Thursday, August 27, 2009

My Summer Vacation

Sunday night I got home from a four-day trek to Cleveland and Pittsburgh with two of my friends (Ryan and Drew) and without my wife and child. The purpose of this trip wasn't to drink ourselves into a stupor, it was to check out the ballparks and have a good time. Since I'm usually pretty bad with remembering stuff after a certain shelf life, I am going to jot down some observations about the cities, parks and the overall experience.

It's going to be some self-indulgent crap, so if you don't want to read it, I won't be offended. And it's also not going to have much of a narrative flow, so don't expect “First we did this, then we did that and then we did that” I'm going to be jumping around all over the place, so if you're still with me, strap in.

- The drive to Cleveland didn't suck as bad as I thought it was going to—the drive back more than made up for it, but that's for later. All three of us were equally pumped about the trip and hadn't seen each in other in some time, so the stories were fresh, the jokes funny and our respective iPods were unheard.

Aside from a 15-minute typhoon as soon as we entered Ohio, the actual trip was uneventful. New York state is much bigger than I thought and I finally made it to Buffalo. That in itself isn't a big deal, but it seems like many times when I drive and see a sign noting the mileage to Buffalo it always seems to be 400 miles away. To me, Buffalo was at the edge of the world. If I was a Medieval cartographer and I was mapping out the United States, after I wrote “Buffalo” on the map, I'd draw a picture of a sea serpent behind it.

- We had a bit more time to kill in Cleveland as we got there on Thursday night and hung around until Saturday morning. One of the places that we went to was the Rock N' Roll Hall of Fame. All HOFs are exactly the same thing: a bunch of memorabilia that sits in a bunch of rooms and a gift shop. That's pretty much it.

And the RR HOF was no different. On a scale of 1-10, I'd give about a 7. But it's not really the fault of the RR HOF, it's hard to recreate the excitement of a band without having the actual band there. And music is so subjective and it's importance to one person rarely is the guys in the band, it's what's happening around the listener that generates excitement.

For example, there was a wall devoted to the “Seattle Scene” of the early 1990s. It included Jerry Cantrell's softball jersey from when he was on MTV's annual Rock N' Jock softball game, a couple of Pearl Jam discs, some Nirvana lyrics and a beat up Soundgarden t-shirt (which was actually pretty cool it had a screen still of Godzilla attacking a city and it just said “Soundgarden” above it). And there was a couple of other things in the gigantic box on the wall and a well-written blurb about the music, but it all was pretty flat.

They also had a similar wall about hip-hop and had a Public Enemy SPIN magazine, Jay-Z's Carolina Hurricanes jersey (I have no idea why this was there, I looked for an explanation but couldn't find one – it was incredibly random) and a bunch of other crap. Again, flat and nothing really jumped out at me.

They did have an exhibit, but it was about Bruce Springsteen, and I understand his place in music history and how much people love “The Boss”, but he bores me. So I skipped it.

This being said, if you're in Cleveland you definitely should check the place out. It's worthwhile to go and see some stuff. Just don't expect to be blown away.
Ryan and I both thought it was weird (and very cool) that they had a little exhibit on New Order and Joy Division. You don't see that every day.

BTW, they also had this bizarre rule of not taking pictures at the RR HOF, what was the deal with that? Did Eric Clapton think our picture-taking things were going to steal his soul? Jebus.

- The bars in Cleveland were pretty cool. We hit a bunch of them on Thursday after stuffing our faces at Morton's. I can't remember all of the places that we went to, but one thing was certain the folks in Cleveland couldn't have been nicer. *

* Except for the homeless person that Ryan met on Saturday morning. Ryan wanted to have a Saul-like epiphany and spent about a half hour talking to the dude. Now here's something that you don't hear every day: the homeless guy said (at 3 AM no less) “Buddy, I have to be somewhere. Gotta go.”

