Monday, October 24, 2011

The Big Show

There is probably no other sport more photographed than baseball. There are myriad reasons for that, the chief being that baseball was the nation’s game at the turn of last century when the art of photography was just taking shape. Also the pace of baseball lends it to being photographed more than hockey, football and basketball.*

* During Joe DiMaggio’s record 56-game hit streak in 1941, there is a picture of DiMaggio ripping a hit. Most of the time this picture is cropped, but in the uncropped version there are three or four photographers five or six feet away from the batter’s box. I’m not sure when this practice fell out of vogue, but it’s startling to see people without protection so close to the action.

One of the better photographers of this early era of baseball was Charles M. Conlon. In a new book called “The Big Show” Neal and Constance McCabe gathered some of Conlon’s best work and preserved it in an exquisitely done coffee table book featuring a few hundred of Conlon’s 30,000 shots. There is also a remarkable foreword written by “Boys of Summer” author Roger Kahn.

There are plenty of stars littered through out this book: the aforementioned DiMaggio, Walter Johnson and Tris Speaker to name a few, but the main characters in this book are, to use baseball card parlance, the “common players”. Ballplayers that had solid careers, but weren’t household names. The McCabes did a fantastic job of choosing terrific shots and incorporating vivid stories to go with the pictures. And in a way, it underlines what baseball can be about.

In the annals of baseball, for every Babe Ruth or Ty Cobb story there’s a cool story about a guy like Fred Snodgrass, a player who had an auspicious past. He was a slick-fielding centerfield who dropped an easy pop fly for the New York Giants against the Boston Red Sox in the 1912 World Series. This is one of baseball’s biggest and most famous gaffes and the authors mention it in his write up in a roundabout way. Instead they focus on an incident in 1914 when he was almost plunked by a Boston Braves pitcher Lefty Tyler. Snodgrass took exception said some words and Tyler responded by throwing a ball in the air and dropping it, mimicking his mistake in the ‘12 Fall Classic. Snodgrass went back to the batter’s box, was promptly plugged and started a brawl.

After the brawl, Snodgrass went to first base and he thumbed his nose at the Braves fans who went bananas throwing bottles, cushions and anything else they could at him. The Boston mayor tried to have him ejected from the game from starting a riot and harbored a resentment towards him until the following year when he was dealt to the Braves. *

* A few things: one if this happened today both Tyler and Snodgrass would be internet sensations and talk radio would have a field day with this story. “Tyler did what?”, “What was Snodgrass thinking egging the crowd on like that?” And when Snodgrass died, his New York Times obituary headline read, “Fred Snodgrass, 86, Dead; Ball Player Muffed 1912 Fly.” That just sucks.

And there are literally hundreds of players like this in the book all with thoroughly interesting stories.

But the real star of the book are the photos. When I was a kid, black and white pictures from around this time scared the crap out of me. I don’t know why, it probably had something to do with the fact that these guys don’t look like anyone that I was used to seeing. And it’s still true, these players all look like hardscrabble men who came to the wilds of the country to play ball in the big city. Their complexions and eyes are pointed and dark, their faces ragged with deep lines, their smiles crooked and wherever they’re standing, it looks cold and dank.

Most of these people were younger than me, yet they looked more world-weary than I will ever be. These athletes should be in the prime of their lives, but they don’t look it. And that’s what’s so interesting about them. They look tired, weary and like they have a million things on their mind other than baseball. The youthful exuberance that we associate with today’s game is nowhere to be found back then. But that’s the expression that all working men had back then and the baseball players found in this book are a reflection of that.

One hundred years ago, life wasn’t fun. If you lived in the city it was cesspool of crime and filth, if you lived in the country you were cut off from modern life and grew up backwards and (probably) illiterate. There wasn’t much to be happy about. Some time after World War II this all changed and Americans became a more “happy” people. Life simply wasn’t as hard and this continues today. Things are getting easier, but it’s important to remember where we came from and recognize the folks who pioneered for our way of life.

“The Big Show” brings those people to life.

Tuesday, May 24, 2011

I Don't Know How to React to This

Every day I read a Blog called, which is a list of links that relate to television. Yesterday I came across a link that said, "Gwyneth Paltrow raps 'Straight Outta Compton'" and I have no idea what to think of this.

Twenty years ago, I would have been pissed. I'd get all self-righteous and wonder how an ultra privileged woman born with a silver spoon jammed in every orifice (she is the the daughter of actress Blythe Danner and film and television director and producer Bruce Paltrow) could identify with NWA and their message. I would drone on and on about how while Paltrow may have lived in Los Angeles, there is no way that she came close to Compton nor did she understand the racial and socioeconomic struggles that the group was talking about. On and on I would go about the obnoxiousness of this woman and how fake she was and how it was just all bullshit.

I'd probably even think that NWA sucked because they were reaching "this type" of audience of faux hipsters with fake English affectations whose only worry is whether to spend the summer in the Hamptons or traipse around Europe.

And here's the thing, not only would I be 100% wrong but my diatribe and outrage would be boring.

Who am I to tell anyone what music they can listen to? If Gwyneth Paltrow digs on NWA, then fuck it, she should listen to NWA. And it's not like I'm a product of the ghetto. I explain my background with NWA here. Aside from the bank account and the looks, I'm really not that different from Paltrow.

NWA wasn't speaking to me anymore than they were speaking to Paltrow. We just happened to come across the transmission and at the very least, enjoyed it and at the most were moved by the rhymes that we heard. And that's the job of music.

Bringing the reaction to the present, it's a funny clip. Paltrow gets the name of the song incorrect--it's not "Straight Outta Compton" it's "Gangsta, Gangsta", but it's a goofy minute of TV. That's all it really is. I don't think that it means that Paltrow was a secret Black Panther and her PC-ness shined through when she wouldn't say the n-word*, however it actually showed me a glimmer of humanness that is buried under the veneer of press clipping, PR statements and the careful speech of Paltrow.

* I'm not saying it wasn't a smart move on her part. You say that word, it gets taken out of context and the next thing you know your career is in the toilet. I have much, much less to lose than she does and I referred to it as the "n-word".

What it all comes down to is that at one point NWA was considered the most dangerous, most scary band in America. They really weren't. While they had a lot of truth in their raps, ultimately they are just another in a long line of musicians that made an indelible mark in American popular culture.

Tuesday, May 17, 2011

Kill Your Leaders?

Currently I’m reading a book called “Why Rome Fell” which details the reasons why we don’t solely speak Latin any more and don’t care for Italians—other than every four years when the World Cup comes around. It’s a pretty good book, a little dry in some parts, but filled with some interesting tidbits about Roman Republic’s lesser known emperors who make Nero look like Mr. Rogers.

What I find most fascinating is that the way that most of these emperors came to power is through a brutal and always violent power grab. The would-be emperor was either a general or a senator who had the backing of the army who decided that they wanted to rule Rome*. They’d then kill the existing emperor and after a song-and-dance with the Senate (“No, no. I couldn’t accept this crown? Oh, alright. I’ll do it.” It reminded me of Tenacious D’s “City Hall”.) would accept the crown. Normally within nine months or fiveyears later, the cycle would repeat itself.

Power was transferred like this for a couple of hundred years and the people of the republic seemed okay with the way things went down. They just went on living and paying tribute to whomever was running the show.

* An interesting story that exemplifies the treachery of the age was of Emperor Valerian and his co-ruler who happened to be his son, Gallienus. Valerian was taken prisoner by Persian King Shapur after he tried invading Persia. Shapur didn’t just throw Valerian in a prison and let him rot. The story was that he used Valerian to make him get on his knees so that Shapur could mount his horse, essentially turning him into a step stool. Once Shapur died, the Persians skinned Valerian alive, painted him red and hung him in a temple as a trophy. Gallienus didn’t even try to rescue his father, he was having too much fun being the sole emperor.

At some point in history, the act of overthrowing an unpopular ruler by brazenly murdering him and then taking over his rival’s position lost a bit of favor with civilization as a whole. The answers are obvious to us why this isn’t a good idea and to be truthful, I’m not even sure why someone would want to be ruler of Rome if they know how the story is going to end.

When did this practice stop? What prompted the ruling hierarchy to figure out that this wasn’t a good solution to replacing leaders. Remember, this didn’t happen over a decade or two, the activity of murdering the emperor occurred over centuries. At some point the light must have gone off in someone’s head and it was decided that this wasn’t a good way of doing things. This moment of clarity represents an evolution in the modern human brain. Or it at least represents some foresight and the ability to understand history.

What if this practice came back into vogue? All of a sudden being the President really became a life threatening job that usually ended in a grizzly death? And not only was the assassination by someone that you trusted, but it would be one that virtually no one would mourn. Even when shitty presidents die, it’s a pretty big deal in America. But if this was Rome and a shitty emperor like Georgius Bushian II died, he’d be thrown onto a pile with the rest of the plagued and war-torn bodies. It would barely register a mention in any of the public records.

I’m obviously not advocating for a return to regularly-scheduled regicides*, but I would imagine that after a few of them went down in quick succession, we’d have the same blasé reaction to them as our Roman ancestors did. Remember, much like the United States, at one time Rome was the crowning achievement of civilization and if their economy and their ways of life were able to exist and thrive with their leaders getting snuffed out every few months, I’m sure that the American people could eventually handle it too.

* I know that this is the Latin word for an assassination of a monarch, but I’m not sure what the Latin term is for the assassination of a president. I tried looking it up on Google, but couldn’t find anything.

In any event, those years before deciding that our leader’s lives were worthless would descend into complete and utter chaos. In other words, it would suck. Thank god for the anonymous cabal that controls and runs our world.

