Friday, April 29, 2005

Ron Popeil Would Be Proud... If Any of This Were His

I can't cook.

If it doesn't come in a box or go with ground beef, I don't have a prayer.

Needless to say, I buy a lot of meals.

But if there's one thing I actually like about cooking - or trying to - it's the gizmos.

Sure, I have a toaster with an extra-wide mouth for bagels. Who doesn't? I'll bet you do.

But do you have a frozen-pizza cooker? It rotates, heats from above AND below, and will do up a frozen pizza in less than 20 minutes. Now this is an invention of the gods.

The quesadilla maker met with a little less success. Sure, quesadillas rock. And in theory, they're easy to make. A couple of tortillas, some cheese, some jalapenos, and ...

I almost burned down the freakin' house.


Cheese everywhere, including into the electrical elements. Egad.

Turns out, if I'd read the instructions a little closer, I'd have realized you need a certain size tortilla. And I bought the wrong size.

But, after that little fiasco, and some heavy-duty cleaning, the quesadilla maker is back in business.

The problem with most of these machines is, they're messy. And the king offender is the famous Foreman grill.

This thing drips pure fat into a plastic tray. PURE FAT. That's appetizing.

My little sandwich cooker is just as bad - it grills sandwich pockets, and my, are they tasty.

And of course, I have a microwave. I wouldn't survive without that.

You should see my kitchen. It's '80s-era, '70s-look, and has almost no counter space. But I've filled every inch of the counters with gadgets and gizmos. So it's almost impossible to make anything! I can't win.

The over that came with the house had a broken broiler. I could've bought a new one. But I don't know what a broiler does. And since I don't need one, and hardly use the oven as is, why waste the money on that?

After all, I've got DVDs to buy.

I also have two giant boxes of recipe cards. They have pretty pictures and I bought a pack every month until I owned them all. I'm a completist, you know. So I look at the cards. I admire the pictures. Healthy Meals in Minutes. A few ingredients, a little prep time, and five years of cards. And how many recipes have I made?

None. They don't have anything for a pizza cooker.

But if it's a toy, I want it. Even for the kitchen. Useless as a bag of wet mice, as Dave would say, but still.

Find Healthy Meals in Minutes recipe cards
Read about the Pizza Pizzazz, from Presto
Santa Fe Quesadilla Maker ratings
George Foreman's gift shop, where you can buy a grill
And a Toastmaster Sandwich maker

Movie recommendation of the day: "Bend It Like Beckham."

I gave nine years and two knees to soccer and spent another year covering it in college, with nary a varsity letter to show, just scars, and cracks and pops when I limp. But still, this is a great movie about a great sport. And it has Keira Knightley, as an added incentive.

Bonus link: "Bend It Like Beckham"

Thursday, April 28, 2005

Never drink and post

I wrote a post before. I was drunk.

It was dreadful and stupid and many other things.

I deleted it. There's a difference between stream-of-consciousness and idiocy.

Later, I'll write something new to make up for it.

Probably about the gizmos in my kitchen.

Wednesday, April 27, 2005

Revenge is Seldom, if Ever, the Sole Property of the Lord

If my tired brain is doing the math right, the turning of the calendar to April 27 means it's 22 days until "Star Wars Episode III: Revenge of the Sith" hits theaters.

Now, if you grew up when I grew up, and you like the things I like, undoubtedly the original "Star Wars" trilogy was a defining experience in your life.

And even if you've been disappointed in the two more recent "Star Wars" films, "The Phantom Menace" and "Attack of the Clones," you're probably looking forward to Episode III, on the grounds that a (relatively) dark, violent film is probably just what the series needs after a pair of overly colorful, vaguely insipid, poorly acted fiascos.

If nothing else, the title of the movie alone should clue fans in that George Lucas is doing things a little different this time around.

The word "Revenge" has particular meaning and symbolism.

You see, like many kids my age, I was part of the "Star Wars Fan Club" back when I was a boy, and I remember the days and weeks leading up to the release of the third film, known to posterity as "Return of the Jedi."

But as the movie was in post-production, well before the release, the Fan Club was hyping the film, and one way was to include a patch with one issue of the Bantha Tracks newsletter. And that patch had the title of the film: "Revenge of the Jedi."

I probably still have that patch somewhere. My parents never throw anything out. And I remember fondly my 8-year-old-size jacket that my mother carefully sewed on a variety of patches, including that one. It might even be worth something, if I only knew where it was and how to remove a patch from a child's jacket.

Lucas eventually changed the title of the film, of course, and the generally accepted reason is that revenge is an un-Jedi-like emotion. The Jedi knights rely on discipline, and that means a certain detached persona, a certain lack of emotion. And if any particular emotion can embody the sheer concept of "emotion," it's revenge. Hate is a powerful force, and as "Star Wars" fans know, it corrupts and opens the door to the Dark Side of the Force.

And now, three movies later, halfway through Anakin Skywalker's life, descent into darkness and redemption, that word "Revenge" appears again.

And the fact that Lucas has chosen to attach that word to this film speaks volumes to me as a fan, and I have seen exactly one trailer. And like all trailers, "Sith's" looks good. Lucas may not get the best performances out of his actors (and we've all seen Natalie Portman do better; if you doubt Hayden Christensen can, rent "Shattered Glass"), but he gives good trailer.

It's hard to explain how much the "Star Wars" movies mean to me. One of the reasons I love movies, one of the reasons I've dreamed of adventure, dreamed of reaching for the stars, is "Star Wars."

The majesty, the grandeur, the sheer joy of a simple film touched an innocent boy. I knew someone who hates "Star Wars" because it changed movies forever, and for the worse. Spectacle as filmmaking was a sin, he thought. I disagree.

To me, the kind of film I love is one that entertains, one that uplifts, one that inspires.

Look, as a DVD reviewer, I'm well aware that "entertaining" does not equal "great" when it comes to movies. But I don't need a great movie to enjoy. And I don't always enjoy a great movie.

A wise(ass) Jewish college colleague of mine dubbed "Schindler's List" the feel-good movie of the year.

I went to see it in a theater. With my Catholic girlfriend. The entire movie was a parade of old Jewish women bursting into tears and leaving the theater. I bought the VHS tape when it came out. I never watched it. I bought the DVD when it came out, like the good Jew I am, and watched it just long enough to check the disc and ensure that someday, when I have children, I can use this film to help explain to them who we are, as a culture, and why we must never forget there are people out there who hate us.

But until then, I don't plan on watching it. I don't watch movies to be depressed. My life is depressing enough. I watch movies to be inspired, to have fun, to put my overtaxed brain on hold for a while.

And no movie has ever inspired me like "Star Wars." Maybe it was because I was an impressionable boy. But I don't think so. Because to this day, I cannot hear the opening bars of John Williams' classic theme without feeling a stirring in my heart, in my soul.

I'm not obsessed with these films the way some people are (read: I don't dress like Princess Leia, at least not in public), but that doesn't mean I don't love them. My "Star Wars" toys, as I've said, were the ones I loved more than any others, remember more fondly than any others. I own the original trilogy on DVD, and I even own the two crappy films in the current trilogy.

And I can't wait for "Revenge of the Sith." The title alone gives me hope this will be a movie I've been waiting for through four dreadful hours of Jar-Jar Binks.

I will give Lucas credit for one thing, though: He got an older actor, Christensen, to match the same wooden performance given by the child actor, Jake Lloyd, playing the role in the prior film. Ewan McGregor may never grow into Sir Alec Guiness, relatively speaking, but I can believe Jake Lloyd grew up to be Hayden Christensen.

And that innocent boy who loved "Star Wars" a long time ago in a galaxy far, far away has grown up into a jaded adult too often overwhelmed by the dreary mundaneness of the "real world," but somewhere inside me, there's still hope, there's still dreams, there's still someone who hears the strains of the "Star Wars" theme and still believes he can reach the stars. Every single time, it puts a smile on my face and a joy in my soul.

Bring on May 19th! I can't wait.

The official "Star Wars" site
The official "Star Wars" Fan Club, in its latest incarnation
This page has a picture of a patch like mine
"Shattered Glass," about an idiot who disgraced my profession
And "Schindler's List," for something completely different

And since I offered up a bonus link to Jessie Biel yesterday, in lieu of a witty kicker at the end of the post, how about Natalie Portman today?

Bonus link:
Bonus link No. 2: the Natalie Portman Empire (and you thought only Martha Stewart had an empire?)

Tuesday, April 26, 2005

If Nothing Else, I'm Stubborn

I was re-reading some of my old posts (I check my blog whenever I post to make sure it turned out OK) and I spotted a couple of typos.

Ugly, awkward typos.

And damn it, I want to fix them!

But I'm not. I promised you guys raw, uncensored, no-looking-back-cause-something-might-be-gaining-on-you stream-of-consciousness, and that's what you're getting.

But down below, I meant, "that's a whole 'NOTHER story."

And that link was to "DISCOVERY HD Theatre." And my favorite bartender "is STUDYING psychology."

I'll be strong. Grr. I'm trying.

You know: "My name is Eric, and I'm a copy editor."

The kind of stuff copy editors have to pretend to care about
The kind of stuff that makes copy editors laugh

Yup, another two-post day! I'm trying to make up for last week.

