fact, anyone calling for me usually has to say my name a number of times before I hear them.  BUT, this is while I’m in a cube with walls, which provides the illusion of solitude.  It’s like putting a towel over a birdcage.

“Rarely gets bored?”  Yep, that’s me.  To my buddies, it’s been a running joke for 30 years about how I’m easily amused.

“Overwhelmed in… open office spaces.”  Yep.  Hate those.  And my company is about to remodel into a floor plan featuring just that.  I’m dreading it.  I hate feeling like I’m out on display.  I’ll take my corner with a towel over my cage.

* They are naturally drawn to more creative, detail-oriented and solitary careers.
Introverts naturally prefer spending time alone or in a small group, delving deeply into one task at a time and taking their time when it comes to making decisions and solving problems. Therefore, they fare better in work environments that allow them to do all of these things. Certain professions -- including writers -- can give introverts the intellectual stimulation they crave without the distracting environment they dislike.”

This explains why I hated retail so much.  There was always so much going on at once.  I did much better when I had a single task, large or small, to accomplish.  I much preferred to be in the back office, checking in product, doing returns or placing orders.

* When surrounded by people, they locate themselves close to an exit.
Introverts not only feel physically uncomfortable in crowded places, but also do their best to mediate that discomfort by hanging as close to the periphery as possible. Whether it be by an exit, at the back of a concert hall, or an aisle row on an airplane, they avoid being surrounded by people on all sides.”


For me, it’s not necessarily being by an exit, but I much prefer to be on the outskirts of a crowded room, than in the middle.  The wrinkle is that if I’m sitting at a big table, I’d prefer to be in the middle, just so I can hear more of what’s going on.  If you’re on the end, you’re cut out of any conversation going on at the other end.

* They think before they speak.
This habit of introverts is often what earns them their reputations as listeners. It is second nature to them to take their time before opening their mouths, reflecting internally, instead of thinking out loud (which is more common among extroverts). They may seem more quiet and shy because of this behavior, but it just means that when they do speak, the words they share have that much more thought -- and sometimes power -- behind them.”

Well, that’s my goal…  And when I don’t think before I speak, it tends not to go very well.  I can come down with a raging case of Foot-in-Mouth disease if I’m not careful.  I think this also contributes to my reacting very strongly to getting interrupted. 

People that know me known that it’s one of my hot buttons.  If I can sit there and listen to everyone else, take the time to collect my thoughts, and then pull the trigger to deliver something that’s on my mind, I damn well better get the chance to finish.  (Especially if it’s a story, which in my head, has a particular rhythm.)

It’s awfully hard to express a complex thought anymore, because as soon as you take a breath, between sentences, someone else usually cuts in and breaks up the flow or hijacks the point.  Usually that’s my cue to stop talking and leave the room.  My view: if you’re not listening, then there’s no point in talking.

* They physically can't stand talking on the phone.
Most introverts screen their phone calls -- even from their friends -- for several reasons. The intrusive ringing forces them to abandon focus on a current project or thought and reassign it to something unexpected. Plus, most phone conversations require a certain level of small talk that introverts avoid. Instead, introverts may let calls go to voicemail so they can return them when they have the proper energy and attention to dedicate to the conversation.”

Totally and completely me.  I’ve never liked talking on the phone and view it as a necessary evil.  (“Necessary” as in if I want to talk to my parents or out of town friends, (which I do) it’s phone/Skype/FaceTime or nothing.)  Before the advent of Caller ID, I dreaded it when the phone rang.  The prospect of blindly picking up the phone to talk to yet another salesperson, pitchman or pest, was stressful. 

If I have to call someone or someplace I don’t know, I will spend 10 minutes staring at the phone, summoning up the courage to pick up the receiver and begin.  I hate it.

* They literally shut down when it's time to be alone.
Every introvert has a limit when it comes to stimulation. Think of each of them as having a cup of energy available. For introverts, most social interactions take a little out of that cup instead of filling it the way it does for extroverts. Most of them like it. They're happy to give, and love to see you. When the cup is empty though, they need some time to refuel."

