Tuesday, June 28, 2005

Falling from the family tree "redux"

So today my Dad tells me I can take a bit of a break from the whole family tree updating thing while he awaits some information from the more far-flung branches.

The thing is, I don't want to take a break. I'm actually enjoying myself.

I've got a computer program that makes it all pretty easy, an interest in history in general and a vague fascination with all these people I've never met, or only met once or twice as a child.

We're not an especially tight-knit family, and my parents live out in the middle of nowhere, so I sort of think I should have the same vague indifference toward this whole thing that I have toward a lot of my life.

Instead, the OCD or whatever has kicked in, and I'm all excited. Plus, I'm just anal retentive enough to be bothered by some of the more tactful changes people are suggesting (such as doing away with short-lived marriages that produced no children). I mean, I understand those are painful memories and not really relevant - it would be like putting Michelle, my ex-fiancee, on - but the completist in me just twitches. I want this to be perfect. And by perfect, I mean perfectly accurate, too.

Funniest thing of all is, I'm adopted. I'm not related to any of these people. At least not by blood. And with all that recent talk about the 30th anniversary of the Babylift and the kids going back to Vietnam, plus an article I saw the other day about a tour company sending orphans to their home countries as adults, I guess it would be easy to think that the ties to this family wouldn't be as strong as some kind of deep-seated, primordial bond to my blood and genes and true ancestry.

And there's absolutely none.

This is my family, the one in Pennsylvania, and has been from the day I was given to my mother and father as a baby. And as I watch the various lines and boxes unfold on the computer, listing my parents, their parents, and THEIR parents - the brave souls who traveled to this country when they were old enough to know the risks - I can't help but think of environment vs. heredity, as implausible as that may sound.

I know what I inherited from my biological mother and father - dark skin, thick hair, broad shoulders, bad knees, a touch of high blood pressure, an iffy complexion, the fundamental inability to grow a decent goatee (no matter how hard I try) and so forth.

But what I inherited from my real Mom and Dad is something else entirely, something harder to see in the mirror - a touch of my Mom's kindness toward others, a bit of my Dad's intimidating presence and even more of his sense of humor, a little of his eloquence and more than a little of her feistiness, his love of books and baseball, her love of tennis, the love of theater and art they share.

And working on this family tree, I think I've found the most precious inheritance of all: A love of family. Sure, some of them are flawed and some of them are crazy, a few are surly and some antisocial. Everybody's human. But they're my family. And despite the divorces, and the lost-communication question marks and the fact that I haven't seen some of them in years and haven't missed them, when I see those names and words and lines, I see the ties that bind. I see the people I love.

I see Grandma in Florida, making briscuit and matzoh ball soup. I see Grandpa asleep in that chair by the window, head back, mouth open. I see Uncle Mark, with Grandpa's ears and Grandma's hair. I see Dad, the opposite, with Grandpa's build and hair, but Grandma's face.

And I don't need DNA to see that's the man I want to be.

That little box on the chart, that's me. It could have been someone else. It could have been on someone else's chart. But it's not. It's right there, son of Gerald and Elizabeth, grandson of Jack and Claire and Sam and Zibia.

And not a day goes by that I don't thank God or whatever powers there may be for that.

That's why I want that tree to be done, to be perfect, to be beautiful. Because I love my family, I love where they came from, I love that I can call their history my own. It didn't have to be that way, but it is. That tree's my blessing.

And that's what I want my tiny paper chart to show, how much it means to me.

Reunion, the program I'm using, getting its second plug in a week (so if you're reading this, Leister Productions, I want graft!)
A Babylift site, which cover the orphans' return trip
Nature vs. Nuture, About.com style
"Apocalypse Now," whose re-release made the word "redux" cool

I know, I said I was counting the last post as my post for today. I lied. We'll both get over it. So for a bonus link, here's a quiz on the movie "Commando," which featured the quasi-memorable Schwarzenegger line, "Remember, Sully, when I promised to kill you last? ... I lied."

(I got an 8/10, with the average being 6/10. And I'm mad I missed two. I love that movie.)

Nostalgia lives, and Jenny Craig weeps

While I warm up my sore throwing arm, allow me to take you on a tour of my (metaphorical) glass house.

When I was a sophomore in high school, I was 15 years old, stood 5-foot-8 and weighed 110 pounds. When I was a senior, I was 17, 5-foot-9 and 148 pounds. By the time I was 19, I weighed 163, and I'd stopped growing taller. At 21, I was 190. At 24, I was 205. I stayed at 205 until 28, when somehow I ate my way up to 238 one holiday season. When I stopped being able to see my Little E when I looked down, I went on a diet and got back down to about 210.

The point is? Most people gain weight as they get older, whether they want to or not. Hey, there's a reason I'm joining a gym in Hillsborough, and it's NOT because I like working out.

So now that all of that is on the record, let me get to my point:

I've found a new TV show to rubberneck at: NBC's "Hit Me Baby 1 More Time," which apparently is named for the Britney Spears song (she's Mrs. Kevin Federline to you Teen Beat readers; she used to be a singer, or at least a lip-syncher).

And based on a column by one of my newspaper's TV writers, I'm not alone in staring, half-amused and half-appalled, at this show.

Hey, "The Contender" is over, and "Trading Spaces" sucks without Paige Davis. I've got to tape something.

The basic premise, for you who haven't seen, is this: Five musical acts, mostly from the '80s and unseen since, sing a hit, then cover a current pop song, with the audience picking a winner. Despite the thought that these has-beens might need the cash, the winner gets only a donation to a charity of its choice.

Musically speaking, I've enjoyed the show. I've known all but one or two of the songs performed, and in many cases, have it floating around on a CD somewhere. And to my surprise, I've known most of the current hits, too, probably the result of listening to far too much Top-40-Crap radio on my commute.

It is fun, though to see how some of the covers differ from the regular songs, like a hip-hop guy covering Britney's techno-dance "Toxic." Although perhaps my favorite song covered thus far (four episodes, I think) was Five for Fighting's "100 Years," and Sophie B. Hawkins just BUTCHERED it.