So my good friend was blown off by a homeless guy. There can be no other explanation because where does a homeless guy NEED to be? He has no house. And it was 3 am, it's not like he's missing an important lunch meeting. You know what? I take this back, that homeless guy was the nicest person one of us met this whole trip. He listened to Ryan prattle on for a half. Dude is a saint, I guess Ryan did pick the right guy to talk to.

The one watering hole that we spent most of our time in (on both Thursday and Friday) was a place called Moriarty's. It was a complete dive, but the bartender (Kelly) was beyond cool. She plied us with a couple of free shots, did an Irish Car Bomb with us and told us that this was the place that Major League umpires hang out when they're in town. So if you're looking for a place to rip a man in blue over last night's blown call, hang out here.

We also hit a local brew pub called Great Lakes Brewery. It's a bit on the outskirts of town, but the beer is tremendous. If you're a fan of IPAs then the one that they have on tap will knock your socks off. It's 9% alcohol (so basically double that of a Bud Light) so tread lightly.

- The main reason we went on this trip was to check out ballparks and Progressive (nee Jacobs) Field is one of the better ones that I've been to. First off, our seats were amazing, Drew's seat was right along the rail in left field foul territory. Secondly, the entire place seems as if it's brand new ... though it has been around for 15 years.

The seats weren't cramped, there was a ton of personal space, the concourses were wide and they had a bunch of food and beer stands without many lines. You can say that's because the Indians suck and no one was there, but I'd have to call shenanigans on you, amigo. This place was packed (fireworks after the game!*) and you could walk as freely as you choose.

The game wasn't anything exciting, the Mariners beat the Indians 7-4 and Russell Branyon hit a bomb; but other than that it was a fun game at the old ball yard.

In dead center field behind the fence (obviously) there is a very understated Indians Hall of Fame. Just a few plaques for the greatest Indians and few dedications to members of the Tribe that have passed on while in uniform (Ray Chapman, Steve Olin and Tim Crews). There was also a wall with bricks of the 100 greatest Cleveland Indians which was really cool also.

After seeing this, we need a new ballpark in Boston. Desperately.

* In both Cleveland and Pittsburgh, when ever we'd tell the locals that we're going to that night's game people would always gush, “I hear that there's fireworks tonight!” like it was some marvel of man. I've lived through 35 Fourth of Julys, I've seen fireworks before. This is no big deal. I thought it was very odd.

- That takes us to Pittsburgh. We got there a bit later than we wanted to, so no Primanti Brothers or Warhol Museum for us. Instead we drank a bit.

I have to say, I wasn't impressed with the Pittsburghers. They were nice enough, I guess, but the bartenders at the one place we went to Olive or Twists sucked and the other place (I can't remember) weren't much better. I think that Olive or Twists (which is one of the better bar names I've heard of) was a more “upscale” bar. They certainly had nice looking bartenders, but (and I know this is wah-wah thing to say) when I asked them to turn on the Sox/Yanks game the bartender told me she didn't know how to change the channel, so we were stuck watching the World Series of Poker.

I did try an Iron City beer and it was pretty decent.

On each excursion to the two parks I wore a different Sox shirt and in Pittsburgh I had my throw-back Ted Williams jersey. Some guy who was selling Terrible Towels saw my shirt amongst the crowd and was screaming, “Big Sloppy! Big Sloppy! Steroids! Steroids!” I have no idea why a Pittsburgh Pirate vendor is give a Red Sox fan shit but I assume it's either because he's still bitter about the 1903 World Series or he doesn't like the fact that the Patriots kick the Steelers' ass pretty much any time they play in the post season.

- I have been to 16 different baseball fields and I can say that PNC Park in Pittsburgh is the best one of them all. It's a lot like Cleveland in that there are wide seats, big aisles, mammoth concourses and lots of beer and food stands. But it's more than that. The architects got this thing right. From the scoreboard in rightfield to irregular outfield dimensions to the gorgeous view of the Pittsburgh sky line; going to PNC Park is like going to baseball nirvana.

