Monday, April 24, 2006

What happened to the wave?

OK, it’s been a while so I apologize. I’ve had writer’s block and nothing seemed that funny to me. Today, my buddy Don suggested a rant (you’re a savior!), and I knew what he meant immediately. First, we’re not talking about the “spontaneous” stadium event where people create a human wave of bodies that crest in unison, yet never in synch with an actual defensive play or point scored. That wave I hate. Truly. However, I do enjoy when a second wave is started, and it ends up canceling out the first, just like a giant physics experiment. People, it’s not original, clever, cute or remotely fun. Look, if you’re going to start something in public, why the wave? Why don’t you call out a racist, or a homophobe, or a misogynist? “Hey. That shit ain’t funny and neither are you. If your IQ 22 cousin-parents were here instead of the Monster Truck Klan Rally Revival, I’d bitch-slap them for the horrible job they did raising you. I guess since they’re not here I’ll just have to just bitch-slap you.” Wa-pow!

No, the wave Don was speaking of is the “much obliged” wave you get when letting someone in on the crowded highway. You know, the way it used to be when folks would thank you properly for the favor. You see a motorist in the left lane that’s about to end, and their license plate is out of state, and there are no gaps to be found in their need to merge right. So you slow down and let them gracefully slide on over. The courteous thing for them to do is wave their hand in front of their rearview mirror, acknowledging your random act of kindness. But it rarely (if ever) happens these days. Why is that? If someone does you a solid, at least acknowledge the gesture.

Even the asshole who isn’t from out of state, who flies up the left lane, whipping in at the last minute to be as far ahead in line as physically possible before being run into a ditch – and feels so self-important and entitled that he deserves to be in front of everyone else. Even that guy used to throw up a wave, as if you meant to let him in. It would almost make you laugh. Almost. (Secretly, I would hope for the photon lasers lying dormant in my eyes to finally energize and blast the hell out of the back of his Acura Integra, or Ford Windstar, but the probability of that happening is pretty remote. About as remote as ExxonMobil, ShellTexaco and AmocoBP giving back the unregulated profits they’ve stolen from all of us, and will continue to do so until we find a way to travel that doesn’t require fossil fuels. Ironically, they didn’t have the courtesy of administering petroleum jelly, which they have in sheer abundance, before drilling us, the US consumers.)

Look, whether you’ve been given the gap or you force one, toss a wave. It won’t kill you and it may prevent the back of your vehicle from being laser-torched, or rammed, or accidentally bumped, or given a really nasty look from the driver behind you.

Thursday, March 30, 2006

Spring is finally here! Keep your shirt on.

[BREAKING:] No time to read? I totally understand. Let me read this blog to you HoCoMoJo Podcast style!

Like every other stir-crazy homebody that has had enough of winter, I’m ecstatic that spring is finally here. Longer days, warmer weather, the return of life all around us; it’s a welcome time of year. Granted, I’m a whiner, so I’ll also complain about the misery of seasonal allergies and the return of the insect world –my windshield is already covered with those that were in this world less than the second season of Jake in Progress, Emily’s Reasons Why Not or Love Monkey. [Note to self: watch the dated references] ahem...less than the second season of Middle Class Stay at Home Dads that love their HAM radios of East Cambridge, only on Bravo.

Leaving the jacket in the closet is that little bonus I treasure. And spring attire looks great on paper, but in practice can be a disaster. This spring, please show consideration for everyone else before dressing by following these simple yet practical rules:
  • Capri pants (no matter what label they’re given this season) only look good on women – trust me, you look ridiculous, dude. And if you could straighten the brim of your trucker hat parallel with your nose, or opposite exactly 180° (that's just plain backwards), I’d be ever so grateful.
  • Topless lawn care can only be pulled off by 2% of the male population, and even they come off as narcissistic – are you in the top 2? Seriously?! We both know the answer to that, so keep your shirt on. Ladies? Hey, if you want to continue to allow a repressive male society to keep you down with their outdated, puritanical restrictions, that's your choice.
  • If your thong looks like it’s splitting two giant hams, it’s definitely not kosher. For dudes, the Capri pants rule applies.
  • Banana hammocks are meant for Olympic swimmers – and only at Olympic events held every four years in another host country; never the beach or neighborhood pool.

Gentlemen, your razor is your friend. Don’t be shy with it. If you can’t reach a spot, ask for help. Otherwise, cover it up. You’re scaring the children.

If we all follow these simple rules, everyone can enjoy the season (and keep our collective lunches down). Thank you!

What fashion faux pas belong in your neighborhood's covenants or rental agreement?

Tuesday, March 21, 2006

Why I Love the Game

I just returned from my first spring training trip. I went to Florida with my buddy Frank to see my favorite team, the Baltimore Orioles. With the World Baseball Classic in full swing, eleven starters were off representing their native countries. At first I was frustrated, but that passed before we even made it to our first game. Besides, it’s more fun witnessing new talent so you can say – “I remember when…” When we landed in Ft. Lauderdale, waiting for our baggage, I heard the voice of one of my baseball idols, Brooks Robinson. Frank called his name out; he turned to us and smiled, firmly shook our hands, and then went on his way. We didn’t ask for autographs. We didn’t ask for pictures. We just wanted to introduce ourselves and shake the hand of a legend. What a way to start a week of baseball!

At one of the games, I saw a t-shirt with a picture of a worn baseball and a caption that said “Life begins when the season starts.” New beginnings, everyone’s in first place, and spring means new life for so many reasons. This slogan could apply to any sport for your typical sports fan, but it just felt perfect at spring training in Florida, where the sun was out, the grass was green, and we had just left winter behind in Baltimore, even if just for a few days.

But why do I love baseball? First, I need something to tide me over until football. I never played football. I was too delicate. But I played baseball. Not well, but I loved it. I played little league for years, and my parents were at every game. And my parents weren’t the sort that insisted I be the best, or had fantasies of scholarships, or lived their own dreams vicariously through me. They loved to watch me have fun. And even make a few good plays.

