Thursday, February 27, 2014

Chatting It Up Part 4: Virginia Girl

My chat relationship with Island Girl was always more of a flirtatious fling than the honest pursuit of a relationship.  The same goes for most of the people I interacted with in the chat rooms.  But there was one exception…

It was around the year 2000 and by then, I was a regular in a particular room in Virtual Places (VP).  I began noticing another regular, who always seemed to laugh at my jokes.  Her online name had a misspelling in it; she told me it was a typo when she set up her account, and didn’t even notice it for a while.  She kept it, because she thought it was unique.

We circled each other cautiously for a while, and I began to specifically try to make her “LOL.”  Her handle had a beach motif, so one night, I asked her if she lived near a beach.  She said she did… a Virginia beach, as it were.

Now THAT piqued my curiosity.  Virginia is just one state down from Maryland.   We were practically neighbors.  It was the first time I was connecting with someone from the same general vicinity.  That meant there was a possibility of meeting, and maybe more.  That changed the game, right there.

One night, probably a Butt Friday because we were both sporting human avatars, we got into some kind of wild conversation in the room, probably in IMs (instant messages).  Someone was flipping their avatar back and forth (meaning rapidly changing between the avatar’s regular image, and a mirror image).  I said it looked like it was dancing.

With that, I dragged my avatar over near hers and asked her to dance.  We both started flipping our avatars and it totally looked like they were dancing together.  I don’t know about her, but I was smiling my face off and giggling like a fool.  After we cooled off, I nudged my avatar over to touch hers, and they “joined.”  (As explained in my first chat post, when you put to avatars together, they’d “latch” onto each other, which signified to the room that you were a pair, at least for the time being.)  In the months to come, we always looked back fondly at “The Night We Danced.”

After that night, we joined up like that every time we were both in the room.  We started having long, involved IM sessions as we tried to learn all about each other.  She was divorced, with three kids; her son was a junior in high school, and two daughters were lined up behind him.  The son was in a special program in school for gifted kids.

Eventually I suggested we swap pictures.  I mean, that’s the make or break moment, isn’t it?  That’s when you find out if the person you’ve been shamelessly flirting with is hot, medium, or looking like she just got out of a dryer filled with rocks.

Most of my previous chat partners belonged to the latter two categories, so I didn’t have high hopes.  But then I opened the picture and was stunned.  I thought she was gorgeous.  She was on a park bench in front of a fountain, wearing jean shorts, a sleeveless sweater, and little round spectacles.  Holy shit, I was smitten.  I showed the pic to my work friends, Sunshine and the “Sisterhood,” and they agreed.  I’d say she looked a bit like a younger Kathleen Turner. 

All I kept thinking was, “There’s no way a girl this hot is going to dig a goofy-looking putz like me.”  But I guess there’s something to be said for wit and sparkling conversation, because she dug me too.

We chatted thought the summer and by fall, we figured it was about time to meet up.  We agreed to meet in Richmond, which was roughly halfway between us.  I booked a room for a Friday night at an Embassy Suites.

I got there first (as I planned to) and set up the room.  I brought a CD player, some flowers, snacks, and wine.  I wanted everything to be perfect.  Man, I was so nervous.  All I could do is pace around the lobby, and peer out the front window, looking for her SUV.  Since I didn’t have a cellphone yet, I had no idea when she was going to arrive.  I commiserated with the hotel staff behind the desk, as I was pacing around.  Before long, they got the whole story.

But then there she was, pulling into a parking spot across the lot.  At least I think it was her… I took a few steps outside to look closer.  Once she got out of the car, I knew.  I went trotting over to her, then she started running over to me.  We must have looked like a couple of dodos out there, pretending we were in a movie, but I didn’t care.

We ran into each other’s arms and hugged hard.  We’d hug, then pull back and look at each other, then hug again.  She never let go.  We walked into the lobby with one hand carrying her bag, my other arm around her shoulder, and both her arms around my waist.  I shot the desk clerks a wink, and they gave me a thumbs-up.

I could probably do an entire post on the next 12 hours, but suffice to say, it was a very good night.

In fact it was so good, I couldn’t bear to say goodbye.  The time went by way too fast.  We decided that I’d follow her down to her place, I’d stay over Saturday night, then drive home on Sunday.

And that’s what we did.  I met her kids, we all hung out, and played board games.  They were really great.  I was still rocking the full beard, so her son told me I reminded him of Toby Ziegler, from “The West Wing,” which was in its first season.  I’d hadn’t seen West Wing yet, but when I started watching it the next season, I realized that I should have taken it as a compliment.  Toby may have been goofy looking, but he was cool as hell.

Not bluzdude, but close.  (Source)

We continued to chat, email, and call as much as we could.  Because she mentioned once that she loves dolphins, I sent her a dolphin wind chime for Christmas.  It went over very well.

I made the 4.5 hour drive to see her again over Valentine’s Day.  I met her ex-husband, when he came to pick up the kids that night.  Did I mention he was the local sheriff?  Yeah, that was mildly terrifying.

This night didn’t go nearly as well.  She must have caught some kind of bug that day, because shortly after we started eating dinner, she felt sick, and began throwing up.  And she continued hurling roughly every half hour until the wee hours of the morning.

I felt really bad for her, but there wasn’t anything I could do.  She certainly didn’t want me in there with her, holding her hair back…  (That was a win for me, I guess).

We continued with the IMing and emailing and calling, and even discussed her coming up to live with me.  Now that was not something I was pushing.  This was her idea.  It wouldn't be right away… she wanted her son to graduate from high school in the program he was in.  Then once he went away to college, she and the girls would move up.

It was OK with me.  I was still completely smitten with her, and her kids were great.  I tried to warn her though… Baltimore schools are a tough gig, unless you’re well-to-do enough to pay for private school.  I couldn’t very well say, “Here, come to Baltimore!  We have shitty schools, rotten infrastructure, idiot drivers, governmental corruption and almost 300 murders a year!  And the Ravens.”

