Tuesday, November 29, 2011

Boot Scootin' Bungle

Since my last couple posts have been kind of unfocused, I figured I’d break out a story from The Archives.  Actually, I’ll have to tell you two stories and surprisingly, one of them has to do with shoes.

[Watches female eyes light up across the blogosphere…]

It all starts with the boots.

One day back when I was living in Albany, Future-Ex and I were cruising through the mall, just her and I.  This was before we were married, but after we’d bought the house together.  As we passed in front of this exotic boot store, I stopped at the window to look at the snakeskin boots.  I’d always thought they looked really sharp. 

So in passing, I said, “Man, if I ever had a couple hundred bucks to toss down the toilet, I’d get a pair of snakeskin boots.”  We continued on our way and I never mentioned it again.

Cut to my birthday later that year and lo and behold, she got me a pair of snakeskins!  I was overjoyed!  I had no idea she remembered that comment and was thrilled to have such an extravagant wife.
My snakeskin boots. I’m sure they could use a good clean and shine.

The thing I learned about wearing the snakes was that while the tops were soft and pliable, there was nothing to the soles.  Between the steel bar in the arch and the forward edge of the boot heel that cuts into my heel, it was clear that I wouldn’t be able to wear these things for any long stretch of time.  (And this was before the Delayed Pressure Urticaria.  These things kill me now.)

But boy, they looked good.  With the big heels, I looked like I was about 8 feet tall and with every stride you heard that distinctive boot-click, letting everyone around know that a badass was approaching. 

Side note: I wore them to work here in Baltimore one time.  I figured that since I sat down most of the day, I’d be OK.  On the contrary, my feet were throbbing by the time I got home.  But on the way in, as I was walking up out of the subway, I heard someone say, “Love the boots!

I turned around and saw that it was a young black girl, who just so happened to be wearing skin-tight snakeskin pants.  It was probably a stripper, on the way to the day shift at one of the clubs on The Block.

OK, so back to Albany…

We spent the next spring in a whirlwind of wedding planning.  First and foremost, we had to find a place that would marry us.  Both of us were recovering Catholics, but while it was my first time, she’d already been married twice before, so a Catholic Church wedding was out of the question.  That suited me just fine.  I didn’t much care who married us; I knew that the only praying I was going to do on Sundays was going to be on the behalf of the Pittsburgh Steelers.

So we checked around and found a Unitarian church nearby, conveniently located right down the street from where we wanted to have the reception.  The Unitarians take pretty much everyone so I wasn’t too worried about getting turned down.  The minister (or whatever) only asked that we come in one time for a counseling session.  I was fine with that, as I wanted to get a handle on him too.

We managed to act like we were a good match and convinced him to take the gig.  Obviously, one of the reasons churches like this will marry people that are unaffiliated with them is to try to change that fact and get them attending services.  Naturally, he asked Future-Ex, her kid and I to come to the following Sunday’s service and we agreed.  I figured that it would be a good idea to go and make sure they weren’t into anything too weird, you know, like fires or dragons or rolling on the floor and speaking in tongues.  I thought we’d just slip in and sit in the back, observe like flies on the wall and make sure we weren’t making a terrible mistake.  We’d slip in and slip back out, without drawing any undue attention.

I was feeling particularly jaunty that morning so I decided I’d wear my snakeskins to the service.  I mean, why not?  If we were sitting in the back, it’s not like I’d be blocking anyone’s view?  Why not go in stylin’?

I’ll tell you why.  Because things rarely turn out as you plan.  You’d have thought I’d learned that by that point in my life.

As we walked in the back doors, we were greeted immediately by an overly cheerful usher, who after introducing himself to us newcomers, briskly led us straight down past all the shiny, happy Unitarians right to front fucking row.  There I was, clomp-clomping down the aisle like a Clydesdale, 8-feet tall and as awkward looking as a kid holding up the side wall of an 8th grade dance.

Not seeing any graceful way out of it, I just went with it and tried to sit down as low as I could.  Just one more in the crowd, right?

Wrong.  This service, while relatively pleasant, had a lot of call and response throughout the service.  We didn’t know any of it and that really shouldn’t have mattered.  Even when I did know all the responses, like with the Catholic mass, I never actually participated.  I never saw the point of group responses; they’re a little too much like mass-hypnosis for me.

But then they got to this one part; geez it still gives me a nervous stomach to think about it to this day.  There was this song to be sung and unlike how you usually just sit there and move your lips and pretend to sing, everyone had to stand up in circles of 6 or 7, hold hands facing each other and sing together in little groups.

So there we are, way up in front, me with my 8-feet tall snakeskin boots and deer-in-headlights eyes, holding hands with the scripture reader and people in the row behind us.  Everyone is singing except us, because obviously we don’t know enough of the words to even fake it.  I can’t even look at anybody; all I can do is look at the floor and fidget on my feet.

Have you ever had that dream where you’re in front of an audience to give a big speech and you don’t know what to say?  Or are pushed out onto a stage with a guitar in your hand, but you don’t know how to play a single thing?  And you hope that you can just start doing something with the strings and some notes would pour out, but still you just stand there because you don’t even know where to start?  That was me, living out my personal nightmares in front of a bunch of shiny, happy Unitarians, swaying and sweating high up above the congregation in my stack-heeled snakeskin boots.

What I wouldn’t have given for Scotty to beam me the hell out of there in that instant.  I felt like a complete and utter 8-foot dork.  While the minister may have known our plight, nobody else around us did.  We just looked like a nice family of dipshits.  I could not WAIT to get out of Dodge.

I wonder if that was a Unitarian initiation prank.  I bet they only do that to punish the heathens that come to use the Unitarians strictly for marriage services.

They think they can just waltz in here and use our church?  We’ll fix their asses… Here, we’ll sit’em right up front, so we can all laugh.  It’ll be like a bonding exercise.”

Dude, did you see the look on that big one?  I thought he was going to throw up right there in the pew.  Good thing we didn’t go through with part two.

What, where we make them do The Lord’s Special Dance?  Ten bucks says Tallboy would have tripped over the kneeler and busted his lip on the railing.”

