Tuesday, December 31, 2013

The Year in Bluz - 2013

I always know what I’m going to do on 12/31… Even though I could easily have this in the can by now, I always wait for the very last possible day to do my annual end-of-year recap of all the madcap goings on here on D-fish.

While it’s fun sifting through all the crap I wrote over the year, the one part that always bothers me is the repeated use of “I”.  Seriously, I hate making it sound like the year was all about me, but because it’s MY blog and it’s ME writing about stuff I think, I can’t really avoid all the “I’s.”  So just bear with me, OK?

January:  The year began in grand fashion as Ratbird mouthpiece Ray Lewis announced his retirement.  Unfortunately, that meant I had to endure a solid month of local media hype.  My Grandpa turned 97 and we all produced a memory book for him.  This was my entry. (Note: I just saw him last week, and he’s still awesome!)  I noticed I've had a whole bunch of redheads in my life, much more than the national average, so I wrote about it.  Then I posted about a couple of kids… first, about the time my buddy Rik’s daughter came out to visit me, when she was 10, and then about my amazing nephew Daniel, on the occasion of his 14th birthday.  I’d never addressed the issue of gun violence before, but corrected that in the wake of the Newtown tragedy.  And then before closing out the month with some reruns, I talked about how it’s totally possible to have a relationship with someone you've never met, face to face.  You’re welcome, Manti.

February:  The worst thing imaginable happened… the Ratbirds won the Super Bowl.  Rather than hibernate for the rest of the month, like I wanted to, I wrote about how I defy conventional health wisdom on a daily basis, and still live to tell the tale.  When I cleaned out my closet and unearthed some ungodly horrendous fashion items, there was no way I couldn't share them with you.  Then in going through some old notebooks, I found this thing I wrote for a friend’s going away party, where because her pregnancy was supposed to be a secret, (that everyone knew anyway) my message to her contained every side-reference to pregnancy I could think of.  Then I told a light, fun little story about the time I almost derailed a passenger train, when I was in 3rd grade.  Take THAT, Dick and Jane!  After that, things got serious.  I sought your help about the quandary I was having about what to do when your partner is breaking your things.  And to end the month, I celebrated the 4th anniversary of this very blog; the day I opened the doors and said, “Come on in!”

March:  Taylor Swift was in the news and I finally said what needed to be said: “Honey, maybe it’s you.”  Sadly, the Pittsburgh Steelers release one of my all time favorite players.  Here, I posted my farewell, to a Naughty Man.  (That’s my nephew Sammy’s term for Harrison.)  In a bit of inadvertent foreshadowing, I decided to pen my own obituary, after reading about some other dude writing his own hilarious obit.  “Son of Obituary” was my favorite post title this year.  Then to break nostalgic, I posted a series of shots of my buddies and I, posing in the same pose throughout the years.  And speaking of passing years, I noted that I have now lived in this Baltimore apartment, longer than I have anywhere else.  Scary!  And because I have practically no material on Easter, I ran some old pics from the Easters of my youth.

April:  This month was a disaster.  It started all fun and games, with a post about playing backyard wiffleball and the huge man-eating dog that lived over the fence.  But then it got painfully serious as I developed a kidney stone, went to the hospital for treatment, was discharged and felt well enough to go to an Orioles game, wherein a cold beer knocked my heart out of rhythm, and then going to another hospital to have it shocked back into rhythm.  That’s what I get for mocking obituaries.  Once my health had taken a beating, it was time for my mental and financial health to suffer, when the Penguins game we were going to see in Pittsburgh got moved (due to the Boston Marathon bombing) and I had to eat $300 worth of tickets.  We still made the trip, though, and took in a Buccos game.  With the kidney stone done with, there was a national milestone, where the first gay athlete in a major team sport came out of the closet.  People said the right things, but I thought only time would reveal the full picture.  (And I was right… the guy has not as yet signed with another team.)

May:  We spent the first week in May visiting my folks in Gulf Breeze, Florida.  Fun times abounded, and naturally gave way to a discussion of fart etiquette.  (We’re that kind of family.)  I hadn’t written much on politics this year, but I finally had enough of all the faux-scandals to finally chip in and call out the bullshit.  Tornadoes that ripped open the Midwest also ripped open my ongoing fear of them, which I explored here.

June:  I began the month musing on the uncles I have versus the one I've become.  In a walk through the truly bizarre, we visited Baltimore’s HonFest, to hobnob with the beehive (hairdo) crowd.  To break nostalgic again, I wrote about the very first concert(s) I went to as a teenager, and the very different circumstances.  Then just to revel in the nonsense, I ran one of my favorite bits of absurd writing, involving the difficulty one has when his eye rolls under the desk.  I also wrote about how I used to chew tobacco, back in the days of my rural youth.  (Bleah!)  The month ended with my annual trip to revisit my rural youth in the farmlands outside Toledo, with my buddies Rik and John.

July:  Because Rik’s daughter was about to become a college freshman, I felt duty-bound to pen a few thoughts on surviving that first year away from home.  And if my advice was good, the comments that came from YOU were even better!  Between Paula Deen and Big Brother, racist comments were in the news and I chipped in on the controversy and even copped to a little past ignorance myself.  Since I had college on the brain, I accessed my “vault” of old writings, and remembered my days as a gossip columnist for my high school newspaper.  And because you have to see it to believe it, I wrote about how Baltimore hosted a convention for fans of My Little Pony, and how they’re all DUDES!  Seriously!  We never did that kind of lame shit when I was in college.

