Saturday, April 28, 2012

Story Hour

You may recall that Pinky works in a Seniors Center as an activities person.  Back in mid-February, she approached me to give a talk to her seniors and tell some of the stories about my Grandpa.  I’d recently run a couple of stories here about my Grandpa and his crazy family, thus giving Pinky the idea for me to come in.  The date she was holding open was Saturday afternoon, March 31, at 3pm.

Now, know this about me… I’m not a guy that seeks out the spotlight.  I’d rather write material for someone else than get up in front of people and do it myself.  So right off, I had to try to figure out how to get out of it. 

After consulting the NHL schedule, I saw that the Penguins were NOT playing that afternoon, so they were no help to me at all.  So I tried to reason my way out of it.

Why would your seniors want to hear a bunch of stories about some stranger’s relatives,” I asked.  “Why would they care?

They like to hear stories about the old days, plus, you’re new so they aren’t tired of listening to you,” Pinky responded.

I had to change tactics.  But I haven’t given a speech or talk to a group since… well… since the mid 90s.  My speech-giving days are long past.” 

You’ll be fine, all you have to do is tell the stories like you told me.”

With that, she put me on the schedule.  Apparently I didn’t really have any choice in the matter.  Resigned to my fate, I began to ponder the up-sides.  It would be kind of fun to tell the stories to a group; in fact, it would be just like my Grandpa would do.  I would be channeling him, as a way of honoring him.  Yeah, I could pull this off.  Besides, if I suck, they’ll probably forget all about it within a day or two.

Telling the stories themselves would be no problem.  Hell, I’ve already told them all right here.  The one about my Great Grandpa sending his wife to Italy and then leaving her for a year, the one about her stuffing bits of rags into his annoying musical instrument, Grandpa’s brawling brothers handcuffing their parents together until they settled their argument, and the one about the one brother lugging the other up the stairs, but was in fact so drunk he didn’t realize he was carrying a rolled up carpet… all of those were in one post.  The story about my Grandpa smuggling booze into the Pacific Rim war zone by replacing maraschino cherry juice with bourbon was in this post.  So I basically already had my material all worked out.

But I didn’t want to tell them as nothing but a bunch of disjointed vignettes.  They had to make sense as a whole.  But that’s where being a writer paid off.  I approached it like I was telling one long story.  I just needed to connect them all the stories together.  So that’s what I worked on… devising the segues to bind it all together.  I had about 5 pages worth of notes typed out and that didn’t even include writing out the stories.  I certainly didn’t want to go out there and just read from the pages, so I went over it enough times so that the notes were just there for reference.  I did a rough timing rehearsal about a week out and on the morning of the event, did a full out practice run at home, for maximum freshness.  It timed out to about 20 minutes.  I even prepared a little “stunt” to liven up the part where my Grandpa was in the hospital, at the end.

Pinky had us set up in a large rec room, with couches and easy chairs in a semi-circle around the speaker’s chair.  I was hoping for a podium or something, so that my note pages would be less conspicuous, but I had to make do.

We ended up with a little over a dozen seniors, mostly women, maybe 3 men.  It was kind of funny, looking out at all of them, with their walkers sitting in front of them.

Once I was in the room, I knew that I had to shed any ambivalence I had about speaking.  One thing I remember from my college days (which included a great deal of public speaking) was that you had to keep your energy up and be fully engaged, if you wanted to capture your audience.  You had to commit.  I also knew that the opening would have to be strong if you wanted to draw them in… first impressions and all.  So I had a couple of jokes ready at the outset.

When Pinky first told me that she wanted me to speak to you, my initial reaction was to say, ‘Why, did they do something wrong?’”

I totally ripped that from Modern Family.*  Luckily, it got a laugh.

No, for years, she’s heard me talk about my Grandpa on my Mom’s side and tell stories about his life and his crazy family, and though that maybe you’d like to hear them too.  Just remember, if you don’t like the stories, it’s HER fault.”

Another laugh… phew.  Those two jokes were my canaries in the coalmine.  If they died, it would be a long, uncomfortable 20 minutes for me.  So I went on the stories and pretty much killed.
Channeling Grandpa and trying to make my notes look inconspicuous.

Right off the bat, I found one lady that was completely engaged in the stories.  I could see her following every plot point with the reactions on her face.  Naturally, I started to look her way most of the time.  She was on my left, so a number of times, I had to make a conscious effort to look back to the right.  Otherwise, I could have played to her the whole time.
Lillian, the one in the dark outfit in the middle, was my Go-To Gal.

Really, I WASN’T reading my notes!  It just looks that way!

The whole thing went great.  I got laughs where I wanted and seemed to carry their attention throughout the presentation.  I heard later that they liked how I got up to demonstrate how my Great Uncle was hauling his brother (the carpet) up the stairs.

And even without seeing, I caught the laughs drawn by my “stunt,” when I was telling how Grandpa entertained the nurses assigned to give him his pills while in the hospital.  He’d take the pill cups and draw eyes on them, then put them over his own eyes and hold up a newspaper in front of them.  Then when they walked in, he’d drop the paper and…
“Perhaps a little less caffeine, please.”  I probably should have tipped Pinky off about this bit so she could get a live picture, but I wanted to surprise her too.

So, I wrapped it up in 20, thanked the seniors for their attention and soaked up their warm applause.  Then Pinky threw it back to them, to ask about stories or memories of their own grandparents.  It was sad how many of them never knew their grandparents, because they had died so young.  Occupational hazard of being alive in the early 1900s, I guess.

I also took the opportunity to talk a little bit about my other Grandpa, who is still very much alive and rocking all of his 96 years.  I told them the story about how when my Dad got in trouble as a teenager for hopping on freight trains, Grandpa left his ass in jail until past midnight, when Grandma finally made him go get her son out of the town lockup.

It’s a shame to think that there are people that never had grandparents that could pass on family lore like this.  I am so lucky, in this respect.  I got to know all four of my grandparents and still have clear memories of each.

Anyway, the audience participation ran until everyone was talked out.  Many of them came by to tell me how much they enjoyed my stories, which touched me greatly.  They were all very sweet.