Monday, May 09, 2011

The Constant Quest for Coolness

BTW, this picture was the first one listed when I typed the word "cool" into a Google Image search. There were a lot of LL Cool J pictures, but he's no Millhouse.

I am 36-years-old. I’m married with two children. I own a home in the suburbs, I work a normal 9-to-5 job and every day I drive one of two Hondas that are parked in my driveway. I am not part of any family feuds or dramas, I like my wife’s family a lot and get along well with 99% of people I know. Aside from going out to dinner with my wife, most weekend nights involve me hanging out with my family and watching a movie.* During the entire weekend, I may consume six beers; if I drink more than two I get sleepy. I am thoroughly and completely in the most stable period of my life and I love it, I have no reason to try to be cool or impress anyone.

Yet I rewrote this opening paragraph at least three times because it didn’t convey the “right” message.

* I can honestly argue about the plot lines and discrepancies of any of the three Tinkerbelle movies and could probably quote entire scenes on request. This is just what happens when you have a three-year-old daughter.

My generation is the first generation that constantly seeks validation from others that they’re cool. Not that they’re good people, or that they live a virtuous life; but that they’re cool. And it’s not going to matter how old we get, we’re always going to wonder if what we’re doing is cool. I don’t think that it’s something that we can ever stop either, because since we were babies we have been exposed to a daily dose of what cool is.

I was born in 1974 and one of the first memories I have is of my Star Wars pillow case and a plastic “Happy Days” cup that I drank my milk from daily. The pillow case had the entire cast of characters, but aside from Darth Vader’s gigantic head looming as a scary moon, the most prominent character was Han Solo. My beloved “Happy Days” mug didn’t have a group shot of Richie, Ralph, Potsie and the gang; it was just a picture of Fonzi taken from the shoulders up against the backdrop of a brick wall. His expression was a bit different than his outer space compatriot. While Han Solo’s likeness was all action: gun drawn and about to leap from the canvas. Fonzi’ expression was one of utter indifference, it looked as if he just got done with the Aloha Pussycats and was exhaling his trademark, “Ayyyyyyyyyy!”

Both of these cultural touchstones were at the peak of their popularity during the late 1970s, the number one movie event of all time paired with the number one TV show in the land. And both had charismatic anti-heroes who looked similar (Harrison Ford and Henry Winkler shared a similar coif and facial structure ), who dress alike (black jacket/vest with exposed white TV shirt), who had the same mission in life (shepherd a nerds to the promised land – getting girls or blowing up the Death Star), who didn’t talk much (men of action, mostly), both drove iconic vehicles (the Millennium Falcon or a motorcycle) and both got the girls at the end of the day.

While the movies and TV show weren’t especially targeted towards kids my age, the duo were so gigantic that they eventually filtered down to my age group. And what was the message? Being cool was the ultimate and it trumped everything. Fonzi’s pal Richie Cunningham was a decent athlete who received high marks through high school and college and Solo’s buddy Luke Skywalker had the Force and was on his way to being a Jedi Knight. But Fonzie and Han Solo were the breakout stars of their medium and the “main” stars were often relegated to the background when Fonzie and Solo shared space with them. They were who everyone wanted to be because they were effortlessly cool.

Being cool didn’t stop when the popularity of “Star Wars” and “Happy Days” waned. As the 1970s bled into the 1980s more and more TV shows had at least one character whose job it was was to be cool. On shows that were targeted to tweens (we weren’t called this then) like “Diff’rent Strokes” it was Willis and on “Silver Spoons” it was Rick Stratton. As we got older, the shows changed but the attitude stayed the same: the entire premise of “Miami Vice” was two cool cops fighting crime.

And it worked in reverse as TV series that ran prior to the hay day of “Star Wars” and “Happy Days” retroactively made their characters seem cool; with ubiquitous reruns showing Greg Brady, JJ Evans and Keith Partridge cooling it up in their seemingly daily adventures.

The tempo changed was amped up in the 1990s as shows geared towards teenagers and stoned 20-somethings (“Beverly Hills 90210” and “Saved by the Bell”) dumped the one-cool, rest nerds formula of the 1970s and 1980s and replaced it with an entire group of cool kids and one nerd to provide contrast (David Silver and Screech for 90210 and SBtB).* Even shows geared towards adults, like “Freinds” or “Seinfeld” were about what happened once the cool table moved from the high school cafeteria to Manhattan—just edging out Seattle as the ultimate cool city in the 90s. The entire philosophy of the FOX network was that they were cooler than the other three networks.

And it wasn't just television, if you boil down a lot of movies from this time, it's really just about trying to be cool. "Pulp Fiction", "Clerks", "Swingers", "Clueless" were, at their cores, movies about the main characters trying to be or keep some semblance of coolness. These movies wouldn't have worked in the 1980s as audiences weren't prepared to see adults try to be cool.

* The one thing that’s odd about coolness in pop culture is that it is always evolving. If you jammed Fonzi in a sitcom today, he wouldn’t be cool because mores have grown and changed. However, the nerd or uncool character never changes. Potsie could change places with Urkel who could exchange roles with David Silver who could have been Will Smith’s dorky cousin on “Fresh Prince of Bel Aire” all of whom could be uncool character X on the latest FOX sitcom. Since the dawn of time, the nerd has stayed constant. Maybe that’s why it’s so easy for a person to be an outcast. Being cool is hard and an always-evolving role, being uncool is easy in comparison.

Suddenly it wasn’t fashionable to be the cool fish in a pond of dorks. Each cool person needed to find other cool people in which to hang out. As we grew up, we were completely and totally immersed Alex DeLarge-style in this never-ending, never-blinking loop of what cool is. It wasn’t just kosher to be cool, we had to be part of a cool subset too. Because of this maturation of coolness, we subconsciously learned that being cool is the only thing that really matters.

And this is why I wear a Public Enemy t-shirt, with blue adidas Gazelles and a throw-back baseball cap. It’s why my friends, most of whom are approaching 40, still play in a band, or will scour the Internet for the latest underground band or watch Adult Swim or stay up until 3 am drinking beer and playing video games and then drag their asses to work the following day. Because all of those things are pretty cool things to do.

I think back to my father and members of his generation. None of them wore sneakers and band t-shirts, hell, none of the ever wore t-shirts at all—if it was a weekend, it was polo shirt time. None of them were in a band or knew anything about the latest music or even knew how to turn on an Atari. And while I can blame this on the perspective of being young, most of the adults that I knew were responsible. Yes, there were a couple that were completely irresponsible, but even in that fashion, they were irresponsible in an adult way.

Why is that? Because while coolness was a factor when they were teens, it never seeped down to their days of impressionable youth. The line delineating entertainment for older and younger kids was clearly marked. If you were born in the mid to late 40s, you watched “The Mickey Mouse Club” or “Howdy Doody” and aside from Annette Funicello’s tits, there wasn’t anything cool about either show. They starred a bunch of dorky white kids doing dorky white stuff. At the same time Marlon Brando and Jimmy Dean, the Rat Pack and tons of jazz and blues heroes were emerging and taking coolness to a new height, but rarely did that move into the collective subconscious of this generation.

As the baby boomers grew older the hip touchstones began: Elvis Presley, the Beatles, the Rolling Stones and what signified cool became more and more defined. As that was taking shape, the lines of what was suitable for young kids were being erased. The second decade of television brought with it a familiarity so strong the TV set wasn’t considered immovable furniture—like a kitchen table—anymore. As technology improved, mobility improved too and now one could roll the TV into the kiddies’ room and you could have a baby sitter for the afternoon.

It’s this constant exposure to mass media that causes a 36-year-old to look in a mirror and ask, “Does this look cool?” when there is no one to impress. And these questions of coolness inhibit our interactions with other people. The other day I was walking to the cafeteria for lunch and I saw a coworker walking through the foyer wearing a bright blue shirt. Emblazoned on that shirt was about 30 different Marvel Comics characters. If you’ve ever read this Blog, you know that I dabble in comics, but my first thought was, “Jesus, what’s wrong with this guy?”

The lesson in this story wasn’t that I was being a judgmental prick because obviously, I was.* But the lesson was much like I was when I was a teenager, I’m still conditioned to make instant generalizations on people that I don’t know solely based on how they dressed. And while I take no solace in knowing that I’m not the only Generation Xer that does it, I have to wonder when will it end.

* I mean seriously, I wear a Public Enemy t-shirt—when will the revolution be televised, Gramps? And on that particular day I was wearing a t-shirted version of a 1970 Houston Astros baseball shirt.

Is there ever going to be a day where I don’t give a shit about what someone’s wearing, watching on TV, listening to, driving around in or talking about? Because really, when it comes down to it, who gives a shit? Haven’t I learned from shows like “Freaks and Geeks” and “Undeclared” and the myriad of Paul Fieg/Judd Apatow movies that the cool kids are usually the most shallow, the most insincere, the most boring?

Why would I want to be like that? Especially now.

Friday, May 06, 2011

My Weekly War with the New Yorker

This entry isn’t so much about my problem with the periodical the New Yorker, it’s mostly about the Mexican standoff between me, laziness and free-time. Usually laziness and me gang-up and kick the crap out of free-time, but there are times when laziness and free-team turn the tables on yours truly. In any event, the New Yorker is a perfect conduit for this standoff that happens every day.

In my opinion, the New Yorker is probably the best magazine being printed today. It’s smart, it’s timely, it’s funny, it has cartoons, most of today’s top writers would give their thumbs to appear in its pages. And the best thing--the length of the articles--are ironically what’s kicking my ass on a daily basis*.