(Aside, my formative musical years run from about 1985, when I joined the Columbia House cassette tape club at 10 years old, to about 1997, when my music-loving ex-fiancee walked out of my life. I buy maybe a half-dozen CDs a year, and my last purchase was the 10th anniversary acoustic version of Alanis Morissette's "Jagged Little Pill," which falls into my musical prime, as it were.)

But really, the most morbid aspect of the whole affair isn't thinking about how old *I* have gotten as realizing how old *they* have gotten.

And old, generally speaking, means fatter and balder. Well, the women aren't balder.

But I remember Mike Reno, lead singer of Loverboy, as a Canadian sex symbol (now that's an oxymoron) in tight leather pants and a headband. I liked Loverboy then, I like them now, and frankly, they can still rock out pretty well.

But they seemed light a band member, and my guess is, Reno ate him. He was HUGE. Like bloated huge.

Hell, Tiffany was in Playboy about three years ago, and SHE looked chunky, even if her implants were falling out of her outfit.

And there was some guy who had some seriously huge hair back in the '80s, and he came on stage in a ballcap with a ponytail out the back. And he wouldn't take off the hat. Evidently all that hair migrated to the back of his head.

The worst part is, they take pleasure in showing the performers in their prime. You know, young, thin and energetic. Then they bring them on stage as the host, Vernon Kay, intones, "and now, (he or she) is back!" And it's like, DAMN! what happened to you???

By the way, Paige Davis gets fired, and Vernon Kay has a job? He's the most annoying Englishman this side of Tony Blair. I've taken to fast-forwarding through his bits. Hit this one more time, doofus, then SHUT THE HELL UP.

But hey, to the performers' credit, they're musicians, and most of them can still sing. Likewise, almost all know how to play to the crowd, and they must be doing something right, because NBC keeps showing lots of scantily clad young women waving their arms in the front row while mouthing the words and swaying to the beat. Although, oddly enough, the later performers have been winning and it's the vocalists who've tended to win (well, Vanilla Ice isn't really a vocalist) rather than the rockers (who usually go first to get things started with a bang)... me, I prefer rock, but hey.

What it comes down to is, for this child of the '80s, the show is just fun. Even if it's goofy, cruel, morbid fun. Props to NBC for keeping me amused in a post-"Contender" world.

"Hit Me Baby 1 More Time," on NBC
I don't know if any of this is true, but it mocks that stupid Vernon Kay and is therefore good
A random '80s nostalgia link
Britney, baby, one more time
And Jenny Craig, because we all need it (though I, for one, still have my HAIR)

Yeah, that's two posts in one day, but it's after midnight, so as far as I'm concerned, this counts as tomorrow's. Or today's. Whatever. You know what I mean. Now where'd I put "The Contender" on my DVR...?

Monday, June 27, 2005

Suicidal foolish and crazy brave

24 hours (and a few minutes) in the life of me:

12:30 a.m. Saturday:
Arrive home from work. Start burning iTunes mix. Pick a new book to read (Harry Pfanz on Cemetery Hill and Culp's Hill at Gettysburg).

Pause to see a man about a munkee.

1 a.m. Saturday:
Mix is finished. Check the two DVDs that arrived in the mail ("American Psycho" and "Team America: World Police." very patriotic titles. both unrated.). Both work fine.

Eat some fast food. Watch a little TV.

2 a.m. Saturday:
Change, go to bed.

2:30 a.m. Saturday:
Stare at ceiling.

Look at alarm clock.

Think about 8:45 a.m. alarm.

Curse the fates.

3 a.m. Saturday:
Get out of bed. See munkee again.

Go back to bed. Repeat alarm clock routine, but with different curse.

Approx. 3:30 a.m. Saturday:
Fall asleep.

8:45 a.m. Saturday:
Alarm on alarm clock goes off.

Fumble around until alarm clock is off. Roll over.

9 a.m. Saturday:
Alarm on cell phone goes off.

Fumble around until alarm is off. Roll over.

9:45 a.m. Saturday:
Wake up.

Realize I have to be on the road by 10. Stagger out of bed.

9:45-10:15 a.m. Saturday:
Personal hygiene stuff you don't want to know the details of. Get dressed.

10:20 a.m. Saturday:
Pull out of garage and hit the road. Destination: Maryland.

10:20-11:15 a.m. Saturday:
Route 206 South to I-295 South to the New Jersey Turnpike.

Listen to new mix.

11:15-11:55 a.m. Saturday:
New Jersey Turnpike South to the Delaware Memorial Bridge.

Change CDs. Stop for gas.

Pay toll at bridge. Pay second toll at bridge.

11:55 a.m.-12:20 p.m. Saturday:
Drive across Delaware on I-95.

Pay toll. Note that once again, the tollbooth attendant at the Delaware/Maryland border is an attractive young woman. (See earlier post.)

12:20-1:10 p.m. Saturday:
I-95 through Maryland.

Call Stewie, ask him where everyone is meeting. 1 p.m. at the Arundel Mills Mall theater.

Pay another toll.

1:10-1:30 p.m. Saturday:
Follow MapQuest directions to Arundel Mills Mall.

Park approx. 1 mile from movie theater. Oddly, unknown at the time, one row away from Stewie.

Curse giant valet parking area.

Buy movie ticket at automated booth to skip long line for some kids' movie. One for "Land of the Dead," 1:35 p.m. Get matinee price. Yay!

One more munkee visit.

1:35 p.m. Saturday:
Stumble into darkened movie theater. Look for Stewie. See no one familiar.

1:36 p.m. Saturday:
Spotted by Squ1d. Find seat next to Stewie.

1:37 p.m. Saturday:
Note with smile that I didn't miss even a trailer. Right on time. Sort of.

Approx. 3:20 p.m. Saturday:
Exit movie theater with a bigger smile. Good movie.

3:25 p.m. Saturday:
Walk to parking lot with Stewie. Discover proximity of truck and car.

Give Stewie borrowed DVDs ("Cube" and "Cube 2").

Walk back.

Group photo!

