Sunday, August 29, 2004

Clintonville Rocks!

Yesterday was a big milestone in the quiet little hamlet I call home, Clintonville, Pennsylvania (official town motto: 'We have a store'). That's right, yesterday was the first annual, I assume, Clintonville Community Day. This is the one day in the year where the simple, blue collar folk of this humble burgh get to cut loose and really show the world what we're made of. We're talking about some serious partaying - the more conventionally spelled partying does not come close to doing this shindig justice. I mean, this thing had a classic car cruise AND face painting for the kids AND a karaoke country performance AND a parade with real fire trucks AND a booth from the local Republican party. I think you are beginning to get the picture. This happening didn't stop till the break-a-break of dawn...Well, at least not till the break-a-break of 9:30 pm.

Now, I was blissfully unaware of this momentous occasion until it practically began. You see, the focal points of Community Day were the fire hall - directly next door to my house - and the local little league field - directly behind my house. So, a little after noon, much to my surprise, people started showing up all around my house. Since people usually don't hang around here - Clintonville's not exactly being the city that never sleeps (amendment to official town motto: 'The store closes at 6') - I was left utterly confused. After querying my mother, everything was explained. This led to the following exchange:

Me: 'Does this mean I have to wear pants?'
Mom: 'Only if you want to go outside.'
Me: 'Dang!'

With nothing better to do, I decided I might as well check out what all the hubbub was about. I walked around the little league field, where classic cars, freshly polished, where parked along the first base line. Then, I noticed something really important. Off just to the first base side of the batting cage, the local oldies radio station was broadcasting live. This is when I knew - just knew - that this party was for real. This was Big Time with a capital 'B' and 'T'. Oldies stations don't just do remote broadcast from any old location. They only show up for the biggest, brightest, and most important events. Clearly, this Clintonville Community Day was nothing to be trifled with.

I explored further. Up by the firehall the party was swinging in full effect. There was a booth where kids could win crappy prizes by pitching dimes into cups. The Lions club was selling canes - don't ask. There was an Army recruiting tent. There was a strong man sledge hammer swinging booth, only instead of the long display with a bell the objective was to crush a Coke can - don't ask. There was a John Deer tractor. There was a booth where kids could get their face painted. There was also a booth where kids could paint their own design onto T-shirts. A kid ran by me and my parents carrying a shirt with crudely drawn breasts with the words 'Big uns' written above them. This led to the following exchange:

My dad: 'Big uns? What's that mean?'
Me: 'Dad, there where boobs on that shirt.'
Dad: 'What?'
Me: 'Boobs.'
Dad: 'Boobs?'
Me: 'Dad, that kid drew boobs on that shirt. Didn't you notice?'
Dad: 'Oh, my, No. Oh, my!'

Then there was a parade with a route stretching almost a full mile. There were fire trucks, and kids from the local little league. The local churches had a float and there was a float with really lame annoying clowns - not that there are other kinds of clowns. I saw the mayor of Clintonville for the first time (mayoral motto: 'I decide when the store closes'). I didn't even know we had a mayor and much to my surprise the guy looked like he was 12. Seriously, he could of been younger than me. Clearly, I'm wasting my life. There is no reason I can't be the mayor of some tiny, fly speck town. As a matter of fact, I think I'm going for it. If anyone knows of a small town with an empty mayoral seat, tell me. I'm relocating and running for office. I just really want to get to ride in a parade in a convertible. Is that too much to ask?

After the parade, there was free hot dogs at the firehall. And, lest anyone think that Clintonville is completely small minded, they offered a vegetarian alternative. Seriously, I'm not making this up. I was absolutely shocked. It seemed like such a nice gesture. I'm sure no one took the veggie dogs, but it was still a nice gesture.

Then, after dinner was the highlight of the entire day for me: the entertainment. The headliner - I use the term lightly - was a country singer with all the trappings. He had a fancy multicolored lighting rig. He had a fog machine working overtime. He had a denim vest over a 'Big Dog' T-shirt. He had a long, flowing, majestic mullet. The only thing he did not have was a backing band. So, we were treated to country karaoke. Not that this guy was hampered by the lack of band. He strutted around the stage with his head set microphone, playing to the crowd while he sung his selection of Toby Keith covers. At one point, he changed the lyric to a song to mention Clintonville - this was greeted by one guy in the crowd doing the two-hands-in-the-air-pointing-at-the-stage-to-say-hell-yeah move. I almost fell out of my chair laughing. Everyone else seemed to take the whole thing seriously. Meanwhile, I found the thing hilarious. I could've watched it for hours - although in reality I only watched it for about 10 minutes.

After this hour of unbridled awesome, they had a fireworks display. I don't have anything to say about the fireworks. They were actually quite impressive for a small town community day celebration. I was expecting a couple of local kids with bottle rockets, but they brought out all the stops - including the ones that blow up and then all the individual colored parts blow up again in another direction and then the whole thing frizzles. It actually was a good way to end the day.

So, all told it was a fine day. I saw boobs painted on a T-Shirt. I got a free Lions Club travel mug. I saw some awesome karaoke. I went to bed happy with the visions of the second annual Clintonville Community Day dancing in my head.

Shalom

Saturday, August 28, 2004

A Secret of the Arts

Now, I'm not the most informed person. Nor am I even near the most artsy person I know. But like all living arrangements, location is very important. I live in the Friendship neighborhood of Pittsburgh. It's the smallest neighborhood in the city, but it's location is prime. I live blocks away from the very artsy section of Garfield on Penn Avenue. But, Mike the Tall, does that not mean that there is a constant stream of hippies flowing near your humble abode? Indeed it does, but this does not come without benefits.

The very cool coffee house (almost a bar) The Quiet Storm is just a few blocks away and they have bands, killer milkshakes, and you can take your vegan friends there to eat. All none of them.

The even better part is that there are two art galleries and two performance spaces very near as well. The Penn Theatre is close by and Attack Theatre has there dance performance space here for the time being (they move to a new neighborhood every 2 years and are super cool). The art galleries are fun: Garfiled Art Works and Modern Formations.

Here's the best part that surprised the other dwellers: artists are total boozehounds. Saying that, every art opening has booze and snacky foods there for the public's enjoyment. I went to a party at Joe's and didn't drink because I got totally drunk the night before at an art gallery. This was not my first time, and indeed the following week, in the same gallery, I was drunk again.

