Tuesday, December 27, 2016

Seven Alternate Uses for a Ravens Jersey

I’ve been sitting on this post since September and it’s finally time to let it out.

The Steelers/Ravens game was Christmas afternoon, so I watched it over at my brother’s house.  It was quite dramatic the way it ended.  The Steelers’ QB drove the team 75 yards in just over a minute to score the game-winning touchdown, with Antonio Brown reaching the ball over the goal line with nine seconds remaining.

The Immaculate Extension

Throughout that whole last drive, neither my brother, nephews nor I were sitting down.  We all just kind of stood around TV alternately pacing and wringing our hands.  I’m pretty sure the neighbors heard us when the Steelers finally scored.  I know we scared the shit out of the cats…

Now that the Steelers have beaten the hated rival Ratbirds and knocked them out of playoff contention, I needn’t worry about upsetting the Mojo Gods with this post.  I mean, if they lose against Cleveland next week, it’s OK because they’re locked into the third seed, regardless of the outcome.  And then if we lose in the playoffs, well at least we still stomped on the Ratbirds’ dreams.  I can live with that.

So the point of the post?

As you may know, I give those Chinese jersey sweatshops a lot of business.  I order baseball, football and hockey jerseys from them on the regular, so my friends down at the sports bar are always asking me where I get them.  Over the summer, two of my bar friends asked me to get particular jerseys for them the next time I placed an order.  One wanted a Washington Capitals hockey jersey; the other wanted a Ravens jersey. 

In August, I figured out what I wanted to add to my collection this year, (White Bud Dupree Steelers jersey and a Geno Malkin “new” white Penguins throwback jersey) and sent the order off, hoping to get it back in time for football’s opening weekend.

Well, the good news was that the order came in on time and the hockey jerseys were fine.  The bad news is that the jersey I got said “White” on the back, instead of Dupree.  Also, the Ravens jersey came in a youth large instead of a men’s large.  Mine, I wasn’t worried about; I’d have time to get that fixed.  But I felt pretty bad about the delay with my friend’s jersey.

Dealing with these overseas people can be troublesome.  They were willing to replace the Dupree jersey without issue, but they wanted me to send them another $10 to keep the youth jersey and then send me the correct one.

I was like, “You want me to send you MORE money to fix a mistake that YOU made?”  But they were adamant about it.  I might have continued the fight but I needed their help more than they needed me, and I was already into them for about $200.  I felt I had to do what I could to make sure I ended up with the goods I needed.

So eventually both replacement jerseys arrived and all was well.  And that’s how I came to have a Ratbird jersey in my place for a month… this being a house that’s so averse to Raven colors, I wouldn’t let Pinky even have purple towels for her bathroom.

It was unsettling, but it made me think: What would be the best way to put this jersey to some use?  And that, my friend, is the “real” subject of this post.  So I give you, without further delay:

Seven Alternate Uses for a Ratbird Jersey

 #1 Dishrag, for after you’ve eaten the Ratbirds’ lunch.

#2 Dust rag, for wiping down your Steelers collectible figurines.

#3 Shoe shine buffing rag.  Also good for removing clumps of turf from cleats and facemasks.

#4 Doormat, perfect for wiping the road grime and assorted debris from your shoes.

#5 Car cleaning rag.  Wax onside, wax offside.

#6 Toilet bowl scrubber.  Perfect for wiping the rim, or scraping off the cling-ons.

#7 Heavy-duty toilet paper for cleaning out the old end zone.

Am I missing anything?

Director’s DVD Commentary: No jerseys were actually harmed during the creation of this post.  In fact, I gave the jersey to my nephew Sammy, to give to one of his friends.  (Although I should have had Sam charge the kid $10, to recoup my loss.)

This will likely be my last post of 2016 so please have a happy New Year and a tremendous 2017.  And RIP Carrie Fisher.  No one will ever rock those cinnamon bun hairpieces like you.

Tuesday, December 20, 2016

How Suite It Is

Director’s DVD Commentary: I know I didn’t post last week, but I did post late the week before, but I knew I’d have a juicy one on deck for this week.  (And we had a company happy hour Monday night, which is why I didn’t post then.) So I’m sorry for the delay.  Now onto the day’s business…

I know I said I’d never set foot in that big purple toilet ever again, but Sunday I found myself back in the Ratbirds’ football stadium for a game.  All it took was access to a corporate suite.

I have a friend whose company has one of those fancy-schmancy corporate suites and earlier this fall, he offered me a pick of three games to go to with him.  And seriously, I almost turned him down flat.  I mean, I do not like that place at all, especially not after getting cheap-shotted in the upper deck, the last time I was there.  More importantly, I’d rather watch the Steelers game anyway, which was likely to be in conflict with the Ratbirds game.

First date: Redskins.  Directly opposite the Steelers game.  Nope.

Second date: The Steelers game itself.  He assumed I’d jump at this one, but I had no intention of spending 4 hours getting screamed at by 60,000 idiots.  Pass.