Agreed, although I wouldn’t say I “shut down.”  But after a vacation, whether I’m visiting my parents, my buddies, or the rest of my family; while I love being there and hanging out with everyone, when it’s done, I need to get back to my cave and grab some alone time, to just “be.”

Being an introvert doesn’t mean we hate people.  It’s just that we have certain ways in which we need to interact.  I mean, I could easily work from home, but I would miss my co-workers and having daily interaction with people.  I’d go bonkers if I had to stay home all day, day in and day out.  So there has to be balance… like being able to get out, mix it up, and then have a place to which I can retreat.

The thing I like best about this article is that it helps me feel like I’m not alone… like I’m much less of a freak. 

So where are my introverts out there?  Do any of these things ring true with you?

Director’s DVD Commentary: There was another point on the list, which I cut for length; plus it didn’t really apply to me.  Click the link on the top, for the complete article.

Wednesday, November 5, 2014

The Day After

Where was this when I was writing the end of my post yesterday?  I could have posted this and saved myself the trouble.

Tuesday, November 4, 2014

Scenes From a Polling Place

I went to vote this morning, before work.  On the way into the building, I had to run the usual gauntlet of people wanting to hand me paper.  But there was one guy on the end, who didn’t have a handout; he had a hand out.  It was one of my district’s state delegates, Sandy Rosenberg.  This was a guy I like; I remembered that he got a high rating from NARAL, so he was all right with me.

He shook my hand and urged me to vote for him and the Democratic ticket for governor.  I clapped him on the shoulder and said, “You got it.”

It’s nice to provide positive reinforcement for a politician once in a while.

Anyway, there wasn’t a big crowd so I essentially walked into an empty school, but for one police officer, a youngish white guy.  He saw me and immediately groaned.  I first thought that he noticed my Steelers jacket and was lamenting the ass-whippin’ they laid on the Ratbirds Sunday night.  But since my jacket was black, with a black logo, I didn’t see how he could have seen it, from as far away from as he was. 

Then he called out, “I haaaaate that hat!

I forgot I was wearing a Penguins hat.  Not one to let a moment go, I said, “Wow, I didn’t think there was anyone else in this town that cared about hockey.”

He replied, “I’m a huge Flyers fan!

This time it was my turn to groan.  Then I said, “I didn’t know they let Flyers fans have guns!

Talk about tempting police brutality…

He said, “Man, I HATE the Penguins, but I sure like playing there.”

I wasn’t sure how to take that.  Sure, he could be complimenting the Pens’ exquisite arena, but more likely, he was talking about the Flyers’ outstanding record (9-2-1) when playing there.  But not wanting to inflame an armed Flyers fan, I wished him well and went on my way to the voting booth.

I plan on watching the Pens tonight and then turning on CNN to watch the election returns.  I probably ought to pour myself a nice stiff drink too, because it sure doesn’t look good for my team.  I’ll be amazed if the Democrats manage to retain control of the Senate.

Sure, a lot of predictions went awry in 2012, but things were different.  Despite the fuck-ton of money spent, it was a Presidential election, so turnout was high.

The GOP has had a couple more years of Citizens United under their belts, so the money is spewing forth from the Koch brothers and other anonymous One Percenters.

More importantly, they’ve laid the groundwork to keep Democratic turnout low.  First, they got major portions of the Civil Rights Act of 1964 repealed, (by the Republican-appointed justices), which opens the door wide for red states to enact all the parlor tricks there were prohibited from doing in the past, to deter seniors, minorities and young people from voting.

If Democrats suggested any of these voter ID requirements to be presented prior to buying a gun, there would be right-wing riots in the streets.  Because in America, the right to a lethal weapon supersedes the right to vote!

Between the voter suppression tactics and the natural dip in voter enthusiasm in a mid-term election, they’ve stacked the deck for themselves quite nicely.  And the barrage of campaign ads are hard at work trying to convince people that now that we’re out of the Great Recession, it’s time to elect people espousing the same policies that caused it in the first place, because, well, Ebola.  And Benghazi.  Socialism!

