Thursday, June 30, 2011

Hiding in Plain Sight

When I first got together with Pinky, we used to go on a lot of walks.  She knew all kinds of great trails around the Baltimore area so we’d venture out on the weekend and have a walkabout.  I always took my camera, because otherwise, there would be no reason to be out there besides the fresh air, nature and exercise.

In early December of 2006 we went up north of Baltimore to the NCR Trail.  It was a long cinder-trail that followed a river/stream/miscellaneous waterway.  We toddled along and I was taking various shots of the water and the surrounding path.

We had a nice walk… went along the trail for about 20 minutes, then turned and went back the way we came.  When I got home, I immediately sat down to go through the pictures I’d taken.  I always edit my pictures as soon as I can load them off the camera… I crop where necessary and always reduce the size to something that will fit on a computer screen.  It was then I learned that you really have to look over your shots… you never know what’s going to turn up.

At one point I went to edit a shot I took of a rock bluff with a tree growing up out of it.
Basic shot of a small tree growing up out of the hillside.

Then something caught my attention… something hiding in the shadows…

Holy crap… that looks like a hooded skull, or some kind of long greasy-haired warlock.  I never noticed anything like that when I was looking at the real thing… Creepy

The very next picture was something I planned on naming “Pussy Rock.”
Do I really have to explain the title?

But then, something else caught my eye and I looked in closer…

Demon!  Demon! Gaaaaaaaaah!

You tell me that doesn’t look like a demon peeking around the corner, holding some kind of stick or pitchfork… Must have gotten lost at Halloween and never made it back to the great beyond.

Luckily, I had other pictures that were harmless, by comparison.  Like this one is very simply a big rock that looks like a mushroom.

And this one looks just like a stream with some rapids, and a mattress on the side.

Wait, what?  Sigh…
Nothing mysterious about that… people are pigs.

But if you look real close, you can see a stain on the mattress in the shape of a duck.

Tuesday, June 28, 2011

That Year of Journalism Classes Did Not Go To Waste

As you've probably been able to tell, I don’t let anything amusing that I write elsewhere go to waste and usually run it here.  Today is no exception.

I was emailing with Sitcom Kelly.  (And how many of my posts start out like that?)  In my last post, I wrote a compare and contrast piece between Pittsburgh’s PNC Park and Baltimore’s Camden Yards.  Sitcom Kelly was at a game with me last weekend and we had discussed some of the items during the game.

Director’s DVD Commentary: If you haven’t been reading me long, Sitcom Kelly is a friend of mine whose goal it is to dig a Silence of the Lambs pit in her basement, with the intent to capture and keep Pittsburgh Penguins defenseman Kris Letang.  It has also been established that her next target would be her girlhood crush, former Steelers kicker Matt Bahr.  Lastly, she plans to construct a 6’ tall glass case for the purpose of displaying Penguins forward Sidney Crosby in her living room.  (Although some of her other ‘guests’ may rotate through turns in the case.)  She plans on maintaining her guests’ good will by plying them with really good ziti until they fall in love with her.

We've been working on a document to collect jokes and ideas for the sitcom we plan to produce about her life, hence, the name Sitcom Kelly.

After I wrote the piece, I solicited a comment from the Carpetbagger, knowing that he sees a mess of Pirates games and I wanted his opinion on the matter.  The old Carpetbagger came through for me, so when the notification email popped up, I forwarded it to Sitcom Kelly to have a look.  One of the Bagger’s points was about how they always play the same music.

SK: I wonder if they still play “We Are Family,” by the Pointer Sisters, at PNC Park?

(This was the theme song of the 1979 World Series Champion Pittsburgh Pirates, although it was done by Sister Sledge, not the Pointer Sisters.  I kept the latter point to myself.  But during the playoffs, the players wives could be seen dancing on the dugout roofs when the song played.)

Bluz: They should play it after the game, like the Yankees do with New York  New York… but only after a win.

SK: If I go to the game in August, I’m going to request it.

Bluz: Headline: 1979 Returns
Pittsburgh (AP)
A Johnstown woman was arrested at PNC Park, this afternoon, for dancing on the Pirates’ dugout.

Multiple witnesses say that “Sitcom” Kelly charged her way onto the top of the Pirates’ dugout roof and began demanding that they play the disco song “We Are Family.”  When the song was not played as requested, she began singing loudly and performing what some observers might consider a “dance.”  When the inning change was over and the game was to restart, she refused to return to her seat.  After numerous complaints of indecency and aural assault from those in the front rows, PNC Park Security forcibly removed her.

As she was tased and dragged away, she was heard asking Pirates’ outfielder Garrett Jones for his address and phone number.  She also reportedly made references to a ‘pit’ of some kind, which are not fit for a family newspaper.  Authorities were summoned to investigate.

SK: The possibilities are endless.

Bluz: (continuing…)
When they investigated Ms. Kelly’s house, authorities found numerous relics of the seventies (8-Track tapes, picture slides, Pet Rocks, etc.), a dozen cats, assorted empty bottles of wine; but while there was one doorway that was nailed shut, there was no evidence of a ‘pit.’  They did, however, find a 6’ glass display case but were unable to determine its purpose.  Detectives say there were a number of finger prints inside the case, as well as a message smeared on the glass that read, “More ziti, please!”  The investigation is ongoing.

SK: I’m thinking a Sitcom Kelly movie!

Bluz: Why not?  What’s one more manuscript we’ll never do anything with?

At least this way, I’ll get to tell people I’m working on a movie, not just a TV show.  OK, public-access cable show.  OK, webisode…  Eh, never mind.

Oh, look at the shiny thing…

Sunday, June 26, 2011

Sometimes They Get Things Right

First off, this isn’t really a ‘baseball’ post… it’s about the live, ‘in-park’ experience.  You needn’t be a sports fan to appreciate.