Angry towel salesmen aside, it angers me that there isn't a better team playing in these confines. It's a very intimate park (smaller than Fenway) but you don't feel like you're sitting on the guy next to you. It has a lot of old-school charm, but the modern touches feel “right” to. A few Pittsburghers I spoke to weren't happy with the game presentation: too much music, too much stuff going on, why can't the people focus entirely on the game? But that's what they have to do because the Pirates suck so bad and for so long.

You can get away with less game presentation if you're the Steelers or even the Penguins, those teams have won championships in the past year. But the Pirates haven't been above .500 since 1992, that's 17 years! The on thing that I noticed about the crowd was that aside from one or two Ryan Doumit shirts, everyone was wearing a shirt of someone from the Pirates past. It wasn't all just Roberto Clemente and Willie Stargell jerseys either: Freddy Sanchez, Jason Bay and I am positive that I saw guy wearing a Chuck Tanner shirt.

BTW, the Pirates smoked the Reds. And as bad as the Pirates are, the Reds are even worse. At least Pittsburgh has some young talent to build around. Cincinnati looks hopeless.

They know their baseball. I just wish that someone would drag them from their hardball purgatory.

- After the game we stuck around the park because it was 1970s weekend and among the treats lined up for the Steel Citizens (which included retro unis for both the Pirates and Reds and a reunion of the “We Are Family” Champions) there was an after-game concert featuring none other than KC and the Sunshine Band.

Yes. It was as cheesy as you would think, but it was also pretty fun. The dude has got to be pushing 60, but he still had his dance moves. His on-stage banter was stale (“Pittsburgh! Are you ready to do a little dance? Make a little love? Get down tonight? I am your boogie man!”) and for some reason he kept bring up how old he was, but I was shocked at how many songs I knew by him. We didn't stay the entire time, but I'd say that most of the packed house did.

But there were lots of middle-aged women reliving their glory nights on the disco floor under the sky surrounded by a retro-looking, brand new ballpark on a night where their floundering team honored a 30-year-old championship team. And while I wasn't shaking my groove thing, I knew how these people felt because here I was going on a road trip with two of my oldest friends reliving what it was like to be young and responsibility free, even if it was for a few days.

And I am damn glad that I did it.

Wednesday, August 26, 2009

33. Jeopardy!

I'm not even going to get into the bullshit apology about not doing an update to my top 56 in some time. It will be insincere and shallow and the truth is, I've been really busy lately. But I am going to try to do at least one of these a week for the foreseeable future.*

* The truth is, no one really has been banging down my door asking about the next entry, so I'm not sure why I got all pissed off in that last paragraph. Maybe I'm mad at myself for waiting too long to write another entry or maybe I just wanted an interesting way to open this entry.

Putting a game show on your list of favorite TV shows is tough because by the very nature of it, a game show is something different episode after episode. One of the things that I talk about most with my favorite shows are the characters or the stories. Usually the characters and types of stories stay constant, in other words, Jerry Seinfeld isn't battling space pirates one week and operating on Newman the next. When you turn on one of your favorite shows, you know what you're going to get.

Not so with game shows.

About the only consistent thing is the host and most of them are bland blank slates who act as ciphers for the contestants. Even one of the all time greats like Bob Barker would sit back and let the contestants do all of the heavy lifting. Ever see him freak out when someone one double Show Case Showdowns? Nope. Because he knows that tomorrow he'll be doing the same dance with the same corn-fed hick from Nebraska or one of the idiot brothers from Tappa Kega Day. It seems to me that being a game show host is the modern day equivalent of Sisyphus except instead of dealing with a rock and a hill, you have to interact with the American public.

My point? I like Jeopardy a lot because of it is different every day. There are different contestants (that seem to be intelligent) and different questions and different strategies. This is literally one of my favorite primal scream shows. What's a primal scream show? Easy, it's a television show (for me, it's mostly a sporting event) where you vent your frustrations on the person/people that are currently on the tube.