A Special Day for Me

As I write this (at last!) the clock has ticked from April 25 on into April 26.

I had a great weekend; I covered the NFL Draft for Raiderfans, and wrote a series of columns and news items over two days that reminded me how much I enjoyed sports writing.

I started writing sports for my hometown paper when I was 16 years old. Based on compliments I got, I think I was pretty good at it. Or at least, I was a good writer. I've often said reporters fall into four categories: the great writers, who tell a great story; the great reporters, who dig deep and get information others can't; the lucky ones who can do both; and the unfortunates who can do neither. (Or perhaps they're the lucky ones, if they can't write or report, and still have a job.)

At the least, I'd say, I was a good writer. I think I'm a decent reporter. I have my moments.

I got tired of sports writing toward the end. I accidentally got a coach fired because of a meaningless phrase in an unexceptional story. I ratted on a college pitcher who'd broken NCAA rules by taking money to teach a high-schooler how to pitch. I had to call a guy who got thrown out of a church softball league for attacking an umpire. I covered the great Midget Football Cheerleading Controversy -- then found myself sitting next to the advisers I'd villified at a game. I had to ask a star high school ballplayer what it was like to have his mother die of cancer -- on Mother's Day. Some questions, no matter how cathartic for the subject, some stories, no matter how righteous, some roads to hell, no matter how good the intentions -- they take a piece out of your soul. And sometimes, in the dark of night, I wonder if I'll ever get it back.

College was better in some ways, more of the same in others. I learned to cover a beat. I learned that objectivity isn't the best thing to have when covering your own team. I learned how to be an assistant editor, and how to be an editor. I learned I liked being an assistant better.

And every now and then, I got to cover the pros. And thanks to Raiderfans, I still do from time to time. I couldn't do it for a living -- nine months in hell on a sports desk is proof -- but I enjoy doing it on the side. I had a good weekend. Probably even a great one.

What does this have to do with April 26, you may ask.

Nothing, and everything.

See, April 26 is the day I was adopted. Thirty years ago today, some stranger put me into my mother's arms. She has the picture, holding a tiny bundle with a little face peering out at the world. I've had plenty of lucky breaks in my life. None luckier than that day. I barely made it out of Vietnam. At 10 weeks old, I was probably too young to fly. Still, the Baby Lift took me, and so many others. At least one plane taking orphans out crashed on takeoff; it wasn't mine. A couple of weeks after I was safely in my new mother's arms, Saigon fell. The city I was born in was wiped off the map, at least in name. If I'd been born a month later, I couldn't have been taken; I never would have gotten out. I'm not entirely Asian, I'm sure of that, on looks alone (I have no proof). And by reputation, Asians are not always so kind to mixed-breeds.

I don't know what I would have done this weekend. Farmed rice. Whored myself out. Worked for menial wages in a factory somewhere, making Nikes instead of wearing them. Who knows? I don't even know enough about Vietnam to guess.

I'm too scared to learn more.

There, I said it. Big, tough me. Afraid of nothing in this world, except maybe spiders and heights. But have you ever heard a child say to his or her mother, "Someday my real mother will come! And she'll take me away!"

I must have said that once. And then thought about it.

I've known I was adopted for as long as I can remember; I was a curious child, I'd guess I asked my parents why I didn't look like them. But it was later that I realized what I was. Call it lucky, call it blessed, call it what you will.

But the last thing I ever wanted was for my "real mother" to take me away.

Someone asked me in college where my parents were from. Without really thinking about it, I said "Bloomsburg." They asked, no, I mean your real parents. I thought about it for a second, and said, "Bloomsburg."

I like to crack jokes about it. I don't play the lottery, I say, because I figure if I win, every middle-aged Asian for a dozen counties will be on my front porch, demanding a blood test and telling me how they never wanted to give me up. When asked by an ethno-centric peer in college if I'd studied my ethic history, I responded that, sure, I'd seen "Platoon," "Hamburger Hill" AND "Full Metal Jacket." Never seen a jaw drop quite so quickly.

But deep down inside, I'm scared. And I guess I'm old enough to admit it now. People ask me from time to time if I want to go back to Vietnam.

Hell no.

I'm afraid they wouldn't let me leave. I can picture myself running for the embassy, waving my passport, screaming "Let me in! I'm an American!"

I don't even know if America has an embassy in Vietnam. And before you accuse me of ignorance or apathy, hey, I'd be willing to bet our intellectually-challenged, non-reading president doesn't know, either. At least I've got an excuse for not knowing: I actually DON'T WANT TO KNOW.

Maybe, if I'd had bad parents, things would be different. Maybe I'd care more about my heritage. (I think of myself as Jewish before Asian, even if I was eating a Hebrew National hot dog at the NFL Draft on Passover.) Maybe I really would wish my "real mother" would take me away.

But I have great parents. The best in the world. If you could see what a screw-up I can be, if you could see the hell I put the most loving, devoted people I've known through in my worst moments, you'd understand that when I say I have the best parents in the world, I mean no offense to yours. It's just that mine are better.

My parents drove my car 250 miles to college so I could see my girlfriend, despite her jackass parents (talk about bad parents! they were mine, I'd have gone back to Vietnam) pulling her out of school to try and break us up. When they left, she'd told me her parents would let her see me. By the time they arrived six hours later, her father had called to tell me I'd never see her again, I'd gotten shitfaced drunk, trashed my room, bawled like a baby, tried lamely to cut my wrists, given up and cut my mattress open instead, and resumed drinking. I probably should have known I was in trouble when I got to the door, my father asked if I'd been drinking and I cheerfully said "Yup!"

This is the kind of hell with which I repaid their love sometimes. Not really times I'm proud of, which makes this more of a confession than anything else. But it's in the moments when our loved ones are at their worst that we can best show how much we love them. And I've had plenty of those moments. And my parents have never let me down.

My parents told me, years after my engagement broke off, that they never thought it would last (possibly because of incidents like the one above). It didn't amaze me that they were right. They're always right. What amazed me was that they knew it wouldn't work - and still helped me pay for an engagement ring.

Because they knew I believed in my heart it would work, and loved me enough to hope I was right, for once, and they were wrong.

(By the way, anyone who doesn't think father knows best, has never met my father. The man is always right. It's frightening. And aggravating. And really impressive.)

I don't know what I'd have done if things had gone differently in the first two months of my life. I'm pretty sure I wouldn't have been finishing my series of writeups on covering the NFL Draft. I could list all the things I have, that wouldn't be mine. I've already listed all the things I've done (in an earlier post) that I would have missed.

But the most important thing I have is love.

And, despite my general lack of religion, the most important thing I do is realize, every damn day, just how close I came to having nothing.

And I'm grateful. Every day. Every day, I thank God for my mother and father and for my safe delivery into their arms. Everything good I am is because of them; everything bad I've done is on me.

I didn't see them at Passover, because it was better for my career to go to the draft. And let's face it, even sitting in a stuffy basement for 12 hours beats eating raw horseradish. But I've made plans to see them next weekend, and I intend to buy them a nice dinner, because I couldn't go home for their anniversary a few weeks ago and I couldn't think of anything to buy the people who have everything. Again.

Even worse, after a whole spring making a movie, I needed my first truly free weekend in ages off. In fact, I was so wiped out, I slept about 17 hours through the day and night, and wound up calling to wish them a happy anniversary a day late, because I wanted to call them after dinner and woke up from an hour nap six hours later, almost midnight. It was like the "Gilligan's Island" of sleeping. But I digress.

Point is, this is the kind of crap they put up with, and they answer it with unrequited love.

Do you know what the difference is between a Jew and a Catholic? A Catholic feels guilty for the things he does ("Bless me father, for I have sinned..."). A Jew feels guilty for things he doesn't do ("You never call... You never write...").

Want another one?

What's the difference between a Jewish woman and a Catholic woman? When a Catholic woman hears Pfizer invented Viagra, she tells her husband, "Buy Viagra! Buy Viagra!" When a Jewish woman hears Pfizer invented Viagra, she tells her husband, "Buy Pfizer! Buy Pfizer!"

See, humor is a defense mechanism, and rather than continue to confess my flaws and think about how much parents love me and try not to cry even though I'm here all by myself, I tell jokes.

But all the corny jokes in the world won't change one thing: Today is April 26. The anniversary of the best thing that ever happened to me. I've got a degree in creative writing, and I don't have the words.

My HorrorTalk buddies' blogs (see earlier post, and there are more now... everybody's doing it!) are often bitch-fests. Mine probably is, too, sometimes.

But not today.

Today's the kind of day to make a pessimist think of nothing but good fortune, to make an irreligious man thank God with every breath.

I've said over and over again that I have a good life. I mean, this weekend I got to cover the NFL Draft. Don told us today that he's edited seven minutes of the movie. I bought the "Blade" trilogy on DVD. I'm almost done with another Civil War book. My Strat hockey team is playing badly and I've got a half-dozen DVDs to review. Wait, maybe that shouldn't go on the list of "good things."

But the fact is, I have a good life. Maybe even a great one.

And if things had gone differently 30 years ago today, I might not have had anything. I might have had something. I know damn sure I wouldn't have had better.