As you may recall, I went to a couple of Pirates games in Pittsburgh last month and had a wonderful time at PNC Park.  At the time, an idea for a post came into my head, besides the usual travelogue.

The Pirates haven’t sniffed .500 ball since 1992; they’ve owned the worst record in baseball ever since.  Hence, they’ve been on the receiving end of a great deal of criticism regarding their baseball operations.  And I have no quibble with that… they teams they’ve put together have stunk up the joint.

BUT, I think it’s time to give them credit for what they’ve done right, which is provide an entertaining in-game experience and a beautiful, forward-thinking park in which to have it.

Sitcom Kelly and I just went to Camden Yards last night to see the Orioles and Reds.  Now, let me put this out there right off the bat.  I love going to Camden Yards.  It’s a great facility and I always have a good time.  But they’re getting lazy.  Ideas that seem like common sense elsewhere are overlooked right here.  They seem to be content with relying on tradition rather than bothering with improvement or innovation.  It’s too bad.

So while I’m going to do a lot of ‘compare and contrast’, it’s not meant to be a slap at the Orioles as much as a pat on the back for the Buccos organization.

There’s no argument that Camden Yards ushered in the era of new ‘retro’ stadiums.  Many of the stadiums that came afterwards followed their example.  But that’s no reason that Camden Yards can’t adapt and improve.  And it all starts before you even walk in.

Both the Pirates and Orioles have a deep history filled with revered stars.  The Pirates celebrate them with beautiful statues, like this.
Walking up to this statue fills me with awe and reverence, with memories of my hero’s exploits filling my head.

Here’s what the Orioles do:

Numbers.  Statues of freakin’ numbers!  Jim Palmer, Brooks Robinson and Cal Ripken (whose numbers are pictured above) deserve better.  It’s just so antiseptic and soulless.  But they do have one statue though… of Babe freakin’ Ruth!  I don’t care if he WAS born here, it’s just not right.  He’s a Yankee and we don’t cotton to no Yankees ‘round these parts.

PNC Park also has a tribute to the local Negro League teams of old.
Legacy Square celebrates the history of the Homestead Grays and the Pittsburgh Crawfords, both of whom played in the Pittsburgh area.

PNC goes out of its way to occupy kids.  They have a nice playground behind the outfield walls.  The Orioles have a moon-bounce and a pitching booth, but that’s it.  Most ball clubs have a ‘kids club,’ like the Pirates and Orioles do.  The Orioles are content to discount some upper deck seats and send a package of tchotchkies with membership.  The Pirates put some serious rewards in play… they offer kids the opportunity to take the field with the players.  When I was there, before the game they had kids run out to the appropriate field positions and wait for their professional counterparts.  They the pros ran out, stood with the kids, and gave them autographs.  One kid went out and stood with the Pirates Parrot mascot.

I don’t know if they do that for every game, but the idea is brilliant and costs the team nothing.  But ask those kids if they’ll ever forget that experience.

Speaking of the mascots, both Baltimore and Pittsburgh have good ones.  Baltimore has the Oriole bird, who does the usual mascot things, like going through the crowd, posing with kids and fans, and leading cheers.  I haven’t been inside the park early enough lately, but I also like when they pull a kid or two out of the stands during warm-ups to play wiffleball with the Oriole Bird. 

If they did more things like that, it would be a step up.  Because the Pirate Parrot does all of than and then some.  Like leading the T-Shirt Gun crew to shoot T-shirts all over the stadium. 

I know that’s not new, but it doesn’t mean it’s not worthwhile.  Why not shoot some T-shirts around Camden Yards?  Afraid of liability?  The owner’s a freaking high-price lawyer.  Too cheap to pop for the T-shirts?  Get sponsors.  Or pony up… the AL East is not the place for cheapskates.

In my opinion, PNC Park has the greatest view in baseball.
Between the bridges and the incredible architecture of the downtown buildings, it’s a view that takes your breath away.

Camden Yards used to have a decent view, right up until they built the Eyesore Hilton.
The Eyesore Hilton dominates the view from behind home plate and the entire first base side.

Only if you sit in the right place on the 3rd base side, do you have a chance to see in the gap between the Eyesore Hilton and the Warehouse, and catch a glimpse of the 5-Bars Towers.
Not exactly awe-inspiring.  And I really have to start learning the names of these buildings.

While we’re talking about the facilities, let’s talk scoreboards.  Both clubs have similar scoreboard setups, but the difference is how they use them.  One thing that just blew me away is that all the Pirates game graphics look like they’re written on old parchment, like the credits of a Harry Potter movie.

This plays into the whole “Pirate” theme, that they carry on throughout the game, using Pirate ships and various scalawags and scoundrels on the board.  They also use the ‘parchment’ graphics on the digital scoreboard rings around the deck.  It’s imaginative and eye-catching.  Plus, they have a number to send text messages to and put them on the scoreboard rings.  Again, that’s not new, but they still don’t do it in Baltimore.

All ballparks have a graphic where they give you the speed of each pitch and what type pitch it is.  The Pirates take that one step further and give you the degree that the ball breaks, both vertically and horizontally.  I’ve never seen this anywhere else and I think it’s a phenomenal idea.  It really gives you a good idea of the movement of the ball.

I think the most advanced thing the Orioles do with the scoreboard is the hot dog race (and the crab shuffle). 
This was last night’s hot dog race, in this case, the hot dogs rode dinosaurs.  Usually they just hop along and you root for ketchup, mustard of relish.  Yawn.

In Pittsburgh and many other ballparks, they have these things race on the field.  In Pittsburgh they use perogies.  Milwaukee uses sausages.  DC uses ex-Presidents.  Whatever… it shows engagement with the audience, rather than just telling them to watch TV.
How can you not be amused by running pierogies? (pic from

After the race, the pierogies then went up into the crowd to interact.  I do admit, however, if I was trying to watch the game and those big old pierogies were blocking my view, I’d probably get pretty steamed and take a bite.