I am like a drunken Oakland Raider fan with Turret's Syndrome when I watch this show. I don't get angry when people don't know the answers to the questions—hey, they're tough questions, which is another reason why I like the show. What gets me angry is that these people are so smart but have such little confidence in themselves.

Next time you watch and it's a tight game, check out the bets of the people. They're usually very small. What they're saying is that they don't have the confidence in themselves to win the pot and they're hoping that someone will lose. Basically the thought is this, “If I risk less money than Player A and Player B, and they don't know the answer as well, I'll win.” More often than not, this philosophy kills the conservative player.

Legendary Jeopardy contestant Ken Jennings, who won an amazing 74 straight shows in 2004, not because he was smarter than 148 different people it's because he was aggressive with his bets. Ultimately he bet on himself and it paid off big time.

This isn't to suggest that the “Go Big or Go Home!” type of philosophy is infallible. Sometimes you get stuck with the “17th Century Opera Directors” category and no matter how much bluster you can muster, if you don't know the answer, you don't know the answer. But, I'd have to imagine that a majority of the contestants on this show have enough knowledge to wager on themselves a bit more than they do now. You are literally playing with house money and the third-place contestant walks away with $1000 and the second-place contestant gets $2000. I have seen episodes when the “winner” has a $500 pot, meaning that the third-place contestant goes home with more cash in their pocket.

BTW, the image above is from the "Jeopardy!" slot machine that are in hotels all over Las Vegas and Atlantic City. The irony of having a slot machine juxtaposed with "Jeopardy!" is so great that I'm not even going to list the reasons. You all are smart enough (you're reading my Blog, of course you are), so you can make a list yourself.

The one thing that I don't particularly love is the show's one constant, Alex Trebek. I can't tell whether Trebek is a nice guy or a douche. I would probably lean towards the former because he's had fun with his image on “Cheers”, “The Simpsons” and “Saturday Night Live”. This leads me to believe that if he was half the jerk on the show as he is in real-life, he wouldn't lend himself to those things.

Having said that, on the show he is so pompous and awkward—which is a very strange combination that not too many people can pull off.

The pomposity comes with “knowing” more than the contestants. Of course, it's easy to “know” more than the contestants when you're holding the answers, aren't on television for the first time and aren't risking money.

“Sorry. The answer we were looking for was stalagmites. Not stalagtites. Big difference.”

From his cadence (a sing-song whisper, sort of like how you pay your respects to a family member at a funeral) to his faint Canadian accent (those bastards are supposed to be friendly!) to that little noise he makes before giving the answer (it's like he's sucking a small bit of spit through his teeth) Trebek is a subtle ball-buster. And one that you really can't call out, which I'm sure makes it more infuriating for the contestant.

This would be the scene at my house, if I was watching myself on TV:

Trebek: “No. Sorry. We were looking for the Hubble Telescope.”
Me (watching TV): “There! Did you see that! What an asshole!”
Aly (watching with me): “He said that you were wrong, and you were!”
Me: “No. That's not the point, he did that sucking sound. He thinks he's better than me!”
Aly: “He didn't do that. You're mad because you got that wrong.”
Me: “No I'm not! He's mocking me! MOCKING ME!”
Aly: “I'm going to bed.”

Don't even get me started about the unpardonable sin of not answering in the form of a question. Trebek does not like this move at all and will bring the wrath of Merv Griffin down on anyone who is unfortunate enough to forget the game's quirk.

But for all of his superiority, the dude can not make small talk with the contestants. At all. I understand that most of these people aren't the lives of the party, but Trebek has been doing this show for some time. He has to have figured out how to get the turtle out of its shell. Each interview is always the same thing:

Trebek (reading off the card*): “Uhm, says here that you like to pick lint from your navel and examine it through a high powered microscope?”
Contestant: “Yeah. That's right Alex. Lots of fascinating things to find in lint!”
Trebek: “That's one hobby that won't go belly up!”