There was also the matter of her job.  She worked at a hospital as a licensed professional, but in Virginia, you could get licensed with a bachelor’s degree.  In Maryland, you needed a Masters.  So getting a comparable job would be problematic.  In fact, I knew it was going to be a huge problem, because I certainly didn’t make enough to support 3 more people.

Through the spring, though, the talk of moving up here kind of dwindled away.  We didn’t talk as long, or as in depth.  There were fewer statements of affection and days would go by without meaningful contact.  I felt her pulling away from me, and knowing how difficult the reality of how hard it would be to try to stay together, I let her.

We never had a grand farewell, or any kind of breakup speech.  There was no, “How could you?” or “I can’t do this;” we just kind of faded away.  It was sad, but I didn’t see much alternative.  There was no sense in chasing her because I wasn’t leaving my job to go there, and it would be too much for her to come here.  Turned out that Virginia was as far away as any other place on the map.

Every once in a while, I’d see her drop by the old chat room, and we’d catch up.  She ended up moving somewhere else in Virginia, I forget why.  The last time I heard from her was in 2003.  We wished each other well.

And we never forgot The Night We Danced.

Tuesday, February 25, 2014

Chatting it Up Part 3: Brown Sugar

Very soon after I started chatting, I struck up a chat with a woman from Connecticut.  We ended up chatting together regularly for years, and emailed each other long after VP closed down.  We probably corresponded for close to 8 years.  I wrote a bit about her last June, in a bit that features one of my favorite pieces of goofball writing.

Another girl I met in chat was the Island Girl.  She was from an island in the Caribbean, which I had to look up just to find out where it was. 

It was one of the little ones…

Island Girl was a real pisser.  The first time we chatted in IMs, she asked me for a story.  I asked what kind of story.  She said, “One that will make my panties wet.”

Thus began many years of correspondence, some kinky, some not.  After VP shut down, I was still used to chatting every Friday night, so that became “our” night.  We used the IM service “ICQ,” (remember that?) and set it for split screens so we could see the words appear as we typed.

(I totally thought that was the coolest thing!  Not only do you get instant response, you can evaluate your partner’s typing skills.)

While we had a fairly long-lived cyber-relationship, it wasn’t without its ups and downs.  Once she sent me an email that was meant for another guy.  That one hurt.  I sent it back, with a note, and then maintained “radio silence” for a couple weeks.

I knew she was by no means “mine,” but it was still unsettling to know that she was similarly chatting with someone else.  After all, every rooster wants to be the only one in the henhouse.

I spent another couple nights worried sick about her, as a hurricane ripped through her little island.  I was so relieved when she turned up later, but you feel so powerless when someone you care about is far away and in danger.

Anyway, the years rolled by.  She eventually got together with a guy… a dude from the States who she also met online.  He went and visited her island, brought her (and her two kids) back to the US, and married her.

I was fine with it.  By that time, I’d moved on to other things, and chatting was a thing of the past.  Still, we’d email from time to time, and catch up with each other’s lives.  Eventually, she became disenchanted with her hubby, who according to her had become controlling and mean.

I wasn’t particularly surprised.  I mean, the profile fits.  Guy goes to some far off land, plucks out a girl and takes her far away from everything and everyone she knows, so she’s completely dependent on him… It’s the perfect scenario for a dominating, control freak.

She eventually split from him and moved out on her own, along with her kids.  That’s when we began to rekindle our online relationship, and eventually began talking about meeting in person.  In fact, that became the basis for one of her cyber requests.  She asked me to write her a top-shelf, four-alarm sexy story, based on our hypothetically getting together.

As an ex-DJ, I’m trained to take requests, so one night I sat down with a candle lit and a glass of wine, and let it fly.  I started by thinking, “OK, she shows up at the airport, so what happens from there.”

I don’t know if she has that story any more, but I know for a fact that she kept it for years afterward, and re-read it regularly.

So it was funny when the time came, in 2005, when she really did come for a visit.  She was living near Raleigh NC, so I went halfsies with her on a plane ticket.  I probably could have paid for the whole thing, but I thought I would be better protected if she had some skin in the game too.  But I really wasn’t that worried about her conning me.  I was more concerned about another issue.  I’d never been part of an inter-racial couple before.

Not that we were a “couple” couple, but we would be walking around Baltimore together.  Who knew if some dude would take offense that this fine sista was hanging on this old white guy?

Also, there was my own curiosity at play.  What would it be like, to be intimate with someone so different from myself?  Would I find her as exciting in real life as I had over a computer screen?

I learned many things that weekend, but mostly that I worried too much.  There was no issue between us at all.  In fact, at one point, she asked me, (with her Island accent), “So what’s it like being wit’ a black girl?” 

I said, “It’s funny.  I don’t see you as a black girl.  I just see you as “Island Girl.”  (I used her real name when I said it.)

It was an enlightening experience, to say the least.  We get so worked up over superficial things, when we’re all basically the same, underneath.  (Especially when the lights are out.)  It’s far more important to judge people by their actions, than random physical traits.

Anyway, we had a grand time running around town.  We went to the National Aquarium one day, and another, I took her to Camden Yards for an Orioles game.  Unfortunately, it was kind of cold and rainy, so we left early.  But one funny thing happened.

Before the game, we were walking around the concourse under the stands.  I think I had an arm around her back, kind of guiding her.  I’m sure they didn’t have big baseball parks like this back on her island.  Anyway, at one point she felt an arm on her shoulder.  It took a beat or two to realize that my other arm hadn’t moved.  She looked over her shoulder and straight into the giant head of the Oriole Bird mascot, who had been following along behind us with his “wing” on her shoulder.  Startled, she started shrieking like a crazy woman.  (The echo in that place was really something.)

I just kept saying, “It’s OK, it’s OK, it’s just the mascot!”  But that bird scared the shit out of her, seriously.  You never know what to expect in the big city…

“What can I say?  It was a “cheep” thrill.”