August: I continued with tales of my college experience here and here, ending with the party stories here.  (It’s a wonder I lived to tell the tales.)  Going back to those days reminded me of a great prank we pulled on a friend of my Dad’s, using a kazoo.  Then I went back even further to write the story of my prom night.  Because I’m getting older and crankier, I first wrote about how I see myself becoming more impatient with random idiots, which blossomed into a post on all the people I hate on the subway.

September:  If I got to be the guy who made up car names, these are the ones I’d go with.  Car and Driver, eat your heart out.  Because nothing had been done about gun violence so far, and the mass killings were still piling up, I wrote my angriest post of the year.  No, it didn't accomplish anything either, except making me feel a little better.  In other news, there really are alligators under the bed.  And then after seeing yet another ridiculous, cement-headed meme posted on Facebook, I deconstructed the argument piece by piece. 

October: Sure, you know I’m the Bluzdude, but in this post, you no longer had to take my word for it, when I ran my very own blues song, the Full Belly Blues.  We went back to Pittsburgh to catch the hockey game we missed in April, and also got to visit the famous River Ducky.  Remember the time the Republicans shut down the entire government and then tried to blame the Democrats? That was funny.  By the way, I took a political test and I came out “Liberal.”  Go figure.  Since it was Halloween season, I ran down my Top 20 Scary Movies of All Time.  Because of some kids football games in the news, I took the opportunity to again complain about how I’ve never gotten a trophy for anything, ever.  Also, in the Abuses of the Past Department, I always hated getting splinters taken out. 

November:  This month was tough, and I had to scrape for material.  I had a film clip of the Ohio State Band, and then did another run through old print ads of the 50s.  But I soon turned inward, wondering if I should continue my blog, in The Malaise Post.  I thank you for your encouragement and support.  Then in the biggest Bluz Newz of the year, I dropped the bomb about how Pinky and I are splitting up, and signifying big changes for 2014.  But right after that, I got to hang out with bloggers Misty and Val, which is bound to put a smile on anyone’s face.

December:  Ratbirds coach John Harbaugh defended his idiot fans who were throwing ice balls at the opposing team, demonstrating yet again why I hate this team so much.  I also shined some light on the Republican dirty tricks that are hampering the efforts to get Obamacare off the ground.  They should really just stick to fighting among themselves.  I told some dirty jokes at work, and then in my last relevant post of the year, called out the national and political media for making incorrect usage of “Freedom of Speech.” 

So that’s the news for 2013.  As always, I appreciate your time and attention in visiting with me, and seeing what I have to say.  I hope to have some quality material for you here as I journey into my 6th year of Darwinfish.  Life soldiers on… all I have to do is write it down.

Have a great New Years, and I’ll see you on the other side.

Tuesday, December 24, 2013

Remembering the Traveling Christmas Show

It’s been a while since I've spent this much time at home, alone.  Friday was my last day until January, so I've just been knocking around here by myself.  It’s weird, but I embrace the positive side, and make do.  I’m adaptable that way.

...only I had a bigger block of cheese.

Had a good time over at the sports bar on Sunday.  Because the Steelers were playing the 4:30 game, and I wanted to make sure I got my favorite spot at the bar, I was there at noon, and because the games ran long, spent nearly 8 hours on that bar stool.  I swear, the things I won’t do to support my team.  I wore my Steelers Santa hat too, which was all lit up (just like me).  Seemed to go over well.  But it was fun… any time the Steelers win and the Ratbirds lose, is a good day by default.

Tomorrow, I’ll head over to my brother’s for presents and Christmas dinner, then on Thursday, we all will go to Pittsburgh.  My brother and his family, my sister and her husband, and my parents are all making the trip to visit with our large, Burgh-based family.  I can’t wait.  This will be the first time in ages we've all been together for the holidays.  I’m sure it will make my Grandpa happy.  (He’ll be 98 in February!)

Meanwhile, I’m keeping myself occupied during “TV rerun season” by watching old True Blood seasons that I missed the first time.  So I can’t possibly find the time to write a brand new post for you.  But again, I’m unearthing something from Christmas of 2009, which you probably never saw.  I figure, if I give you a nice, substantial post today, which ought to hold you until I get back this weekend.

Until then, I hope you have a wonderful Christmas and charge into 2014 with a song in your heart and a smile on your face.  And lacking that, a giant block of cheese.

The Traveling Christmas Show
Christmas was always such a busy time, growing up. When we were real little and still living in Pittsburgh, it was such a flurry of activity having our own Christmas, and then heading off to both grandparents’ place. I know it was all pretty hard on my parents but as kids, we loved it! Three Christmas extravaganzas of cookies, good food, presents and cookies! Lots of cousins to play with! And did I mention the cookies?