Everyone who plays baseball or softball has a few moments they’ll never forget. A solid hit where there is no recoil or vibration from the bat. It’s so smooth you almost don’t feel it, except for the launch of the ball off the end of the bat. Or that one amazing catch. My best year was when I was 12 and played outfield, but was slightly off in my timing and judgment so I would make a last second adjustment and catch a fly ball with a stretch and a roll. I was unstoppable – just for a season. My plays looked outstanding, and it was all due to delayed timing. But hearing cheers and helping your team was the best. Especially after plenty of seasons in the outfield chanting to myself softly “don’t hit it to me, don’t hit it to me, don’t hit it to me” because missing that pop fly as another run scores is, well, just the opposite.

But playing is only part of my love of the game. My dad would take me to Pirates games when I was a boy, and it is by far one of my fondest memories. Baseball games weren’t televised regularly back in the day, and we lived hours from Pittsburgh. But my dad would get tickets and take me whenever he could. Plus I saw my all-time favorite player in person at Three Rivers Stadium – Roberto Clemente. You should read about him. He was an outstanding player, and an incredible man.

Sports fans sound like name-droppers, but when we say a player’s name in awe, it’s not just about stats (and never about money). It’s about true amazement at one’s hand-eye coordination and ability to perform in such a competitive and pure sport. Baseball fans are patient. For many, people it’s a slow-moving, boring game. For true fans it’s witnessing strategy, skill, drama and the anticipation of the next big play, or perfect pitching performance.

So I love playing the sport, and watching the sport. I have my fondest memories with my father watching me play, and taking in a game together. And although my son Sean is all grown up and isn’t a big baseball fan right now, he played when he was younger for the same reasons I did. My wife and I went to all his games and practices just like my folks. I also took him to his first major league game with my buddy Greg when he was only four or five years old (Sean, not Greg). I remember his excitement the days leading up to the game, the day of the game, and the days that followed. I also remember taking him a few years later to a Baltimore-Seattle game and witnessing his first bench-clearing brawl. As much as I tire of retaliatory pitching, a 20-minute slugfest really is something to behold.

My daughter Megan played softball for the same reasons Sean and I played baseball: for the fun of the game. When it no longer became fun [insert stories of team stacking, prima donnas and relentless parents here], she tired of it. Same went for Sean and I.

I also enjoy going to minor league games. Actually, I prefer them. We have a single-A affiliate of the Orioles about 45 minutes from our home, the Frederick Keys, and they’re wonderful. 2005 Carolina League Champions! Just like at spring training, the stadiums are small and intimate. You really feel up close, all seats are great and the players are approachable. With minor league ball, you’re witnessing players that are in the beginning of the system. They’re in it for the love of the game. They make next to nothing financially, so all hold full-time jobs during the off season. In fact, many players are housed by local residents like visiting exchange students in high school. They’re all looking to move up the system, or head straight to the big leagues (the show). And fans are right there with them, hoping to see them achieve their dream.

I’m not a sportswriter. I can’t recite stats, or records, or recall what year anyone did anything. I can’t explain every rule, describe every pitch or guess what moves the manager is about to make. But I just love this game. And everyone has a baseball story.

I’ll close with just one more. When I was a boy, my cousin Peter and I were visiting a few of our other cousins in Montreal, Quebec, back in the early 1970s. I was probably seven or eight years old. My Uncle John was friends with a player on a minor league team (he may have even been a Montreal Expo). We were headed to a game with our uncle to meet his friend and our car overheated on the way. We found an orange plastic cone on the road side, trudged into the woods and found a stream, then brought back water several times until the radiator was filled (after it cooled of course). Eventually we got back on the road but were hours late and missed nearly all of the game. But my uncle was able to find his friend and introduce him to two young fans who were thrilled beyond words. I may not remember his name, but I will never forget the moment. The minor league stadium was huge to this little boy, and the player larger than life. Meeting Brooks last week took me back to Montreal, and the Pirates games with my dad. I may be 42 now, but the feeling is no different. Baseball makes me feel like a boy and a son and a father and a player and a fan. Awestruck, I shook the hand of Brooks Robinson who looked me in the eye and smiled back at me because I was grinning like an idiot and he knew I simply love this game.

Friday, March 03, 2006

Don’t Answer It!

Simple concept: if your cell phone rings, chirps, raps, sings, farts or vibrates and you’re already in a conversation with someone, don’t interrupt it to start a new one on your phone. Looking at your hip, glancing down at your phone, or pulling it up to your eyes, when speaking or being spoken to, is simply rude. “I have to take this” is the biggest lie since “I meant to call you.” There is only one reason to check your phone in a conversation: you are a licensed therapist and it’s one of your more unstable patients. Talking someone down from a building rooftop is an acceptable interruption. OK, maybe one other exception but it better be legit: potential hookup. Otherwise, ignore your damn cell phone. It shouldn’t control your attention the way crack does for Whitney.

You have voicemail for a reason. Use it. I challenge you to think of a time when you’ve had to answer your phone the moment it rings. Even if it’s an emergency, chances are you don’t know if they should cut the blue wire or the red one, MacGyver. Have you ever checked your voicemail five minutes after a call and said, “Damn. If only I had answered it when it rang. Now it’s too late.”? No, you haven’t. Yes, it’s a pain to call your voicemail, punch in your pin, listen to a message and return a call. But it isn’t rude. Sometimes, it's not about you.

So the next time someone looks at their phone during your conversation, give them a little slap. “Hey! Eyes up here. We’re talking.” It will be a firm but effective reminder that they’re already talking to someone; the other person can wait.

When we cut the cord (phone cord) and went wireless worldwide, it was supposed to provide freedom. Who knew we’d have to cut the cord again, this time the wireless umbilical cord so many cell phone users are attached to?

Thursday, February 23, 2006

Ticket Brokers and eBay Bastards

Bear with me, this is a long one! So much anger, so little time…

Convenience may be the mother of invention, but greed is the mother of all human evils. Over the years, ticket prices for live events have become astronomical. In the 1970s, concert tickets used to be under $10. Today they are in the hundreds, and that’s face value!

