Wednesday, December 20, 2006

Not Burning the Candle

‘Yankee Candle’ might as well change its name to ‘What to Get Your Mother When You Have Absolutely No Clue’. It is the easy go to gift for all mothers across the world when no other gift can be imagined. When hours of searching yields no other likely candidates it is easy to simply throw up your hands, proclaiming “Screw it. I’ll just get mom a scented candle.” You go in, put your sniffer to a few random wax cylinders before finding one which seems good enough – probably one that smells like baking cookies. Of course, you don’t want to appear cheap to your own mother so you buy the large jar of a candle, even though you know beyond a shadow of a doubt that the candle wick will never burn to within three inches of the glass bottom. There’s a good chance the candle will never be even lit. The wick will in all likelihood maintain its pristine uncharred whiteness. My mother has a closet filled four deep with various cookie scented candles which shall never see the light of day.

This year, I vowed not to stoop to the scented candle gift for my mother. This year I swore upon my mother’s life that my mother’s gift would be good, a gift she would actually like, a gift she might – God forbid – actually use. Now, I had no idea what this mystery wonder gift would be. I really have no idea what to ever get my mother for Christmas: Hence the overwhelming amount of scented novelty candles. My father is of little to no use. It’s all he can do to think of a gift for her himself. Usually my mother has to blatantly tell my father what to get her. I do not like asking people myself what they want. I have this fantasy image of myself as a master gift giver who sees through all pretensions and finds THE gift which even you do not know you want. This is a completely unrealistic picture of myself – unless, of course, you really secretly want scented candles.

So, I embarked upon my journey at the usual starting point: the mall. After leaving work at my own location within the mall, I entered the bizarre holiday battleground of the mall proper. This is a strange land of haggard shoppers, screaming children, emo-goth posers, and – at least on this night – dogs. There were dogs everywhere. I guess it was get your dog’s picture taken with Santa night which is a annoying and bizarre in its own right without actually having dogs running wild through the mall. Undeterred I went about my journey. I made my way quickly through the mall discounting handfuls of stores with nary a glance: Foot Locker, game store, Spencer’s, Hot Topic, Piercing Pagoda. They all failed to meet the high standards I have for my mother.

I browsed through stores, looking for that one thing which would announce itself as the perfect motherly gift. No, everywhere I looked I found gifts which just weren’t right. I don’t buy clothes for people because I hate trying to guess at sizes – an easy way to offend any woman. I also hate all the strange, tacky ‘gift’ kiosks which pop up every holiday season. I have no idea who wants or feels they need a floating hologram dolphin in a crystal, but I hope I never meet that person. There is also a kiosk where you can put any photo you want on a T-Shirt. The example is a picture of a 80’s vintage Firebird. This was obviously made by a man who knew what his Firebird looked like, knew what a T-shirt looked like, but could not rest until he knew what his Firebird looked like ON a T-shirt. None of these would do for my mother. The caricature booth on the other hand…

I searched on. I found nothing. Nothing. But all the while ‘Yankee Candle’ stood in all its stately splendor. It cooed to me in sweet melodious temptings: “Come, James. Your mother loves us. It’s so easy. You’ll be done in mere minutes. We smell like cookies. Cookies…”

It took a great feat of will to avoid even entering that vile trap of lame gifts. I refused to even look at it. I moved on. Finally, I found a gift from where I started. At Boscov’s department store, my place of employment, I found one of those chair vibrating massage things. Massage equipment is the second most overdone mother gift. Somewhere in my parents home resides a foot massager and a neck massager gathering dust behind a metric ton of scented candles. Still, this is different. It will massage her entire back. It has 10 motors. 10 of them. That’s intense. This is a great present. I swear. It is. Isn’t it.


Monday, December 18, 2006

Thanks and Merry Christmas!

Last Saturday's performance of Deconstructing Santa was awesome. I'm not really complimenting myself or anything, but rather just commenting on the whole experience. I love this show so much, and it's always a true pleasure to perform it. And so when I saw the wonderful crowd that came out to see it, I was pumped.

I just wanted to say thanks to everyone who came out to either of the show's two performances this year.