I told them that this is not an uncommon thing. Art openings are great things: good art, good people, and free wine. Love it! So, I am going to let out a not so secret thing. Every first Friday of each month, all the arts organizations all along Penn Avenue, from downtown to almost Wilkensburg have something going on on those nights. It's usually free (unless there are paid performers) and open to everyone, and the fancier places often have wine. That means next week, everyone should come visit and we'll go to the two fun art galleries near my house and drink and meet fun artsy people.

Thursday, August 26, 2004

Stop Speaking Out!

Ever since the Vietnam war, celebrities (specially musicians) have felt the uncontrollable urge to take a roll in politics. To protest every war under the sun, to stand up for the soft skulls of baby seals, and to speak as if their opinions mean more than the everyday Man's. And if there was one thing I could change about the music industry, it would be their love of speaking out. Not because I want to hinder freedom of speech, but because I'm tired of my favorite artists soiling their image by aligning themselves with a political party. I don't care if they are GOP or ASS (whoops, I meant Democrat), I don't want to know.

There are so many musicians and bands that are now forever soiled in my mind because I know what issues they support and oppose. That doesn't mean I've stop listening to their music, but it does mean that I've stopped thinking of them as people I can relate to. After knowing what a band really stands for or supports, I'm more cautious when it comes to wearing that band's paraphernalia or telling others that I like them. I would rather be blissfully ignorant of a musician's political leanings. When you have no preconceived notions about a band, you can fully enjoy the music they present.

This year's election has really brought together the music community, particularly bands I love, to rally against our president. Why? Well mainly because A) he is a Republican. The majority of artists are liberal for reasons that I find to be "retarded." B) he is involved in a war. Artists naturally feel the urge to protest the war and blame America for starting it. They don't realize that no one likes war, but sometimes you gotta do what you gotta do. C) it's more hip to be against The Man than for The Man.

So many groups that I love are now joining these ridiculous compilation CDs, trying to make their statement in this MTV-run music industry. They preach nonconformity, and yet every group says the same thing. They say "Anyone but Bush" when they don't realize that the man they could put in office will be worse than Bush. They are abusing the microphone that we the listener gave them. I knew I didn't agree with the politics of some of my favorite bands: Dave Matthews, Less Than Jake, Death Cab for Cutie... but it was when the bands I didn't expect to have opinions spoke up, that's when I got disappointed.

My favorite band in the whole world is They Might Be Giants. They've been around since I was just a youngin', and I remember first discovering, like most kids did, on the music video episode of Tiny Toons. Ever since 7th grade I've loved them, seeing them in concert every time they come to town, buying all of their albums, and proudly sporting a TMBG buddy icon from time to time. All throughout their history, they have stayed silent when it comes to politics, although it's sort of obvious when you look at John and John and their backgrounds, they never were obnoxious about it. Until I heard that John Linnel was organizing the MoveOn.Org compilation CD. Ouch. My perfect vision of TMBG, the coolest alt-pop rock group on the planet, was now tarnished because they are associated themselves with the most appalling of 3rd party political groups. Worse yet, their CD was taking other great bands I enjoy, like Death Cab, Flaming Lips, OK Go, and Ben Kweller. Talk about a shame. I listen to alot of punk music, and so I expect that kind of activism from them, but these indie guys don't need this.

Musicians like to spout off about this stuff like we care what they have to say... but I'm fairly sure that no one really likes to listen to them. Thanks Morrissey for letting me know what you think of Bush, since you can vote in our election anyways... And I would like to give MTV a big thanks for their pitiful "Rock the Vote" campaign. There's nothing like a fresh breath of liberal stank to get the youth up and united in a cause they know nothing about. Instead, people will be "rocking" some sort of voting booth because they think GW is "stupid" and "can't talk" and starts "illegitimate wars." Way to think for yourself... or at least, way to listen to Jack Black's t-shirt at the VMA's.

My Blue Collar Day

After a my long unemployed diaspora, today marks my triumphant return to the land of the employed. Not only have I returned, but I've returned with a vengeance. I've returned blue collar style. I even get to wear a hard hat - very stylish in yellow, I've made it a point to accessorize appropriately tomorrow. Sure, it's just a temp gig which will only last a couple of weeks, but for me it feels like a momentous step. I mean, I haven't missed 'Saved By The Bell' at noon in months. Of course when I applied at the temp agency, I wasn't expecting hard labor. I didn't expect to go to a factory. I didn't expect the temp agency's call to begin with "Do you have steel toed boots?" This is, however, how it went down. I was hoping for some cushy clerical thing, but I'm not exactly in the position to argue with anything that pays.

So, this morning I awoke at 5:30 - in the morning mind you - so that I could beat my mother to the bathroom and make it to Shippensville at 7. For those familiar with western PA, that's near Clarion, a good half an hour from my house. For those not familiar with western PA, buy a map. I drove to the former easily pronunciated Temple-Inland Fiber Board factory, where I would be helping set it up for its new owner. The factory - now called the much harder to pronunciate Aconagua Fiber Board Factory - has been closed for some time, I take it. It seems that a South American billionaire has bought the factory and wants to use it as a front for drug trafficking. Of course, no one said this, but I'm not an idiot. When someone says South American billionaire, what they really mean is drug lord. I'm not saying the guy is a drug lord. But come on. A South American billionaire!? I think we all know how this works.

So, after watching a very dull safety video, I and the other four - out of eleven - temps who showed up got divided up and sent to work. I was assigned to a guy named Jim, and we - just the two of us - were sent to work in the 'bag houses'. The name alone isn't foreboding, but when people are making comments around you like "They're sending just two guys for that job?" and "Hey Jim, do you really think that platform is safe?", you begin to worry a little. As it turns out, the bag houses refer to a group of air filters which are roughly four floors above the factory floor. First, we had to put the filters together, which involves forcing a long, slim wire cage into a think fabric sleeve. It was kind of like putting huge condoms on brobdingnagian metal penises. It wasn't as much fun as it sounded. Once, the cages were 'bagged' they were slipped into a slot - very sexual - at the top of a one of three silos. This doesn't sound like much I know, but just to give you an idea as to what this was like, there are almost 1,100 slots in the silos. Of course, I noted that the bag houses would be a wonderful place to hide kilo upon kilo of pure uncut heroin.