And you wonder why I haven’t found religion…

Sunday, November 27, 2011

Odd Bits - The Thankful Edition

So far, it’s been a successful holiday weekend.  I worked on Black Friday, and am taking Monday off instead.  It was weird working on Friday.  There were only a couple of us there on my floor for most of the day.  By leaving time, I was the only one left.  It was like I was a marble, rolling around an empty boxcar.  In fact, all of downtown was a ghost town, which is a huge improvement, in my book.

Uncle Bluz
I went to my brother’s house for the Thanksgiving feast and had a wonderful time.  But even better was getting to come back on Friday night and baby-sit.  My brother and his wife were going to dinner and then to see Bob Seger, (who still rocks, according to Bluz Brother).

So I packed a bag and went directly from work.  I had to pack a bag because the Penguins were playing and I had to be dressed in the appropriate game jersey for the occasion.  Even “on the job,” I still have my mojo responsibilities.

Once we settled in, we had some time before the game started so we watched the AC/DC concert movie, “Let There Be Rock.”  (I wrote about it a while back.)  Because you can’t seem to buy a decent Blue Ray package anymore that doesn’t also include the DVD, I figured I’d give my DVD copy to my nephew.  I made up some cover art, provided a jewel box and produced a nice little package for him.  (I did the same with the latest Harry Potter and Pirates of the Caribbean movies too.  When are the movie studios going to realize that they might be able to gouge us out of an extra $5 for the bigger package, but they lose on a whole other sale?  Because who really needs both movie versions to use for themselves?)

As I’ve mentioned before, my nephew Daniel (12) is an AC/DC freak now, so I felt I owed it to him to show him the band at their performing prime.  It was cool.  Sammy (6) was unimpressed though, and rolled over on the floor and had a nap.

I had to take Daniel to his basketball practice at 7:30, so we paused the game and ran the errand.  When we got back, Sammy perched up on my lap and we watched the game together.  I tell you, the kid is pretty observant for a 6-year old.  He knew all the players and everything they’d done lately.  It was some really nice Uncle/Nephew bonding time.  We get very little time for the two of us because when Daniel is home, he tends to dominate the conversation.

We paused the game again to go pick up Daniel and them came back to watch the end.  (Pens crushed Ottawa, 6-3, in a game that wasn’t really as close as the score indicates.)

Then, because my brother’s TV setup is different than mine and had a jillion different channels, we just scanned around to the other hockey games in progress.  It was really just background noise though, because we mostly just yapped the rest of the night.

Daniel and I tend to get into very detailed music conversations.  He tells me what he likes and then I tell him what I know about the artist.  Sometimes we have to go to the YouTube to provide examples.  God, what I wouldn’t have given for that kind of technology when I was a kid.

I’ve had this other idea kicking around in my head for a while now: a way to help guide Daniel in his musical journey… to steer him toward high-quality rock and roll, and away from the noise that passes for music today.

I pitched the idea to my brother first, that I could set the boy up with an email account, to which I would maintain access.  (That way, I could monitor use and dump the inevitable inappropriate spam.)  Once a week, I would email Daniel a song of choice, along with any relevant information.  For example, I’d tell him why I like the song, what the cool parts of it are, what to listen for, and most importantly, seek his feedback on what HE thinks of it.

My brother told me not to bother setting up a separate email.  He would just add an account onto his current email, for Daniel’s use.  Fine by me… whatever works.  I was just trying to minimize what anyone else would have to do.

I pitched the idea to Daniel on Friday and he was all over it.  I don’t get to see the boys as often as I’d like, so I figured he was old enough now to take advantage of the tech we have available.  (Yes, I know we could be doing Skype… one step at a time!)  He’s into texting, too, so we traded cell numbers. 

My goal is to teach the boy HOW to listen to music… how to seek out the bass line; how to appreciate a solid opening build; how to pick out the guitar riffs on multiple guitars; and mostly how to appreciate real people playing real instruments that do NOT include the abomination that is auto-tune.

I’ll let you know how it goes, once we get going and the email account is set up.

Buckeye Bluz
ESPN has been hyping the Ohio State/Michigan game as “The Game.”  While I may be all “Pittsburgh” for pro sports, in college sports my family rolls with the Buckeyes.  We lived in Columbus for 5 years, my mom taught and got her Masters there, and my brother graduated from there later.  He and I saw our first college football games there, and it stuck.  So the OSU/Michigan game has been a big deal for us since we were kids.

While I was at my brother’s place on Friday, it reminded me of a story, which I then told to the boys.

When I first moved to Baltimore and was staying with my brother and his wife, on the morning of the OSU/Michigan game I was awakened by the sound of the Ohio State Marching Band, aka The Best Damn Band in the Land.  My brother was playing the CD on the house stereo.

When I cleared my head, I stumbled downstairs and saw my sister-in-law in the living room.  I asked where my brother was.

She said that he was outside putting up the Buckeye flag.  Then she added, “At least this year, he’s not running up and down the street with it.”

That was the funniest thing I ever heard her say.  The “visual” just slayed me.

Alas, we lost the game yesterday, thus breaking a 7-game winning streak against That Team Up North.  Oh well… 7 out of 8 ain’t bad.  Yinz kin look it up.

The Mojo Boogie
The Steelers play the KC Chiefs tonight on Sunday Night Football, at Kansas City.  For the Steelers to win the division they need to win out the rest of the season AND have the Ratbirds lose one, otherwise, it’s Wild Card City.  So we need this one.

I decided to wear the same gear I wore the last time I watched at home while the Steelers were “away.”  I could have gone with what I wore the last times they were on SNF, but the results were inconclusive.  So for tonight:
White Polamalu jersey, gold-sleeved throwback tee, flannel Steelers jammy pants with the Hot Arizona Auntie-approved Steelers socks.

As I have the day off tomorrow, staying up late will not be an issue.

Thursday, November 24, 2011

The Obligatory Thanksgiving Post

Whoo Hoo!  Day off!

I actually have to work tomorrow, so this day off will have to stand alone.  Friday should be an easy day though.  It’ll be a ghost town at work.  I only know of one other person in my department that’s going to be there.  I’m taking Monday off, so I’ll get my long weekend on the back end.

I’m going to my brother’s for Thanksgiving dinner, so that means I’ll get to play with my nephews and watch some higher than usual-quality football for a Thanksgiving Day.  Even better, they need me to baby-sit for them on Friday night, so I’m sure I’ll have some adventures to chronicle for you this weekend.