Anyway, we’ll see what happens on the other side.  Cheers!

Thursday, October 30, 2014

The 80s - Pros and Cons Part 2

On Monday, I wrote about my niece, Kyrie, expressing regret that she didn’t get to be a teen or young adult in the 80s.  As someone who was exactly that, it got me thinking about the relative merits of the era.  I decided to make a list of pros and cons, starting with Reasons Why the 80s Sucked.  So now, it’s time for:

REASONS WHY THE 80s WERE AWESOME!

MEDIA

Cheap cable.  Granted, you only got 60 stations, (10 of which you watched), but at least it was cheap!  My cable bill was around $30-$40 a month.

Print.  In the 80s, newspapers still mattered.  Newspapers are still around, but are shrinking both in size and quality.  Any more, newspapers exist for senior citizens and crossword puzzle addicts (like me).  Books mattered too, and bookstores thrived.  New book releases were a big deal.  Stephen King and Dean Koontz (two of my favorites) were in their primes.

News.  Aside from newspapers, people got their daily rundown of information from the network news.  There were only three of them (plus PBS), and they mostly just reported on whatever happened that day.  If there was an editorial slant, it was far more subtle than you find today.  In my opinion, the disintegration of the news media into 24-hour partisan hyperbole is the number one cause for today’s hyper-partisan political scene, and resulting do-nothing Congress.

Partisan networks throw journalistic standards out the window and fire up the populace with perceived slights and offenses, which forces politicians pander to their intractable and hysterical base, which leads to a governing body clinging to the nonsensical platitudes that got them elected.  Then it’s no surprise when the two sides can’t work together for the common good.  All because the news media wants ratings.

I long for the day when news teams just told you what happened during the day while you were at work.

ENTERTAINMENT

TV. There was no reality TV.  MTV still played music videos, which themselves, were often imaginative and highly entertaining.  Married With Children came out, which while crass, provided a viable alternative to the traditional, squeaky-clean family sitcom.  Dramas like Hill Street Blues and LA Law came out, featuring riveting, thought-provoking storylines and razor-sharp dialog.

Music. The new wave/gloomy music aside, the 80s contained a tidal wave of great rock and roll.  Just look at some of the groups who were in their prime in the 80s: Guns and Roses, Bon Jovi, AC/DC, ZZ Top, The Scorpions, George Thorogood, Joan Jett, The Georgia Satellites, Michael Jackson, Tina Turner, and Heart, who had a whole “second act” to their career.  Stevie Ray Vaughan’s entire career was in the 80s, and it led to a resurgence of artists playing the blues guitar.

The music had hooks and was played by real people, with real instruments and no auto-tune!  To be a singer, you actually had to be able to sing.

It was almost enough to make me forgive the 80s for also popularizing rap.

Movies.  CGI wasn’t around yet, so special effects in movies were mostly practical.

Think of the big movie stars who were in their prime: Bill Murray, Bruce Willis, Sylvester Stallone, Sigourney Weaver, Eddie Murphy, Michael Keaton, and directors Tim Burton, John Landis and Steven Spielberg.  James Cameron was well on his way to becoming a legend.

The 80s gave us the Airplane/Naked Gun movies, Indiana Jones movies, two of the three Star Wars trilogy, the first three Rambo movies, Gremlins, Beetlejuice, Bachelor Party and Splash, Porky’s, the first two Terminator movies, Aliens, the Back to the Future trilogy, Bill and Ted, Caddyshack, Stripes, Groundhog Day, Revenge of the Nerds, Beverly Hills Cop, Top Gun, American Werewolf in London, and all the John Hughes movies.  Mel Brooks’ History of the World and Spaceballs came out in the 80s.  Karate Kid. Johnny Dangerously. Lethal Weapon 1 and 2. Poltergeist, for cryin’ out loud!  Although I wouldn’t mind if they took back the clown.


Sports.  There were fewer expansion teams diluting the talent pool in the major leagues.  And NASCAR was still an afterthought.