They’re too interesting and too long—and trust me, I will expound on this insanely whiny reason after this Posterisk because I sound like a world-class steakhead with the first six-and-a-half words of this sentence.

* Whenever I complain about the downfall of Sports Illustrated, I always crab about the length of the articles; mainly they’re too short. Usually, I’ll say that when the story really starts to get going, you see that little box at the end of the page and you know that you’re done. I’ll prattle on (I'm a hit at parties) that when I was a kid, the articles were “much more in-depth” and it was a “more satisfying read” when I was younger. Yes, the articles are a bit shorter than 20 years ago, however what I really mean is that SI seems to know that I don’t have the time to read long articles, so they’ve made them shorter. This in turn, pisses me off because subconsciously, I know that I don’t have the amount of free time that I used to but I'm not ready to lose that battle yet.

Since I was in my mid-20s, I’ve always wanted a subscription to the New Yorker. Not because it’s the quintessential “adult” magazine, but because I found each issue packed with interesting articles and thought that if I read them I’d become a more well-rounded, educated person. And while that certainly was a reason, I also harbored thoughts of where I'd read the articles that would make me a hit at any cocktail party. There I'd be in front of a roaring fire, in a high-backed leather chair that is part of an immense home library where I’d be in a velvet smoking jacket, a snifter of brandy at my right hand and that week’s New Yorker in my left paw. Oh, I’d chuckle at the issue’s bon mots, nod approvingly or shake my head with consternation when reading articles about foreign policy, maybe even shed a tear or two when reading a piece about some ravaged far away land.

In my mind’s eye, I was more erudite than Mr. Howell (this reference should have been my first clue that this was a complete fantasy) and more worldly than Uncle Traveling Matt (and there’s my second clue) and judging from the home library and smoking jacket, richer than Scrooge McDuck.

As I’ve come to find out, future events that happen in your mind never coincide with what happens in real life. In reality, there are a few places where I read the New Yorker:

1. When I’m on the couch and my wife is watching a show that I hate
2. During the 45 minutes that I carve out for lunch at my desk. Of course, I’m not really concentrating too much on the written page because I also have to keep one eye on my email inbox.
3. While I’m on one of the cardio machines in the gym. And if you've seen my waist line recently, that hasn’t happen in about six months.

Deep down I knew that I was never going to get the immense home library or high-backed leather chairs or the velvet smoking jacket. But it would still be nice to really concentrate on a truly great magazine.

About 10 different magazines arrive in our mailbox every month (the New Yorker is a weekly) and I rarely read any of them.

A few years ago I subscribed to Esquire because one of my favorite authors, Chuck Klosterman, wrote a pop culture column every month. Two months after I subscribed, he stopped writing for the magazine. In recent years, Esquire has turned into a bossier version of Maxim and is filled with mindless articles on “manly” celebrities (like Vince Vaughn) who are pushing their next mindless movie that I’ll never see. Every two or three months they have an article that I may want to read, but I have to wade through so many perfume and designer ads that by the time I get to the article, I smell like the first floor of Macy’s and I’m concerned that I'm under dressed to read the piece. I have two years left on my subscription.

We also get ESPN the Magazine, but I only subscribed to it so that I can get the Insider columns on I rarely even crack open this literary abortion, but when I do it looks like it was written by ADHD chimps who have been raised to think that AXE Body Spray and Mountain Dew advertisements are the pinnacle of page design and literary achievement. I know that I sound like an old man trying to figure out these damn video games that the kids play these days, but on the occasions when I do peruse this magazine it’s actually difficult to know where to begin reading. ESPN the Magazine gives me the literary version of an ice cream headache.

Entertainment Weekly comes to our home too and most of the time, it’s not worth the $6 I pay for the yearly subscription. However there are times when it doesn't disappoint and the way I look it is if I get one or two issues that touch on something that I enjoy, then it almost pays for itself.

Aside from the New Yorker, the other magazine that we get (and that I like) is Boston Magazine. But I like this for reasons other than the New Yorker; I like to read it because they review restaurants and places that I may have been to. I sit there and say, “Aly, remember we went there?” or “Aly what did we eat there? It was pretty good, right?” I’m sure my wife hates Boston Magazine day at our house. They also have some pretty breezy articles that are enjoyable to read.

The rest of the magazines that come to my house are food magazines. Those are for my wife and she enjoys them. I think.

The difference between the New Yorker and the rest of these magazines is that it’s not written for a person with a third-grade education. The writers don’t dumb down their articles, it’s the responsibility of the reader to fill in the blanks if they don’t understand a topic. And while that’s an admirable quantity, it also one of the things that makes it tougher to read. Any of the magazines I’ve listed above, I can buzz through in about an hour (ESPN the Magazine and Entertainment Weekly, 10 minutes tops). And this isn’t a humblebrag, there just isn’t a lot of substance to these weekly/monthly reads.

But the New Yorker is prestigious, even the cartoons have some sort of gravitas—and I am not ashamed to admit that one of the main reasons why I originally subscribed to the New Yorker is because of the cartoons. Both the subject and the art are better than you’re going to find in the daily newspapers. They aren't all gems though.*

* One of the most famous episodes of “Seinfeld” is when Elaine couldn’t understand a New Yorker cartoon, so she confronted the editor of the magazine and walked away with a cartooning gig. Not surprisingly, it’s one of my favorite episodes of that TV show. And the fact that her published cartoon was a rip-off of Ziggy is even better.

While the New Yorker is a weekly, humbling experience it’s subscription is still something that I’m going to continue. Some of my brightest friends subscribe to the magazine and I've found that they’re just like me, they have dozens of issues scattered around their house dog-eared and worn pages with titles circled—indicating that these are articles that will be read later.

It seems to me that we’re all fighting the laziness/free-time battle with ourselves. I guess that we’ll get around to reading all of this stuff when we retire—what age is that again?

Monday, April 18, 2011

Two Guys Discussing How to Make a Jim Davis Balloon for the Macy’s Thanksgiving Day Parade

The setting is an indistinguishable office in mid-town Manhattan. Two young men are talking about a project to create a gigantic balloon sculpture to celebrate the 33rd anniversary of Garfield and Universal Press Syndicate. The syndicate wants to make a splash and expects the balloon to lead this year’s Macy’s Thanksgiving Day Parade. The deadline is just hours away.

“Do you have any ideas yet?”
“Yes. I have a few. Want to hear them?”
“I do. We better have something fast. And soon. And good.”
“Don’t worry. I have a bunch of good thoughts. First off, I was thinking that we can have a balloon made up to have Jim Davis in a bath tub. You know, the old- time bath tubs with the claw feet?”
“That’s what I was thinking of. None of this modern bathtub-personal spa bullshit, Davis is nothing if not classy. Anyway, he’ll be in the tub and we can have a bubble machine pumping bubbles and suds on the crowd.”
“Nice. I like that.”
“And we can have a little piece of a wall near the tub and on the wall we can have a calendar saying, ‘Monday, November, 13’. And then in Davis’ hands we can have him drop a plugged-in radio into the tub.”
“Uh, what?”
“What do you mean what? Are you talking about the bubbles? I thought you liked the bubbles going over the tub and on the kids?”
“I did. The other thing.”
“The calendar? You’re right, that might be a bit in-your-face for Thanksgiving. I bet the audience will get that he’s having a bad day.”
“No. I mean the radio. Why would he drop it in the tub?”
“Because it’s a Monday. Bad day, remember? Doesn’t sound like you like (or get) this one. Here’s another idea: how about we have a big balloon scene of Jim Davis’ kitchen. There’s a fridge, a sink, a stove with a plan of lasagna and a cat just staring at it. All of this stuff will be stainless steel. Because of the classy thing.”
“Sounds good so far. Where’s Davis?”
“Davis has his back to the audience and his head is in the oven. Behind the balloon, we can have a bunch of blue, white and gray paper streamers on a fan in the background and they can be wafting up to make it look like the gas is on. Oh yeah, they’ll be a calendar showing the date of ‘Monday, September 28’ in the background. What do you think?”
“Why is Davis trying to kill himself? And why is he in the kitchen?”
“Monday’s bad luck strikes anywhere, man. It doesn’t matter if he’s in the kitchen or the living room or under a tree. When shit is going down, shit is going to get you.”
“I don’t think that this idea is family-friendly. This is the Macy’s Thanksgiving Day Parade. Kids will be watching.”
“Ok. How about this, Davis is hanging by a belt from a door frame with his pants around his ankles, an obvious victim of auto erotic asphyx --”
“Ugh. Alright. This is my last idea, good thing it’s my best one. Are you ready?”
“Yeah. We need a good one.
“Ok. Davis is at a draftsman’s board.”
“Good. We’re getting somewhere.”
“He has a few drawings tacked up and a pen in his hand.”
“Great. This is exactly what I’m looking for.”
“And a protractor jammed into his jugular. He’s got blood all over his hands and a ton of blood spurting out his neck like a fucking geyser. We also need to have a look of shock, confusion and serenity on his face. Can a balloon do that? It has to be all at once. And his calendar reads ‘Monday, June, 19!”
“Forget it. This is pointless. Do you even know who Jim Davis is?”
“No. Isn’t he that clumsy friend of yours?”

Suddenly a door barges open, breaking the silence. It’s the men’s boss: Jim Davis. He isn’t happy.

“What the fuck are you idiots doing? Get back to work! Those urinals aren’t going to scrub themselves! And use a toothbrush this time. God, you’re fucks.”