Thank you, Lady Luck, for smiling on me when I needed you most.
Thank you, God, for blessing my life when I need You most.

And thank you, Mom and Dad, for guiding me through 30 years that can't always have been easy for you, and never wavering in your love and support.

I can't think of anything more egotistical than quoting myself, but I wrote something in my valedictory speech in high school, and I've never thought of a better way to say it. At the end of my speech (two minutes flat, thank you very much), I thanked my Mom and Dad. I said, without their love and patience and understanding, I wouldn't be standing before you today.

Thirteen years later, that hasn't changed.

And every April 26, I could quote someone else: "Today, I consider myself the luckiest man on the face of the Earth."

I dare anyone to tell me I'm not.

I know that quote because my father, a Yankee fan, taught me about baseball, shared his love for the game. If for nothing else than the Great American Game, that makes the quote true. And what seals the deal is he and Mom have taught me, shared with me, so much more.

It shouldn't take an anniversary for even an absent-minded son like me to tell such wonderous parents that he loves them. It's just, today, I won't really think about much else. It's April 26, and once upon a time, on this day, a tiny baby without a real name, without a real birthday, without anything but some questionable paperwork and a failed medical test, on this day, that baby was given the world.

The least I can do is say thank you. I love you, Mom and Dad. And now the whole world, or at least the part of the world that reads this blog, knows why. I may not be the best of sons, I don't know, I do try, but if I'm not, it's on me and not on them. Nothing I do wrong (and that's plenty) is ever on them. But everything I do right, that, they have a hand in. Always.

So, world, take a minute today and think about the good things in your life. Think about how easily they could have gone differently. And think about how your parents made sure they didn't. Do that for me, if you read this blog and enjoy it. Find a way to tell your parents you love them. Call. E-mail. Hire one of those planes with the banner. If you don't have any other way, you can post a comment right here. If there's something I've learned from having the best parents in the world AND having some serious mental health issues, it's that you can never have too much love, can never be told too many times that someone loves you.

I'm going to say it again. I love you, Mom and Dad. Today, and every day.

The NFL Draft, home of "After Further Review"
The Babylift, Wikipedia style
"Blade: Trinity," out on DVD today.

No, I don't know if "Blade: Trinity" is any good. It was a blind buy. I liked the other two, mostly, and I'm in love with Jessica Biel, so I'm hoping.

Bonus link: Jessica Biel

Wednesday, April 20, 2005

We apologize for the technical difficulties.

I realized I haven't written a post in a few days.

So let's clarify. First of all, despite my "(almost) daily" promise, I probably won't be posting much on weekends, when I'm often away from my computer.

Second, if there's a downside to making a movie, it's that my weekends are when I get things done, and I've spent most of them thus far this year down in Maryland.

So I'm way, way, way, WAY behind on a lot of things.

Including some things I really enjoy (like my Strat-O-Matic hockey leagues and my DVD reviewing gig) and some things I don't (like balancing my checkbook and cleaning my desk at home, which is currently a mountain of crap from the computer transition, topped off with a giant Civil War map, courtesy of the parents' National Geographic subscription).

Plus, I've had several early morning appointments this past month, for reasons I refuse to get into. So between attempting to get some sleep, being sick (remember?) and being busy, some nights when I should be posting, I'm doing other stuff.

Throw in that I'm kind of forgetful sometimes, and thus you see what happens.

So today's post is just an apology for not posting the past couple of days, and an excuse in case I forget any other days this week, too.

Sorry, it's another lame one, but rest assured, things will get better soon. Or they won't.

Strat-O-Matic, maker of the best hockey sim ever
The Jack Adams Memorial Hockey League (summer)
The Federal Hockey League (winter)
HorrorTalk, where my reviews are way, way down the page now

Adding to my stress, I recently upgraded to the computer version of SOM hockey after years of playing the board game, and it's driving me bonkers.

Friday, April 15, 2005

Life Is Pain, Highness.

I read an article online about how teachers are avoiding using red pens to correct students' papers because of the negativity associated with the color.

I'm thinking this is yet one more example of what George Carlin may or may not have referred to as the ongoing pussification of America.

Now, for the record, I have no children of my own, but I'd like to think that when and if the time comes, I'll be able to teach them about things like confidence and self-esteem and that the measure of a man is not necessarily the grade on his report card.

And that's coming from a high-school valedictorian, there.

One thing I also intend to teach my child someday is a very simple lesson: Life is not fair.

Good people get cancer and die. Evil, horrible people live long lives of wealth. Among my family and friends, four engagements fell apart without a single wedding in a span of about a half-dozen years. A girl in Jersey this week ran over her mother with a car while learning to parallel park. My mother taught me to drive, and I still can't parallel park and (knock wood) I've never even hit someone I DON'T like. What was this poor kid's bad karma? A guy went to visit his pet chimp at a zoo and wound up getting his balls ripped off. You work hard at an honest job and you'll never see enough money to feel safe, while Warren Buffett has more money than God. Good American kids are dying in Iraq and Afghanistan for people who may or may not be grateful, and the survivors come home to a country that may or may not care.

Life isn't all fun and games. Life isn't all pats on the back and ice cream.

And parents who try to shelter their kids by complaining and coddling and suing and bitching when they don't get their way aren't doing their children any favors.

I had good parents. Doesn't mean they never spanked me. Doesn't mean I never got beaten up at school. I did once, and my parents went to the principal to find out what could be done. Not much, it turned out. And I kept getting picked on. For years. I was smaller than most, and brighter and looked different. Then, one day, after getting punched in the arm for the umpteenth time by a bully, I PUNCHED BACK.

And, generally speaking, no one ever picked on me again.

I'm not advocating violence, not by any means - that road leads to Columbine... and at least partly because times are different now. Kids are different. There's an extremism, a sense of entitlement, a desperation.

I heard from a friend recently that junior high school girls get ostracized by boys for not wearing thongs. When I was in junior high school, I didn't know what a thong was, and sure as hell didn't know what kind of underwear girls had.

So I guess kids are getting older, quicker, in good and bad ways.

Thing is, parents can't protect them by being overprotective. They can protect them by educating them. By teaching them, by spending time with them, by not pawning off the responsibilities of parenting onto teachers or friends.

My parents' one failing, to my way of thinking, was that they never really told me about sex. I never got "the talk." Maybe when they were raised, parents didn't talk with their kids about these things. I don't know. I'm an adopted only child. For all I know, my parents have never had sex. And that's the way I'd like to think about it, thank you very much.

Point is, the first time a girl took off her clothes for me, everything I knew, I'd learned from my best friend at the time - a guy who'd already suffered through one summer of agony, missed periods and pregnancy tests. And I did some foolish things, then and later in life.

So when I have a kid, that's one of the first things I'm going to tell them about when they get to be about 10 or so. And hopefully, they'll look at Dad, and Mom, and be so repulsed they won't even think about sex for at least five years.

This isn't meant as a knock on my folks. I'd put them up against anyone in the world as parents. The point is, even the best of parents are only doing the best they can. And what scares me sometimes, what offends me when I read about parents complaining red ink ruins their child's self-esteem, is that too many parents aren't even doing the best they can.

They'll sue McDonald's because their kid is fat. My mother would only let me have McDonald's once a week, and I had to wait until I was older and could drive my skinny ass there and pay for it myself before I could get fat like everybody else.

They'll call the FCC because someone uses bad words on TV. My father would CHANGE THE FREAKIN' CHANNEL. How tough is this? Take some freakin' responsibility, folks. You're PARENTS. You're not baby-sitters, you're not nursemaids, you're not the gardener. Well, maybe on Wisteria Lane, you're the gardener, but generally... YOU'RE PARENTS.

Act like it. Or life is going to eat your kid alive.

And for you sick freaks who actually abuse your kids, I hope you burn in hell. This isn't for you. You're beyond help. This is for the ones on the fence.

Casey Stengel once said the key to managing was that five guys on the team love you, five hate you and 15 don't care. And the key is keeping the 15 that don't care away from the five that hate you.

So I figure of the parents reading this, five are good parents who are nodding along, five are lousy ones who can stick it, and 15 could go either way. This one's for you. Suck it up. Act your age, and accept the responsibility that came with the kid. It's a blessing some people never get to have, a happy, healthy baby. Don't mess it up. At least try.

And that means standing up to be counted when your kids need you. Make them do their homework. Better, help them. Turn off the TV if you don't want them to watch. Lay down the law, no matter how much they kick and scream. Tell them about things like sex and drugs and rock 'n' roll, so they don't learn from other kids who know as little as they do.

Don't bitch at the teachers for the color of the ink they use to grade. Work with the teachers so your kids can learn.

Then, maybe someday, they can have blogs of their own.

The article that inspired this rant
George Carlin, who tells it like it is
Dr. Spock on parenting

And by the way, if a really, really weird 30-something pop star wants your 10-year-old son to sleep over, for the love of God, use your freakin' head and say NO!

Terrible Lizards, in High Definition.

I find myself watching one of the many dinosaur-simulation shows on Discovery HD TV, arguably the finest of my high-definition channels.

I love dinosaurs. I could visit the Museum of Natural History every weekend, I think.

I love watching shows about dinosaurs - and other animals.