My dad’s dad, Grandpa N, always took movies… the old 8mm silent kind and he always used a light… a big, brilliant, blinding light. It was so bright we could barely open our eyes wide enough to see what we were opening. Then when it was over, he’d turn it off and the room would seem positively cave-like and we’d spend the next 10 minutes walking into things until our eyes adjusted. Too bad the camera was off by then… it would have been much more entertaining.

In later years, my aunt had those movies knocked off onto VHS. It was funny then to see essentially the same movie over and over again but with the characters aging 1 year each time.
Hey, there’s a bunch of blinded kids opening presents...

Oh, look at the baby...

Now it’s dinner time… there’s the table. Look at all the food.

Everybody wave… Now...CUT!

Now it’s the next Christmas… look at the same blinded kids, eww, what are they wearing?

There’s another baby…

And on it goes…
It was agonizing to see myself going through each of the horrid styles of the 1970’s.

Several years of plaid pants… Auuuugh!

The "Saturday Night Fever" year of silk shirt and necklace… Gack!

The "Urban Cowboy" year with a freakin’ cowboy hat with a wrap-around feather the size of a vulture’s ass!  Who the hell did I think I was, Charlie Daniels?

Nevertheless, it was cool seeing my cousins growing up right before my eyes. In fact, we only got to see the cousins in yearly increments anyway, once we left The Burgh. (I was 6.) As the first-born of 2 first-borns, I was the alpha cousin, and in later years, it was pretty much up to me to maintain order among the chilluns. This is where my high school class ring came in very handy. I learned from my dad just how powerful a good flick of the ring was. In fact, I think I still have an ornate, backwards “D” on the top of my skull from his Duquesne ring.

Once we moved away from Pittsburgh, my siblings and I got to enjoy a new Christmas perk… Christmas a week early! The weekend before Christmas, we’d have our own celebration and do the stockings, presents and the whole sha-bang. Then we’d travel to Pittsburgh for the actual holiday and make the Grandparental rounds.

The trip was always hell, especially when we were coming from Chicago… 3 bored, punchy little kids, fighting their seat belts and each other, trying to listen to a scratchy AM radio. Mom still smoked back then so we had those regular noxious gas intervals. She’d crack the window, thinking the smoke would go out. Unfortunately, it was mostly the freezing air rushing in.

But it was all worth it when we got to my grandparents’ place for the best meal of the year… The Christmas Eve Feast of the 7 Fishes. It’s an Italian thing. There would be fried smelts and shrimp, fish fillets, heaps of pasta, plus chicken, wedding soup, and Lord knows how much other savory stuff. I’d eat until I couldn't move any more.

Later in the evening, after the dishes were cleared and the olives, celery and cookies were put out, Grandma would break out the bingo game. They used to play Bingo in the old days to kill time before midnight mass, but by this time they weren't going to the late mass any more. But Grandma would save up change all year for us to use for Bingo and we’d have the big family Bingo showdown.

I always liked it because it was something that the kids and grownups played together. Although every so often that led to some not-very-kid-friendly terminology getting thrown out after a long, tension-filled game:

Cousin: BINGO!!!

My mom: Oh HORSESHIT!!

God Rest Ye Merry Merchantmen
Years later when I was all grown up and managing a record store in Cleveland, the holidays were just brutal. From the beginning of November through the middle of January, to paraphrase Al Bundy, it was like “one long month… Helluary.”

As manager, I’d be working pretty regular 12-16 hour days. The place would be mobbed… just accounting for all the money was practically a full-time job. (I do admit that there’s nothing like the sight of more than $13,000 in cash sitting on your desk). But we would be so busy, I’d go home and collapse in bed and have dreams that I was at work, tending the register and clearing customers. I’d wake up and be like, “Fuuuuck! I can’t even escape with sleep…)

I didn’t have any family in Cleveland. The closest kin I had were, you guessed it, in Pittsburgh. So when we’d finally get permission to close up on Christmas Eve, usually around 5:30 or 6:00, I’d shut’er all down, bolt for the car and bust ass down the turnpike for Pittsburgh.

I’d get to Grandma and Grandpa’s house about 9 or so and Grandma would have soup on the stove and sandwich fixin’s at the ready. Grandpa would appear with an IC Light. After the meal, Grandma would tell me that when she heard I was coming, she went and got some Klondikes for me, which at the time, could only be obtained in Pittsburgh.  They were always my favorite treat as a kid. 

I hope she knew how much those Christmas Eves meant to me. It was like an oasis of comfort in a sea of aggravation. To be able to settle into a big easy chair and chat with my grandparents and just… breathe…

It was home, sweet home.

Sunday, December 22, 2013

What Freedom of Speech Actually Means

I really need to stop scanning through Facebook posts; it never fails to make me sorry I looked.  I hate seeing people I like and respect expressing support for ridiculous memes and graphics.  I lament the loss of critical thinking on a daily basis.

The latest offense to common sense is this whole “Duck Dynasty/Phil the Patriarch” commotion, wherein the aforementioned dipshit threw out a bunch of ignorant and offensive statements in an interview with GQ, denigrating gays and African-Americans.

My first thought was, “Seriously?  This guy is in GQ???”
Shouldn't he really be interviewed by Field and Stream?

In recent times, whenever someone says something irretrievably stupid, the people that generally support the speaker immediately begin trumpeting about free speech and the speaker’s right to express himself.

