Monday, July 29, 2013

Bright College Days

It was weird going through all my old college crapola over the weekend.  It’s almost as it they were relics from someone else’s life.  I mean, just in looking over some of my class notes, even though I recognized my handwriting, it didn't seem like it came from me.  I was like, “I used to know this stuff??”

I guess I needed some time to figure out how I wanted to blog about my college years; that’s why I “punted” on Sunday.  I wish I could say I came up with something ingenious, but that obviously didn't happen.  But I decided that rather than try to tell some kind of linear story, I’d just hack off a couple of bites here and there.

Books
If you’ll recall my Letter to an Incoming Freshman post, I advised my niece to buy used school books, because not only were they cheaper, they were often marked up by the original owner.  When I first started school, I made the decision that I was going to keep all of mine.  It wasn’t until my senior year, when money was growing tight, that I decided that chances were that I’d never, EVER have reason to crack these books again, and if I could turn them into some cash, I’d be a dummy not to do it.

I have about 4-5 books left, which were mostly from my senior year.  I leafed through one of them, from my class on human sexuality, (hey, it was senior year and all I had left were electives), and while it was highly notated by previous owners, there was only one margin note from me.

There was a line in the text about Casanova, and how in the 18th century, he was the first to place hollowed out lemon across a woman’s cervix, to act as a diaphragm.  (Citric acid can immobilize sperm.)

My note in the margin said, “the first sourpuss.”

OK, who’s defiling the fruit around here?”  (Source)
That’s when it dawned on me that if I hadn't intended to keep my books all along, I’d have spent more time putting notes in them, for the sole purpose of entertaining the next owner.  And knowing me, I would have attached a feedback card with my address, to find out how they liked my material.

Major Minor
I mentioned before that I began my college career pursuing a major in journalism, and it didn’t last long because I chaffed at the constraints of journalistic writing.  My first quarter of freshman year, though, I never took any courses applicable to my major.  Somehow, I got into the honors program, where the courses were more demanding than the usual 100-level intro courses, but yielded higher credit for taking them.

That first quarter consisted of classes called, Values Analysis, Evaluating Social Controversy, Seminar on Social Sciences and Varieties of Writing.  Although I didn’t know it at the time, these proved to be the most valuable of my college years, because they taught me how to organize my thoughts and opinions, deconstruct arguments, and in general, how to think.  In fact, I think courses like those shouldn't be part of the honors curriculum; they should be requirements for every major.

Anyway, it wasn’t until the 2nd and 3rd quarters that I began taking journalism classes, and was thus turned off by the rigidity.  That’s when I decided to go with a Broadcasting major, and after studying myself in the mirror, selected a radio concentration over TV.  Granted, radio and TV writing have their own structures, but they also rewarded creativity.  Any time I added any kind of flair or a unique perspective in my J-classes, I got smacked down for it.

I also went for a minor in Creative Writing, because I figured it would help with the broadcast writing, plus, it was fun.  I don’t recall if I ever successfully completed the minor, but I took a number of writing and performing classes.

Oral Interpretation was a universal requirement in the College of Arts and Sciences.  Oral Interp is basically the art of reading out loud… sort of like acting for people with a bad memory.  That was great fun for me.  And because I was also doing a lot of writing, I’d sometimes get to read my own material.  That certainly made it easier for me to do the prep work, where you have to explain what the author is trying to say.

Most importantly, I learned how to mark up a script for reading, which is a skill I still use, whether I’m speaking to a group, or just creating a voice-mail greeting.

I also took an acting class, but was never really comfortable with it.  I loved when we got to do improv in class, but I was always uncomfortable when I had to do a memorized speech, like for our final “exams.”  I never got over feeling awkward and self-conscious, so I’m sure I looked quite wooden.  Seriously, it was all I could do just to get the words out in the right order.

I took a number of creative writing classes, which I enjoyed, but for one problem.  There was one class where two thirds of your work had to be prose, and one third had to be poetry, or vice versa.

At the time I thought I was a pretty good story writer, but in retrospect, I wasn't yet.  But I knew I was a lousy poet, and that was no joke.  I still have a bunch of the poems, and I guarantee they’re still cringe-worthy.

I really only wrote one or two that were serious attempts.  One was about an old girlfriend; another was a tribute to Elton John, and believe me, THAT one will never see the light of day.

The others were all spoofs and satire, in marginally poetic form.  (Yes, I refrained from limericks.)  There was one “love poem” where I parodied poems about how blue their lovers’ eyes were, comparing them to the USDA stamp on a cut of meat (they used to do that), Grandma’s varicose veins, smoke from an old Chevy, and other bizarre things.

There was one that was a satire of a Hallmark card that was intentionally over-the-top drippy, with an ending of, “and if you won’t be mine, I shall lay me down and croak.”

I recycled one poem I wrote for a high school assignment, that was nothing but nonsense; just disjointed images and phrases.  I guess I was sick of reading about long-ass poems about an urns or walls, that were in fact about something completely unrelated.  Call it my version of substituting a child’s fingerpaint doodlings into a ritzy art gallery, to see if anyone notices.

Anyway, if my attempts taught me anything, it’s that the talent for poetry in my family begins and ends with my mom.  If only I could go back in time and submit the poems for strippers I wrote on cocktail napkins… I might have pulled my grade up a bit.

My favorite writing project was a short story that was intended to be the last chapter of an English mystery… you know, the scene where all the suspects are gathered in the drawing room and the hard-boiled detective runs down and dismisses everyone’s motives until he finally reveals the killer.