As I sit here today, I easily realize how good I have things now.  I have a good job, a secure place to live and some dough in the bank.  I have family, friends and a Pinky that love me.

Also, I have you, who stops by regularly or occasionally, to see what I have to say.  The gift of your attention is something for which I can never adequately express my thanks.  Thank you for your visits, your comments and in many occasions, your friendship.

Happy Thanksgiving!

Tuesday, November 22, 2011

It's All Greek to Me

Can you be nostalgic when you’re only in 3rd grade?

I remember back when we lived in the Chicago suburbs and I was but a wee lad of 7 or 8, my parents got this Greatest Hits album by Herb Alpert and the Tijuana Brass.  This was the late sixties and even then, Herb and the TJB weren’t exactly “hip.”  But their brassy instrumentals were catchy and fun, for a household with 3 little kids.

I mean, we couldn’t play the soundtrack to “Hair” all the time, could we?

Tell me these guys don’t look like they should be playing in a crappy Holiday Inn lounge somewhere…  And I could swear that the 2nd standing guy from the left was Dick Martin from Laugh In.

Every so often, mom or dad would put on the Herb Alpert and we would carry on and dance around the dining room table.  I remember at the time, feeling nostalgic about those tunes, because I remembered them from when I was an even younger boy.

When we still lived in Pittsburgh, we had this big basement with a bar.  My folks would have the occasional New Years Eve party back then, which obviously set the precedent for the NYE parties we had out in The Barn, 15 years later.

I still remember the ritual of Dad sweeping out the concrete basement floor and wiping off the bar.  I used to love those parties because of all the fun… the soft drinks that we were allowed to have, the snacks, and the music.  My brother and I were allowed to stay up for a little later than usual and enjoy the first hours of the party.
That’s enough root beer for this one.”  5-year old Bluz and almost 3-year old Bluz Brother, New Years Eve, 1966.

My parents would fire up the record player down there and play 45’s, Herb Alpert’s among them.  I used to be fascinated by the sight of the records spinning round and round.

OK, I was a very easily amused kid.  We didn’t have Playstations, we had radio stations… AM radio stations at that.  But I just always thought that records were cool to play with, from the time I was, like, 3.  Anyway, I’m drifting…

The thing is; I could remember those songs from the time I was a very small boy, so that even hearing them in elementary school made me wax nostalgic.

My favorite of the lot, hands down, was “Zorba the Greek.”  It was one tune that was nothing like any of the others, most of which had a Latin vibe.  “Zorba” was anarchy!  It was fast-paced, featuring a bouzouki player, Herb’s lightning-lipped trumpet, and lots of hooting and hollering and “Ayiiiiiii-yip-yip-yip!”  It was a four and a half minute party! 
 A Greek "bouzouki."

Even as a kid, I could picture a loud, wild affair with sunshine, brilliant colors and lots of people dancing around with their arms in the air.  Check this out; you’ll see what I mean.
You needn’t even pay attention to the visuals; (some album stills, some dancing video), the music says it all.  You can skip the slow part in the middle, but be sure to catch where it starts to speed up again at the 2:45 mark.

My brother used to have his special moves for this song as well, (again, when he was very young.)  During the slow part, he’d lay face-down on the couch, and then as the music gradually picked up speed, he’d shake his butt from side to side in time with the beat, faster and faster until he’s practically throw himself off the couch.  Used to make me laugh myself silly.

When we finally got around to growing up and throwing our own parties out in The Barn, especially in our first, small, neighborhood Barn Parties, we found a home for Zorba there too.  None of our friends had heard any of this kind of things before but they caught the same vibe as we did.  In fact, we invented our own dance to it.  Granted, it wasn’t nearly as good as the people you see in the video…  Ours was more like a long Conga Line, only with more hormones… three ass-shakes, then a pelvic thrust on every kettle-drum beat.  Call it a Bunny Hop for prospective pole dancers.

You know, maybe if the Greeks didn’t make such catchy music, their economy wouldn’t be in the toilet.  It’s hard to hold down a steady job when you’re always dancing around with your arms in the air.  And how could you ever hold a business meeting?

And now, Cristos will talk about our 4th quarter projections.”

Thanks, Stavros.”
[Climbs up on table, begins dancing…] “Ayiiiiiii-yip-yip-yip!

[Everyone links arms and dances around the boardroom table…] “Woooooooo!

Marginally-related thought: If I were Greek, I think I’d like to be named “Cheerios,” or if I was having a bad day, “Belicos.”

I have Zorba on my MP3 player, so it comes up occasionally on my way to or from work.  It’s kind of a “WTF” moment when it follows something like AC/DC or Metallica.  Or Abba.  Such is the peril of “shuffle mode.” 

But it never fails to make me smile and look for the party.  And want to shake my butt and put my arms in the air.  It’s impossible to have a bad day with this tune running through your head.


Sunday, November 20, 2011

Odd Bits - The Bye-Week Edition

The Steelers are on their “bye” this week, so there is no game for me to dress for or obsess over.  So what to do, what to do? 

Make do, that’s what to do.

Ratbird Whine
Earlier this week, I spotted a story about the Ratbirds coach John Harbaugh complaining about some of the music that was played when his team was at Heinz Field, two Sundays ago.

Seems he was incensed that the scoreboard operator was displaying the game stats comparing the two quarterbacks, the Ratbirds’ Joe Flacco and the Steelers’ Ben Roethlisberger.  At the same time, the PA was playing Lynyrd Skynyrd’s “What’s Your Name (Little Girl).  He was presuming that it was a shot at his guy, but hell, that could have been Big Ben’s own personal theme song, up until last year’s great Operation Reputation Rehabilitation.

I don’t even know that it was done on purpose… that’s the kind of song that you might hear at a Steelers game anyway.  But even assuming that it was on purpose, wouldn't you think that an NFL coach has more important things to worry about?  Just goes to show how badly the Steelers are in the Ratbirds’ heads.

John, just take your win and shut the fuck up.  What happened the next week when your guys ate it in Seattle, did they play The Bitch is Back in your honor?  Considering all the scoreboard bullshit (like never replaying any play that doesn’t favor your team) and public address insults directed at the Steelers (like never announcing who made the tackle against your offense) in your stadium, you just look like a hypocrite.