The little pun or joke at the end usually confuses the contestant or makes them so uncomfortable that they either laugh like a moron or grin like a buffoon.

* The reading off the card thing is a complete dick move. All he has to do is make 20 seconds of small talk with these people. He doesn't have the time to memorize one fact about each person? Come on, this is simple and it would be a nice gesture to make these people feel like human beings. God, that really pisses me off about Trebek.

And to top it off, he shaved off his iconic mustache. What kind of self-respecting Canadian shaves off his mustache? Next thing you know he'll hate hockey, socialized medicine and Celine Dion. It really bugged me that he shaved off his mustache, much like when I was a kid and my dad shaved off his 'stache. I don't think that I have daddy issues with Alex Trebek, but both Mike Magrane and Trebek need the soup strainer. It's who they are.

So essentially this show is a complete 180 of anything that I like from the rest of this list and the show's host gives me anxiety. Why wouldn't this be one of my favorites?*

* And yes, that ending line was placed in the form of a question on purpose.

Tuesday, August 18, 2009

My Mnemonic Device

Everyone has a mnemonic device to remember the spelling of words or the way that unrelated letters stack up. For example, I'll never forget how to spell Adidas sneakers because of the grade-school acronym: All Day I Dream About Sports (or Sex for those who were a bit more advanced). Every Good Boy Deserves Fudge has been used by amateur musicians to remember the ascending line of the G clef for years.

I have recently come up with my own mnemonic device that will launch me into anonymous fame. Check it out and see if you can figure out what I'm trying to remember!

Por (Spanish for 'for')

See how those three sentences simply roll off the tongue? And how about the sneaking of a foreign word in there? That's advanced mnemonics, my friends—you learn two languages at once!

Spread this one around and don't forget to forget who told you about it.

Monday, August 17, 2009

With Apologies to Tom Petty or Cleveland (and Pittsburgh) Rock!

I like Tom Petty's music. A lot. Not enough to go out and buy all of his albums, or go to one of his concerts or even go to his web site. But I like him enough that I bought his greatest hits CD and if one of those hits come on the radio, I listen. That's not a backhanded compliment because there are hundreds of songs that I own that when they come on the radio, I change to find something better.

So while I am a Petty supporter, this is a long way of saying that his song “The Waiting is the Hardest Part” isn't really true. I love the anticipation of any big event—even more than the event itself. *

* The weird thing about the second half of that title “Cleveland Rocks” is that it's the theme song to the “Drew Carey Show”, which isn't strange in and of itself. Carey is originally from Cleveland and the show is set there. What is strange is that the President of the United States (you may remember them from such mid 90s songs as “Lump” and “Peaches”) are from Seattle. I was always a bit dismayed that Carey didn't get a band from Cleveland to sing about the city. The Presidents (or POTUSA as the hip kids of the 90s called them—ed note: Not true) did a good job, but where was Nine Inch Nails or Pere Ubu or Bone Thungs-N-Harmony? For shame, Drew Carey.

When I was a kid I'd get myself so worked up for Christmas that I'd end up running into my aunt's annual Christmas Eve party and puking all over the place. Then I'd pass out until after midnight when my parents would have to wake me up and drive me home. The thing that made this wait even longer was that I'd be up for the rest of the night wondering about what was under the tree and plotting intricate ways of going downstairs without my parents catching me.

As I've gotten older, this anticipation jones hasn't waned. A few weeks ago I was dying for a vacation, I had been working really hard at work and the endless monotonous string of waking up early, going to bed late-ish, punch-in, punch-out was starting to wear me down. The one thing that was keeping me moving forward was the promise of one whole week off. What we ended up doing is irrelevant, because after it came and went, I was really disappointed bordering on depressed because my vacation was over and I had nothing left to anticipate.