And the funny thing was that there was one guy in the crowd, on my far left, that barely moved a muscle the entire time; he just sat there with his chin in his hand, expressionless.  But afterwards, he came up and we ended up talking for another 20 minutes.  Seems we had lived in a number of the same places.  He even worked at the Chevy plant in Parma OH, right across the street from my apartment. 

And he was a Browns fan and wanted to know if it was true about how the Steeler fans used to smuggle booze into the games.  That gave me the opportunity to talk about all our adventures at the Steelers/Browns games over the years, including our methods of illicit booze smuggling.
Demonstrating the use of “Bar-Noculars.”

All in all, it was a very good day. 

And somewhere, I’m sure my Grandpa was smiling and I hope, very proud. 

Director’s DVD Commentary: The Modern Family joke came from when Phil and Claire were at the theater about to see a cheesy monster B-movie, but instead felt they needed to attend a subtitled French film, so to not seem dumb to the daughter’s classmate’s very educated parents. 

Said Phil, “Why do I have to see a French film?  I didn’t do anything wrong!

Wednesday, April 25, 2012

See Spots Run

I’ve told a number of stories about that period in time when I was married (cold chill runs down spine.)  There were the stories about my Ex-wife getting stuck upside-down behind the dryer and getting trapped in the back yard buck-naked.  (Both can be found in this post.)  I’ve mentioned the strained relationship she had with her young son and the toll he took on our relationship.  I’ve talked about how she had a new guy living in the house a month after I moved out.  And I’ve talked about the wearying fights we would have, usually after she was already pissed off at the boy and I would stumble into it.

House cleaning was a subject that came up all the time, especially during the periods that I was unemployed (or under-employed).  Now I had no problem with doing the housekeeping.  I was the one at home, so I did all the cleaning, shopping and cooking.  But damned if I could ever do it “right.”

But it wasn’t even so much that I didn’t DO it right, it was that I didn’t decide to do it before she said to have it done.  I think a lot of that came down to a basic difference between men and women.  Dave Barry said it best: “Men clean when they see the dirt.  But women see the actual dirt molecules…” so we seldom considered something in need of cleaning at the same time.

She would yell at me because she had to tell me what to clean and when.  This would take about a half hour.  I would respond by saying, “All you have to do is say, ‘would you please vacuum, clean out the microwave and change the cat litter tomorrow?’  And I’d say ‘sure’, and we’d be done.”  Since I was the one doing the work, I didn’t see the big deal.  Obviously my perception of what needs cleaned did not match up with hers, so why not just tell me?

Anyway, the Number One Bone of Contention was the issue of Spots on the Mirror (SOM).  Toothpaste spots, to be exact.  For some reason, SOM short-circuited every synapse in her brain. 

Now, we had a big bathroom mirror.  It spanned across two sinks and included a low-level mirrored cabinet with sliding doors.  Knowing how she was about SOM, I began brushing with my lips closed, and I’d wipe away any errant spot as soon as I saw it shoot out.  So it wasn’t like I didn’t try.

More often, the problem was her son, who was much less careful with this brushing, or anything else, really.  Plus, he was brushing at a much lower height, so his spots were rarely in my line of sight.  But goddamn, this woman would rage for a solid half hour about these fucking spots!  I mean, she’d get started, I’d walk over and clean the spots in, like, two minutes.  And she’d still be carrying on… I’d say, “Honey, I cleaned the spots 15 minutes ago… let it go.”

In later years, I often thought that it was the kind of mental issue that could best be summed up with Goth Girl poetry.  You know… the kind scribbled on spiral notebooks by sad girls on rainy afternoons…

For years, I’ve had the tone in mind, along with the opening.  But I’d never been able to take it any further… until last night.

I was out at Happy Hour with Sitcom Kelly and for some reason, SOM came up in conversation.  I mentioned my Goth Girl poetry idea and right out of left field, the next line popped into my head, so I quickly wrote it down on my napkin.  Maybe it was the nachos, maybe it was the beer, maybe it was my proximity to Sitcom Kelly that goosed the Goth Girl portion of my brain into action.  When I got home, the rest of it poured out, still on the napkin.

I don’t write poetry; that’s my mom’s gig.  In college, I took a creative writing course where I had to do both poetry and prose.  It was painful... I did maybe one decent poem, another that was absolutely atrocious, and all the others were comic.  I couldn’t help it.  If it’s not a limerick, I’m hopeless.  (I’ll have to see if I can dig some of them up.)

So, picture this being read by a woman dressed in black, alternately pounding her chest and gesturing towards the skies, reading with the voice of Carmela Soprano.

Spots on the mirror
Spots on the mirror
Speckled doom fills my soul.
Connect-the-dots torment,
Your pox mocks my very being
Out, out damned spots
Or at least get a better job.

[drapes arm across brow]


Thank you.

Saturday, April 21, 2012

Tag Teamed


Last week when I bestowed the vaunted “Kreativ Blogger” award on my pal Hoody, she, in turn, installed me into her “Royal Court.”  While I immensely appreciated the honor, my thought was that this was a “ceremonial” title at best.  I did not know that there would be homework.

So her post yesterday, she was “Tagged” and assigned some questions to answer.  She then reassigned the questions to we in her Royal Court.

As I’m new there, I do not want to fumble my first assignment so now that “I’m ‘It’” (by proxy) here are my answers to the “Tag, You’re It” questions.

1. Book or movie, and why?

I go with a combination of both.  When there’s a book/movie combination out there, my preference is to see the movie first and then read the book.  It’s common knowledge that the book is almost always better.  If I read the book first, I love the book and am then disappointed by the movie (once you notice all the things from the book that don’t make the cut.)  By seeing the movie first, I enjoy the movie and then enjoy the book even more, as it adds detail and fleshes things out.  Win/Win.

I did this most recently with “The Hunger Games.”  Just saw it last weekend, then immediately bought and read the book.  Of course, I bought the other two books of the trilogy as well and will read them first, despite my preference not to do so.  It’s even less appealing to wait another five years for them to make two more movies, just to see how things turn out

2. Real book or E-book?

Real book.  I don’t have an E-reader.  I might, someday, as real books go the way of LP records and cassettes (and CDs) but for the time being, I like the physical nature of a paper book.