I re-read that one on Sunday… I had so much fun with the character names.  The murder victim’s family name was Bondeanerwintz, after a nickname we used to have for my buddy Brill.  There was also Mr. Waterbaum, the business partner, Mrs. Gumbyboots, the maid, Miss Tittlewhittle, the secretary/mistress, Mrs. Preshrunk, the psychiatrist, Mrs. Sudsworth, the laundress, and Ray Bees, the Kennel Director.  The detective, Nick O’Tyme, finally pinned it on Dr. Herpes, the family physician, who he accused of switching the dead man’s glycerin pills and inducing a heart attack with a cold stethoscope.  It led to this exchange…

Det. O’Tyme: You wanted to use his body for your own medical experimentation.

Dr. Herpes: I say, you’re daft!

Det. O’Tyme: No more than you are, thinking you could get away with storing Mr. Bondeanerwintz in formaldehyde, up in your office. I saw him there when I searched the place last night.

Dr. Herpes: You’re bloomin’ loony.  That was Mr. Emery.

Finally, the scene is interrupted by Mr. Butler, the cook, who shoots the detective and claims responsibility for the crime, saying he chopped up the victim and made him into a stew.

With his final breath, the detective asks, “Tell me one last thing… did you use oregano in that, or a pinch of garlic?

I wish I could have claimed all the credit for the final twist, but I lifted it directly from my Barn friend, Billy G, who came up with it in a cassette tape he sent to us.  (After he moved out of town, we didn’t write letters, we exchanged recorded tapes.  His were often brilliant.  I lifted a lot of stuff from our comedic collaborations over the years, for use on college assignments.)

More on the College Bluz, to come…

Sunday, July 28, 2013

Some Days Ya Got Nuthin'

That’s me today.  I got nothin’ that grabs me to write about, even though I tried.

In fact, if you want my advice, go read my previous post.  I really like that one.  It’s funny and not very long.

Remember how last weekend I cracked my “vault,” to try to milk a post out of the contents?  I figured I’d try again, only this time, I’d use the box of my old college materials that I have stored.  It contains my notebooks and folders from my college years, and a handful of books from my last semester.

I spent about two hours looking through all that old crap, and I’ll be damned if I could find something I wanted to write about.  I mean; there were a few interesting tidbits I may mine later, but it took so long, I didn’t want to spend the rest of the day doing the post.  I accept the points off for poor planning.

Plus, the work I was looking for wasn’t nearly as good as I thought it would be.  Some things don’t age well, and apparently I’m one of them.

However one person who IS aging well is my Lil Mother, who turns 74 today. 



Happy birthday, Mom.  And thank you for teaching that when I don’t have anything interesting to say, to kindly shut the hell up!

What?  That wasn’t you?  You must have been “in on it” at any rate…

Thursday, July 25, 2013

WTF-Con

As you know, I work in downtown Baltimore.  A lot goes on in a downtown environment, besides the usual traffic and crime.  In Baltimore, we have sports events, activities associated with the Inner Harbor, tourism and of course, conventions.  Baltimore works very hard to fill its halls and hotels with conventions of all kinds, from professional, to sports and rec, to, well… other stuff.

I always get a kick out of rolling out of the subway station and spying a pack of girls wearing spandex pants with ears and a tail, with whiskers painted on.  That’s usually how I learn that Otakon is in town.   Otakon is a convention celebrating East Asian pop culture, and will be in town August 9-11. 
Otakon, downtown Baltimore, 2012  (Source)
Last weekend, they held a firefighter’s convention.  I emailed Sitcom Kelly about it, in case she wanted to add a buff fireman to her collection of hockey and football players living in the pit she dug in her basement.  At worst, she could sharpen her stalking skills.

I know about these events ahead of time now because I’m on the city’s mailing list for downtown news.  It’s part of the Safety and Security mailings the city does, to keep businesses abreast of anything that might affect them, like local thefts, road construction, rough weather, or things like this that can add to congestion.

That’s also how I found out about another upcoming event that just made me shake my head in wonderment.  They have convention for everything now…

Get this: from August 2nd to 4th, the Baltimore Convention Center will be hosting “BronyCon.”  This is from the flyer:

“BronyCon is a convention held by and for the fans of the cartoon, My Little Pony: Friendship is Magic.  This show attracted an unexpected audience of young adults and teenagers, mostly male, who call themselves “bronies.”  BronyCon is the first and largest convention of fans of Friendship is Magic, the latest incarnation of the My Little Pony franchise.  Since the show’s debut in the Fall of 2010, it has garnered an extremely large and dedicated following of fans of all ages.  BronyCon welcomes all fans in a celebration of the community and values that have grown from the phenomenon.”

The hotels are expecting to fill about 700 rooms with visiting bronies.  700 rooms, housing dudes who like this:
I’m just wondering if this really qualifies as a safety issue.  I mean, I have to think that a convention of bronies makes Comic-Con look like the Sturgis Biker Rally.

In looking for a relevant picture, I came across a blog that had a good rundown of the whole My Little Pony (aka MLP) situation.  In the comments, you’ll find a raging battle between those that think bronies are a bunch of pervs, to the bronies themselves defending their fandom as healthy and positive.

Now I’m not saying there’s anything inherently wrong here… I just don’t get it.  It’s a little girl’s cartoon.  Young boys watching?  OK, I can see it.  You don’t want to pre-determined gender roles.  Low-end teenagers?  Maybe it’s soothing for those that feel like outcasts.  But grown-ass men in their 20s, 30s, and Christ, 40s???  WTF??