When I got to the office the Monday after vacation I opened my calendar and remembered this week coming up. At the end of this week, myself and two of my friends (Ryan and Andrew) are going on an old-fashioned road trip to Cleveland, Ohio and Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania ... or as Aly likes to call it, “Arm Pit Tour '09”.*

* I wonder if Aly knows that there's half a pun in her joke (Pit = Pittsburgh)? I doubt it because she doesn't particularly like puns. But since she's been with me long enough to subliminally make bad jokes. I wonder if that would be grounds for divorce, like if Sara Silverman married Dane Cook and all of a sudden she turned into a really crappy standup. I wonder if a judge would rule in her favor for a subliminal destruction of a career?

Anyway the reason why we're going to these places is because we want to check out the cities' ballparks. I've been to 14 different parks so far and each time I get a chance to see a new one, I transform back into that little kid who was amped up for Christmas day. I'm not sure why I completely geek out over things like this because baseball parks are pretty much the same. There are some uniqueness in the structures and the areas outside of the stadium are different, but there's something more to it and I can't quite place my finger on it.

I think that the bottom line is that I really enjoy travelling and I love baseball. Going to a game in a new city is the best way for someone like me to check out a new city, wade hip-deep into the “real people” of the region and watch a ball game unfold. This week we're seeing the Indians host the Mariners and the Pirates play the Reds. Most of these games are low-stress and the thing that I love about baseball is that there's a good chance of seeing something that you've never seen before.

And since it's 70's Night in Pittsburgh (we're missing the Pirates giving out those old, old-school Pirates pillbox hats by a day) KC and the Sunshine band will be playing a concert after the game. Get down tonight, indeed.

Progressive (nee Jacobs) Field in Cleveland is supposed to be a really nice park. It was one of the first of the retro parks that were built in the early 90s and has a bunch of quirky outfield angles and awesome sight lines. Plus, the Sox have had so many memorable games there, it almost seems like going there would be like visiting a historic sight.

Pittsburgh's PNC Park is the crown jewel of this tour though. A debate rages between AT&T Park in San Francisco and PNC as to which is the best baseball stadium in the United States. I've seen the Giants play in person and it is an awesome stadium, right on the Bay, modern but with a hint of old-timeyness; it really is a tremendous place to catch a game. I want to see how it fairs against Pittsburgh.

Many people have said that PNC Park is the real deal and that the only bad thing is the team that plays there. And that doesn't make a difference to me, as I've always had a special love for the Pirates for some reason. Also Sports Illustrated ran a survey last month about the lowest prices for beers and food, Pittsburgh had both.

The most stressful thing about this trip isn't the long drive—I've been told it could take us 10 hours to get to Cleveland—but the weather. I've been obsessively checking for the week's forecast and it looks like it's going to be the same for both cities: a 40% chance of scattered thunderstorms. I'm trying to buoy my spirits by saying that this means there is less than half a chance of rain. It's going to be “scattered” which I suppose also means that it won't be raining all the time. And perhaps the rain won't start coming down until after the game or way before it.

This is the intrinsic problem when planning a trip based around an outdoor sporting event, but it hasn't dulled my anticipation for Thursday. I'm looking forward to visiting a new city, I'm looking forward to visiting some new parks, I'm looking forward to seeing the Rock N Roll Hall of Fame, the Great Lakes Brewery, the Andy Warhol Museum, and eating a Primanti Brother sandwich. I'm looking forward to going to Morton's in each city—Andrew loves Morton's like I love baseball and it's his dream to one day go to every single restaurant.

Hell, I'm even looking forward to the drive out there.

What I'm not looking forward to is next Monday morning, after I come back from the adventure and only have the next few months of work to anticipate. I've literally have been looking forward to this excursion since a cold, January afternoon when I was knee-deep in snow and dreaming about the summer. Now that the day is almost here I want to savor the wait, let it roll around in my brain and let me dream of things to come.

Thursday, August 13, 2009

Change That We Can ALL Believe In

If I was the President of the United States, I would probably push for any canceled television shows that I loved to be put back on the air.