3. Funniest thing you’ve done in the last 15 years?

Probably writing this blog, although granted, it’s kind of hit-or-miss.  But I’m more of a funny writer than a funny doer.  To me the funniest thing I’ve been involved with lately was writing the “seeing Hairy Harry marry Merry Mary Cherry Darrybarry” post from Tuesday.  I giggled my ass off at every mental run-through.

As for actual “doing?”  I’d have to go outside the 15-year parameter and cull through the stupid stunts of my youth… like falling down the steps at the Bowling Green Armory while trying to help carry out a keg, or showing up at the airport with my buddies to pick up a friend, while we were dressed in 3-piece suits and shorts in December, or dressing up in cowboy garb and riding a stick horse off a plane, when we went to visit that same buddy.

Closer to the 15-year frame, would probably be my speech to my record retailer’s RMs and DMs, where I bucked the order to keep is short and delivered all the funny shit I had planned.  But even so, that’s still pretty much about writing.

Of course, it just occurred to me that I actually have post titled “The Funniest Story Ever Written (by me).”  Perhaps that will suffice.  Long-time readers know this one.  You should too.

4. Do you put yourself in the books you read or movies you watch?

Not really, although sometimes I will allow myself the fantasy of “What if I went to Hogwarts,” or “What if I got to kiss Sandra Bullock while speeding away from a burning bus on an improvised skateboard?”  And like Hoody, sometimes I end up in the movies by way of dreams.  I’m sure the book would have been much better though.

5. How would your best friend describe you?

Wow.  Depends on the friend.  Like my buddy Rick (Chairman of Fuck Off) would describe me as desperately unfunny, because it’s been his mission since high school to never laugh at anything I say or do.  But for the most part, I think my friends would say that I’m there for them, (even if I live in another state).  When one of us sounds the alarm, the rest of us come running.

6. Favorite kind of car, and why?

I’m not really a “car guy” so I don’t have much of a basis to compare.  I haven’t driven all that many types, nor do I really worry about it.  I just want something comfy and reliable, with a good stereo.

7. Would your choice of party be a catered meal or a barbeque out back?

A catered meal of barbeque, out back.  I prefer the informality, love grilled food and if it’s catered, neither me nor my friends and family have to cook or clean up.

8. What is your favorite season and why?

Fall, hands down.  Love the colors, football and hockey start, and my birthday!

9. What important lessons have you learned?  Spiritual, educational and occupational?

Spiritual: You needn’t rely on church or religion to feel a sense of spirituality.  Each denomination fights for its own market share, often bypassing the message behind why they’re supposed to be there.  If there is a God, I prefer to reach him without a “middleman.”

Educational: Honors freshman courses in college, covering values and judgment.  They taught me how to think for myself and pick apart faulty arguments.  And of course, English Lit as a high school junior put me in the room with the best teacher I ever had, who taught me the value of non-conformity and (again) thinking for one’s self rather than running with the herd.  Life got much, much easier once I stopped giving a shit about what others thought of me.  It was there that I came up with one of my Book of Bluz lessons: “In trying to please everyone, you end up pleasing no one, least of all, yourself.”

Occupational: Never answer an email when angry or upset.  Write it then delete it.  Take a breath.  Let someone else read it first.  Unfortunately, I unleashed too many a flaming email that ended up burning my own ass, before I accepted this lesson.

10. Besides writing, what’s your favorite thing to do when you get some extra time?

That’s tough, because my life is built around nothing but extra time.  No kids to attend, no house to fix, just work and come home.  Writing this and reading your blogs is my life’s blood.  But eventually, I get all caught up and then I have to do something

So I’d have to say, watching movies, going to ballgames and taking nature pictures.  There.

11. What’s the one place you can be found at least one time every week?

The deli and liquor store in my neighborhood, picking up the weekend’s libations for Pinky and me.  Mine is not a glamorous life.

So that’s that.  Hoody said that the rules are that she had to pass this on to 11 people, but she doesn’t follow the rules.  (And thus assigned it instead to the 28 members of her Royal Court.)  I don’t follow the rules either.  So feel free to answer these yourself, if you want.  Otherwise, don’t. 

Or you can simply put the idea in your vault until later… it’s an easy way to bang out a post when you need one…

Thursday, April 19, 2012

Fool's Errands

I meant to do a serious post tonight, and I was due, especially after the whimsical nature of the last post.  But I’m doing this one instead.  Hey, you get what you pay for.

I took today off, just to burn a floating vacation day before I lose it.  I decided to run some errands, while everyone else was at work or school.  What I learned is that there are still a lot of dipshits running around during the day, but at least not as many as during nights or weekends.  I forgot how much easier it is to go about your business during the day on a weekday.

There was a time when that was my default free time; back when I worked retail and my day (singular) off was a Tuesday or something.  I always felt like I was playing hooky, out running around while all my friends and everyone else was hard at work.  It kinda bummed me out back then.  But I’m over that now.  I enjoy not having to run with the masses, just to get some shit done.

So now I’m going to try to remember all the stuff that occurred to me today and thought “Hey, this would make a good topic to write about,” as I was out and about.

First stop: hair cut.  I wanted to get my summer cut on before I head for Florida to visit my folks in a couple weeks.  There were only 2 other people in the shop when I came in, so I got to sit right down.  Funny thing was that some dude came in about 30 seconds after I sat down, saying he wanted a cut from the woman that was about to work on me. They haggled over how long he would have to wait.  He decided he’d come back in 10 minutes.  Putz.

I wanted to stand up in the chair and go, “Dude!  Look at me!  This won’t take but 5 minutes.  She’s gonna shear me like a sheep and send me on my way.  Now sit down and shut up.”

In all fairness, it took 6 minutes, but she spent a minute of that time answering a phone call.  Then I was on to the gas station.  I have a BP gas card that gets me a 5-cent discount so I was pretty excited about that… right up until I later rolled by a BP in another part of town, whose posted price was already a penny lower than what I just paid.  I blame Obama.  (Everyone else does…)

Next, I went up the road to my favorite sports bar, Jilly’s.  That’s where I go to watch Steelers games when they’re not on local TV.  I’ve been in their “Mug Club” for the last 2 years and it was time to renew, so while I was in the neighborhood, I figured I’d take care of it. 