SOCIETY

Vices. You could drink and drive without ruining your life, assuming you didn’t plow into the high school glee club. It was just the way you got your car home.  Underage drinking barely raised an eyebrow.  I can’t even count how many minors my dad got into hotel bars in Cleveland, when we were there for the annual Steelers/Browns game.  Or how many had drinks at our house, at Barn Parties.

(Like I said earlier, some pros could be cons and cons could be pros, depending on your point of view.  From the point of view of my 20-year old self, it was pretty sweet.)

I’ve heard that the 80s were famous for cocaine use, but I’ve never even seen it before in my entire life.  I guess rural NW Ohio is a long way from Studio 54.

Strip clubs were still fairly innocent.  And cheap.  You didn’t have to take out a second mortgage just to kill a few hours there.

Speed cams and red-light cams didn’t exist.  To get a ticket, a cop had to see you do it.  And as George Carlin once said, “You know my motto in traffic?  If a cop didn’t see it, I didn’t do it!

Shopping.  Malls were still a thing.  Granted, once I worked in one, I didn’t care to go back, but you know what?  Malls provided jobs!  No wonder it’s so tough for teens and young adults to get work.  There’s a whole segment of the economy that’s missing. 

Fashion. Granted, I’m totally unqualified to speak on fashion, but I have two observations that made the 80s awesome: Track suits were cool and men’s shorts were still short.  At least they didn’t come all the way down to your calf, which defeats the purpose of wearing shorts, if you ask me.

Politics. OK, Reagan was in office, but he was not nearly the deity that conservatives make him out to be.  Any current politician claiming to want to do the things Reagan actually did would be ridiculed by the right and driven out of the country club.

But it was a different time.  Despite major differences, shit still got done.  There wasn’t a hyper-partisan media, creating hyper-partisan politicians who use filibusters as a primary weapon rather than a last resort.  Opposing sides worked together for the good of The People.  They weren’t excommunicated for daring to compromise with the enemy.  ("Compromise;" meaning each side got some of what it wanted and no one got it all.)

Reproductive Rights. They were pretty much settled.  You could go into a Planned Parenthood office without having to fight your way through a screaming mob.  Would have been better if Plan B had been invented, but you can’t have everything.

***

Going back to what Kyrie said, the 80s seemed to be a time where people talked to each other more, and established more personal relationships.  I don’t think she’s wrong.

We had so many fewer distractions back then...  Fewer TV channels, no internet, video games were still pretty primitive, phones had cords.  Early cell phones were the size of bricks.

Today’s tech pulls people further into their own heads, which are usually pointed towards their smart phones or video games.  Without so many compelling distractions, maybe we reached out more to each other. 

Or, maybe we were just trying to find out who had all the cocaine.

Monday, October 27, 2014

The 80s - Pros and Cons, Part 1

Last Wednesday, I was watching the Penguins and following along on Twitter when I saw a tweet from the CFO’s daughter, my niece Kyrie. 

You may remember Kyrie from this post, when she turned 16, this post, when she went away to school, and numerous pictures from my trips back to Ohio.  She is currently attending her sophomore year at my alma mater, Bowling Green, turning my crusty old Falcon heart all aglow.

Anyway, this tweet caught my attention:

 Naturally, I had to answer:


Sure, I was just being a wise-guy, but I began to wonder… what exactly was the appeal of the 1980s?  I mean, I lived it, and I had my opinions, but why would a 19-year old college sophomore pine for the 80s?

The next night, I asked her via Facebook messaging.
 
 

Learning about the 80s in classes...  IN CLASSES!!  God, I’m old.

 


If it’s relationships and friendships she wants, she should reconsider my original tweet, and toss her cell and PC.  And get her friends to do it as well.  Because I think that’s the number one barrier to having true relationships and effective communication… people have to get their noses out of their cell phones, and relate to each other directly.  Face to face… eye to eye… that’s how you do it.  Forehead to forehead, not so much.

Anyway, the whole thing got me thinking… What’s the deal with the 80s?  Was it better or worse than what we have now?  And what better way to assess the era than with a Pro and Con Comparison?

