Wednesday, September 09, 2009

Leave Us Fans Alone!

Recently at the U.S. Open, an ardent fan of Rafael Nadal ran onto the court to show his affection. He simply said "I love you!" and wanted to give the tennis star a hug. Nadal, upon seeing the man, actual wanted to reciprocate, saying "No, it's ok!" to the overzealous security gendarmes as they brutally carried the fan away. Now, ESPN has been commenting about this horrible breach of security, and that the players need more protection from the despicable hordes that are sports fans. Subsequent interviews with the tournament's head of security mentioned that former "terrorism exports" have been hired to the security force, monitoring the environment at the event. When did tennis fans become terrorists? I am fine with the idea of searching everyone that enters the facility, using metal detectors if necessary. Nobody wants bombs being detonated or guns being fired from a typically soulless member of an extremist religious group. I also understand that the memories of Monica Seles being stabbed on the court still linger in many minds. But for crying out loud, sports pundits and officials, quit talking about fans as thugs and hoodlums. This is the United States, not Brazil or some similarly soccer crazed country where fans attack referees on a daily basis.

fans, like spectators of golf tournaments, have an unspoken appreciation for giving the competitors their space, and they are not to be lumped into the crowds that drunkenly fight each other at hockey games. If a sport like tennis wants more followers, it needs to respect the fans, and understand that they are generally an appreciative, safe group. I'll call "foul" on Mike Tirico for citing how "dangerous" the environment can be for professional basketball players at a game, because so many people are "right on top of the court". Tirico might want to think about the fact that more basketball players have attacked fans in recent years than vice versa. If anything, we should be protected from the players, because they are often more prominent thugs than the struggling blue collar workers paying their despicable salaries.

There was a time, perhaps only about 25 years ago, when upon winning a championship, the fans swarmed the court/field in adoration of their beloved athletes. Nobody was tackled, arrested, or bulldogged to the ground. People could hug their heroes, and if too amorous, the heroes could shove them away. Sporting events did not have hundreds of "secret service" agents suspiciously roving the boundary of the court or field. Several days ago, I was with my friend at a White Sox game, and seated two rows behind the visitor's dugout. She constantly tried to take a picture of Red Sox pitcher Josh Beckett, and never had the chance, because an overweight, sausage-snarfing hog of a "security man", pretending to be protecting the President, constantly blocked her vantage, taking his "post" on the field while the pitcher warmed up between innings. Half the game was spent trying to see around this bloated dessert guzzler with a cheesecake job of standing in everyone's way. Dude, it's the goddamn 5th inning. Nobody's running on the field to attack Beckett. Sit your seven asses down on the bench and attack your twelfth Twinkie, Mr. Arbuckle.

The respect for fans is just not there anymore. People are assumed to be thugs, and for all events, they may as well just not allow any attendees, but rather have everyone watch the events on a big screen outside the venue. Just build more walls and disenfranchise the already financially strapped sporting audience, without whom the sport would fizzle. If organizers want to embrace a military mentality toward the fans of their respective sport, good luck to them, as respect goes in both directions.

As for the poor fellow that simply wanted to say "I love you" to Rafael Nadal, he was tackled, brutally taken away, and arrested. The man wasn't interfering with the competition, as the match had long since ended. He was simply trying to break down that wall that tournament organizers had erected between fans and players. It's a shame that this attempt to show love to a great player has been classified as a nefarious incident, rather than a heart warming moment that even Nadal enjoyed.

Monday, July 27, 2009

Summer Vs Economy

At last, the summer has finally come upon us, and from a personal point of view, it's been a long, cold, winter. Thankfully, I spent most of that winter indoors and was spared much of the aggravation of "driving" (meaning "skidding") along never-salted, under-plowed streets. I can understand the pagan appreciation for the official summer solstice up here on the top half of the third rock. For starters, it's the longest day of the year, and ideologically furthest away from the December darkness that loomed over our afternoon commutes. Most people would readily agree that afternoon darkness is possibly the most depressing, situationally morose aspect of the season of the forgotten sun. Ah, the sun! That bipolar sun, like an alcoholic spouse who rudely left us last night, is back with flowers and apologies. We always welcome back the contrite sun every spring, forgive its drunken abandonment from the wintry night, and forget how crudely it ignored our once thriving flora and fauna. We are free to roam the streets, released from our imprisonment of winter, and seek out all the outdoor festivals and activities otherwise denied us by wind chills and frosty atmospheric intimidation.