The cool part was that they had new mugs.  I got to pick whether I wanted a brown one or another blue one, and then take my old mug home.
My old one looks a lot like the blue one pictured, so I went with the brown.  The blue is too close to purple, which is the Ratbirds’ color.  This homey don’t do purple.

Now I just wonder if the new mugs are the same size as the old ones.  I should have asked when I was there.  Part of the deal is that these were 20-oz mugs, which were filled for the price of a pint.  I guess I’ll find out this fall.

Finally, it was time for lunch, so I hit my favorite Wendy’s.  I had just been there on Saturday but I figured I might as well strike while the iron was hot.

I got a little annoyed when I was coming out of the parking lot.  There was small line of cars waiting to get onto the main road.  I was coming in perpendicular to the line, so I was waiting my turn.  But them some lady in a big SUV eased up to the back of the line.  I inched up a bit because hey, I was there first.  As other cars continued to line up behind her, I figured I’d better nose out a little further, lest I get stuck behind all the rest of them too.  (The lot empties out onto a major roadway with no light, so sometimes it’s a good wait for a chance to pull out.

Finally a couple cars moved and Mrs. SUV hesitated a second, so I shot out into the line.  I could hear her laying on the horn, but screw her.  She knew I was already there before she ever rolled up.  It always cracks me up when I pull what might be considered to be a “dick move,” because I know that they can see the Darwinfish and Flying Spaghetti Monster emblems on the back of my car.  They probably figure, “Ah, no wonder, that’s a godless heathen up there.”

I figure that should give me license to do whatever I want.  The offended people behind me will just assume I’m going to get my comeuppance in the afterlife.  Meanwhile, I’m rolling down the road with my window open and my tunes going.

I don’t have a good enough stereo system to really shake the block, like some other drivers do, but it’s good enough for me.  But I do try to leave an impression with passers by.   And I want that impression to be, “Damn, that old motherfucker still rocks!

My primary mission of the day was to go to WalMart and return a pair of earphones I got last weekend.  The earphones to me MP3 Player were starting to short out on one side, so I needed a replacement.  I usually get these cheap Phillips earphones that wrap around the top of the ear (because otherwise, I’m always pulling them off accidentally) but with the speakers that do not go inside the ear (like “Earbuds” do).

Unfortunately they were right out of those, so I figured I’d upgrade and get this Sony pair that did have the “earbud.”  Big mistake.  Not only did I not like the sensation of the ends going into the ear, the wrap-around part squeezed the shit out of my ears.  I wore them once on Monday and within 20 minutes, I couldn’t wait to get them off.  And to boot, they sounded terrible, like listening to a 1960s-era transistor radio speaker.  The sound was all tinny and thin.  That won’t do when trying to rock the AC/DC.

So I took them back without problem, but they still didn’t have the kind I wanted.  So I picked up the Blu-ray of the new Mission Impossible movie, a few groceries, and went on my way. 

Next on the agenda was to try to find some new sneakers.  I went up to the big DSW shoe warehouse store, figuring I’d find something there.  Wrong.

One thing I learned today is that men really get boned when it comes to shoes.  This place is as big as a freakin’ bowling alley, and all but 5 aisles are devoted to women’s shoes.  For men they had 2 aisles of sneaks, 2 aisles of casual shoes and sandals and a single row of dress shoes.  (There were probably 20+ aisles of women’s shoes.) 

They only had a few styles that weren’t butt-ugly and garish, or made of mesh (which I don’t want because I need to keep my feet dry while tromping to and from work in any weather).  All I wanted was a simple pair of comfy size-12 white sneaks.  The few they had either weren’t in my size, weren’t sufficiently padded, or pinched the tops of my toes when I walked.  (I have to be careful with the fit because my feet are so likely to get hives from pressure points.)

The DSW didn’t have jack so I went next door to the Burlington Coat Factory.  They had even less than jack.  One more store down was a Best Buy.  I figured I’d take another stab at some earphones but they didn’t have them either.  All they had were either the big, padded things, or the goddamned earbuds. 

Almost ready to admit defeat, I finally I tried Target on my way home and they had them.  Glory be!  Of course, they also had the Mission Impossible blu-ray for $2 less than I paid at Wally’s. 
I miss "24."

I tried looking for shoes there, but they also had one measly half-row of men’s sneakers, amid a huge section of women’s shoes.  Perhaps it’s all a backlash driven by women, who now seek to keep men barefoot.

Oh well, life goes on.  All in all, it was a good outing.  I earned my merit badge in Getting Shit Done.  Now it’s time to relax.  Life is good, even with beat up sneaks.

Tuesday, April 17, 2012

How to Get Kicked Out of a Meeting

You know how sometimes I have these posts that don’t make any sense whatsoever?  You’ve seen these before when I’m emailing with someone and we start to string funny sounding words and phrases together, just for the sheer fun of it?  Yeah, this will be another one of those; only this time I was the only player.

I was in a staff meeting today with my boss and her other direct reports, and someone mentioned a guy that works for the company who has the last name of Darrybarry.

And I thought I had an unfortunate name, growing up.  (You try growing up with the last name of “Dude.”)

Now, I have no idea who this guy is… he works in another state, but the name just had so many possibilities.  My head started spinning with ideas right there in the meeting and a couple of times, I had to clamp my hand over my mouth to keep from busting out laughing, as I scribbled some notes on my note pad.

It all started with the thought, “What if his parents had named him “Barry.”  He would be Barry Darrybarry.  It would have been even better if they owned a farm in Northwest Indiana.  It could be named Barry Darrybarry Dairy of Gary.

I could see him having a daughter, maybe even named Mary...  Mary Darrybarry.  Of course, coming from wholesome midwestern stock, it’s likely that she remained a happy virgin, resulting in being referred to as Gary’s Merry Mary Cherry Darrybarry.