Granted, these are highly subjective.  What is a pro for some is a con for others.  And I can tell right now that I’m not going to be able to do both pros and cons in one post, without making it 6 pages long, so let me start with the cons.

REASONS WHY THE 80s SUCKED
TECH

The list of things we didn’t have in the 80s is almost endless, but here are a few:

PCs / Word Processing.  Anyone that’s ever had to write a research report on a typewriter will get down on their knees and praise the invention of on-screen editing and spell-check.

Email. Instant communication from anywhere in the country, basically for free.  I lived alone for all of the 80s, mostly in a town separate from my friends and family. Email, IMs, Skype/Facetime, all of it would have made it so much easier (and cheaper) to keep in touch with loved ones.

Cell phones/Smart phones. Now we have phones that nobody talks on.  Instead they are pocket computers, electronic wallets and GPS’s.  I joke that it’s a “Con” that the 80s didn’t have these, but to me, the GPS alone is worth it.  In fact GPS should be its own category.

GPS.  See above.  I used to hate wrestling with maps, while flying down the freeway.  Now, all you have to do is do what you’re told, assuming your GPS is up to date. And now they even give you traffic updates and suggest detours.

Google.  We take it for granted now that we can find the answer to just about anything we want to know, just by Googling it.  No wonder we don’t remember anything anymore.  We don’t need to.  Common bar arguments have been slashed by instant access to facts and data.

Medical technology has grown by leaps and bounds.  I had heart surgery twice, and walked away the next day, both times.  Didn’t have that in the 80s.

Digital cameras.  Remember when you didn’t know if you got the picture until you dropped off the film, waited a couple of days, paid $15, and then finally looked at the pictures and saw that everyone’s eyes were closed?  No more.  Once you buy the digital camera (or use your smart phone), you can take multiple shots of the same thing, and then just keep the best one, for no further charge.  In the 80s, I had to use this:

This was a 35-mm point and shoot camera that my brother got me for my birthday.  I took it with me to every concert I attended for 20 years.  No matter where I sat, I looked like I was 40 rows away.  And this was a good one!  A few years earlier, all you saw were those 110 instamatics, with the flash cubes you had to carry around.

Travel. This kind of ties in with PCs, but in the 80s, if you wanted to fly somewhere, you had to either call the airlines, (never knowing if they were giving you the best flight they could), or a travel agent. (Same concern.)  Booking flights and hotels online is a breeze.

MEDIA

TV: A “good” cable package got you around 60 channels, but the three major networks still dominated.  Fox was just getting started.  So there wasn’t nearly the number of viewing options that we’ve become accustomed to in the 21st century.

Also, the TVs were generally small and the pictures weren’t great.  My family had an anomaly… a very large projection TV screen out in The Barn.  Picture wasn’t bad then, as long as the lights were low.  But it didn’t hold a candle to what we have now, or even in the 2000s.

Movie medium.  In the 80s, both “Beta” tapes and LP-sized laser discs were around, but VHS was the dominant medium for movies (and taping TV shows).  The problem was the tapes would wear after enough use (or no use) and would sometimes stick and get pulled out of the cartridge.  Also, your prized favorite show or music video could easily be taped over by your parent, sibling or roommate.  DVDs, recordable and otherwise, are far more durable and the fidelity is phenomenal.

SPORTS & ENTERTAINMENT

Less football.  The Steelers sucked pretty much throughout the 80s, which was quite unfortunate for me, living there in Cleveland.  But the NFL, while big, was not nearly as big as it is now. 

In the 80s, you got 3 games on Sunday, usually two games at 1:00 and one at 4:00, and then a game on Monday Night.  If your team wasn’t one of those games, you were out of luck.  Now, you can either go to a sports bar, (or even a bar dedicated to your out-of-town team), or follow the game online.  Maybe even pull up a video feed.

Much less hockey.  If you were lucky, you got one game a week.  Living in Cleveland, (with no local team), I practically never saw a hockey game on TV.  In fact, even in the early 90s, I was visiting my parents in Green Bay during the Stanley Cup Finals, in which the Penguins were playing.  We had to go to a sports bar to see the game, because it wasn’t on network television.  The finals!