After several breaks - Jim was big on the breaks, he must be union - I was moved to a building to which I don't know the name. All I know was that I had to climb through a hatch like that on a submarine and got to work with this wonderful fiber glass insulation which made me cough - despite wearing a mask - and has left really sexy red splotches up and down my arms. Eventually, I found out that I was in a furnace. Of course a furnace is great for making things and people disappear - say, for instance, federal evidence or an accountant who's beginning to ask too many questions. Also, when not turned on, the furnace would make a wonderful place to hide kilo upon kilo of pure uncut heroin.

There's more to tell you. For instance, I have not even mention the man who claimed to have died, but insist that "they brought me back." I guess he's like the six million dollar man, only they couldn't make him better. At least, they couldn't get him a cushy government job. I'd like to tell you even more about this man and all the rest of my crazy encounters, but I happen to be quite tired and sore from my day of actual labor. I think I need to just sit on the couch and chill. Plus, I'm meeting with the FBI later. They want to fit me with a wire.

Shalom

Sunday, August 22, 2004

Something Fishy

I write to you today, dear reader, not simply as James, the guy who writes occasionally amusing blog post, but as James, great outdoorsman and master of wildlife. Today, I have faced the wilds and persevered. Today, I have stood toe to toe with the awesome powers of nature and laughed. Today, I have withstood the most devastating, Darwinian blows and replied, "Is that all you've got?" Today, I have asserted my manhood in true Hemingway fashion. Today, I went fishing with my dad.

Ok, maybe it wasn't that impressive. I wasn't exactly wrestling a marlin for three days, but I did catch a bunch of fierce fish known as bluegill. Some of these little fighters weighed as much as half a pound. They are also a notoriously cruel fish. They are known to hang out in gangs and almost all of them carry switch blades. They'll cut you as soon as look at you. So you can see what I was up against.

Fishing - for those of you who do not have ESPN2 - is a cruel, brutish sport wherein men - with the aid of advanced technologies such as fiber carbon rods, high test line, flashy lures, and beer - snag unsuspecting fish with a sharp, barbed hook and pull them onto land. For those of you wondering, sharp, barbed wit is useless against fish. It is a sport because you buy the equipment in a sporting goods store, and because it is best enjoyed while drinking. Needless to say, it can be quite a lot of fun - even though my dad does not drink and hence there was no beer today.

My dad is an avid fisherman. He goes out at least a couple times a week. On the other hand, the last time I caught a fish it was red, Swedish, and thrown across a room and into my mouth at a party. Today, my father suggested - for some unfathomable reason - that I go with him. Since his birthday is coming up, and its been quite a while since I've had some good, quality male bonding time, I agreed. My father then took me into the heart of the wilderness to a secluded, practically untouched fishing hole. I had to use a machete to cut through the foliage...Sorry, that's something I saw on TV. We actually went to a stocked pond, two minutes from my house, which is owned by a member of our church.

Stocked means that someone has brought in tame farm bred fish into a small area so that everyone is guaranteed to catch something. The fish are so thick in this pond that you can practically walk across the water on an island of bluegill and perch. Any moron could catch a fish here. All you have to do is clap your hands and call them and they are practically bounding out of the water at you Ernie and Bert style. Or so I thought.

The first problem was the bait. My father couldn't get the superior night crawlers, so we had to settle for red worms - the fat chick best friend of the worm world. Not to say that they're fat - they are actually quite thin - but they are no fisherman's first choice. The worms are actually too thin. All a fish had to do was give the slightest of tugs, and the hook was left bare. After a while I realized that tearing the worms into much smaller morsels - alive, with my bare hands - was much preferable. This is where a lesser writer would make a 'master baiter' joke. I, however, am far above such tom foolery.

Once I had the baiting down all I needed was patience. I spent what seemed like hours watching a small, fluorescent 'bobber', waiting for some foolish fish to drag it down. This seemed to take forever. The bobber would move - jiggle up and down just a little - and I would get excited. I was poised to hook the little bastard as soon as he really took the bait, but they never did. The fish - who are obviously much smarter than I'd given them credit for - were just carefully nibbling the worm off the hook. None of them would just take the bait. I got so frustrated I was yelling things at the fish such as, "COME ON!!! It's fish or cut bait time" or "COME ON!!! It's time to poop or get off the pot". Of course, fish don't understand quaint, vulgar cliches. They did not do as told.

The fish wouldn't take the bait. I knew the fish were there. They were eating the worms. I could see them for crying out loud. Around the shore you could see them, just milling about stupidly. I tried putting a baited hook right in front of these fish. They wouldn't even look at it. They did, however, become quite fascinated with the fishing line. They liked that stupid string more than the worm.

Eventually, after I had almost completely lost interest - 15 minutes - my bobber shot down into the briny deep. This was it. This was what it's all about, man versus nature, technology versus instinct, me versus small, harmless fish. I won. I pulled that fish out of that pound, held up the pole to show my dad, and felt like the king of the world. My dad was beaming with pride. His boy had done good. Of course, this was short lived.

"What do I do know?" I said.

"Take him off the hook and put him back," he said.

"How do I go about doing that?"

"Just grab him and take the hook out."

"You mean I have to touch it?"

"Yes"

"Ewww," I said, "Can you do it for me?"

Disappointed, my father unhooked the poor fish, who I imagine went back to his fish friends and said something like: "Sure the worm looks like its free..." Meanwhile, emboldened by my success, I went back to my fishing. I managed to catch a couple of other fish. I was even able to regain the boldness I had at twelve and grab the fish and unhook them myself. My father was happy. I was happy. The fish were most likely pissed.

All told, it was a pretty good time, even with out the beer.

Shalom

Thursday, August 19, 2004

Wi-Fi Madness

As I write this blog entry, I lay in my bed with my iBook. Not only am I writing this blog, but I'm publishing it from my bed too, and I'm also streaming my iTunes playlist, talking on AIM and sending some e-mail all while laying tummy down on the quilt my grandma made me. Now before you call witchcraft and string me up by neck... halt! I'm not using some weird smoke and mirrors method of accessing the internet. I'm using technology from the 21st century!!! It's called WI-FI (aka wireless internet). And holy smokes it's great.

Wireless internet is an idea that first formulated back during the Cold War. It was a young Al Gore who first was struck in the head by an apple (much like Sir Newton, except this apple was thrown at Gore by Ollie North). Mr. Gore said to himself, in a very slow and monotonous tone, "I should create a world wide communication network... with my bare hands! All by myself!" And then, about an hour later, over a bowl of scrambled eggs with ketchup, he thought out loud, "You know what... once I have this internet thing completed, I should make it go through the air without wires... I will make this with my bare hands! The question is how..."