Sitcom Kelly actually wrote in to the Orioles, asking them to consider live hot dog races rather than the scoreboard version.  They responded that people like the scoreboard version. 

Sure, and people like staying in the Motel 6, until they experience a Hyatt or Marriott for the first time.  Ignorance and inertia is not a good reason not to innovate. 

My biggest beef with the scoreboard in Camden Yards is their use of replays.  The Pirates show a replay of every single play, from strikeout to ground out to grand slam.  Everything, for both teams.

The Orioles only show replays that favor the Orioles and they don’t even show all of those.  Last night an Oriole stole a base and they didn’t even bother to replay it.  And if it’s a big play that ends an inning, forget it.  They’re too busy getting to the next scoreboard-related between-inning clip package.

Another crime is that when they DO show a replay, they show it in the smaller of the two screens rather than the giant one on top.  WTF?  No love for those in the nosebleeds?  (Look at either of the 2 scoreboard pics above to see what I’m talking about.)

As I said, all the between-inning activity in Baltimore comes from scoreboard clips.  They do the usual stuff like the Kiss-Cam, guessing the year (based on music, sports and pop culture clues), Fan of the Game, etc.  Same old… 

In Pittsburgh, they really engage the crowd.  They have a guy with a mic and camera and they interview fans, play games for cool prizes and generally cover the crowd from within the crowd.  That’s how you should use a scoreboard.  It’s a great idea!

Best idea I’ve ever seen at a ballpark comes from Cincinnati, where they have a live band set up to play in the corner of the outfield. 

Why not?  It’s fun and it’s lively.  They also have contests to have the crowd text-vote for which song the band should play next.  That’s thinking outside the park.

Of course, I have to talk about the food.  Let me just say for one that the food at PNC was stellar.  I had a mushroom and Swiss cheeseburger that was outstanding… restaurant quality, even.  Both PNC and Camden Yards have the requisite jock-owned BBQ place.

Camden Yards has Boog’s BBQ, where you can get a roast beef sandwich and often press the flesh with former Oriole Boog Powell.
My buddy Rik telling Boog how much he used to hate him, when the O’s played against his Tigers.

Roast beef sandwich there is $10, and is pretty good.

PNC offers Manny Sanguillen’s BBQ.  I wish I had a picture but I forgot to take one.  But I got his $8.00 pulled pork sandwich and it was terrific.  Worth every cent.  Manny also sits out to greet the fans, and always with the big smile that made him famous in The Burgh.

One thing Baltimore does get right is that they let you bring in food  and non-alcoholic drinks from outside.  Consequently, there is always a slew of people on the approach to the park, hawking dogs, brats, burgers, chicken, peanuts and cold drinks.  I always stop there on my way in.

As for the price of beer, it’s a push.  It’s always too expensive at the game.  16 oz beer runs $7.50 for the usual suspects, a little more for imports or microbrews.  The big news in B’more this year is that they were bringing in National Bohemian.  Natty Boh is to Baltimore what Iron City is to Pittsburgh.  Natty Boh is known for being the cheap beer, but not at Camden Yards, where they charge the same price for it as they do the other Miller, Bud and Coors offerings.  Bad form.  Do they think people drink that shitty beer because it tastes good?  Geez, take a buck or two off the price, for cryin’ out loud.

Sitcom Kelly and I usually hit a nearby bar before the game and get out drink on there, on the cheap.  Then once inside, just nurse another beer or two for the ambiance.
Bluz and Sitcom Kelly, as she puts her beer where her mouth his, before she had to dash home and feed the hockey players residing in the Pit in her basement.

 So that’s my rundown.  I’m sorry if I drifted into Orioles-bashing; that really wasn’t my intent.  I want to congratulate the Pirates on the things they get right, even if it’s not ‘assembling a high-quality baseball team’ (at least until lately… we’ll see).  It just happens that my biggest base of comparison is what I see so often at Camden Yards.  I realize it’s a small sample, so tell me… what ideas have you seen at ballparks that other teams should adopt?  What ideas or activities really need to go?

Thursday, June 23, 2011

Odd Bits - The Government Warning Edition

Note: The Surgeon General has determined that reading this post may lead to forfeiture of 5 minutes of your life.  It as also led to acts of mischief, scampishness and a craving for bacon among laboratory rats.  Further tests are underway.

Can’t Believe Everything You Read Dept.
I’ve been sitting on a link I found last week, describing how a Japanese scientist has found a way to extract proteins from human waste and convert them into steak.

You’ve heard of Kobi beef?  This is Poopi beef.  Remind me not to go to cookouts at any Japanese scientist’s house, no matter how much bacon he promises me.

The story was run in a number of places… I believe I found it linked on my Yahoo home page and saw it lurking on other news roundups as well.

But today, Salon had another link about the story, only this time, it’s about how the Bung Beef is most likely a hoax.  It seems that this “story” has been around since the early 90s.  Someone re-posted a YouTube clip about it and long story short, it got picked up by Fox “News” and shortly afterwards, filtered out to legitimate news sources.  Unfortunately, no one bothered to actually make any calls or do any research.  They just passed it on.

Still, there is a Japanese doctor that goes by the name that was reported.  At this time, however, he has not responded to Salon’s queries.  But if you ask me, it has all the hallmarks of a hoax.  Wait, maybe that should be “skidmarks.”

I could have said “bacon strips…”

Denis Leary Was Right
You may have heard that they’ve come up with new warnings for the cigarette packs that include graphic pictures, aimed at forcing you to confront the likely consequences of continued smoking, or at worst, making you hurl on the spot.

While we may debate furthering a Nanny-State vs Public Health concerns, but all I could think of when I heard about this was Denis Leary’s bit from No Cure for Cancer from 1992.

You could have cigarettes in a black pack with a skull and a crossbone on the front, called ‘Tumors,’ and smokers would be lined up around the block going ‘I can’t wait to get my hands on these fuckin’ things… I bet you get a tumor as soon as you light up!’”