It was great to perform Decon Santa in Franklin for the first time. That show was really unique because we were showing it to people who had never seen it before (unlike performing in Beaver County, where folks were able to see the show for two years in a row). And of course it was also alot of fun having Matt Bower in the show! He's an excellent performer and a really cool Dweller. It was the first time we performed the show with five people, so that was pretty new for us. And thanks to Danette Palmer, who did a wonderful job on the lights and sound. We also owe a big "thank you" to John and the folks at the Barrow-Civic Theater for asking us to do the show there. The Barrow Theater continues to support us in every way they can, and they are awesome people!

It goes without saying that it was also great to perform the show back in Beaver County. When we showed up to CCBC and began setting up the show, Joe and I recalled the first time we did Decon in that auditorium: it was a slightly different show back then, with some different skits... including one with a ton of tinsel. The following year, when we returned to do the show, there was still tinsel on the walls. I don't know what that says about how often they clean that place, or the effectiveness of tinsel as a decoration. You can draw your own conclusions on that one. This time around there wasn't any tinsel, but there was still the awesome crowd that we love in Beaver County. For some of you, this was a brand new show; I really hope you enjoyed it! For the rest, this was something of a tradition. This was the third year we've performed this show at CCBC and some of you told me how you had been talking about it since the first time you saw it. It was great to have you back... and I look forward to doing the show again next Christmas! So thank you for coming!

I also must thank the local small businesses who continue to support the Arts in Beaver County. We had a number of awesome establishments advertise in our program to help defray the cost of putting on the show, and we couldn't continue to do these kinds of shows as often as we do without their support. Thanks Little Meleo's, the Rochester and Aliquippa Pizza Huts, Finishing Touch, and Beaver Falls Coffee and Tea! And, of course, we must thank the Beaver Valley Mall Chick-fil-A for their support. Because of them, everyone in the audience got a coupon for a free chicken sandwich!

Then there are the people who helped us make this show possible. I've already thanked Danette, who rocks. But I must also thank my bro Danny, who doing an exquisite job on the lights and sound at CCBC--without him, you probably wouldn't have seen the show. And thanks to my dad for working the door for us.

I think I'm done thanking people.

So, I can safely say that I speak for all of the Cellar Dwellers when I wish you a HAPPY Christmas! Be safe, eat alot of food, open up some cool presents, and make sure you leave Santa some Oreos (the real ones.)

Also, to brighten your holiday spirits more than they already are... James, Mike the Tall, and I have just released our wonderful "Dodge Intrepid" Christmas episode! So check out our podcast (or click the link below), relax for twenty-minutes, and laugh some more!


Tuesday, December 12, 2006


I am a techno idiot. You'd think that would not be the case being that I'm a freak of nature on video games. But I had to order a new computer today and I felt like a dope. But, MiketheTall, you ask, aren't you using your computer to do this very blog? Why yes, dear reader, I am. But my computer no longer lets me open documents and work on them. This is the biggest use of my computer is working on stuff for my CLO job in Word Perfect or other document program. But my computer is also 6 years old and has Windows ME. Those of you who are techno geeks have just grimaced or sucked your teeth at my sheer mention of the odd operating system that became its own cancer. I bought my computer from Dell in 2000 and they put this program in since it was the newest, but they shortly moved on to another program. I, however, have the great fortune of buying my computer during that short period of time because of the Tom Ridge state program to waive taxes on PCs so that more people could get one.

SO! I call India today and talk to Neil. I'm sure his name was not Neil, but he was helpful so I didn't question it. (Athough, funny side note: once I talked to an Indian help support guy who told me his name was Steve or Greg or something and his accent was incredibly heavy and I could barely understand him. So I said, "What's your real name. or we're not going any further," and he told me, and the whole call went smoother.) So he's rattling off numbers and prices, and I just cut to the chase and was like "Here's what I want, make it happen." And like Picard's No. 1, he did. So now I owe Citibank $800 that I don't have so I can have a new tower for my computer which I can't afford. I can barely keep the rent, but I need the computer to keep searching for jobs, printing resumes (which I currently can't do due to the not opening of documents), and making CDs.