The rest of the visit went by with much less screaming, (except a time or two when it was warranted.)  But now that she had come to visit me, I had to take my turn.  I went down to see her later that summer.  We had a good time there as well.  We didn’t go too many places, but I met her kids and we did go to the county fair. 

After that flurry of events, we both basically went on with our lives.  Neither of us thought it would ever turn into a long-term thing.  I think we just satisfied our mutual curiosity about each other.

We’ve kept in touch over the years.  I know she became a US citizen, moved to the Pacific Northwest, and got herself a college degree.  We’re Facebook friends, so I can still keep up on how she’s doing.  It’s been satisfying watching her adapt and thrive in her new home.

And to think, our whole friendship started with a dirty story…

Sunday, February 23, 2014

Chatting It Up Part 2: Talk Dirty to Me

It was funny how one asshole could ruin the whole chat room… just one troll coming in and slinging abuse could kill the vibe.  But our room had some folks that didn’t play.  They could really cut someone down to size, when their behavior warranted it.

They especially hated was when a dude (always a guy) would come in the room and start asking for dirty talk or naked pictures.  That was the chat room equivalent of someone walking into a crowded bar and going, “Which one of you broads is going to fuck me tonight?

I remember one time one of the veterans convinced the guy that he could find naked pictures of everyone in the room if he just pressed [Alt] [F4] on his keyboard.  (Alt/F4 is a keyboard shortcut to close whatever program you’re in.)  I laughed as the guy’s avatar promptly disappeared.  Dumbass…

Sometimes there would be real 4-alarm flame wars in the room, usually with newcomers, or acquaintances from another room.  I learned that there were people in Virtual Places (VP) who could find your IP address and hijack or cripple your system from their PC, so I tended to lay low.  In technological terms, I was a lamb in there with the lions.  I had no defenses, and no expertise to recover my system.  Because of that vulnerability, I became real good at withering putdowns of people who had just left the room.  I wanted to defend my friends, but I didn’t want my PC turned into an expensive paper weight.

But on most nights, we had a ball.  I didn’t have to go in and perform; I got to play to my strengths.  I much prefer to be a comic “counter-puncher,” than go in with solo material. 

I had so much fun in VP, I would spend the workday feverishly wishing for quitting time, so I could race home and get online.  There would be weeks when I was completely down the rabbit-hole and no one could get ahold of me.  And I mean that literally because I only had dial-up internet service.  When I was online, anyone calling me would get a busy signal.  I swear, my parents must have thought I dropped dead with the phone in my hand.

My regular 40ish room started doing annual “reunions,” in various parts of the country.  I was so torn!  Part of me was dying to go; another part of me was scared I’d be let down.  It was moot though, because all parts of me were broke, so going anywhere was out of the question.  Even when they met in Washington DC, practically in my own back yard, the hotel prices were obscene for a dude of my limited means.  But after each Reunion, they’d put up a website, so I could I look at pictures.  It basically looked like the people you’d see at a PTA meeting, only with drinks and cigs.

(It seemed like everyone in the pictures smoked, so I know that would have bugged the crap out of me.  And you could still smoke in bars and restaurants then, so my eyes would have been burning like crazy.)

In retrospect, I wish I would have gone, if for no other reason than it would have made a better story.  I think that’s one of the reasons I’ve always tried to meet up with bloggers, when possible… because I missed out before. 

This was my old dog, Jesse, from when I was a teenager.  I still miss her, but she made a nice avatar.  She was too good for shades, though.

Eventually, I cut way back on the chatting, and settled on one night a week.  I chose Fridays, because not only could I drink wine and stay up late, but because our room had a theme: Butt Fridays.  Basically, that meant that everyone would fly an avatar that featured their finest back-sided assets. 

That was the only time I used beefcake avatars, but even that didn’t last very long.  I found a picture online that I figured would be perfect for Butt Friday, and it became one of my first self-made avatars.

Yes, that's a rhino in a thong.  Once you go “rhino,” you’re knee-deep in vagine-o.  (Sorry.)

It was always a fun vibe.  I’d light some candles, pour the wine, pull some CDs to play on the PC, and settle in for a night’s worth of digital revelry.  I’d never know where I’d end up that night, who I’d be talking to, but I had a pretty good idea what it would be about.

One thing I learned is that there were an awful lot of lonely women out there, married or otherwise.  I mean, I know that chat rooms weren’t the most efficient place to meet potential mates (or even hookups), simply because of the long odds of finding someone in my area.  But still, I preferred to chat with the single ladies.  I mean, I’m no home-wrecker, right?  I don’t want some dude coming into town, wanting to kick my ass for keeping his old lady up all night.

(Although I’d say, “Dude, if you were taking care of business on your end, your wife wouldn’t be up late chatting with some schmo like me.”)

I also found that the lonely housewives really just wanted two things from me.  A sympathetic ear, and cybersex.

Honestly, it was inevitable, after fifteen minutes or a half hour of exchanging our stories, listening to their problems, they would hit me up to tell them sexy stories. They usually wanted me to tell them about what I would do with them, if we ever met. 

I swear; I never, EVER, started the sex talk.  Not that I minded, particularly…  Hell, I was bored and lonely too.  So I obliged, and lo and behold, found I had a knack for it.  Well I guess I did… they sure seemed to like it.  I’m pretty sure I’m responsible for ruining a good number of desk chairs across North America.

So I would make up a scenario and start telling the story, as fast as my little fingers could type.  It’s funny how bold you can be, when you’re talking to a stranger from across the continent.  I’d type the kind of things I’d never be able to say to someone face to face, without turning purple from embarrassment.  Of course, the wine helped.

The other chatter would chip in a bit, sometimes it was a real back-and-forth, but for the most part, I did the heavy lifting.  And once I got a response from her like “frswdrqqqqqq…” I knew I had just won.  Or maybe she did.

So after all of that, spinning line after line, setting up a location, a plan of action, and a play-by-play description of the hot virtual monkey lovin’ that was so engaging, they were able to rub one off, they’d always ask me if I had done the same.