3:30 p.m. Saturday:
Eat lunch at Chevy's with the movie crew: Stewie, Freak, Tressa, DDM, Squ1d, Squ1d's woman, Hubert and some other guy.

Chips & salsa, Mexican beer and spicy enchiladas. Yum.

5:10 p.m. Saturday:
Say goodbyes.

Back on the road!

5:15-5:20 p.m. Saturday:
Drive around parking lot until I find exit.

5:20-6:30 p.m. Saturday:
Get stuck in traffic on I-895. Get through toll.

Back across Maryland on I-95.

Make some phone calls. Wonder how I lasted 25 years without a cell phone.

Pay more tolls. Again, the toll booth attendant at the Maryland/Delaware line is an attractive young woman. As is the attendant in the next booth over. (Not the same attendants as the trip down.)

6:30-7:45 p.m. Saturday:
More driving. Reverse of previous. Bridge to Turnpike. North this time.

Call girl I've gone on a few dates with. Arrange to meet for a quick dinner.

7:45-8:15 p.m. Saturday:
Get lost on the way to pizza place.

Drive around Cranbury.

Find pizza place.

8:15-9:15 p.m. Saturday:
Dinner. More fun get-to-know-you conversation.

9:16 p.m. Saturday:
Walk her home.

Good-night kiss. Yay!

9:16-10:15 p.m. Saturday:
Back on Turnpike, then Parkway North, then I-280 North, bound for West Orange.

Call Anthony.

Two more tolls.

10:15 p.m. Saturday:
Arrive in West Orange. Pull over into driveway, call Anthony.

Figure out where to park. Walk to Anthony's.

10:20-10:30 p.m. Saturday:
Get settled in for Gatti-Mayweather PPV fight. Potentially fight of the year.

Say hi to Anthony's girl. Meet Anthony's dog and two of Anthony's friends. Give dog a carrot. Remark that carrots make my dog throw up.

See another munkee. Too much soda.

Open a beer. Eat snacks.

10:30-11:15 p.m. Saturday:
Watch "Vicious" Vivian Harris get upset by some guy with the worst punching form ever. Laugh at boxer with girl's name.

Open another beer.

11:15-11:59 p.m. Saturday:
Watch Gatti get systematically destroyed by Mayweather.

Note Mayweather is too quick.

Watch Anthony stomp around in disgust.

Third beer. More snacks. Give dog another carrot.

Watch Gatti's trainer stop the fight. Clearly not fight of the year.

Commiserate with Anthony.

Visit munkee again.

12:05 a.m. Sunday:
Decline Anthony's offer to go to the bar with his friends. Exhausted.

We all walk to our cars.

12:05-12:50 a.m. Sunday:
Drive home. Parkway (South this time) to I-78 West and so on.

12:50 a.m. Sunday:
Home at last.

See last munkee of the day. Too much beer.

Change. Read a little more Pfanz.

And thence to bed.

The New Jersey Turnpike Authority
The Arundel Mills Mall
"Land of the Dead," the latest from George A. Romero
Chevys (not the car)
A list of New Jersey pizza places
The disaster that was Gatti-Mayweather
"24," a Fox show I've heard a lot about and never seen

And for today's bonus link: Asia Argento, star of "Land of the Dead."

Wednesday, June 22, 2005

Fahrvergnugen. Gesundheit.

Today over at HorrorTalk's forum, somebody found a picture of an Adolph Hitler action figure.

As a Jew, I'm not quite sure what to make of this. I suggested dressing him up in a little gray-striped jumper with a yellow swastika on it, then putting him in a mock concentration camp (you know, barbed wire, ovens) and leaving him at German car dealerships. Would that be too bitter?

But it reminded me of my little comedy routine on why Jews don't drive German cars. Something might get lost in the translation from oral tradition to written tradition, but let's go for it anyway.

This all started when a friend of mine, Rolando, was looking for a new car. He would drag me all over the Lehigh Valley, where we lived, to look at car lots in the middle of the night. (We worked nights.)

So he was looking for a used Mercedes or something, and so we're standing out there in the cold, in the middle of the night, looking at these German luxury cars, when out of the blue, he asks me if I'd be offended if he bought a German car.

Now, Rolando's a minority, like me, and he's certainly sensitive toward prejudice and things like that. He's well-read, smart and generally speaking, I can't say enough good things about him. But me? I'm about as un-PC as they get, and knowing he was genuinely concerned about my feelings, I did what any un-PC human being would do.

I lied.

And I told him, no, I wouldn't mind if he bought a German car. I mean, that Mercedes logo? It's the spinning propellers of the Luftwaffe, but who cares?

(No, I have no idea if it's true. And I really don't care. So I hope Mercedes doesn't sue.)

Now he's looking a touch pale. And he says, well, what about BMW?

And I respond, same idea, spinning propellers, you know, like the ones they made for the planes that bombed Britain.

At this point, he's still buying it, but he weakly suggests Volkswagen?

The official car of the Third Reich, I respond.

And he damn near bought Japanese before I finally cracked up.

For the record, he bought a Volkswagen, I've ridden in it, and it's a very nice car.

But before that, while we were still wandering around the Mercedes lot in the middle of that winter night (no, we didn't get arrested, but I did catch a wicked cold), I realized something: I just don't like Mercedes cars. They're ugly.

Except the one little sports car. So I wandered over to check it out, and I actually was thinking it might be a fun one to drive...

Until I saw the label "Kompressor" on the back.

OK, for you goyim out there, you might get a Jew into a German car, but you're sure as hell not getting a Jew into a German car that says "Kompressor" on it!

I mean, just imagine. You get in, turn the key, the doors lock, the dashboard starts sliding toward you, the roof starts coming down on your head, and you hear this little Sgt. Schultz voice going, "Ach! Ve have you now! After all these years!"

(Off topic, did you know Werner Klemperer, who played the bumbling Col. Klink on "Hogan's Heroes," was the son of a Jew whose family fled the Nazis? His deal was that if Klink ever won, he'd quit the show. Now that's revenge.)

So, no "Kompressor" for me.