Music. While there was a lot of great music back then, (See the next “Pros” post), I blame the 80s for the mess we have today.  The gloomy synth bands like Depeche Mode, Joy Division and The Smiths, all came out in the 80s.  They set the stage for music to be more often “programmed” than “played.” 

SOCIETY

Hair.  Specifically, Big Fluffy 80s Hair!  It was like everyone had a beanbag chair-sized mop of hair on their heads.  OK, maybe I would have considered that a “Pro,” if I had enough hair to join in.  I had to covet the hair from afar.

Smoking.  You could still smoke in bars, airplanes, restaurants, office buildings and whatnot.  I hated that.  Just because I wanted a few drinks didn’t mean I want my eyes to burn and my clothes to smell like ass.

STDs.  The 80s ushered in the granddaddy of them all, AIDS.  And back then, an AIDS or HIV diagnosis was essentially a death sentence.  And I can help but think that if AIDS was striking businessmen instead of gay men and drug users, the Reagan Administration would have made a priority of AIDs research, instead of ignoring it until hundreds of thousands had died.

Well, that’s what I came up with off the top of my head.  I’m sure there are more, but that’s enough for now.  What didn’t YOU like about the 80s?  (No, not being born yet doesn’t count.)

Later this week, I’ll whip out the “Pros” from the 1980s.

Friday, October 24, 2014

Being a Free Spirit Has its Limits

Last Tuesday was the last big event from the Summer of Bluz; I went to see another concert.  It was a show downtown at the Baltimore Soundstage, and I went by myself.

I thought I’d be able to scare up some happy hour company, but no one could come out and play, so I just went to a bar near the venue, and waited it out.  I should have taken it as an omen… it’s a special kind of torture when there are six TV screens within view at a bar, and all of them have racing on.

I’ve been a big fan of the artist I was going to see, since the early 90s.  I guess you could call him a folk singer… he sings funny songs, story songs, and occasional balls-out rave-ups (although not this night, because he didn’t bring a backing band).

But I don’t want to say his name.  Although I’m about to complain about the show, I love the guy’s work and I’d hate to discourage you from listening to it, should by chance you accidentally hear a song of his.  Granted, this is highly unlikely.  I’ve never once heard one of his songs on the radio.  In fact, I don’t know a single person who knows of this guy, (excluding those I’ve played him for).  To be honest, I didn’t think there would be more than a couple dozen people in the venue for the show.

When I walked up to the place, about 10 minutes after the doors opened, there was a line curling around the sidewalk out front.  I’d say there were about 50 people there, which was double the amount I thought would show up, in total.  So I guess he was known a little better than I gave him credit for.

As I settled into line, it began to rain… Omen #2.  Not too hard, fortunately, but enough to be concerned about, especially with the lightning flashing in the distance.  They had someone out in line, checking IDs and issuing wrist bands to anyone that planned to drink.  I got my wrist band, but I don’t know if I should be amused or insulted that she never asked for my ID first.  I prefer to think she considered me too honest to pull an under-age drinking scam.

 For me, I was seated in a perfect spot; back in a corner, off to the side, on a 2-step raised area.

I liked that they had seats and tables there.  That helped seal the deal when I was deciding on whether I should go.  I’m too old to be standing all night for a show.

As the place filled up, I struck up a conversation with the (marginally) older dude beside me.  He said he tried to see this guy the last time he was in town, but he never showed up for the show.  He said it was like being at an airport; “They would make announcements. ‘He’ll be here in a half hour.  He’ll be here in 15 minutes.  He’ll be out any minute now.’  Then they said he wasn’t coming.

He guessed they thought they could sober him up enough to play, but were unsuccessful and had to pull the plug.  He said he swore he’d never come to another one of his shows, but here he was, hoping for the best.

I’m thinking, “Great, Omen #3.”

I was also concerned with the timing.  I came in on the subway that morning, and I knew it stopped running around midnight.  I asked the waitress if she knew how long the artists were expected to play. 

She told me she’d seen the set schedule and it should be over around 11:30.  I was happy because that would give me plenty of time to get to the subway, which was only a couple minutes away.  It was still going to be a late night though.