Towel Mania
I saw this clip on That’s Church last week and had to steal it run it myself because it’s just that cool.

Earlier this year, ESPN had solicited fans to submit photos or video of themselves waving their Terrible Towel in interesting places.  At the time, I considered sending something in, but I really hadn’t been anywhere noteworthy, with Towel in hand.

Nothing I could have done would have made the cut, because the commercial is on YouTube now and is just amazing.  It goes to show how widespread the Steeler Nation is across the world.  Check this out…

Baltimore hates us because they will never be able to do something that it this cool.

Twi-Lights Out
I hear the new Twilight movie is out this weekend.  I am on neither Team Edward nor Team Jacob.  I am on Team Who Gives a Shit about Sullen Sparkly Vampires That Take Three Movies to Finally Bang the Hot Chick.

And what’s up with all the grown-ass women that love these movies?

Now, leave me alone… I can’t be bothered with this weak-ass bullshit… I’ve got the last Harry Potter movie to watch on DVD.

What?  Hermione’s smokin’ hot.

The No-Mojo Boogie
Since I don’t have a game to dress for, I thought this would be a good time to show you what I’m NOT wearing.

I have a couple articles of Steelers apparel that I no longer wear during any Steelers game.  I figured that with the Steelers not playing, it was a good time to drag these out for a picture.

(Note: I am NOT wearing either one today, either, I’m just showing you the picture.)

Steelers boxer shorts and Loud Steelers Zubaz pants.

The last time I wore either of these was Super Bowl XXX in 1995, which the Steelers lost in heartbreaking fashion to the Cowboys.

They hadn’t done me any good in previous games, but I was not yet experienced enough to correctly read the tealeaves.  I just figured, ‘the louder and uglier, the better.’  It worked insomuch as it was a loud, ugly game.

To tell the truth, I don’t think I can squeeze my big ass into anything I wore in 1995 ever again, so I have a built in insurance policy against any future lack of judgment.

Thursday, November 17, 2011

Code of Silence

I was thinking about this story from my ‘old life’ the other day and thought I might like to talk about it.

As you may remember, back in the early 90s, I managed to make the leap from managing record stores to working in our company’s home office.  My boss, Dave, who I’ve mentioned in my previous “Music Years” series, was the VP of Merchandising.  In other words, his department was in charge of all the merchandise that our store sold, from music to video to accessories.  It was definitely the ‘cool’ department to work in.  I loved working there and I loved working for Dave.

There was this one time that he needed me to send a request out to the field.  I don’t remember the details at all, but there was something we needed the stores to do.  He told me to run it by our Operations Manager first, and then send it out.

When I talked to the Ops Guy, he totally kiboshed it.  I forget why, but he was emphatic that it wasn’t a good time.  I reported this back to Dave and asked what to do.  With a twinkle in his eye, Dave said to send the message anyway.  I did, happy to be included in the conspiracy.

The next day, the Ops Guy came by my cube and he was most unhappy.  He told me to get into Dave’s office, immediately.

I went in and sat down, while the Ops Guy proceeded to tear me a new asshole.

Damn it Bluz, I told you not to send that out!  Why would you do that?  I won’t tolerate such blatant disregard for what I thought was a crystal-clear direction.

I was feeling a bit shell shocked… I mean, why wasn’t Dave setting the guy straight?  Direct disobedience was definitely unusual for me and I didn’t like anyone thinking otherwise.  But then I had a thought…

What if Dave was testing me?  Maybe he was checking my character… maybe he wanted to see if I would crack or if I would roll over on him to get myself out of trouble.  Or maybe this was something that could hurt Dave politically within the company.

Right then, I decided to say nothing.  If Dave wanted to see if I could take the heat, I’d take it all.  I figured; he must have his reasons.  And after all, Dave was my boss, not the Ops Guy.  My annual review and my paycheck were in Dave’s care, so if he needed me to take the fall for this, he could just call me Fallzdude.  I understood the Code of Silence, or as the Italians call it, “Omertá.”

The Ops Guy continued his tirade.  I don’t remember what he actually said but he was being very harsh and very critical of my character.  I just lowered my head and took it, saying nothing.

Then after another minute or so, (which seemed like an eternity), Dave just said, “Oh, calm down, I told Bluz to do it.

Thank you Jesus!  It was over, and if it was a test, I figured I passed.  Dave told me I could go back to my desk.  I fairly dashed out of the office, while the two of them hashed it all out.  I never heard any more about it.

So as I was pondering this story earlier this week, I thought I might like to provide a better ending for you.  Dave and I had been Facebook friends since last year so I thought I’d write to him and see if he could provide any insight for the story.  Was he really testing me?  Or just screwing around with the Ops Guy? 

Good idea, right?

Wrong.  Dave had no recollection of the event I described.  I admit that it was a long shot.  Not only did it take place about 18 years ago, I bet he had dozens, if not hundreds of dicey office issues he’d addressed over the years.  I just had the one there, so it was easy for me to remember.

History does repeat itself though; you know that.

About 5 years ago, when I was with my current company but in a previous department, I got into deep doo-doo with a Department Manager from one of our facilities in another state.  His unit had to research files on retailers that we were trying to set up with our finance program and they often had quite a backlog.

When checking into a particular file, I emailed a good friend of mine in that department who used to work closely with me here.  She told me that the file I was looking for, along with a stack of others, was languishing on a desk somewhere until someone could get to them. 

This pissed me off, because this particular Department Manager had been agitating for some time to take on more of the retailer set-up process, (which would take it away from my team!)  So not only did he want OUR job, in my opinion, they were likely to do it poorly.  Dude was “empire-building,” plain and simple.

Director’s DVD Commentary: That did indeed happen.  The day my boss gave up the fight to keep Retail Setup in our house was the day I began posting out for other jobs.  When they did take over Setup, they promptly ran it into the ground with time delays and errors.  They didn't have nearly enough people allotted to do the job properly.  

Sometimes it sucks being right all the time.

So I called my friend to confirm what she emailed me.  The files were not being actively worked, despite the fact that my team was being pressured daily regarding the completion status.

As luck would have it, some of the sales guys that had submitted these files happened to be in the building.  I went over to where they were and mentioned what I’d learned, and that they might want to call up and “shake the tree.”