This brings me to my newest passage in the Book of Bluz: “Whenever people can’t defend the content of a statement, they enthusiastically espouse the right to state it.”  So when you hear the Freedom of Speech argument trotted out, just remember that it’s all they have.  If they could defend the content and win, they would.

That’s also a featured part of the modern media playbook… if you can’t win the argument at hand, change the argument.

Freedom of speech is not at issue.  The guy made his statement, and was free to do so.  Freedom of speech does NOT, however, guarantee that he gets a TV show to speak on.  TV shows are market-driven.  Once a commodity begins costing a network money, all bets are off.

Networks are interested in two things: eyeballs and dollars, wherein the former begets the latter.  If someone threatens either one, changes get made right quick.  So Phil gets put in the penalty box until the heat dies down.  That’s the thing with the freedom to speak; you are also responsible for what you say.  If you say something asinine, there will be consequences, especially if you’re in the public eye.

Actually, he’s probably getting off light.  If an unknown like me ever said what he said in a national magazine, I would be fired from my job before the ink was even dry.  Phil gets to lay low and count the money in his mattress for a few weeks.  He’s golden.

It’s just funny because the conservative rap is always for people to take responsibility for their actions.  Apparently that’s only for “other” people, like criminals or unwed mothers.

Naturally, conservative politicians are falling all over themselves to defend this guy, with the usual suspects/media whores Ted Cruz, Sarah Palin and Bobby Jindal leading the charge.  As usual, they don’t make any more sense than Phil did, as they trot out the same old logical bait and switch.

Take Ted Cruz’s statement for example…

If you believe in free speech or religious liberty, you should be deeply dismayed over the treatment of Phil Robertson. Phil expressed his personal views and his own religious faith; for that, he was suspended from his job. In a free society, anyone is free to disagree with him - but the mainstream media should not behave as the thought police censoring the views with which they disagree.

Note to Senator Ted: Phil was not sanctioned for his religious beliefs.  What part of religion indicates that African-Americans were happier under Jim Crow laws?  No, he was sanctioned for making ugly, racist, homophobic statements that don’t belong in civilized society.  He was not censored in any way (Dude, look up the word “censored”). He made the statement and now he is obligated to take the blowback.  That’s how free speech actually works.

Also, obnoxious, factually and historically inaccurate statements under the guise of “religion” are still just as wrong.  Talking nonsense and calling it religion is not a Get Out of Jail Free card.

Bobby Jindal expressed dismay that Phil was sanctioned while MTV took no action against Miley Cyrus.

I thought Republicans were supposed to know something about how business works.  Hey Gov, MTV didn't lose diddley-squat over Miley Cyrus and her tongue and her sad little hiney.  They gained eyeballs and attention.  They have no reason to punish Miley Cyrus, as she paid off in spades.  Or at least in dancing bears. 

Not to mention, how is any form of dancing as offensive as suggesting an entire race of people was better off living in filthy, inferior conditions?  Or risking getting beaten or hung, just by walking down the wrong street?

In a logical flaw the size of the Grand Canyon, old Phil suggested that because the black people he worked with seemed happy, then they all must have been better off without all those pesky civil rights.

OK.  Then it follows that because when I went to England in the mid-70s, I didn't see any IRA bombs explode, so they must not have been very dangerous.  And because I didn't see the Challenger explode or Neil Armstrong walk on the moon, neither one of those happened either.

Idiot.  Perhaps Phil should have gotten out more.  Then maybe he could have seen a lynching, or fire hoses and billy clubs turned on people who just wanted to go to school.  Maybe then it might have sunk in that some people weren't having a very good time of it.

So now we have another conservative “martyr,” pilloried by the evil left-wing mainstream media and egg-headed liberals.  And we have politicians who boil the controversy down to “Simple Man Punished for Being Religious,” and get people to post their support on Facebook. 

And you wonder why I have such low regard for the American public…

Thursday, December 19, 2013

Mr Bluz, Please Come to HR Immediately

I work with a great group of people.  I’m one of only two guys in the department, but somehow I fit in.  I sit in a corner cube, and the next three cubes down are all women who are older than me, two of whom are African-American.  These are the people with whom I meet in the mornings to talk about what shows we all watched the night before.

This is so much fun, I watched that series “Mistresses,” (a B-list version of “Desperate Housewives), just because the others were watching and I didn’t want to miss out on a lively conversation.  So you can say we’re pretty comfortable with each other.

But still, I have to be careful, because once I’m comfortable with people, I loosen my filter a little bit, and sometimes I forget I’m actually at work.  Here’s what happened today.

Another woman from my department, also African-American and older than me, was checking with everyone to see if we were going to be in tomorrow.  When she got to me, I said I’d be in, but she wouldn’t see me again until after New Years, except when I come in for our gift exchange on 12/30.  (It was supposed to be this week, but we had too many people out sick.  I agreed to come in for the event, even though I’m still on vacation.)

Bluz: Maybe I’ll go get all liquored up at “O’Shea’s before I come in, and really get loose.

My cube mate:  Yeah, Bluz’ll be pullin’ a shorty out his pants, goin’ “Who wants some?

Before I could stop myself…

Bluz: Excuse me, but no guy will ever refer to something he pulls out of his pants as a “shorty.”