And then I thought about it, even if they didn't get me that way, there I'd be, driving down the highway, and all I'd hear are the voices of my dead ancestors, muttering (insert Mike Myers "Coffee Talk" Jewish Accent here), "We knew you were adopted!"

Of course, I bought a Japanese car, which brings up a whole different set of World War II issues. And I bought my car before Rolando bought his, too.

Mercedes USA
Volkswagen of America
The "Hogan's Heroes" fan club
Werner Klemperer, Wikipedia-style
Mitsubishi, makers of my '00 Eclipse
And in case you thought I was making ALL of that stuff up...
Hitler and the Volkswagen...
BMW and the Luftwaffe
Daimler-Benz and the Luftwaffe
• And, of course, someone for your G.I. Joes to beat up.

I can't think of anything witty to say down here; I guess I expended all my wit above. So here's a bonus link: Clea Duvall, who's kinda weird-looking, but I think is hot.

Tuesday, June 21, 2005

Acting on impulse

In the CD player in my car, I've got a CD by a band called Antigone Rising.

It's actually quite good, and really growing on me, especially considering I bought it on a whim.

At Starbucks.

At the paper, we had a story slated on how Starbucks has begun selling exclusive CDs, and this Antigone Rising was the first one. Anyway, we ended up pulling the story (you know, when you say "all the news that fits in print," some stuff doesn't fit), but a couple of weeks later I was in Starbucks and I saw it on the rack.

So I bought it. I'm an impulse buyer. And this time, it appears to have paid off.

I like female vocalists and this is a nice sort of guitars-and-vocals group that can play fast-and-catchy and slow-and-soulful. The one song, "Michael," about a friend dying in a car crash, just evokes all kinds of sad, nostalgic memories.

And all of that reminded me of my best impulse buy ever: "Ice Station."

"Ice Station" is a novel by an Australian named Matt Reilly, and remains quite possibly the only book I've ever bought off those racks of paperbacks they have at the checkout counter at Barnes & Noble.

What can I say? I was stuck in line, and it had Antarctica on the cover. Now I love books about Antarctica and the Arctic, so I picked it up and read the back. And it had a Marine Recon team traveling to a base in Antarctica. I was sold. I mean, what did I have to lose? It was only a paperback.

And it wound up being my favorite book, possibly ever. And Reilly has become one of my favorite authors, and opened up my reading realm to the genre of what I think of as modern action science-fiction.

So, today, in honor of my impulse buying tendencies, I thought I'd list some of my favorite authors. I love to read, and I just got the newest books from two other favorites, the team of Preston & Child and James Rollins. All in all, a bunch of good reasons for a list-of-links day! (Note this list is most definitely not all-encompassing.)

Modern action science-fiction:
Matt Reilly, author of the marvelous "Contest," "Ice Station" and its two sequels, and the brilliant "Temple."
Douglas Preston & Lincoln Child, the authors of "The Relic" and more, and the most skillful interweavers of characters from book to book that I can think of.
James Rollins, who covers similar themes as Reilly, but with a very different style, in "Amazonia," "Ice Hunt" and more.
My new interest, horror fiction:
F. Paul Wilson, creator of Repairman Jack and the Adversary Cycle.
Brian Keene, author of the stellar not-quite-zombies book "The Rising" and its sequel.
And something completely different:
Jinxworld, home of Brian Michael Bendis, the author of my favorite graphic novels, the "Powers" series.

Other links:
Antigone Rising
Barnes & Noble

And, for today's postscript, I'm going to honor the stars of my favorite reality show, "The Contender," which is being rebroadcast on CNBC. Here's hoping it finds a home for season 2! (Is it fair to call it my favorite reality show? It's the only one I watch, unless you count the home-deco stuff on TLC.)

The Final Four:
Sergio Mora, "The Latin Snake," the winner and still champion...
Peter Manfredo Jr., "The Pride of Providence," who came in unbeaten and the best fighter, and left twice-beaten and the second-best fighter.
Alfonso S. Gomez, the bronze-winning underdog with a strong chin and stronger heart.
Jesse Brinkley, another highly ranked fighter who suffered two losses en route to fourth.
The rest of the Elite Eight:
Anthony Bonsante, "The Bullet," my favorite fighter... an animal in the ring who doesn't have a Web site I could find.
Joey Gilbert, smart and sneaky, who proved his heart late in the game.
Ahmed Kaddour, "Baby Face," cocky, grating, undefeated coming in, and cocky, grating and twice-defeated going out.
Ishe Smith, "Sugar Shay," fierce and bitter; if the show had a villain, it was Shay or his rival, Ahmed.
And the rest:
Jimmy Lange, who got tricked by Anthony and then upset by Joey.
Juan De La Rosa, "El Gallo Negro," which must be Spanish for "doesn't want to get hurt" - the teen-ager won, but quit.
Tarick Salmaci, "The Arabian Prince," whose boxing comeback came up short.
Brent Cooper, "The Disciple," who got decked by Anthony after the betrayal.
Miguel Espino, who wept after losing the closest decision.
Najai Turpin, "Nitro," who tragically committed suicide before the show aired.
Jonathan Reid, the "Reid Dawg," a veteran with a checkered past and huge family.
Jeff Fraza, the "Hellraza," who never stepped into the ring, but got knocked out by, of all things, chicken pox.

Monday, June 20, 2005

Falling from the family tree

This weekend, I helped my parents put together a family tree for an upcoming reunion.

That was an adventure.

We're not an especially close family, geographically, and in some cases, relationship-wise, and many of the people were complete unknowns to me.

It doesn't help that my parents adopted me fairly late in their lives, so I knew virtually no one beyond my grandparents' generation, and many of them are gone, now, too.

But it had its entertaining moments, too, and not just spending time with my Mom and Dad as they talked about people they knew and remembered quite fondly.

In fact, Dad sent us wandering down an entire branch of the tree just to get to the punchline: Three brothers who all married women named Lillian.

The ultimate purpose of the tree was to determine, for lack of a better way of putting it, the children of Abraham. Yeah, we're Jewish. Ask great-grandpa Eleazar, or possbily Louis, for whom I'm possibly named. But on Dad's side of the family, it's great-grandpa Abraham and his wife, Anna ("Bub"), whose descendants will be meeting later this year.