Martha and the Vandellas once sang "Summer's here, the time is right for dancing in the streets". Normally, that would be true. In densely populated areas like Chicago, street festivals, music festivals, outdoor concerts, beaches and baseball games bring us the smell of grilled food, the incomparable sound of outdoor music, and the sight of scantily clad masses, both good and bad, prancing about with a vivaciousness rarely seen in January. With the economy failing in every physical and industrial corner of the land, people haven't been turning out in droves as with before. Baseball parks are not filled to capacity, street festivals are not as festive, and even golf courses have vacancies unseen since the 1970s. Baseball owners and teams have been long overdue for a reality check, as their ticket and merchandising prices have been ridiculous for years. The Chicago Cubs organization has lazily assumed that Wrigley Field would be filled to capacity for every game, every season. Not to be the case. A mediocre team and a stagnant economy has produced empty seats at Wrigley Field this season, and that's just fine. Perhaps, finally, ticket prices will become reasonable again, and the majority of its fan base, the working class family, will be able to afford a game. Street festivals, because of local business support, are still showing their jewels, sometimes literally. I have noticed, however, that local festivals have morbidly toned down advertising and promotion, likely depending on return attendees from years past. As for the golf courses, screw 'em. I was a competitive golfer throughout the 1980s and 1990s until the fees grew well beyond my means. I could no longer take the game seriously if I could only afford to play a course once every three weeks. In the early 90s, with a relatively modest salary, I was able to play three times a week. The game had an explosion in popularity, supposedly due to that overblown phenom named Tiger Woods, and courses were constantly filled to capacity. With that excessive demand, course owners could raise their rates at whim, and now that demand has ebbed. Perhaps, like trips to Wrigley Field, rounds of golf will become more affordable and accessible as a result of this economic reality check. This is the first summer in a long time for such seasonal institutions to face a harsh economy, and hopefully those institutions, like the housing market, will come back to earth.

As I've previously recounted, I went "back to the garden" in a sense, by eschewing the bar scene from glory days past, and to simply become the local suburban gentleman farmer, embracing his .000000001 acres of tillable land. Thankfully, it's been a pleasantly uncomplicated summer, which is one I sought, after many summers of complexity and histrionics. Sometimes, a walk around the block and a quick back yard check of the "crops" are enough to gratify my internal need to be out and about. Perhaps my advancing age and commensurate dwindling energy level keeps me from journeying far beyond the bounds of my personal premises, but for the moment, roughly 36 days into meteorological summer, I've been fine with that. It's financially more feasible to simply stay back at home base and find alternate means of entertainment, rather than dropping fifty clams on a night at some avaricious "eating and drinking establishment" that potentially might provide a night of nothing other than warm beer, mendacious philanderers, and disenchanted collegiate misanthropes. As such, I've previously stated my advocacy of back yard barbecues; some I've hosted, others I've visited. With simple barbecues, I'm with friends, it's usually a controlled environment, and the cost is always less. Going to a bar, I'm overextending myself financially by purchasing five dollar pints of oat soda for the privilege of watching bad sports on big screen television screens, perched prominently above the disinterested bartender, who is obsessed with texting nefarious individuals about a post-closing rendezvous. Regardless of the environment, it always seems more financially tenable to just hang out with friends and, as they say, BYOB. Plus, there's just nothing like a summer night outside, and save for a few Chicago outdoor beer gardens, you just can't replicate that outdoor summer night environment when huddled in a bar full of redundant patrons.

As for festivals, I've attended one already. Cruefest 2 came to Tinley Park last week. Motley Crue played a forgettable set, made a lot of mistakes, but that was to be expected, as it was only their third show of the tour. The tickets were very affordable, and for once, a musical entity paid attention to the economic drought and kept lawn tickets under thirty bucks. It didn't matter that the Crue played a sloppy set, and bumbled their way through public rehearsals of the entire "Dr. Feelgood" album, since it was the 20th anniversary of its release. I was outdoors and listening to great music with my kindred spirit, Wendi.

We got away, and had a half-day vacation together, something long overdue and sorely missed by yours truly. Our plan was simple - head down to the area, have a leisurely dinner at Culver's under the setting sun, and wander over to the WORLD THEATRE (I'll never rename it personally). Munching on burgers, I was relaxed, and savored every second. After that, we drove over to the concert, which was like driving to a golf course. No traffic getting to the parking lot, no parking "attendants" pointing to a spot. We just parked where we wanted. Since we refused to pay obnoxious prices for drinks, we simply sipped on bottled water during the show, enjoyed the good songs as they were performed, and had a wonderful day. We found a way to make the trip affordable, enjoy a great dinner with a great friend, and see a show without breaking the bank. It was well worth it. For those that want reviews of the Motley Crue show, check out Wendi's take on things.

In times such as these, we all need to look to our affordable options for summer activities. A person can still have a wonderful summer night out with friends and not spend much, if anything. It can be done, and it's literally right in our back yards!

Sunday, July 12, 2009

Disco Demolition Night - My Story

I was seven years old, and I was there.
It was a rare moment when rock met sports, and ultimately, rock history met sports history. The result was an explosion, in every way. It was Disco Demolition Night, a notorious event that took place on July 12, 1979.