Third date: Eagles.  For this date, the Steelers were scheduled to play on Sunday night.  So once I confirmed this would be in an indoor suite, I accepted.  I’ve never been to one so the prospect was exciting.

Naturally, about two weeks ago, the NFL rescheduled the Steelers game out of Sunday night directly into competition with the Ravens game.  Gah!  Unfortunately, I felt it was too late to cancel so I figured I’d make the best of it.  I’d bring my ear buds and listen to the game from the Steelers app on my phone, and then catch the highlights later.

All week long, the weather reports suggested it would rain throughout the entire game.  But then by game day, the threat of rain was changed to around 40-50%, although the temps would drop sharply from the 50s into the low 40s during the course of the game.  I just obtained a new rain jacket and rain pants, but I opted to go with the jacket alone.

I decided to go “neutral,” by wearing Ohio State stuff… had and long-sleeve tee, although I did wear a Steelers tee shirt underneath.  I felt I had to do something with good mojo, even if only I knew it was there. 

I had the tickets in hand; my friend mailed them to me earlier in the week.  They were actually quite nice looking.  I figured I’d wear the ticket around my neck on a lanyard.  It would be nice to have a proper ticket in my year-end ticket collage for a change.  I much prefer the cardboard tickets over the home-printed ones.  This one was full color, with nice embossing and gold leaf.  I know they ask to see your tickets every 15 feet in the hoity-toity sections, so I wanted to keep them crisp.  I had a big-sleeved lanyard from 2006 when I went to my first and only NASCAR race, so I thought it would do nicely.  The tickets fit in, which was the important part.

I got there right at 11:00 when they started letting people in.  I was to meet up with my friend later; he was coming from the train station on the way home from New York.  I went directly up to the suite to check it out.  At that hour, there were not yet any food, drinks or people around, so I had the place to myself.  It gave me a chance to take some video and shoot some pictures, without looking like a rube.

 Our suite.

The view from our “balcony.”  They had really nice reclining desk chairs out there.  Too bad I never got to sit in them.

The outdoor viewing deck.

The next activity was to make use of our ONFIELD PASSES! 

"That's right... this P. is V.I."  
My field pass; safely protected in my lanyard sleeve.  The game ticket is on the other side.

I had to go back downstairs and register, (meaning sign a waiver holding the team harmless in case I get tackled or trampled or something).  I was kind of hoping I’d get the chance to go out to midfield and defile their logo, but I wasn’t optimistic.  Plus, I promised my friend I wouldn’t misbehave.  So much for burying a Terrible Towel under the bench.

Anyway, after meeting up with my friend, we filed onto the sidelines around 12:10.  It was really a thrill to come out through the tunnel and onto the field; it was a lot like my “First Pitch” experience with the Orioles two summers ago.  Even in enemy territory, the thrill of going on the field conquers all.

We had to be careful where we stood, though.  The security team were real Yellow Line Nazis.  One toe over the line and you got scolded.

Here’s an officer yelling at a little kid who had his foot on the line.  Young Lives Matter!

But we got to stand along the sidelines and watch the players go through their warmups, from just a couple feet away.  Eagles fans, being Eagles, got to heckle the Ravens from close up.  I just shut my yap and took pictures.

Flacco throws one to Perriman.

By the time they shooed us off the field and we got back up to the suite, everyone seemed to have arrived.  But the food and beer did too, so I tucked into a nice assortment of submarine sandwiches, hot dogs, chicken fingers and whatnot.  (They brought out pit beef and pizza later.)

The “problem” was that everyone had already claimed their seats outside on the “balcony,” where they had two rows of desk chairs behind a table surface.

I didn’t really mind, because after all, I didn’t really have an emotional attachment to the game, other than desperately wanting the Ratbirds to lose.  And then we discovered that we could get any football game going on, on one of the three TV monitors.  A gaggle of New Yorkers put on the Giants/Lions game, and I got to see the Steelers/Bengals game, just like I originally wanted.

It was kind of like a normal Sunday for me at the sports bar… watching the Steelers game (without sound), watching the Ravens during commercial breaks, and eating tailgate food and drinking beer (only for free!)  I was living the dream!

It was just kind of funny because there I was watching the game on TV, and then every now and then, stand up to look out on the live game going on. 

Sometime in the 2nd quarter, that temperature drop hit.  You could see the dark clouds coming and the wind starting to whip things around and shake the outdoor TV monitors.  Next thing you know; everyone was back inside.  I had my pick of outdoor seats then, but I was content to watch the Black and Gold from my comfy high-top seat.

“Baby it’s cold outside…”

I’d told my friend, right off the bat, that I intended to leave about halfway through the 4th quarter.  I did NOT want to wait for the end and then spend 90 minutes trying to get out of the parking lot and stadium area.  Not being invested in the game made the decision to leave early a slam dunk.