Of course, once Dad got rolling, Mom couldn't help but join in, though her records proved somewhat spottier. Ask Berney Cherney, who turned up on one of the branches. Who would do that to a child?

And then came the problem of actual last names. See, one branch of the family was something like Strazefski, at least according to a piece of paper bearing my handwriting as a 10-year-old. (I dotted my i's with circles. Girly, but distinctive.) That became "Strauss" at Ellis Island, where Chernikov, on Mom's side, became the aforementioned "Cherney," much to Berney's regret.

Evidently, the people taking names at Ellis Island were the 19-aughts' equivalent of the TSA folks who gave Ray Charles the full-on terrorist search at an airport post-9/11. I mean, are these names that hard to spell, or at least approximate?

(Oh, and speaking of immigration, for those of you who deny the Holocaust took place, allow me to direct you to the branch of the family that stayed in Poland and came to an abrupt stop in the early '40s. And then you can shove that branch up your ass, you miserable anti-Semitic pricks. Sorry, Mom, had to be said.)

We actually got through six generations, from Abraham Strauss (yeah, like the department store, but not) all the way down to little Kane Thompson, who sounds like a football player or actor, and is all alone on Generation Six.

For the curious, I'm Generation Four. Abraham begat Jack, among several others, who begat Gerald, who found me in Paddington Station. Er, I mean, who begat me. I, of course, have thus far failed to begat anyone, much to my mother's chagrin.

And listing the marriages that ended in divorce did make me feel a little better about that whole engagement thing.

Plus, it's always a bonus when someone mentions Uncle Charles, who's more like a third cousin by marriage, but who I'll always remember fondly for showing me his wooden leg when I was a child.

I haven't seen some of these people in years, either, and it actually made me look forward to the reunion, even though I am somewhat mildly allergic to crowds, formal events and mass family gatherings. I'm not the most sociable or communicative one in the family, I'll admit, but I remember almost everyone I've met fondly.

What can I say? We've got a good family.

Now, if I can get that darn software file up on the Web, I'll have something.

Reunion, the genealogy software I'm learning to use on the fly
JewishGen, the home of Jewish Genealogy, a site a relative of a friend is affiliated with (I think)

And hey, if you think you're related to me, and haven't gotten your invitation to the reunion... don't call me. I'm not organizing it. Call my Dad.

Friday, June 17, 2005

No runs, no hits, no errors

I can't wait for my next softball game.

That way, our coach will take the damn stats down from her office window and I can stop looking at my .125 batting average.

That's right. A buck twenty-five. In slo-pitch.

The killer thing is, I hit the ball better than I think I've ever hit it in that opening double-header of the season. But every ball was an "atom" ball. You know, it went right "atom."

I hit two balls to the warning track (and I'm not a power hitter), I got robbed on a shoestring catch, and I ripped a liner into a double play. And so on.

We scored 22 runs in the first game and I went 0-for-4. Sheesh.

Look, I'm a pretty light hitter; there's a reason I'm at the bottom of the lineup. But I hit .421 last year, 8-for-19! With a double, 3 ribbies and everything.

So that 1-for-8 is just mortifying, even if we did win both games. I mean, I'll take two wins, that makes 1-for-8 funny instead of depressing, but still. Every day I walk by there and cringe.

I love playing, though. It's the company team, and we play other newspapers - including some I've worked for, which is always a bit of fun. Some of the guys take it pretty seriously, and while I love to play, and I'm as competitive as the next guy, I accept two things: 1. My best athletic days are behind me, even though I think I'm the youngest guy on the team; and 2. My best sport was tennis, where there's a lot more sweet spot when hitting.

So I have four basic goals, outside of a team win:
1. Get a hit
2. Catch a ball
3. Get the uniform dirty
4. Don't get hurt

So even on my rotten 1-for-8, I nailed all five goals. And yes, we have uniforms. I'm No. 56, my lucky number. As for getting the uniform dirty, well, that's where the fun comes in: fielding.

I've got bad hands and a sore throwing arm, so I play the infield like the street hockey goalie I used to be. I knock it down and keep it from getting behind me, I don't actually have to catch it.

And in that doubleheader, I made one play where, despite the limited range of an out-of-shape, overweight guy with bad knees, I dove all the way behind the second-base bag to keep a hard grounder to an infield hit and (at least temporarily) save a run. A genuine SportsCenter play, if I do say so myself, including not one, but two rolls.

I've still got a bruise on my leg, by the way. So sympathy is in order.

When I'm not playing second, I can play third or catch. I'm too short for first, and don't have the range for short.

And anyone who's seen me track a fly ball knows I've got no business being in the outfield, even if some previous, cruel coaches have put me in right. I broke a pair of glasses that way once, diving for a ball. I missed, rolled over the glasses, and the centerfielder had to get the ball (which was about five feet from me) because I couldn't see it without the lenses.

I got contacts for this season. They probably increase the chance I'll get hit in the face with a ball, since I haven't worn contacts in years, but at least they mean I won't break my glasses unless I drop them drinking beer in the parking lot postgame.

I had only played maybe a half-dozen games in six years before last season, so it was nice to get rolling and get out and play, even with a long-ass trip to Long Island that was capped by my almost getting thrown out at first base on a ripped liner to left-center that startled me so much it got to the outfielder before I got out of the batter's box. And the guys didn't believe me when I told them I was slow.

Anyway, we've got two more games (doubleheaders, really) coming up next month, and believe me, I'm going to work on that new uppercut swing, and maybe I'll hit a ball that somebody won't catch.

The U.S. Slo-Pitch Softball Association (no we're not members)

Happy Father's Day, to all you fathers out there reading this!

Wednesday, June 15, 2005

The grass is always greener

One thing I often admire about people is when they can do things I can't.

I can't sing, and I love singers who have beautiful voices, like my friend Blake (see earlier post; and Blake, I'm still waiting for that EP!).

I can't draw or paint, and I am always awed by people who can craft great art, like my friend Peter Ambush (see earlier post).