And so Al Gore set to work on the world wide web. Using his vast knowledge of boring things, he was able to device networks and servers, cables and browsers, even spam and viruses. The man thought of everything (honest). Gore spent as much time as a human man could, and then some, on perfecting this tool that would revolutionize the world. And once he had things "good enough" he decided to move on to making the wires disappear and the world wide web go air born.

For this task, he contracted the help of three key men: David Copperfield, the Verizon Guy, and Jerry Stiller. David Copperfield was brought in for his masterful skills as illusion. He could make any wire disappear with enough bed sheets and spotlights. This would be the go-to-guy for making the wires less. That's when the Verizon Guy comes in. You may know him as the Rivers Cuomo-looking dude who says "Can you hear me now?" He is there to hook up the service so it goes at a decent by not great speed. Once it's actually up and running, Jerry Stiller comes in to test it out. Of course he can't go a few minutes without yelling and shaking his hands while looking at a laptop without any wires. "What is going on!!!?" he will yell, and George Costanza, Kevin James, and Ben Stiller all peek their heads in to see what's wrong.

Chalk up another great invention by Al Gore. No wait, don't... he might sell it to the Chinese.

And it was just yesterday that we got wi-fi installed at our house. It was a big step for us, one that I take full credit for initiating. You see, I recently got a new iBook, and I insisted on getting a Apple Airport Extreme card in it (which is the Apple-brand wireless card). It was once I got home and began talking about wireless internet, that my brother got very interested in it. He went ahead and found a Netgear 802.11g (that's how much it weighs) wi-fi router and about a week later it was at my doorstep. The thing itself is amazing... I was originally worried about how far it would reach in our house, and in the end, it goes all the way out in to the middle of the street! I immediately had to set up the security on it, so as to prevent some drive-by wi-fi.

Just think, next time I blog... I could be on my roof, in my basement, or on the toilet. Yeah, just let that sink in.

Sunday, August 15, 2004

Sandwich Philosophy

Yesterday, I visited my grandmother in New Brighton. This is not an unusual occurrence for me on the weekends. I usually drop in on my poor, widowed grandmother at least once a week, and upon arrival I am put instantly into hard labor. Well, not really HARD labor, it's more like hard-only-if-your-over-75 labor. I do all the things that my grandmother can't do anymore, like carry things up and down stairs and lift anything weighing more than couple pounds.

(Now, here, just as a side note not having anything to do with the rest of this post, I feel the pressing desire to tell you about the incredible find I made in my grandmother's basement. I found an actual, genuine campaign pin for Richard Millhouse Nixon circa 1960. You can tell it's from 1960 by looking at Nixon's picture and measuring his jowls. In this picture, Nixon's jowls are still above his chin. Hence, this is a relatively young Nixon from 1960. By the time Nixon was actually president his jowls reached past his chin. By the time he left office they were to his collar. I understand at the time of his death, Richard Nixon's jowls were flapping around somewhere near his nipples. Well, anyway, this pin is really cool and I plan to start wearing it...A lot)

After a couple of hours of carrying laundry and moving boxes around her basement, my grandmother pointed out that it was past noon, lunch time. She informed me that she had almost no food in her house. Luckily, grandma had two Subway Club cards chock full of stamps and I was dispatched to bring back lunch. Now, a full card entitles you to one free six inch sub with the purchase of a medium drink. Two full cards entitles you to a free foot long with the purchase of a medium drink. I'm sorry to bore everyone with what seems to be trifling details and fine print, but I assure everyone that this information is of vital importance to this inane little essay I am writing.

Now, it was my goal to buy two separate six inch subs while spending as little money as possible. I, therefore, would try to get both free while buying only one drink. This would not be easy since it is against the rules of the Subway club card, but I figured I could do it. I walked into Subway, and up to the poor unsuspecting high schooler working behind the counter.

"Hello," I said. "Can I get two different six inch subs with these cards and only buy one drink?"

"No," The girl said. This did not deter me since this was the answer I expected. I knew that I would need to take a more clever tack."

"What if," I said, "I got a foot long consisting of two halves that were completely different?"

"That would be two six inches," she said. Hmmm, I could see that she would be a tough egg to crack. She seemed somewhat tired and annoyed, although I had not yet begun to become tiresome and annoying.

"Yes," I said, "And two six inches add up to one foot long."

"But they'd be different."

"So?"

"That makes them two different sandwiches."

"Why couldn't it be one sandwich that changes half way through?"

"It just can't."

"Let me ask you a question." I was doing things like tenting my fingers and furrowing my brow to show that I was about to make an excellent point. "Are you the same now as you were when you were five? Of course you're not, but you're still the same person. So, why can't a sub be different at the ten inch mark than at the two inch mark, and still be the same sub?" After finishing my point, I threw my hands in the air just a little to either said of my head in a sort of ta-da gesture.

The girl just stared at me blankly for a second before saying, "Sir, don't make me get my manager."

So, I relented. Since I still didn't want to buy two drinks I got a foot long sub of what my grandmother wanted. I would eat half even though it was not what I really wanted (I know, I'm such a martyr). But then something happened when the girl was putting on the veggies which set me off again.

My Grandmother wanted cucumbers on her sandwich - because she's old and old people like things like cucumber - on the other hand, I - being young a virile - detest cucumber. So, I asked, ever so nicely, if there was a way that one half of the sandwich would not be bothered by said cucumber. The girl said that the veggies could be completely different on each side. When she said this it set off something in my brain.

"Wait a second," I said. "Doesn't having completely different veggies on each side side make this into two separate sandwiches?"

"It's still all ham."

"No." I was enjoying this. "That half is ham with cucumbers. This half is ham without cucumbers. That's two completely different sandwiches."

I got no response to this but a blank stare. I decided to go one anyway.

"You see," I said, going in to lecture mode, "As soon as you change one thing you change the essential sandwichness of the sandwich. Therefore by changing something on only half of the sandwich, we are now looking at two separate sandwiches. You only insist that it is the same because you are stuck in the narrow societal perpetrated idea that the sandwich is defined by the meat, and everything else is unessential. However, one might argue, that you could just as easily consider the veggies to be the essential part of the sandwich. Then you would have one cucumber sandwich and one lettuce sandwich, completely different sandwiches. In reality, I would argue, all parts of the sandwich are essential. To change one part of the sandwich - no matter how seemingly insignificant - you change the entire sandwich."