The problem was that the Steelers game was a nail-biter and in addition, still had over six minutes left when the Ratbirds game was down to two minutes.  I was like, (looking at the live game), “Stall!  Stall!  Call all your timeouts!”  Then spinning to the TV and going, “For Pete’s sake, hurry up and DO something!

The Steelers, who had been down 20-6 at halftime, were driving for a go-ahead touchdown, amid another Bengals meltdown.  They committed 4 consecutive penalties on the Steelers last scoring drive.  Thanks, guys!  Anyway, as soon as the Steelers scored to take the lead, I shot out of there.  Got out of the lot and across town with minimal delay.  I was back at my regular sports bar by 4:30.

Then as I took off my coat, what did I see?  No ticket.  GAHHH!

I’d noticed a tear in the lanyard sleeve starting, during the game, but I took pains not to tug on it from then on.  Apparently, it tore completely between the suite and my car.  I retraced my steps from the car to the bar, but it was nowhere to be found.

So much for my classed-up ticket collage.

At least I still have the parking pass.  (Lot N.)  Note the gold leaf embossing!  Those Suite People really get all the perks.

I hope you all have a wonderful Christmas, Hanukkah, Kwanzaa or whatever miscellaneous Pagan ritual you care to celebrate.  See you on the other side.  

Wednesday, December 7, 2016

Of Sickness and Hockey

It’s been a rough week and a half.

I started coming down with my annual cold on Cyber Monday, with a tickle in my throat.  That begat the dreaded post-sinus drip, which means I had to sleep in my easy chair if I wanted to keep from choking myself awake every ten minutes. 

More throat crud Tuesday.  Wednesday and Thursday I worked from home, so at least I wasn’t bothering anyone with my sneezing and honking.  I was already scheduled off on Friday and Monday, so I knew I had time to get back on my feet.

The thing was, the reason I took the days off is because I had plans to go to Pittsburgh for the weekend, with my brother and his sons.  So all week I was worried about not being able to go, or even worse, going and getting everyone sick.

Our original purpose of the trip was to see the Penguins play the Red Wings on Saturday night and then the Steelers/Giants game on Sunday.  We’d stay downtown for two nights and come home Monday.

The problem was the tickets.  My brother picked up some Pens tickets easily, but the Steelers tickets proved to be too expensive, due to the popularity of the visiting New York Giants team.  As a comparison, for the next two home games against the Ratbirds and Bengals, two division rivals, secondary market tickets started around $80.  For the Giants game, they started around $200… and that’s for nosebleed seats.  Then factor in the second night’s stay, with pumped up football prices and you have quite a chunk of change.  (Especially for my brother, who has to cover the boys.)

So we dialed our plans back to just the hockey game.

By Saturday, I felt tolerable and I was pretty sure I wasn’t contagious any longer. The contagious part is usually early in an illness.  As long as I didn’t cough globs on anyone, I figured they should be fine.  I packed myself a travel bag for the car, with cough drops, Kleenex and hand sanitizer.  I also made sure I coughed into my sleeve and blew my nose away from everyone.  Sadly, I had to refrain from my customary hugs for the boys.  I just hope my precautions worked.

Before checking in, we went straight to the west side to see the Aunts and Uncle, and met up for lunch, featuring a classic Pittsburgh massive fish sandwich.  (Sorry, no picture this time.)  But it was memorable because that was the last food I’ve been able to taste.

We checked into our rooms with enough time for me to grab a nap before the game. 

We ended up in the 5th row in the corner, at the end where the Penguins shot twice.  The seats were great, as long as the action was in our end.  At the other end, it was hard to look through the glass at an angle.  Everything looked like a funhouse mirror.  Luckily, there was the overhead scoreboard with a live video feed.

It’s funny; I’d be watching the game up on the board when the action was at the other end, but then forget to look back to the ice when it came down to our end, leaving me craning my neck up to watch a feed of the game that was happening 10 feet in front of me.  I got the hang of it eventually. 
 My brother and the boys decked out in battle jerseys.

The game was great.  The Pens came back from a 3-1 deficit by scoring 4 in the 3rd period to win 5-3.  Very exciting.  Daniel and I found ourselves in one of the press shots too.
We’re in the upper left corner.  There’s my brother’s elbow and Sam’s elbow right above the rail, then Daniel and me.

We took off early Sunday morning and were home by 11.  I had plans to go to the sports bar to watch the Ratbirds game at 1:00 and the Steelers at 4:30, but I only made it to halftime of the first game.  Only had two beers but I suppose it was the combination with all the cold medicine I’d been taking that made me just want to go right to sleep on the bar.  So I went home and slept straight through the second half before waking up for the Steeler game.

I just laid around on Monday, trying to summon the strength to go back to work on Tuesday.  The cold has pretty much moved to my chest now, so we’re at the disgusting part, where I have to hack great chunks of lung butter into the toilet, just to breathe again.  So much fun.  I’m sure the neighbors just wish I’d hurry up and die already.