A number of people pointed out in the Comments for the blog I linked, that it beats getting immersed in bloody video games like Halo, Grand Theft Auto and other First Person Shooter games.  I agree, but I think there has to be some middle ground between mindless gory mayhem, and…

I mean, the Orioles are in town, why not just go to a game?  Get a little fresh air, have a dog and a beer, and make friends with real people, instead of fixating on brightly colored, mythical 2-dimensional beings.  But enough about the Kardashians…

This level of commitment to a little kid’s cartoon is dumbfounding to me.  I mean, zoning out in front of a harmless, fluffy cartoon once in a while, or even regularly?  I can see it.  After all, even I have some ABBA on my MP3 player, which is the musical equivalent of MLP.

But traveling to another town, getting reservations in an expensive downtown hotel room to attend a 3-day convention??  For animated, giant-eyed, long-maned equines???  (Sorry, I didn’t mean to bring up the Kardashians again.)  I just don’t get it. 

Why not just go to the track and see some real horses?  Granted they don’t come in Crayola colors, nor do they have horns or wings, but a couple of cans of spray paint and some glue could fix that.  Just don’t try to approach the horses during the race.
“Come on, just one quick hug...”
Some of the bronies commented that they were embarrassed to mention their bronyhood to their buddies, but once they got them to watch the show, they became fans as well.  That made me snicker.  I can just imagine trying to recruit MY buddies to become bronies.  (Cue hazy filter and harp music…)

“Hey, Rik, how about we forget about the Tigers game and put on My Little Pony?  It’s all about friendship and bonding!”
"OK, how about you John?  Can we turn off American Pickers and watch the ponies prance and play?"

“Hey, come on you guys!  [thump thump]  Let me out of the trunk right now!  That’s no way to support a friend…” [thump thump thump…]

Yeah, no fuckin’ way.

So did you know about this brony stuff?  And if you have small kids who watch the show, what do you think about a bunch of grown men celebrating the same show?

Tuesday, July 23, 2013

An Ear for Writing

When I was going though my treasure trove of old documents, (from this weekend’s post) I saw a few relics that reminded me of a time of which I was very fond: my tenure on my high school newspaper staff.  In particular, it reminded me of the time I very casually humiliated a friend in public.

I was only on the newspaper staff for my senior year.  When I was a junior, I was planning on going into the sciences.  I was enjoying chemistry class and thought it might be my calling.  But that Spring I was nominated for the National Honor Society, and one of their requirements was that you have to participate in school activities.

I never gave a shit about school activities.  Once school was out, I was gone… I did my homework during study halls, so after school, I figured I was on my time.  Normally, I wouldn't have even been nominated for NHS, but my GPA was too high for them to ignore.  So I was admitted, with an admonishment from the NHS Adviser to join something, pronto!  So for senior year, I joined the school newspaper.

It was a good fit for several reasons.  First, it went on during school hours, during the final period.  Second, it was graded, so it was a good way to pad my GPA.  Believe me, after struggling through physics and trig, I needed the help.  Third, I liked the idea of having an audience to entertain. 

The newspaper staff was made up of about a dozen students, from freshmen to seniors.  Most were underclassmen, so even though I didn't have any experience, I immediately floated to near the top of the “pecking order.”

What most of the school didn't know was that there were actually two separate staffs.  Each staff was responsible for producing a newspaper every other week, so that the end effect was a seamless weekly distribution.

Now when I say “school newspaper,” keep in mind that this was the 1978-79 school year.  Our graphics capability was pretty primitive.  The whole thing was done on mimeo pages that had to be stapled together.  We’d type up our articles on manual typewriters, cut them apart and paste them into a master sheet, and then add the headlines by using rub-on letters.  One slip up while rubbing the transfer on would make the headline all crooked, so that it didn't look as much like a newspaper as it did a ransom note.
This was our finished product, The General’s Dispatch.  What?  Of course I still have every copy.
Through the course of the year, I fell in love with doing what I was doing… writing reviews and editorials, along with lots of satire and goofy shit.  Basically, I was team-blogging.  I soon found myself as the go-to guy when someone needed a headline, which almost always involved word play and puns, which were right in my wheelhouse.

The first month into my tenure on the newspaper staff, our Staff Adviser, Mrs B, and a sophomore girl on the team approached me with a proposition.  The girl wanted to write an anonymous gossip column about various goings on at the school.  Because of the nature of the “2-staff” system, they needed another player.  I considered the grand opportunity for mischief and was happy to sign on.  We kicked around a number of ideas for the name for the column, and settled on The Ear.

The split staff proved to be a great cover for us, because one of us would frequently publish information that the other would never be in the position to know.  That prevented most people from getting too close to figuring out who we were.  Our identities were a well-guarded secret, and eventually the subject of much speculation as more and more embarrassing stories were told.  But not even the other newspaper staff members knew who we were, other than the two student Editors.

People tried to pry it out of Mrs B all the time.  She would tell everyone that she had no idea who The Ear was; all she knew was that a column would show up on her desk every week.

I didn't tell a soul, not even my best buddies, Rik, John or Brill.  I had one guy from my College Composition class badger me on a daily basis, trying to get me to admit I was The Ear.  By that time, the teacher was reading some of my stories in class, so my work was becoming a known commodity. 

I know it’s you, Bluz, just admit it.  That’s your style and your wit.  It’s got your name all over it.”