In the olden days, to purchase tickets, you would visit the venue’s box office during normal business hours, or on a Saturday. If you really, really wanted them, you’d camp out the night before. Eventually you could purchase tickets by phone using a credit card, or at remote locations, as well as the box office. A small fee per ticket or per order was charged for this convenience. Eventually the ticket mafia was formed and took over all phone ticket sales, as well as all the satellite locations. Yous got to use our machines now, capiche? On the East Coast, the first ticket mafia was Ticketron. Eventually the head of Ticketron was whacked and a bigger, even more evil ticket mafia came in and took over the country. That evil, unregulated cash whore was none other than TicketMaster.

Today, nearly all ticket transactions are done online through TicketMaster, who charges ever-increasing and ridiculous “convenience” charges. If you work for TicketMaster, that makes you a cash whore too. There is nothing redeeming about your company. Please quit. Perhaps you can move to Virginia or the Carolinas and grow tobacco, convincing yourself someone’s gonna do it, why not you?

And if convenience charges aren’t bad enough, ticket brokers and eBay entrepreneurs have now guaranteed that nearly every live event where tickets are sold electronically (concert, play, musical, opera, even sporting events except for maybe single-A minor league baseball) will be sold out within a matter of minutes, often seconds. Of course they are available online within an hour at ticket broker sites and eBay at fair market prices (twice the price or more), eventually quadruple or greater as the date of the event draws nearer.

Tickets have become commodities, and fans the traders (more like victims).

I believe in free enterprise, but not when it prices so many people out of the market. If you can afford $300 tickets, good for you. Most can’t. There has to be a way for people to purchase tickets to events at face value, without a phone bank, mainframe and staffers. Typing in obfuscated (look it up) words at TicketMaster’s site clearly isn’t working.

The only satisfaction I find from this nightmare is when a broker or eBay entrepreneur is stuck with overpriced tickets that they cannot sell and they take a big loss. Serves your greedy ass right. You’re not an entrepreneur or financial genius; you’re an extortionist.

So here’s an idea. My volunteer staffers and I will start booking all available appointments at the local open MRI facilities. When someone calls for an appointment, the receptionist can transfer the call to Medical Appointment Brokers (my new business venture). When we get the call, we’ll just screen on occupation, side businesses and the money-for-nothing factor. If you’re not a broker or eBay scalper, no worries. You get whatever is available for free (no convenience or facility charge). Otherwise, what do you need an MRI for? Concussion? Aneurysm? Tumor? Well, our pricing structure is based on how badly you need the appointment, and if you deserve to live.

Same idea for heart trouble. When MAB gets a demon-spawn ticket broker on the phone, the one-sided conversation would go something like this: “Heart trouble, huh? Boy, that could be serious. Well, as the receptionist told you, all available appointments have been taken, but I’d be happy to broker an appointment for you. For $150 you can see an intern… No, that’s a high school intern. He’s got his magnifying glass and Chemistry set. And he’s a mathlete! For $600, you can see a nurse. Registered?, sure [handgun owner maybe] For $1795 you can see a first-year resident. For $6800 you can see a cardiologist. Board certified? Yeah, that’ll be $12,765. Lab tests? Hold on. I was reading from the red book. Those are prices for standard services. That only includes a stethoscope and a tongue depressor, with a free prostate exam. If you want an EKG or X-Rays, you’re talking premium services. That’s the blue book. Hold on…”

You get the idea.

Remember the day when people would camp out all night and buy up to their eight-ticket limit? People would respect the line. You could make a food or beer run for your new comrades, and leave your lawnchair and sleeping bag in safe hands while strangers held your spot. I was OK with those days, because they were diehard fans buying for themselves and their friends. The most they would ask for is gas money or a sandwich. My friend Frank suggested box offices should hold some actual tickets that people have to purchase in person so it’s possible to get tickets at face value, just like the good old days, even if it’s the day before the event. This may work for a while, but I imagine the brokers will soon have runners (much like drug dealers do), scooping up all the on-site tickets.

The solution? Once again make it illegal (and I don’t know when it actually became legal) to scalp tickets in person, online or through the USPS. If it isn’t so easy for companies to legally scalp at enormous profits, maybe it will diminish. eBay has to fall back in line too. Once people are prevented from ripping other people off just because they got to the tickets first, we can go back to crushing TicketMaster and its ilk. You want to charge me $5 for the lot (not per ticket) for booking my tickets, fine. Anything else is bullshit.

I recently purchased two tickets to see Jerry Seinfeld in Baltimore as a present for my wife’s birthday. Face value, they were $75 each. Then another $15 each for convenience. I got the tickets by winning the fastest fingers contest at the second the tickets went on sale. The event was sold out in less than four minutes. I could have purchased four tickets, and knew I could sell the other two for at least double what I paid, probably higher. But I didn’t. Why not? It’s such a smart, entrepreneurial move. You know it’s a hot commodity, and will sell quickly, at a great inflated value on eBay. Why not? Because I have a soul and a conscience, and I’m not a hypocrite, at least in this one instance.

Monday, February 20, 2006

Oprah’s Moonlighting for $705,000/Hour

Oprah Winfrey has signed a three-year contract with XM Satellite Radio worth $55 million. She has personally committed to only 30 minutes of air time per week (and that’s with Gayle King).

And you know damn well a year doesn’t mean 52 weeks in celebrity contracts, but let’s give her the benefit of the doubt. 52 weeks per year x 3 years = 156 weeks. With only 30 minutes a week, that’s 78 total Oprah broadcast hours. $55,000,000/78 hours = $705,128.21/hour.

Now I know this deal also includes Oprah’s friends, like Bob Greene, Dr. Oz, Gayle King and the rest of the gang, so it’s not really her personal hourly rate – it’s what Harpo Inc. is taking in. And it will have more than 30 minutes of programming per week; probably several hours each day, with rebroadcasts all day long. But if Harpo Inc.’s distribution of funds is like the rest of corporate America, it’s mostly going into the executive’s pockets, Ms. O’s, and not the rest of the friends.

Don’t get me wrong. I like Oprah. I remember when she came to Baltimore in the 1970s on a local magazine program called People Are Talking. She’s quite charming and very generous with her money, and maybe some, most or all of this $55 million is going to charity. But I do have to question the egO. So many one-named stars: Oprah, Cher, Regis, the Donald. Don’t you just want to say: “Hey, get Over yourselves!”