Of course, now I can make DVDs on my new one when I get it, which I'm ecstatic about. People want to borrow my Family Guy DVDs all the time and I hate to give them up because I watch them constantly. Ask my roommate, I watch them too much. I can quote them. So now I can make a set to lend out to people. Plus, having a little guy that is severly attached to a meager few Wiggles DVDs, I can copy them and he can destroy them if need be and I don't have to buy a new one. That way he can walk into the other room with a COPY of the Big Red Car and dance with Wags the dog to his little heart's content. Captain Feathersword would be proud. Plus I will be able to play those DVDs of stuff people have on their computer that only computers can play. Hooray!

Also, my brother told me, and I'm glad to report it's true, that you get a new phone from Verizon every two years for free! FREE! I did not believe it, but I confirmed it with Karen. She sounded cute, so who knows.

Also, let me say, screw you SONY! PS3 is a controlling mechanism from the Japanese to destroy us. They hate you. SONY is a bunch of punk bitches and they know it and they know you know and they don't give a shit. On the other hand, Nintendo is bringing everyone in with the Wii. Genius freak that the prez on Nintendo is, he takes chances and wins, but this is really a long time coming. The power glove, ROB, the 3-d red hood thing, the Wii is what he's wanted forever. Those Japanese love the "doing stuff" games. DDR, Guitar Hero, DK bongos: these are the things that have made it here, but they have games of everything! Cooking, sewing, piano, hikaido drums, I'm sure there's some freaky sex game out there for the pervs. Those crazy Japenese and there cell phone texting and dancing games. SONY=punk bitches. Nintendo=muslix.

I also recently purchased a new vaccum (I know, all my electronics died at once. It's like a sci-fi channel movie.) I had a Tim Allen moment trying to buy one. I looked for power and gadgets and such. It's weird to have to buy all this stuff at a time when I actually have very little money. Maybe I'll have to start selling copied DVDs. No, that's illegal...and I like to watch people suffer in that respect. Wait bastards!

So, I learn on the fly, I'm trying to replace my VHS tapes with DVD copies of the same thing, and then I'm getting rid of the stereo (which also no longer works) and the DVD and VCR and getting a slim home theatre. Hot! If only I had a job that let me afford this stuff. Any takers?

Mike the Tall

Monday, December 11, 2006

A Letter from Philistines about Philistinism

Dear Mr. Arnold, Mr. Goethe, and the like,

I don't know which of you is responsible for this, but I can assure you all that you're certainly not helping the situation! I can see each of you now, sitting there reading this letter with the utmost look of confusion and disgust on your face. How dare you be accused of any wrong doing! Well, you know certainly why we are sending you this letter.

You men, we have deemed, are responsible for perpetuating the use of the derogatory term "Philistine." While all three of you have claimed the term was around long before your writings, your use of it is uncalled for--especially when none of you have ever even met a Philistine. I'm talking a real Philistine, not a Philistine as defined by you. We as a people have been greatly hurt by your remarks, and will forever be known as an uncultured group of lunk-heads. Thanks.

Mr. Arnold! Perhaps you are the main man to blame for such an offensive term. Why, a friend of a friend read your little book Culture and Anarchy in which you truly define our people as wealth-obsessed haters of culture and artwork. In fact, you mention Philistines right along with Barbarians! Last we checked, barbarians were a general group of people stemmed from all over the sort. That's like saying "Here come the New Yorkers and the yard sale enthusiasts." We Philistines are an ancient people, sir. Show some respect! And we care about lots of other things aside from money and welfare... lots.

And then there's Mr. Goethe. I seem to recall hearing you say once that "The Philistine not only ignores all conditions of life which are not his own but also demands that the rest of mankind should fashion its mode of existence after his own." Such a rude and ignorant statement! If you had ever taken the time to get to know us, you would realize how nice, kind, and friendly we are. If everyone took the time to know us, maybe, then, everyone would be proud to be Philistine!

To say that we simply do not like art, music, theater, and anything else high brow is a cheap shot! Firstly, we didn't have cable for quite a while. So we were a late-comer to things like The History Channel and PBS. How could we like this stuff if we didn't have access to it. Not only do we have Comcast but we also got a TiVo, so soon your definition of us will have to be changed! Because it has been our culture's goal, ever since people starting using the phrase "Philistine," to defy that stereotype. We will soon be known as the most culturally-rich, fun-loving, book-reading, overall-awesome people on the planet.