Like I said, the fact that almost no one knew about how the paper was being produced by two staffs, (necessitating two “Ears”), was most helpful in providing cover.  To deflect the guy from comp class, I’d point out that I wouldn't have any way of knowing a couple of events my counterpart provided, because they took place in locations I would never be, (like classes I didn't take, or extra-curricular activities in which I wasn't involved).  He was still suspicious though.

OK, here’s where things got funky…  The Other Ear brought me a juicy morsel about one of our newspaper staff members, a sophomore in the Marching Band I’ll call “Fiery Redhead.”  (Yes, another redhead.  I forgot about her.  We never dated, but we were pretty good friends.)  Coming home on the band bus from a football game in October, the Other Ear saw her making out with another band member.

All I needed to do was dash off a couple of sentences about kissing on the bus, but two words did me in.  Two words were the gasoline that set our newsroom on fire.  And I didn't even mean them; I chose them purely because I liked the way they sounded.  

Known floozy.”  To me the words just sounded happy, flirty and whimsical.  Boozy, doozy, woozy, floozy… Those sounded like fun words.  I never really meant to call the girl a slut.  She was my friend; I thought it was just a little jab.  In fact, her column in that same issue, which appeared right beside mine, referred to me by name, as “The Wandering Wop.”  Obviously, political correctness had not been invented yet.  As such, I wrote my bit with nary a second thought. 

I look at those words today, and I can plainly see that it’s something I shouldn't have done, and especially not in the high school freakin’ newspaper!  I would never do something like that now.  But at the time, I was a teenage boy who was just finding out how much fun it was to be irreverent.  I thought everything was fair game for poking fun.  Eff’em if they couldn't’ take a joke, right?  I was busting out of my shell and didn't care who knew it.

I began suspecting I misjudged the situation when she first read the column, shortly after it was published.  Trust me, I was never so glad to be “anonymous.”  Poor girl was mortified, although in no time, the ratio between “mortified” and “severely pissed off” was more like 20/80.  She went through the newspaper staff room like a buzzsaw, interrogating everyone about who this Ear might be.

Not surprisingly, Mrs B held her ground, (Thank you thank you!) and maintained her ignorance of the Ear’s identity. I’m sure she wanted no part of that drama. But the funny part was that Fiery Redhead kept coming to ME to help her figure it out!  She wanted to stake out Mrs B’s desk to see who was leaving the Ear column there.  I told her she should get right on that and that I’d help, knowing full well that the desk thing was a ruse.  I turned all my Ear columns in directly to the student Editor.  (Come to think of it, the whole thing is her fault!  She should have cut the “floozy” part.)

I tried to talk her down as best I could, telling her I was sure The Ear didn't really mean any harm by it.  But I said I’d put some feelers out among my friends to try to flush this person out. I even offered to have their ass kicked, if we ever found out who it was.  (OK, I was mostly volunteering Rik and John for that activity.)

She kept at it for months, trying to find out who wronged her so publicly.  I don’t know how much grief she took in her other classes, or back on the band bus, but it became a recurring thing during newspaper period.  Around the newsroom, Known Floozy became her nickname.  Or just “Flooz” for short.

Hey Flooz, can you toss me the Wite-Out?

Over time, I've found that you can call someone almost anything, provided you do with affection and a smile. 

At the end of the year, I had to write my final Ear column, wherein I unveiled my identity.  OK, I didn't exactly reveal my name, but I left more than enough clues for anyone that knew me, so underclassmen would still be clueless. I figured if I came out completely, it might ruin the Ear mystique.  I assumed that someone else would step in and run with the column the following year, so I thought it best to maintain a degree of continuity.

On the other hand, I was happy to come clean, as my secret was starting to unravel.  Rik guessed it first.

I had written a blurb that spring about how he and I were racing to see how fast we could squeeze out a pint of blood, during the annual Red Cross blood drive.  It wasn't mentioning him (or us) that gave me away; it was that I called him “Rik.”  Most everyone else in the school knew him by his legal first name; only his closest friends called him Rik, which was a form of his middle name.  So I had to confess, swear him to secrecy, and ask him to provide any juicy material he found.

The guy from College Comp also forced it out of me.  He just kept up the pressure until late in the year, when I finally caved.  He kept going on about how snappy and witty the writing was, and how it was totally my style.  I was so happy he thought so, I eventually confessed.  (Lesson: bullshitting works!)  But neither he nor Rik ever gave me any dirt I could use.  Bastards!

As for the Fiery Redhead, you should have seen the look on her face when she found out it was me all along.  Believe me, I did a LOT of apologizing, and she finally forgave me.  In fact, we’d gotten to be pretty good friends by the end of the year.  That May, our whole newspaper staff took a trip to Cedar Point (amusement park), and had a grand time.  It’s a lot more fun to hang out when you don’t have a print deadline looming over your head.

I also saw some more of Other Ear, who I took to the prom.  (Apparently Sophomores don’t care who they go to prom with, as long as they can go!)  But prom night is a story for another post. 

Believe me, The Ear would have had a field day reporting on that!


Director’s DVD Commentary: As my struggle with higher math loomed larger and larger as an obstacle to my becoming serious with the sciences, I decided to make a run at journalism for a college major.

So I began college by majoring in journalism, but it was short lived.  If I could have gotten a degree in solely being a feature columnist or editorial writer, I would have been much better off.  I chaffed at the tight structure of journalistic writing, and realizing I’d never enjoy doing serious news writing and reporting, I migrated to a major in broadcasting for sophomore year.  Journalism would have been a much better fit if only they’d let me make up the news. 