In the Frequently Asked Questions About Oprah on (is it OK that I didn’t capitalize her name here in this one instance?), the answer to FAQ 4 of 5 (Where was Oprah born?), you get the following diatribe: “Oprah has left an indelible mark on the face of television. Coming from humble beginnings in rural Mississippi, she has risen to become one of the most powerful figures in the world. Get the facts about her career, her company, her achievements and her mission here.” Jesus! “Mississippi” would have sufficed. “Kosciusko, Mississippi” if you want to be specific.

And then there’s O, The Oprah Magazine. I’m Ok with her being in print, and she is an icon and a brand and all that, but do you think she might put someone else on the cover besides herself just once? Is that asking too much? Would circulation numbers really plummet? Would readers across America just die? To me, it’s a little Over the top. OK, way Over the top.

Does the grass scream when you cut it?

My first attempt at a philosophical question at the age of 12. Why? Probably because I didn’t feel like cutting the lawn. When I was 12, we had no ride mower and a really, really big yard. Sure I got some killer biceps for a 12-year-old but at what cost? Admittedly, this one is way out there, but what the hell.

At 42, I ask the question again: Does the grass scream when you cut it? Partly philosophical; mostly a dig against vegans. Not because I have a problem with people who respect animal life and prefer to eat healthy. People with that sort of discipline have my utmost admiration. If it’s part of your faith, I mean no offense. If you’re all preachy or judgmental, we got a problem. I embrace the food chain. It’s a part of life. If you can stick with one branch of it, that’s wonderful. I cannot.

And why the term vegan? A vegetarian eats no meat (beef, pork, poultry, seafood), so that leaves mostly fruits and vegetables – seems pretty straightforward. A strict vegetarian consumes no dairy or egg products either, and often uses no animal products or byproducts (like leather). Again, kudos to you fine people. So then a vegan must be an über strict vegetarian. I think it’s really a strict vegetarian, only it sounds cooler, or maybe a little cultish. It definitely gets a quick reaction.

So a large part of the vegan diet is fruit, vegetable or legume. It’s also a respect for life and sparing animals from pain. But how do we really know that plants don’t feel any pain, or have a consciousness? No central nervous system is one argument. But all living things may not need nerves to feel. Or perhaps plants have nerves, just not as we (animals) know them. And there has been evidence that plants react to stress (e.g. trees bending towards the river when a forest fire begins to spread, well before the flames arrive). My point is just because you cannot see or hear a response from the grass, doesn’t mean there isn’t one when you run over it with twin mulching blades.

But, Mike. Grass grows back! Well a starfish will regenerate a severed limb, but I don’t quite imagine it enjoys the experience. My thumbnails will grow back, but I prefer them attached.

Maybe it’s really the pronunciation of the word vegan. It’s commonly pronounced vē∙gun, which is nails on a chalkboard for me. It’s just a derivative of vegetarian, so call it vĕ∙jun and maybe I won’t be so preachy myself. I know you’re expecting a closer that has something to do with steak, or stake. No meat jokes today.

Wednesday, February 15, 2006

Why I love American Idol

Besides a total guilty pleasure, and the fact it’s reality TV, which is too low brow for most, it’s just right for me. It’s a show people will admit to landing on when flipping through stations. I’m not proud; I schedule it. It’s pure entertainment.

The age range for contestants is 16 to 28; that means most aren’t very mature and there’s lots of drama. Put a camera in front of someone who’s just gotten shot down (often deservedly so) and they dig the hole deeper. Exit speeches from no-talent egomaniacs are great fun. Brilliant!

The auditions take place in major cities across the US. Tens of thousands of hopefuls show up, most on a whim. When you see the interviews, you’ll hear “this is my life’s dream.” Come on: life’s dream? You heard about this two days ago, you’ve never sung a lick in front of anyone, you’re most likely tone deaf, but you’re so self-obsessed you convince yourself that you can be on TV just because you’re you. I say this because I’m totally self-obsessed, and I’ve headed to auditions in New York on a total whim, completely unprepared but convinced there was something special about me that the casting director, or intern, would see in me. They didn't. Yet.

People love to hate Simon Cowell. I love Simon Cowell. He can be mean (which I find entertaining), but usually he’s just honest and direct. If you really aren’t very good, and you don’t find out from anyone with an objective opinion (meaning, not your mom) before you head to the auditions, you get what’s coming to you. And I laugh. Hard.

However, there are also people with true talent. And they have found the courage to finally pursue something big. Waiting for hours in the heat or the rain just for a shot. Face it, most people in their late teens or early 20s are still unsure of themselves. Even with a voice and an ear for music, they've convinced themselves it's impractical. It takes courage to get up in front of people. And getting in front of three celebrity judges, wearing a wireless mic, surrounded by TV cameras, singing a cappella has got to be frightening.

But I root for those with talent, and a shot at something huge. As the show progresses and they weed out the wanna-bes, I really get hooked. I get caught up in the contestants’ lives, and pull for most of them. Some of them are narcissists (who often get put in their place) and others are pure and genuine. The human interest stories abound (music teachers, single parents, former foster children, small-town folks). Once the show gets down to the final 12, they’ve all got a great chance at continuing with a music career regardless of the contest outcome, and they get to work with huge songwriters like Elton John or Barry Manilow. It's nice to see someone do a major song justice, with the songwriter watching along with several million viewers.

At 42, I’m hoping for a Senior American Idol, but I won’t hold my breath. Off you go.

Wednesday, February 08, 2006

No One Wants To Hear About Your Kids. Really.

I have a new rule. You don’t talk about your kids and I won’t talk about mine. Why? Because nobody cares about them, not like you do. No one wants to hear about how your kid is doing in school, or sports, or dance class, or Mensa, or the precociousness and judgment training every single, bloody day. Your kids are awesome but even they would be embarrassed by how much you talk about them. Giving them more than what you had is admirablel; living vicariously through them is just sad.