[Big laughs from the row of cubes]

Bluz: A “long-neck,” maybe.

[Huge howls of laughter]

Bluz: No “shorty,” but maybe a “forty.”  

[More laughter, Bluz drops metaphorical mic] 

I may have gone one too far on that one.  I’m hopeful I don’t get any calls from HR tomorrow.  You know how this would look in the newspapers, stripped of context...


I mean, come on… I wasn’t even talking about ME… just every guy I know.  I have to remember to save the dick jokes for the blog.  You won’t tell HR, will you?

Director's DVD Commentary: When my cube-mate referred to a "shorty," she meant a small bottle of liquor... Just in case you were about to reference Urban Dictionary.

Tuesday, December 17, 2013

More Christmas Stories

Technically, I should say "More of the Same Christmas Stories."  Because I've already told all my best tales of Christmas past, I don't have much seasonal material on tap.  However, I wrote them so long ago (in 2009) that unless you're Carpetbagger, you haven't seen them.  So here they are again and we both win.  You get a nice, high-quality post, and I get to hit the couch early.

I put up my little Christmas tree last weekend. I don’t do one every year any more… usually not if I’m going somewhere for Christmas, like to my folks’ place for a week. Doesn't seem to make it worth the effort. But if I’m staying home through the holidays, I usually do a tree.

As an apartment dweller, I just have a little 3 and a half-foot fake tree. It’s small but gets the job done.
Growing up, the tree was always a big deal. When we were real little, it would just appear there Christmas morning, shining like a magical apparition.
This is from the first Christmas I can remember, when I was 4, my brother was about 21 months, and baby sister was 4 months. The trike was for my brother, I think. The mail truck (lower right) was all mine though.

Note the stockings on the mantel: when we went to bed, we hung up some of my dad’s white sweat socks. (Yes, they were clean.) When we got up, Santa had replaced them with those “official” Christmas stockings. They were very stretchy and held a ton of little goodies. The Lifesavers Storybook was an annual find in there. One year my brother got a can of cherry pie filling. I got a bag of in-shell walnuts and a set of nut crackers and picks. We always found these unusual little things in the stocking and they were always perfect for us. My brother and I used those stockings every year until we moved out on our own. I still have mine, I don’t know about my brother’s.

That Christmas Eve, my brother and I were hustled off to bed, knowing that tomorrow was The Big Day. We shared a room back then, which had access to the stairway that went up to the attic. Not long after we bedded down, Mom came into our room, clutching a fistful of carrots, by their long green tops.

Santa just got here. I’m going upstairs to feed the reindeer.”

As we sat down there with eyes like saucers, Mom went upstairs into the attic and we heard a lot of stomping around and jingling bells. She came back down with nothing but the carrot tops and told us that Santa was going to be in the other room, so we better stay put and go to sleep.


You try being 4 and knowing Santa was out there right now!!! We just laid there in bed, quietly vibrating from the several gallons of adrenaline coursing through our little veins, too scared to move a muscle, lest Santa find out and take all our presents away. I don’t know how we ever got to sleep that night, but we must have because come morning, Santa had been all over our house, putting up a tree, replacing our sad little white stockings and decorating the house.

A Tradition Starts
Every year, each of us kids was given an ornament for the tree. The thought was, once we’re all grown up, we would each have a box of very special ornaments with which we would start our own Christmas trees. Our first couple of “Specials” weren't all that special… just regular bulbs, but with our names printed on them in Mom’s nail polish.
These are the first ones I remember. They are also some of the most “special” to me.

So as we grew old enough to participate in putting up the tree, it became a Griswaldian adventure to go out and cut one down. We always went to places where we could cut down our own, so we’d go tromping around until we found The One. Dad would cut it down, we’d cram it in the car, get it home, then wonder why it was crooked.

Here’s where the surgical Christmas Tree Strike Team jumped into the fray.

Dad wrestled the tree into the stand and got the lights on, then went to watch football. Then it was time for us kids to put our box of Specials on the tree. This, of course, would leave one very densely decorated patch at the front of the tree, with the rest pretty much bare. Mom's job would be to come in later and disperse our decorating efforts. That was her job: Christmas Tree Redecorator.

We used to make ornaments too… It always seemed to be one of those projects meant for all us kids, but the two younger ones would lose interest after a couple minutes, leaving me, as the oldest, to get the job done. One year it was paint-by-numbers partridges and pears. Another it was decoupage elves and Santas.
Often times, it was gingerbread men. Those were my favorites. We’d have cinnamon red-hots for buttons, currants for eyes and all kinds of sprinkles and colored sugar. Sometimes all that stuff even made it onto the cookies. Our best work would be put on the tree, at least temporarily, until someone was hungry enough.

Just about anything could be an ornament though. Now my dad likes to put hooks on plastic miniature Jack Daniels bottles and hang them on the tree. He also has this black and gold knit , um, “schlong-warmer” that he got as a gift from one of his buddies. Every year he hangs it right on the front of the tree. Then Mom moves it to the back after he goes back to watching football.