Then they’d get offended, because I’d be like, “Seriously?  How many hands do you think I have”?  It takes two hands to type that fast… how the hell am I going to do anything else, for cryin’ out loud?  I could either tell the story, or do something else, but not both.

Sometimes I’d slip a joke or two into the narrative, just to see if they were paying attention.

Bluzdude: Now I’m moving further up your leg… mmm, so soft.  Moving further… further…
Chatter:    Oh yeah, keep going.
Bluzdude: Ow, just hit my head on the underside of the table.
Bluzdude: Who are you again?

Sadly, my sense of humor wasn’t always appreciated in the spirit it was given.  They probably thought they were chatting with one of the Three Stooges.  But if they laughed, I knew I had a good one.

Not all my chat friends were temporary.  In fact, I formed on-going relationships with several.  And I’ll tell you all about them… in the next posts.

Thursday, February 20, 2014

Chatting It Up

It’s funny how much of my livelihood is tied to a computer.  One starts to think about that stuff, once one is forced to try to recreate ties from an old PC.  I spent the weekend tweaking my new computer, trying to make it as much like the prior unit is I could, without also adding the sloth-like speed.

I was able to revive the old PC long enough to move those last few spreadsheets onto a thumb driver and transfer them over.  Phew!  The Game Jersey Mojo spreadsheet lives on!  I don’t think I’ll be so lucky with all my old emails though.  Even if I could find the file where they’re housed, I don’t think I’d be able to link them into my current Outlook.  Might as well just say goodbye and move on.

I remember the first time I had to switch PCs… I had the Geek Squad load everything on the hard drive from my first computer onto CDs.  They included the email files, but I didn’t know how to transfer them over then either.  So I took the important ones and emailed them to myself individually.  I don’t plan on doing that again, not just because it would be a giant pain in the ass, but because I almost never had cause to open them up again.

It was a different world when I got that first computer, in 1999.  There was no Facebook, no Google, no Twitter, no YouTube… You know what the big deal was?  Chat rooms.  I absolutely lived for them.

At the time, it was preposterous to me that I even owned a computer.  I didn’t know diddly-squat about them, yet there I was, speeding up the ramp to the information superhighway.  The unit came with a Prodigy account, so I hooked into a chat site that was tied to my service.  I suppose I sought out chat sites for the same reasons I used to seek out strip clubs… I was bored, lonely, and had nothing better to do with my nights.  This was a helluva lot cheaper though.

That first chat site was pretty primitive, consisting of nothing but a lot of scrolling type.  Soon after, I was tipped off to another site, called Virtual Places.

What made VP different was that each chatter was represented by an avatar, which was a postage stamp-sized picture, not unlike the one that appears at the top of my profile blurb on the upper right-side column.  This is what a VP chat room looked like:

There’s a lot going on there.  The list of people in the room is on the right.  The bottom contains a scrolling dialog box.  Also, every time someone enters a comment, it appears on the avatar screen in a dialog bubble attached to the commenting avatar.  It was pretty slick.

My avatar is pretty obvious.  I had a particular theme I used most of the time… critters in shades.  It went with my “bluzdude” persona.  I’m the wolf in shades, on the bottom right-center.  (And it was the VP people that first started calling me “Bluz,” which I eagerly adopted.)  Yes, it was for the chat rooms that I first christened myself as bluzdude.  I needed something concise that would reflect how I wanted to be perceived.  More on that later.

There were a lot of options for avatars.  There were websites everywhere that offered free avatars for download.  Usually people would start with those and then personalize them by adding their chat name.  I didn’t know how to do any of that but some of the nice people in the chat room tarted some up for me. 

Going into these rooms made me feel like a freshman wandering into the seniors’ hallway and trying to blend in.  It seemed like everyone knew what they were doing, except me.

All newbies start out as a “mug.”  The default avatar was a Java logo, featuring a mug of coffee, hence, being called a “mug.”  (I wonder if that’s the source for JK Rowling’s term “muggle,” meaning non-magical person…)

Soon enough, a chat veteran took pity on me and sent me a couple of avatars.  I eventually went to some of those avatar sites and found some myself, but they obviously weren’t personalized.  When I lamented that fact in the chat room, people offer to label or “paint” them for me.

One of my favorites, done by a friend.

One night I asked how I could paint them myself, and through the internal VP system, my veteran friend sent me the whole Paintshop Pro 7 program!  Then she coached me how to run the program to set it up.  Honestly, I knew nothing about computers, so her guidance was sorely needed.  But that’s how I learned how to do my own photo-shopping…  I was really lucky.  I found a number of extremely kind “benefactors” who totally set me up with everything I needed.  I have never forgotten their kindness.

Another gift.

VP was set up as series of rooms with different categories, with capacity 30 people per room.  I quickly realized that there was one particular room where my favorite people stayed: “40ish,” Room 3.  I was only 38, but the 30ish rooms were full of snotty, cliquey people.  40ish was far more welcoming.  I figured I’d qualify “technically,” soon enough.

The problem was that when you’d try to get in one 40ish room, it would bounce to another if it was full.  You had to keep trying until someone left as you tried to get in.  Another kind benefactor sent me an .exe file that would keep trying to enter the room, automatically until I got in.

I always found the chat culture fascinating, but not unlike any other room you enter where there’s a party going on.  I quickly learned that that it was a good idea to sit back and see what was happening in the room first, rather than roaring in like Mr. Personality.  My MO was to lay back, watch the conversations, and try to fire off some funny one-liners.  If I got LOLs, that was my reward.  In fact, I use to tally them up.  (No, I never put them on a spreadsheet.)

This was one I made.

You could also talk one on one through Instant Messages. (Aka “IMs.”)  While it’s common now, it seemed very high-tech to me at the time.  But it was nice and private, for when you didn’t want the whole room to know your business.  You could tell when someone was knee deep in IMs when their room feed went silent. 