I think the ranting trigger for me is seeing all of those bumper stickers: "My kid is an honor roll student at the school they attend based on their zip+4 and local laws, not by choice." Hey, what if my kid needs tutoring? How do you think they feel when they read that? You're not thinking about them. I know sometimes we put the stickers on our cars because they beg us to, and who can look at a seven-year-old and not just melt and plaster the car with their accolades? But there are plenty of parents who plant the stickers like flags because they really believe their kid is more special than the other kids, and the world should know it. They're competitive - and for what reason? These are the same parents on the sidelines of the kids' sports fields that ruin it for everyone else because they are just way too into it. The type of parents who push their way to the front of a line so their kid can experience whatever event is occurring, ahead of the other kids, without waiting their turn, pretending not to know the semi-straight line of youngsters is meant to be followed, and they usually block the sight line of a dozen toddlers - a lot like aggressive drivers feel the need to be first in all driving situations.

Everyone's kids are special. And they all deserve accolades, and praise, and warmth. Just take it down a notch, and skip the trophies just for playing, because when they grow up and have to go out into the world, maybe everyone won't treat them like they're super-special, or entitled, and they might feel a little resentful. Yes, and maybe they'll find therapy helpful and decide to write a blog, but it's better than "Mommy, Dearest", don't you think?

So talk about your kid when they really deserve a bumper sticker, like:

  • Your son won the lottery and paid off your house. He actually wired the money from a three-day rum fest in Barbados after marrying Paul "Pee Wee Herman" Reubens, Heather Graham and a monkey all in a civil cermony before local authorities caught on, and he only got two of them annulled by Monday.
  • Your daughter designed a comfort-fitting chastity belt, and is paying her way through college with 113 scholarships she was awarded for having the best essays on 113 different subjects, and none of them were about soccer.
  • Your middle-schooler pantsed three kids on the honor roll this week, just because they had it coming.
  • Your baby has the missing ingredient for the AIDS vaccine in her tears, the cure for all forms of cancer in her saliva, and non-narcotic happy juice in her sweat glands that also fades wrinkles. Oh, and she hates beets.

Otherwise, get a hobby and keep the stories to every other day. Problems? Everyone’s got them. Meds? They all take them, some even with prescriptions. Sex? Doesn’t ever happen; kids just say it’s happening on all those questionnaires they’re handed to feel cool. (Humor me on this one. I have to cling to something to get me through the teen years and I'm just not ready to be a grand-pappy).

Hey, you wanna know what my daughter said at breakfast? Didn’t think so.

Thursday, February 02, 2006

Instead of “I’m an American,” shouldn’t it be “We’re Americans?”

Just shift the perspective from me to we. Seriously! Boasting about being an American is easy and is totally overdone. But if you aren’t thinking about your fellow countrymen (and women), why say it at all?

By the way, every time I’m cut off when driving, I guarantee there’s an American flag sticker on the back of the offender’s vehicle – this is not what they mean whey they say risking your life for your fellow Americans. These people don’t feel patriotism. They don’t look out for their neighbor; their compatriot. In fact, they go around their neighbor to get just a little further ahead down the road because apparently they’re more American, more important, in more of a hurry, or just more selfish.

The whole idea of nationalism is a sense of community or common consciousness, not bragging rights. Try not to forget that when you’re singing the only Lee Greenwood song that you know.

And unless your ancestors are Native Americans, you’re an immigrant fuck like the rest of us. So lighten up when you meet a foreigner you xenophobic NIMBY because you’re one too, maybe just a few generations removed. And you don’t get to shut the gate behind you just because your whole family’s here now.

Yeah, this opinion will garner all kinds of fans. Hey, my opinion. Feel free to disagree. It’s your right, American or otherwise.

Breaking Up with Friends

Do you have friends with whom you just don’t have anything in common anymore? You know who I mean. Someone who rehashes the same stories every single time you see them because there hasn’t been anything new to talk about since they canceled Cheers. Someone who still teases you about your most embarrassing moment that happened when you were 15. “Dude! Remember that time when you thought you were the only one home. And your sister forgot her keys. And Gina Delrenato came back with her. And you hadn’t locked the door. And you had your mom’s Air Supply album blasting… Hey, everybody. Come here. You gotta hear this!”

What’s up with that? Who would want to constantly be reminded of the worst moment of their adolescent life? Thirty years later?

We need a way to break up with friends. I don’t mean a girlfriend, boyfriend or significant other. I mean a same-gender, nothing-left-in-common, constant-reminder-of-why-you-hated-high school albatross. We need a way to tell these people: Friend, you need to move on. Why do you still call me? I tolerated you in high school. I didn’t even like you; it was more like pity. You are a time warp. You’re looking for someone to hang with at the mall and I’ve got surgery in the morning. You’re still an exemption on your parents’ 1040, and it has no impact on your own taxes. I just don’t think we can see each other anymore. I break with thee. Get a life. A real life.

Wednesday, January 25, 2006

Why you gotta be like that?

I hear it a lot. Why you gotta be like that? Why are you so mean? Well, I wasn’t always mean. It’s an evolution; or de-evolution. I don’t like to write a lot about myself because it’s like speaking about yourself in the third person, which I really hate. Mike is arrogant like that. I do like to share my thoughts, but not all about me. But blogs are all about personal thoughts, and sometimes personal stories. This is my personal story.

So why do I gotta be like that? I’m gonna go with humor is my defense mechanism. I’m pretty quick with my words. It’s not that I don’t think before I speak. I just don’t censor the flow. I love to speak whatever comes to mind because it’s honest, and sometimes it’s funny. The words are also sharp, and sometimes cruel. Why? Well, many reasons.

Growing up, I was, to be honest here, fairly unattractive. I knew it. Wasn’t my fault. It just was. I wasn’t Quasimodo. Children didn’t turn in terror, but I never got the double-take. Not once.