Growing up on the far northwest side of the Chicago, my dad groomed me to be a follower of the Cubs. During baseball season, it was as if no other team existed. One innocent day I noticed my brother watching a baseball game on local channel 44, WSNS, with a notoriously boisterous drinker named Harry Caray spitting occasionally accurate commentary while hideously attired players struggled through yet another defeat. It was 1977, and as a curious five year-old, I had to ask about this mysterious team.

"There's another Chicago baseball team?" I asked innocently.
My brother muttered without averting his eyes, "Yes, you moron, the Sox. They suck. Dad doesn't watch them. I just watch the games because they're funny."

Gradually, I began watching more White Sox games with my brother, as the games broadcast from this mysterious Comiskey Park were full of low budget hi jinks and boisterous atmosphere. The fans were silly and rowdy, the broadcaster seemed drunk, and the occasional promotions to draw fans to the half-empty park were often hilarious. This baseball circus was more fascinating than the team itself, and I fervently desired to make the pilgrimage to this distant venue. It took me until the spring of 1979 to charge up the courage to ask my dad if we could attend a White Sox game. His defense was immediate.

"Why don't we just go to a Cubs game? We'll go there, and have a good time."

I was not a spoiled brat, though this time, I could not relent.

"But, but, but, I just want to see what it's like to see the White Sox. We've already been to Cubs games..."

I was rather mature for a seven year-old, and my dad, protesting mildly, agreed to find a game on the dreaded White Sox schedule that might coincide with a patch of vacation time, and we would go. He studied the schedule, searching for a date that would offer the least amount of aggravation, in terms of attendance and traffic. He eyed an innocuous game in July, falling on a Thursday night, hosting the Detroit Tigers. Nobody would be there! The Tigers would likely destroy the White Sox, and it wasn't as if the Sox were contenders to begin with. By late April of 1979, the tickets were ordered - three tickets - one for me, one for my dad, and one for my 19 year-old brother, who had a passing interest in attending the game as well. They were for a newly planned twi-night double header, one of which was to be rescheduled from a May 2nd game that had been rained out. We were eventually told that our seats would be honored for both games, and for the price, we figured luck was on our side; an uneventful Thursday game had now become a double header. Better yet, they were great seats, only a few rows behind home plate, along the third base line, somewhat aligned with the on-deck circle. I was already feeling guilty about the effort it would require for my dad to drive us all the way down to the south side from our remote, northwest side residence. The upcoming game, posted quietly on our kitchen calendar, was to be nothing more than a voyage to an empty, disinterested ball park. So it was thought.

By the second week of July, the date was only a couple days away, and being a sheltered child, I was unaware that anything was happening in Chicago radio that was to become the Disco Demolition Night promotion. Clearly, my dad was blissfully ignorant of the promotional momentum forming on the Loop, WLUP - FM 98. Steve Dahl announced that anyone entering the park with a disco record could attend for the meager price of 98 cents. Suspiciously, my brother suddenly had other plans, and I unknowingly thought little of it. He knew what was brewing, and I didn't have any idea that the promotion was to coincide with our supposedly routine trip to Comiskey for a supposedly uneventful pair of games. My dad found a friend and co-worker, Al, to use the ticket vacated by my brother, and all the tickets were used - the game was on! Al would meet us near the park, and we were ready to hit the expressway around 5pm, planning to show up during the early innings of the first game.

My dad and I hit the Kennedy expressway in his new 1979 Plymouth Horizon at around 5 o'clock, meeting a stagnant melee of automotive revelry. With many miles yet to travel, we abruptly tuned to an A.M. radio station and heard the dreaded news - traffic was mired, and everyone - everyone - was headed toward Comiskey Park. It was a paved party of teenagers, with long hair and black shirts, all sitting in their antiquated, oversized cars, stuffed to the edges with humanity itself, while Led Zeppelin songs burst forth from their car stereos. I never smelled marijuana before, and the pungent smell struck me profoundly as we edged slowly down the overcrowded road. Everyone had their car windows rolled down, and records were propped along the rubber edges that lined the tops of the car doors. With the smell of weed emanating from each neighboring car, boisterous drivers pulled aside of us, acknowledging my presence, yelling "Hey! Little rocker dude! Disco sucks!" EVERYONE in this motionless ribbon of vehicular bedlam was headed toward the Mecca that would be Comiskey Park, and I became a noticeable novelty, being a little kid amongst the young adults in adjacent, smokey vehicles.

"Hey kid! You heading there? You rock!" one driver said, noticing my increasingly sheepish demeanor. Conversations occurred repeatedly amongst the cars in this hazy traffic jam, and the party had already started, regardless of the destination. My dad, God bless him, realized the dreadful predicament by now. Instead of turning back and heading home, he stared dutifully forward, edging the car along its troubled path. He, being from the early 1950s generation, could not relate to the youngsters and the reasons for the celebratory nature that now surrounded him, his son, and his vehicle. He was not familiar with modern rock and its culture, let alone the disco rebellion it was inciting. It was like seeing Abraham Lincoln at Woodstock - a mixture of anachronistic ideals. Now apprised that he was heading to a celebration, rather than a game, my dad had to ask.