Which might seem strange, because I don't like pets. But I love stories about dinosaurs and ocean life.

In fact, if there's something at the Museum of Natural History I love more than the dinosaurs, it's the Hall of Ocean Life. The one with the giant blue whale and all the cool dioramas.

I love dioramas.

One of the coolest things I got to see at the Museum of Natural History was the fighting dinosaurs exhibit. It was extra money and there was a line, but it was well worth the wait. This thing was on loan from some Asian country, and they'd dug it up in the desert somewhere and immediately realized they had a scientific find.

Now, at a distance, it was a bit like the Mona Lisa - not nearly as big as you'd expect, especially considering the crowd.

But there it was, sort of coffee-table sized: The fighting dinosaurs, a near-complete fossil of two little critters caught up in a duel to the death. One was a raptor/bird-type, with a wicked claw in what would have been the belly of the other, one of those armored tank-types, which was in the process of breaking the other one's neck with his mouth.

And just like that, in mid-round, the fight had somehow been preserved for all time.

The little film nearby speculated that they had been socked by a mudslide just after they started fighting. It seems as good an explanation as any to this would-be geneticist who couldn't make it out of Bio 101 despite two tries.

It may not seem like much in this post, but this was one of the coolest things I've ever seen, these two little dinosaurs (so small the film actually made them seem kind of cute) locked in mortal combat. (Mortal Kombat! Test your might!)

But if I get a kick out of the giant skeletons, and secretly long for a day when I can take a trip to Jurassic Park, my real joy at the museum is the ocean life room.

When it closed for like a year and change for renovation, I was both crushed and elated. Crushed because I couldn't go for what felt like ages (having already suffered the disappointment of one of my favorite dioramas being dismantled to make room for a handicapped-accessible elevator). And elated because that meant a new and improved ocean life hall.

And sure enough, it was worth the wait, as I made a bee-line back as soon as it reopened and I had a free weekend.

It's still got most of the great dioramas, plus some new, cool features, and of course, it was totally refurbished.

I dream of learning to scuba dive, a goal that feels closer and closer even as the years roll by. This year's aim of working out is at least partly inspired by the decision that I intend to be diving by next summer at the latest. No, I'm probably never going to stand on the Andrea Doria, diving's Mount Everest, but I'd love to go back to Key West, or go to Hawaii someday, and dive the reefs.

When I'm not reading books about the Civil War, some of my favorite nonfiction is stories of diving adventures (and tragic misadventures), plus stories of whaling-era trips around the world by ship. And to think, I got seasick once, something my father will never let me live down. I'd like to go deep-sea fishing, too, someday. It's on that list I have of things I want to do before I die. I'm told I'll get seasick then, too, but that it's OK because everyone does.

But I digress, as usual.

By the way, among the many books on diving the Doria and other wrecks, one of the best books I've read in recent years hit the best-seller list last year: "Shadow Divers," about the quest to find the identity of a U-boat discovered off the Jersey coast. This quest plays a major role in a best-seller from a few years earlier, called "The Last Dive," about a father and son who lost their lives diving that same submarine. "Shadow Divers" is just incredible, and even a bit inspiring for me, since the divers are not only diving off the Shore, they're from my part of Jersey. If they can become world famous, I can at least get certified.

(I once actually considered quitting copy editing and going to the Diver's Institute of Technology to learn to become a professional diver. There I'd be, in a world I can only imagine like that in "The Abyss." Or "Deepstar Six." That's what happens when you watch one too many late-night infomercials and harbor one too many unfulfilled dreams.)

Of course, I'm convinced when I finally do reach my scuba diving goal, something's going to eat me.

This is my other fascination/fear of ocean life: Sharks.

I saw "Jaws" and "Jaws 2" back-to-back at a legend-in-my-own-mind slumber/birthday party when I was 10 years old. My mother spent all those years trying to shelter me, and in one evening of decadence with some 11-year-old friends, I saw "Terminator," "Creepshow" and both "Jaws" flicks all in one night.

I still love "Terminator," I went to college where they filmed part of "Creepshow," and I didn't go swimming again for two freakin' years.

Don't think a movie can have an effect on a still-developing psyche? I still shower quickly, and thanks to some other long-forgotten horror movie, the first thing I do whenever I go into any bathroom is open the damn shower curtain. You never know what might be back there.

And yes, I look in the back seat of my car before I get in, even though I know damn well no self-respecting monster of any sort could fit back there. It's a sports car, for crying out loud.

You don't think that birthday party influenced my life (it wasn't even my birthday!), do you? May I remind you, I review horror DVDs. And I wrote a horror movie. And my latest purchase from Amazon wasn't a Civil War book, it was a book on the "Friday the 13th" movies. There's another one coming out later in the year, and I'm buying that one, too.

Now I've wandered far afield. I was talking about sharks, wasn't I?

You know, the ones with teeth. Peter Benchley has a Jersey connection, you know, and one of the things that influenced him to write the rather lurid pulp novel upon which the movie (voted #1 in a recent horror movie poll, or so I heard) is based was the first major shark attacks in the United States.

Where? Yup, right off that same Jersey shore. In fact, two of the four kills in two weeks that summer back in the early 1900s took place INLAND, up the Matawan Creek. Two books came out on the incident in the same summer a couple of years ago, and I eagerly read both. Of the two, I preferred "Twelve Days of Terror," by Richard Fernicola, because he took a more scientific approach to the subject - the other book was more novel-like, told with more flair but with less information. I, faced with the choice, prefer the information. I have a vivid enough imagination on my own. Of course, the best books give you both the description and the information - and that applies to these Civil War books I'm reading, too.

All in all, I'd say I love the ocean more than any bad swimmer in history. I mean, I'm petrified of going into the ocean, but that's because A) I can't see; B) I'm wearing a pair of shorts; and C) there are big, giant creatures out there with sharp teeth or tentacles or other such nightmarish and deadly natural weaponry, whereas all I have are bad knees and a worse haircut.

The good news is, I've learned you can get prescription goggles! And I intend to. Because I think a lot of my fear of the water will go away when I can actually see what's trying to eat me. And if I learn to scuba dive, I'll have a wetsuit and tanks and other such reassuring-by-presence equipment.

Oh, and a very, very large dive knife. A co-worker who scuba dives pooh-poohed the idea of carrying a knife, but believe me, I'm buying one before I find out what happens when you pee in a wetsuit. It probably won't do much good against a megalodon, but that's a whole 'nothing book.

And I should add, it's not just the diving and the predators. I love ocean life in general. I could spend all day at an aquarium. Especially a big one like Baltimore's. I once drove something like four hours in traffic and the rain to Connecticut to go to the Maritime Aquarium there. Of course, that was because they had the much hyped, cool-yet-disappointing robot zoo. A ROBOT ZOO! How could any self-respecting inner child not want to see that? But it wasn't nearly as good as I'd hoped. On the other hand, I got to see them feed the seals, and that more or less made up for it.

Someday, when I have more money than I know what to do with, I'm going to turn this weird spot in my kitchen alongside the stairs, currently occupied with wooden bannister-style dowels, into a custom fish tank. I'm not sure how, but I'm going to hire a professional. So it's pretty far down the list, unless I discover sunken treasure scuba diving.

Have I mentioned my other odd goal? Learning a trade.

I've often thought that it would be nice to have a skill so when the revolution comes, they won't just line me up against a wall with the other journalists. A long time ago, my Uncle Leo suggested I become a plumber, after getting the bill for some bathroom renovations. But I've got a general aversion to the concept of dealing in shit for a living (no offense, plumbers!) and I've got a similar aversion to major-league power tools. My junior high school shop teacher (rest his soul) didn't even have all 10 fingers, so what are my chances of making it through a carpentry course intact? I type for a living, I need all 10, ya know? Anyway, after a while, I discovered the trade for me: Locksmithing. And after some discussion and agreement with my now former co-worker, Andy Obermueller, I have found you can become a trained, certified locksmith by mail. That's right, one of those Sally Struthers kind of deals. And one of these days, I'm signing up for that course. For less than a week's paycheck, I could learn a trade that can make me upwards of $50 an hour! (Or so they say. And, while that's more than I make now, I'm not sure I'm quite ready to spend all day, every day driving around in a van, getting people back into their cars.)

I know it sounds strange, but I've spent more money on dumber things, and hey, if you've ever seen somebody locked out of their car, you know, I'd like to be able to say, "Hey, let me help you out," instead of, "Bummer, dude." On one of my trips to Maryland, I stopped at a rest stop (drink a lot of Coke, make a lot of stops) and found myself (along with several others) trying to help some poor guy from Florida slim-jim his way back into his car. This is in the middle of the night, along the Jersey Turnpike.

I wish I could've said, hey, hang on a sec, jogged back to my car for my pistol-pick (free gift with paid application!) and popped that puppy open. Instead, I gave it a whack with the slim-jim, but unlike the time I got into Dr. Thompson's car with a coat hanger faster than the Triple A guy with his slim-jim, I couldn't get the door on this one. Those darn child-proof locks.

I don't know if you keep a list in your head (or your sock drawer) like I do, of all the great things you can say you've done, and all the great things you want to do before you die. But that's one of the few things I've stuck with, that idea of keeping score. And now you know some of the things on the right-hand column of that list, the one labeled "To do."