Play the clip… dude freakin’ nailed it.

For the record, I don’t have a problem with the new warnings.  I just don’t know that they’ll work.  I think it’s more likely that smokers will be collecting the packages and trading them with their friends, out in front of their office buildings or bars.

But on the off chance it does get some people to reconsider, what the heck?  Anything that helps keep smoke away from me is fine.

Continuing Adventures in Bathroom Architecture
The goofy bathroom pics just keep on coming.  Last week I posted a picture of 2 urinals stationed in a corner, where there is little chance that they could ever be used simultaneously.  This is a running joke between Cassie, Carpetbagger and I, stemming from the first Darwinfish Fry, where the restaurant we held it at had to toilets side by side in the women’s room, with no dividing wall. came through again…

Not sure how this works… Is this overflow seating?  Is it considered a special accommodation for hungry diarrhea sufferers?  Or is it for when women all go to the restroom in a pack but some of them want to eat before their dinner gets cold?

It’s nice how the TP roller is conveniently stationed to also function as a napkin dispenser.

Toon Time
And to see you out today, here’s a sampling of some recent editorial cartoons, as seen at First Door on the Left.

Tuesday, June 21, 2011

The Great One

Major League Baseball’s inter-league play matched up some rivals from the 70s this week.  Baltimore is playing 3 games in Pittsburgh against the Pirates.  If it had been a weekend series, I’d have thought about going out for a couple.  Two years ago when the Pirates came here, I went to 2 out of the 3 games.

The Pirates beat the Orioles in the 1971 and 1979 World Series and were heavy underdogs in both series.  This is only the 3rd time since the 1979 World Series that the Pirates have played the Orioles.  I believe at one of the three games this week, they’re bringing together a reunion of the 1971 Pirates.

But they will be missing one very important participant.  I wrote a guest-post about him in January over at AskCherlock.  I’ve been meaning to repost it over here ever since; I’ve just been waiting for the appropriate opportunity.  And here it is, knocking.  If you read the guest post then, well there’s nothing new to see here.  Otherwise, let me tell you about my boyhood idol…

Roberto Clemente played right field for the Pittsburgh Pirates from the mid-fifties through 1972.  He was my favorite player; my brother’s too.  We both got that from our dad, who spent his younger years frequenting Forbes Field, watching the Pirates.

We must have looked ridiculous as kids, arguing over who got to be Roberto, when we were playing wiffleball in the backyard.  I claimed it because I was the older brother.  My brother claimed it because his birthday was the 21st, the same as Clemente’s number.  Is it odd that we two little suburban white boys grew up idolizing this black Puerto Rican player that spoke mostly Spanish?

It made sense to us… all we saw was a ball player.

We grew up with Dad telling us the stories of Roberto’s unbelievable right arm; how he’d warm up before every game by making a series of throws to each base, from deep in the right field corner.  The velocity was off the charts and his accuracy was peerless.  They didn’t even need fielders at the bases; they just set up baskets for him to drill the throws into.

It’s funny how you never see that any more.  I’ve been to over 70 baseball games since the late 90s, mostly at Camden Yards, and not once have I ever seen an outfielder practicing his throws to the bases.  Never. 

For as good of a hitter as Clemente was, it was always the throws that captivated us.  Dad used to tell us of his duels with Dodgers’ speedster Maury Wills, and about how Roberto would throw behind anyone that took too wide a turn at first and throw them out there.  Clemente lead the league in outfield assists 5 times, and it would have been more if people hadn’t stopped running on him.

And it wasn’t like Clemente was a big guy.  He was just 5’11”, 175 lbs.  Contrast that to another legendary Pirates outfielder known for his cannon-arm, Dave Parker, who went 6’5”, 230 lbs.  Clemente was lithe and quick, but ran with a mad abandon.  There wasn’t a fly ball to right that he couldn’t run down.  And if you’ve ever seen footage of him, it probably included the shot of Roberto rounding second in the 1971 World Series and scrambling into third with a triple.

Ah yes, the ’71 Series against the Orioles.  That was Roberto’s “coming out party.”  I remember watching that as a boy, after racing home from school because they were still playing the World Series in the daytime.  Roberto hit .414 in that series with 2 doubles, a triple and 2 home runs.  But there is one play that will always be seared into my mind.

With a runner on second, the batter hits a fly ball down the right field line.  Clemente sprints after it and catches in stride right near the foul line, facing the wall.  In one motion, he whirls and fires a laser to third base, trying to catch the runner tagging from second.  The ball is dead on, arriving at the same time as the runner.  The ump called the runner “safe,” but it couldn’t have been by much.  The third baseman, Rich Hebner, later said that he thought the runner was out, but the ump should have made that call out of respect for the power of that throw.  Tagging to third on a fly ball to right is practically a given.  And Roberto was 37 years old when he made that play, practically a senior citizen in “baseball years.”  (You can see part of the play at the 1:20 mark of the video below.  Gives me chills, every time.)

Sometimes when I’m at the ballpark, I look over at the spot where he made that catch and imagine a throw making it all the way to 3rd.  You sure as hell don’t see throws like that any more.

The Orioles coaches surely took note.  Later in the series, they had a runner on 1st when a batter hit a double to the corner in right field.  Clemente snagged it off the warning track and uncorked another screamer towards the plate.  I remember seeing the highlights as they showed the catcher standing on the plate.  The ball bounced off the turf about 10 feet up the 1st base line and came to him about waist high.  As he quickly looked up the third base line, all you could see was the runner scampering back to the bag on third.  No one else was going to run on The Great One.

I saw Clemente play with the Pirates a couple of times when I was very young, but I only really remember the last time.  The Pirates were playing the Cubs, July 1, 1972, at Three River Stadium.  My brother and I were there with Dad and our Uncle Ange and cousin Michael.  Clemente hit a home run in the 7th and then a walk-off 2-run homer in the bottom of the ninth to win the game.  We just went nuts in the stands. 