But the worst part is that I haven’t been able to taste anything since Saturday, aside from very spicy or very salty.  I expect that when I can’t breathe through my nose, but even when I can, I still can’t taste anything.  I wonder if it’s from the cold medicine or all the gunk. 

All I can say is that it better be temporary, or else I might not have much reason to live. 

Or maybe this could be an opportunity to eat a bunch of stuff that I hate, but is good for me… (Nahhh)

Both Tuesday and Wednesday, I went into work, went as long as I could, and came home early.  No sense killing myself.  But I did want to get in and clean up some stuff.

That’s all I’ve got for now.  Sorry, there are no big idea or caustic rants today; I’m not up to forming complex thoughts just yet.  So let me just drop a few more pictures from the game…

Our view, from section 110.

Everyone looking up.

Penguins goalie, Marc-Andre Fleury

I don’t know how goalies even move with all that stuff on.

Penguins TV analyst Bob Errey and Radio analyst Phil Bourque, between the benches. Both are wearing jerseys celebrating the Stanley Cup Championship teams of 1991 and 1992, of which they were both members.

Now I need another nap…

Tuesday, November 29, 2016

Political Stew, with a Side of Anxiety

I was really hoping this was all just a dream, but according to the news, the president-elect is still a thin-skinned, silver-spooned Cheeto with horrible impulse control.

As I watched him rise through the primaries and overcome a series of gaffes that would bury any other candidate imaginable, it was clear that he was onto something.

Where many people saw him as the next Hitler, I saw someone who was a master at playing the game.  (Granted, I had considerable help from the Scott Adams blog and his posts about the presidential race in terms of persuasion.)  See, I don’t think that he, himself is a racist fascist.  I think he plays one on TV.

I know that seems like a big difference, but where some see a raging racist, I see someone using the ocean of racism embedded in this country, to further his own agenda.  (Get elected, make the world a better place for the 1%.)  He positioned himself, with his Brooklyn accent and elementary school vocabulary, as the champion of the common man. 

Just wait and see what kind of dry screwing the common man gets in the next four years.  And if he provides a steady stream of “Others” for the common man to crap on, it’ll be another four.  When people get preoccupied with building walls, monitoring bathrooms, and creating more hoops for people to jump through just to keep from starving, it will be a breeze to slide legislation through that opens the trough for the filthy rich.

You’ll see it; there will be a big hoopla about deficit reduction when they cut services that provide a lifeline to the poor, yet amounts to a fraction of a percent of the federal budget.  And then you’ll see tax breaks and loopholes created that quietly add billions back to the deficit.

Under all the xenophobic and homophobic bluster, Trump is still just a big business Republican.  Look at all the big promises he’s already rolled back.  The wall?  Maybe.  Prosecuting Clinton?  Gone.  Deporting millions?  Not as such.

But they’re already licking their chops at the prospect of neutering the EPA, disregarding climate change, closing or defunding the Consumer Financial Protection Bureau, and tanking all the financial regulations enacted after the Bush Recession.  All of those actions are the result of the same goal: enriching the wealthy at the expense of the rest of us.

And we just greased up and bent over for them, didn’t we?  We made it so easy.

Now some other stray thoughts…

I’m not sure how my theory that Trump is not some rich, racist fuck jibes with his appointment of Steve Bannon to his circle of advisors.  This guy is a cancer on a free America.  He was the leader of the Breitbart website (after Breitbart himself croaked), which is a top purveyor of conservative fake news.  If Breitbart says it’s going to rain, you might as well plan a day at the beach.  Breitbart feeds the alt-right with conspiracy theories and outlandish assertions that they are only too eager to lap up.  Having this guy in the White House is a national embarrassment. 

Maybe Trump keeps him around for his zero sum zeal and take-no-prisoners strategy.  Someone is going to have to wrangle those alt-right, all white yahoos when they find out Trump can’t do all those things he said he was going to do.

Fake News
We’re hearing a lot about fake news now, aren’t we?  Fake news is big business and may have swayed this election.  Why do you think so many people thought Hillary was untrustworthy?  If you believed even a fraction of the Big News about Clinton, coming from Facebook and other sites and aggregators that promote sizzle over substance, it was inevitable.

And while conservatives weren’t the only ones pushing BS stories, they supplied an overwhelming majority.  The Russians had a whole cottage industry behind producing fake stories about Hillary.  Plus, they single-handedly kept Democratic scandals alive by hacking emails and leaking them every day for weeks prior to the election.

I seriously wonder if anyone really thinks we wouldn’t find the same things or worse if the Republicans’ emails had been hacked and released.  You don’t think those guys were steaming mad at Trump down at the RNC?  I guarantee you there were some salty emails flying around.  But those were the guys the Russians wanted in office. 

Doesn’t anyone wonder why?

I think all the college protests were a giant waste of time.  If they’re really so upset, that time would be better spent preparing and organizing for the midterm election in 2018.  That’s the only way to change anything.  Destructive hissy fits don’t help.