"Freaks and Geeks" (poor Seth Rogen would have to do double duty)
"Seinfeld" (though I'd be ok with the reunion that is supposed to occur on "Curb Your Enthusiasm")
Either the "Larry Sanders Show" or "It's Garry Shandling's Show" (both were awesome)
"Mr. Show"

Maybe, just for kicks, I'd see if Jerry Mathers could squeeze into his jeans and baseball cap to recreate Beaver Cleaver. That would be funny. Then I'd probably make him dance and throw nickels at him, yelling, "This displeases Hugh Beuamont" until he broke down in tears.

I would broadcast this every week on Pay-Per-View , with a new celebrity of course, until we got enough money to solve the deficit.

But I would definitely make it my mission to get "Arrested Development" back on TV. And if Michael Cera didn't want to do it, I'd excommunicate him.*

* I know that excommunication can only be done by the Pope, but it would be a modern miracle if I ended up as President, so I may as well go the whole nine yards and become the world's first Pope/President.

Anyhow, Cera would be living the rest of his life in Liberia or Burma (or is it Myanmar now?) or maybe the Arctic Circle until he wised up.

But this sort of thing happen--not the excommunication of Michael Cera--command performances by the wealthy and powerful.

When Michael Jackson died, I read an interview with Carrie Fisher, who was one of his buddies and she spoke about what a loving father the man was. As an example of his love, she said that Jackson's kids were crazy for "Star Wars" and one Christmas, as a surprise to them, Jackson asked Fisher to come over and act out a few scenes.

And she did it!

What scenes did she reenact? Did she do the Jaba, metal bra one? Did she put her hair in those space cinabuns for the kids? Did she tell Mark Hammil to quit watering her lawn for the day and come and help her out?

Can you even imagine being that insanely rich or powerful that you could call Carrie Fisher or some other actor or actress and have them come over to your house on Christmas day and recite lines from one of their movies? Of all the things I read about Jackson after his death, that's the one that stopped me in my tracks.

Elephant man bones? Meh.
Secret room in his closet he used to stash kids? Figures.
He had no nose because of all the plastic surgery and needed to wear a prosthetic--that may or may not have been stolen from the morgue the day he died? Weird, but ... no. That's really weird.

But the Carrie Fisher thing made me think that even though the guy lived the life of a pariah for the last two decades of his life, he still had a ton of influence. I wonder how much he paid her. I mean, he had to pay her, right?

And here's the thing, I know why Jackson's kids had no friends; there's no way that their parents could ever top any thing Michael Jackson did.

It's like that scene from "The Simpsons" where Homer goes to Krusty Klown Kollege* and becomes a regional Krusty. Unbeknownst to the Millhouse family, they hire him thinking that they got the real Krusty. Bart knows different, which leads to perhaps one of the greatest exchanges in Simpsons history:

Millhouse: Surprised Bart? My dad got Krusty the Klown for my birthday.
Bart: Oh. I'm sure I could do that too.
Millhouse: I don't know Bart, my dad's a pretty big wheel down at the cracker factory.

In other words, no matter how big of a wheel your dad is at his cracker factory, you're not going to beat Michael Jackson.

* This episode had so many awesome lines and was so good, yet no one talks about it. It's criminally underrated.**

** BTW, my wife hates my asterisk interludes, but I like them a lot. Sorry honey.

So if you like my platform, remember: Magrane in 2016! I don't want to run against Obama--I heard he reunited the Sweathogs just so that he could shave Gabe Kapplan's mustache.

Wednesday, August 12, 2009

Future Memories of Disposable Culture

One of the cool things about having kids is trying to figure out what kind of people that they're going to be in the future. My daughter isn't two-years-old yet, but for some reason I have it in my head that she's going to be a judge. My great-uncle Al was a judge and I always thought that it was a cool profession to have—not cool enough to go to school and do myself; but apparently cool enough to day dream for my daughter.