I was 5’1” until I was 13. Then I had my growth spurt. Made it all the way up to 5’5”. I weighed 112 pounds in high school. So I wasn’t much of an intimidator. Couldn’t fight and had no interest in pretending that I could. Guys picked on me because I was an easy target, in both appearance and size. But, if I could keep them laughing, I wouldn’t get my ass kicked. I wasn’t a wimp either. Everyone has their pain threshold. I learned the bigger guys lacked self-confidence, too. So mine began to grow, not when it came to girls, but with my wit. See, these same guys who thought they could kick my ass, would start out with the insults. I learned I was quicker. And if I completely humiliated them the further the back and forth went, the less confident they became. And they ended up walking away. Usually. I wasn’t wearing Kevlar, just verbal confidence. No one wants to look stupid in front of everyone else. It’s like kryptonite for bullies.

That kind of defensiveness doesn’t turn off. People aren’t looking to kick my ass today. In the world of karma, my past insults mean I’ve got it coming back to me three-fold. And I welcome it. The difference is I’m no longer insecure, it’s almost always in fun and it’s usually coming from people who like me.

But everyone was self-conscious growing up right? Absolutely. But it was more than getting picked on, or picked last in every pick-your-team situation. I also had to deal with the humiliation of rejection from girls.

We’ve established I was a short dude. I had curly/wiry hair that had no real style. Mom told me I should let it grow naturally into an afro. When I was a kid, the only image I had of a white guy with an afro was from the show Room 222 (see picture above).

I guess I thought it would turn red too, so I ended up blow-drying it straight, trying to look like everyone else. Trust me, it didn’t. I also had braces for four years, nearly all of high school (and we’re talking the metal clamp style that surrounds the entire tooth…Jaws from the Bond flicks…original railroad tracks) that also pushed out already oversized lips. I had the prerequisite glasses (can’t see more than six inches past my nose). Oh yeah, and because of a tube in my ear, I had to wear a bathing cap whenever I went in the water. I also couldn’t swim. Took lessons twice but they never really took. Take a breath. Compose yourself. Then I’ll continue.

So, I think we’ve established why I had zero self-esteem.

I still made friends. I wasn’t a total introvert. Actually, I loved to make people laugh. And self-deprecating humor prevents real embarrassment. If I made fun of myself before someone else got the chance, I had the upper hand. And I was laughing with you at me, instead of just you at me. Do it long enough and you start to get pretty good stripping other people down.

I had plenty of friends, and many were female. Not girlfriends; friends that were girls. They would say “Oh, I like you as a friend. You’re like a brother to me.” Looking back, if I was like a brother I would have pounded on them constantly, ignored everything they said, and embarrassed them at every opportunity. But they didn’t really mean as a sibling. They meant not interested. Until I got to college, I rarely put myself out there because I was a realist and I was petrified of rejection. So on that rare occasion I would mistake kindness or laughter as a potential romantic reaction, once in a great while I would pursue it, timidly, with disastrous results.

Jeannie Z
Jeannie Z was my first foray into dating, or attempting to communicate romantically with the opposite sex. 8th Grade. Middle School. I was 13 years old. With the description above, you should have a fairly humorous picture of me in your mind. When I get a scanner, I’ll post real pictures through the years. It’s great fun.

Jeannie was a sweetheart and a friend. We talked, we joked, we had the same teachers, and living near each other, we also rode the same bus, often together. We really were friends. One Friday afternoon we were having a very pleasant conversation on the bus ride home and in a moment of insanity I went for it. Not physically. With low self-esteem comes absolute fear of physical contact with anything other than a pillow. I regretted it as soon as the words left my big-ass braces-enhanced lips, but I asked her to go with me – the 1970s teen version of going steady. She froze, then asked to have the weekend to think about it. I was dying inside. The weekend was going to totally suck.

But it passed and I found myself sitting in homeroom on Monday morning, freaking. I pretended to forget about everything but didn’t play off cool very well, so I became engrossed with the desk, or my papers, or the clock or something. I wouldn’t look at Jeannie. There’s no freakin’ way I was looking at Jeannie. Would she let me down easy? Would she make it quick and painless? Would she toy with the idea for a day, then dump me? Well it wouldn’t be a great story if she was kind, would it? Our seats were in a squared U with my seat directly across the room from hers. When I finally got the courage to look up, I saw she was talking with three of her friends, all girls. All were giggling. All were looking at me. Great! Charlie Brown was Hugh Hefner compared to me. This went on for probably two minutes but it felt like years.

I’m now completely flushed and horrified. I’m never putting myself out there again. It gets better. One of the girls she’s talking to walks across the room and stops right in front of my desk. I don’t remember her name, but she was the shortest girl in the entire school. Let’s call her Witchie Poo. I lift my head and without missing a beat, Witchie Poo says “Jeannie says no!” She laughs out loud. Jeannie and her friends laugh out loud. In my head, the entire world is laughing out loud. She goes back to the coven and I’m shell shocked. Why I’m not a misogynist to this day escapes me. I guess I’m a romantic at heart and didn’t assume all women are like Jeannie. Of course others would be; luckily most would not.

I’m not going to bore you with more stories. Let’s just say I dated very few girls through high school; any I did were either friends or bored of me quickly. Plus, little self confidence isn’t very appealing. I wouldn’t have dated me in high school. I smoked too. Loser.

I get to college. I fill out a little bit. I lose the blow dryer and let the curly hair grow naturally, not into a gimongous afro but more like a rock star (think Roger Daltrey). I lose the glasses and get some contacts. I'm by no means a stud, but I finally build some confidence. College was good. Knowledge is good - Faber University Motto. I'm rambling again. So it wasn't all bad but it took forever to get there.

Looking back, hey, what can you do? Learn from it. Laugh at it. Or be bitter. I'll take a little of all three. I’ve lost a lot of my hair and it ain’t coming back. I’ll never be 6’ tall. I won’t even be 5’7”. I could wear boots but I’d look like a kid clomping around in Dad's shoes or Mom's heels. Yep, sounds like another blog story...

But the defensiveness never leaves you. And the pre-emptive strikes of sarcasm, cynicism and humor continue on. These days they’re good natured, and not meant to cut to the quick. Unless you truly are an ass, or evil, or think you’re entitled to something and others are not simply because you’re you. Then you get what you deserve, though you may not be in the room when I slam you. I’m kind of a coward like that. Oh yeah, I talk about people when they’re not in the room, but if you’re reading this I can guarantee it’s not you.