A Smashing Christmas
By the time I was in Junior High, I was old enough to baby-sit my brother and sister. So on Christmas Eve, Mom and Dad went out for dinner. Naturally, my brother and I began screwing around in the living room, throwing the throw-pillows at each other, and one of the pillows hit the tree and knocked it over.
It had even been wired up, in case the cat decided to climb it.

We flew into action, throwing the ornaments back on the tree as best we could. I played the role of Mom and tried to make sure they were evenly distributed. We tried to re-wire it up again and managed to get it so it didn't lean toooo badly. Then we did what any reasonable kid would do… we went to bed. At 7:00 pm.

Isn't it funny how when you’re a kid, you think you can make anything unpleasant go away simply by going to bed? I guess that’s because parents will seldom wake you up to give you a spanking.

It worked though. My parents never even mentioned it and we had a perfectly lovely Christmas that year. We couldn't believe we pulled it off. We thought we really did some kind of job fixing up that tree!

Many years later, when talking with my parents over drinks one Christmas, I mentioned how we’d knocked the tree over that year. They were shocked! They knew the tree had been knocked over, but they thought the cat did it, and that we tried our little hearts out to fix it.

Luckily, there’s a statute of limitations on childhood screw-ups and I wasn't sent to my room.

I still have every one of my Specials. It’s a lot of trouble to get that Specials box out and unwrap each ornament, but it always makes me happy when I do. Each one has a story. And you know me… I’m all about the stories.

Friday, December 13, 2013

The GOP Civil War and Obamacare

I’ve been watching with amusement, over these past months, as the Republican party tries to bring their factions together after losing some key elections in November, while simultaneously tearing themselves apart.  This week’s budget deal was fertile ground for dissention, as Majority Leader Boehner finally grew a set, and called out tea party leaders and outside conservative groups, for criticizing the bipartisan deal.

Obviously, Boehner and the GOP establishment learned that when they shut down the government, people notice and blame them, despite creative efforts to shuffle the blame to the Democrats.

The Republicans are in a spot.  Traditionally, conservatives’ primary mission has been to prop up big business, by all means possible.  Most often, that means maintaining expensive, government-funded programs and tax breaks that benefit the chosen few, despite the constant rhetoric of “smaller government.”  (What they mean is smaller government for “us.”)

This is coming into conflict with the Teabagger faction, who actually wants smaller government and less spending (in areas that don’t benefit themselves, personally).  So the tug-of-war is on.

As for me, I remain a bemused spectator.  As long as they’re fighting among themselves, they’ll never wage effect campaigns for national office.  The people have shown that aside from some secure, heavily gerrymandered districts, they don’t like operational dysfunction.  They want the bills paid, roads cleaned, fires put out, and the trains running on time.

But it’s not like they’re completely ineffective.  Just look at the ACA website.  Sure, it’s been a disaster and the rollout was poorly executed.  But did you think conservatives were just going to let it totter out without some added roadblocks?

What most people don’t know is that there has been an orchestrated effort by conservative groups to wage a “denial of service” attack on the site, to further weaken confidence in Obamacare.  That’s right.  The GOP is actively working to disrupt the system and simultaneously criticizing Obama because the system isn’t working.  (Just like they’ve been doing in Congress for the last 6 years.)
 This information was disclosed in a video from a hearing by the Homeland Security Committee, where acting assistant secretary of the Department of Homeland Security’s office of Cyber-Security and Communications, Roberta Stemphley, confirmed 16 separate cyber attacks on the ACA portal.  Right-wing websites have been distributing the tool to carry out these attacks, calling it, “Destroy Obamacare.”

That all sounds pretty official, so why don’t you know about it?  Here’s why.  The Republicans don’t want anyone to know that their people are behind these attacks, because it undermines their credibility.  And the DHS and Democrats don’t want to give these tools and websites any more publicity than they already have, so to lessen the severity of the attacks.  All sides pressure news organizations, which will not do anything that is going to cost them access to party VIPs.  We must never forget that cable and network news shows* are not interested in educating or informing the public; they are interested in getting you to watch.  Period.

*This obviously excludes Fox “News,” whose only goal is to energize existing conservatives and generate new ones.  Which is not really news.

So the American people are left to believe that the ACA site is a mess purely because Obama fucked it up. 

So I’m happy that the GOP is fighting with itself.  The more shit they throw at each other; the more rational people wonder what they ever saw in them.

I wonder if there are any rational people left?

Tuesday, December 10, 2013

Snow Job

You may have noticed that I haven’t been writing a lot about football, this season.  Mostly it’s been on purpose, but recently, there just hasn't been much to write about.  The Steelers have been miserable this season.  The high point was probably beating the Ratbirds in October.  Low point, no doubt, was losing to them on Thanksgiving night, in the “Tomlin-gate” game.

All week long, that’s all anyone wanted to talk about… our coach getting caught watching the scoreboard, with a foot on the field.  At least the Internet produced some funny memes out of the whole affair.  This was my favorite, just because it's so well done:
(Thanks for the email, Dad.)

Another by-product of the Steelers sucking this year and last, is that fewer of their games are on local TV this year.  I've already seen more games at my local sports bar than I have in any other year.  Mind you, I’m not complaining.  I always have a great time there, and the food is excellent.  (I hear there’s beer there, too.)