How cool would it be if she agreed to wed her oh so patient sweetheart, Harry?  It’s possible that she might especially love his long flowing locks and refer to him as Hairy Harry.  Their wedding could take place on an offshore island in Lake Michigan, just off the shore from Gary.  So on their wedding day, all of Gary would take the ferry to see Hairy Harry marry Merry Mary Cherry Darrybarry and become heirs to the Barry Darrybarry Dairy of Gary.

Of course they would have to watch out for Perry, the legendary evil Fairy of Gary, who is said to haunt a small inlet off the lake and be quite fierce with a sword.  So the wedding guests must parry Perry the Scary Tributary Gary Fairy before taking the Gary Ferry to see Hairy Harry marry Merry Mary Cherry Darrybarry and become heirs to the Barry Darrybarry Dairy of Gary.

One of the guests, Larry, is known to proceed carefully at all times and is ready for anything, even when he has his baby daughter, Carrie, strapped to his back.  So all they let Cautionary Wary Larry carry Carrie and parry Perry the Legendary Scary Tributary Gary Fairy before taking the Gary Ferry to see Hairy Harry marry Merry Mary Cherry Darrybarry and become heirs to the Barry Darrybarry Dairy of Gary.

It was right about here when I got kicked out of the meeting.  I couldn’t escape the thought of the late Madeline Khan playing the Teutonic Titwillow herself, Lili Von Shtupp, reading the previous paragraph.  Take it, Lili…

“They all let Cautionawy Wawy Wawwy cawwy Cawwie and pawwy Pewwy the Legendawy Scawy Twibutawy Gawy Faiwy befoah taking the Gawy Fewwy to see Haiwy Hawwy mawwy Mewwy Mawy Chewwy Dewwybewwy and become heiws to the Bawwy Dewwybewwy Daiwy of Gawy.

“A wed wose.  How owdinawy.”

DVD Directory’s Commentary: If you don’t get that last bit, go put Blazing Saddles in your Netflix queue immediately.  You can thank me later.

I would have set the whole wedding scene in January, but the lake would have been frozen over, thus immobilizing the Gary Ferry.  The only other unused names I had in reserve were Jerry, Teri and former Pittsburgh linebacker Sal Sunseri.  I couldn’t think of anything clever enough to do with them, without just piling them on.

I didn’t really get kicked out of the meeting, but my boss did give me a couple “WTF” looks.

I was totally going to blog about something else today, before all this happened.  And you’re probably thinking, “How lame was THAT idea, if THIS is what you wrote about instead?

It’s very likely that I need treatment.

If you do not like this kind of post, you will certainly not like this one either.

Sunday, April 15, 2012

Award Dance Pt 5

Back at the beginning of April, FOD (Friend of Darwinfish2) Insomniac #4, from The Pedestrian Writer, presented me with the prestigious Kreativ Blogger Award, which apparently celebrates creative spelling.

Nah, just kidding.  Insomniac received the award himself and was then commanded to pass it on to 7 other bloggers, so he said he was selecting 7 of his favorites, me being one of them.  So first let me say thank you!  Even being listed in the same sentence as the guys from A Beer for the Shower is flattering beyond words.  So this is a big Thank You to Insomniac, for thinking of me.  I’m impressed that he was able to take time out of his busy parenting and novel-writing time, which he documents so entertainingly on his blog.  Y’all check it out!

As usual, these awards come with rules.  First is to post the picture.  Done.  (I will also add it to my roster of past awards, buried way down on the right margins, where no one ever goes.  But I’ll know it’s there!

Next condition is to thank the sender.  Done. 

Now, to the meat of the rules… I’m supposed to make a list of seven interesting facts about myself.

Hmmm.  I’ve written this blog for over 3 years now… are there any interesting facts about myself that I haven’t already written about?  Not many, but I figure that not everyone visiting here today was necessarily visiting back when I first posted these gems nuggets tidbits personal dingle berries for public consumption.

Ew.  Did I just suggest what I think I suggested?  Yeah, forget that.

Anyway, this is my list of allegedly interesting facts about yours truly.  Some you may know about, some you may not.  I’ll include links if I’ve written about them before.

1) Weird medical history since the age of 40.  It was like, ‘Happy 40th Birthday,’ and then POW, commence falling apart.  First, I developed this condition called Delayed Pressure Urticaria, or in other words, itchy, burning, painful hives that form about 12 hours after contact with hard surfaces.  Freakin’ bee-zarre.  In researching this ailment, I learned that the average length of time that people suffer from DPU is 9 years.  I’m going on my 11th, so I’m hoping it goes away soon.  It sucks living in a bubble.

One thing that gratifies me, though, is that the post I wrote about DPU has been my #1 most visited post, since I first installed the Top Five Post tracker on here.  I’m glad that I can share my story with people that are similarly afflicted.  It helps to know that there are others out there with the same problem.  When I was first diagnosed, I felt like the only person in the world with this weird-ass condition, and that people would think I was just being a weenie.

Also, I had two heart surgeries by the time I was 46.  Both were catheter ablations, done to fix atrial fibrillation (or irregular heartbeat).  The doctors discovered this when I went in to get the hive thing checked out.  The first surgery was practically a Marx Brothers skit… very weird.  Things went better the 2nd time, mostly because I knew what to expect and was able to plan and advise accordingly.  But it still wasn’t without its traumatic moments.

2) An early idea of mine was to write a Guide to Bachelor Living book.  I’ve always fancied myself as someone that was good at coming up with efficient ways to do things, so I thought that I could put some of the ideas together into a book.  Now, this was back in the early 90s, so without PCs in the equation, my idea kind of dissolved.  But I did manage a post about it a while back.

3) When I was in 8th grade, I took a class trip to Paris and London over spring break.  I’ve never posted about it, but I plan to one day.  And do you know why I even asked about going on the trip?  I was sweet on the teacher that was leading it.

The funny thing is, she wasn’t even my teacher.  I just had her for “homeroom.”  She had long blond hair and teardrop-shaped glasses, which would have looked perfect for attending a Grateful Dead show in a long peasant dress.  I was instantly smitten.  Her primary duty was to be the French teacher, so on the first day of class; she asked if anyone was interested in going to Europe over spring break.  Thinking that it might be fun to traipse around Paris with a hot French teacher, I put up my hand, even though I didn’t think my parents would go for it in a million years.