This particular blog will grow over time. I apologize if it's not funny to you. It's cathartic jotting down my pet peeves.

Using the wrong word
  • Schizophrenic. Why does everyone use the word schizophrenic when they mean multiple personalities? Roses are red, violets are blue, I am schizophrenic and so am I. Schizophrenia is “a psychotic disorder characterized by loss of contact with the environment.” It might even include hallucinations and delusions, but it’s not Sybil! (Who’s Sybil? Look it up.)
  • Literally, Figuratively, Virtually and Ironically – misuse of all; would literally take too much time to list examples. Those of you who can appreciate this don’t need the countless examples. You have your own.

Made-up Words

  • Athleticism. I believe it’s a made-up word that means athletic display, but I swear Al Michaels used this word once on Monday Night Football when he was struggling for filler and it just slipped out. Now it’s part of every sportscaster’s lexicon. That and “brilliant display of grit, determination, heart, etc.” I Googled the word and found out Edith Wharton used the term in her novel The Age of Innocence published in 1920. So it’s not Al’s fault, but it still sounds made up to me.
  • Irregardless. Regard means consideration. Regardless means without consideration. Irregardless means you’re a fricking moron.
  • Preventative. It’s really preventive, like preventive maintenance. The reason it’s actually a word? Because Americans toss in extra syllables all the time so the word becomes a “variant”. On the other hand, argumentative is the word and argumentive is the variant (which no one uses). Sometimes I really hate the English language.
  • Supposably. Supposably there’s no “b” in supposedly.
  • Warshington. Supposably, there’s no “r” in Washington either. Actually, there are many words where people add r’s that don’t exist (perserverance, sherbert, prostrate when they mean prostate) and drop r’s that they shouldn’t (defibulator, Febuary, libary, vetinarian, and prostate when they mean prostrate).
  • Heighth. As in, how tall? There’s length, width and heighth. No, it’s height. If you’re dyslexic than “heigth” is acceptable, as would be “aks”, like “Aks me about our specials.” Otherwise, you’re not a very good listener.

One-Trick Ponies (Words with one use– try to use them in another context)

  • Striations. Grooves or scratches, used in forensics to match bullets to a gun. You hear it three times per CSI episode (any CSI). So how about: “I miss my old LPs but the striations would wear after time." Just doesn't work.
  • Veritable. Only used with plethora, also a one-use-only word. “There is a veritable plethora of candy corn available at half price on November 1st.”

Words that simply annoy me

  • McMansion. You can’t afford one of those either, so quit talking about them.
  • [Insert Anything Here] Whisperer. The movie was The Horse Whisperer. People still replace Horse with something else and think it’s funny. It’s not. Perhaps you should consult an Idiot Whisperer.

If Pat Robertson spoke alone in the woods, with no one there to hear him…

we’d all be much better off. The dude is becoming certifiable. It’s not his fault. He believes he hears the voice of God. I’m sure he’s hearing lots of voices, but I’m pretty sure none are the voice of God. If one of them was, He would probably say something like, “Pat. Please shut the F up. You’re embarrassing Me and yourself. Most importantly, Me.” So he’s making the shit up, and it’s getting nasty. Really nasty.

But, I will not repeat the insanity that has come out of his mouth recently, because that simply gives it consideration, which is really undeserved. If every time Pat Robertson spoke, and the world (especially the press) would ignore him, then his hurtful, xenophobic, anti-Semitic, anti-Islamic, nonsensical super-mega-Christian rants wouldn’t cause the hurt or embarrassment that they do; nor would they be repeated over and over and over, extending their life and reach. His words would simply float away into the ether, where they belong.

And if he keeps judging, condemning and threatening people, I believe he’ll be in for a very rude awakening before the pearly gates (which by the looks of him is probably pretty soon)…if he ever makes it to the gates. Keep it up Pat and you will not pass Go or collect your $200, and will head directly to Jail. I mean Hell. Hey, no worries, dude. You’ll have Martha Stewart to keep you company one day. It will be a good thing.


Yeah, I know it sounds cute, even contrived. I’ve heard the term before so I won’t take credit coining it, but I like it. Erase racism. I have many opinions on the subject, most of which boil down to: I have no tolerance for racism. There is nothing anyone can say that will justify their feelings of separation, segregation, elitism or full blown prejudice to me. Not when it’s based on hate of other people, or simply because of who they are.

In my opinion, we are all one race: human. (Until we boldly go where no one has gone before – I’m a sci-fi geek. It could happen!)

I’ve never met a black, white, red or yellow person in my life. I’ve met lots of brown, tan, mocha, pink, almond, cream blends, but never straight primary colors. Crayola does a better job of providing skin tones. Come on, who didn’t use peach, atomic tangerine or burnt sienna crayons when they were coloring people when they were kids? Actually, I used blue violet, silver and forest green just as often. Yes, I always colored within the lines. Anyway, I’ve got a lot more brown in my skin than I do white. The older I get, a variety of new colors seem to be appearing in my skin (something to look forward to kids). My long-winded point: we are all of color.

According to the US Census, I am a Roman Catholic Caucasian male of the following nationalities: Italian, Greek, English, French, German, Irish, Welsh, Scottish. I am trying to learn about all eight of my countries, and the family that came from each. Yes, they’re all European. Because of the kinship I feel with so many people, I’d also like to think there is some Native American, Latino, African, Island, Asian and Baltic heritage, but I haven’t traced my full family tree yet (AKA really found out who slept with who over all these years). I can guarantee this list will grow.

I think it’s important to celebrate our differences without excluding others. It’s important to know your roots, your ancestry, your history, your family, your faith, where you’ve come from, and your traditions to be part of something bigger than yourself. It’s also important to share all of those things with as many people as you can. And there’s the key. Embrace what makes you different, and share it.

I have learned so much about “other” people by sharing meals, talking to their grandparents, attending milestone events and religious ceremonies, celebrating holidays, and simply talking about things. My roommates and I used to celebrate Christian and Jewish holidays together. I was honored to attend the Passover seder (meal) with the family of my best friend (Victor) shortly before his grandfather's passing - also my first (and last) experience with horseradish. I've attended weddings and funerals from so many different faiths and cultures, including my own, and I've learned something every time.