I know sometimes I’d have 2 or 3 going at the same time.  You’d think I’d be in hog heaven, but I actually hated that.  I’d much rather concentrate on one person or conversation at a time.  Hard to keep track of to whom I was saying what, without a lot of scrolling.  Heaven help I mix up the conversations.  Sometimes when I was in an in-depth IM and didn’t want to be bothered, I’d put up this avatar:

Total Babe Repellant.  It never failed.  I also used that Aye-gor avatar you see here every day, for the same purpose.  (In VP, not here!)

You could also move your avatar up against a friend’s and they would “attach,” which would trigger an IM and also show the room that you were “together.”  You didn’t usually do that unless you had some kind of special relationship with the person.

I got to know people, the regulars and customs and such, and there were still new people that wandered in all the time.  It blew my mind knowing that I was “talking” with people from all over the country and the world.  It was fun running across Steeler fans or Bowling Green grads.  We had one regular who logged in from Alaska.  Another guy was on an aircraft carrier somewhere in the Pacific.  Was weird chatting there at night, then the person you’d be chatting with would have to leave and go to work for the day.

I eventually assembled a pretty solid library of avatars.  As I said, my preferred theme was Critters in Shades, because it supported my name, bluzdude.  Unlike a lot of the other chatters, who used pictures of models, I never used beefcake avatars.  I felt like that was a form of lying.  I tried to be honest, assuming they didn’t think I was actually a typing koala.

When I wasn’t using critters, I liked avatars that showed my musical side.

Some people used their real picture, but I never did.  I wasn’t ready to be THAT honest…

Even though I knew it was an illusion, I couldn’t help but be flattered when someone w/ a knockout avatar talked to me.  So I tried not to create any illusions about myself, other than being kind, considerate and dazzlingly witty. 

I’ve been so good lately at writing shorter posts, but alas, this one is not.  I have much more to cover, but I’ll cut it off here for the time being.  Stay tuned for Part Two later this weekend, when chatting leads Yours Truly down a far more scandalous path...

Tuesday, February 18, 2014

Can't Anyone Just Lose Any More?

If the Olympics are teaching me anything, it’s that no one ever loses at a competition.  If a person or team come up short, everyone has to claim conspiracy.  It’s crazy!  Sometimes it’s the fans, other times, it’s the participants.

Have our collective egos been so padded for so long, we can no longer comprehend losing?  I thought that was an American thing, but we’ve apparently exported it all over the world.  I mean, look at the headlines from this week’s Olympic competitions…

Russians are protesting over the disallowed goal in the US/Russia hockey game.  Students are rallying outside a Moscow university, with a sign that says, “Turn the referee to soap.”  This is a common chant at sporting events, implying the ref is fit only to have his bones and body fat boiled down for soap.  Flyers fans should take note.  That one stings a little more than “Crosby sucks.”

Canadian fans are charging that there was a judging conspiracy that favored the US ice dancing team, who won the gold medal last night over the Canadian pair.  And even the Canadian skaters charged that their coach (who coaches both pairs) favors the Americans.

As a quick aside, I can’t help but stare at the female half of the US ice dancing pair, Meryl Davis.  She’s totally adorable, but is it me, or are her eyes really far apart?  I mean, it seems like she can stand behind a tree and still look right around it.  Today Entertainment Weekly made this comparison:

If you ask me, Neytiri is totally hot too.  But with her, when you try to get a piece of tail, you really get a piece of tail.

Now getting back to my main point, that no one takes the blame for losing any more…

The US speed skating team completely psyched themselves out over their new Under Armor skating suits, which they wore for the first time during these Olympics.  (We can debate the wisdom of that move, later.)  They got clobbered in their opening rounds, so they decided it was the suits’ fault.  So they went back to the suits they wore when they dominated in their previous meet, and got clobbered again.  This time, heavily favored skater Shani Davis said, “I feel like the damage of the suit was already done.”

Are you freaking kidding me?  If only we’d known these guys were such fragile flowers, maybe Under Armor could have popped for a team of psychologists, rather than ultra-modern skating suits.

Norway says there’s a ski wax conspiracy, after their poor showing in cross country skiing.  What I want to do is send Cassie up there to have a talk with her countrymen.  I think they’ve forgotten their Viking heritage.  If their prime ski wax supplier was holding out on them, then go plunder their warehouse and loot the office.  Maybe they’ll screw the Swedes next time.

Even the sled sports are catching onto the blame game.  The Canadian luge coach is charging that the Russians are changing the temperature on the track, to ensure the Russians medal the other teams get slowed down.

I don’t know when all this bullshit started, but it’s been going on far too long.  I used to think it was mostly a Baltimore thing, after watching the Ratbird fans claim conspiracy over penalty calls, scheduling inconvenience, and even the power outage at last year’s Super Bowl… a game that their team freakin’ WON!  They were lining up their excuses in advance!

So now we see that the Not Our Fault tactic has busted out worldwide.  Every loss has to be pinned on some kind of nefarious outside force, because no matter how far-fetched, it’s easier than accepting that you (or your heroes) lost.  People don’t want to accept that they can work hard and train hard and want it really, really badly, but still lose.

Why can’t people embrace that sometimes, the other team was better?  They train hard too.  It happens.
People, I know Mommy always said you were Number One.  But didn’t she also ever tell you there would be days like this? 

The whole thing makes me want to go Number Two.

Saturday, February 15, 2014


The USA/Russia hockey game was on this morning at 7:00 AM.  I DVRed it to watch later in the day, so I had to take care to avoid the news pages and social media.

Spoiler Alert: I’m eventually going to mention the outcome of the game, so if you haven’t seen it, you should come back later after you have.

The game was just a “preliminary” round game, so it wasn’t for a medal or anything.  But still, USA vs Russia!  It’s a big deal.

Olympic hockey is not the same as it used to be, when the legendary Miracle on Ice game was played in 1980.  Back then the Russians didn’t play in the NHL and the NHL didn’t send any players to the Olympics.  Our team was made up of college hockey players… mere kids.