But when I brought home the materials and my folks looked it over, they decided it was a pretty good deal.  (Roughly $650 for a 9-day trip, transportation, lodging and meals included.  Even in 1975 dollars, that was a good deal.)  I think they really just wanted to get rid of me for a while.  But anyway, I had a great time in Europe, even though I was the youngest one going and the only one that wasn’t studying French.  (I took Spanish the next year.)

Sadly, I couldn’t get anything going with the hot teacher.  Her husband kept getting in the way.  For some reason, the fact that she was married came as a surprise to me, even though we all called her “Mrs.”

I never said I was the brightest kid…

4) My first presidential vote was for John Anderson, Independent candidate in 1980.  My dad had personally gotten my buddies and I registered to vote that year, because there was a referendum on the ballot that affected his company, glass bottler Owens-Illinois.  But there was also the small matter of the presidential race, pitting Jimmy Carter against Ronald Reagan.  Coming as I do from a long line of Democrats, I normally would have voted for Carter but that year, he had initiated the Selective Service registration for 18-year olds.  I was very much against that, so as a protest, I voted for John Anderson… a guy that I did think would have made a good president, but had absolutely no shot.  Dad and I argued a good bit about it, with him maintaining that I was throwing my vote away.  But I was 18, and with my head filled with youthful idealism, I went my own way. 

So yeah, I totally threw my vote away that year, but did so with a clear conscience.  Good thing Carter didn’t lose Ohio by one vote.  Funny thing is that in the same situation today, I’d tell an 18-year old kid the same thing my dad told me.  Thirty years will wipe the idealism right out of you.

5) I have an honest-to-God Platinum Record award, with my name on it, which I earned.  It’s my favorite trophy from my music retail days.  I actually have a second as well, but it was awarded to one of our stores that reported to Billboard.  When we changed the name of our stores from Peaches to Coconuts, everything with the old name had to go.  My DM let me choose from 4 of them and I chose the award for Bon Jovi’s “Slippery When Wet.”
   
I’d always seen these things around though… They were all over the record label offices in Cleveland, my bosses at the company had select ones up in their offices, and hell, my mentor Vinnie’s house was plastered with the things. 

Vinnie was the singles buyer and we were a huge retailer.  Whenever a single went Gold (500,000 sold) or Platinum (1,000,000 sold) he would ask for the applicable award.

Well, I was in charge of CD singles, back when they were new and part of my job was to get them into the markets where they were breaking.  Dance singles rarely broke out all over the country at the same time; they would hit market by market.  I did a lot of work with the record label to keep the song “Whoot There It Is” by 95 South, stocked in the right regions.  It started out in Atlanta and spread throughout the south and east from there.  So when the single finally went Platinum, I figured, “Hey, this is my chance.  I was as instrumental as anyone to sell copies of this thing!

So I asked the label rep and what do you know, he agreed.  A couple weeks later, I opened the box containing my greatest achievement from the music business.  (Even better than getting a thank-you in a CD liner jacket.)  Future-Ex even let me put it up on the wall in the living room!
Whoot!  There it is…  Obviously, I redacted my name on there, so you’ll just have to trust me on this.

6) I am a complete “hat” junky.  I often say that “we bald guys love our hats…” and it’s totally true.  The biggest problem is where to put them.  Here’s how I solved it.

They started out on a single hat rack.

These are pretty much the “old” ones now.

But in no time, I needed more space, so I improvised.


Some of them are even doubled up because I’m out of wall space.  Obviously, these were already up on the wall before I ever met Pinky.  I don’t think any woman would accept “Ballcaps” as a room d├ęcor. 

As you can see, they’re highly organized… I have sections for the Penguins, Steelers, Buckeyes, Orioles and Pirates, with a few one-offs scattered around.  It’s highly functional because once I put on my coat; I can consult the Hat Wall and select my cranial accessory of the day.

7) I’ve met Joan Jett in person 5 different times and spoke with her on the phone twice.  I got to meet quite a number of my favorite music stars during my time in music retail, but none were better than getting to interact with my Queen, Joan Jett.  I’d been a huge fan of hers since college and was quite lucky to be able to get to know her a little bit.

I met her once (quite by accident) at an Orioles game (before I even lived in Baltimore), once at a record release party, and three times backstage.  The middle time, she came right over to me when she came in the room, because she recognized me.  I almost passed out! 

Vinnie, who I mentioned earlier, was good friends with her and her manager, so he got me on the phone with her once.  But I engineered a conversation with her on my own once, long before I even moved to the home office.  I knew her Marketing Rep, and she hooked us up to talk.  We spent about 20 minutes talking like old friends.  It was mind-blowing for me to have her undivided attention for that long.  I was so thrilled…

Anyway, you can click the link above for all the details and pictures.  (You KNOW I had to have pictures…)

OK, so there are my 7 things… some new, some old.  The directions for the Kreativ Blogger Award didn’t specify the terms under which I should pass it on, so I’m winging it.  I pretty much hate to even deal with this kind of thing, because it’s like having to choose your favorite child.  I follow so many interesting and talented bloggers, I’d rather just not choose than feel like I’m leaving someone out. 

Today, I’m going to use this opportunity to celebrate one of my new favorite bloggers, HoodyHoo, blogging about daily life in Wes' By-Gawd Virginny.  She never fails to make me smile, and the fact that she’s a Penguins fan certainly doesn’t hurt..  So Hoody, this one’s for you.  Feel free to follow these “rules,” or just make up your own. 

And that there is good advice in general.

Thursday, April 12, 2012

Jersey? Sure!

I apologize for dropping a third sports-related post in a row, but realize that it’s not really about sports.  It’s about the lengths I go to in order to feel like I’m participating in events that occur hundreds of miles from me.

Last year, I did a post summarizing my hockey jersey won/lost stats, in hope of formulating the best possible Stanley Cup Playoff mojo.  So this year, I again kept record of what jersey I wore and what the outcome was for the game.