Oh, that tree got the living shit shaken out of it.  The Department Manager went absolutely ballistic when he found out that I’d told the sales guys that his group wasn’t actively toiling over their files.  He had one of the sales people bring me over to her cube and over a speakerphone, called me out and threatened my job.  He was dropping F-bombs all over the place that could be heard from several cubes away.  He was like, “Do anything like that again and I’ll have your fuckin’ job.”

He wanted to know how I got off saying these things about his department.  I could have told him right off that one of his own people told me, but I knew that he was a vindictive SOB and he would have initiated Witchhunt 2006.  So once again, I clammed up and gave nothing but 1-word non-answers.  I didn’t mention anything about my inside intel.

After we hung up, I went straight to my boss and told him what had just taken place.  I told him everything except for the identity of my source.  I said I’d have to keep that part to myself because I wouldn’t risk my friend’s livelihood.  But I guaranteed him that I had not gone off half-cocked and I was not throwing around unsubstantiated charges.

My boss just thanked me for dropping this giant turd in his lap and sent me on my way.  OK, he didn’t really say that, but I’m pretty sure he was thinking it.  Anyway, he hashed it out with the Dept. Manager and unfortunately it had to come out that I did indeed get my info from his team.

The aftermath dragged on for months.  The Dept. Manager conducted his witch-hunt after all, but it never turned up anything. 
“She turned me into a newt!" (I got better.)

Neither my friend nor I ever said anything further to anyone.  We stopped emailing each other at work, for fear that he had IT set up a net to catch all my correspondence.  Instead, we spoke on the phone from home, where I assured her that my lips were sealed.  I had other friends in the unit that kept me up on the goings on too.  The dude held a big staff meeting where he tried to coerce the information out of people.  It ended with his forbidding anyone on his staff from talking to me.

That was truly laughable.  I mean, my department and his department had to work hand in hand.  Luckily, no one listened to him about that and business went on.  And when the Dept. Manager’s boss found out about it all, (via complaints from the other employees there), he became most displeased.  He and the Dept. Manager had a long talk about effective managing.  I got the last laugh when he was canned a couple months afterwards, during a widespread reorganization.

I felt like, “No, I’ll have YOUR job, motherfucker.”

No, it’s not like he got axed because of me.  The guy ran his team like a tyrant and a bully long before this incident.  This thing just brought it to a head.  He made his own bed. 

But once again, keeping my yap shut paid off, not only for me but also for my friend.

Such is the value of Office Omertá.

Tuesday, November 15, 2011

How to Know if You're Being Treated Right

Remember the Whatsername Saga?  That was the trio of stories I posted about how back about 20 years ago, I got together with a girl who then tore my heart to shreds by breaking up with me 4 separate times.  What prompted my writing at the time was that she had just contacted me via Facebook, where after a few exchanged emails, we talked about the whole sordid affair and then buried the hatchet.

There was one interesting offshoot to the story, which I’ve been sitting on to post later.  It just so happens that “later” is today.

In the course of our email exchange, after hearing about the bumpy path she’d been on since we parted, I mentioned that I thought that going forward, she needed to stick up for herself more and stop being such a goddamned doormat.  I phrased it much more delicately than that, of course, but the point was that she needed to find herself a good guy that treated her right.

She responded by asking me “what my definition of that was and what are the signs that you know that a man is treating you right.”  She went on to say that in her experience, “men will reel you in and then change.”  That prompted me to come up with this list of rules to help guide the screening process. 

Director’s DVD Commentary: You may see some similarities to the guidelines I wrote for my buddy’s daughter Kyrie, in my Letter to a 16-Year Old.  When it comes to finding a good guy, there is very little difference between 16 and 60, when determining how one wants to be treated.  Some things are timeless.  So here is what I wrote to Whatsername.

You are correct; it is often the case that a man (or woman) puts on their best face early on.  One always tries to present their better selves at the onset of a relationship.  The trick is to determine what's for show and what's the real person.  It's key to remember that a guy will not change his true nature.  He may be able to mask some rough edges for a while, especially early on, but his own nature will reappear.  You cannot change him, no matter what you do.  So you need to look for clues as to what his true nature is, especially after the "new" wears off.

These are some things that I think entail “a man treating a woman right.”

* A man should always see that the woman is comfortable.  Too hot?  Too cold?  (Also, the woman needs to make a good-faith effort not to skyrocket the utility bill, like walking around in shorts and a tee shirt, complaining that the room is too cold.  It's tough because men and women are rarely comfortable at the same temperature.)

* He should thank her for the things she does... whether it’s bringing home a paycheck, making meals, cleaning up... Her work should not be taken for granted.

* And it doesn't hurt to take on some of it himself.
* He should say things that add to her confidence and make her happy, never detract from it.

* He should be proud that she's his woman and act like he's happy to be seen with her.

* He should pick up the check, almost always.  I say "almost" because there's nothing wrong with a woman treating her man once in a while, when she can.  But it should be the exception.

* He should listen to her and not just wait until her lips stop moving so that he can talk.  And she should try not to talk his ears off as soon as he walks in the door.  Guys like quiet time.  And don't try to start heavy conversations at the very moment that his favorite show, or a big game, comes on TV.

* When arguing, (which is inevitable) it should never devolve into name-calling or insults.  It should stay on point and stay away from old grievances, IE everything the person ever did wrong since the beginning of time.  (This goes both ways!)  An argument should never sink to violence, hostile actions or threats.  Ever.

* He should be loyal, physically and emotionally.  While he may have female friends, they should not replace his own woman in any role that should belong to her.

* He should involve her on big decisions, not make them unilaterally.

* He should not keep big secrets, nor snoop through her things looking for hers.

* He should not make fun of her or belittle her in front of his friends.

* He should protect her from harm; from others and from anything else.  (But not to the extent of boxing her in. See the next 2.)

* He should not attempt to cut off her access to family or friends.

* While it's good to know where his woman is and when she's coming home, he should not hound her by cell phone every 20 minutes to check up.  He has to trust that she's not messing around.  (And she has to keep that trust.)

* He should be physically affectionate as a matter of practice, (so long as the woman likes that) not just when he wants sex.