So I was there again last Sunday, and it really served me well.  The snowstorm that was pelting the eastern portion of the country made itself known in several of the football games, including the one right here in Baltimore against the Vikings.  It was the first time it had ever snowed heavily on a Ratbird home game.

In looking up at all the screens, I could see the blizzard play out in Pittsburgh, Baltimore, Washington and Philadelphia.  It was snowing so hard in Philly, the game looked like one of those old football highlight films from the 1940s.  And it was funny to see the Browns and Patriots playing (in New England) without any snow at all.  What are the odds? 

So even though the Ratties won and the Steelers lost (to the damned sunshiny Dolphins), it was a fun afternoon, just for the sheer “WTF” of it all.

Then I saw in the paper, Monday morning, that Viking running back Adrian Peterson tweeted that the Raven fans were throwing snowballs at the players, and registering his disgust. 

Wow talking about bad officiating & the worst fan base I've ever experienced! They threw snow balls the entire 4q like lil kids. Smh”

Worst fan base I've ever experienced.”  Wow, now I have something in common with an All-Pro running back.  I've been saying that for years.  It’s not exactly surprising… it’s always seemed to me that the patrons of M&T Bank Stadium, aka, “That Big Purple Toilet” felt the need to model themselves after the Philadelphia Eagles fans.  But at least the Eagles fans know something about football.

In this morning’s paper, Ratbird coach John Harbaugh defended the fans. 

Who doesn't throw snowballs when it snows?  Maybe Minnesota, because they’re so used to snow.  Maybe that has gotten old for them.  What do you want me to say?  We have the best fans in the NFL, I can tell you that.”

Way to suck up to the locals, Coach.  I’ll give Harbaugh this… he knows what plays here.  And I bet it was those really good fans that were calling for your quarterback’s head, round about the middle of last year… right before he went on a tear and lit up the playoffs on the way to a championship.

I’ll tell you this… I guarantee that if someone wearing the opponent’s jersey is throwing snowballs at the Raven players, the ushers bum-rush him out of the stadium so fast it makes a sonic boom. 

Later, Peterson took to Twitter again to sharpen his statement: You just enjoying the game & the next thing you know ur hit in the face with a ball of ice, correction, not snowballs, ICE BALLS.  Not funny or fun, that’s all I’m saying, it wasn't cool.”

No, Coach Harbaugh, your Best Fans in the NFL weren't lobbing nice fluffy snowballs, like in the back yard of some idyllic youth, these were hard, heavy chunks of ice being flung from a great distance.  You could call that “assault.”  And if it were the other way around, you’d be screaming bloody murder.  Ray Lewis would probably call it a conspiracy and blame the league office.

As far as I’m concerned, this is just one more instance of a bush-league organization, who pays lip service to providing an enjoyable game experience, but does nothing to ensure even the basics of spectator safety.

Thursday, December 5, 2013

Watch Out for Those Old Ladies

I was talking with a friend and she was telling me about her fears for the future.

Friend: I always told myself if I didn't find a good man, I’d just go live in a convent. 

Bluz: You... in a convent… [busts out laughing].

Friend: OK, maybe not a convent… Maybe I’ll start a farm for old women that are sick and tired of men.

Bluz: Like a “Crone Farm.”  [Uproarious laughter at his own joke]

Friend:  Yeah!  Like, we could make sweaters and art and stuff…

Bluz: But you’d better make sure none of them wandered off… you’d have to put up some “scare-crones.”  [More uproarious laughter at the mental image.]

I know; a pun is the lowest form of humor… unless you think of it yourself.

But you know, they have all-woman health spas and gyms and stuff, why not an all-woman retirement home?  That way, they don’t have to deal with a bunch of horny old men, who are all hopped up on Cialis, but can’t get in and out of the dual bathtubs.  They can watch the shows they want to watch, play cards, knit, and of course, participate in arts and crafts.

Right… you gotta watch out for the old ladies, because they don’t get to be old ladies without learning how to be crafty. Which reminds me of a story…

A farmer stopped by a local mechanic shop to have his truck fixed. They couldn't do it while he waited, so he said he didn't live far and would just walk home.

On the way home he stopped at the hardware store and bought a bucket and a gallon of paint. He then stopped by the feed store and picked up a couple of chickens and a goose. However, struggling outside the store he now had a problem - how to carry all his goods home.

While he was scratching his head he was approached by a little old lady who told him she was lost. She asked, 'Can you tell me how to get to 1603 Mockingbird Lane ?'

The farmer said, 'Well, as a matter of fact, my farm is very close to that house I would walk you there but I can't carry this lot.'

The old lady suggested, 'Why don't you put the can of paint in the bucket. Carry the bucket in one hand, put a chicken under each arm and carry the goose in your other hand?'

'Why thank you very much,' he said and proceeded to walk the old girl home.

On the way he says 'Let's take my short cut and go down this alley. We'll be there in no time.'

The little old lady looked him over cautiously then said, ‘I am a lonely widow without a husband to defend me. How do I know that when we get in the alley you won't hold me up against the wall, pull up my skirt, and have your way with me?'

The farmer said, 'Holy smokes lady! I'm carrying a bucket, a gallon of paint, two chickens, and a goose. How in the world could I possibly hold you up against the wall and do that?'