Tuesday, April 12, 2011

Remembering Fenway Park

If we can be completely honest with each other, I’ve never been a member of the “Save Fenway Park Club”. I found the lyrical, little bandbox to be cramped, dirty and a bit depressing. Every winter the previous Red Sox ownership would slap a little green paint on the Wall and proclaim that they “updated” the park for the next season. However, generations of green paint couldn’t hide the crumbling bleachers or the compact seats or the terrible sight lines or the appalling lack of any modern amenities*.

* When Gillette Stadium were built at the turn of this century, Bostonians actually got excited because the seats had cup holders. This is not an exaggeration. Writers wrote about this phenomenon and people in the Boston area were pumped for a half-cylindrical piece of plastic that held a 16-ounce beverage. That’s how poor the stadia in the greater Boston area was even a decade ago—the addition of cup holders were met with Hosannas.

I had been to other parts of the country and I had watched a game from a seat that faced home plate (not left field). And I’ve been to a ball park that didn’t give me a choice between Bud and Bud Lite and called it a day. I’ve been to a ball park where the game was the number one priority, but the enjoyment and comfort of the fans was paramount too.

It was good. And it made me hate my home ballpark, Fenway Park, even more.

So when “Remembering Fenway Park: An Oral and Narrative History of the Home of the Boston Red Sox” by Harvey Frommer came to my home, I was a bit suspect. Yes, under the new ownership of John Henry, Tom Werner and Larry Luccino, the experience at Fenway Park has become infinitely better. But this place is still old. And while their tenure has made me want to bomb the place back to the stone age less, really didn’t want it to stand for another 100 years either.

After reading Frommer’s book, my attitude changed even more. There are scant few places in the world where one has access to this much history on a daily basis and Fenway Park is one of them. Frommer has gone to great lengths to interview and create a narrative where the reader is able to delve into the rich history of the Red Sox, from the folks who were actually there. The ballpark and the team’s history is intertwined.

One of my all-time favorite books is “Loose Balls” by Terry Pluto, which details the rise and fall of the American Basketball Association. Using only the recollections and words of the people who were associated with the ABA, Pluto penned a fascinating book that felt epic in scale to its subject. Frommer has done the same thing with his book, and being a die-hard Red Sox fan, I couldn’t be happier.

From players to sportswriters to long-time fans, the passion of the people that he interviews is captured in each anecdote they tell and practically jumps off each page. And that’s what makes this more than just another stale history of the Boston Red Sox—most can spout the names and numbers of events both good and bad in Red Sox history as if they were our children’s birth dates—this books is more like a gathering of your closest and most knowledgeable baseball friends sitting around and swapping extremely entertaining stories.

And while the writing is fascinating, the photographs are just as fantastic. I’m not going to be too bold and say that I’ve seen every picture of the Boston Red Sox ever taken. That’s obviously an insane proclamation, but I have seen a lot and I must say that by my calculations at least 90% of the shots in “Remembering Fenway Park” are ones that I had never laid eyes on before.

All of the great Red Sox heroes of the past are represented here including a really cool double page shot of Ted Williams pitching against the Detroit Tigers. I know that Williams took to the bump a few times in his career and I’ve seen smaller shots of the occasion, but never had I seen one so larger and with so much detail. I’m not sure where Frommer found the snapshot, but not only is it an important picture, but a beautiful one too.

The one gripe that I have with the photo selection is that Nomar Garciaparra is conspicuously missing from the honor roll of Red Sox greats. The aforementioned Williams, Johnny Pesky, Carl Yastrzemski, Fred Lynn, Jim Rice, Roger Clemens, Mo Vaughn, Pedro Martinez, Manny Ramirez and David Ortiz all make an appearance in this tome, but not Nomar. And while it’s not a reason to not purchase the book, it struck me as a bit odd to not include a player that was instrumental in keeping the Red Sox afloat in the latter part of the 1990s.

Another of the books’ winning qualities is its size. Oversized and meant for the coffee table, “Remembering Fenway Park” has the luxury of laconically taking the reader through Boston’s American League’s representative’s history at a pace conducive to the nation’s past time. Not only can the reader absorb the stories of the men and women telling them, but thanks to the over sized photos, they can immerse themselves in the details of the past.

“Remembering Fenway Park: An Oral and Narrative History of the Home of the Boston Red Sox” is a terrific book and one that should be on the bookshelf of every Boston Red Sox fan.

Thursday, March 31, 2011

My Half-Assed, Very Quick 2011 MLB Preview

BTW, I have no idea who the kid pictured is. I did a Google image search for "Yay baseball!" and this is what came up.

Ok gang, Opening Day has come and I’m late delivering my Major League Baseball preview. So let’s get to it, shall we? This is the second time I've done this, click here and here for the 2008 previews and see how awful I was.


American League East:

1. Boston Red Sox: on paper, they’re the best in the division, best in the league and best in the sport. I don’t think that they’re going to win 100 games--the American League East might be the best division in baseball--but I think that they win between 95 and 99 games.

2. New York Yankees: not as bad as you think that they’re going to be. They’re going to hit like hell and on the third, fourth and fifth days they’re going to need to. The back of their bullpen is absolutely stacked (provided that the Mariano Rivera-bot 3000 doesn’t break down) and their infield could be one of the best in baseball history.

3. Tampa Bay Rays: have the exact opposite problem of the Yankees: their bullpen has the potential to be a fire hazard and their starting rotation is loaded. Evan Longoria is probably going to need some help, but this isn’t a bad hitting team either. Plus they got new astroturf at the Trop. Finally I won’t want to treat myself for depression after watching a game from there. Did you ever see their old turf? It looked like shag carpeting from George and Weezie's rumpus room after their weird British neighbor puked pea soup all over it.

4. Toronto Blue Jays: I don’t know what to make of these guys, they could be a third place (or even second place team) or they could completely suck. Former Sox pitching coach John Farrell is up there and he’s a pretty bright dude, so I’d say it’s closer to the former.

5. Baltimore Orioles: despite Buck Showalter’s headline grabbing stunt of a week ago, I don’t think that the Orioles are going to be that bad. In fact, I think that they’re going to be a real interesting team and one that no one in the East should take lightly.

American League Central:

1. Chicago White Sox: in all actuality, any of the next three teams could win the AL Central and I wouldn’t be surprised. However, I think that the White Sox are going to be the ones that climb out of this scrum due in part to their power. That being said, Paul Konerko is going to be the fantasy guy that you’re going to look at in June and say, “Why the fuck did I draft him?”

2. Detroit Tigers: Miguel Cabrera is a beast and along with Victor Martinez should help the Tigs put up a lot of crooked numbers on the scoreboard. And they’re going to need it, as their pitching is mediocre at best.

3. Minnesota Twins: I put them here because I don’t want to watch the Twins in the post season this year, rolling over for the Yankees. Though I have to admit, I love watching Joe Mauer hit.

4. Kansas City Royals: either next year or in two years, they’re going to be the class of the division. They have six prospects in Baseball America’s Top 40. You have to figure that even with KC’s luck, at least two or three of those guys have to pan out, right?

5. Cleveland Indians: I wonder if Clevelanders get angry that so many sports fans pity them? It used to piss me off when I’d read or hear people from other cities patronize Sox fans and say, “Don’t worry, you’ll win too some day.” Fuck off.

American League West:

1. Oakland Athletics: they have a stellar pitching staff and they brought in a bunch of “professional hitters” like Hideki Matsui to improve an anemic offense and that should be enough to win the American League West.

2. Texas Rangers: last year was a year where just about everything fell in line (including the Mariners telling the Yankees to screw off and dealing Cliff Lee to Texas). No matter how good you are, when you experience a season like that, the next year never follows the same script.

3. Los Angeles Angels: I guess we’ll see how brilliant Mike Scioscia really is, won’t we? I will admit this, he was one of the funnier guest stars on that baseball Simpsons from the early 90s. In fact, most of the Major Leaguers were really funny. According to the writers, only Jose Canseco was an asshole. What a shock—at least he didn’t send his twin brother to the taping.

4. Seattle Mariners: last year I was telling everyone that they were going to the World Series. I was really high on the Mariners and they crashed and burned, hard. This year, around July 31 there’s going to be a fire sale in Seattle. You can get yourself a really nice Chone Figgins for cheap. Maybe even a Felix Hernandez (I just hope the M’s dick over the Yankees on this one again).

National League East:

1. Atlanta Braves: a few years ago I bet three of my friends $20 that Tim Hudson would win 20 games with Atlanta (he had just been traded from Oakland). He did not do it, but I think that he will this year. The Braves also have some nice young talent that’s about ready to contribute. Could be a fun year.

2. Philadelphia Phillies: I think that the Phils will make the post season and they’re going to be really awesome with their four starters. I just think that they have a lot of injuries to overcome in the first half of the season that may make a division crown a tough road. According to Jayson Stark, they do have the easiest first half of any team in the majors. So basically, I have no idea.

3. Florida Marlins: they’re in third place every, single year aren’t they? They’re just good enough to take seriously, but not that good to keep your attention. Next year they’re going to have a new stadium and will be known as the Miami Marlins. Also, orange will be one of their primary team colors which has a bunch of people who love uniforms up in arms. Frankly, the fact that I know what angers uniform aficionados this says more about me than it does about them.

4. Washington Nationals: they won’t be this bad for much longer. Bryce Harper is coming soon and Stephen Strasburg is beginning a rehab from Tommy John surgery. Even with all of that, I wonder why Jayson Werth signed with them? Oh yeah, he likes money.

5. New York Mets: this team is such a mess, it’s not even fun to rag on them. Good luck Mets fans, take heart in the fact that at least you’re not Yankee fans. However, if you’re a Jets AND a Mets fan, go crap in the woods.