When an earthquake devastated the country of Nicaragua in December of 1972, Clemente threw himself full force into sending supplies to the stricken people.  He raised money and sent a plane-load of food and medicine into Nicaragua.  Upon the plane’s return, he was horrified to hear of the rampant corruption of the Somosa government.  The military was hijacking the supplies and they were being warehoused for internal government use; not getting distributed to the people in need.  It was then that he decided he had to go and personally see to it that his supplies got where they needed to go. 

He said, “Let them tell Clemente that they are taking his supplies.”

And so on New Years Day, 1973, I was watching the college bowl games with my dad when an announcement came on the screen that a cargo plane carrying supplies for Nicaragua had crashed into the sea after taking off from Puerto Rico.  The Great One, Roberto Clemente, had been on board and was presumed dead.

I was 11.  My mind raced, much in the same manner as did the minds of countless millions… “Maybe they just haven’t found him yet… maybe a boat will spot him… maybe he’ll swim to shore…”

As the evening went on, the news didn’t get any better and I had to wrap my mind around the idea that Roberto was not coming back.  In fact, his body was never recovered.

That was the night that I learned that life isn’t fair and even heroes can die.

The crime of it all is that it did not have to happen that way.  The owner and pilot of the plane had his license suspended for the prior 180 days.  The plane was a heap of junk, held together with duct tape and a new paint job.  It had been overloaded by more than 4000 lbs and had not been properly balanced.  There were so many opportunities lost to either ground the plane, or obtain a better one.

Such an unimaginable waste.

So we have our memories.  Wild cuts at balls 6 inches off the ground…  Rounding bases with hat flying, elbows flailing, knees churning… Rocket throws from the deepest corners of the outfield…

He was a great player, and an even better man. 

Rest in peace, amigo.  You earned it.

“Old number 21
You can say that he’s still here,
In all the kids who watched him play
In those glory years.
Now things have changed and it’s not the same
But I got a chance to see him play
And I know there’ll never be another, under the sun
Like Roberto, old number 21. 
Arribaaaaaaaa… The Great One!”

Excerpt from “Old Number 21”, by Pittsburgh’s own, Norman Nardini,
on the CD, "There Was a Time," 1998

Saturday, June 18, 2011

Don't Make Me Go All 'Jules Winnfield' on Your Little Ass

This week saw the release of the greatest children’s book, ever.  OK, it’s not really a “children’s” book… It’s the book for parents of children, lovingly titled, “Go The F**k to Sleep,” written by Adam Mansbach.

As the title indicates, it’s a book written from a frazzled father’s point of view, trying to coax his little angel into going the fuck to sleep.  The book is lovingly illustrated and it’s the juxtaposition of the beautiful art, the sweet sing-song rhymes and incessant vulgarity that makes me laugh my ass off. 

But the real stroke of brilliance is that they got Samuel L. Jackson to read the “Book on Tape.” 
Jules says, “Do I look like a bitch to you?  Go the fuck to sleep.”

Now we move from funny to genius.  It’s almost like it was written expressly for this guy to read.  In fact, this move is so freakin’ great that I actually feel sorry for the author.

I received a PDF of this book via email last week.  This week, clips of the audio book are all over the Internet.  It’s totally gone viral.  So how the hell is this poor schmo going to make any money?  For his sake, I hope he got paid up front by his publisher.

But I digress.  I really just wanted to share this clip.  It opens with Samuel L. talking about his own trials and tribulations with putting his daughter to sleep, and goes on to his reading of the entire book.  (Only 6:20… a most worthy investment of your time.) 

Late Edit: The clip I originally used was removed from service, no doubt by the copyright police.  At the moment, this clip still works, showing SLJ reading 3 of the verses from "Go the F**K to Sleep."

When I was a kid, a book like this was not necessary.  There was very little nighttime foolishness in our house.  My brother and I may have chattered with each other a bit, and may have even got out of bed to torment each other, but we NEVER left the room and God forbid we ever called out for something lame like a glass of water.

When we were told it was bedtime, we got up, went to the bathroom, then went to bed.  There was no negotiations or delaying tactics.  Our options were always the same:

1.  Go to bed now.
2.  Go to bed now with a swat in the ass.
3.  And stay there.

End of negotiations.

Once in bed, we stayed there.  Moms used to say that if we were sick, we could come in and get her.  I never found this to be an option.  I’d have rather put a sharp stick in my eye than go in there and wake up my parents.  It just wasn’t done.

If my dad were to write a bedtime book, I’m pretty sure it would be called, “Don’t Make Me Come In There.”  That was a runaway best seller in our house.

Thursday, June 16, 2011

Making Something Out of Nothing

I have a whole list of blogging ideas, but unfortunately, I can’t seem to locate the will to attack any of them.  Perhaps it’s just that I have one eye on the clock, because 40 minutes from now as I start this, “So You Think You Can Dance” will come on, and I want to go stare at the perfection that is Cat Deeley.  (I hear some people dance too, but I’ve never noticed.  I only register two conditions: When Cat is on the screen talking to me, and when she is not.

She’s just so tall and English and sweet and blond and funny and English.  I could just eat her up with a spoon.  OK, a very tall spoon.  She has a permanent spot on my “Laminated List.”

Unfortunately, SYTYCD is about the only new programming on right now that I care to watch.  All my other shows are either cancelled, on break, or in reruns.  Even the hockey is over.  (Sorry Vancouver.  Too bad you destroyed your city last night.  Now you have to live in it.)

So without hockey or new episodes of 30 Rock, I now have time to unwrap seasons 3 and 4 of Dexter.  I borrowed the DVDs from Sitcom Kelly sometime in January, so I guess I better do something with them.  When you return something late to Sitcom Kelly’s library, she doesn’t fine you; she puts you in the Pit in her basement.