The Russians, on the other hand, were basically employees of the Russian government.  Their jobs were to play hockey and appear in Soviet propaganda.  They had won something like 4 straight Olympic gold medals, and practically every game they played in international competition.  They were a team of grizzled and very talented veterans.  Against a bunch of college boys.  I still get choked up every time I watch the highlights.
That’s what made the 1980 victory so special.  As ABC sportscaster Jim McKay put it later, it was like the (recently-crowned 4-time champion) Pittsburgh Steelers playing football against a group of Canadian college kids.  I’ve often said, that was the biggest, most incredible game of any sport I’ve ever seen.  (Running just behind: the Steelers winning Super Bowl XL and the Penguins winning Game 7 of the 2009 Stanley Cup Finals.)

The current Russian team is hardly the cast of villains from the old days; in fact, they employ one of my favorite players, the Penguins’ Evgeni Malkin.  Of course, they also have one of my least favorite players, Alex Ovechkin, so it kind of balances out.  Still, there’s not the hate that there used to be, at least not for the players.  (Don’t get me started on Putin.  Once KGB, always KGB.)

So the Russians are still loaded with offensive talent, with some of the most dazzling scorers and snipers in the game.  The US team is more like a group of talented grinders, with good hands.  But I don’t see anyone that could compare with Malkin, Ovechkin or Ilia Kovalchuk.  They do have a significant Penguin presence though, with defensemen Brooks Orpik and Paul Martin, with head coach (and Bowling Green man) Dan Bylsma.  So my Penguins loyalties are somewhat split.  I root for the USA, but I hope Geno does well.

It must be weird, though, having to coach against one of your own players… in this case a guy you need to play well once the Olympics are over.  At one point in the game, the rink-side announcer/troll Pierre McGuire said that the coaches told their guys to be sure to hit Ovechkin at every chance.  I doubt they gave the same instruction about Malkin.

I was thoroughly impressed with the quality of the hockey… it was like watching an All Star game, only everyone was playing their asses off, rather than going through the motions and trying not to get hurt.
Another thing that made the game enjoyable: no glass pounding.  All of the area behind the glass was used for photographers.  The first row of the crowd was at least 4 feet away from the glass.  Why is that important?  No glass pounding.  I hate that.  There’s no reason for those first row dipshits to pound on the glass every time the puck comes near, like a bunch of pissed off chimps at the zoo.  All that banging means just one thing: “HEY LOOK AT ME!  LOOK AT ME!”  Idiots…

There was a gap behind the benches too, so you didn’t get shots of the same dipshits clowning around behind the coaches, either.

The game was a thriller; no one ever led by more than a goal.  Malkin looked like a beast, even though he didn’t score.  Orpik and Martin were solid in their own end, although Orpik did let a guy get past him for a goal.  

It was 2-2 with less than 5 minutes to go in the third period when the Russians appeared to score.  It was waived off though, because the goal posts had become dislodged from their holes.  (The Russians are pissed, but that’s the rule.)  The game went to overtime, and no one scored there either.  USA’s Patrick Kane had a breakaway, with no defenders even in the same zip code, but he couldn’t convert.  So the game went to the dreaded shootout.

My thought was that with all the offensive talent they have, the Russians should own the shootout.  The US scored on their first attempt in the first round (of 3), but missed on the second two.  The Russians missed their first two, but scored on their third, so the shootout had to go extra rounds.

I didn’t realize until today that there is a difference between shootouts in the NHL and in the Olympics.  In the NHL, more guys from the bench would come out and take their turns, until there was a winner.  Today, only the same three guys could do all the shooting, and they didn’t even have to take turns.
They stayed even up until the 8th round.  

The Russians alternated between Pavel Datsyuk and Kovalchuk.  The US had TJ Oshie take all the shots.  (He was the only US guy to score in the first round.)  But in the 8th, goalie Jonathan Quick made the save and Oshie went 5-hole to score the winner. 

It was an amazing game, and I’m hoping it sets the stage for a medal-round game with Canada.  It ought to be a stellar tournament, going forward.

I just hope it’s not the last.  Word is that the NHL owners are not happy about shutting down the league every four years, to let their players go to the Olympics.  I’m pretty sure, though, that Penguins ownership (namely Mario Lemieux) won’t object, because as a former player for the Canadian hockey team, he knows how important it is to represent one’s country.

My prediction is that the NHL players will continue to go to the Olympics.  I’m no expert, but the Player’s Union should have an extremely advantageous bargaining position.  It goes something like this: “We’re going and you can’t fire us all.  If you try it, good luck filling your arenas by using replacement players.”

The owners should realize that the fans will almost unanimously side with the players, because Olympic hockey is a tremendous product.  Who wouldn’t want to see the best players in the world facing off against each other?  Should the owners play hardball, they’ll be seen as tight-fisted and anti-patriotic.  I think they’ll suck it up and take one for the country.

The US plays again tomorrow; I’m not sure when.  But they’re playing Slovenia, which sounds like a made-up country from a comic strip, so I probably won’t take extraordinary steps to watch.  We’ll see.
Although maybe I should… you never know if a game like this might become a “Miracle on Ice” for a team like Slovenia.


Thursday, February 13, 2014

PC Bluz - Part 2

Wouldn’t you know it?  Literally 10 minutes after I dropped that last post, UPS dropped the new PC at my door.  I spent the evening setting up my new gear.  I almost waited until the next day… after all, I hadn’t mentally prepared myself for homework.  My plans were much more pedestrian; namely to lay around and watch the Olympics.

But it’s hard to resist cracking open the shiny thing, you know?  Plus, I had a mystery to solve right off the bat.

You know how I took special pains to find a PC that had Windows 7?  I was most alarmed when the first thing I looked at, the recovery CDs, were labeled Windows 8.  I took the PC out of the wrapping and examined the back, finding a label that said Windows 8.  I was beginning to get pretty steamed, not knowing whether I should repackage the whole thing and return it, before I pulled out all the packing, or to plunge forward and see what happened.