National League Central:

1. Milwaukee Brewers: if the Brewers don’t win this year, then it’s going to be a long time before anything good happens in Suds City. They got Zack Greinke and Shaun Marcum, so their rotation should be good enough. They also have Ryan Braun and a pre-walk-year Prince Fielder. If they miss again, cheer up. Milwaukeeans in only a little more than a year, I will come to your city. Woo-ha!

2. Cincinnati Reds: the Reds have young pitching talent. The Reds’ manager is Dusty Baker. Ask a Cubs fan if this ends well. Aside from the young pitching, they do have more than a few guys that can hit bombs. In any event, this is a fun team and I’d love to see them make the post season. I’m just not sure if it will happen.

3. St. Louis Cardinals: I hate Tony LaRusa, but I’ve always liked the Cardinals. They have really cool fans (I’ve been to St. Louis before and they’ve come up here when they played the Sox and they couldn’t have been nicer) and they have a transcendent player in Albert Pujols. With that being said, I would be lying if I said I didn’t chuckle when Adam Wainwright went down for the year. If you’re such a genius, LaRusa, manage around that.

4. Chicago Cubs: I don’t know what to tell you about this team. It seems like a club that’s loaded with crappy, over priced veterans that can’t be moved and they don’t have a lot of good, young guys coming down the pike. I would pencil them in for 78 wins exactly. And I’ll be seeing you next year too, Chicagoans. Yes, I am going to Chicago and Milwaukee with my buddies next year in part two of our “Seeing all the Stadia Tour”. Check out part I right here.

5. Pittsburgh Pirates: they could be the Royals of the National League, though they may have to wait a year or two extra before they get good. The last time the Pirates were over .500, I was starting college. In 1992. That is so depressing on a number of levels—both for me and Pirates fans.

6. Houston Astros: this could be the worst team in the Major Leagues. I watched the Red Sox kick the crap out of them on Wednesday night in the last Spring Training game and there was absolutely nothing there. Just a rotten product. And owner Drayton MacLane may sell the team, so anything decent is going to be sold off for pennies on the dollar come July and August. That should put some fannies in the seats.

National League West:

1. San Francisco Giants: last year’s rookie catcher’s name was Buster Posey. This year’s rookie first baseman’s name is Brandon Belt. Grantland Rice himself couldn't have written better names. I think that the Giants are a hair better than the Rockies this year, but that’s only because I am really biased against the Rockies for some strange reason.

2. Colorado Rockies: they have a good staff, they have decent hitting but like I just said, I don’t like the Rockies. I have no idea why I don’t like them, I think it’s because I don’t like Denver. Which is really strange because I’ve never been there before. Maybe it’s because of my hatred of Robin Williams who starred in “Mork and Mindy” which was set in ... Boulder, CO. Same fucking thing. Nanu, Nanu.

3. Los Angeles Dodgers: these guys are almost as messy as the Mets. The good news for them is that they have the Padres in their division and they still have some pretty good players. Unfortunately, they don’t have as many good players as the Rockies or the Giants. And clean-shaven Don Mattingly is managing them. I'm not sure what makes Mattingly (or anyone) think the he can manage without his mustache.

4. San Diego Padres: yes, I realize that the Pads were about three days away from beating the eventual World Champions and taking the NL West crown last year, but let’s be honest: that was done with smoke and mirrors. They got rid of their best player (you DID stay classy, San Diego!) and Will Venable led the team with 13 home runs. That’s not a lot. At least you San Diegans had the San Diego State University Aztecs hoop team this year, they were really exciting.

5. Arizona Diamondbacks: it's been almost 24 hours and I finally realized that I forgot to add these guys to the preview. That's how bad it is for the Diamondbacks. They do have the All-Star Game this year, so that should be pretty good. Other than that, it's snoozeville in Phoenix.

I almost forgot to do this:

Boston over Chicago
Oakland over New York

Boston over Oakland

Atlanta over Milwaukee
Philadelphia over San Francisco

Philadelphia over Atlanta

World Series
Boston over Philadelphia

Friday, March 25, 2011


A few weeks ago, I reviewed a book called “Scorecasting”. I was contacted by the book publisher’s PR company and was offered the book in exchange for writing a blurb on my Blog. I love reading and I love writing, so I was pumped to do it. I enjoyed the experience so much that when I was contacted to receive another book, I jumped at the chance. The book in question is “Derek Jeter: From the Pages of the New York Times” which is a collected works of the nation's "Newspaper of Record" that follows the Yankee shortstop from before he was drafted through the 2010 season.

Before I get into the epiphany that I realized after reading this collection of stories, I have to say that the book itself, is absolutely gorgeous. The writing, which includes dozens of stories from top writers like Buster Olney, is fantastic. And the photos are breath taking. If you’re not a Jeter or Yankee fan, you should at least consider it for your baseball library just so that you have a time capsule of the sights and words of the late 20th/early 21st Major League Baseball.*

*There are also some really humorous pictures of Jeter as a skinny—almost sickly-looking—minor leaguer. That’s almost worth the price of the book itself.

As a Red Sox and baseball fan I’m conflicted about Derek Jeter. On one hand, I’m a fan of anyone who plays baseball well and despite wearing pinstripes, Jeter definitely fits into that category. It’s really hard to argue any other way, the guy is a first ballot Hall of Famer. On the other hand, “Nomah’s bettah!” Sorry about that, old habits are hard to break, you know.

During the mid to late 1990s, there was a renaissance in shortstops throughout the American League. In Cleveland, there was defensive wizard Omar Vizquel. In Oakland, Miguel Tejada manned the position and led the small-market Athletics to the postseason year after year. In Boston, the aforementioned Nomar Garciaparra started for the Red Sox and was drawing batting comparisons to Joe DiMaggio. While these three guys were plying their trade, up in Seattle Alex Rodriguez looked like he was going to be the best of the bunch—maybe the best ever.

And Derek Jeter wore number two for the New York Yankees and patrolled the Yankee Stadium infield, but didn’t quite find a real tangible niche. He wasn’t the best defensively, that was Vizquel. He didn’t win any MVPs that was Tejada and Rodriguez. And he wasn’t the group’s best all-around hitter. In his prime, that would have been Garciaparra. Yet, Jeter out-lasted all of these players as he’s the only one still playing shortstop for his original team. There were numerous reasons: some players were brittle and prone to injuries, others were helped by artificial means and regressed once more stringent testing began and others shifted positions. The odd thing is that all of them played for at least more than three teams.

But through it all, every season, Derek Jeter, consistently made his way to shortstop in two different Yankee Stadiums. And what’s most surprising is that he’s probably going to be considered the class of that late 20th century shortstop group. That’s pretty amazing considering that while Jeter was an All-star and all-time Yankee, he didn’t have a defined skill that made him stand out from the other shortstops.

Is he a winner? Sure, but there are 24 other guys on the Yankees that enabled him to reach that pinnacle five times. Is he steady and reliable? Sure, but he’s not Cal Ripken and there’s nothing particularly sexy about coming to work every day getting a couple of base hits and making the routine plays. Was he a tabloid sensation? Sure, but it wasn’t in a Tiger Woods sort of way. Jeter was the handsome, unmarried Yankee shortstop who dated starlets left and right, but there never was anything scandalous about the way he lived the night life. For a person whose bedposts had notches from Jessica Alba, Jessica Biel, Mariah Carey, among others, his personal life was remarkably boring.

About the only tangible quality that you could put on Derek Jeter is that he had set of intangibles. He always seemed to get the key hit in the biggest game. As a Red Sox fan, he was the last guy I wanted to see at the plate in a big situation. He always seemed to be at the right place at the right time. Witness his famous play against the Athletics in the 2001 Playoffs where he was way out of position—but in the right place—to pick off a bad cutoff throw and then make a flip to catcher Jorge Posada that cut down Jeremy Giambi at the plate.

After reading this book, it seems to me that none of these things were accidental: he was in the right place because he was prepared. He seemed like the most dangerous hitter in tough spot because he worked hard. He outlasted the other shortstops because he has a drive to be the best.

Even after reading this book, Derek Jeter won’t ever be my favorite player—to quote Jerry Seinfeld, “I root for laundry”—but after reading the accounts of what he’s done and following the trajectory of his career, it’s easy to respect the guy and root for him. Any time I got into an argument with a Yankee fan over the merits of Jeter versus any of the other shortstops, the one chestnut that the New York guy would ultimately put out is, “Jeter does it the right way”.

As much as it pains me to say this, they may have been right.

Wednesday, March 23, 2011

I am not in London

My Facebook and email accounts have been hacked and I can't get into either until Thursday. You may have received this email from me:

I'm writing this with tears in My eyes My Family and I came down here to (London,England ) for a short vacation,unfortunately we were mugged at the park of the hotel where we stayed all cash,credit card and cell were stolen off us but luckily for us we still have our passports with us.

We've been to the embassy and the Police here but they're not helping issues at all and our flight leaves in less than 3hrs from now but we're having problems settling the hotel bills and the hotel manager won't let us leave until we settle the bills.

Am freaked out at the moment.

A few things:

1. I have not been mugged
2. I am not in London
3. I don't write that poorly

However, I am a bit freaked out at the moment because I'd like to get my email. So they got that part correct.

Tuesday, March 22, 2011

20. South Park

The way that I was introduced to “South Park” was such a unique experience that there is no way that I will ever be able to duplicate it again. When “South Park” was launched on August 22, 1997 it had been about two weeks since I had moved away from parents' house. My two college friends and I had rented a third-floor, three bed room apartment in Winthrop, MA. This place was pretty damn nice. It was a large apartment on short dollars that put subsequent places I lived in to shame.