"Now who the hell is this disco person? What are they blowing up?"

I proffered a quick briefing, as eloquently as a seven year-old could.

"It's this dance thing. With stupid music and dance stuff. They look stupid when they dance that way. I think they want to blow up records."

Fair enough. Even dad, grappling with his growling car in a continuous game of stop and go stress, decided that the explanation would suffice. After a laborious two hours of edging along the Kennedy Expressway, we found our way to a neighborhood, albeit depressed, to consider finding parking for the car. In these days, parking was not as cut and dried as they are with current, modern stadiums, and often, bargaining with a neighborhood local for a parking place along a residential street was necessary. My dad recalls:

"We found a spot that was near an alley, but it wasn't totally a legal spot. Some guy came out who either worked or lived there, and he offered to put a cone behind the car for a few bucks."

Our spot was near 35th street and Ashland, and we walked dutifully east for the ten block hike along 35th. I remember crossing Iron Street, in a scary, industrial area, long forgotten due to present days of economic regress. I wondered if we'd ever get to the park, as the walk was tiring me out, though we were still a mile from our destination. Vagrants and other disturbing individuals eyed us nefariously, while my dad walked ardently ahead of me, ready to protect me from anyone of ill intent. After an agonizing walk along ancient, broken pavement, the lights, sounds, and humanity of Comiskey came into our perception. Much of 35th street was now blocked by police presence, and by this time, the first game was still in progress, but nearly over. We hustled past all of the ticketless fans, presumably locked out of the newly sold out event. Cops loomed about the entrance at 35th street, and repeatedly we had to produce our tickets to prove that we were legitimate attendees, trying to simply watch some baseball. Little did we know that countless hordes of gate crashers were rushing the entrances, physically bursting past weak and elderly ushers, gaining unauthorized access to the park that had been sold out for hours. Too many people had showed up for the promotion, and despite their 98 cents and disco records, they were denied entrance. We, on the other hand, had our reserved box seats, and appeared to be an anomaly to the dismissive, defensive cops and stadium officials, bitterly expecting more latent pilgrims.

Finally, into the crumbling, rumbling stadium we went. Its very structure vibrated with stomping, cheering, and chanting. We coursed along its promenade, and amongst the stoned, meandering fans, we finally emerged into the seating area. Noticing the score board, we noticed how late we really were. It was the bottom of the 8th inning, and the White Sox were losing another lifeless game by the score of 4-1. While attempting to find our seats, my dad's friend noticed us and waved us over. Both 45 and 33 rpm records were being hurled above our heads, as we found the seats, thanks to Al's signal. Records continued to float, like Frisbees, over our heads, ultimately hitting the protective net that backed the home plate area. We were at a very choice location, near the field, but the sonic insanity resonated from all areas above, behind, and beyond us. Chants of "Disco Sucks!" obliterated the attention toward the obviously nugatory efforts of the White Sox on the field. My dad's friend Al slid over to allow us to sit, if only for a moment. Al's seat was now directly behind a vertical support beam, affording him little view of the game. I did my best to pay attention to the game on the field, as the top of the ninth approached, and Sox pitcher Ed Farmer took the mound. The 9th inning moved along with haste, while the entire crowd seemed anxious to see the game end. The "Disco Sucks" chant continued, and records continued to fly, in Frisbee style, above my head, with intentions of them being included in the upcoming demolition. My dad's attention was constantly turned away from the field, his eyes scanning the seats beyond, with the intention of shielding me from incoming flying discs. His concerns for my safety were paramount, and as such, he never did see a single pitch on the field during the inning and a half of baseball for which we were actually present. He knew his friend Al, a tough guy in every way, could handle himself, but I was his seven year-old son, in a riotous atmosphere, and he ensured my safety at every moment. The records continued to be flung, the chants continued to be chanted. An impossibly loud, constant ocean of cheering flooded the stadium at ridiculous volume. One out. The crowd grew louder. Two outs. I covered my ears to protect myself from the high decibel hysteria. Anybody walking into this scene would have confused the environment for the final game of an imminent World Series win. Quickly, almost mercifully, the White Sox grounded themselves out of any type of comeback in the bottom of the ninth, and the first game of this dubious double-header was over. Nobody minded that the White Sox lost, and everyone around me was rabid for the disco record explosions to come.

The field was cleared, and the deafening roar grew in intensity. Steadily, Steve Dahl and members of his crew drove onto the field in golf carts, waving his arms in acknowledgement of the maniacal masses. Attendants set up a large wooden crate just beyond second base. Dahl screamed into a hastily connected microphone, bringing more fervor to the already tenuous situation. Soon, Bill Veeck himself joined in with the "Disco Sucks!" chant, leading the masses to a frenzy. As the chant continued, after several nervous moments, it happened. The invocation for 1979 anarchy was on, like a starter's pistol signalling the beginning of a race.