When the feature act came on, I got chills.  There he was, singing and playing just like I’d heard on his live albums.  It was very cool.

Early into his set, people started calling out what they wanted to hear.  He handled it well, I thought.  There was a table up front who apparently had a lot of ideas.  He told them, “I appreciate the energy, but I got this.”   The line killed.

And he’s right… let the man play for a while before calling out requests.

This picture is not intentionally altered, for identity concealment.  For the life of me, I could not get a picture in focus, with this lighting, (which rarely changed, all night).

He played another couple of songs, but next thing you know, some ushers showed up at that table up front, and began escorting the whole party out… about 10 people in all.  As that began, the artist stood up and said, “I can’t be a part of this, so I’m taking a short break,” and walked off the stage.

I looked at the guy beside me and he was like, “See?

But he came back out about five minutes later, and resumed the show.  He explained that they were trying to talk to him while he was playing, and it was throwing him off.  He said, “I can sit here and talk to you, but then I wouldn’t be able to play some of the songs you all came to hear me play.”

He said, “I know you all paid money to hear me play and you think that makes me a professional.   But let me tell you, I am not a professional in any way.”

It kind of fit his whole rap though.  This was a guy who was basically a derelict, who had lived on people’s couches while he basically Forest Gumped his way around the country.  He said, “Do you know what the difference is between a ‘freeloader’ and a ‘free spirit?  Three chords.”

The crowd wasn’t quite sure what to do now.  No one said a word, and applauded every song.  For the next hour or so, he had us in the palm of his hand, telling stories and singing his songs. 

But eventually people started calling out for songs again.  At one point, he was playing the intro to on tune, someone called out a song, and he instantly switched to the intro of that song.  It was pretty slick.

Then, after another few songs, he said, “This just isn’t working out very well, so I’ll just leave you with a couple more.”  I checked my watch, and it was only about 10:25.  I was like, “WTF?

He played two more songs and then ended with “This Land is Your Land,” and walked off-stage.  I kept wondering if this was just another “break,” so I (and the rest of the crowd) just sat there nervously, wondering what to do.  Then a couple of roadies came out and began taking stuff off the stage and shortly after, the house lights went up.

The final timing worked out to be an hour and a half worth of concert.  Now, I’ll give you that I’ve seen many, many concerts that lasted an hour and a half, and was perfectly satisfied with them. 

But in this case, A) I knew for a fact that he was supposed to play for another hour, and B) I’d see his set lists on Facebook, from his prior couple shows.  They ran about 30-33 songs.  He played 20 songs on this night, and that’s counting three of his extended stories as songs.  I figure I saw about two-thirds of his show, and missed a number of my favorites that he was likely to play.  Am I wrong to be disappointed?

All summer, I’ve been looking forward to seeing this show and then writing it up, to both share the experience and tell you all about this relatively unknown artist.  As you can clearly see, this was not the post I anticipated writing.

The sad thing is that now I feel like enjoying his music has been ruined for me.  I mean, over the next couple days, every time one of his songs came up on my MP-3 player, I’d skip it, like, “Too soon!

I know there are “free spirits” out there, but I don’t care about the guy’s disclaimer about not being “professional.”  If a room full of people pays their hard-earned money to come see you perform, you get your ass out there and put on a show.  Period.  Surely he’s dealt with harsher crowds before… hell, this one loved him and was dying to show it.

So I tried to look on the bright side.  I did get to enjoy a night out, see a show, and get home in close proximity to my usual bedtime.  But I fear I’m always going to look at it as an opportunity missed.

No one has ever accused me of being a starry-eyed optimist.

Director’s DVD Commentary: If for some reason you care to know who this artist is, there is enough information in the first paragraph for you to Google it. 

Monday, October 20, 2014

Cappy's List

After seeing the second Captain America movie this summer, I got the DVD a couple weeks ago and finally re-watched it this weekend.