Of course, listening to the Republicans tell it, it’s an affront to the presidency and America herself.  I guess you’re only allowed to badmouth the president when he’s a black guy.

The Tea Party was borne of public protests, weren’t they?  Of course, those were middle-aged white guys, so it’s cool, right?

Republicans don’t get to mount their high horses about the protesters; not after they spent eight years obstructing everything our legally and overwhelmingly elected president wanted to do.  I’ve probably said it a dozen times here and I’ll say it again: They spent eight years blocking any bill that could help the country, put people back to work, or repair the infrastructure.  They ensured… they GUARANTEED that nothing would get done.  And then they turned around and ran on the assertion that the Democrats didn’t make anyone’s lives any better.

And this country was dumb enough to fall for it.

These cabinet appointments are scary… not because they’re a bunch of racists, but that they’re Republicans.  Well, future AG Jeff Sessions may be racist, or at least have a dangerous imbalance in his values system.  I mean, he’s been quoted as saying that the Klan was OK, up until he heard they smoked marijuana.  That’s what put them on his shit list.  With this guy in charge, say goodbye to the burgeoning marijuana laws being passed in the states.

Trump’s new Secretary of Education is a billionaire and crusader for private school vouchers.  (Heaven forbid her little angels have to mix with any undesirables at a public school.)  Say goodbye to our system of education and say hello to the reintegration of church and state.  Intelligent Design 101, here we come.

Trump’s domestic policy advisor thinks gay conversion therapy can be used to “reform” gay people.  I say, when it works on turning heterosexuals gay, it will work the other way around.  Oh yeah, and every respected psychological professional in the business says that too.  (Well, they say it doesn’t work and it’s downright cruel.)  But don’t mind the scientific community; we need politicians to tell us what we are.

One might think I’d be eager to see Trump impeached or otherwise thrown out of office immediately.  Nothing could be farther from the truth.  I think Trump is a pragmatist and will never do anything that’s bad for business.  (Mostly HIS business, but still.)  I think he uses these other thumpers as cover.  They keep the rabble roused while he can tend to business.

That changes if Mike Pence becomes president.  He’s a True Believer; religious zealot who actually believes all this shit about homosexuality being a sin and birth control is murder and so on. 

He’s crusaded against abortion access, including trying to redefine “rape” as a means to do so, signed laws allowing businesses to discriminate against gays, tried to redefine rape as a way to limit abortion, diverted 3.5 million dollars from Indiana’s Temporary Assistance to Needy Families program into a Pennsylvania anti-abortion organization, and probably most scary, co-sponsored “Personhood” legislation, which provided full human rights to an embryo the moment the two cells intersect.

Putting that guy in charge is the next step in turning this into the United States of Iran. 

Tuesday, November 22, 2016

One Time I... Wait... Was That Me?

First, let me apologize for the long layoff.  Because I had two posts just days apart, I was going to let the second one count as last Monday’s post, and come back with new material last night.  The flaw in the plan (when I formulated it) was that I forgot I was having an old friend for dinner.

Whoops, maybe I should say “an old friend was passing through town and we were meeting for dinner.” Glad I cleared that up.

I had planned to unload the mélange of political stew that had been simmering in my brain for the last week and a half, but then the dinner changed my mind.  (And there’s always next week.  Trump will still be President-Elect and there will still be unease and discomfort throughout the land.)

I hadn’t seen my friend “Clark” since late in the summer of 1979.  He went away to college and never came back.  Five years later, I also hit the road to seek my destiny (working in record stores for shitty pay).  We never crossed paths again.

I know I’ve mentioned my small group of close friends here many times here over the years, and our little band of neighborhood misfits who hung out in our barn, but Clark was never part of that crowd.  He was a guy in my class who was always friendly enough, but we didn’t really mix with the same people. 

But late in our senior year, he was dating a friend of mine, who was a close friend of the girl I took to prom.  We all went out on a double date to a fancy restaurant shortly after, to celebrate our mutual friend’s birthday and seemed to hit it off nicely.  (I mean he and I… the girls kind of drifted away from the group.)

Director’s DVD Commentary: I’m calling him “Clark,” not as a tribute to the Grizwald family patriarch, but because when my mom wanted to know who I was going to hang out with, I showed her his yearbook picture and she said, “That’s not (his name), that’s Clark Kent.”

Anyway, I realized he was a quality dude and a genuinely good guy, so we hung out a couple more times during the summer before he left for college Down South. 

One night, we went out to see the original “Alien” movie and got hammered up in the second row.  All I could remember about the movie were a couple of brief impressions: “Wow, that spaceship landing is pretty wild,” and “Hmm. This is probably really scary.”  (When I finally saw the movie on VHS, it was literally like seeing it for the first time.)