The old lady replied, 'Set the goose down, cover him with the bucket, put the paint on top of the bucket, and I'll hold the chickens.'

Sunday, December 1, 2013

What a Week

This has been one weird week.  It’s been good, but I’m glad it’s over and we’re into December now. 

I had a couple days off this week, Monday and Thursday, so I spent a lot of it trying to get my place back in shape, after the Great Separation.  It’s not like Pinky left me a mess or anything… I just felt it was time to strip down some of the clutter and decorative chaos with which I tend to surround myself.

One of my attempts was to try to get rid of my old hockey gear and golf clubs, by taking them to a second hand sporting goods store.  A sign on the door saying they weren’t taking golf equipment at that time thwarted me once.  They thwarted me again when they got a look at my hockey equipment.  It wasn’t that it was in poor shape; it was just old.  Apparently the state of the art has expanded since I started playing rec league hockey in 1994, with improvements to padding and fasteners and stuff.  They let me down gently.

I fear the same when they get a look at my golf clubs.  Mind you, they’re in practically perfect condition.  I’ve only used them 4-5 times, ever.  But almost all of those times were in 1995.  I KNOW the golf club technology has grown by leaps and bounds since them.  Even my new, still-in-the-box golf balls have lost compression, according to my brother.

So yesterday, with a heavy heart, I tossed my hockey bag into the apartment’s dumpster.  As for the golf clubs, I may try to move them on Craig’s list or something, as a beginner’s set.  If no one bites, to the dumpster they go.  With that weird hive condition I get on my hands, I’ll never be able to use them again.

Thanksgiving was nice… I went to my brother Ed’s house for dinner and football.  I always have a blast there, just hanging out with my nephews.  Daniel, 14, is never at a loss for words.  And that led to this exchange, over dinner:

Daniel: If Bigfoot were real, I’d go on that reality show where they go out and look for him.

Ed:  Seriously?  You’re too afraid to take the garbage out at night.

The boys and their Dad, wrassling it out and working off dinner.

I stayed through the first half of the Steelers-Ravens game, then made a break for home at halftime.  The Steelers were losing, so for mojo purposes, I figured I’d better try to change locations.  Of course the fact that I had to go to work on Friday also played into it.  When the game was over, I knew I’d just want to tumble straight into bed.

The Ratbirds won, when one of our guys dropped a pass in the end zone, on a 2-point conversion that would have tied the game with time running out.  But all anyone wanted to talk about the next morning was how the Steelers’ coach Tomlin had a foot on the field during a long kickoff runback by the Ratties.  They claim that the runner wouldn’t have been caught from behind if he hadn’t had to change course.

I don’t know if that’s true or not, (I kinda doubt it), but it’s funny to me how the fans and media seem to want to make a big deal over it.  I mean, their team won.  Why collect excuses for a game they already won?  It’s not like they can claim official bias (like usual).  The refs pulled two separate Steeler touchdowns off the board… how biased can they be?

At least I didn’t have to talk about it on Friday, when I went in to work.  I was the only one in my area of the building.  The entire place, all downtown, for that matter, was like a ghost town.

In fact, I had to settle for my 3rd choice of eating establishment, for lunch.  The first two places I went were closed, so I ended up back at my favorite pizza shop.  There was nothing wrong with that, it’s just that I was already there on Wednesday.  I didn’t really need another big, carb-laden meal.  But it was so good…

Saturday was the annual Ohio State / Michigan slugfest, and this one went right down to the wire too.  Michigan had the chance to tie the game with an extra point, but chose to go for two (and the win) instead.  Ohio State intercepted the pass and essentially ended the game.

To remind you of the importance of this game to us Midwesterners, check out this classic ESPN spot.  It’s old, but it still kills me.

Thanks, Dad, for sending it around again.

Lastly, let me leave you with this… It’s an email exchange I found recently, between a friend from our former Treasury Department and I.

Bluz: I think that in the Treasury Dept, you should make it a rule that every “S” should be written as “$”.

T-Gal: $ounds $uperb.

Bluz: Great, now spread the word to your minions.

T-Gal: First we’ll need an auditable policy… and forms, YES, forms… and a web portal… ackkkkkkkkkk!

Bluz: Have the minions write the policy, create the forms and build the web portal.  That’s what they’re for… to do your bidding.

T-Gal: Except I’m the minion.

Bluz: Then you need to get yourself some sub-minions.

T-Gal: WalMart?

Bluz: Place a want-ad.


Position:           Minion, Class-A

Description:      One that I can send to do my bidding.

Qualifications:   Blind, eternal loyalty
                        Flexible moral compass
                        Above average toadying skills
                        Ability to take a beating and remain functional
                        Good with animals; snakes, attack dogs, dragons
                        Expertise in electronics, weapons, explosives
                        Willingness to take a bullet for Master
                        Background in eavesdropping, surveillance and riot incitement is helpful

Salary:              Must be willing to pay employer for the chance to serve.

Perks:               Own dungeon
                        Hood and cowl provided
                        Health care (experimental) on site

EEO:                Disfigurements welcome

T-Gal: Love it.

Mind you, this exchange took place in 2008, which long pre-dates:

I was thinking a minion would be more like:
 “HUMP DAAAAAAY!!”      (Source)