At this point I wasn't even arguing for anything in particular. I was arguing simply for the sake of arguing. I didn't want another sandwich at this point. What I really wanted was for someone to pop up and say "Boy, you sure are clever". Of course, this didn't happen. The only response I got was from the poor girl on the other side of the counter.

"Sir," she said, "Would you please check out now? Please."

Shalom

Thursday, August 12, 2004

Phone Tag with Spencer

Dream Phone is a lusty game of infinite intrigue. Crafted in the mountains of Tibet by monks that understood the secret behind girls ages 4-12, Dream Phone is a glimmer of hope that rests inside all girls. The object of the game is simple, call one out of the 25 boys featured in the game and listen to the clue he gives you. It is through these clues that you must eventually figure out who has a crush on you.

However, this is no easy task! First of all, these dudes all have a weird aura about them. Any one of them could be a character in Saved by the Bell, but almost all of them look like rapists and child molesters. Everyone you call seems to know the guy who has a crush on you, and they know the guy inside and out. Every facet of this mystery man’s personality is shared by them, and there is never any contradiction. “He will eat almost anything… except ice cream,” “He loves to play sports… except volleyball.” “He looks good in everything he wears… but he doesn’t wear anything yellow.” Why are these guys telling me this?! And without any prompting or nagging on my behalf. No matter who you are, when you call them they are there ready to hand out clues about their best friend.

I don’t even think my buddies could agree on things about me, if I ever did have a crush on someone and that someone began making random phone calls. (I know that’s a stretch, but this is the setup of the entire game!) They would call all of my 25 buddies (buddies who always hang out in the same places every day) and ask them questions about their secret admirer. My friends wouldn't know what the hell to say. "Uh, he likes all kinds of sports... except sports. Man he hates sports" or "He often tells off color jokes," or "Wait... doesn't Mike like hockey? Crap, I'm not supposed to say his name. Oh who cares, you don't want to go out with this guy anyways."

What I don't understand is how the game actually works. I mean, I've played it before... so I kind of grasp it's vague Clue-like rules. But the giant pink phone is what boggles my mind. You dial these numbers in there, and then this Stephen Hawkin-esque voice replies with the clues. How does it know what clues to tell me?! What if one of the boys decides to be a total tool and tell me a clue to throw me off, one that doesn't even apply to my secret admirer. I suspected that the phone was in actuality a real phone, which called to these real boys who are still sitting around on the Milton Bradley payroll just answering the phones. They were very busy back in 1991, but now it's just when punks like me decide to have a little fun.

The game is rife with stereotypes... even if they are of the Saved by the Bell sort. The majority of the dudes are white, there are only three blacks, two Asians and a Mexican. Sounds like a setup for a joke. And of course amongst the white guys, there are nerds (with names like "Spencer" and "Bruce"), there are "metrosexual" guys (of course that wasn't a term back in the day), and there are total hunks with flowing hair and cheesy smiles.

While I played this game with others, there is the option to play by yourself. That's right, you could sit in your room all by yourself and call these robotic man-hunks of the 90's. Is there anything more pathetic than that? Why not just pull out a phone book and start calling random people, asking them for clues about your secret admirer. At least them you'd get a little variety.

Oh well... it's a classic piece of 90's culture. Right next to Mall Madness and Double Dare the Home Edition. You can't ignore this piece of history, let's just hope it never repeats itself.

Wednesday, August 11, 2004

Six String Scourge

There is a great and vile evil roaming free upon our land, a pestilence, a blight upon the very soul of our great country. Nothing can divert this rank villainy. What, you might ask, could be so foul? Is it AIDS? Is it poverty? Is it rhetorical questions? No. No. No. I am talking about a plague at once more benign and more devilish than any of these. I am talking about a scourge which wants nothing more than to ruin your good times. I am talking about those idiots who bring guitars to parties and want to 'jam'.

If you attend a good number of gatherings, get togethers, parties, and the like, there is a good chance you know exactly what I am talking about. You go to a party, and everything's A-Ok. There's food, people, your choice of fine beverages. People are talking, joking, laughing, having an all around good time. Then, Like a foreboding crack of thunder in the distance, someone brings in his guitar. This is quickly followed by the realization that many people have guitars. Often they drop everything they are doing and run to their car to get them. Eventually, someone suggest that all the guitar players get together somewhere - often in right in the middle of the party - and jam.

For those of you who don't know what I mean by 'jamming', allow me to enlighten you. To jam in the musical sense - as opposed to the raspberry preserve sense - has, in my experience, two definitions. Definition one: What happens when a group of talented musicians get together and play music in a fun and unencumbered way. Definition two: What happens when drunk douche bags get together with guitars - not necessarily in tune - at a party and proceed to annoy anyone who isn't playing. As you can see, jamming in the former definition is fine and I have no problem with it. Jamming in the latter sense however is not fine and I despise it. It has yet - even once - to add anything positive to any party I've ever been to. Quite the contrary, it often ruins parties. It makes conversation more difficult. It's never as entertaining to the people not jamming as it is to the people jamming. As a matter of fact, jamming has the knack of bringing parties to a grinding halt. People are held captive by these idiots - who always play way too loud. The enjoyment of the masses is negated for the enjoyment of a small group of morons.

Now here's the real problem. In every group of jammers - I think I just coined a phrase - there is one guy who is really, genuinely good, and it would probably be okay if just this one alpha guitarist would play by himself. It would be kind of the low rent equivalent of the smooth jazz pianist at high society functions. However, people with guitars always materialize around this alpha guitarist and start jamming with him. This is patently absurd. At the aforementioned high society functions you never hear this said to the smooth jazz pianist: "Dude, I've got a key board in my car. I'm totally going to get it and we are totally going to jam." It just doesn't happen in civilized society.

Of course, the people who join the alpha guitarist are of variable skills. There are usually one or two guys who more or less know what they're doing: play things in the right key, keep rhythm, know a bunch of cords. Even this is kind of OK. At least it doesn't sound horrible. But this is never how it goes because, invariably, the group is joined by some guy - sometimes guys - who just sucks. This guy always plays too loud, plays in the wrong key, and for some reason can't keep his guitar in tune. Now the alpha and beta guitarist - instead of doing the reasonable thing and telling the omega guitarist to get lost - have to play louder to cover up this travesty.