Also, I was kidding about the whole thing being my editor’s fault.  I pitched a royal fit any time someone altered my writing.  It was bad enough when my mother, the English Teacher, corrected my work; I wasn't putting up with any mess from some underclassman!  Consequently, for better or worse, (in this case, the latter) my copy was very rarely changed.

In 1999, Rik and I paid a visit to our old school, where Mrs B gave us a guided tour.  Needless to say, the state of the school newspaper was vastly improved, although they were still producing paper copies.  They were very slick and professional, utilizing modern PCs, but I’d bet that by now, the whole thing is digital and is emailed out student phones and laptops.  Or maybe it’s part of a school website.  Either way, I bet it’s still a lot of fun for wiseguys like me.

Sunday, July 21, 2013

Assessing the Vault

For some time now, I've been meaning to go through some of my old files.  Back when I first moved out, I bought this little file box at K-Mart, in which I could keep my Very Important Documents.  As it turned out my definition of Very Important Documents ran from my Social Security card and Selective Service registration, to bits of past writing, to newspaper and cartoon clippings.  It’s really kind of a time capsule for me, documenting the years from 1974 to 1997.

With the age of digital storage, the old file box is kind of a nostalgic anachronism.  I haven’t added anything to it since I moved to Baltimore.  (You know, where I got a computer and began storing documents electronically.)

Yesterday, I finally found the time will to go through it all and see if I might find some blog material.  I had a couple of particular bits of writing in mind I thought I might recreate for your amusement; I’d just have to find them.

But I learned something as I went through all those old nuggets.  I learned that I wasn't nearly as good of a writer as I thought I was.  Maybe it was the apparent pretension I see now, maybe it was the cringe-worthy inappropriateness of looking at old comic bits through the lens of the current sociological ethos, but it just didn't hold up.

Of course, what else should I expect from a time capsule?

I was particularly disappointed in a story I wrote in the late 80s, about playing sandlot football.  I was so proud of it at the time, and it’s a story I still want to tell.  I was hoping I could just drop it in here as a post, but it clearly needs a lot of work.  I’ll get to it, eventually.

I've previously written about getting into a blackboard verse/limerick war with my high school girlfriend’s older brother, in English Lit class.  (It was an important moment in developing my rep for wise-ass wit.)  In the post, I mentioned that I had some of my limericks, but I didn't know where they were.  Well, I found them in the file box, along with the ones I wrote with another dude during a boring college lecture class.  (We would alternate lines and write about people we didn't like.)

What I learned there was that my blackboard stuff was mildly amusing at best (although still worlds better than the other guy’s), and that the stuff with my friend was ragingly inappropriate for this day and age.  (And its own day an age; I just didn't know it yet.)  Sure, I’d laugh at some of the turns of phrase, but at the same time I was thinking, “OK, that’s never going to see the light of day…"

I found a bunch of old annual evaluations dating back to my record store days.  All that did was highlight how much I wanted to get out of that rat race, not knowing that I was just heading into a different one.  Not that they didn't contain some truth.  With some of the comments, I’d be thinking, “No, that was bullshit.”  Other times, I’d be like, “Yup, that was me… I still suck at that…”

I did manage to find one little nugget I was proud of.  Remember when I was writing about my retail career and I mentioned how in return for posting a local radio station’s billboard in the store, we would receive some free commercial spots?  Being a recent college graduate with a degree in radio, I would write the commercials and the station would produce them.  I posted the audio from my best one.

When I was going through the archives, I found a couple more commercial scripts I wrote.  One in particular, I thought was reasonably clever.  This was a pre-Christmas ad from November of 1985; a riff on the old Night Before Christmas classic.

(Music: “Carol of the Bells”)

‘Twas a month before Christmas
And all through the store;
Peaches shoppers were shopping
And asking for more.

With the Cars and the Starship
At $6.99
I knew that great savings
Were soon to be mine.

Aerosmith, Loverboy,
Heart, Kiss and Sting;
At $5.99
They made my heart sing.

(For brevity’s sake, I’m skipping a couple of stanzas about the glory of blank audio and video tapes.  Hey, YOU try writing something interesting about TDK SA-90s!)

My compact disc player
Was sounding just fine,
With Peaches whole stock
At $13.99.

There were jam boxes, head cleaners,
Headphones and stuff,
With prices so low
I just can’t get enough.

(Music fade up: Tina Turner, “But I Might Have Been Queen”)

But Tina was calling,
And Autograph too,
Both at $6.99
Just like old Motley Crue.

With WASP, Mr. Mister,
Marillion and Cure,
Peaches Records has got
The best prices for sure.

Now bring yourself over
And don’t you forget,
Your ‘RQN coupon
For the best savings yet.

You’ll find it at Peaches,
Your Christmas-time pick
On South Reynolds Road,
Just south of Southwyck.

It’s kind of funny just seeing a list of all the bands that were popular at the time.  Some have held up, others, you’re like, “Who?

One of the other things I realized in going through the file box was that I lived in an epic era for newspaper cartoons.  I had tons of them stashed away, mostly The Far Side, Calvin and Hobbes, Doonesbury, and my favorite Bloom County/Outland/Opus.  (Only Doonesbury is still running today.)

I found a clip of what may be my all-time favorite comic.  It was a Sunday strip of “Outland” from 1993.  “Bloom County” was a huge favorite of mine in college, before the author rejiggered it into “Outland,” which eventually begat the Sunday-only “Opus.”  I couldn't believe that this clipping still looked as bright and fresh as if I ran in the paper today.  Most of my other clippings had grown faded and brittle.  Maybe the Albany Times-Union used better newsprint.