I've also been fortunate enough through family and work to leave American soil and experience lands, languages and cultures in different countries. At first I was nervous, going off into the unknown, but now I can't get enough. Travel is something I now cherish when given the opportunity.

I'm rambling now. If we step out of our comfort zones once in a while, share our differences, and celebrate them together, maybe we won’t feel the need to separate, or fear, or even hate.

Just my thoughts. Sorry if it’s too bleeding heart. No I’m not. Kumbaya.

Monistat Products - Why Are There Three?

First, let me just say I don't have a yeast infection. Also, I'm not aware of anyone around me suffering from a yeast infection, though it probably wouldn't come up in conversation. That's not my point. McNeil-PPC produces three different products for treating yeast infections: Monistat-1, Monistat-3 and Monistat-7. Each refers to the number of days of treatment. Huh? Would you like to be relieved of your symptoms in a day, 3 days or a week? "It's not so bad, really, and that Monistat-1 is sooo expensive. I'm a woman. I'll tough it out." That can't be it.

I thought, first there was only Monistat-7, and it took 7 days to treat and heal. And then with innovations in medical science, or perhaps FDA approval in stronger doses, they were able to knock it out in 3 days, and replaced Monistat-7 with Monistat-3. And then finally, miracle of miracles, it now just takes a day. But that can't be right, because the old 7 and 3 products would have gone away. But they're still on the shelves.

Tough-Actin Tinactin doesn't make three different products for jock itch. And if they did, I can guaran-damn-tee you, there is no man on the planet that would ever buy anything other than the fastest. Admittedly, I have no clue on the subject of yeast infections because I'm a man, and I'm stupid. More importantly, why does this bother me?

[POSTSCRIPT: A simple visit to the Monistat site would have told me it's all about the concentration of the dosage. Yes, yes. And I could stop and ask for directions when I'm lost, but I don't, do I? I'm a man. I prefer making easy things difficult. :-)]

Bumper Stickers & Ribbon Magnets

Today, people have bumper stickers on their cars from the 2004 election. If your candidate won, congratulations. And thanks for that. Really. If your candidate lost, get over it. Move on. Either way, scrape it off – Windex and a razor should do the trick.

The yellow ribbon magnets have replaced today’s bumper sticker: Support Our Troops. Originally, someone would tie a yellow ribbon around a tree to show loyalty to a loved one, typically as a welcome home for a soldier returning from war. Yes, the Tony Orlando song made it famous. Today, they’re magnets. And that’s cool, if it represents true support for the troops. If it says “Go Steelers”, you’re a jackass. For two reasons.

I guess if I was cool, I'd have a baller band that would state my cause (like Susan G. Komen Foundation, LiveStrong or One), or perhaps my favorite team. I'm not cool.

I don’t have bumper stickers all over my vehicle talking about my kids, my candidates, or my favorite political action commitee. If I did, I would have only one sticker that would say this:

If you really want an opinion, get to know the driver first.

Death To Air Quotes

“Air Quotation Marks”

I don’t know who started them, but they won’t go away. Overuse of air quotes is rampant. If they were used when actually quoting someone, it wouldn’t be so bad. But normally they’re used for emphasis. He really [air quotes here] “pissed” me off. What the hell are you quoting pissed for? It’s not a quotation. It certainly isn’t original. It’s not a buzz word or catch phrase. You’re attempting to emphasize a word with sign language. And you’re using the wrong punctuation. It should be italics, or bolding or underlining. Maybe even an ellipsis. But it’s not quotes. So how can you perform proper punctuation visually? Well, you could slant your body to the side every time you speak a word with emphasis for italics. For bolding, puff your cheeks like a blowfish. For underlining, you could drop flat on the ground for titles of books or movies. If that's too physical, carry a stick and place it under your chin every time you underline.

And here’s the anal side of me. If you are going to quote, it’s one quotation mark before the word or phrase (curving counter-clockwise) and another (curving clockwise) at the end. It isn’t a quote during the word, hit upon each syllable. If you’re going to attempt punctuation while speaking, I’d recommend Victor Borge’s phonetic punctuation method, made famous on Sesame Street ® -

Gift Giving in the New Millennium

The perfect gift would be remembering that special, one-of-a-kind expensive item she picked out eight months ago, that you forgot about as soon as you passed the shop window. Those gifts just don’t happen.

Gift giving is hard. Wrapping is a pain. But it still makes you feel pretty good when the receiver appreciates your thought and you nail it.

Today, the easy gift is a gift card. It says, “Hey I know you would like something from this store but I couldn’t figure it out.” It's not straight up money, so it will go towards a gift instead of bills. It’s a little limiting though. It’s like saying. “Here’s some money, but you can only spend it here and it has to be in the next 12 months.” That’s right. Just like most rebate forms don’t get mailed in by consumers, retailers count on people forgetting about their gift cards – so they expire.

So maybe just giving cash would be better, but that says “It wasn’t worth my time to go to a store, let alone think of a gift for you, so here’s some cash. Enjoy.”

But that’s not the laziest. A check is even lazier. That says “It wasn’t worth my time to think of a gift, go to a store, or visit a bank, so here’s a check. You go to the bank and get the money, then go to the store and pick something nice out for yourself. Yeah, I could have gone to an ATM, but my bank is miles from here and the ATM at the grocery store charges a fee. You’re worth 25 bucks, but not 26.50.”

If you opted for the check, you might as well take it one step down. Mail the check. Now you’re saying “It wasn’t worth my time to think of a gift, go to a store, go to the bank, pay the foreign ATM fee or spend time with you, let alone a thought. It’s your birthday but I’m really busy, so I just mailed it to you. Probably late. Maybe your postal carrier can celebrate with you because I don’t have the time.”

I guess if you’re mad at the recipient, don’t sign the check. Then they need to bring it to you first, before heading to the bank (probably for a second time). But that would also mean you would have to see them, which you were probably trying to avoid by mailing the check in the first place. Your call.