To make matters worse. It always happens that no one knows the same songs. So you get one person trying to show another person how to play something, which they proceed to play poorly. For some reason, they manage to never play a song through the whole way. Often they'll spend twenty minutes noodling around on two or three cords which grows monotonous and dull. And through all of this, the other people at the party are just trying to have a good time. They want to talk to friends, meet new people, laugh, and whatnot, but those stupid jammers just refuse to go away. You can't talk over them. You can't talk to them - and I've had conversations end because all of a sudden my friend just had to jam. You can't even dance to them, because they usually really suck. They are like a black hole in the middle of the party, sucking the fun away from everyone else so that they are the only ones really enjoying themselves. At least they don't eat all the food.

So, in conclusion, let me leave everyone with a good piece of advice. If you are going to a party and want to take a guitar with you, stop for a second. Now, ask yourself a few questions. Are you playing in a band that has been asked to perform at this party? Are you being paid to perform at this party? Are you going to a party where everyone - or at least a vast majority of the people - will jam with you or not mind if you jam? Are you Jimmi Hendrix? If you answered yes to any of these questions, then go, take your guitar. But if you answered no to all these questions, then LEAVE YOUR STUPID GUITAR AT HOME!!! Try having a conversation for a change. You might like it.

Shalom

P.S. I would like everyone's help with a very important decision. I have finally followed through on my promise - made here in this blog a few weeks ago - to grow a mustache. I have not shaved my upper lip for almost a week. As you might imagine, my mustache is in that strange, sleazy, half-there state at the moment. Now this doesn't bother me, but...I have a job interview tomorrow. Should I shave my dirt-stache for my job interview or just keep it? Seriously, I'd like to know what everyone thinks. Even if you don't know me, even if you find yourself on this blog on mistake or on a whim, let me know what you think. Just leave a comment and hopefully they will help me decide whether or not to shave. Thanks.

shalom (again)

Monday, August 09, 2004

Woo-hoo!

I got a new job! I'm going to sell insurance. That may not sound like much, indeed it's not the thrill a minute lifestyle I'm used to working with bad kids and all, but it's a good job that will pay well if I apply myself. The funny thing is that I will go broke before my job starts. I have to shell out about $300 to get licensed to sell insurance. And the job that I am doing is not paying me until the end of September I recently found out. So that sucks. Yet another reason why insurance will be good for me.

Since I probably won't start the insurance job until the end of september, I need money now to pay these bills and so I can eat. So anyone have any odd jobs in the meantime? Very short term. I will clean your house! I will perk up your slacking young marriage if your wife is a looker. Will improv for dinner and $20! I also love charity. I ma not afraid of it.

Excited in a happy way and a nervous way,
Mike the Tall

Them's the Brakes

Today, I have something to say which I usually do not have the luxury of saying. Today, something exciting happened. No, I did not discover that 'Boy Meets World' is on twice a day on ABC Family. I've known that for quite some time. I am talking about real excitement. I am talking about genuine heart pounding, pulse racing, bowel loosening, staring death in the face excitement. Of course, it's wrapped in the dull and mundane, but such is my life.

Today, I was simply taking a short trip to good old Grove City - which for the uniformed contains no groves and is most certainly a city in name only. I was simply going about my normal activities. Going to the local library, scouring for work and the like. As I piloted my '93 Chevy Lumina - the very sexy, scantily rusted car I have dubbed 'The Silver Bullet' - toward a red light everything was going to plan. My mind was hardly on my driving. I was contemplating such lofty ideas as the responsibilities of free will and the uselessness of Aquaman, as I began to depress my brake pedal. Suddenly, to my abject horror, I found my foot and the pedal drop effortlessly to the floor of my car. There was no resistance, and - even more alarming - there was no deceleration. My brakes had given out.

Now, I would like to say that I remained absolutely cool, calm, collected, poised, but I would also like to say that I run a small island nation in the South Pacific. Needless to say I panicked. There was a truck ahead of me stopped at the light. I was going to crash into it. I just knew it. My heart leaped up into my throat as my stomach dropped down into my bowels. Luckily, my liver stayed put. Sweat popped out along my forehead, and soaked my underarms. I actually made this sound: "DAAARRAARAAARGH!!!" Of course, this was screamed out like a little girl, with tears streaming down my face. I had never been more sure that disaster and, yes, maybe even death was inevitable.

You may assume that my life flashed before my eyes, that I was treated to a kind of going away montage of my greatest hits. That is what people say happens, but it didn't happen to me. I didn't see my parents faces, or the lost loves of my life, or my missed opportunities. All I saw was the rear end of a Mack truck, getting progressively and unavoidably closer. Then again, maybe my life did flash before my eyes and I just didn't notice it. After all, most people don't notice my life. Why should I?

Still, I was not consigned to disaster. I was not going down without a fight. This was not to be the end of James. Oh, no. So, I did the only things I could do: I prayed and I desperately tried the brakes again and again. I pumped those brakes for everything they were worth. Trust me, you could watch all the porn in the world and not see pumping as vigorous or hard as this. I hit those brakes with everything I had and prayed that somewhere, some how, my car had some residual memory of stopping, that there was just one more stop left in the old girl.

I kept pressing harder and harder, until I thought that my foot would burst through the floor and drag along the pavement. Even then I would have remained pressing for dear life. Finally, a miracle happened. As I pressed harder, the car actually began to slow down, and not just from coasting. Somewhere, brakes were causing friction. I was slowing down. Joy of joys, thank you Jesus, I was slowing down. I was actually coming to a stop. I was going to survive. I was going to live. Of course, the braking power was pretty bad. I would still probably hit the truck.

But no, with my new confidence. I had the wherewithal to turn myself onto the shoulder of the road completely avoiding disaster. Then, the light changed. The truck moved and I ever so carefully - never driving above 3 m.p.h - I was able to guide my wearied vessel into a parking lot to safety.

The emergency had passed. I was safe. I was alive. Nothing bad had happened at all. I felt like dancing. I felt like singing. I felt like bursting out of my car and hugging and kissing every person - or any hot girls at least - in sight. Now safe, I felt life rush back into me. I had come so close to death, to tragedy, and I had avoided it by the narrowest of margins. I did the only thing I could do. I curled up into the fetal position and began sucking my thumb. After all, this really was quite a bit for my milquetoast soul to handle.