You've probably gotten an idea of some of the ones on the left-hand side, the ones with checkmarks beside them. The latest, of course, is writing something that gets published. Or at least, made into a movie.

Falling in love. That's on there, and that's one I've done.

I've been to the NFL Draft. And I found out today it looks like I'll be going again.

I've written a front-page article for a daily newspaper.

Been to a Raiders game, in Oakland. Years later, covered one, in Indianapolis.

I was at the '94 baseball All-Star game in Pittsburgh.

And saw the Wolf Pack raise the Calder Cup in 2000.

I saw Roger Clemens' first try for his 300th win, in Wrigley Field, against strikeout whiz Kerry Wood.

I got engaged. And that's still a feeling that can't be beat.

Not even by the deviant sex I'll spare you the details of.

I've been to the baseball Hall of Fame with my father, the man who taught me everything I know about the game.

I've seen St. John's hoops at the Garden, and the Argos play the Ticats at Skydome.

My hair's blond, or red, or blue, just for the hell of it.

I stood in the Pittsburgh Penguins' locker room and stuck my tape recorder at Mario Lemieux. After he hung five points on the Caps. After recovering from Hodgkin's.

I held a girl I loved while Depeche Mode played "Somebody" at Starlake.

I made it to the big leagues of journalism. And missed the Pulitzer Prize announcement. Twice.

My jaw hit the floor at Cirque De Soleil. In Vegas, where I shared a $300 bottle of wine with a friend.

I took part in the greatest Dungeons & Dragons fight of 22 years RPGing, and my character lived to tell the tale.

I went to Mardi Gras for my 30th birthday and drank a test-tube shot out of a girl's pants.

I bought a house, a sports car and a big-screen TV.

I have a friend who calls me "brother," and parents who love me.

And there's that glorious moment, after "An Inspector Calls," when I explained something symbolic in the play that my father hadn't understood. Now THAT was a day.

Listen, I'm not saying all of this (and thinking about all the stuff I didn't list) to brag. I'm saying it because I want to share a joy, want to share a passion for life with you. I want to inspire you to make your own list. To celebrate the great things you've done, even if they're small to everyone else. To become even more determined to do the things you haven't, no matter how wild, no matter how silly.

Someday, I'm taking a sports car out on a highway somewhere in the Midwest, late at night, and I'm dropping the hammer. Insurance-be-damned, I want to know what it's like to drive 100 miles per hour, and I've read some highways out there don't have speed limits.

Someday, I'll get promoted. To anything.

Someday, I'll fire a gun. And learn hand-to-hand combat.

Someday, I'll cook something that doesn't come in a box.

Someday, I'll see the Grand Canyon.

If I'm lucky, someday I'll see outer space.

If I'm really lucky, someday I'll stand at the top of the aisle and watch the love of my life walk down it in white.

And someday, I'll die. And I hope and pray I'll have lived well enough the column on the right is almost empty and the one on the left is almost full.

Life is kind of like the ocean, boundless and full of mystery. Sure, there's plenty of things out there that could eat you, but there's so much to see, to explore, to dream about.

I've gotten a new lease on life and I want to make the most of it. You should, too.

Discover HD Theater
The Museum of Natural History
An old page about the fighting dinosaurs
The Andrea Doria
And the U-869
Divers Institute of Technology
A nice "Jaws" page
The Maritime Aquarium
The Robot Zoo
Foley-Belsaw locksmith training

"We're gonna need a bigger blog."

Thursday, April 14, 2005

Never Put Off Until Tomorrow What You Can Do Next Weekend.

As I write this blog, I'm merely delaying doing some things I should have done weeks ago.

Now, I've got a perfect excuse: The movie I keep mentioning in the fervent hope that my lack of subtlety will encourage you to buy one when it comes out.

On the other hand, I've always got a perfect excuse.

You see, in addition to my many other accolades, I am a Founding Father of the Procrasti Nation.

I'm always late. I'm forgetful. And I work in a deadline profession, which merely exacerbates my tendency to put things off until the last possible minute.

Someone with a better background in psychology than mine (my background in psychology consists of taking psychological tests for money in college and knowing a bartender who's study psychology at Rutgers) once asked if I felt like I had avoidance issues.

I don't. I'm late to things I enjoy just as often as I'm late to things I don't. I'm late to work, an everyday job, just as often as I'm late to one-shot meetings.

Some of it's bad karma: I once missed a day of work because my car broke down and Triple A never showed. Well, maybe bad "carma" would be a more appropriate excuse.

Sometimes I just doze off. I'll be sitting at home, watching TV, thinking, "Ooh, I should leave in fifteen minutes," and an hour later I'm blinking and sneezing and wondering what the hell happened.

And one of the hazards of working at night is I sleep late, and consequently try to schedule appointments at the perfect time to give me enough sleep and still get me to work on time. Then, inevitably, either A) I oversleep, making me late for the appointment; or B) the appointment runs long, making me late for work. Or as sometimes happens, C) both.

I'll try anything - when in a hotel on the road, I'll get two wake-up calls, 15 minutes apart. I set two alarms at home if I have to get up early. I've had people call me specifically to wake me up.

And yes, I sleep like a rock, that doesn't help in the "sleep through your alarm" department.

Another problem is that I try to cram so much stuff into a day, it takes too long, either keeping me up too late at night (like this blog) or running too close to the time I have to leave for work in the afternoon. Another thing is that, like everyone else, every once in a while, I need a day where I just don't do anything, whether than means going straight to bed after work (because I'm exhausted) or just sitting around watching TV (because my brain's too fried to think).

So I save a lot of errands and other tasks for weekends. And I've spent almost every weekend this year traveling to Maryland.

And oddly enough, despite having to get up at a godawfully early hour most of the time, I was hardly ever late. Go figure.

Nonetheless, that means I'm behind on everything else.

And that means it's time to get to work.

The CMU psychology department
The Rutgers psychology department

(Insert witty comment here.)

Wednesday, April 13, 2005

Did I Mention I Hate Being Sick?

Random notes today.

I watched "Hollywood Homicide" for the umpteenth time tonight while I was doing more laundry. I think I must be the only person on the face of the Earth who actually liked this movie, and I mean, I LOVE it. I can watch it over and over, and it cracks me up every time.

Erica, who I mentioned in the post the other day, got a job!

So I was getting some stuff out of the basement yesterday, and I found a stack of CDs in a box that I thought I had to have sold or given away or lost. How bizarro is that?

Which is a line from another movie I love that I don't think anybody else likes, "Miss Congeniality."

I'm still sick. If anything, I feel worse. I think everything's breaking up, so I'm coughing like mad, and that hurts like hell.

I'm depressed the movie shoot is over, but I can't wait until the DVD!

And the nice thing is, I have my life back, at least on weekends. I can relax, and I can get things done. It's funny, one of the other guys said the same thing - it's bittersweet. Both a sorrow and a relief.

I'm a connosseur of chicken wings, and some of the best I've ever had are the Tyson version that's sold as a type of store brand at my local Stop & Shop. They're just the right kind of spicy. Usually I prefer the breaded wings, but these have a thick coating of sauce that has some serious pepper.

Speaking of pepper, the Blimpie on my way to work has the hot red peppers that really put a kick in a sub. They're the highlight of the best sub I've ever had, the regular at Berrigan's, back home in Bloomsburg. That's a real treat, and I always get one when I'm home visiting the 'rents. Well, actually, usually they get it, but I get to eat it. Two things I miss about Northeast PA, food-wise, are the Berrigan's subs and Middleswarth BBQ potato chips, the best potato chips in the world.

Can you tell I just got done eating?

Bloomsburg, by the way, has a stunning amount of really good restaurants for a small town, led by Russell's, which I'd put up against most anyplace I've ever eaten. And I've been to more than 10 countries around the world.

I'm so far behind on a bunch of things, like my freelancing and my Strat-O-Matic hockey leagues, but being sick is just slowing me down. Just when the movie got done and I finally have the time to commit, I can barely work up the energy. First, I was on some pills that were just knocking me out, and now that it's over with, I've got this freakin' cold.

I'm thinking of collecting wrestling figures again. I really feel like I need more toys in my life. I bought a train set, and that's really cool, but I'm thinking about sinking some more money into Jakks WWE guys, which I used to collect. I had one of every character ever made, but when they changed figure styles, I didn't really like the new ones at first, so I stopped collecting them. But lately, I've been getting back in the mood. I've never been very good at collecting stuff - I'm sort of obsessive/compulsive about it, but I've just never found anything I could really keep up with. I tried baseball cards, stamps and other stuff. But I'm torn between just buying stuff that interests me whenever I can (like sports media guides) and trying to really build a collection of something. It's like my instincts for fun and instincts as a completist just can't reconcile.

If you're wondering, I don't keep toys in the package. Toys are meant to be played with. I like buying them in the package, but partly because I enjoy tearing the package open. Sometimes at shows, when people are selling those "mint on card" "Star Wars" figures for a small fortune, I think about all the "Star Wars" toys I had as a kid and what they'd be worth if only I'd just left them in the box. But the thing is, if I could describe to you the amount of fun I had with those toys, even as I bashed 'em to hell (ruining the value thoroughly, I'm sure), if I could explain to you how they helped me become the man I am today, as the boy I was reached for the stars and dreamed and let his imagination soar... What's that worth? That's priceless, as they say in the commercials. Hours upon hours of fun and innocence and joy, feelings I've spent my whole adult life trying to replicate. Who cares what my "Star Wars" guys and GI Joes might have been worth if I'd never opened them? They're not worth enough to pay for my soul, my heart, the very fabric of who I am.