And my photography is mostly of the vacation type, despite my efforts on baseball tours to get real action shots.

Anyway, you guessed it, I'm shilling for another one of my friends.

This one's Luisa, who's a photographer and photo editor. She takes some excellent pictures and just started her own Web site. So I figured I'd give a shout-out to her here.

I've found a new love for sharp portraits of people. I got that porn star book that was on the HBO special, just because I loved the images that guy took with his big, weird camera. And it's really good, even if there is a little too much male nudity for my taste... And I just ordered the Raiders photography book by Lisa Coelho, who is a shooter for Raiders.com (though I haven't seen her work there lately; hope she's still working for them!) and is a poster at Raiderfans.net. (Yeah, I know, I ordered about two years late... hey, sue me. I'm a procrastinator.)

Anyway, Luisa's pictures rock, so check 'em out! And if you're getting married or need a photo for something else, she's the one to call!

Luisa Pinzon Photography
Timothy Greenfield-Sanders, whose book "XXX" is on my coffee table...
...And the HBO special on his book
Lisa Coelho, "NFL Shooter"
Raiderfans.net's interview with Lisa, from last year
And, to refresh your memory, Heather Shayne Blakeslee...
• ...And Peter Ambush's e-mail: pambush@mac.com (since he has no Web site)

I read an article today about how blogs have gotten people fired. Remember, everyone, this blog has nothing to do with my employer or my job, and I'm speaking for myself and no one else. And covering my ass. Again.

Oh, a pair of random links for some seriously sweet horror books I bought lately:
Cemetery Dance, publishers of the rockin' "The Hides" by Kealan Patrick Burke and...
Borderlands Press, who put out an awesome limited edition of F. Paul Wilson's Adversary Cycle.

Yes, it makes you look fat

Alright, I know I've been slacking. Sue me.

Today's post is about clothing, and weight.

And those who know me are probably laughing too hard to read the rest of this right now because if there are two things I'm not, they're thin, and a fashion plate.

But this isn't about my clothing, which is sad, or my weight, which is also sad.

And look, I'm not here to mock people's clothing, or their weight. I'm not really one to talk. Though I have lost 15 pounds or so in the past year. Once I had trouble seeing my favorite appendage, it was time to drop some pounds.

What I'm here to mock is a certain combination of clothing and weight.

Because, let's be honest, no one wants to see it.

OK, it's hot as hell in New Jersey these days, and that means skimpy clothes on the ladies. And that's what makes late spring my second-favorite time of the year: Hot chicks in tank tops. That's not what I'm writing about. That's why pictures are worth 1,000 words.

There is, however, a downside to skimpy clothes on the ladies: Skimpy clothes on not-so-skimpy ladies.

Look, here's what I'm saying: Dress for your body type. I don't wrap my beer-and-pizza gut in skin-tight T-shirts, and I don't wear Speedos at the beach. And the world is a better place for this. When you're 5-9 and 200+ pounds, and you've got shoulders the size of an NFL linebacker and a 19" neck, you don't wear the stuff Ralph Lauren sends down the runway on the back of some 6-3, anorexic male model.

But most guys aren't really offenders here, let's be honest. Fat guys dress like fat guys. Or, in Stewie's case, like a fat guy whose shirt caught the brunt of an explosion at a confetti factory.

And, to their credit, some fat girls dress like fat girls.

The problem is when fat girls dress like skinny girls.

See, I've got a theory on clothing, which is that chicks get all the cool clothes, because chicks come in all shapes and sizes.

There are four kinds of guys: The fat ones, the skinny ones, the in-between ones, and the muscleheads. So there are clothes for each type, and some transitional clothing for guys like me, who are somewhere in between two types (in my case, in-between and fat).

But ladies get variety, because ladies are varied. Short, tall, fat, thin, busty, flat, pear-shaped, hourglass, curvy, rails, etc., etc., etc. I mean, come on. Women's clothing has sizes: 0, 2, 4, 6, 8, 10, 12, 14, 16, etc. Then there's the petites, same idea, just smaller.

Guys get small, medium, large, xtra-large, and I-need-a-second-seat-on-the-damn-plane. That's it.

So, understandably, it's easy for girls to miscalculate and put too much body into not enough clothes. It happens.

The sin is that, most rational people would look at themselves in the mirror, say "aw, shit, I need to lose some weight" or something along those lines, and change. But not everyone does.

Here's a hint: It's not called a belly shirt because I want to see your belly sticking out of it.

I've seen at least three young ladies in recent days, relatively attractive to quite attractive, slightly chubby here and there, but nothing too bad, except that they're just wedged into these teeny little shirts that ride up in all the wrong ways.

You know exactly what I'm talking about, guys, right? (And you objective girls, too?)

The thing is, it's not sexy. It's not flattering. It's kind of repulsive. And it can take an otherwise decent-looking (if not thin) young woman and make her look horrible. Many of these girls aren't even that big. They've just got some curves in bad places. And they're showing those places off.

Most sane people try to hide their worst physical feature. Weak-chinned guys grow goatees. A-cup women get those neat padded bras. I don't wear a Speedo, like I said. And so on.

But these people - and I'm not picking on women in that misogynistic way you're probably thinking I am, I've just never seen a guy with his beer gut hanging out of a belly shirt - these people are allowing the entire world to share in their physical misfortune.

And I'm here to say, that's just wrong. Put on some goddamn clothes. No one wants to bother searching the great plains of your ample midsection to find that navel ring that proportionately looks like the boat at the end of "The Perfect Storm," or that tattoo peeking up from your jeans that's supposed to be a Playboy bunny but has been stretched into something that would make Torquemada smack the guy running his rack and say "Why can't ours go that far?"

It's like the time one of my fraternity brothers cheerfully regarded an underdressed young woman and chirped, "You want some jelly with that roll?"

Maybe not our finest hour at PiLam, but that doesn't mean he was wrong. There's a reason we invented the Spandex Violation rule. (You know, when your stretchy, skin-tight artificial-fiber clothing is screaming for mercy for all the wrong reasons? That's a Spandex Violation. Go directly to jail. Do not pass Go. Do not collect $200.)