It’s easy to do this for football… there are only 16 games in a season.  With hockey, there are 82, so it requires some dedication.  To keep it simple, I didn’t even use a spreadsheet, like I do with football.  For the Steelers, I track so many things, (like game jersey, apparel from the preceding Friday, where I watch the game, whether it’s home or away, etc.) a spreadsheet is required.  But for 82 hockey games, I just print the schedule and record my jersey selection and note whether we won, lost, or it went to overtime.

Here’s how the 2011-2012 season turned out, from best jersey record to worst:

Record: 10-2  Winning percentage: .833 

1) Pre-lockout era Lemieux jersey, that introduced Vegas Gold as the secondary color.  This was my go-to jersey when we needed a win.  As no jersey seemed to be a lock when I wore it consecutively, I ended up rotating this one with 2 others when the Pens played at home.  (I really like this design, probably better than the one they have now.)  I’m not sure about the jersey “pedigree.”  High-quality, textured numbers are sewn on but there is no “fight strap.”

4-1  .800

2) 2008 Winter Classic Crosby jersey.  I used this when the Pens were away and wearing white, and my white jerseys were slumping.  “Premier” jersey, meaning the numbers were sewn on, but only one layer.  Most jersey’s have multiple layers of numbers and each is sewn on.  On these, there are stitches “drawn” on to the inner layer.

9-3  .750 

3) This was the Winter Classic jersey from last year, which the Penguins used as their 3rd Jersey this season.  I didn’t use any judgment here at all.  Whenever they wore it, I wore it.  No more and no less.  It's a Marc-Andre Fleury "Premier" jersey.

3-0  1.00. 

4) This is the Evgeni Malkin current home jersey.  I would have ranked this one higher, except I only got it last month so I didn’t feel it had enough games played to surpass the Lemieux jersey in the top spot.  It’s a sweetie though… appears to be an “authentic” jersey but is probably a very high quality knockoff.

8-6  .571

5) White Jordan Staal current jersey, also a knockoff, but of lesser quality.  Note how the trim on the numbers is a greenish hue, rather than the Vegas Gold.  For away games, I alternated this with my only other white jersey (until I got another, late in the season).

4-3  .571

6) Blue hoodie, that I used mostly over the dead of winter, when the Pens were away and my white jerseys were slumping.  I guess they weren’t a very good visiting team this year.

4-3    .571

7) Mario jersey from early-90s Cup teams.  This was one of my 3-way home jersey rotation.  Decent quality knockoff of an authentic jersey.

2-1-1 .500 (2 wins, 1 loss in regulation, 1 loss in OT.)

8) Premier Crosby current home jersey.  I didn’t wear it when Sid wasn’t playing, which was most of the year.  I really want to get a better quality Sid jersey.  Hello E-Bay…

9) Nothing.  3-1-2  .500
Sometimes, I just didn’t have time to dress for the game.

3-4-1  .375

10) Mario mid to late 90s era “Corporate Pigeon” jersey.   This was the one I alternated with the Staal jersey for away games.  Sewn-on numbers over a fairly standard shell.  One of my oldest jerseys… was originally a Jaromir Jagr jersey.

1-2    .333

11) White James Neal current road jersey… the other one I just got at the end of the season.  The first two games I wore it for, we lost, so it almost never saw another one.  But it’s too sharp to keep hidden… another high-quality knockoff of an authentic.

0-1    .000

12) The “Snoop Dogg” Mario Lemieux black jersey.  I meant to wear it more often but once the 3-jersey rotation kicked in, I never got it back in the game.  It’s another of my oldest jerseys.

0-1    .000

13) Another one that I tried when the road jerseys weren’t working.  This was sold a couple years ago by thepensblog.com.  I bought it because I couldn’t get my hands on the regular blue Winter Classic jersey and I really wanted a blue one.  But I don’t think I've ever seen the Pens win while I wore it, including when I actually attended one at Mellon Arena.

So that’s it.  You know, it wasn’t until I wrote all these down that I realized that, holy shit, I have a fuck-ton of hockey jerseys.  (And these don’t even count the “practice” jerseys and other couple jerseys I have for non-Penguins teams.  Can you say, “overkill?”)

To start the playoffs last night, I broke out the new black Malkin jersey, and they lost in OT.  They play next on Friday, so I’m bringing out my big gun, the Vegas 66 Lemieux.  I’ll also be wearing it to work in Friday for “jersey day,” so I can double up on the mojo.

We better win this series… I have too much dough invested in these jerseys to just put them all away until next October.

Unrelated note: I finally had a chance to scan through the DVR recording of the Orioles game I went to on Sunday.  As I suspected, I was able to find a decent screen cap with me in it.  Surprisingly, it wasn’t from when a ball got hit into the corner.  In those cases, the camera was outside the foul pole, putting the pole between it and me on TV.  I was totally “Wilsoned.”  Nevertheless, there I was, perched right there over the 333 mark.

I’m like a much more obvious “Waldo.”

Tuesday, April 10, 2012

Zen and the Art of Batting Practice

I had more to write about the Orioles game I went to last Sunday, but it would have made the previous post way too long.  So here we are.

Like I mentioned before, I went to the game by myself.  I have no qualms about doing this because then I get to ramble around where ever I want and stay as long as I like.   Obviously, my first priority was to document the ballpark upgrades for the post, but that still left me with plenty of time to take part in one of my favorite things: watching batting practice from the flag court.  The Orioles are usually done before the fans are allowed in so you only get to watch the visiting team.

If I go to the game with Pinky, we have to get there close to game time.  She’s bored and ready to leave by the 6th inning as it is, let alone if I drag her there two hours early.  And if I go with Sitcom Kelly, we usually hole up in one of those bars by the Brooks Robinson statue and drink cheap beer up until the National Anthem.  (Lord knows how many give-away shirts and bobbleheads (available to the first 10,000 fans) that I’ve missed because I’ve been drinking and carrying on with her…)

So, like I mentioned in Sunday’s post, you have to pay attention when you’re on the flag court during batting practice, lest you get clobbered by a home run ball.  This was especially true on Sunday because the Twins’ lefties were raining homers down on the flag court like it was their own personal Shock and Awe campaign.  (Not that it did them any good during the game, what with being 2-hit by the Birds.)  But in BP, they were mashing.  There were at least 2 or 3 that went clear over the flag court, over the iron fence, and onto Eutaw Street in front of the Warehouse.  A half dozen more bounced out through the fence.