As you may recall, I wrote about watching the first 2 seasons of Dexter and spoiling the outcome for myself and others.  So please… no Dexter plot-line comments.

Bird Brained
My other diversion is much more pedestrian.  I’m always the last one in on any passing fad.  In fact, a fad is officially defined as “over” at the exact moment that I give it a try.

Last weekend when I updated my Chrome browser, it included an interface to play the game “Angry Birds.”  I’ve been hearing about it for ages now as it seeps deep into pop culture.  I’m not really a video game guy, but I thought I’d give it a shot.  I heard it was pretty addictive but I found that I greatly underestimated that.  (Or overestimated my own OCD tendencies.)  Either way, it just seems to make time disappear.  One second I’m playing to fill up the first period intermission during a hockey game, then all of a sudden, the game is over. 

For the uninitiated (my parents), it’s a simple game where you slingshot various birds into glass, wood and stone structures, with the object of knocking them down and bashing the pigs that live inside. 

It is pretty satisfying, I must say… we all have that urge to destroy things.  (Just ask the good people of Vancouver.)  The structures become more and more complicated so eventually you come across one that you just can’t knock down.  Then you’re locked into that “If I can just get this one I can go to bed.”  An hour later, and 6 hours before you have to get up in the morning, you’re still sitting there going, “Goddamn it!
This is the level that gave me the most trouble, so far.  I got it though; now I’m stuck on a new one.

One of the problems with the game as I saw it is that there are no freakin’ instructions.  I played for a couple days before I learned that some of the birds have specialties or can do tricks, like splitting into multiple birds.  That would have been pretty freaking useful to me, I tell you.  Good thing I eventually looked up the game online to see what I could learn.  I might have still been sitting there, unable to get out of the first level.  Wouldn’t THAT have been a giant waste of time?

Karmic Interlude: Don’t you just love it when you run out of Isaly’s chipped ham, bread and Isaly’s BBQ sauce at the same time?  That’s damned good planning.

Presidential Spam
I get a lot of political spam… all you need to do is donate to someone, somewhere, for some cause, and you will not only get contacted again every day for the rest of your life, but also by all related people and causes.  I don’t really mind though… it keeps me up on what’s going on.  I currently get stuff from Planned Parenthood, NARAL, the DSCC, the DCCC, Harry Reid, Barbara Boxer, the Color of Change, MoveOn, Bold Progressives, my Senator, my Congressman,, the ACLU, and Obama for Change.

I got an interesting one yesterday announcing a lottery where 4 winners will win a dinner with President Obama.  In fact, the email came directly from Barack.  I figure I can call him that because that’s how he signed it.  I was surprised he kept my email address.  Fucker still owes me $12.

Anyway, I was just thinking how cool it would be to win that.  What an experience… dinner for just me and the Prez and 3 other lucky schmoes.  It makes me wonder what I’d ask him or tell him.  The email says they want you to tell him your concerns and ideas…

How funny would it be to bring up some really bizarre shit?  Like building a wall around Ohio, to keep Michigan out?  Or painting all the state lines on the ground, so you can see them when you fly.  (That could work… think of the jobs!  Or at minimum, they could use prisoners.)

I guess it would be my nature to go and listen rather than presume to tell the President what he should do.  We here in the cheap seats are great at deciding shit without knowing what’s really involved or what the true risk, costs and consequences are.

But damn, I’d sure get a good blog post out of it.  I wonder if I’d have to get permission.  Or worse, I wonder if the Secret Service would have to vet my site and investigate my associations.

I better give Sitcom Kelly a heads-up.

Tuesday, June 14, 2011

Odd Bits - The Creationist Vandalism Edition

Got a number of things circling the drain floating around today…

Super-Duper 8
I saw the movie Super-8 last weekend.  Loved. It.  It was like a cross between ET and Cloverfield.  The ET part was the relationship between all the little kids that are trying to make this short Super-8 Zombie film in 1979.  The Cloverfield part refers to the big ugly scary monster.  Unfortunately you don’t really get a great look at the monster.  Even the most complete monster-shots are very dark.  I suppose it will help to be able to freeze-frame it on DVD, once it’s released.

Anyway, I love monster movies and I loved Super-8.

After the movies, I had to stop at WalMart to pick up a new mini-blind.  I had went the weekend before but they didn’t have the exact size I wanted.  But Wally’s gets me every time.  I went in with a shopping list of 1 item.  I left after spending over $30.00, without buying that item.  So I had to go back again last weekend with adjusted measurements.  But that wasn’t the problem.  The problem was that while I was in there, someone tried to pry the Darwinfish off the back of my car.  They only got half of it, so now it looks like it used to say “Irwin.”

I don't think they knew what the other one was.  I’m pretty sure the fine upstanding clientele of WalMart’s would have no idea about the Flying Spaghetti Monster.  Or wait, maybe they did… I just noticed a leg missing….

You know, all this time I thought it would be some Pittsburgh artifact in my car that would get me in trouble with the locals.  I never thought it would be proven scientific theory as seen in public museums around the world.

Oh well… the plaques are cheap.  I already have a new one on the way.  This one has been on the backs of my cars for over 5 years.  I believe I got my seven dollars worth.

Urinal’otta Trouble
Back in April, I got into email trouble trying to send Blog Sister Cassie a joke picture relating to our running joke about bathrooms that have side-by-side toilets.  Blog Brother Carpetbagger even joined in on the fun.  So it is with great pride and an inability to let a joke die, that I present another chapter in this quickly-dying storyline:

I don’t even have to caption this, because only one thing can possibly come to mind:

Award Dance
Two weekends ago, I received a spiffy little award from my new friends at Red Town Blues:

First, let me say that you have to check these guys out.  Their deal is that Virgil and The Reverend are two liberal 20-something guys living in Utah, one of the reddest of red states.  The Mormon Empire surrounds them, so their blog deals with the trials and tribulations of not fitting in with the locals, and dropping some serious progressive rage.  (Y’know, like yours truly likes to do on occasion.)