Now, I could go on. I could tell you about the time spent in the parking lot stretched out on the hood waiting for AAA. I could tell you about Dave - the less than talkative flatbed driver. I could tell you how this caused yet another unforeseen charge to my already overused credit card. I could tell about all of this, but that is only the mundane shell, the ordinary part of this extraordinary adventure. I have ordinary adventures every day, and so do you. So, I'm simply going to leave it to the extraordinary today. Who knows when I'll have this opportunity again? Plus, 'Boy Meets World' is on.

Shalom

Saturday, August 07, 2004

Solitary Confinement

Why does every computer come with solitaire? This is an evil, evil thing. Solitaire is a deceivingly simple game. And you think you can win all the time. I usually play until I win. This being the case, I often end up playing for hours! Hours! I could be writing the great American novel, but instead I am moving cards from one pile to another. Not even real cards but pictures of cards. It's not like I have nothing better to do. (Well, that's not always the case.)

I have had problems in the past with gaming. It tends to take up a lot of my time. But it's a cheap addiction. I usually play some video game every day. I'd say on average I do 45 minutes a day on one of my game systems or my computer. While on my computer, I can do other things like surf the net, chat with friends, or actual work. But I realize that this vice is a cheap one. I figure I spend about $20 a month on this habit. When I went to Dave and Buster's a lot, it was probably twice that, but seeing as I'm close to broke that has stopped. It's way cheaper than cigarettes which is like $4 a pack now. It's even cheaper than buying a bottle of wine a week. Something else I wish I could do. And it's absolutely cheaper than whoring. They cost way too much for me. And they risk of disease and the pending medical bills from that is far more than I'm willing to spend. So video games is a good vice for me. It's controllable.

The real problem is time. I have been a little late for work more than once cause I had to finish a game or get to a save spot. And the days in middle school when I was constantly hollered at for being late for the dinner table for similar reasons. But those were the days when you had to pause the game and go eat and come back. And God forbid something bump that nintendo. I wanted to kill the dog more than once for that.

The other night I was tired and had to get something off my computer around about 11 PM. I began talking to Mike a little, and then I opened the solitaire game. Bad move. I like the Spider Solitaire which most people shy away from cause it's complex and stategy out the wazoo not unlike high level chess. And I don't mess around with the one or two suit games. It's four suit or nothing. The game is hard, but I can usually beat it in a few tries.

Well, it got to be 11:30, I had to work at 8 AM the next morning and I had a long day. My eyelids were dropping. I was fallign asleep and my hand was still moving the mouse to move the cards. What the hell is wrong with me? I was falling asleep and I could not stop playing a dumb inconsequential card game! I was fighting sleep to try and win a card game. I just wanted to win. I just wanted it more than sleep.

I'll have to reset my values: 1. Food 2. Sleep 3. Women 4. Video games
Okay that's better.

I'm going to get off the computer and shut off the solitaire. I mean I borrowed two games and I need to play them.

Thursday, August 05, 2004

Random Fortune Cookie Musings

Now, I'm sure that no one - not even members of my own family - cares about this, but I just want everyone to know that I have a particular soft spot in my heart and upon my palette for fortune cookies. Even though I can hear everyone yawning at their computer monitors, I am going to proceed to praise the fortune cookie. I know it's an odd, not too mention a rather random thing to write about - especially considering that I haven't had Chinese in quite some time. I just like fortune cookies. I like the idea of a food that really says something. I like breaking things open only to find a special surprise. That's wonderful reinforcement for many of my more destructive desires. As a matter of fact I wish more things were like fortune cookies, and could be destroyed only to gather some greater wisdom. Wouldn't it be wonderful if Ming vases or Faberge eggs also contained notes or prizes inside. Wouldn't you just love to smash a priceless work of art to the ground only to find a little slip of paper with a message which automatically becomes hilarious once the words 'in bed' are amended to it?

More than just the hidden prize qualities of fortune cookies, I actually really like their taste. I don't think enough people really think about eating fortune cookies. Everyone gets caught up in the breaking and reading, the actually eating of the fortune cookie often becomes a secondary concern. Eating the cookie is seen more as a neat way to dispose of refuse than something to be truly enjoyed. But next time you break apart one of these culinary mystery boxes, I want you too actually pay attention to eating it. I want you to enjoy the crunch, savor the delicate flavor. For me, this flavor will be forever linked to the late evening Chinese food that would be delivered in the college dorm. It's just wonderful.

Despite all of this, there is, alas, one thing which can ruin the whole fortune cookie experience: not getting a fortune. You may know what I am talking about. Sometimes you don't get a true fortune. Sometimes instead of getting a real fortune, a glimpse into your future - something like, 'You will undertake a great journey' - you get a piece of advice, a goofy aphorism - such as, 'A man of wisdom is of great value'. Personally, I don't want to be lectured by my fortune cookies. I don't want to learn great life lessons. I want to know what's going to happen. I want a real fortune.

Sadly, I fear these aphorisms are becoming more and more prevalent in fortune cookies. They are watering down the whole fortune cookie experience. They take away all the mystery of fortune cookies. They turn magic into morality lessons. Plus, they really suck for adding 'in bed'. In short, the aphorism fortune cookie message must be stopped. It's time for some one with a bold vision to step up to the fortune cookie plate and put an end to this madness. That's right, you guessed it, I want to write fortune cookie messages.

While this may seem like a fairly easy task. 'Any one,' you may say to yourself 'can write vague generalizations about the future.' That is why I do not plan to be vague. I am going to be deadly specific. I feel this is a fantastic way to combat the growing wishy-washiness of the current fortune cookie environment. I also think they're much funnier this way. So now, without further ado, I present you with some of my test fortune cookie fortunes.