Director’s DVD Commentary: If you’re not familiar, Eutaw Street is not really a ‘street’ once it runs inside the gates of the ballpark.  It’s a cobblestone corridor full of food and merch vendors that runs between the outfield wall and the B&O Warehouse.

Quite a number of batters have hit Eutaw Street on the fly during games.  And when they do, the team embeds a small plaque wherever the ball landed. 
You can see 15 of them here, between the flag court and the Warehouse.

This is what they look like.

It’s a pretty cool thing that just keeps adding to the ambiance of the park.  It’s fun to stroll along and check out all the batters that hit these bombs.

Although you’d think otherwise, especially during the “Steroid Era,” no one has ever hit the Warehouse on the fly, during a game.  The only hitter with a documented Warehouse strike was Ken Griffey Jr, during the 1993 Home Run Derby before the All Star Game.  They put a plaque up for that too…
 Griffey’s plaque, right beside the doorway to one of the shops in the Warehouse.

Here, you can see where it hit, relative to the wall and doorway.

If you strain real hard, you can see the little spot at the end of that arrow.  I took the picture from about 8 feet from the outfield wall, so you can see just how far he cracked that one.

Back in the old Three Rivers Stadium, they used to paint the seats yellow wherever a home run ball landed in the upper deck.  Those really had to be monster blasts.  Famed leftie slugger Willie Stargell put a few up there, I know.  I think he would have certainly broken a few Warehouse windows, had he spent his career playing at Camden Yards.

During the Twins BP, one guy smacked one just to the right of the flag court and it landed in the last row of seats and just settled there. Some dude just jogged over and snatched up the easiest ball ever.
This was the chair where the ball landed.

I wrote all about my game ball-seeking exploits back in June of 2009, here.  Long story short, I was close a bunch of times until I finally got a foul ball, on one bounce off the warning track.  I still have aspirations, though, of nabbing another one.  It’s better if it’s during a game, but BP is cool with me too.  But you really have to be careful.  Even a big guy like me can get trampled.  I was up there once when it was pretty crowded and a ball started coming out way.  It was like a sea of dudes started moving toward the ball all at once and there was no way to fight the tide.  It was unsettling to get moved with the crowd against my will.

I think the reason everyone packed in was because the wall was so high.  If you weren’t up close, you couldn’t see the ball coming, so everyone tended to pack in close.  Now with the lower railing, you can stand farther back and still see the incoming rounds.

My strategy was to stay back and try to pick up a rebound.  Once a ball lands, it ricochets around like crazy, especially with all the flagpoles.  (There’s one for each American League team, set up to represent the current standings.)  When a ball lands there, it’s like someone throwing a foosball onto the foosball table… it just caroms all over the place.  If you’re lucky, it might come right to you.

I wasn’t that lucky… They all seemed to carom away from me.  But I tell you, if I had a baseball glove on, I’d have had a ball for sure.  I was standing relatively in the clear and someone smacked a long one right at me.  I saw it coming and backed up a bit, entertaining thoughts of trying to catch it.  But as it got close, I could better gauge how fast it was moving.  This is where the wisdom of advanced age kicked in.  I quickly thought to myself, “No fucking way,” and stepped aside.  I could hear it hissing through the air as it bounced about 2 feet to my left.  Probably would have broken my hand if I had tried to catch it bare-handed.  Best case scenario, my hand is swollen with contact hives on Monday morning.

If I’d had a glove on, I could have snagged it as easy as pie… it was right there.  Of course, I didn’t have a glove on because I’m a grownup now and have managed to acquire a degree of self-respect.  (Seriously!)  Plus, I’d have to lug the thing around all day, which might have put a crimp in my beer drinking.

Oh, that’s another thing… you don’t want to have a beer in your hand if you’re on the flag court for BP.  The odds of spillage are very high, especially if you have to move quickly.  It’s especially hard to go down for a ball on the ground with a beer in your hand.  I have my priorities.

Batting practice is the best time to see some of the game’s premier sluggers at work.  Some of their shots are epic.  I remember seeing Vladimir Guerrero (when he was with the Angels) mash one just under the upper deck in left, which then bounced up and down real fast between decks.  I’ve seen Sammy Sosa (when he was still with the Cubs) blast one off the back of the far bullpen wall in dead center, a distance for which if he had hit it to right, definitely would have hit the Warehouse.

It’s very hard to tell who’s who in BP because the players’ practice jerseys rarely have their numbers on them, and you’re too far away to make out their faces.  I could recognize Vlad because of his dreads and distinct batting stance and when Sosa batted, everyone was calling his name.  But otherwise, I have no idea who is up.

I’m going to try to get tickets for when the Angels come to town, just to see Albert Pujols take his hacks.  I’ve heard it’s quite an experience.  I just hope I can tell when he’s up. 

Once BP was over, I went over to the beer stand there for my first ballpark beer of the day.  That’s my tradition.  I always try to buy my first beer from the beer lady on the flag court.  The same lady has been at that station ever since I started attending the games.  She’s an older black lady and she has such a great rapport with her customers.

She’ll go, “Whattya need, baby?

I’ll say, “You got a Miller Lite for me in there?” and she’ll pull one out and say, “Now you come back and see me when you need another one, baby, I’m here for ya all day.” 

Then we fist bump.  I am rarely able to go back because I’m always elsewhere during the game.  But I love our ritual.  I have no idea if she recognizes me from my half-dozen or so games a year, but I’d like to think that she does. 

Speaking of beer, I was diggin’ on these 24-ounce Bud Light Lime cans.  They were going for $10, which I considered to be a “deal,” compared to the $8.00 16-ounce beers.  But it’s funny the kind of warped judgment that the ballpark nudges you towards.  Consider that 3 of those 24-ounce cans would be $30.  Would anyone consider a $30 six-pack a deal?

Thus is the allure of the old ball game.