The crate exploded with a sound and insanity unexpected by all in attendance. While the public address system was hardly loud enough to be heard over the din, the thunderous explosion was felt throughout our area, and I shuddered from the shock to my already damaged ears. Dahl began a hasty retreat while the chant grew, and after the massive explosion in the middle of the field, the crazed throng began to leak onto the field. Fireworks, presumably from the hands of fans, were heard blasting off in the upper deck areas. More drunk teenagers stumbled over the walls, and like water over a dam, the leak became a flood. Soon, with the chant still echoing throughout the packed stadium, everyone began dancing around on the field. Some revellers picked up fragments of the newly destroyed records and flung them with wanton disregard. After only a couple minutes, it seemed like everyone was walking on the playing field, and with several thousand people out there, most were free to do what they pleased. Some grabbed infield dirt, a couple other picked up the bases. I saw a father and pigtailed daughter simply walking along the infield, as if it were a leisurely tour, sponsored by the team itself. Mock fights broke out, then real fights broke out. After a few confusing moments, the crowd unified in booing as cops took on the masses, complete with riot gear, reminiscent of the 1968 Democratic Convention.

My dad vehemently "recommended" that we leave immediately and give up on seeing the second game of the double-header, which was still planned to take place once the revelry cleared. The sight of police, a fire in the right field stands, and alcoholic peril convinced me, and we were soon sprinting down the aisle toward the stadium's exit. Al, despite a pronounced limp, hobbled along with us, having given up on the future of the evening. He also was hoping for a ride home. Al was born with one leg shorter than the other, and grew up in a nearby tough area of the south side. To accommodate his short leg, he developed his upper body, and was a very strong fighter, one who you'd want on your side in any moments of danger. That said, my dad was more than happy for him to escort us for the never-ending walk back to the car, with the promise that he would give Al a ride home. Sorting through the chaos, I realized how dangerous the environment was becoming. I happily ensconced myself between my dad, a former M.P., and Al, a man that could fight off a nuclear missile with his fists. Any cops that hadn't already been assigned to riot control were lingering nervously along 35th street, ready to beat the heads of anyone who chose to defy orders. Seeing myself, a little boy, and my rugged protectors, they let us pass, and we set out for the distant car, parked a mile away, hopefully safe, with a single orange cone designating its legality.

After countless inquiries from the desperate homeless, we eventually found our way to the car. The cone was still there, and so was the vehicle, so with rugged determination, we stuffed ourselves into the little hatchback and evacuated from the war zone. Our early departure, long before the second game was declared cancelled, afforded us the opportunity to drive away from the chaos of the area, and avoid the hideous traffic which greeted us only hours before. It couldn't have even been 10pm by the time we dropped off our limpy friend and found ourselves on a mercifully clear expressway toward home.

Once safely home, the local channels were already broadcasting the breaking news of the riot at Comiskey. We walked into the family room, with news coverage already blaring, and my mother's arms were crossed with silent disgruntlement. With head shaking, she gestured her thoughts and reminded me that I needed to go to bed, since I had summer day camp early the next morning. She barely spoke to my dad, and to this day, I'm not sure how long it took before her anger wore off. It was a family outing gone horribly wrong, and it was an innocent kid being pulled into a world of 1979 rock and roll insanity. In retrospect, I am glad I was there, as it was a moment forever preserved in baseball and music history. Rarely, if ever, have those two legions crossed paths, and I was a first hand witness to its notorious effects. I had always thought I was born too late, wanting to have gone to Woodstock in 1969 and to have seen a Led Zeppelin concert during the 1970s. This was as close as I ever got to being a part of 1970s rock history, something which I admire and study adamantly. Most of the most interesting stories about Woodstock attendees involve how they got there, and with my experiences, that holds true. It was the journey, not the destination. Though I didn't realize the era and its importance in our musical and cultural history at the time, I was "there" for something that forever lingered in my mind and perhaps, just perhaps, formed my ideologies for the future.

Wednesday, July 01, 2009

TV - The Boring and the Disturbing

I Survived the Charlie Rose Show!