The first thing we are going to do, as a collective culture, is to go buy every book on the New York Times Bestseller list. If it's a best seller, it has to be good, and we will be there with everyone else talking about how good these books are. We are also expecting our first shipment of iPods from the Apple Store. I bet you never expected Philistines to own iPods! Not only are we culture-loving people, but we are also full of surprises.

Once we have read everything popular, we are going to start carpooling to museums. And since not everyone can make it to the library, because some of us are very old, we'll bring cameras with us so that we can take pictures of stuff.

Finally, we've got subscriptions to the New Yorker and Atlantic Monthly coming. So there.

Please cease and desist from using the derogatory phrase "Philistine." Not only does it hurt our feelings, but it demeans our people... and it makes you look bad, because, as you will soon find out, we love the arts. We love it. We can't get enough art.

- The Philistines.

Saturday, December 09, 2006

Soiled Beans

College cafeterias can often become testing grounds for new products. At least once or twice a school year, students arrive at Lowe Dining Hall only to find piles of free, oddly flavored chips or bottles of new, mysterious soft drinks in shiny new packaging; kids can take as many as they like, tell their friends, pass them along, do whatever. We're guinea pigs. Companies send out their new products to college campuses first because they know that we are the most powerful consumers of hip new junk food. We love this stuff as much as Pac Man loves white circles.

And so when we walked into the dining hall to find large coolers filled with silver-bullet cans of Starbucks coffee... I could have sworn it was Christmas. The drinks had come at a perfect time: kids are stopping by for dinner before retiring to their rooms to work on final projects and study for exams, they would need the energy that only coffee can attempt to bring. And, like moths to a sweater, we swarmed around the coolers, taking two, three, or eight cans of the stuff.

It was labeled "Starbucks Light Coffee" and was marked with a sky blue streak horizontally across the can. I was a little curious, having never seen something like this in the stores--but then again, that's why it was here. I'm sure you'll be seeing this stuff on the shelves in a few weeks, if it isn't there already. I had grabbed three cans and went back to my seat, before I had even gone into the main line to get my dinner. I would try it out, and if it was good, I would go back for some more (since it's not often that Starbucks can be found as an alternative to Aramark's despicable regular roast).

I cracked open a can and smelled it first. I then read the label quickly, just to make sure it didn't have poison in it. It claimed to be low on calories, made with skim milk instead of half & half, something I would normally object to... but if that was all that was wrong with it, I guess I would cope. I took a swig; it kind of tasted like Starbucks coffee, but there was something else to it. Something like the faint taste of pennies or laundry detergent. I had only taken one sip of the drink, and yet the aftertaste lingered on, a tell-tale heart of my acceptance of the experimental product. Why did I still taste it? What was that hint of metallic nastiness? I looked back at the can and saw what I had previously missed: Contains Splenda.

The bastards. They put Splenda in it! This coffee is made with Splenda! It might as well have been made of people! I looked around, and it seemed as if everyone in the cafeteria was taking a sip of the coffee at the same time... and collectively, their faces crinkled up and they held the can far away from them, as if a snake was peaking out the top. The students, all who had previously embraced this free caffeinated beverage, suddenly turned against it. Those who showed up too late to grab a can for themselves took a hit off of their friend's sample; their faces soon dawned the same expression.

It was a disaster. Soon everyone began ignoring the cans, refusing to drink any more. I could hear the echo of kids all saying the same drawn out word: Splllleeeeennnnda?! It was gross, and everyone knew it. Some were drinking it out of spite, knowing that they would need the energy boost, regardless of how it tasted. Not me, however. For as much as I love coffee--high quality coffee--this would not do. I pawned off my extra cans and never looked back.

Starbucks and Seton Hill tried to pull a fast one on us. Their new product, despite being free, failed to win over the hearts of the students. Those cans did contain poison: skim milk and Splenda, a combination so deadly that it could take out three ex-KGB agents in a single whiff. If you see the stuff in the stores, don't bother. And if you see someone picking up a can to drink it, smack it out of their hands... they'll thank you later.