As I'm writing these, I'm noticing that almost all of them apply both ways.  (In fact, all of them except the one about picking up the check, and maybe the protection one.)  A woman should treat her guy the exact same way.

I realize that real life can interfere with a lot of these things.  I mean; I know I violate some of these ideals my own self and I need to do better.  However there are a few that should be deal-breakers and prompt a woman to ask hard questions of herself about why she’s still with a guy.

* She should never accept being hit, shoved or treated violently.  Even if he claims it was just the booze or drugs, it doesn't matter.  If it happens once it can (and will) happen again.

* She should never be verbally abused or called names.

* She should never be exposed to danger... like being kicked out of a car, far from home, or left places when she’s out.

* She should never feel like she’s being "kept" or "owned."

* She should never feel threatened for expressing a differing opinion or be bullied into changing it.  Persuasion, yes.  Force, no.  And sometimes people just have to agree to disagree.

* If he makes her feel cowed, pressured, afraid to express an opinion, unsafe, unappreciated, unattractive or unloved, she should get out.  She’s not in a constructive relationship.  The only question is how long she’s going to be unhappy before she acts.

After saying she wanted to think on it for a day before responding, she later told me that she read it twice and asked to include it in her memoir.  She said that what she found so attractive about it was “that none of the men that I have ever been married to would have spent the time to put that into words like you did.  No one ever taught me this.  I am not sure I ever asked anyone, ‘how do I know if this relationship is right for me.”

She said some other things that I won’t include here, just because it would have been too completely self-serving, but you get the point.  I was just kind of shocked that she, or anyone wouldn’t know all this.

So now we know.

Sunday, November 13, 2011

The Mojo Boogie - The Rebound Edition

Last week’s game was a tough one for me, with the Steelers losing late against the Ratbirds, on Sunday Night Football.  The Steelers gave up a game-winning 92-yard touchdown drive with about two and a half minutes to go in the game.

That sure makes the old asshole sting a bit.

Luckily, I was off work on the following Monday and Tuesday, so I didn’t have to take too much shit at work.

While I was off, I saw a blurb in the paper about the ratings for the game.  They were huge, nationally, but even bigger in the home markets.  In Baltimore, the game earned a 45 rating and 63 share.  (That means the game was on in 45% of the homes that have a TV, and in 63% of homes that were watching TV at the time.)

In Pittsburgh, however, the ratings were even bigger, with a 53 rating and 71 share.  The article bemoaned the fact that Pittsburgh produced higher ratings for the game than did Baltimore.  (Hah!  We win the ratings war!  Woo hoo!)  The headline asked, “Where were Raven viewers?

Here’s the thing that they don’t understand here.  These things take time.  You don’t just plop a team here (all of 15 years ago) and expect immediate devotion.  The Steelers have always had a decent local following, but the team didn’t become any good until 1972.  So the Pittsburgh market has had almost 40 years to hone their fanatical following. 

Baltimore so much wants to be like Pittsburgh… to have what Pittsburgh has, it’s palpable.  That’s a lot of the reason why they hate Pittsburgh so much.  The two cities have a lot of similarities, yet one is perennially successful in sports.  (OK, in hockey and football.  Baseball?  Well, it’s been a while.)

Baltimore denigrates the Terrible Towel, because they have no such thing.  Plus, they’re sick of seeing them waved in their own stadium. 

They hate the team, but of course, they have to as division rivals.  And the Steelers have knocked the Rats out of the playoffs on three separate occasions, including in 2 of the last 3 years. 

They mock our fanaticism because they have yet to reach our level of commitment.  I’ve walked around the downtown of both places and the difference can be seen immediately.  In Pittsburgh, the streets are jammed with people wearing Steeler jerseys or other apparel.  Yes, there are some that do in Baltimore but it’s a mere fraction of what you see in The Burgh.  And you can’t walk down the street in Pittsburgh without going by a window full of Steelers merchandise for sale.  Whether it’s an apparel store, or a Walgreens, it’s packed with game gear.  Here?  Nada.  You’d barely knew there was a team here, from storefront appearances.

So if Baltimoreans want to compare themselves to Pittsburghers in terms of team loyalty and identity, they have a long way to go.  They have to put in the time.  There are no shortcuts.

The Mojo Boogie
The Steelers play the Bengals this afternoon and it won’t be on local TV, so I’m off to Jilly’s, my local sports bar/restaurant.  The last two times I went there this season, I wore a black Steelers polo, and we won.  But I noticed that both games the Steelers were at home and wore black.  This time, they play in Cincy and will be wearing white.  I considered wearing a white polo, but in looking back to last year, I often wore black polos while the Steelers wore white, and we won then too.  So for the sake of the streak, I’m continuing with the same outfit.
Black Steelers polo with white piping, yellow-fronted hat, with the Hot Arizona Auntie-approved Steelers socks.

I’ll probably have to take some grief at the bar, but whattya gonna do?  You got to take the good with the bad.  No matter what anyone says, we still have the ultimate trump card:

Late Update
Although the Bengals gave them a scare, the Steelers won today 24-17.  It was a good day for me at the old sports bar.  Met 3 new Steelers fans there, with whom I expect to watch some future games.  And now during the late game, the Seahawks are giving the Ratbirds all they can handle.  I'd feel better if they were scoring TDs instead of FGs, but beggars can't be choosers.

Thursday, November 10, 2011

(Six Feet) Down Goes Frazier

Famed heavyweight boxer “Smokin’” Joe Frazier died this week of liver cancer.  Frazier was best known for his trilogy of fights with Muhammad Ali in the early 70s, back when boxing was still relevant to our society.

I was a boy in 4th grade during the first Ali/Frazier fight.  It was a divisive time and our playground was divided as well, between Ali and Frazier camps.  I didn’t know much about boxing (or anything, really) at that age, but I knew that Ali was a loudmouth.  I hated loudmouthed braggarts, so I burrowed squarely into the Frazier camp.

I remember one kid in class bet everybody he could that Ali would win the fight.  When Frazier knocked Ali down in the 15th and won the decision, the kid’s mom wouldn’t let him pay off his bets.  (If that had been MY kid, I’d have made sure he not only paid his bets, but worked to earn the money first.  That’ll teach the little shit not to gamble, more efficiently than any lecture.)