Another time I had mentioned something about having a harmonica, and he had me come over to his house to play some music.  He spent 20 minutes looking for some piano sheet music in the key my harmonica was in, but I was like, “Dude, it really won’t matter; I can’t play this thing for shit.”  I think I fumbled through one song before we decided to find something else to do.

We hadn’t really gotten The Barn up and running as a miscreant HQ yet, or else I’d have had him come out.  So like I said, once he left town, our paths diverged.

But now there’s Facebook, so we friended up several years ago.  And then a couple weeks back, he said he’d be traveling from North Carolina up to visit his daughter in Massachusetts, and what do you know, Baltimore is right on the way, about halfway there.  It would be a convenient pit stop and a chance to catch up.

So we met last night at my regular sports bar to just sit, have a few beers, some hamburgers and catch up.  (Not ketchup; not for me, anyway.)

Now tell me, have you ever tried to catch up on 37 years?  It’s not easy.  I mean, how do you summarize that much time, without putting on a 3-hour One Man Show?  If you’ve been with me for very long, you know the circuitous path I’ve taken to get where I am now.

(Luckily, he’s read this blog before so there were some adventures he’d already heard about.)

It came down to describing college, jobs, relocations, relationships, and various story tangents that I hoped proved entertaining.  I mean, how could I talk about my college years without the various pranks we pulled?  How could I talk about my experience working in record stores without talking about some of the bands I got to meet?  Sometimes repeatedly.  How could I talk about getting my first store without mentioning the Legend of the Felonious Lesbian, or talk about the ex-wife without mentioning how she became the Belle of the Firehouse?  There were some serious tangents I had to cover.

And it was in telling The Big Story all at once that I realized how weird some of it sounds to me now.  It’s like someone else did all that stuff in another lifetime.

And the thing was, he had so many of the same experiences I did, with college, jobs, relocations, and relationships.  Of course, my realm was merely national; I rarely left the Midwest, Northeast or Mid-Atlantic.  Clark’s path took him all over the globe.  The man lived in Poland, Indonesia, Switzerland, and a number of other places. 

It was funny; every time I thought I had a really good Facebook post from an Orioles game in Camden Yards, I’d see one of his posts while he was hiking through the freakin’ Swiss Alps.

But wherever we were, we still had the same kind of shit happen to us.  We both majored in disciplines that probably weren’t the most helpful to us.  We both ended up in jobs far from our majors, and kind of Forrest Gumped ourselves through our professional careers. Both of us had the same or similar problems with wives and girlfriends.  Both of us have had generally lousy luck with online dating.  We’ve both been impacted and influenced by lost friends.  We both played sandlot football against the same group of jagoffs and came to the same conclusions (that they were jagoffs).  (Come to think of it, I really need to tell that story here.  I’ll put it on the list.)  Both of us have considered running for elected office but figured we could just stay home and bash our heads against the wall, and save time. 

It was kind of cool, though, looking back on our shared high school experience.  Out of the blue, he brought up an old mutual friend, about whom I once wrote extensively; the auburn-haired beauty from my post about redheads I've known.  They were pretty good friends back then and in fact, she lives near him right now, back in North Carolina. 

When I mentioned my first college girlfriend, who also went to high school with the both of us, he was like, “Man, she was smokin’ hot!” 

It was funny because he saw the potential long before I did.  I didn’t see it until college when she changed her hair.  To me, she went from kind of mousey to “Ka-Boom!” 

It’s interesting to kind of “deconstruct” your high school experience with someone who was there, but not necessarily in your closest circle.  You can get a whole different take on things.

Anyway, we spent more than five hours at the bar, just talking and drinking beer.  And whoever wasn’t telling a story got to eat his dinner. 

It’s a good thing we quit when we did.  I’d cut myself off on beer and my throat was starting to get sore from all the yapping.  So we called it a night… I had to go to work in the morning and he had the rest of his drive.

See?  With thicker frames, he really would look like Clark Kent.  Whereas I look like Donkey from Shrek.  Stupid selfies...

So… Fun night.  Thank you, “Clark” for coming up with the great idea to stop by.

They really ought to market Baltimore this way… as a rest stop on the east coast highways.  “Charm City: A great town to stop temporarily before passing through.”

Wednesday, November 9, 2016

The Sky is Crying

It is the day after Election Day and even the sky was weeping for what our country has become.

So, it’s done.  November 8th, 2016 will go down in history as the day we stood up and declared that we are a small, fearful people, who would rather literally build walls than solve philosophical and economic problems.  It’s the day we rejected calm, well-reasoned decision-making for a carnival sideshow of bluster and bravado.

Why is it always the people who wrap themselves in the flag and venerate the Constitution are the ones who want to completely undo the very freedoms the Constitution provides?  They “love America,” but want to change her basic nature.

What about religious freedom?” I hear them cry.

Religious freedom has never been a trump card to play when depriving the civil rights others who don’t adhere to your beliefs.  Not in this country.  Until now.