Aside from the large rooms, one of the great things about this place was its proximity to Boston and despite my meager earnings as a fund accountant (and later a reporter for a mid-sized city weekly) we’d all venture into Boston every Friday and Saturday night determined to quench our thirsts. When we got back from the latest Boston bar adventure, we’d end up staring at the TV hoping for nudity or sports scores. One of the first nights we came back from Boston, we got something a bit more interesting.

In the mid- to late-90s, Comedy Central was still trying to find itself. It would run hours and hours of crappy 80s comedy flicks, warmed-over sitcoms and a bunch of dated stand up "specials". Every once in awhile it would debut a new series, but it usually died on the vine never lasting more than a season or two. In therms of standout performers, the biggest star that Comedy Central had at the time was Craig Kilborn who hosted “The Daily Show” and that’s because most people knew him as the sarcastic 2 am SportsCenter anchor who was among the first to escape Bristol, Connecticut. Other than that, it was a wasteland.

With shows like "Beavis and Butthead", "The State" or "The Half-Hour Comedy Hour", MTV was a better place for laughs despite the channel being known for music.

We weren’t expecting much that late Saturday night when my buddies and I were drunkenly channel surfing and wound up on some crudely animated kids cursing a blue streak, threatening to kill each other and witnessing a gigantic alien anal probe sticking out of the fat, obnoxious kid’s ass. It was a jarring enough image that we dropped the clicker and watched the rest of the episode. And then another, and another, and another, and another—Comedy Central was running a marathon that night and we were completely blown away.

We were shocked at how unlikeable the fat kid was and how much he hated the Jews (is his name Cartman or Carmen?) and we were taken aback at how the kid in the orange sweat shirt died in every single episode. I was really surprised at how bad the animation was, but I was more surprised at how I couldn’t take my eyes off the show. And there was a reason for that. Even though I was a devoted “Simpsons” disciple and often told people who ripped on the show for being “just a cartoon”that it wasn’t the medium, it was the message that made that show great, I didn’t truly realize until watching “South Park” exactly what that meant. Because “The Simpsons” has very good animation and terrific writing it wasn't until that I saw show with great writing and shoddy animation was it proved that ultimately it doesn’t matter how well the animation was done, it really was about the writing.

And “South Park” creators Trey Parker and Matt Stone could really write a great story.

My friends and I became obsessed with the show at this point. And it wasn't just us. It seemed that overnight everyone knew who Stan Marsh, Kyle Broflovski, Eric Cartman, and Kenny McCormick were. If someone talked about Scuzzlebutt you knew that he understood that this was a monster who lived in the woods and had Patrick Duffy for a leg. When someone referenced Mr. Hanky you knew that that person was talking about a literal piece of shit that only appeared around Christmas. And if one of your buddies “pulled a Stan” when talking to a girl, you knew that he was so nervous that he threw up (whether literally or figuratively) all over her.

Parker and Stone were clever enough to add these really surreal moments and characters to some great story lines. Not only did it put the two creators on the map, but it also made Comedy Central a top-tiered channel enabling it to shed it’s reputation as a place where bad movies go to be rerun into infinity. Before the Jon Stewart-hosted “Daily Show”, this was the only show that kept people coming back to the channel week after week.

My roommates and I had completely different schedules but there was only one thing that all of us cleared the decks for: Wednesday nights at 10:00 pm. We were on our couch watching “South Park” and laughing until our sides hurt. And while the community aspect is something that I won’t experience again, what I find most fascinating is how this show sneaked up on us. The internet was still in its infancy in 1997, it wasn’t the sprawling source of information that it is today and even if it was, I wasn’t connected to it. I wasn’t living in a vacuum as I used to read at least two newspapers a day and was able to keep up with popular culture through television and radio.

But “South Park” came out of nowhere. If I hadn’t been drinking that night, I’m not sure when I would have run into this show. I assume that it would be at least by October of that year, because Comedy Central marketed the hell out of it, but for the first three or four weeks, it was nice to seemingly be in on the cutting edge of something that you knew was going to be huge. And it was.* Now, that doesn't happen. Thanks to the internet, most people know about TV shows and movies weeks if not months before they show up.

* My wife, who was going to school at American University when "South Park" started airing, told me that her entire dorm was as obsessed about the show as my friends and I were. She said that they would use their dial-up modems to download episodes, wait the hour or two and then watch them. Because of the tiny bandwidth, it was often tough to discern exactly what was happening, but she said that they enjoyed the dialogue the most. Again, the lesson here is: message NOT medium.

Suddenly everyone was wearing a “South Park” t-shirt, the mall was overstuffed with “South Park” tchotchkes*, they were on the cover of “Rolling Stone” (when that meant something) and everyone was imitating Cartmen’s voice or quoting the show (“Oh my God! You killed Kenny!” or “Screw you guys, I’m going home.” or “Sweeeeeet”). By March 1998 it was starting to get to be a bit much and the show was growing stale.

* I had Kyle, Cartman and Kenny key chains sitting on my computer, a post card of bit character Pip on my bulletin board at work and a “South Park” sticker on my wall. So, I was definitely a part of this merchandising madness and I am convinced my boss thought that I was a 12-year-old.

The one shining light was on April 1, “South Park” was finally going to reveal who Cartman’s father was. A lot of people that I knew were terribly excited about this and couldn't wait for the show to air. When April 1 came, the show wasn’t about Cartman’s father rather it was a joke episode centered around the South Park boys’ favorite cartoon those farting Canadians “Terrence and Phillip”. After the first five minutes of this episode passed, my roommates and I kept waiting for the big reveal. After the first commercial break came back with more Terrence and Phillip, we knew that the big reveal wasn’t going to happen.

This angered a lot of fans, so much so that Comedy Central sent out a press release the following day promising that the conclusion to the first part of “Cartman’s Mom is a Dirty Slut” (which aired on February 25) was going to air on April 22. It sucked, but three weeks was better than never so again, the clock ticked down to finding out who Cartman’s father was. The episode never lived up to the hype (these things never do) and it turns out the Cartman’s mother was a hermaphrodite who impregnated herself.

This letdown, combined with the Terrance and Phillip debacle*, soured me on “South Park”. I would catch it now and again, but I kept waiting for the rug to be pulled out from under me—once a show loses a viewer’s trust, it’s hard to get it back. To me Stone and Parker were just a bit too clever for themselves and overplayed their hand. I was pretty done with the show.

* After a few years have passed, I can see now that the Terrance and Phillip April Fool’s Day show was actually brilliant. Parker and Stone were riding high on the show’s popularity and as we would see in subsequent seasons, they rip on everything. Fooling your own fans is tough to do, but they did it. And more importantly, they did it really well. In my circle of friends, finding out who Cartman’s father was was as big of a deal as finding out who killed JR Ewing or what was in Al Capone’s vault (how’s that for timely references). When the T&P episode was aired it was like a big fuck you to the fans, but in a way that borrowed from the classic William Shatner SNL skit where he told a roomful of Star Trek fans, “You need to get a life. TV isn't that important.” This message is never truly understood at the time and only after you separate from your obsession do you truly get the meaning.

During the next few years, I stayed away from “South Park” and looked down my nose at people who still watched it. I just found the entire show to be a copy of “The Simpsons”, which looking back wasn’t true. Especially since “South Park” devoted an entire show to the criticism and made the point that “The Simpsons” have been on for 20 years and have over 400 episodes and that there are only so many stories that can be told.

A few years into my self-imposed “South Park” exile, a friend of mine was talking about the show and asked if still watched it. I said no and gave my myriad pompous reasons to which he countered that I should give it another shot, he said it was still really funny. That night I sat down and watched an episode and he was right, it really was funny.

I became a big “South Park” fan again, only this time is different because it seems like there is a much smaller group of fans. Because of that the newer episodes are a bit different than the older ones. There is more a topic du jour where Parker and Stone stand on their cartoon pulpit and lob bombs at that week’s hypocrites. The show takes less than a week to write and animate, so turn-around time on various topics are insanely quick.

While that week's targets are easy and really unnecessary, for the most part Parker pens episodes that make solid points. When he does do one of these episodes, the episode tends to devolve from a well-thought out argument into one where a universally detestable (like Paris Hilton or Snooki from "Jersey Shore") gets their comeuppance. And while that's nice (and cathartic) to see, you almost want to tell him that he's better than that and there's a better way of satirizing the rich and stupid.

And the duo are equal opportunity offenders. You would expect a couple of Colorado-born, young-ish, pothead cartoonists and social commentators to be lean to the left side of the political spectrum. But they aren’t, I believe that Parker (the main writer) is a Libertarian, so his ideology is with neither the Republicans nor the Democrats. And this is a good thing.

While “South Park’s” message and satire is a bit heavy-handed and a little too black-and-white at times, it’s still a thought-provoking show. It forces the watcher to be literate on not only pop culture but on the world around them. And that’s a good thing.

Monday, March 21, 2011

The Definition of Pandering or Where the 1950s Truly Comes Alive!

Late last week my wife, her grandmother, my infant daughter and I met for lunch at Johnny Rockets in the mall. If you’ve never heard of Johnny Rockets, it’s an overpriced restaurant chain located in most malls that are decorated to look like a 1950’s style hamburger joint. Basically, you’re paying 25% extra for the ambiance.

Or at least it’s supposed to be ambiance. Johnny Rockets is decorated to look like what someone else thinks that a 1950’s hamburger joint looks like. All of the waiters and waitresses wear pristine, almost blinding white uniforms, there is a lot of polished chrome in the restaurant and at each of the booths there is a non-working mini jukebox packed with the hits of the 50s and 60s. The eatery’s draw is that this is supposed to be a time machine that will take you (even minorities!) back to a simpler time where the nation “rocked ‘round the clock”, had a best friend named Potsie and ate hamburgers until their sinuses were impacted with meat.