'You are not going to score with your current date'

'Before midnight of this coming Tuesday you will find a priceless jewel in the restroom of a Greyhound station'

'You will be shot in the back of the head at a 7-11 while buying milk which is one day away from expiring'

'You will cut your toe-nails on Thursday, 10-ish, when you want to wear sandals but realize that you have disgusting toe-nails'

'Look to your left, look to your right. The person who's going to give you herpes is certainly in sight'

'You will call off work because you get really caught up in a lame VH1 countdown show. You will vehemently deny this, but your cover will be blown when accidentally mention that you think "The Final Countdown" by Europe is actually a rocking song despite it's place on the worst songs of all time list'

'The Canadian government will bug your phones and follow your every step simply because they can and they know no one is going to believe you'

'Suddenly, at the age of 78, you will realize that your whole life has been nothing but a sham. You have denied your dreams for too long, but now you are going to finally follow your dreams of becoming a world-renown tap dancer. You will follow your dreams by enrolling in a Performing Arts high school much like the one in the film Fame. While there you will fall in love with an instructor. However, knowing that your love is illicit and can never come to fruition, you sublimate all your feelings into your dancing. You dance like you've never danced before, because you haven't. Finally, on the day of the big all school talent show, you confess your feelings to the instructor. The instructor admits that he/she shares your feelings. With your heart full of requited love, you go on to give the most astounding performance the school has ever seen. After all the school has never seen a 78 year old freshman. After the talent show, a Broadway scout approaches you and offers you a part in the chorus in an upcoming big, Broadway musical. You accept. On the eve of the musicals big opening, the star breaks his/her leg. The crusty, but lovable, director chooses you from among the chorus to fill in. You succeed brilliantly. All the reviews gush about you. That evening you will die quietly in your sleep in bed.'

Now, that's what I call a fortune.

Shalom

Monday, August 02, 2004

Petitions Galore

I don't know who Allen Jacobs is, but it would be much appreciated if he were to stop using my e-mail address when signing on-line petitions. You see, just the other day I noticed something distinctly odd amongst the penis enlargement and home loan advertisements in my E-mail folder. There was a message entitled, "petition signature confirmed - I'm With Busey". This sent up a red flag in my head. Are they talking, I thought to myself, about that stupid reality show with Gary Busey and that guy who claimed to be a comedy writer even though he showed no sign of a working sense of humor? And, by the way, I have no idea why I use the 'they' pronoun, I guess I like to think of a vast underground network of people filling my inbox, instead of single, solitary nerds. Anyway, with my curiosity sufficiently piqued I opened the e-mail, and to my abject horror discovered that someone, this so-called 'Allen Jacobs', has signed, using my e-mail address, a petition to bring back the show 'I'm With Busey'.

I was truly horrified. Trust me if 'I'm With Busey' makes it back on the air, I had nothing to do with it. I'm absolving myself of all guilt right now. It was all a horrible, horrible mistake. Whoever this Allen Jacobs is must have mistyped his e-mail address and come up with mine. Please, you have to believe me. I don't want 'I'm With Busey' back on the air. I would never knowing aid in unleashing such a devastating evil onto the world. I mean, this blog is bad enough, but, then again, I'm pretty much convinced no one reads this, so there's no harm here.

Eventually, after much renting of clothes and gnashing of teeth, I calmed down and became quite curious. What is this petition? Where'd it come from? Are people actually signing this thing? Shouldn't Gary Busey be dead by now anyway? So, I read the entire e-mail message and found that the petition - and the e-mail - originated from PetitionOnline.com. So went to the sight and found the Busey petition. Apparently 'I'm With Busey' has - had? - fans, and they cannot imagine why this "innovative and creative" show would be canceled by Comedy Central "without any given reason." Apparently, these people are unfamiliar with a little thing I like to call the Nielson television ratings.

Sufficiently satisfied the 'I'm with Busey' petition was mostly harmless, I decided to explore the site a little fuller. Let me tell you, a whole world opened up before my eyes. A world populated by obsessive dorks and losers with too much time on their hands and internet access. I felt right at home. People have petitions for everything. Some of them even made bringing back 'I'm with Busey' seem like a good idea. Why would anyone in his right mind sign a petition to keep 'On Air with Ryan Seacrest' true to its name? And that's not a rhetorical question. I really want to know. If you can fill me in, please do.

There are a lot of odd petitions. Most of them having to do with bringing back canceled shows on sci-fi and stuff having to do with video games - which gives you a pretty good idea who the average users are. Mixed in amongst these typical internet type concerns where things such as a petition to prove that someone's ex boyfriend is a real 'Dick Eating Dick Face' and someone who desperately wants to see Bob's Big Boy make a comeback in the worse possible way - although, I'm pretty sure, Big Boy can't come back any other way. There was one really quaint petition entitled 'Stop the Hate' which was obviously posted by some well meaning, but utterly clueless liberal teenager. This ranks right up there with putting those stickers that say 'hating' at the bottom of stop signs. Sure, it's a swell message and all, but it doesn't really do anything but help the person who put it up feel good about himself. It's not as though a Klansman is going drive by one of those stop signs or see a petition against hate and all of a sudden clap his palm to his forehead exclaiming, "Stop hating, why didn't I think of that" - but then again I didn't actually look at the petition, just the name, it could be quite different from what I expect.

Now, here's the part which really got me thinking. PetitionOnline.com bills itself as 'a premiere free speech forum.' While I agree that free speech is one of the most important rights reserved for us in the constitution, and that this site is certainly a forum for free speech, I would be a little wary about calling it premiere. Now, maybe the PetitionOnline creators started with noble causes, to, say, petition the government - which is expressly protected by the 1st amendment - but when the founding fathers added the first amendment I'm sure creating a petition to get a lame TV show back on the air wasn't high on their minds. I'm not saying that they'd be against it, but if they knew that people where using free speech to save 'I'm with Busey', they would most likely answer with a yawn - of course you'd first have to explain television to them and then give them some sort of idea what Gary Busey's like and then describe the show to them. "By Gum," they may say, "Sure we fought for freedom of speech, and your silly little petitions are cute and all, but doesn't anyone have anything real to say? Aggrievments to the government perhaps?" People fought and died for serious issues, not so some moron could sign a petition as 'BUTTSEX' - the same person listed his location as 'BUTTSEX' and left, as a comment, 'No, seriously, I like BUTTSEX'.

It just seems that people use the term freedom of speech too loosely anymore. I don't think anyone should even mention it until they are seriously being quieted by the government. I'm tired of hearing people whine about freedom of speech because no one wants to listen to them. You're guaranteed the freedom to express, but not the right to a major forum or a willing audience. Although if there's one thing I've learned from OnlinePetition.com, no matter how lame an opinion you have, some idiots are going to be with you. Now, if you'll excuse me, I'm bringing back 'Who's the Boss'.

Shalom