So, the Award says “Good Bloggers Pay it Forward,” and asks that I re-award it to 5 other bloggers.  Since I’m only a “pretty good” blogger, I’m going to give it to three:

Red Pen Mama: I finally got to meet the Red Pen Mama a couple weekends ago, but I’ve been reading her blog for ages.  She writes a thoughtful family blog and also deals with other national issues from time to time.  And it is always immaculately written, as her name would indicate.

Stuff from Sherry Stanfa-Stanley: Sherry is a recent empty-nester and writes terrific family stories from her past and present.  She is also from the town where I grew up and where I’m about to go at the end of next month, so I’m hoping this keep me on her good side.

A Beer for the Shower: I’m new to this one, but it just stone-cold makes me laugh.  It’s written by 2 brothers living in different cities, Brandon (Chicago) and Bryan (Denver).  (Bryan does the drawings and the both write.)  Check it out… you’ll laugh too.

So, once again, I thank the guys at Red State Blues.  If you like these ending cartoons, you will surely get a charge out of these guys…

Yeah, I know it’s a couple months old, but it wasn’t getting any fresher…

Actually, think more of the other cartoons I usually post… these last two are raking both sides…

Sunday, June 12, 2011

Let There Be AC-DC

I’ve never made it a secret that my favorite band is AC/DC.  What is not commonly known is that I used to hate them.  I know, right?  Unbelievable.  I blame my brother, Ed.

Actually my brother gets both credit and blame.  He’s the one that “found” them.  Right when he first heard them, he brought home a couple of records, “Highway to Hell,” and “High Voltage.”  Then he played them… over and over again, but only one side.  I would hear those same 4 or 5 songs constantly.  It drove me up the freakin’ wall.  With me, that much repetition will turn me against most any song.  So I dismissed them pretty much flat out.

When I first heard that their singer, Bon Scott, died, my first thought was, “Maybe they’ll stop making those shitty records now.”  For the record, I’m not proud of that moment.

But two events changed everything.  Maybe three… First, I heard “Hell’s Bells,” from their “comeback” album, “Back in Black.”  For the first time, I noticed the powerful riffs and big chorus.  I loved the slow build, starting with the stately bell, no doubt tolling for their fallen singer.  That song opened the door a bit for me.  After that, “You Shook Me” became a huge hit and nobody with ears could deny that it was a practically perfect rock single.

After “Back in Black” came out, they re-released “Dirty Deeds Done Dirt Cheap.”  The title track went straight to rock radio and was all over the airwaves.  AC/DC had a hit with 2 different albums, made in 2 different decades.  I was taken with the pounding drums and lowdown and dirty guitar sound.  Hmmm…

The second thing was that my brother went to see them in concert, up in Detroit at Cobo Hall.  They were on the very beginning of their “For Those About to Rock” tour… in fact that album hadn’t even been released yet.  They were basically playing the songs from their “Back in Black” tour, but closed with “For Those About to Rock.”

Ed came home from that show raving about what he’d seen.  He could barely put it into words.  “He (guitarist Angus Young) keeps going like this (mimicking Angus’s trademark head-bob and scissor-walk) the whole damn show… he never stops…  They had a big bell that came out of the ceiling for Hell’s Bells and these giant cannons for the last song…” He showed me a cannon on the front of his concert jersey.
This is the shirt, now bequeathed to Ed’s son and new AC/DC disciple, Daniel.

Remember that back then, there was no MTV yet and the only music videos were in Europe, or late at night on the Midnight Special.  No one knew what a band was like unless they went to a concert.  My brother has never been one that is easily impressed so if he was that excited about this band, I’d have to give them another look.

My opportunity to do so came shortly after that.  AC/DC release a concert movie called “Let There Be Rock,” shot in Paris with Bon Scott singing on their “Highway to Hell” tour.  I went to see it with my buddy Brill.  It knocked our fucking socks off.  Still best concert movie I have ever seen.

I didn’t know many of the songs; only those my brother had drilled into my head, but it didn’t matter.  I finally understood what AC/DC was about.  Seeing was believing.  This band was incredible and Angus Young was a freak of nature.

Several years later when VHS tapes took hold, I bought a copy of “Let There Be Rock” as soon as it came out.  It was like owning a piece of history.  But over the years, technology changes and dealing with videotapes became cumbersome.  I probably haven’t played my copy in over 10 years.  But this week, “Let There Be Rock” was finally released on DVD/Blu-Ray.  I had it pre-ordered as soon as I heard about it, right along with their latest concert video, “Live at Grand Plate”.  (That one was filmed in High-Def, in Buenos Aires during last year’s world tour.)  “Grand Plate” arrived 2 weeks ago and yesterday, I received “Let There Be Rock.”
The Blu-Ray/DVD combo pack on the left, and my old about-to-be-retired VHS, on the right.

The discs came in a nice tin case, with a booklet, some picture-cards and a guitar pick.  Still it bugged me that they used a molded plastic filler to take up about half the room in the case.  Why not just make the case thinner?  Why take up all that room on my video shelf?  Anyway, it’s just a small quibble.

So last night, I fired up the Blu-Ray, kicked on the surround sound, opened a beer and returned to the years when I was young and the band was about to become legendary.

The booklet that came with the package taught me an interesting tidbit.  On the day they filmed; the band actually played two shows.  The film crew used the first one as rehearsal, and then filmed the second one for the movie.  Plus, Bon Scott woke up with laryngitis that morning.  Two shows in one day… two AC/DC shows… Unbelievable.