Anyway, here is a look at a strip that was controversial at the time, but remains as true now as it was then.  Sometimes the truth hurts…

 (Click the pic, to embiggen for easier reading.)

Thursday, July 18, 2013

Newz Bluz - The Vigilante Edition

Without a doubt, the story of the week has been the Travon Martin story, which concluded with the acquittal of George Zimmerman.  Well, I probably shouldn't say, “concluded,” because I’m sure we haven’t heard the last of it.  Even if the Justice Department doesn't bring its own charges, I’m betting the family takes a page from the OJ playbook and files charges in a civil suit, where there is a lower standard for proving guilt.

I don’t pretend to have any actual insight into the case.  In fact, I think we, as a people, vastly over-estimate our capacity to form relevant opinions in cases like this.  We think because we see some TV coverage of the trial or listen to semi-informed gargoyles of grief like Nancy Grace, that we become experts ourselves.  Just ask any Monday Morning Quarterback calling into a radio show…  Or read the comments after a news story on the Internet… any news story. 

So here’s what I think, with the full disclaimer that I don’t know jack.  I think it shouldn't be legal for someone to follow, harass and confront a person, for whatever reason, escalate it into a fight, and then claim self-defense.  Where was Trayvon’s right to “stand his ground” when stalked by some idiot with a gun?  I don’t care who started the physical contact; the entire encounter was orchestrated by Zimmerman, against the orders of the 911 operator.  He went after the kid, the kid fought back, so he shot him, for not having the decency to cower appropriately.

That said, I don’t think the case should be retried.  Prosecutors made the case, the defense defended, and the jury decided.  You win some, you lose some.

What should happen now is a revisitation of the Stand Your Ground laws across the country, to tighten the circumstances in which one can use lethal force.  Someone’s in your home? Absolutely.  Someone’s attacking you in the street?  No question.  But following someone down the street because they don’t look like you’d prefer them to look, provoking a fight and then shooting him in “self-defense?”  That’s just not right. 

All that does is make every pistol-packing dipshit in the country into judge, jury and executioner. 

Dr Hook is Unavailable for Comment*
I can’t believe this is even a controversy.  People are losing their shit because the younger of the Boston Marathon bombers is featured on the cover of the upcoming Rolling Stone.  Consequently, people are flinging themselves about in protest, to the point that CVS and other retailers are refusing to stock the issue.

What gets me is that Rolling Stone is in no way condoning his actions.  In fact, the subheading on the cover says, “How a promising, popular student was failed by his family, fell into radical Islam and became a monster.”


So here’s the problem: the cover makes him look like a normal kid, or like any other teenage rock star.  In America, we prefer our villains to look the part, like Osama bin Laden, Hitler, or Dr. Evil.  The last thing we want to see is a terrorist that looks just like any other guy you might see walking down the street.  Even George Zimmerman wouldn't have looked twice at this kid.

I just don’t see what the big deal is.  If the story was about the rescue effort or how they caught the bombers, the EMTs or police would be on the cover.  If it was about the victims and their recovery, they’d be on the cover.  But the story is about the bomber, so he’s on the cover.  I think we’re taking this ‘getting offended’ thing waaaaay to seriously.

If anyone should be getting mad at that cover, it’s me!  How dare Rolling Stone taunt me with a cover picture of the guy who made the hockey game I was going to attend, get rescheduled so I couldn't go?  Fucker cost me $300. 

As far as I’m concerned, he upset the mojo for the Penguins’ entire playoff run.  To me, the only acceptable picture would have been him with a hockey stick stuck through his head, with the caption: “Dzhokhar Tsarnaev Cost Pittsburgh the Stanley Cup!  And he needs to thin some of the consonants out of his name!”

Yvonne Abraham from the Boston Globe has a good op-ed piece on this silly brouhaha; it’s well worth the quick read.

*To the snot-nosed kids out there, and you know who you are, Dr. Hook is a rock group famous for the song “On the Cover of the Rolling Stone.”

Filibusta Move
In other news, President Obama’s picks for various departmental positions are now being confirmed, thanks to a Senate deal in brokered by John McCain and Chuck Schumer.  The deal to bring the nominees up for a vote was made in order to avoid Harry Reid’s consequential action to alter the Senate’s filibuster rules.

I’m not too sure what to make of all that.  Obviously, the Republicans are using the filibuster (threat) like they’re ordering a sandwich.  They've used this once rare maneuver over 400 times since 2009, both to tie up bills and obstruct cabinet and judicial nominations.  The plan: run out the clock for eight years, especially on cabinet positions whose prescribed actions might cost money for big business.  If they can keep a department like the Consumer Protection Agency leaderless, it will be that much less effective in representing the public against the banking industry.

To me, it comes down to the same old problem… what goes around, comes around.  The Democrats can’t count on holding the Senate indefinitely, and should they end up in the minority, they’ll need the filibuster option as well.

What worries me is that I don’t think the Republicans will be nearly as hesitant as Reid was, to execute the “Nuclear Option,” and hamstring the filibuster once they’re in power.  They’ll think, “We can’t let the Democrats do to us what we did to them, so Ka-boom, we change the rules right now.”  I bet they do it within their first session in power.

Tuesday, July 16, 2013

More Questionable Meat

I just restocked the freezer, this weekend, with another order of Omaha Steaks.  So you know what that means… beside the fact that we get to eat really well this week?  As you may recall from a prior blog post or two, along with the meat potatoes, Omaha Steaks also sends a little packet of “Conversation Cards,” meant to stimulate lively conversation at the swanky little barbecue they’re sure you’re having.

