Friday, February 29, 2008
Cereal has been a part of my breakfast routine forever. As a kid it was always the same old story in my house. Mom would buy a box or five of different cereals. Instead of opening one box and finishing it before moving to the next one, we'd open two or three and work through them. We wouldn't ever finish any one box completely, rather leave just enough that was considered more than a handful, yet less than a bowl. We simply got fed up with one type of cereal and moved to another one refusing to finish what we started. The cupboard just above our kitchen stove became a graveyard for these near empty boxes and in a matter of a couple of months we had filled the shelf completely. If we were lucky, Dad would be skulking around the kitchen late in the evening looking for a snack. Regardless of knowing exactly what was behind every door, we all did the same thing. Check each shelf, then go back again and look, just to see if anything new magically appeared. My dad, after two tours through the kitchen, would resign himself to cereal. He'd grab one of my mom's Pyrex measuring cups and begin to empty each box into the cup. We would catch him some nights having a heaping cup of Frosted Franken Bran or Sugarcomb Count Crispies.
During my adolescent years it became easier to just grab Pop Tarts instead of dealing with checking each box for a bowl's worth. But by the time I made it to college cereal had been reintroduced into my life. Except now, I stuck to one or two brands and never had more than one box open for only myself. One of more regular selections of cereal I snacked upon in between studies was Lucky Charms. Like everyone, I like the marshmallow shapes. During my life I have always complained that there wasn't an equal enough of a ratio of marshmallow to oat bits. The fact that they have continually added marshmallow shapes never seemed to impact the amount I would get in any random bowl. It was like the law of Smurfs. As the cartoon progressed more smurfs were added to the village yet they were always at a constant population of 100. I just didn't get it. To make matters worse, the different flavors of marshmallows has been rotated more times than my bald tires. Still, nothing compared to the depiction of a leprechaun with an ethno-stereotypical irish accent hawking circus peanuts and toasted oat bits for breakfast. On a side note, in the theory of Six Degrees of Seperation, I am seperated by one degree from Arthur Anderson, the original voice of Lucky. My girlfriend in college worked in a radio station in her home town and got to meet Arthur as he had made an appearance there. Oddly enough, he's not Irish......but I digress,
Here is the first commercial with only 4 different flavored marshmallow bits, or marbits as they are technically called. I don't know. Marbit sounds awfully close to the title of a bad Eddie Murphy movie.
From my childhood, this is how I remember it.
and Blue Diamonds. (This was added in 1975 as I was to this world.)
Simple yet a yummy and delicous part of this balanced breakfast.
Then, in 1984, Lucky got kicked in the head by a horse. Instead of being brain damaged and needing to have his Lucky Charms pureed, he came up with a new marshmallow flavor, purple horseshoes. Okay wait a minute, not only are you screwing with an institution but now you are messing with the order of the visible spectrum. Mr. Roy G. Biv is spinning in his grave, here. You've got purple before blue which is impossible. Ok, I'll admit that adding the horsehoe did give a more charm symbol to the cereal but let's not get crazy and add any more.
Fine, I'll give you that. I mean, you can ride atop a whale and the colors can be all mixed up but let's hold to these six flavors.
Ok, now, damnit, knock it off, will ya? What the hell do balloons have to do with being lucky...no more so than Yellow Moons or Orange Stars of David, I guess....but this is getting ridiculous. Now, you've got two red colors there.
This is the last straw. Moons are now blue? What happened to the diamonds? Green Clovers are now encased in horrible looking derby hats? We have pots of gold that look more like Pepperidge Farm Goldfish with their asses on fire. Orange stars are now shooting stars and only have 5 points? Was there backlash from the Jewish community over the association with luck? And why the hell do we have rainbows in the rainbow?...That's a bit redundant. And speaking of redundant, you still have two red based color marshmallows there. Luckily, I missed the instance where we had locks that looked more like tombstones that would dissolve in milk leaving behind a key.
Well, I guess I shouldn't be surprised. We are nothing if not a fickle society that constantly needs to have our tastes reinvented and reengineered. After all if we didn't, the cupboards over our stoves would be littered with thousands of nearly empty cereals boxes just waiting for our fathers to get a hankering for some Mr. T's Special Kix of Crunch or 100% Basic 4 of Product 19 Total Ohs.
I have to go, my Lucky Charms milk is turning blue.
Wednesday, February 27, 2008
Yoi! In Peace
Brief Summary of Cope's Life and Career
Today's previously scheduled entry has been pushed to tomorrow in order to pay tribute to a man who has made an indelible impact on sports broadcasting. Sadly, Myron Cope passed away yesterday, February 27th, 2008. Born Myron Sidney Kopelman, Cope's early career took him from a job at the Erie Daily Times, now called the Erie Times-News, to that of a freelance journalist. One of his most notable stints was with Sports Illustrated in which his profile of Howard Cosell was selected as one of the 50 best articles published in the magazine during it's 50th anniversary year.