I smiled through the entire opening as Angus kicked off “Live Wire,” standing atop one of those big Marshall stacks.  The song is a perfect opener because it builds slowly… first the bass, then the drums kick in, then Malcolm Young’s rhythm guitar, and finally, as he hops down from his platform, Angus’s guitar comes smashing through to grab you by the throat.
Watch at least the beginning, then continue reading…

Immediately I found myself comparing this concert to the one from last year.  OMG, they looked like babies.  Angus must have been in his early 20s when it was filmed.  The difference in energy was apparent too.  Last year, Angus was in his 50s when he performed and while he still had his incredible energy (compared to most mortals) it was nothing compared to the zest and energy from “Let There Be Rock.”  He was back and forth, head bobbing in constant motion for the entire show, just like Ed had first told me.

It’s funny seeing a concert from so long ago… you notice how much things have changed.  The biggest thing to me here was that they still had cords on their instruments.  I have no idea how Angus was able to run around the way he did, without ensnaring everyone in guitar cord.  If ever there was a poster-boy for wireless, it’s Angus.  As a result, they keep it simple.  Bon’s up front, Malcolm and Cliff (the bassist) stay in the back flanking the drummer and Angus runs around in between.  Then for the choruses, Malcolm and Cliff stride up to the mics, yelp their lyrics, then step right back.

You can see this dynamic in the video above.  But sometimes I wonder if their mics are even turned on.  The trademark “big choruses” from the records aren’t all that big, live.  But I’ll give them credit for not using any tricks like adding echo or backing tapes.  It is what it is.

Between songs, you can hear the amps buzzing and crackling through the speakers, adding a crispy, crunchy sound texture.

This show was stripped down to basics.  There were no lasers or video screens.  No big inflatable “Rosie” for “Whole Lotta Rosie.”  No big Hell’s Bell or Civil War cannons.  No gimmicks at all.  It was just a stage and a band, playing their asses off.

The best part was the way it was filmed, using lots of long, lingering crane shots that followed the players.  That contrasted heavily with the new concert video I’d just seen, where no shot lasted longer than a second or two; like a 90-minute music video.

The sustained shots allow you to focus on a single thing… the guitarist’s fingers, or the drummer changing drumheads during the song, or the interplay between band members while the singer struts around the stage.

Ah, the singer.  Has there ever been a front-man with more charisma than Bon Scott?  Bon’s brilliance lies in that he always lets you know that he’s in on the joke, like an impish Aussie scamp.  I think Bon is kind of like Jim Morrison, only without the sleaze (and serious poet-y stuff).  The Lizard King once whipped out his lizard on-stage.  Bon would be more likely to tell you about it in metaphorical terms, then grin and shoot you a wink before strutting off. 

The movie is interspersed with short interviews and vignettes with the band.  There, you can see their sly wit and self-deprecation.  They have never taken themselves too seriously, other than to make sure everyone gets a show they’ll never forget.  In one segment, they ask Cliff if he composes.  He says, “Nothing to worry Lennon and McCartney about…”

In another segment, the interviewer asks each band member about Angus.  When Angus is asked what people think of him, he says, “Who’s the ugly little man up there?

And Lordy, he is tiny… 5’2” and nothing but sinew and gristle, as far as I can see.  He plays a large guitar as it is, (a Gibson SG) but on him, it looks like a guitar with a gnome riding it.

The show barrels through their early hits.  They hit their stride around the 4th song, “Sin City,” and never let up.  Later, after charging through “Whole Lotta Rosie,” where Angus has to change guitars in the middle of his solo, they chug into “Rocker.”  This bit always slays me because this is where Angus runs backstage, grabs some oxygen and water, then hops onto a roadie’s shoulders and rides out into the crowd, flailing a solo as he goes.
Angus performing amid a sea of people.

It’s actually kind of scary to watch.  There are no barriers and people are slapping his back, pulling on his arms, pushing them to and fro and still he never breaks the solo… Not so’s you’d notice, anyway.  You can see the whole number, here:
Angus nips off stage at the 3:04 mark, is hopping down onto his roadie by 3:40 and the fun begins.

In later years, they would have an aisle cleared and Angus would come out with a phalanx of security people.  I remember one show I was at, sitting in the 2nd row on the side when the Angus entourage passed by.  I was close enough to poke him with a stick.  It was to me what it might be to someone else being that close to The Pope.

Angus finally makes it back to the stage, then gets on Bon’s shoulders for a ride to center stage, where Bon chucks him off and Angus goes scissor-kicking across the way before climbing the Marshall stacks again for the guitar solo.

After all that, it’s finally time for the big finish; the cathartic “Let There Be Rock,” which is a veritable marathon of high-speed thrashing to a Chuck Berry beat.  This song is nothing but adrenaline and I figure it needed to be, given that it comes at the end of a 2nd 2-hour show.  Like I said, to be that active and frenzied every night, 200 nights a year, for 35 years and NOT be brain-damaged… Angus is a freak of nature.

Then the show concludes with a final frozen spotlight on the singer, with the words, “To Bon.”

Good on ya, Mate.  You were the greatest.  And I’m sorry I was ever glad you were dead.

I finished the night worn out, but with a smile on my face.  My legs were tired from doing the Angus-bob from my easy chair.  It wasn't as bad as when I used to go to their concerts... I've seen them 5 times; (sadly, never with Bon Scott) and each time was better than the last.  But they demand something out of you.  They demand every ounce sweat and energy that you can give and when they're done with you, you're as spent as they are.  I could probably do a post just on seeing them on concert and I just may, depending on how this one goes.

This music was the soundtrack to every party I ever threw.  In fact, it was the apex of every party… when the moment was right and everyone was happy and rockin’ out, only then was it time to bust out the AC/DC, sending the party into a sweaty overdrive.  We’d start with “TNT” go to “Dirty Deeds,” then “Highway to Hell,” “Back in Black,” “You Shook Me,” “Hell’s Bells” and then eventually, tear the place down with “Whole Lotta Rosie” and “Let There Be Rock.”  I was always spent by the time that was finished, drained of energy by daring to imitate the mighty Angus.  And I always woke up with a sore neck.

But it was always worth it.  


Note: Both pictures of the band and the shot of the movie poster are scans of the photo-cards that came with the video package.