So when I make little dioramas out of my wrestling figures because it makes me smile, and makes me laugh, and brings back just a touch of that feeling of limitless imagination, you'll know why. And maybe you won't think I'm so crazy after all.

My friend Sari's birthday was today (Tuesday). I named one of the characters in the movie after her because she's got an awesome name and I'm dreadful at character names. (Remember Ann Marie Barbour, from the earlier post? She played Sari.)

Just 11 days to the NFL Draft, one of my favorite weekends of the year. I went last year and it was awesome. I figured it for a once-in-a-lifetime experience, but I'm hoping to go back this year, at least for the second day, which is less crowded and less crazy. I can't pull all-nighters (like last year) quite as often, or as well - or recover from them as quickly - as I did in college.

I know what you're thinking, I write most of these posts at like 2 or 3 in the morning, but I sleep until 10 or 11. It's not like I don't get my 8 hours when I can. And after months of crazy sleeping patterns on weekends, I'm all out of whack anyway.

Because the last place you want to fall asleep is behind the wheel. You doze off at work, or in class, or at lunch, it's embarrassing, maybe even humiliating. But you doze off driving, it's usually fatal.

Well, I suppose dozing off at lunch could be fatal if you land face-down in your food.

(wait for it...)

Nope. Still sick. Damn it.

"Hollywood Homicide," on the IMDB
"Miss Congeniality," also on the IMDB
Tyson Foods
Stop & Shop
Bloomsburg restaurants
Middleswarth BBQ chips' "Weekender" bag
Jakks Pacific's WWE figure line
A nice page with "Star Wars" figure photos
A nice page with GI Joe figure photos
The 2005 NFL Draft

I'm thinking of changing format and going back through and linking within the text of posts, rather than just listing a bunch of links at the end. It seems like it would ruin the stream-of-consciousness to try to put them in while I write, but I think going back after would be OK, since that's what I do anyway, with the list.

Your thoughts? Post a comment if you've got an opinion.

(One last random aside: I've noticed from clever examination of the time stamp on Blogger that these posts take me about an hour to write, including looking up links. So remember that on the days you don't get a post because I'm tired or sick or lazy or away. These things require effort! I hope it's worth it for both of us.)

Monday, April 11, 2005

Lyndon Larouche: Heartless-jerk-by-proxy

I hate being sick.

I hate being sick with a burning fury I usually reserve for Nazis, terrorists, a certain Sports copy chief and my ex-fiancee's douchebag of a father.

(And Mom, it's not swearing if it's truth. The guy is a douchebag, and we both know it, even if you'd never say it quite so, um, colorfully.)

I've got a cold or something, and a sinus headache to beat the band.

The funny thing is, when I was in college, and my parents were paying a small fortune for me to be there, I'd skip class all the time when I was sick. Now that I'm an adult, and my company will pay me to stay home if I'm sick, I hardly ever call out.

I've taken maybe six sick days in nine years of work. The last time I called in sick (with the worst headache of my life!), I got a text from a friend/co-worker asking if I was faking, she was so surprised I was out.

Being injured is something else - being injured offers the "red badge of courage." I can tell people after my last soccer game, my teammates carried me off the field.

And straight to the emergency room.

I can't call in sick this week, though, because one of my co-workers is on vacation, and there's only three of us, so I gotta show. And that's OK, because I'm the kind to fight through it - or, if you think about it, the kind who gets his co-workers sick, rather than staying home. But that's fair, because most of the time when I get sick, I catch it from someone at work.

So now I'm a Business copy editor with a cold. Ick.

That title's kind of for ick, too, isn't it?

I've got a friend who calls herself on her Web site a "visual journalist." That sounds so much cooler than "Business copy editor," but hey.

(By the way, if you're a newspaper recruiter, last I checked, she's looking for work, and not only is she excellent and talented, she's way cool. And she's got a good name: Erica. Funny story, we played softball together, and I was playing second and she was playing short field and somebody hit a pop-up into short right, and I'm going back, running full-tilt, looking over my shoulder, and my teammates are yelling "Eric, uh, Eric!" and I'm booking, figuring they're telling me to go for it, and that's when I realize they're not yelling "Eric, uh..." they're yelling "Erica!" So I managed to stop my momentum-heavy 200 pounds just short of one of my patented headhunter-shoulder-to-chin body checks. And she missed the ball. But, she tells me her sport is tennis, and I played tennis back in school, and hell, I can't catch pop-ups, either.)

I've wandered pretty far afield from the subject line, haven't I?

Well, I'm going to close with a story about Lyndon LaRouche, former presidential candidate.

Strictly for your amusement. Laughter, after all, is the best medicine.

It's not really about Lyndon LaRouche, it's about one of his representatives. But here goes.

When I was a freshman in college, my grandmother died. (Trust me, the story gets better.) I was crushed, because not only was she my last grandparent, she was so full of love that I always felt like her favorite grandchild, even if my cousins could make the same claim. She died in Pennsylvania, but was to be buried in Florida, alongside Grandpa.

Unfortunately, the funeral was the day after my fraternity pledge test, an all-night affair that is a crucial step toward brotherhood. Fortunately, my brothers were understanding, especially my big, and they made sure I got a bit of sleep and was in a cab as soon as possible, on my way to the Pittsburgh airport.

But "as soon as possible" wound up being a close shave. I get in the cab at about 8 a.m. and I've got a 8:45 flight. And the airport's 45 minutes away. It's a $40 cab ride, plus tip, and I usually gave $10. This time I told the cabbie I had $60, and if he got me to the airport in time, it was all his.

(All times, by the way, are simulated for example purposes, if you think I remember the time of a flight 12 years ago, you're sicker than I am. Point is, it was early in the morning.)

He took me on roads out of the city I'd never been on before or since.

And got me to the airport at 8:40, God bless him.

Of course, my flight's at the farthest terminal from the entrance. Isn't that the way of the world?

So I'm doing an OJ Simpson through the airport - for those of you maybe a touch younger than me, that means I was running full-speed, hurdling baggage carts and old ladies, not that I was denying murdering my ex-wife. I wasn't even engaged, much less married, much less divorced. And short tempered I am, but not homicidal.


Well, thank goodness I was in shape back then, because I got to my gate at 8:50, ready to weep in frustration, only to find (thank you, Grandpa!) the flight was delayed 10 minutes.

So I made it, and off to Atlanta I went. There, because my flight out of Pittsburgh was late, I had to pull another OJ to get to my connection to Fort Lauderdale.

And there I am, booking through the Atlanta airport, wearing a black suit and hauling a carry-on, when I sprint past a table with a guy hawking Lyndon LaRouche for President, or for something else. This is 1993, so I'm not even sure why this LaRouche table is there. Maybe his supporters were trying to get him out of jail. Point is, it's a Lyndon LaRouche supporter.

And with the zeal of a hari krishna and the timing of a blizzard, he asks me if I'd like to know more about Lyndon LaRouche.

I said "no" without breaking stride.

And that's when I hear him say, behind me, "Well, I see some people don't have the open mind to consider other alternatives," or something along those lines.

Back then, I weighed about 165, so it was a lot easier to stop on a dime.

You can guess where this is going, can't you?

Remember that bit about being short tempered, but not homicidal?

Let's ratchet that up a bit, shall we?

And I whirled, with the rage of a mourning, immature, ill-tempered grandson, and let him have it, both barrels, at the top of my lungs.

"Listen, you asshole, I'm on my way to my grandmother's funeral! You want to say that again?"

Now everyone in the vicinity is looking, and I'm stalking him down, connecting flight be damned. Hell hath no fury like a boy who's just lost his last grandparent.

This dipshit actually ran.

I mean, he ran away. From his table full of fliers, his banner and everything.

My father (Grandma's son), in his heyday, was not only an outstanding educator, but the toughest grader and most intimidating professor in the Bloomsburg University English Department, and perhaps the world. He could silence an unruly frat boy with a glare.

Trust me, I was an unruly frat boy for four years.

(Remind me to tell you the story about my father, my senior year in high school and the freshman comp rotation.)

Now, I may not quite live up to my father's standards (in many ways), but that doesn't mean I can't aspire to that level of greatness.

And for that one, shining moment, I think I got a little of that family spirit.

Plus, despite my detour, I made my connection and got to Grandma's funeral on time. I cried like a baby, but I'd like to think that's OK.

Grandma was always so sweet, I don't know where Dad gets that scare factor from, and I sure as heck don't know how I get to show it from time to time, seeing as how I'm adopted.

As an adoptee, by the way, I have no medical history, which always makes things entertaining at the doctor.

And speaking of doctors, that brings us full circle. Did I mention I hate being sick?