I don’t have swanky little barbecues; I have a blog, for which I’m always sniffing around for ideas.  So when UPS delivers a blog idea directly to my front door, it’s only natural that I use it.  So let’s go to the cards, shall we? 
“Set 6,” and this time they’re blue…
Q1: Have you ever skinny-dipped?  Yes… neighbor’s pond, during a late-night Barn Party.  There was a whole group of boys and girls; mostly my brother’s friends.  I just kind of tagged along on the periphery.  Nothing much happened, just a lot of jumping off the dock and splashing around in the dark, right up until my brother dove under water with a flashlight.  That scattered the girls pretty well.  The boy killed the Golden Goose right there…

Q2: What is your favorite season?  OK, they’re duplicating.  I believe I've answered this one before, but my favorite season is the Fall.  I love the cool nights and crisp air, Halloween, bright colors, the start of football and hockey seasons, and my birthday.

Q3: What movie could you watch over and over again?  Lots of them!  I watch all my favorites repeatedly; that’s why I have them on DVD.  And I did a whole post about movies that when I happen upon them on TV, keep me up late waiting for “That One Part”.  The main culprits are Forrest Gump, Jaws, Aliens, Harry Potter, Die Hard, Indiana Jones(es), Star Wars(s), The Godfather, Airplane, Naked Gun(s) and Blazing Saddles.

Q4: If you were given a million dollars you had to give away, how would you do it?  I’d spread most of the dough around to various friends (in need or otherwise) and relatives, and send the rest to do-gooder organizations I believe in, like Planned Parenthood, and the political causes I support like Move On and the ACLU.

Q5: If you could be any age, what would you be?  I used to say 22 was the perfect age (back when I was 17-18).  I figured, you were “legal,” with some to spare, but still young, lean, and indestructible.  I would still go back to 22, but only if I could keep my current knowledge and experience.  The downside of 22 is that you’re often still a pinhead. 

If I had to embrace the complete package, I’d probably say 35.  I was still a pinhead, but much less so, and I hadn't started with any of that shit with hives or irregular heartbeat. 

I’m assuming that when they say “any age,” they mean any age right now, and not by going back to the past.  In that case, as I've said before, I’d go back to being 17 in 1979, and relive my wild days of footloose and fancy free.  (That way, I could bring my own flashlight to the skinny-dip.  Also, buy Microsoft stock.)

Q6: If you could star in one movie, what would it be?  And what part would you play?  I can think of many options, and they would all be because of what I’d get to do with my hot co-star.  I guess I’ll go with Michael Douglas’s role in Basic Instinct.  You should see what he got to do with Sharon Stone that ended up in the DVD outtakes.  I’m surprised if he even asked for a paycheck.

Second choice would be Keanu Reeves’ role in Speed, because not only wouldn't I have to learn how to act, I’d get to rescue and then make out with Sandra Bullock.  Third would be Tom Hanks’ role in Splash, to rescue and make out with Darryl Hannah.  Plus, that was an unbelievably cute movie.  See a theme here?

Third choice, and totally un-babe-related, any role in any Mel Brooks movie, just because I know I’d have the best time and laugh constantly.  Maybe I could combine things and do Gene Wilder’s role in Young Frankenstein, because I’d get to make out with Teri Garr, plus hang out with Madeline Kahn and Marty Feldman. 


Q7: If you could change one thing on your body, what would it be?  Easy… hair.  I’d elect to keep my hair past the age of 24.  Being this bald and that young at the same time was really tough to handle. 

Q8: If you saw a stranger with toilet paper stuck on their shoe, would you tell them?  Tough to say… it depends on the situation.  Out in public, I’m usually in my own little world.  I rarely talk to anyone, nor do I even notice anyone for that matter, so no, I doubt I’d say anything.

But if I was in my office building and saw someone I didn't know trailing some TP, I’d probably say something.  At least then I’d know it wasn't some crazy person who thinks it’s a footwear accessory.

Sunday, July 14, 2013

Jersey Day

I ended up going to two Orioles games this week.  I don’t usually like to cram them all together like that, during a very long season, but as often happens, it just ended up that way.

On Wednesday, I had Misty’s tickets again, so that was a known commodity.  But they were having a game jersey giveaway on Saturday; the only one of the season.  I've been to a lot of giveaway games, for hats, t-shirts, coolers and whatnot, but I've never been to a jersey game.  And you know me and game jerseys

The “prize” was an (2013 All-Star) Adam Jones road jersey.  I have Orioles jerseys in home white, and in black, and orange, but I don’t have a gray road jersey.  Gotta complete the collection, right?

The promotional announcements said “replica” jersey.  I know that in jersey lingo, a “replica” is a jersey with the numbers ironed on, with the inner stitching drawn on, instead of actually stitched.  I don’t really care for them, because they look phony to me.  BUT, this one was going to be free, so what the hell?  All I had to do was be one of the first 15 or 20 thousand people to enter.  (I saw both figures in different ads, so I couldn't be sure.)

My plan of attack was simple.  It was a 4:00 game and they usually start letting people in an hour and a half before game time, which in this case meant 2:30.  I figured I’d get there around 1:30 and meet up with Sitcom Kelly.  That would give us time to grab some food from the outdoor vendors, and down a couple of beers before the doors opened.  And if there was a big lineup, we could hit the line right off the bat.