I loathe returning things, so on I plunged.  I regretted it almost immediately, when I found that all the peripherals used USB ports.  There were only 4 USB ports on the back of the unit, with 2 in the front, and now the mouse, keyboard, speakers and printer were going to take up two thirds of them.  I also have an external hard drive, a LP/Cassette-to-PC conversion unit, and the charger for my MP3 player. 

On my old unit (and my PC at work), the keyboard and mouse and stuff have dedicated jacks on the PC, so the USB ports remain available for accessories, rather than being taken up by necessities.

But I continued on and hooked up everything I could and when I fired it all up, lo and behold, I was greeted by the Windows 7 welcome screen.  What a relief!  Within a few minutes, I was logged on and firing up the Internet.  Right off the bat, I downloaded the Google Chrome browser, and as soon as THAT got going, my iPad synched up with it and delivered all my bookmarks.  Whoo Hoo!

Next, I pulled all the pictures and documents from my external backup hard drive and put them in place.  I was troubled to realize that I never backed up my prime spreadsheets that were “loose” (un-foldered) in my My Documents file.  Gah!  I have copies on my work PC, but they are not fully up-to-date.  What am I going to do if my Game Jersey Mojo Spreadsheet, DVD roster, Movie Rating Guide, Sports Event History and Camden Yards Seating Chart aren’t up to date?  It’ll be chaos!

Anyway, the next day, I found a 4-into-1 USB adaptor on Amazon and ordered it, solving my USB port problem.  And last night, I downloaded the Microsoft Office Suite, so I can continue laboring under my spreadsheet addiction.  I also found that this PC didn’t come with Outlook Express, so I’d need to use the full Outlook email tool, from MS Office.

This was the thing I was most worried about.  I hate dealing with online email services.  I like my Outlook.  But as I recalled from past experience, they can be a bitch to set up.  I was hoping that the “state of the art” had improved since I last I messed with Outlook settings.

Well, I was half right.

I have two email accounts… my “main” address on Verizon that I use with friends and family, and a Hotmail account that I use for all online dealings.  (Hence, that’s the one that gets all the boner pill spam.)

The Hotmail account basically set itself up, probably because it’s a Microsoft application working with a Microsoft operating system.  But the Verizon account was a 4-alarm bitch to set up.

I already had directions that listed what the settings were supposed to be, so I wasn’t terribly worried going in.  So when the auto-setup function bombed out, I went to work to configure things manually.  That didn’t work either.  Then I spent the next 2 and a half goddamn hours looking the problem up on various message boards and trying every variation of settings I could find.

Who knew there were so many options?  You’d think that the settings for Outlook 2013 and Windows 7 would be the same across the board.  Lots of people had my exact problem, but the solutions that worked for them weren’t working for me. 

I almost gave up several times, figuring I’d re-attack the problem the next day, but that stubborn streak I have guaranteed I’d soldier on.  Eventually I found a thread that had some new information; namely that those with a Verizon account that originally came from Yahoo, had to use a different setting.  Once I tried that, voilia!  I was an Outlookin’ mammajamma.

Would have been nice if Verizon would have had that shit on their instruction site though… might have saved me a couple of hours of aggravation.

So, slowly but surely, I’m putting my online life back together again.

Hey, does anyone remember what game jerseys I wore the last three weeks of the season?

Tuesday, February 11, 2014

The PC Bluz

Maybe you’ve noticed, or maybe you haven’t, but I’ve slowed down my posting schedule.  There are several reason, only one of which is the dreaded Winter Blahs.

The primary reason is more technical.  I’m putting up this post via iPad, because after almost 10 solid years, my trusty XP-running PC has finally given up the ghost.  (Or “data,” if you will.)  The power went out to my building last Monday, and when it came back on, my PC was left unresponsive.

That’s happened before, and I’ve always been able to bring it back to life.

Not this time, however (or I would have photoshopped my PC into that shot).  But it’s really all well and good, because as you know, Microsoft is discontinuing support for the XP operating system in April, meaning I would be without security updates from then on.  The Internet has been rife with predictions of horror and evil waiting to be loosed upon the XP clingers, like the hot lava from Mt. St. Helens on those that refused to get off the volcano.

So I knew I’d have to get a new PC anyway… and now my hand has been forced.  It’s not like I wasn’t looking forward to a newer, faster computer.  My current PC is maddening in its slownessWhenever I want to do something, it always seems to need to furiously do something ELSE, which uses up all its memory and speed.

One of the reasons I’ve been putting off replacing it has been my apprehension about being able to carry over bookmarks, emails and email addresses.  I’ve got 10 years’ worth of shit on that box.  The hard files like pictures, videos, spreadsheets and all my blog post drafts have been backed up, so I won’t lose those.  [knocks wood frantically]  

What I have to say goodbye to is a ton of past communication.  Oh, I know I could hire the Geek Squad to resurrect my hard drive and squeeze out my email records, but I probably won’t do that.  I’ll start fresh… but that means I’ll have to rebuild my cache of email addresses.

Family will be easy… I’ll just mine the addresses out of the jokes my dad sends to everyone he’s ever met.  It’s your address that might take some doing.  I have the addresses to some of yinz on my work computer and others in my Yahoo account, which I can access from my iPad.  Short of that, I may eventually send out a plea via blog or twitter.  So I’ll work it out.

But it’s kind of easier this way.  Now that I don’t have to worry about how I’m going to bring all that stuff over to a new drive, I can just get on with updating my hardware.

The other barrier was that I don’t want to deal with Windows 8.  I’m no computer genius, but I know what I like.  I’ll save all the touch screen bullshit for phones and tablets.  (Well, other people’s phones, anyway.  Love my 2006 flip-phone!)  When I want to write something, or work on spreadsheets or photo editing, I want a big, honkin’ desktop, a keyboard, and a mouse on a decorative mouse pad.  Call me when they come out with the 3-D holographic interface I can manipulate with my hands, like in every futuristic movie and TV show from the last 10 years.