I recently did the impossible. I sat through an entire broadcast of the Charlie Rose Show. It required the presence of General Electric CEO Jeffrey Immelt, not because of the person, but my odd fascination with the frightening, monstrous company. I suppose if Leon Panetta came on the show, I'd be equally fascinated by his frightening, monstrous company. I freely admit that I need more to capture my attention than the typically boring political guests, Charlie Rose's soft questions, and that spooky, boundless black background that gives us the impression that they're floating in deep space. The looming darkness, enveloping the hapless subject, lends a disturbing sense of infinite doom. This show literally looks like it goes on forever, physically and temporally. The show has nothing to break up the monotony of an hour's worth of two people talking about politics in space. If they broke things up with a segment - any segment, or shot occasional meteors behind the somnolescent guest and host, the viewer's desire to be jostled free of the televised anesthesia might be assuaged. I don't admit to having a flawless attention span, but there is hardly a way to stare at a dismal, staid televised image for more than a few minutes, regardless of the nature of the conversation taking place. How long can any of us stare at a painting? If Charlie reanimated Jimi Hendrix and propped his tattered body onto the guest "hot seat", most people might make it through ten minutes, and it would be off to another channel. This is the rare example of a show that belongs purely in transcript mode. I know I would much prefer to read this show than to watch it. That's right, Charlie, just mail me the show. My television time is far too valuable for your motionless meanderings.

Can Someone Help The Six Flags Guy?

Many of us are all too familiar with the dreaded Six Flags Guy, a supposedly old man that dances relentlessly, occasionally driving a Six Flags bus to round up innocent bystanders. The man clearly is suffering from amphetamine psychosis, and when he's driving a bunch of innocent women and children around in a bus, it's a problem. If you see this bus behind you, remember, the man is speeding (in several ways), and move the hell away from the bus. For more recent promotions, the troubled speed king has broken his silence, with his popcorn kernel head popping out of the commercial's banner in 2.5D, screaming "More flags, more fun, Six Flags!" His demeanor for this tag is so aggressive and disturbing, certainly the children, who comprise 90% of the target audience, are cowering behind a couch, asking mom if that scary man has finished his televised home invasion. Somebody must help this man. My solution is to take all of the leftover bags of medication from Michael Jackson's house and funnel-dump them into this psychotic soul's expansive gullet. Several have noticed the Six Flags Guy's resemblance to Junior Soprano from The Sopranos.

Late Night with (unfortunately) Jimmy Fallon

I have born witness to late night train wrecks before. I watched Magic Johnson, Alan Thicke (many years ago) and Chevy Chase journey into the talk show circuit, and these programs ground to an eventual halt. Television critics and ardent viewers all look back upon these adventures as flops. The shows did what they could to copy their high profile competitors of the time, namely Letterman and Carson. At least they had an excuse - they were up against late night monsters. Most dismissed the shows as doomed, due to the stiff competition and supposed incompetence of the hosts, as perceived by television pundits of the day. As I mentioned, I had seen these shows, and I can promise you, nothing can compare to the agony felt from watching Late Night With Jimmy Fallon. I'm sure Fallon is a charming fellow in person, but his true personality, that which he is compelled to exhibit on his new show, does not translate well at all through the cameras. Fallon succeeded on Saturday Night Live by portraying other characters - not by just being himself. The experience with Magic Johnson's show proves that success in other areas does not create a competent talk show host. Fallon stares stiffly at his guests, the teleprompters, and occasionally, the cameras, as he delivers his canned dialogue with deer-in-headlights fashion. It truly hurts to see this robotic script-reader go through his motions and make no effort to even act comfortable in such an unsuitable role. Speaking of roles, couldn't ol' Jimmy just play the character of a real talk show host? Clearly his penchant for role playing garnered him significant popularity during his tenure at SNL, so why not let that momentum guide his hosting? In short, he'd be a lot more watchable if he weren't so...himself. They could have pulled a hot dog vendor from the Manhattan streets, plopped him into the host chair, and that vendor would have been equally camera shocked, but significantly more interesting. To make matters worse, the writing staff might possibly be the worst from any show I've seen, ever. There was an ill-fated sitcom with abysmal writing called "Buffalo Bill" back in 1983, and that had held top honors for worst writing. Fallon's show, however, threatens that 26 year-old honor. The punchlines during bits are painful and consistently met with nervous, isolated chortles from the hushed audience. They'll often take a promising premise, such as "New IPhone Apps", and take it right to hell, complete with overuse of a random outmoded celebrity, such as Kirk Cameron. With horrible writing, a stagnant host, silent audiences and an average lineup of guests, one would assume the show will be cancelled shortly. Right? Guess again. His competition includes the ratings-challenged Craig Ferguson's show, and most of the NBC propaganda has been brazenly trumpeting the fact that Fallon's show has been outgunning CBS during this troubled time slot. Many attribute Fallon's continued lead in the ratings (by a mere 200,000 viewers over Ferguson and Kimmel) to the coat tail effect from Conan O'Brien's move to the slot preceding Fallon. I am highly suspicious about these ratings, and can't imagine why Jimmy Kimmel's show, with far more creativity and energy, isn't the ratings leader. NBC should have grabbed Kimmel while they could, and put him into the spot ultimately filled by the hopeless Fallon crew. Kimmel is definitely the better Jimmy. If Fallon is still host of the show one year from this posting, I'll happily pretend to eat my hat.