Like I mentioned, back then boxing mattered.  It was on TV all the time, on Wide World of Sports, the Olympics, or whatever.  Boxing had yet to become splintered into the alphabet soup factions like it is now, so everyone knew who the Champ was, and the only boxers that mattered were the heavyweights.

Still, the big heavyweight fights were only live on pay-per-view in movie theaters.  Some people with short-wave radios could get the big fights from far-off lands.  Best my family could do was watch when the fight would be replayed on TV, a week or two later.  So it was hard for me, as a little pre-internet/cable TV kid to follow everything.  But I always liked Smokin’ Joe, for his quiet demeanor, big left hook and general indestructibility. 

Quick note: I used to hate Ali.  Like I said, he was too loud for my taste.  I didn’t like how he made fun of Frazier before their third fight, the famous Thrilla in Manilla.  No matter who he fought, I rooted hard against him.  I’ll never forget being the only one awake in the house on the night he lost to 1976 Olympian Leon Spinks.  When Ali lost the decision, I danced around the house like a madman, only without making a sound, lest I wake up Dad.  It was the first time I’d ever watched one of his fights live and saw him lose.

It wasn’t until many years later that I began to appreciate Ali for the wars he fought, both socially and in the ring.  I highly recommend the movie documentary, “When We Were Kings,” which covered the Ali/Foreman fight in Zaire.  I had no idea Ali was such an underdog.  His own people thought that he might actually get seriously injured or killed against Big George.  After all, Foreman had absolutely destroyed Frazier, knocking him down seven times in one fight.  (That’s the fight from which this post’s title is taken; Howard Cosell’s refrain of “Down goes Frazier!  Down goes Frazier!)  Ali beat Foreman through sheer guile and psychological warfare.  (OK, and a vicious right hook.)

But Ali and Frazier were polar opposites.  Ali was flashy where Frazier was stoic.  Ali danced and jabbed his was around the ring where Frazier plodded forward and threw devastating hooks to the body.  Ali didn’t let you hit him, where Frazier didn’t care how many shots he had to take for him to get inside and unleash his own bombs.

Ali and Frazier surround reptilian promoter, Don King, who is one of the reasons boxing is now so fragmented and widely disrespected.

The Thrilla in Manilla was the best fight I ever saw (later on replay, of course.)  The pre-fight hype was brutal.  Ali mocked Frazier for being slow, ugly, a gorilla and an Uncle Tom.  That’s one thing for which I can’t forgive Ali.  Joe had lent the guy money back when he couldn’t get a fight, and now he comes back with personal insults that went far beyond just promoting the gate.

Joe buried all that resentment and turned it into fury.  The opening rounds went to Ali, as he danced around the charging Frazier and rained jabs onto his skull.  But in the middle rounds, Frazier began to find the mark as he bombarded Ali’s midsection with brutal hooks.  Practically punched his lungs out.

In a testament to his greatness, Ali sucked it up in the late rounds and unleashed his own bombs into Fraziers eyes.  But every time you saw Ali go to sit in his corner, he looked like a battered man, like death warmed over. 

Joe looked worse though.  Ali had closed his left eye; it was swollen down to a slit.  Before the 15th round, Frazier’s manager threw in the towel.  Joe would not be able to see or stop Ali’s right.  To send him back out would practically invite permanent blindness.  Joe’s heart was willing, but cooler heads prevailed.

It was practically a game of chicken though.  There was a distinct possibility that Ali might not have gotten up either.  In fact, he barely got up to “celebrate” his win; he was back on his stool almost immediately.  He actually fainted in the ring.

It was through this war that they won each other’s respect.  Ali went for a stay in the hospital after the fight.  He said that it was “the closest to dying I’ve ever been.”  He also said that “Joe Frazier is the greatest fighter in the world… next to me… That’s one helluva man, and God bless him.”

I read that Joe went out to the clubs afterwards.  Post-fight, Joe said, “I hit him with body shots that should have brought down cities.”  But Ali kept coming, in that fight and in too many that followed.

Ali should have retired after he regained his title from Spinks.  Instead, he hung on way too long and got pummeled in his last fights.  The Parkinson’s he has now is the down-side of being brave enough (or foolish enough) to keep wading into those shots.

Joe kept his health fairly well, considering his profession (and the smoking habit for which he was nicknamed.)  But time catches up to even the most fearless of warriors.

It’s funny; on the night Frazier passed, I was flipping channels and tripped over the last 20 minutes of Rocky.  Remember that Frazier had a cameo in the movie: he came out to be introduced to the crowd before the big Rocky/Apollo fight.

I remember reading in a book that Stallone wrote about the movie, that they had Joe waiting in the dressing room while they filmed some other shots.  And they forgot about him.  They practically had to draw straws to pick who had to go back and get him, after the hours he spent in there, alone.

But if you remember the movie, Joe came out to graciously wave to the crowd and jaw with the actor-fighters.  To do otherwise wouldn’t have been his style.

Rest in peace, Joe.  You earned it.  And hey, maybe you can haunt your old foe.

Just like old times.

Tuesday, November 8, 2011

Mrs. Robinson

In last Thursday’s post, (Cleaning the Erasers), I talked about another case of a female teacher having sex with male students.  (Quick summary: What’s the freakin’ problem?)  I also mentioned that I, myself, once “dallied” with an older friend of my mom’s.  As no one seemed to want to comment on the teacher, and rather wanted to hear about my story, I will bend to the will of the people.

(Yeah, that took a real push, didn’t it?)

The time was somewhere around 1985, while I was living in the Bowling Green apartment, before the Summer of Bow Chicka Wow Wow.  The girlfriend and I hadn’t technically broken up, but I was thinking about it a great deal.  Things weren’t going well

The occasion was a Barn Party… I don’t remember the reason, but it didn’t take much back then.  I do recall that it was a “big one,” because I not only had my work friends over, but my folks brought people too.  As had become my habit for our Barn Parties of that era, I went alone and would spend the night in my old room, leaving the girlfriend at home.  She hated parties, drinking, loud music and fun of any kind that didn’t involve theater or show tunes.  (Yeah, like that relationship was ever going to work.)

So the party was rolling along; I was spinning the tunes and there was the usual drinking and dancing and carrying on.  At one point, Mom came up to me and said, “Mrs. Robinson wants to dance with you.”