Information about sinus headaches
Erica Wright, visual journalist and all-around cool chick
A reference to O.J.'s Hertz ads
Lyndon LaRouche's PAC, hopefully with better timing these days
Pittsburgh International Airport
Hartsfield-Jackson Atlanta International Airport
The Bloomsburg U. English Department, safer if less interesting

By the way, these two fabled, stunning weekend updates will hopefully make up for the fact that you probably won't get one tomorrow (Monday) because, well, Uncle Sam wants his 1040, and my parents (who helped me buy my townhouse) want my refund. Yeah, tax time. And laundry day.

Saturday, April 09, 2005

Trading Spaces Meets Deadwood

OK, this was going to be a post about my day on the movie set, where I got to act.

Instead, it's going to be a profane rant. Despite my parents' complaints about my language, and despite the fact that I can demonstrate an ample amount of eloquence when I set my mind to it, there's no way around this one.

I'm royally pissed off!

(No, this isn't about Prince Charles and Camilla. It's an adjective, not a way of life.)

Disclaimer: Generally speaking, I am an alpha-male type (you couldn't tell? I've written posts about wrestling, the Civil War and metal/rock music, pay attention!). Most of my TV watching consists of ESPN, the "Tonight Show" and HBO.

But my weakness over the past few years has been TLC. More specifically, TLC's home-makeover reality shows, "Trading Spaces," its neglected stepchild "Trading Spaces Family" and "While You Were Out."

If you watch "Trading Spaces," you might have guessed where this is going.

"Trading Spaces" dumped Paige Davis, the hostess. Tonight, the first "hostless" episode aired, and I taped it and am just finishing up watching it. I couldn't even wait for the end to start writing.

Because, as a reminder, I'm ROYALLY pissed off.

Let me put it this way, as a TS fan, I'm inclined to unleash a stream of words more likely to be found on HBO's "Deadwood" than on "The Learning Channel."

Well, here's your lesson, so learn this: YOU FUCKING BLEW IT.

What the fuck were you thinking, TLC?

Let the record show those are my first two f-bombs of this blog. I hope that gives you some idea of how upset I am.

Saying this show is soulless without Paige Davis is something like saying the Raiders had some trouble with the Bucs in the Super Bowl a few years ago. That would be the game where Rich Gannon threw five interceptions, three run back for touchdowns, and I had to be restrained from throwing my Gannon collectible figure through my Hillsborough Glass noncollectible window.

To borrow another phrase from "Deadwood," what cocksucker came up with the brilliant fucking decision to dump Paige? (And adding insult to injury, evidently leaving the idiotic Joe Farrell employed on TSF, the EA "NCAA Football" to TS' "Madden." For those of you who doubt my alpha-male credentials from the fact that I watch TS, ask your husband or boyfriend to explain the analogy.)

I'm so angry I can't even think coherently, and mind you, this is the end of one of the cooler days of my life. This is also the new, improved, "kindler gentler" me that has blossomed in recent months.

I'm trying to restrain myself, Mom, I really am.

But this is the most boneheaded decision in television since someone thought a Justin Timberlake/Janet Jackson duet would boost Super Bowl ratings.

God fucking damn it.

Can you get in trouble for e-threatening TLC? Because if I get my hands on the genius who thought dumping the most popular cast member on a show with struggling ratings would help, I'm going to wring his fucking neck.

I don't want more time with the stupid homeowners. I don't want more time with the designers, even though I like almost all, because they show up about once a freakin' month. What binds the show together? (Besides duct tape...) Paige. There's a reason the job is called host, you fucking morons.

And you know what, TLC, you want to improve "Trading Spaces' " ratings? Get Television Without Pity to start covering the show again. They're covering "Deadwood," where you can "learn" what some of these words I'm using mean.

Pay TWOP if you have to. My TS experience hasn't been the same since Deborah hung up her TS keyboard because you were AIRING TOO MANY GODDAMN EPISODES.

So now, not only are you airing too many goddamn episodes, you've ruined the goddamn show!

Well, it'll stop my digital recorder conflicts on Saturday nights, that's for damn sure. Between this and moving WYWO around to every freakin' night of the week, I'm pretty sure I can take TLC off my cable box "favorites."

Put on a show about what former homeowners think of the people who bought from them. Yawn. Put on a show where likeable Genevieve Gorder tries to redo towns with the help of people so unlikeable they'd make Will Rogers drop a nuke on the hellhole that is Jeffersonville, New York.

And take the show that put your lousy network on the map and gut it. Gut it like a fish. Smart, real smart.

I'm running out of steam. I'm exhausted. My fury burns itself out easily these days. But a good grudge lasts a long time. I'm my father's son, and he once held a grudge for 20 years. I aspire to that level of greatness.

My old "Blood Bowl" game makes reference to the Great Book of Grudges. Congratulations, "Trading Spaces," you're officially entered in mine.

Thank God my buddy Anthony Venutolo got me watching "The Contender." Now THAT is a show. And Sci-Fi is finally re-airing one of my other buddy Dave Hawkins' favorites, the new "Battlestar Galactica," so I can catch up.

I burned out of "Iron Chef," my old favorite TV show, but I couldn't imagine I'd ever get tired of "Trading Spaces."

And I guess I didn't exactly get tired of it. The show I loved just disappeared.

So screw TLC and screw this "hostless" crap. I'll miss some of the cool designers and carpenters, and maybe I'll try to watch the next episode.

But every now and then, an alpha male has to take a stand in his home-decorating-show-watching.

And I'm going to take mine, armed with this blog and my alpha male universal eight-device infrared remote.


"Trading Spaces" on TLC (you can find the other shows there)
"Deadwood" on HBO
Paige Davis' home page
Television Without Pity, which every TV fan should read
Will Rogers' home page
Blood Bowl home page
"The Contender" on NBC
"Battlestar Galactica" on Sci-Fi
"Iron Chef" on the Food Network
Defining "obscene," like the words in this rant

Nope. I waited five minutes. I'm still royally pissed off.

Friday, April 08, 2005

Awkward Moment of the Day.

So I had to go buy a ski mask today.

It's for the movie.

So I go to the only ski shop I know of, near where I used to live. I'm not even 100% sure it's open anymore because the owner was (allegedly) murdered by his wife a year or so ago, and she later committed suicide before her trial was completed. Their son went to jail for some role in it, too. Sad and strange all at once.

Thus, until I got to the parking lot and tried the door, I wasn't sure the place was still in business. But it is. (Good for them.)

Anyway, nice people inside, but as you might realize, it's spring. It was 71 freakin' degrees yesterday. And I'm looking for a black ski mask.

So the girl in the store says, "May I help you?" and I tell her I'm looking for a ski mask that covers my face. She asks, reasonably enough, if it's for a vacation or if I'm stocking up for next year. Then she asked something about styles I didn't quite get.

Bear in mind, I've gone skiing exactly once in my life, on my mother's skis when I was about 10, cross-country style. I fell down, in the road, in front of a fortunately slowly) passing car, and that ended my skiing career.

I didn't know what to say. So I said the first thing that came to mind.

"I need the kind of ski mask you'd wear if you were robbing a bank."


Fortunately, I'm guessing she figured the guy in plain sight, with a photo ID clipped to his belt, paying by credit card, probably wasn't really robbing a bank later. So I finally said I was an actor and needed the mask for a role.

It's true, even if it's a bit overstating my range compared with the actors I've had the privilege to work with on "Dead Hunt."

Either way, I found a suitable mask. Not quite what I was looking for, but it's black and it covers my face, and it actually looks kind of cool. I tried it on... at the gas station. In Newark, New Jersey. I'm thinking that wasn't a bright idea, either, since I guess it's the kind of mask you could rob a minimart in, too. And someone probably has.

It's hot as hell, by the way, so I can see why Westley was wrong in "Princess Bride" and masks never caught on as a fashion trend.

So watch for my Hopkins-esque moment of fame when you buy "Dead Hunt," coming this fall from Timewarp Films. (end blatant promo mode)

Hopkins, by the way, is not a reference to Sir Anthony ("Don't Call Me Hannibal"). It's a "Crucible" reference. Ever seen "The Crucible," by the late Arthur Miller?

There's a character in it named Hopkins, who has exactly one line.

Which, assuming I don't get cut from DH, is the same number I'll have had in my last two acting performances. Thank God I didn't try acting for a living. One line in "Lysistrata" in college, one line in DH.

And to think, when Bloomsburg High School actually put on "The Crucible," way back when, I had the lead. (making me one of two guys involved in DH who played John Proctor. the other was Justin Timpane, who I've mentioned.)

I know, I know, don't quit your night job.

Funny story: One of the last rehearsals for "Crucible," the director let us use our scripts so we could focus on blocking, emoting, etc., rather than memorization. And I shit you not, the girl playing Hopkins walked out on stage, opened her script, and read her line. EVERYBODY ELSE in the cast knew the line. And it's not like it was a run-on sentence, even. Just subject-verb.

"The deputy governor has arrived."

See, I still remember it, and it's been what? 14 years? Hell, I don't remember my line from "Lysistrata," and it was MY line.

Another random "Crucible" story: The summer after my star turn, Tony Randall's theater company put on "The Crucible" as its first-ever production (remember that whole "not editing" bit? first-ever! hah!). Reviewers savaged it, with one suggesting it was no better than a good high school production, despite the presence of Martin Sheen as Proctor, Michael York and Fritz Weaver, among others.