So as the hot weather continues, and the temptation is there to wear as little as possible...

(Aside, that's why I prefer winter to summer. You can always keep putting clothes on, but you can only take so much off.)

Where was I?

Oh, yeah, when the temptation is there to wear as little as possible... give yourself a good look in the mirror before you go outside and say to yourself, "Are other people going to want to see this? When they're eating?"

Then, if you're one of these ladies this is directed at, pull your pants over your thong straps, tuck your shirt over your tummy, and realize that now people might look at your face, or your rack, or your butt, or something else you want them to look at.

See, that's how you'll be the cute, sexy girl who gets the guys' attention, and not just someone to ridicule.

Oh, and skinny girls, the belly shirts are just fine. Wear more. All the time. And you can let the thong straps show. Especially when I'm around.

And wear tank tops. Lots of tank tops.

"What Not to Wear," the cruelest show on TV
My How-Not-To example
And for those who looked at the previous link and wondered, like me, "What's a chav?"
And in the interests of being as "fair and balanced" as some cable news...

When I went looking for a link to a good example picture (see link #2 above), Google spit out so many other blogs bitching about the same thing, that it made me feel thoroughly unoriginal. What can I say? I saw a girl with her tummy hanging out at the mini-mart on my way home tonight and it got me thinking.

But then I got distracted by another girl, who was out buying cigarettes - in her pajamas! I shit you not. No bra, no underwear, just a tight black tank and some pajama bottoms. Fortunately, she more or less had the body to pull it off, wedgie and all, or the fashion police might've brought out some yellow tape and the coroner.

See, girls can get away with wearing anything. A guy doesn't get past the newspaper in the driveway in his pajamas, commando-style, or he ends up in a cell with some priest from Boston, wishing he had Michael Jackson's lawyer.

(Off-topic, remind me, if I'm ever going to commit a crime, to do it in California. Home of Jacko, O.J. and Robert Blake.)

Tuesday, June 07, 2005

Personality test!

Stewie took a personality test and put it on his blog. I'm a sucker for personality tests, so I took it, too. I'm not sure I like how it came out, but I'm not sure it's that inaccurate, either. Sniffle.

Stewie's blog
Tickle.com, which has a ton of tests
Bored.com, which has links to more

There's a link to the test at the bottom of my results. I take no responsibility whatsoever for what you find on the site, or what kind of misery the test brings you! Good luck!

And now, for my test results:

You are 28% Rational, 28% Extroverted, 71% Brutal, and 85% Arrogant.
You are the Brute! You are introverted, arrogant, brutal, and more intuitive than rational. Like a big, dumb animal, you are driven by your emotions more than your reason, and as a result of the fact that you care very little for the feelings of others, you tend to be rather selfish. Because of your selfishness, you also tend to be a bit arrogant, seeing yourself as big or strong or smart or always correct. This makes you a stubborn, irrational, emotion-driven brute. King Kong best represents the gorilla-version of your personality. Emotional, introverted (King Kong was isolated on his own island, after all), brutal, and arrogant (proud to be the largest ape on Earth!), Kong would probably get along very well with you, seeing as how you share many of the same traits. Aside from, you know, all the fur. So your personality defect is simply that you resemble King Kong to a very high degree. Which probably isn't a good thing, you big brute!

To put it less negatively:

1. You are more INTUITIVE than rational.

2. You are more INTROVERTED than extroverted.

3. You are more BRUTAL than gentle.

4. You are more ARROGANT than humble.


Your exact opposite is the Hand-Raiser.

Other personalities you would probably get along with are the Class Clown, the Schoolyard Bully, and the Sociopath.



If you scored near fifty percent for a certain trait (42%-58%), you could very well go either way. For example, someone with 42% Extroversion is slightly leaning towards being an introvert, but is close enough to being an extrovert to be classified that way as well. Below is a list of the other personality types so that you can determine which other possible categories you may fill if you scored near fifty percent for certain traits.

The other personality types:

The Emo Kid: Intuitive, Introverted, Gentle, Humble.

The Starving Artist: Intuitive, Introverted, Gentle, Arrogant.

The Bitch-Slap: Intuitive, Introverted, Brutal, Humble.

The Brute: Intuitive, Introverted, Brutal, Arrogant.

The Hippie: Intuitive, Extroverted, Gentle, Humble.

The Televangelist: Intuitive, Extroverted, Gentle, Arrogant.

The Schoolyard Bully: Intuitive, Extroverted, Brutal, Humble.

The Class Clown: Intuitive, Extroverted, Brutal, Arrogant.

The Robot: Rational, Introverted, Gentle, Humble.

The Haughty Intellectual: Rational, Introverted, Gentle, Arrogant.

The Spiteful Loner: Rational, Introverted, Brutal, Humble.

The Sociopath: Rational, Introverted, Brutal, Arrogant.

The Hand-Raiser: Rational, Extroverted, Gentle, Humble.

The Braggart: Rational, Extroverted, Gentle, Arrogant.

The Capitalist Pig: Rational, Extroverted, Brutal, Humble.

The Smartass: Rational, Extroverted, Brutal, Arrogant.

My test tracked 4 variables How you compared to other people your age and gender:

free online datingfree online dating
You scored higher than 10% on Rationality

free online datingfree online dating
You scored higher than 37% on Extroversion

free online datingfree online dating
You scored higher than 85% on Brutality

free online datingfree online dating
You scored higher than 94% on Arrogance
Link: The Personality Defect Test written by saint_gasoline on OkCupid Free Online Dating

Monday, June 06, 2005

Random thought for the day

If a monkey falls out of a tree in the forest, and nobody's around, does he still have a prehensile tail?

Cross-blog discussion time!

OK, here's the scoop: A bunch of us at HorrorTalk have blogs, as you know, and we decided we are all going to write tonight about the same topic to showcase our writing similarities and differences.

The topic: The ban on smoking in public places.

So, fasten your seat belts, and here goes!

First off, for the record, I don't smoke. I have had cigarettes, but I never got hooked.