Director’s DVD Commentary: Mom introduced her to me by her first name and that’s what I used that night.  I don’t want to use her name here, of course, so I looked up what Mrs. Robinson’s first name was in “The Graduate.”  Funny thing though… none of the adults in “The Graduate” were given first names.  Only the young ones were identified by first name.  So here, I’m just going to have to go with Mrs. Robinson.  But we were never that formal with each other.

Mrs. Robinson was reasonably attractive, looking to be in her late 40s.  She was tall, had long brown hair and looked good in tight jeans.  I knew absolutely nothing about her except that she was one of Mom’s poet friends.

Not wanting to be rude, I asked her what she’d like to dance to.  She asked if I had “Whiter Shade of Pale.”  I did, but not the original version.  I had a cover by a band Sammy Hagar and Neal Schon of Journey put together (for one album).  Think more power chords, less trippy keyboards.  But she said that would do.

So we danced and chatted a bit… about what, I have no idea.  But even a numb-nut like me could see that she was flirting with me big time… she was totally giving me the googley eyes.  She never propositioned me or anything; her behavior alone gave me plenty to think about.

Problem is, when you’ve been drinking beer all night at a party, it’s hard to do your best thinking.  So you kind of just stop and go with your instincts.  And the instincts of any 24-year old dude is to bang anything available.  So I stopped drinking a bit earlier in the evening than was my custom and plotted my next move.

A great thing about hosting these Barn Parties was that I had home court advantage.  I could just leave the party whenever I wanted and walk inside to go to bed.  So as the party was breaking up, I went inside and saw that Mom was in the kitchen, talking with Mrs. Robinson.  I joined in the conversation with the objective of getting rid of Mom.  At one point, Mom went upstairs and I thought she was going to bed, so Mrs. Robinson and I began to googley-eye each other with renewed intensity. 

But Mom came back down again, saying she would see Mrs. Robinson out.  I told her that I would take care of that for her.  I probably said that with more ‘edge’ in my voice than is appropriate when talking to one’s mother, but she was inadvertently putting on a major CB.  So she said goodnight and went back upstairs, probably due to the visible pheromone cloud hanging in the air.

With Mom and Dad upstairs in bed, Mrs. Robinson and I went over to the living room couch and proceed to claw each other’s pants off.  I asked if I needed to get a condom.  She laughed at me and said that it wasn’t necessary, as she was “sterile.”

I took that to mean she’d had her tubes tied, but her choice of terminology cracked me up.  (Inside.)  It sounded like she’d been dipped in alcohol and hermetically sealed for my protection. 

So we got busy with great gusto.  Everything went pretty well, all things considered.  I know I held up my end of the bargain.  I could tell because she kept going, “Shit!  Shit!  Oh shit oh shit oh shit!”  (It was like a good thing, as opposed to like she stepped in something.)  As flattered as I felt, I was also concerned because my parents were in bed, not 30 feet away in their room at the top of the stairs.   It was like I was in that scene from “Porky’s” when Kim Cattrall starts howling when she’s up in the equipment room with the young coach.  I almost considered the solution the movie presented, but thought better of it.

That would be kind of undignified for a poet.  I kind of shushed her instead… I mean, the last thing I needed was Dad hollering down, “Hey, shit or get off the pot!  We’re sleepin’ up here!”  Would have totally killed the mood.

Anyway, we did our thing and I kept my word by seeing her out to her car.  I felt pretty excited about the whole thing.  I mean, it’s an ego-boost to know that you took an educated, worldly grownup and turned her mind into jello.  The “cougars” may be on to something.

Director’s DVD Commentary: Why do older women going after young guys get a cute name like “cougars?”  Older guys going after young girls are just called “dirty old men.”  Unfair.

In the harsh light of day, the following morning, I began to reconsider what the hell I’d just done.  I was just hoping I could keep a lid on things.  The last thing I wanted was for the girlfriend to start hearing rumors.  I began to worry even more when I went to work the next time and my co-workers who were at the party and had seen me dancing with Mrs. Robinson were all, “So how did it go?  Hmmm? Did ya get some?  Hmmm?

I was all, “Nothing happened.  We just danced and that was it.  I went in and went bed, so don’t be spreading any bullshit.  Nothing happened.” 

I definitely left the ‘edge’ in my voice.  Luckily, I was able to keep a straight face.

But I needn’t have worried.  No one said anything more and the girlfriend and I broke up on our own shortly after.  I saw Mrs. Robinson at other parties, but kept my distance.  I considered our liaison to be strictly a one-time thing, right up until it happened again.

It was another party, maybe a year later during the summer.  By this time, I was living on my own and unencumbered by any relationships… meaning I wasn’t getting any.

I never mixed with Mrs. Robinson at that party either, but by the end of the party, I was feeling like I wanted a little some’um-som’um. 

Again, when I came in, Mom was talking in the kitchen with Mrs. Robinson.  This time, I was much more subtle.

I went upstairs and changed; or rather I should say, I took off all my clothes and put on a pair of knit shorts.  Then, as opposed to now, when that would be considered Babe Repellent, it was a good look for me.  I was all long and lean and tanned.

Knowing full well what I was doing, I went downstairs to the kitchen to get a drink of juice.  I knew Mrs. Robinson was mentally undressing what little I had left on.  I had my drink, said goodnight and went back up to my bedroom to set the trap.

I left my door ajar and sat up in bed, petting Amos, our Siamese. 

Before too long, Mrs. Robinson peeked in the door and slipped inside.  She sat on the side of the bed and pet the cat with me.

Cats are so sensual, don’t you think?

Yeah, so sensual that he got tossed right out the door, landing with a thump and a “Rooowl.”  I made a mental note to give him a treat, later.

Mrs. Robinson pulled the covers back and went to work on favoring me with a treat.  When she finished “treating” me, she asked if I had anything for her.

Hop on,” I said. 

Always the sweet talker.  Lucky for her, it was 2-for-1 night at the House of Bluz.

Oh to be 25 again.

When we’d finished, she went back downstairs and returned to the party.  I rolled over and went to sleep.  (Yay for home court advantage!) 

I never saw Mrs. Robinson again after that night.  Before long, I’d moved to Cleveland and began the non-cougar-bait portion of my life.