Well, as they say in retail, “You broke it, you bought it.”  Conservatives elected a bloodless tycoon and a religious prig, so it is now up to them to make good on all the things they promised they could do.  After all, there will be a Republican president and a Republican congress.  They should be able to do just about anything.  Now we’ll see who for whom they really work.

Let’s see if they really have a medical plan besides just shit-canning Obamacare and tossing 20 million people off their insurance.  Let’s see if there really is a plan to defeat ISIS, besides just ramping up defense spending on weapon systems and private contractors.  Let’s see if there really is a coherent immigration plan, besides building some ridiculous wall and closing borders to Muslims.

Personally, I doubt it.  But I suspect you’ll see the elimination of the Consumer Financial Protection Bureau almost immediately, along with the roll-back of all the regulations enacted in the wake of the 2008 recession.  First priority is to get Big Business back to the business of raking in as much profit as possible, while the consumers bear the risk.  You’ll see this along with giant tax cuts aimed at the richest among us, while the rest of us are expected to be thankful for the leftover scraps.

You’ll see the appointment of hard-right Supreme Court justices who will overturn Roe v Wade at the earliest opportunity, strengthen the right of corporations to pour anonymous money into politics and bolster the claims of religious liberty in refusing service to those whose very existence is found to be an affront to their version of God.

I hope to hell that Ruth Bader Ginsburg is healthier than she looks.

I also think that if the Democrats try any of the obstruction tactics the Republicans have used for the last eight years, Republicans will institute the full “nuclear option” and eliminate the filibuster.

They don’t care about senatorial tradition, they care only about wielding and retaining their own power.

So how did we get here?  I see two main causes.

Cause #1: Over 20 years of loud, yet fruitless investigations.

The Clintons have been the victims of hyped-up witch hunts since the Big Dog was president.  What these investigations did or didn’t find wasn’t nearly as important as the volume at which they were conducted.  Every time an investigation closed without finding anything actionable, another one began. 

The entire Benghazi farce was created and propagated for the sole purpose of smearing potential and then actual candidate, Hillary Clinton.  None of the 11 investigations found jack shit that they could use, yet each investigation begat a new one.  And all this was despite the 60 or so lives lost in Embassy attacks during Republican administrations, which yielded zero outrage and zero investigations.

Just once I’d like to hear someone explain why this attack was so much more important than any of the others.  But no one can because the only difference is political.  The Benghazi investigations were nothing but a prolonged smear campaign, designed to alter America’s perception of a political figure.

Basically, the Republicans spent years claiming that Hillary Clinton was a lying, crooked, scandal machine and then ran a campaign against the image they created.  Is she a choirgirl?  Hell no, she’s a politician.  But for some reason, she’s the one who has to be perfect while the other guy’s considerable scandals barely register.

In the land of the rational, some improper emailing is a hill of beans compared to running a fraudulent education scam, going on trial for raping a 13-year old, sucking up to a Communist dictator and encouraging his people to hack his opposition’s email accounts and use them to influence an election, spending one’s life stiffing people he hired, running out on debts, avoiding taxes and refusing to provide his tax returns, and generally acting like a rich, entitled, boorish person of privilege.

Yet he went out there and accused her of doing everything that he, himself has been documented as doing.  And because of the giant cloud of suspicion the GOP created over the years, people believed him.

It’s the classic case of saying something enough times that people eventually believe it to be true, especially if they want to believe it.

Cause #2: The systematic institution of voter suppression tactics in GOP-controlled states.

What the red states have done to the voting process is nothing short of criminal.  They specifically engineered a series of moves that made it harder, more inconvenient and more expensive for minorities (and any likely Democrats) to vote, all under the guise of protecting against “voter fraud.”

This “voter fraud” from which they were “protecting us” was found through extensive research, to have happened 31 times among over a billion votes.  So they pushed for particular IDs to be presented to vote, which were designed not to be convenient for minorities, students and the elderly.  They raised fees to acquire these IDs, and closed or restricted hours at the document-issuing locations where these minorities, students and the elderly were likely to go.

They reduced the number of polling places where their perceived opponents traditionally voted.  They reduced the number of early voting days and stations.  They interfered with organizations that attempted to get people registered.

And then they sat back and congratulated themselves on how well the whole charade worked.

That is how you rig an election.  The Russians couldn’t have done it any better themselves.

Of course, there is a myriad of other sub-causes and subplots which contributed to this toxic political and social environment.  And as a result, this was the night Americans stood up and proclaimed they would rather vote for charismatic stupidity than icy competence. 

Gods help us all.  We’re gonna need it.

Director’s DVD Commentary: I wrote this first thing this morning and I was going to hold it for Monday, but I feel like it needs to go out now.  Consider this my Monday post, 5 days early.

Monday, November 7, 2016

V-Minus One

Well, tomorrow is it… all the craziness of the last four years comes down to what happens tomorrow in voting booths all across America.  And yes, I mean four years.  It was almost immediately after Obama won his second term that politicians and the media began hyping the 2016 election.  And it’s sad.