The pandering doesn’t come from the retrieval of false memories or even the fact that Johnny Rockets’ unspoken promise of taking you back to a simpler time still includes modern inflation – seriously $2.29 for a Coke plus extra thirty-nine cents for a shot of vanilla? They had names for people like this in the 1950s: Pinkos.

No, the pandering comes when you peruse the menu. They have the normal fare that you’d find in any number of chain restaurants or diners: hamburgers, hot dogs, milk shakes, $2.29 Cokes. But there was something in the menu that caught my eye, it was listed right there on the second page above the onion rings: American fries.

American fries? AMERICAN fries?

Someone is still waging that battle against the French? I couldn’t believe it, it had been so long since I heard the word Freedom fries that I thought that this was a goof. I assumed that American fries were the same as french brothers except there was probably a ton more cheese and chili plopped on it and it was adorned with mini-American flags and sparklers. Essentially, the July 4th of fried potatoes.

Thinking that this was a joke, I ecclesiastically ordered these American fries and waited for the inevitable spud spectacular that was obviously heading my way. Would they bring out a brass band? Nah, that was too expensive. But I’m sure there would be a radio blasting the “1812 Overture” while sparkler illuminated my dish and mini-American flags crisply waved in a breeze of grease and salt. But it wasn’t too be, I got a dish of plain old, normal French fries and a little paper bowl to put my ketchup in.*

So disappointing. So blase. So unAmerican.

* At Johnny Rockets the server usually cheerfully dumps the ketchup in the paper bowl for you, so you don’t have to messy your delicate hands. I guess this was how it was done everywhere in the 1950s. But for some reason our waitress didn’t do that last Thursday, which is the way that it’s done everywhere in the 2010s. Sherman, alert Mr. Peabody, our time machine restaurant is busted.

In any event, this new naming technique got me thinking about the whole French fry foofaraw of a few years ago. In 2003 when the United State boldly invaded Iraq looking for WebMDs—or was it WMDs, I forget—the French government loudly protested this move. Americans, being Americans, didn’t take too kindly to anyone—especially the fucking French—telling us what to do, so a movement began to strike back at the cheese-eating surrender monkeys. Would bombing the Eiffel Tower do the trick? No. How about a gigantic tariff on cigarettes and berets? No. The only way we could strike back was to do something that a Frenchman would do be extremely passive aggressive and petty. The collective American mind worked together and came up with a plan to call french fries, Freedom Fries.

Eat that, Paris!

According to the always reliable Wikipedia: “On March 11, 2003 Representatives Robert W. Ney (R-Ohio) and Walter B. Jones, Jr. (R-North Carolina) declared that all references to French fries and French toast on the menus of the restaurants and snack bars run by the House of Representatives would be removed. House cafeterias were ordered to rename French fries "freedom fries". This action was carried out without a congressional vote, under the authority of Ney's position as Chairman of the Committee on House Administration, which oversees restaurant operations for the chamber. The simultaneous renaming of French toast to "freedom toast" attracted less attention.”*

* I don’t give a shit about French toast because I think it tastes like rat steak, but if you were a French toast fan, wouldn’t you be pissed that your favorite food got the short end of the stick? I mean, it’s already in the breakfast ghetto, way behind in popularity to the superior pancake and the versatile egg. This was the opportune time for the French toast to take the national spotlight and it failed miserably.

The French embassy didn’t comment on the action, but did say (in I’m sure the nicest way possible) that French fries weren’t originally from France, they were from Belgium. In fact, Thomas Jefferson was probably the first person to identify fried potatoes as being cooked in the “French style”. “Irregardless,” screamed the American public and the name Freedom fries stuck like a fine polymar.

Until a little over two years later. When, again according to Wikipedia, “In May 2005, Representative Jones, having arrived at the belief that the United States went to war "with no justification", said of the "freedom fries" episode: "I wish it had never happened." By July 2006, the House had quietly changed the name of the two foods in all of its restaurants back to "French fries" and "French toast".”

So while the whole country was really, really, REALLY angered by the French*, they eventually realized that this whole thing was a bit silly and the French returned to the fry and everything was cool again.**

* That Wikipedia article on Freedom fries said that the makers of French’s mustard were so freaked out as being seen as anti-patriot that they wrote up a press release assuring people that they were NOT a French company and that the mustard’s name was derived from a family name. The best part is that they used the release to assure America that they were patriotic as hell.

I’m not sure if the company’s CEO took a public patriotic test, but it wouldn’t surprise me if he did.

** This isn’t the first time that America changed names of foodstuffs. During World Wars I and II as hamburgers were called “Liberty Steaks”, sauerkraut was called “Victory Cabbage” and frankfurters were called “Hot Dogs”. I can totally see the need for changing the name of French fries because all Germany did was genocide about bunch of people. France had the balls to call us out on a unjustified war. It’s really the same thing if you think about it.

Which brings us back to Johnny Rockets. I would guess that the reason why they didn’t use the Freedom fries moniker is because another restauranteur, Neal Rowand of North Carolina (of course), has copyrighted the word “Freedom fries” and they’d probably have to pay a couple of bucks to use it*. Patriotism isn’t free, asshole and there’s always a dollar to be made during war.

* You know who doesn’t mind spending a few bucks to offer Freedom fries at his red, white and blue restaurant? The most patriotic sumabitch who ever lived, Mr. Toby Keith. He owns the “I Love This Bar & Grill” chain of bars and grills and you can be damned sure that you won’t find any FRENCH fries anywhere.

Presumably Johnny Rockets went with the cheaper and more generic “American fries” for their menu to prove to everyone who stuffs himself into one of their booths that they are the most patriotic restaurant ever! I mean, it’s obvious right? It’s right there on their menu, see? No, Senator McCarthy, I do not consort with communists, Muslim sympathizers or the French. No. I am most assuredly NOT unAmerican! Ronald McDonald is damn liar! This is an outrage!

It seems to me that Johnny Rockets encapsulates the 1950s perfectly.

Tuesday, March 15, 2011

Who’s Cooler: Zack Morris vs. Brandon Walsh?

Note: I can't seem to find any pictures of Priestley and Gosselaar together on the internet, so I decided to choose this picture of Tiffani Amber Thiessen instead. It's only because she straddles (HA!) both worlds so easily. It's not because I thought she was super hot. Not at all.

In the early 1990s, there weren’t a lot of TV stars that teenage boys could emulate. They were either too weird (Urkel), too stupid (Joey Lawrence), too shady (Bud Bundy), too Christian (Kirk Cameron), too smart (Doogie Howser) or way too cool (Will Smith). And yes, I realize that I mixed real names with character names, so if you want me to be consistent here they are: Jaleel White, Joey Russo, David Faustino, Mike Seaver, Neil Patrick Harris and Will Smith. There were really only two lead characters that a young man could aspire to be: Beverly Hills 90210’s Brandon Walsh (Jason Priestley) or Saved By the Bell’s Zack Morris (Mark Paul Gosselaar).

I guess if you wanted to be AC Slater (Mario Lopez) or Dylan McKay (Luke Perry) that’s ok, but those guys were second-bananas*. And I suppose if you had a blonde afro mullet, Steve Sanders (Ian Ziering) could be someone to look up to, but he was at best a third-banana. And if you were your group's loser you could always find similarities between yourself and David Silver (Brian Austin Green) or Samuel "Screech" Powers (Dustin Diamond). But why would you want to do that to yourself?

We’re going to stick with the leads of these two shows and break it down, 19 Thoughts style. By the way, we’re only going as far as high school graduation since SbtB had one craptastic year outside of Bayside High and 90210 had four crappy years after the gang graduated from West Beverly High School.

* He was called Sideshow Luke Perry for a reason.

Height: According to the interweb, Brandon is no more than 5’8” and Zack is 6’0”. The internet is usually right about this sort of thing. Point: Morris.

Dudes: Brandon hangs around Dylan, Steve and hapless tool David Silver (who may be white, but he ain't vanilla-take that Robert Van Winkle!). Zack hangs around Slater and hapless tool Screech. Silver and Screech's lameness cancel each other out, so it’s down to the rest of the posse. Dylan’s a puss, but he’s rich and he’s the most popular dude at WBHS and Steve Sanders tries so hard at being cool that he's uncool thus making any of his friends look cool by comparison. Slater was a meat head but vied for ultimate popularity at Bayside, Zack had to befriend him in order that he wasn't usurped. That's a coward's move, Zack should have crushed him. Basically, Brandon’s friends are an updated version of “Happy Days”* while Zack’s friends were rivals that couldn't be squashed and a spastic loser. Point: Walsh.

* The analogy: Dylan = Fonzi, Brandon = Richie, Potsie = David Silver and Ralph Malph = Steve Sanders. The only wrench in this theory is that Potsie and Richie were best friends, but David and Brandon never were. But I do like how Potsie and David are both annoyingly bad singers and Malph and Sanders have perms.

Self-righteous chick friend: Both were supposed to be the “soul” and "conscience" of each show, both sucked. Hard. Episodes stopped when they were built around these two. Brandon had Andrea Zuckerman (Gabrielle Carteris, who looked like she was 50-years-old) who made a big deal about every slight, real or imagined. While Zack had Jessie Spano (Elizabeth Berkley) who made a big deal about every slight, real or imagined. Jessie was a main ingredient of the super-group “Hot Sundaes” and she almost OD’ed on caffeine pills. Andrea just crabbed that everyone at WBHS was antisemitic. Point: Morris.