I had a feeling this game would be packed when I bought my tickets last week.  There were only a couple of sections that even had seats available, which is rare.  I got seats in the third row of the upper deck, down by the left field foul pole.  The question was, what time would everyone show up?

I got my answer as soon as I got within site of The Yard.  The place was mobbed!  The courtyard at the main entrance was packed, and there was a line clear around the corner and down the length of the place.

Uh oh.

I decided to check the side entrance, across from the bars and vendors where I always go before games.  The line there was much more manageable, no more than about 20 yards.  I dashed over to the food stands and got a burger and a sausage, then jumped into the line.  My food run cost me about 10 yards of line. 

People seemed to be concerned about the number of boxes of jersey’s they’d seen at the door.  I was thinking that if I just miss out, then I just had a really costly meal.   This was the line in front of me:
The arrow shows where the gate is.
There was also a line coming from the other direction.  That was the line Sitcom Kelly found herself in.  We decided it would be best if she stayed put.  She was about as far away as I was, and I was worried about people squawking about line jumpers if she joined me.  And getting in line behind me was no treat either:
This was the line behind me, shortly after I got into it.
I’m glad I came in with a contingency plan for such a crowd.  After all, one of my personal axioms is “Never underestimate what people will do for free shit.”  They had a huge crowd the night before, too, because they were giving away floppy hats.  Now, the previous three games against the Texas Rangers, who are division leaders?  The crowds were between 19-21 thousand.  But there were no giveaways.

I was kinda lucky in one respect.  My spot in line ended up being under a tree, so I had some shade.  The downside was that I had about an hour to kill, and no one to talk to.  But lo and behold, the Orioles let people in a half hour early, no doubt due to the crowd, and how long it take to process that many people all at once.

So, I got my jersey… which was a complete piece of shit!  The letters and numbers were silk-screened on!  I hate that.  I don’t know why I was surprised; I should have known that they’d be completely on the cheap.  But then, they shouldn't have used the term, “replica,” which is specific.


On the bright side, it fits Pinky perfectly, so it’s hers now.  She doesn't give a shit about authentic versus replica; she just looks cute in it.  Me, I have a jersey reputation to uphold.

I met up with Sitcom Kelly shortly afterwards and she got her jersey too.  Now all we had to do was kill two freakin’ hours before game time.  I got some beer, (finally) and we wandered around, managing to kill about half the time.  Eventually we decided to go sit down up near our seats.

I say “near” because the sun was still hitting our seats up in the third row.  I knew by game time, we’d be shaded, but that didn't help right then.

Anyway, as we approached our section, the usher asked to see out tickets.  I was dumbfounded.  Why the hell did she need to see our tickets in the upper freakin’ deck?  Do they really have a problem with people sneaking from the lower bowl up into the nosebleed sections?  WTF?  That bugged the hell out of me right off, and it only got worse when the chased us out of some seats in the back of the section, in the shade.  (That’s why I always try to avoid showing my ticket to the ushers.  The less they know, the more flexibility I have.)

So we killed the time in our sunny seats, which luckily for us, found some occasional cloud cover, and we were indeed shaded by the first pitch.
This wasn't actually the first pitch.
There actually IS a decent view of the city as long as you’re seated on the 3rd base side, and don’t have everything blocked by the Eyesore Hilton.
For all the personal irritations, it is kind of fun to see the place all filled up.  You could see single sections all filled up with particular groups, who usually wore matching shirts.
For example, this upper deck section held the Boy Scouts of America.  No word on whether they were one of the gay-friendly troops, but they did have matching outfits.
Biggest downer of the day was the loudmouthed doofus sitting directly behind me, who spent the entire game screaming things at the players and umpires.  Why do I always end up in front of these clowns?  And this wasn't some kid; this was a grown-ass man, who was at least in his late 40s.  Do you know how ridiculous that is?  I mean, look at our view:


I totally wanted to stand up and say, “Dude, do you seriously think you can argue balls and strikes from a side angle 8 miles away?  Do you really have a better view, AND a better understanding of the game than the trained professional umpire standing 3 feet behind the action?  And do you really thing the players A) can hear you and B) give a rat’s ass what you have to say?  You are not impressing anyone up here with your enthusiasm or baseball “expertise.”  All you’re doing is making me deaf in my right ear.  So unless everyone is cheering because something happened, please sit down and shut the fuck up before I toss your ass over the railing.  Thank you.”

[Pause to soak in the applause from the rest of the section.]

In actuality, all I really did was give him a badass glare when I handed his sunglasses back to him after he dropped them in my lap.

When we could hear ourselves think, Sitcom Kelly and I had a giggle when they changed pitchers and announced “The Call to the Bullpen.”  Thinking back to the post I wrote about Sitcom Kelly hypothetically running amok around the ballpark and getting into trouble by chatting with the manager on the bullpen phone, I proposed the following bullpen voicemail message:

Thank you for calling the bullpen.  Your call is very important to us.  If you would like to call for a right-hander, please press 1.  If you’d like a lefty, please press 2.  If you’d like this message en espaƱol, please press tres.  To repeat this message, please hang up and call back again.  Let’s go O’s!

I realize that I’m sitting here bitching about getting to spend and entire day eating and drinking and watching a ballgame, without a care in the world, while other people are either working or tending to a houseful of kids or working on some kind of home renovation project.  I acknowledge that I’m very lucky in that respect.  I suppose I could have written about the game I went to on Wednesday, where nothing went wrong and I had a splendid time.  But that’s boring and it’s just so much more fun to bitch…