So my parents took me to see the show. And there, in the program, we see a member of the Bloomsburg Theatre Ensemble (a well-known troupe in my hometown) has joined Randall's company. Not even one of the prominent ones, really, and yet there he is on Broadway. My parents' shock was tempered somewhat when they looked him up in the Playbill.

He was playing Hopkins.

For the curious, after the show, I asked my father whose version was better - after all, I was in a good high school production - and regrettably, even with the nepotism factor, Martin Sheen won.

I'm guessing he'd have gotten more than one line in DH, too. What can I say? He is, after all, president of the United States.

(snark mode: May my kids play better hockey than Emilio and have even more sex than Charlie.)

Timewarp Films
The script for "Princess Bride"
A research guide to "The Crucible"
Information about Arthur Miller
National Actors Theatre, which appears, sadly, to be defunct, at least Web-wise
The Bloomsburg Theatre Ensemble
Andrew Hubatsek, Hopkins himself
Martin Sheen, on "The West Wing"
The Mighty Ducks of Anaheim
(Four Seasons Ski & Snowboard Shop folks, feel free to leave a comment and a link if you've got a Web site. My condolences on the tragedy.)

Random Civil War trivia of the day: There was a general whose real given name (I couldn't make this up) was States Rights Gist. Thank goodness he was a Confederate. Could you imagine, since many people say the Civil War started over states' rights (as opposed to slavery, the specific right in question), if he'd wound up fighting for the Union? That would've been tough to explain to his fellow generals. Imagine Bob Shepperd intoning, "Now batting for the Yankees, the shortstop, number 2, Red Sox Jeter. Jeter, number 2." General Gist, by the way, had the misfortune to follow John Bell Hood, the unluckiest general I've encountered thus far, to the battle of Franklin, where he became Bullet Catcher Gist. If I read the photo captions right (I haven't finished the book yet), Hood got six of his generals killed in five hours at Franklin. I call Hood unlucky, by the way, because he managed to lose both the use of an arm and half of a leg in combat. Even worse, he lost the use of his LEFT arm and part of his RIGHT leg. So that must've been damn inconvenient, them not even being on the same freakin' side. THAT, my friends, is bad luck.

Wednesday, April 06, 2005

I'm noticing a trend. (Curt shilling!)

So my buddy Stewie has a blog, which I've mentioned.

And I started my blog partly because of his inspiration.

We know each other because we both write DVD reviews for a site called HorrorTalk, and we've become great friends as a result. (We also have our own site, DonkeyHat.)

Anyway, a bunch of other people on HorrorTalk recently started their own blogs.

So either Stewie's a trendsetter, which is frightening if you've ever seen his shirts, or an inspiration, which is frightening if you've ever talked about serious subjects with him. He's one of those mad genius types.

But since I'm in the habit of pimping out my friends' work, this post is all about how Stewie got what seems like most of HorrorTalk blogging.

I haven't seen a random fad sweep through a group this quickly since about half my fraternity brothers (and their girlfriends) were playing Magic: The Gathering back in the mid '90s. If you're wondering, I was arguably the second-best player (after another mad genius, my buddy Eric Siegel) and probably about the second-worst deck builder. My then-fiancee was actually a stunningly good player for someone who a) was so totally NOT the M:TG-playing type and b) built her deck entirely around her holier-than-thou personality - and admitted it!

OK, so this post ended up being MOSTLY about the HorrorTalk blogging trend. If you didn't think I just sort of meander off course from time to time, you haven't been keeping up.

Stewie's "Incoherent Thoughts" (the one that started it all)
Freak Magnet's "Everybody Else Is Doing It, Why Can't I?"
Renaldo's "Ron's Modern Life"
Krystal Lake's "Nothing Important"
Magic: The Gathering
Pi Lambda Phi fraternity
Curt Schilling (get it?)

By the way, I take absolutely no responsibility for anything any of those guys say on their blogs. And I'm not just saying that because Stewie's latest post is about how glad he is the Pope is dead.

Black and white and gray all over.

I know, that "allegedly updated daily" is becoming "allegedly updated almost daily."

But once again, I have an excuse.

I'm good at excuses, if you're wondering, because I'm always late. Someday (stop me if I told this one before), I'll die and there will be a rabbi standing in front of an empty coffin looking at his watch, going "Where is he?"

Anyway, I took a long weekend this past weekend to hang with my buddy Ed.

Among other politically incorrect misadventures, we watched Wrestlemania.

Now, I'll freely admit I'm no longer much of a wrestling fan, more interested in playing the yearly "SmackDown" video game than watching the show itself.

But it's become something of a yearly tradition (read: exercise in nostalgia).

I first started watching wrestling when I was in elementary school and "All-American Wrestling" was on USA, one of the new networks on my parents' new cable TV.

And one of the things I remember is that I was too young to know about things like steroids and "sports entertainment." To me, as a kid, wrestling was legitimate sport, full of heroes and villains, or as they call them now, faces and heels.

See, I believed. I believed you could grow up and be a wrestler, the same way you could grow up and play for the Raiders. You wrestled to the best of your ability and you could be a champion.

So I was naive. I was also 8.

The thing I find myself thinking is, I've never quite shaken that fantasy, that some things in life could be so simple, so clear cut. It's funny, if there's one thing wrestling is not, it's clear-cut and simple - I'm a Bret "Hitman" Hart fan from way back, and anyone who knows stories like the Canadian screw job and the tragic death of his brother Owen knows how far from clear-cut and simple wrestling can get.

But the thing is, that's life. Life isn't simple. Life isn't clear-cut. Is it wrong to wish, sometimes, that it were?

Every little kid who plays with Star Wars figures and GI Joes wants to be a hero (except the budding psychopaths, they want to be villains). But life isn't full of heroes. Life isn't full of grand victories and epic tales. Life is full of little choices, that sometimes lead to little wins, and sometimes lead to big losses.

Somehow, things were simpler then. The good guys won, and the bad guys lost - unless they cheated. The world was fair.

I'll always love wrestling, because there will always be that part of me (please God) that never quite stops being a little kid, that never quite stops believing. Sometimes it gets buried so far beneath the stress and heartache that life can bring that I forget it's there. But then something comes along like Wrestlemania and it all comes rushing back. That dream. Seeing the Hall of Fame ceremony, where Hulk Hogan, greatest of champions, was inducted, brought back memories of a time when he was the greatest of heroes - the good guy of good guys. Sure, the teenager and collegian in me enjoyed the NWO years, when the hero wore black and betrayed his principles, but by then I knew it was all a story, all a grand drama in the name of entertainment. And while I can appreciate a grand drama with the best of them, there's something to be said for NOT knowing how the world works.

That kind of innocent can believe. And sometimes I know, in the dark of night, that I'm not an innocent, that I don't believe, that I can't no matter how much I want to. And it hurts.

I often say I wish life were like street hockey. I grew up playing the game with my friends in middle school and high school. I was a skinny kid, but my friends said I was pound-for-pound the hardest hitter. I played dirty, I played to agitate, I fought, I checked, I cross-checked.

And it was simple.

You kept score, and at the end of the game you won or lost. Would that life were so easy.

Believe me, there have been times in my life when I wish I could throw down my stick, drop my gloves and just pound the hell out of someone, then get a five-minute break from life. Then do it again.

I'm not a complete sociopath. Plenty of 'em deserved to get smacked. Well, at least two.

But that's not how life works, and all the therapy and pharmaceuticals in the world won't change that.

I'm an adult. I have to follow the rules. A cross check is 2 minutes in street hockey - and five years behind bars in the real world.

Life was simpler once. I remember that. And I know I wasn't always happy then, but time does heal a lot of wounds, even as it opens new ones. And the freshest wounds hurt most.

It's easy to talk about words like honor and decency and trust and faith. It's harder to believe in them. And harder still to live up to them. We're not cardboard heroes. We don't have a script that tells us who's going to win and lose. All we have is the chance to play the game - a game with no scoreboard to tell us at a glance if we're winning or losing. The question is, can a child's unshakeable faith that the good guys always win be reconciled with an adult's experience that says the good guys don't always do good deeds, and don't always get good results. And most certainly, the good guys don't always win.

I've always fancied myself a good guy. And I've learned those truths the hard way. I haven't always done good deeds. I've failed at things that at the time mattered more than life itself. I've let people down. I've sinned. I've disappointed.

But I've succeeded, too. Just enough that I keep getting back up off the hockey court, dusting myself off, and hurling myself back into the fray. I've got a hard-hitting reputation to maintain. And a dream that someday, somehow, I'll win this game of life.

I dream that could happen. I wish things really were black and white, but I usually just find myself fumbling to find a place amid the shades of gray. There's no scoreboard in the sky, at least none that I can see, to measure. If God is keeping score, he hasn't seen fit to share.

I wish he would. I always played my best when I knew where I stood, up or down. But life is not that easy.

So all I can do is lower my shoulder, keep my stick and my hopes high, and play hard until the final gun.

World Wrestling Entertainment
Bret "Hitman" Hart
Hulk Hogan, Hall of Famer
Street hockey, NHL Kids style

And now to sleep, perchance to dream.