There’s a scene in the first five minutes, when Cappy strikes up a conversation with a fellow jogger, who tells him he should listen to Marvin Gaye’s “Trouble Man,” if he wants to hear the last 70 years in one album.  Cappy whips out a pad and paper, and says, “I’ll put it on the list.”

The camera shows the notebook, which contains a list of the things Captain America (aka Steve Rogers) wants to check out, as he endeavors to catch up on all the things he missed since the 1940s.  (On account of being frozen in the ocean depths at the end of the first Captain America, and he comes out of “hibernation” at the beginning of “The Avengers.”) 

I’m not sure the line drawn through Star Wars means he saw the movies, or scratched the idea.

It’s an interesting cross section of American life from the 40s to the present day.  Obviously it’s weighted more heavily toward the 90s and 2000s than 50s or 60s.  I have to give them credit though; they probably had hundreds of idea listed, and had to whittle them down to 10 things. 

If I had been designing the list, I would have tried to guide Cappy through the decades more gradually.  Remember, the guy still has the sensibilities of a guy from the 40s.

The music alone is a problem.  I mean, taking a guy from the big bands directly to Nirvana?  You can’t do that; his brain would explode.  You have to make the trip much slower.  I’d give a list with several artists he’d need to explore.

Chuck Berry and Little Richard
Elvis
The Beatles
The Rolling Stones
And THEN, AC/DC.  

Maybe I’d throw in The Scorpions, if only to see the look on his face watching Germans singing about world peace and harmony (when they’re not singing about getting laid.)  I would include disco, just to show how sometimes, things can go horribly wrong.  And the less he knows about music since 2005, the better.

Thai food?  Meh.  I’d go with Chinese, just for the shock factor. 

They included the moon landing on his list; I’d also add the space shuttle program, international space station, and of course, the Challenger and Columbia tragedies. 

Captain America was the product of the US war effort, so he probably ought to know about some more of our military endeavors, like Korea, Viet Nam, the Gulf Wars and Afghanistan.  He lived through the time of Pearl Harbor, but not the end of the war, so he’d need to know about Hiroshima, Nagasaki and 9/11 as well.

No argument with putting “Rocky” on the list.  Not sure what he’d think about Rambo though.  But picking out some key movies might be a problem.  For example, I’d have to disqualify Star Wars as being too ordinary.  I mean, in “The Avengers,” he saw giant nasty aliens flying lizard-esque spacecraft through New York City and knocking down buildings.  That makes the Star Wars Cantina scene look like a grade school play.

In fact I’d have to eliminate all my favorite sci-fi monster movies, because in his post-Avengers world, dangerous, ugly alien monsters aren’t fiction at all.

I would add “All the President’s Men,” to the list, just to show that being American doesn’t automatically make you noble and forthright.  And I would add “The Usual Suspects,” to demonstrate that things aren’t always as they seem.  I’d put “Blazing Saddles” on the list, because I know he’s seen a western or two, but not like this.  “Die Hard” would make the list, to show that you don’t have to be the biggest or strongest to save the day, just have guts and brains.

I was going to add “The Long Kiss Goodnight,” to show how women can kick ass too, but then I remember he works with Natasha Romanof, aka The Black Widow… so he already knows.

I’m sure “I Love Lucy” would be something he’d appreciate as is, but that’s just barely out of his time.  I’d be inclined to start with “MASH,” which would also help flesh out the Korean War.  I might have included “Seinfeld,” but I’m not sure he’d be up for watching that much “nothing.”  Guy’s got some heavy chores to do.  But “The West Wing” would be worth his while, even if a functioning government is just a pipe dream in this day and age.

Also, I’d provide the good Captain with DVDs of the six Pittsburgh Steeler Super Bowl victories.  Pro football was not much more than an oddity in the 40s, so what better way to explore the growth of football than to become familiar with its greatest dynasty?  Here we go!

Couple of other things he ought to know about…

Civil Rights Act of 1964
JFK/RFK/MLK
Title IX and the failure to pass the ERA
The Pill
DOMA and its eventual reversal
“Thank You for Smoking” and the story of the tobacco lobby

What would you add to the list?  If you met someone from the 1940s, what would you tell him to look up?