Ambulance Chasers

It's inevitable that legal firms will take their cause to the national stage, and brazenly ejaculate their "come hither" pick-up line to hordes of likely candidates. Several have been conspicuous in their offers for, well, "help".

"If you or a loved one WAS diagnosed with mesothelioma..."

The dangerously poor grammar (the word in capital letters should be WERE - I'll explain later) should be an immediate sign of incompetence in litigation. The quote above is the opening line for a commercial seeking juicy, low-hanging fruit in the form of asbestos sufferers, should any still exist. Clearly, no intelligent rhetoric would be necessary to rope in any surviving, lungless fossils who have, to date, not had the wherewithal to seek out legal representation. Nevertheless, here they are, polling the masses, believing that pissing on the beach still hits many grains of sand, be they indiscernible until a later date.

[Begin grammar spiel]
As for my criticism of the poor grammar in the above quote, when a sentence has a compound subject, in this case, "you" and "a loved one", it is generally expected to use predicate that would match the first subject term spoken ("you"). The question here involves whether to use "was" or "were". To find out which one is correct, we simply would omit the extra subjects of the sentence and test how it would sound. If we removed "or a loved one" from the quote in question, we'd be left with "If you...was diagnosed...". Obviously not correct. Stupid writers! They're all stupid!
[End grammar spiel]

Speaking of that which is indiscernible, another creepy commercial comes courtesy of the fine folks at Binder & Binder.

During idle afternoons, presumably prime time for disabled workers and all things disgruntled, the folks from Binder & Binder sprinkle their commercial into the soundtrack of the day. The "voice" of the commercial, in the eeriest, scariest whispers imaginable, recommends that we seek revenge for whatever physical, industrial, or psychological malady that was imparted upon us by those "bullies" of the business sector. The nefarious narration makes one think of the Devil whispering in one's ear. One might even compare it to Mephistopheles from Marlowe's Doctor Faustus or "Sam" from the "Son of Sam" murders. Clearly, the script for this campaign was penned by a former victim of bullying, and perhaps years ago, little Ernie, complete with his broken glasses and dishevelled Trapper Keeper, thought, "I'll show those bullies! I'm gonna write scary copy in the future!" The commercial typically ends with a disturbing send-off, such as "Don't let the big guys keep you down". I would find it ironic if a law firm's ghostly, inspirational quotes ultimately sends some unstable bastard to a former employer for some .38 caliber "clean up work".

A Brief Acknowledgement of the Departed

Michael Jackon's demise was a sad conclusion to the scrapbooks of many people, like myself, who grew up in the 1980s. I will miss the black Michael Jackson, but he died 25 years ago. Once the masks came on, the chimp came out, and the kids went along, I no longer considered him the person he once was. Michael was dead a long time ago, and this was a final absolution. Farrah and Ed, they were the true cultural staples of television in their day, and both died still struggling for life. I'll particularly miss Farrah. As for Billy Mays, I don't understand his sudden deification, but I'm just happy that his screaming is finally quelled.

Wednesday, June 24, 2009

Back To The Garden!

Welcome back, dear reader!

At last, the summer has finally come upon us, and from a personal point of view, it's been a long, cold, winter. Thankfully, I spent most of that winter indoors (way, way indoors), and was spared much of the aggravation of skidding along never-salted, under-plowed streets. I can understand ancient appreciation for the official summer solstice up here on the top half of the third rock. For starters, it's the longest day of the year, and ideologically furthest away from the December darkness that loomed over our afternoon commutes. Most people would readily agree that the prominence of darkness is the most morose aspect of the season of the forgetful sun. Ah, the sun! That bipolar sun, like an alcoholic spouse who rudely left us last night, is back with flowers and apologies. We always welcome back the contrite sun every spring, forgive its drunken abandonment during the wintry night, and forget how crudely it ignored our once thriving flora and fauna. We are free to roam the streets, released from our imprisonment of winter to seek out all the outdoor activities otherwise denied us by wind chills and frosty atmospheric intimidation.

"...and we got to get ourselves...back to the Garden..."

With summer suddenly becoming too expensive for most upwardly mobile individuals, obviously the cheaper alternatives float to the surface. There are countless simple alternatives to high profile activities in the local metropolis. Many will go to the woods, and many more will go to the beach or local white trash lake. Others will just hang out in the yard. Ah, the summer yard party - my personal favorite. They'll have a few beers, get baked by the sun (and whatever else they consume), and have a perfectly good time for few bucks per person. The kids can play in and jump around the historically unsafe above-ground pool, from which several head injuries will occur when little Dylan tries to somersault off the unfriendly, tractionless, hot aluminum railing. Traumatic head and limb injuries with those mercurial kids are a rite of summer, and with proper medical insurance, rather affordable.