So then I read that you can still find PCs with Windows 7, if you search online.  I found that while Best Buy didn’t have any on their sales floor, I could order one from them on their website.  So I did; delivery should be later this week, or early next week.

Then, I’ll have to try to remember all the bells and whistles I’d like to continue to use, that I put on the last unit.  (Hello Google Chrome!)  The problem will be figuring out where I got them.  I’m a good one for reading about a hot new app, clicking a link in the article to download it, and then discarding any record of what I just did.

More importantly, I have to get the thing hooked up to the internet.  Gah!  I hope it’s easier now than it was 10 years ago, when I had to enter all this connectivity information, just to get my Outlook working with my email providers.  Seriously, I don’t have that information any more.  If I can’t successfully Google it, I WILL have to call in the Geek Squad.

I also have to secure new versions of the MS Office apps, and a new photoshop program.  I’m pretty sure my Paintshop Pro 7 won’t boot up on Windows 7.  (It wouldn’t when I tried to have our Tech Support put it on my Windows 7 work PC.)  

So seriously, I have my work cut out for me.  If you don’t hear from me for a while, send in the Geeks!

Thursday, February 6, 2014

Odd Bits - The Hairy Buffalo Edition

 Couple of things caught my eye this week...

Open Wide
The FDA approved a camera-pill, which can be used for colonoscopies in certain cases.  “Certain cases” is defined as “those who have trouble undergoing standard colonoscopies.”  And I would define that as “anyone who doesn’t want 47 feet of pipe rammed up his ass.”  I suppose that would become a problem when said person is strong enough in his conviction that his rectum exhibits the closing force of a crocodile’s jaws.

As a 50+ year old dude, I know I am overdue for a colonoscopy.  So now, all I have to do now is wait a bit longer, until over-the-counter colon-cams become a “thing.  And then how much longer can it possibly be before you can follow the cam’s progress on your iPhone?  I can’t wait to see the Google Doodle on the day that app comes out…  

As comic Richard Belzer once said to his doctor, “Here’s 20 bucks; stay out of my ass.”

If You Can't Beat'em, Screw'em
Because Republicans apparently don’t believe they can win elections based on ideas or policy, they’ve fallen back on their old standby, dirty tricks.  What they’ve done this time is set up a series of websites that look like they support the Democrat in a race, but in fact, all donations go to the Republican opponent.  The disclosure appears in the small print at the bottom, (which approximately no one reads).

The funny thing is; we’re not even talking about a staff flunky on some local candidate’s campaign team.  These sites were launched by the National Republican Congressional Committee.  So what does that say about how they view their chances?

Rather than put forth viable solutions to unemployment and crumbling infrastructure, they use trickery and misdirection to fund campaigns based on fear and self-righteousness.  As far as I’m concerned, these actions are criminal.  But that’s not the kind of “election fraud” conservatives are trying to root out when they’re kicking the young, old and poor off of voter rolls.  

Miley Cyrus Hates Your Kids
The twerking, tongue-protruding pop singer was interviewed recently in W Magazine, and had some interesting things to say about her original fans.

I don’t love kids.  I don’t love them because, I mean, I think I was around too many kids at one point… They’re so fucking mean.

“Sometimes I hear kids with their parents, and I want to go over and, like, smack them myself.  Like if they meet me, they’ll be like, ‘Mom, don’t you know how to use an iPhone?  Like, can you take the picture?’  I’m like, ‘Dude, if I ever talked to my mom like that when I was a kid, I would have had no phone, no computer, no TV, no anything.’  And so yeah, kids are just mean.

I don’t know what the world is coming to when I agree with Miley Cyrus.  No, not that I want to smack your kids.  I realize that there are lots of kids who are kind, respectful and polite.  But when I used to manage record stores, I also saw a LOT of kids that needed a good smack for talking so disrespectfully to their parents.

I used to see it all the time…

Come on, Mom, don’t you know anything??”  

And that wasn’t even from a teenager… this was from a grade-schooler.  No way I’d ever get away with talking down to my parents like that.  (At least until I grew taller than them, in which case it was unavoidable.  Ha!)

I think it’s even worse now, what with kids’ eroding social skills caused by iPhone/video game addiction.  Anyway, all I could think of was that old bit from “Bill Cosby: Himself,” where he imitated his wife’s ravings after she administered the nightly beatings to their “brain damaged children:”

You think I carried you inside my body for nine months so you could roll your eyes at me?  I’ll roll that little head of yours on the floor.  You don’t know who you’re dealing with.  I’ll beat you ‘til you can’t grow anymore.”

Grain and Bear It
I saw an article in today’s Baltimore Sun where the Maryland state senate has passed a law banning the sale of 190-proof grain alcohol.  Normally I’m not a fan of banning things, but I think they have a point here.  

There are very few benign uses for grain alcohol, and is overwhelmingly used to get college students blasted out of their minds… usually mixed in a fruity punch.  Call it a date-rape cocktail.

I had an experience with that stuff once, when I was given a drink called “Hairy Buffalo.”  (That night is featured in one of my better stories.). One glass of that and I was the walking dead for the rest of the night… the walking, tumbling, hurling dead.

I say, if you’re going to get drunk, do it honestly and purposefully.  Make the decision, impaired or not, to continue drinking.  Because it takes longer, there’s a chance that someone may intervene.  Ideally, you just cop a nice buzz, and ride it out.  A one-drink knockout punch prevents that, and then once you’re FUBAR, anything can happen to you.

I feel the same way about 151-proof rum.  Back in my college years, I used to get blasted on that stuff too, and to this day, I still can’t stand even the smell of rum.  In my book, there’s no reason for either of those liquors to exist.  

As long as there’s bubblegum and icing flavored vodkas, frat boys will still be able to get the sorority girls drunk.