I had my first cigarette in eighth grade, so I must have been 13. My friends all smoked, and they tried to get me started. But it never took for a couple of reasons. First, I'm a lousy inhaler. Second, nicotine doesn't really do anything for me. Third, I watched a very good friend of my father suffer through the agonies of emphysema late in his (shortened) life.

I don't ever want to be carrying an oxygen tank or unable to get off the couch or talk on the phone because I just can't breathe. I'm out of shape enough, I don't need to exacerbate things.

So when my kids want to try cigarettes someday, I'm going to tell them about Dr. Thompson and what he went through. If that doesn't scare them straight, I don't know what will. Kind of like, when they want to drink and drive, I'll tell them about Robbie Moroso, the Nascar driver who got himself killed coming off a Rookie of the Year season by driving drunk out on the street in the real world.

But why I don't smoke isn't really the point. The point is what I think of the ban on smoking in public places, such as the laws in New York City and so forth.

I gotta be honest, up front: I really don't give a rat's ass. I don't smoke, it doesn't affect me at all. If anything, I guess I'm better off for it, since I don't have to put up with smoke when I eat or drink or whatever.

On the other hand, I think the law is kind of stupid. I'm not a big fan of big government to begin with (yeah, you'd think I'm a Republican, except the party of "small government" is completely full of shit about that) and I think there must be better things to do than worry about whether or not a bar should have a smoking and non-smoking section.

Oh, and I might point out, bars... are SUPPOSED to be full of smoke. That's the goddamn point. Bars are filthy, dirty, smoky places full of alcoholics and rednecks.

Yes, I know, I drink at bars regularly. Shut up.

Mind you, I'm not talking about the nice microbreweries and cigar bars and nice restaurants. I'm talking about dive bars. I go to a dive bar or a club, I expect to get home reeking of smoke. That's why I have a nice, brand-new shower in my master bath. To get the smell out of my hair.

But what about those nice microbreweries and sports bars and fancy restaurants, you ask?

Why can't they just have smoking and non-smoking sections like they used to?

What's the big deal?

Second-hand smoke, that's what.

But that's not really the problem. What is the problem is the ongoing pussification of America. Everybody wants to live forever and get out of life as squeaky clean as when they came in.

It doesn't work that way, people. And the sooner we get over that, the sooner we can buck up and start using our brains and really get some stuff done. Quality of life this, quality of life that. Bull. And shit.

We have four different ways to give a guy a boner, and we can't cure cancer. What the hell is wrong with our society?

We're wusses, that's what. Everything's me-me-me. I don't smoke, so I don't want anyone within six square miles to smoke. It might ruin my night out. It might give me lung cancer if I'm exposed to it. (yeah, sitting in a restaurant near the smoking section for a couple of hours will give you lung cancer. yeah.). It's filthy. It's disgusting.

So don't smoke. Sit in the non-smoking section. Stay out of my goddamn dive bar, you wimp. Sit in your hyperbaric chamber like Michael Jackson. I don't care.

But do us all a favor.

Grow some balls.

(Metaphorically, ladies.)

I don't like when people smoke near me when I'm eating. I understand, that's kind of icky. But I can ask for another table. I can move. I don't mind working my decent night out.

What bugs the hell out of me, though, is the self-righteousness of the anti-smoking people. Just like any other self-righteousness, I believe it defeats the purpose and just pisses people off.

For the record, I once dated a girl who smoked. She smoked so much, she used to drive to Canada to get cigarettes with more nicotine in them.

What did I do about this? I made her smoke outside my apartment. I made her brush her teeth or shower before we snuggled up if she smelled really bad. And other than that, it was pretty much hockey and the two f's (fucking and fighting). You know what that means? I got over it. Did I say she should quit. Sure. She's an athlete, and as with my high school soccer buddies, it doesn't make a whole lot of sense to me for an athlete to injure his or her lungs by smoking.

On the other hand, those Eastern Europeans can sure play some basketball, so maybe I'm wrong.

One other thing that really, really irritates me about this no-smoking-in-public crap: I hate judgmental people.

I'm not saying it's not difficult to look at smokers and say, whatever, kill yourself, you stupid schmuck, any idiot knows cigarettes are addictive and bad for you.

But some people, that's their stress relief. I drink. I watch movies. I do other stuff. But whatever. Drinking is bad for you. So the question is, WHO AM I TO JUDGE?

And the answer is, I'm not.

You want to smoke, fine. I don't care. Don't smoke in my house. I'll sit over there, in the non-smoking section, away from your cigarettes. If you're in my car, roll down the damn window. It's no big thing.

I'm easygoing. I can get past this. And I don't understand the people who can't. It's called compromise. And maybe if we compromised more, we'd have a better planet, even if it has a few extra carcinogens.

(Disclosure: My uncle worked for RJ Reynolds for years and years.)

So, that's my stance on smoking in public places. Get over the stance, and get over the smoking. There are more important things to worry about. Really.

Links to my fellow participants:
Fnordboy's blog
Freak Magnet's blog
A Fucking Enchilada's blog
Renaldo's blog
Stewie's blog

I take absolutely no responsibility for anything they've said. And participants, if I missed you, just post a comment. It's late, I'm tired and sore as hell from playing softball.

Friday, June 03, 2005

Coming attraction!

Not much in the way of posts today, but I wanted to let you, my faithful readers, know I've got a very special post coming Sunday night.

It's an experiment, and I'm very interested in seeing how it turns out.

So check back late Sunday or early Monday and you'll see!

A fortune teller, for those who can't wait

I've been skipping the bullets on my links. Sorry.

Wednesday, June 01, 2005

The ultimate gift

Today, I discovered the MonkeyGram. I suspect I've seen it before, but if I have, I've forgotten, and that means it at least replicates the thrill of seeing something new.

This, methinks, is the ultimate gift.

From the founder of Vermont Teddy Bear, who has seen the light and admits monkeys are better than Teddy bears, a lesson I learned, too.

Feel free to send me one!

World Wide Monkey!

Yeah, it's a lame-o post. But I like munkees. So I'm excited by this. Sue me.