For us older folks, gardening always proves to be a cheap, if not frustrating, diversion. I've gone back to the garden, to quote Joni, and like most other living organisms in my life, the plants are spiteful bastards, taking root with suspicious sluggishness. It started in May, when I started to laboriously break up the ground, and enjoyed the annual tradition of dumping forty pound bags of top soil into the crumbly, oddly ditchy, garden area. The sweaty bags of elderly top soil resided quietly in a corner of the garage, and provided a cozy, damp environment for countless insects, some of which surely have yet to be documented by entomologists. Occasionally, I'd find a hole in the bag, chewed out by some retarded mouse or squirrel that was so stupid it decided that soil might be worth eating. It's possible that the rodent in question might have been trying to dig into the bag for a winter shelter, but I much prefer the retarded rodent story. Speaking of retarded rodents, a squirrel got into the house a few weeks ago, and soon disappeared into the basement. Instead of going anywhere else in the house to find a drink, it decided to jump in the basement toilet for a drink. The squirrel was found dead in something like 3 inches of toilet water. Now THAT'S a retarded squirrel. Rodents notwithstanding, top soil needed to be poured. I will never understand what magic force of suburban erosion constantly steals my garden dirt, but it disappears every despicable winter, without any influence by man, machine, or dog. I don't live on a hill, in a canyon, or near a river. There is no drainage path nearby, naturally or man made. My theory is that the planet is stealing my dirt, very very gradually. The earth is reclaiming my yard, a square inch at a time. I find no other suitable explanation.

In late May, the supposedly reliable tomato plants were lovingly welcomed to their freshly tilled bachelor pads. Thanks to the abysmal late spring weather, these plants chose to grow at the rate of three microns per week. Seriously, if the folks from the original "3-2-1 Contact" were to post time lapse cameras on these bastards, it would be like staring at a postcard. And what a lousy postcard that would be. Moving along the terrain, I planted questionable pepper seeds, given to me by the neighbor who tosses pears at me every autumn, and the seeds were either on birth control or in disagreement with the unseasonably cool month of May. I took out my various garden weasels, chompers, rippers, and hoes (can we invent a new word?), erased the earthen slate, and subsequently planted actual pepper plants. I bought the pepper plants very late in the planting season, when only a few unclaimed plants could be still found for sale. I'm already suspicious of these plants. I'm sure they've adopted a bad attitude by feeling like they were playground kids who were last to be picked for a team. Great, now I'm putting my pepper future into a bunch of dumpy, near-sighted, nonathletic plants that none of the other cool shoppers wanted. My nerdy, embittered pepper plants have since taken well to their new habitat, though they, like the tomato plants, are growing at postcard speed.

Chalk it up to hippie Woodstock symbolism, but I decided to try growing sunflowers in a forgotten area near the alley. I might simply have a predilection for all things tall. I had never grown them before, and as a friend often told me, they are very happy looking plants. To wit, it's certainly easy to imagine little smiley faces on sunflowers, not unlike seeing Wile E. Coyote dressed up as a cactus, romping around the desert road. Since I've already gone to embarrassing lengths to personify various other plants, I might as well run with the smiley faced sunflowers. At the store, I picked out a packet of seeds, chosen from myriad other varieties and colors. The happy picture on the seed packet was crudely offset by the harshly printed words "GROW TALL" and at the bottom, "EDIBLE SEEDS". I'm sure the latter is printed for reasons of safety around children, but how hungry are these kids, that they're considering eating an unsalted, unroasted, bland sunflower seed? Of course I tried one. I also tried dog biscuits when I was a kid. A KID. I liberally planted the seeds, burying them well below the surface of the soil, lest the avaricious birds nag their way into the dirt and ruin my smiley faced dreams. After a few days, sprouts! Only a few, but enough for a start. After a few weeks of slow growth and fighting off the neighborhood bullies known as weeds, the plants gained some prominence in their domain. Since they are growing as gradually as their grouchy brethren across the yard, I doubt they will be knee high by the fourth of July. If they grow four feet tall by September, I'll be surprised. If they grow with smiley faces, I'll be checking myself for head injuries along with little Dylan.

Finally, I decided that one forgotten area in the corner of the yard could be rescued for growing something - anything. Once again, I pulled out my various garden implements; the weasels, the gobblers, the stompers, clompers, and soilerators. The till-o-matic, the garden devil, and of course the hoe (again, can we change that name?). Unfortunately, adjacent to the area to claim, the ecologically unfriendly air conditioning compressor loomed without approval while I worked the ground. I wondered if anything might grow in an area so close to a factory, so to speak. I poured some more Amazonian top soil into the plot, dunked some bean seeds, and soaked it with fervor. Weeks passed, and obviously the bean seeds protested the presence of the neighboring aluminum skyscraper. None of the seeds decided to bring seedlings to the party, and the entire tract of land, though painstakingly groomed, has given way to a bean seed cemetary. Gardening is like hosting a party - some won't show up at all, some will take their time, some will hog the area, and others will be picky. But it's the summer! Go outside!