When I'm not looking at robes and gavels on line, I also wonder whether what she's experiencing now will become some of her treasured nostalgia in the future? There are three things that she is obsessed with at this moment: “Thomas the Tank Engine”, “Clifford the Big Red Dog” and all things “Sesame Street”. For awhile she was digging on “The Wiggles” and “Yo Gabba Gabba”. But like all fads, they fade as the Wiggle craze has been done for about three months and today she wanted no part of YGG, going so far as to yell, “No! No! No!” when DJ Lance Rock started to walk on the screen.*

* Admittedly, I am a bit crestfallen about this new turn of events. Even though there are like 40 episodes of YGG and I've seen them about 50 times a piece, I still like them. The animation is cooler than anything on TV, the bands that they have on each show are pretty good and even their guest stars are funny—the whole experience is like a 23-minute hipster guide on raising a kid. At some point, I'm going to have to figure out how to get Muno, FooFah and the rest of the gang back into our lives.

Anyhow, while I don't expect her to remember all of these shows; ultimately she is going to remember some of them. And how will these memories regurgitate? Will she be in some dorm room in about 18 years wondering whether the creators of Clifford were “really, really high”? Or will she sit around and wistfully recall the emotions and the safety of watching “Sesame Street” with her mom and dad in their bed; seemingly devoid of any problems?

I wonder these things because both scenarios are ones that I have participated on many an occasion.

Drunk (or other altered state) talk rarely gets better than finding a (seemingly) obscure cultural touchstone and examining the hell out of it. Before the Internet, when I was in college, I've had long conversations with relative strangers over the old-school McDonaldland characters (Mayor McCheese, the Big Mac, Cap'n Crook, Grimace to name a few) and why they aren't used in advertising any more.*

* The reason is pretty simple—Thanks Internet!—in the early 70s McDonald's hired Sid and Marty Krofft's company to come up with a bunch of characters that would resemble their popular Saturday morning characters. Or they may have asked to use the characters—like HR Puffnstuff—themselves to sell hamburgers, I forget and I'm too lazy to look it up. Any way the negotiations broke down and McDonald's just decided to rip off the Kroffts with characters that looked similar and put them in nation-wide advertisements that ran nonstop.

Of course this brought a ton of litigation on McDonald's head and they paid off the Kroffts and decided not to use the more egregious examples. Mayor McCheese (who, BTW is a bobblehead on my desk at work) looks almost exactly like HR Puffnstuff. It's hard to see how McDonald's thought that they'd get away with it.

On the surface, talking about these things may seem like nonsense. Who cares whether Hong Kong Phoeey was voiced by Scatman Carouthers and does that mean that HKP had the Shining too? Does it make a difference that Orko was just added to the “He-Man” cartoon so that kids would find the show funny as well as action-packed, even though he had the opposite effect? Maybe the answers to these questions are that it doesn't matter at all, but to people who grew up with this stuff, it does.

And the reason is that despite a technology boom that has theoretically connected more and more people together, we're all still alone. Watching television or movies, listening to music, reading are mostly solitary activities. And while you're doing these things, your mind is at work trying to make sense of it all.

Why the hell can't Cobra shoot straight? Why does the Riddler always tip Batman off? Are My Pretty Ponies really an allusion to the mundane life of Playboy bunnies? (The last question is something that I may explain later—but it will be worth it)

When you are able to find and connect with people who share similar questions about experiences that you have, it's a revelation: I'm not crazy! There are people who think about this stuff too! Bonds are formed, friendships are cast. The disposable culture of one generation is the glue that holds society together.

In another half-generation, the kids of today are going to be talking about the intricacies and hidden meanings behind “Hannah Montana” and “Bob the Builder”, will be convinced that Jeff was probably the gay Wiggle and wonder why everyone in the world of “Thomas the Tank Engine” was incredibly cruel. If we are somehow party to these conversations, we'll probably see it as nothing more than the idiot ramblings of youth.

But it's much more than that.

All I know is that if I'm in front of a judge one day in the very distant future, I'm going to say, “My name is Byron, your honor. I like to dance!” I'm sure that he or she will rule in my favor.