Other chick friends: Brandon had his bitchy twin sister Brenda, Donna Martin and Kelly Taylor (Jennie Garth). Zack had Kelly Kapowski* and Lisa Turtle (Lark Voorhies). Shop-a-holic Donna Martin was the catalyst for one of the all-time great 90210 episodes (Donna Martin graduates **) and Brandon ended up getting into Kelly Taylor’s pants. Zack ended up doing the same to Kelly Kapowski and fooled around with shop-a-holic Lisa Turtle. That leaves Brenda as the tipping point and she made the show’s engine run. Point: Walsh.

* As you are well aware, Tiffani Amber Theissen made a splash as the Walsh’s bad girl cousin (she smoked pot, used a fake ID to get into bars, and had sex with every dude in the cast), Valerie Malone on 90210. She replaced real-life bad girl Shannon Doherty (Brenda). There aren’t a lot of actresses who can pull this dramatic 180 and was quite a shock to the system. Especially when you watched SbtB in the afternoon and she was worried about kissing Zach and tehn two hours later she was on 90210 screwing everything in sight.

** The whole premise behind this episode was terrific: Donna gets drunk, gets caught at the prom and is barred from graduating with her friends. This has her so down in the dumps, that the gang rallies behind her and tells the school board that no one is graduating unless Donna graduates. The school board folds, the kids cheer and Steve yells, “Let’s get a keg!” Donna Martin did indeed graduate.

The Tori Spelling Factor: Someone once said that Tori Spelling was the zeitgeist of the 1990s. That was supposed to be funny, but it's kind of true. And that's just so fucking sad. Spelling was a cast member on both shows: she played Donna Martin on 90210 and was Screech’s girlfriend Violet Bickerstaff on Saved by the Bell. She wasn’t good on either of them. However, she was on less episodes of SbtB than 90210 and her dad wasn’t the executive producer of that show either. Point: Morris.

Sex: Brandon had a nice run of “going all the way” in high school. Zack had none and seemed very ok with it. Point: Walsh.

Daddy issues: Brandon had the most clueless (and therefore the greatest) TV dad of all time: Jim Walsh. He was brilliantly played by the one and only James Eckhouse. Morris had three different actors playing his notoriously absent father. It’s my contention that all of Morris’ stunts were constant cries for attention from his daddy. Point: Walsh.

Oedipus Complexes?: None here. Both mothers were rarely seen and when they were on camera, weren’t listened to. They were ornaments to prove that the dads were straight as arrows. It seems to me that Brandon may have wanted to have sex with his sister, but that's not really the same thing, is it? Plus, that taboo sexual tension was part of what made the show great. Point: None.

Dealings with authority figures: As we have seen with the Donna Martin Graduates episode, Brandon Walsh held a lot of sway with the Beverly Hills School Board and the school's vice-principal, Ms. Teasley—not to mention a few teachers (like senior English teacher Gil) and other advisers. Zack Morris had the Big Kahuna of Bayside High School wrapped around his finger: principal Richard Belding (Dennis Hastings). Belding was so thoroughly flummoxed by Morris, that by the end of the series Zack was often trying more outlandish schemes because he was so bored of bamboozling Belding. It was almost as if he wanted to get caught and punished which I think has to do with Morris’ daddy issues. It’s obvious that Belding was a surrogate father to the lonely student and Morris’ actions were the typical teenage rebellions that were normally aimed at parental units. Arm chair psychology aside, Morris ran BHS so point: Morris.

Hangouts: Brandon had the Peach Pit where he had to work. Morris had the Max where he seemed to get free food. Point: Morris.

Hangout Owners: Armed with old-school wisdom, veteran B-actor Nat Bussichio—played with panache by Joe E. Tata—owned the Peach Pit and served up mega burgers and advice. The Max was run by a failed magician named Max (so imaginative) whose specialty was the Max Burger (doubly imaginative). The dude was a fucking failed magician who named burgers after himself, point: Walsh.

Work: Brandon slaved at the gang’s hangout the Peach Pit during the school year and when it got hot, he took a job at the Beverly Hills Beach Club. While it seemed like he was being mature, he ended up spending half of his shifts talking to his buddies who all hung around his places of work. Morris was too busy scheming about ripping off his classmates to get a real job. Point: push. Walsh made the system work for him, Morris worked the system.

Race Relations. There was an episode of "90210" that dealt with the Rodney King riots where Brandon and his Crenshaw High School newspaper editor counterpart traded op-ed pages. Brandon angered the community by inviting the Crenshaw kids to their West Bev dance (THEY'RE PROBABLY ALL IN A GANG!). But David Silver angered everyone by rapping. However, the kids learned that they aren't so different and started hip-hop line dancing. The Crenshaw editor started dating Andrea (how SHOCKING!). Also Brandon's boss at the beach club was a soap-opera watching black guy and the short order cook at the Peach Pit was a dude named Willie who seemed like a terrific back ground actor.And Silver and Andrea are both Jewish. On SbtB, aside from Lisa Turtle, there was one black nerdy kid who talked like Froggy from "Our Gang". Mario Lopez is Hispanic, I guess. Point: Everyone! Hooray!

I was backstage and I heard that you kids liked ALCOHOL!: It’s true, Paul Stanley, these kids did like alcohol. Unfortunately they liked it a bit too much and both crashed their cars. Walsh crashed the very symbol of his Minnesota roots,what made him so different from the Hollyweirdos, a piece of crap car named Mondale (after former presidential candidate and piece of crap car, Walter Mondale). Morris crashed Lisa Turtle’s parents’ car after a toga party gone awry. Also Morris injured his friends. At least it took Brandon more than one party to fuck up his life and he didn’t take anyone down with him. Point: Walsh.

Drugs!: Both were anti-drug, however only Brandon got high. And that was inadvertently when his girlfriend spiked his club soda with ecstasy*. Brandon also shit his pants when he found out that Steve was taking steroids. The only time the Saved by the Bell gang saw drugs is at a party for superstar celebrity Jonny Dakota (who ironically chose BHS as the site for his “There’s No Hope With Dope” PSA). Dakota is passed a joint, takes a comically large hit and hands it to Kelly. Morris busts in at the last minute (the gang had left when Screech did something stupid and Zack had forgot his jacket) and tells Dakota that no one does drugs in HIS school. The commercial shoot is ruined and superstar NBC President Brandon Tartikoff is brought in to replace Dakota and film the commercial. Point: I don’t know, at least Walsh did something.

* Although Brandon was angry about being drugged, he was more angry when his psycho girlfriend (Emily Valentine) showed up to help the gang build a float wearing his “lucky Minnesota Twins” jersey. He was absolutely incredulous about the gall that this gal had wearing his shirt. To be honest, I’d be pretty pissed off about that too. Emily ends up burning down the kids’ float. Not sure what happened to the shirt.

Cars: After destroying Mondale, Brandon worked his ass off for a summer and got a nice, late-60s Mustang that he thankfully didn’t name after a failed presidential candidate. Morris had his two feet. Point: Walsh.

Athletics: Despite being two inches taller than Spud Webb and less black, Brandon made the WBHS junior varsity basketball team, which (rightly, I might add) pissed Steve Sanders off. He also made the track team and was a pretty good hockey player. Zack Morris found his Native American roots and ran really fast. All story lines were pretty far-fetched (aside from the hockey one), but at least Morris looked like an athlete. Point: Morris.

Intelligence: Brandon did very well on his SATs, was salutatorian and was accepted to numerous top-tiered schools, but chose to go to a state school with his buddies. There was one episode where Morris literally aced his SATs and he chose to go to a state school with his buddies. Aside from being crafty, Morris was kind of a dumb ass, so I can see why he did well on standardized testing. Point: Walsh.

Musicianship and Music Influences: Morris was in a band called “Zack Attack” and he played lead guitar. His room had posters of the Bangles and Janet Jackson on the wall. Walsh was famous for not being able to sing or dance and his room had a poster of the Neville Brothers* on his wall. The lameness in poster choice cancels each other out, and at the very least, Zack was actually in a band. Point: Morris.

* Seriously, the Neville Brothers? I would have been less shocked if Brandon had a poster of Neville Chamberlain on his wall. I can guarantee you that if you did a nation-wide sweep, there would be zero teenagers with a Neville Brothers CDs in their collection, never mind a poster on their walls. Any time that they would show Brandon’s room, that poster took me out of the story and I’d end up wondering whether the producer was a huge fan and wanted to subconsciously influence America’s teens. It was just weird.

Kids: Brandon and Steve once had to take care of a sullen teenage mother’s baby named Joey. They did this during a montage while Concrete Blonde’s song “Joey” was playing in the background. I wonder if the producers asked each other whether the viewers would understand the significance, especially when the lead singer warbled, “Joey, I’m not angry any more!”. Zack Morris once delivered a baby in a stuck elevator. Bonus! The baby was Mr. Belding’s son! How’s that for ham-fisted subtlety! Point: America for having these two great story lines.

Miscellany: Brandon Walsh had pretty cool hair and along with Luke Perry brought the sideburns back into popularity. Zack Morris seemed aware that he was on a television show and would freeze time and talk directly to the audience. That’s post-modernism, baby! Zack also was one of the first fictional characters on television to have a cell phone. A phone so stupidly large that it's a point of reference when discussing the immense size of things. Point: Morris.

The winner in this very scientific survey is Brandon Walsh by a whopping 8-7 count. So the next time you’re at a fancy dinner party or having cocktails with the boys and someone brings up this question, you are now able to answer this question without any hesitation.And the best part is that you'll have this scientific study as absolute proof when you are called a liar and a heretic.