Stuck with a Republican congress who was determined to run out the clock, Obama never really had a chance to do anything domestically.  Every proposed bill was blocked, regardless of how it could benefit America.  If Obama wanted it, Congress prevented it from happening.

So where the President could change some things with executive orders, he did.  (And, of course, got called a dictator by butt-stung Republicans.)  He also went about fighting ISIS.  Notice how their leaders keep getting themselves blown up.  Not bad for a closet Muslim.

Now we’re about to elect a new president and we’re pretty much in the same predicament as we were four years ago.  Republicans continually tell you how bad things are, all the while the facts say otherwise.

(And this is old data.)

Who knows how well our economy would be doing if we could have passed some jobs or infrastructure bills?  Such is the GOP hypocrisy… step on the brake and then complain that we’re not there yet.  I’ve been saying it since the early days of this blog: You can’t hold up every bill and then complain that nothing is getting done.
Well, they really can, and they did, but they can’t pretend that no one notices.  I just have doubts about how many others actually do.

I’m not optimistic about tomorrow.  I think there is too much room for dirty tricks, like voter disinformation coming from GOP-run state governments, the closing of voting stations, self-appointed poll watchers intimidating minorities from voting… and that’s just the stuff we’ve already seen happening.  Electronic voting systems are not hard to hack at all.

I read an article, last week, about a “white-hat” hacker who along with some graduate students at a major university, took less than 48 hours to hack into a proposed internet voting system during a mock election.  They were able to alter the votes without anyone the wiser.  Officials would have never known about it if it weren't for some voters complaining about the weird music they heard at the Thank You For Voting screen, where the hackers inserted their college fight song.

It can be done and probably will.  It’s not like the Russians have any disincentive to stop after hacking Democratic Party emails.

Another thing that worries me is how often you see nation-wide polling, like when you see a poll that says Hillary is favored throughout the country, any percent to any percent.  It doesn’t matter because the total of votes on the national level doesn’t matter.  Just ask Al Gore.

What matters is state by state polling.  That’s what’s going to win states and electoral votes, and that’s all that matters. 

After all the time, money and effort spent on this campaign, it’s sad to think about how little of it really matters.  Every ad out there is playing to your emotions and providing one red herring after another. 

No politician operates in a vacuum.  They all need advisors and a cabinet, and that’s where the party apparatus comes in.  And once the parties are involved, you have predictability because we have seen the history of what they stand for. That’s why it’s so easy to decide in an election like this.

The Republicans want to:

  • use red tape, legal technicalities, and disinformation to continue limiting access to abortion (and birth control) and ultimately overturn Roe v Wade.

  • ensure Citizens United remains in place, so wealthy donors (their bosses, in effect) can continue to put politicians on their payroll to do their bidding. (Like delay Supreme Court nominations indefinitely.)

  • defund, delegitimize or just eliminate the Consumer Financial Protection Bureau, whose only job is to prevent banks from screwing its customers.

  • prohibit any regulation on guns whatsoever, despite the carnage throughout the nation.

  • keep wages low, so not to cut into business profits.  Raising the minimum wage is out of the question.  North Carolina went so far as to prohibit municipalities from instituting their own minimum wage.

  • privatize Social Security, putting our money in the hands of Wall Street, who brought about the financial collapse of 2008 via their own greed and mismanagement.

  • eliminate Obamacare, or any other breaks on medical coverage, tossing 20 million people off insurance rolls without a plan for what to do next.

  • continue the war on drugs (and marijuana) to make sure for-profit prisons are full (of minorities).

  • increase military spending, despite the fact that our current spending totals more than the military spending of the next 10 ranked countries.  And I’m not talking about giving raises to the troops or taking care of veterans: I mean funneling the dough to defense contractors and weapon production.

  • continue their illicit campaigns of voter suppression under the guise of preventing voter fraud.  And I’ll include aggressive gerrymandering as a part of it, just to eliminate another bullet.
If you are for all of these things, then vote Republican.  I won’t agree with you, but you certainly have the right to vote your values. 

But if you don’t, then you have no choice but to vote Democratic, up and down the board, if possible.  And if there are some things on this list you agree with, and some you don’t, then you have to make a decision on which items are the most important to you.

The Republicans have already shown what happens when they get what they want.
Massive tax cuts for the rich only benefit the rich.  Our history from 1984 through 2008 demonstrates that clearly.  Instead of creating jobs, as promised, they created more bonuses for their executives and more earnings for major shareholders.

It’s about time we start voting for our actual self-interest and not illusions we’re so desperately being sold by the Right.  Or even better, vote to make the lives of others a little better, like those who can’t afford their own lobbyists.

The emails don’t matter.  The recordings don’t matter.  Benghazi doesn’t matter.  Trump University doesn’t matter.

The direction we pick for this country is what matters and this is a black and white choice. 

We move forward, or we go back.