In the 60's Cope moved into radio and his unique and distinct vocal style was recognized by the Pittsburgh Steelers organization. In 1970 he was made a member of their radio team. As the Steelers dominated the 70's, Cope's fame grew. Perhaps his biggest contribution came in 1975 when he urged fans to take yellow dish towels to a playoff game against the Baltimore Colts. As a way to excite fans and add that 12th man to the field, he instructed the fans to wave their dish towels throughout the game. While some players were less than enthusiastic about resorting to a "gimmick," the towels, now called "The Terrible Towel" seemed to bring a bit of magic to the field and the Steelers defeated the Colts 28-10. Official towels were made in time for Super Bowl X in which The Steelers beat the Cowboys for their second Super Bowl win that decade. Throughout the 80's, Cope did commentaries and editorials for Pittsburgh's ABC affiliate, WTAE. Dressed in a lab coat and calling himself Dr. Cope, he analyzed the opposition each week against the Steelers. Segments memorable ended with the phrase, "This is Myron Cope, on Sports." Crossing ino the 90's, Cope appeared in various music videos spoofing popular songs like "The Macarena" and "Achy Breaky Heart" all themed around the Steelers.
In 1996, Cope pulled his biggest, and most philanthropic stunt yet. He gave the rights and ownership of "Myron Cope's Official Terrible Towel" to the Allegheny Valley School. The school provides care for people with physical and mental disabilities. Cope's own son was born with severe autism and haslived almost his entire life at the Allegheny Valley School. Proceeds from the sale of "The Terrible Towel" have raised over $2 million dollars for the school since 1996.
Cope retired from broadcasting in 2005 after numerous health issues deteriorated his voice. He was honored with the Pete Rozelle award shortly after his retirement for his longtime contributions to pro football in radio and television. Sadly, after several bouts with pneumonia and cancerous growth, removed from his throat, Cope died at age 79 in a nursing home in Latrobe yesterday.
Cope's greatest stories appear in his book, "Double Yoi" which he retold on WDVE's morning show. It involved a road game on a Thursday evening in which Cope realized it was garbage night and shouted over the air, "Mildred, it's Thursday Night, put out the garbage!" His partner, Jack Flemming doubled over with laughter during the broadcast. The following year another Thursday night game was scheduled and at some point during the broadcast, Flemming shouted "Mildred, it's Thursday Night. Put out the garbage!" Always striving to be a private person, Cope hated to bring his personal life out into the homes of hundreds listening in to the radio. However, when you have such a storied career, people tend to listen and remember. WDVE has included this story in one of their compilation CDs that they produce each year for charity, forever cementing Cope's garbage night tale into broadcast history.
When Cope retired in 2005, I remember driving, to of all places, Cleveland, OH, and listening to his press conference on the radio. It was the end of an era and I knew that listening to the games would never be the same. I find myself still listening in the car when I can't watch, but I rarely turn the television sound down when I'm watching at home. It's a shame that Cope missed two very important events in the history of the Steelers. During the 1972 AFC Divisional Playoffs against the Raiders, Cope and Art Rooney were taking the elevator down to the field at Three Rivers Stadium. Cope on his way to do post game interviews, Rooney to console his team on the loss. During the trip, Bradshaw threw a pass to Frenchy Fuqua, which bounced off of either Jack Tatum's shoulder or Fuqua, depending on who tells the story, finding its way into hands of Franco Harris' fingers nearly on the ground. The "Immaculate Reception" dubbed by Cope, on suggestion from a fan who called him that night, became one of the greatest plays in the history of the Steelers giving them a touchdown and the lead over the Raiders It was cited as the greatest play of all time by NFL films. The play would have only been greater if would have paved the way for the Steelers to win the Super Bowl that year. Unfortunately, this was 1972 and the year the Dolphins went undefeated. Cope also missed the return to glory by the Steelers in 2005 when he retired before the season and was not in attendance in the booth during Pittsburgh's magical season which included a sixth seed in the playoffs and four on the road wins to capture their fifth Lombardi Trophy. Even though they were considered the home team in Super Bowl XL, Pittsburgh opted to play in their away jersey's signifying their road warrior status. Ironically, the post season also included a miraculous play in the AFC Divisional Championship game at the RCA Dome in Indianapolis, when Jerome Bettis fumbled, giving Nick Harper a chance to score on the recovery. He would have ran the length of the field for a touchdown had Ben Roethlisberger not grabbed his foot and brought him down. This play nearly ended the Steelers' playoff season and has been called, "The Immaculate Redemption" or simply, "The Tackle."
I'm sure that there will be a great number of tributes to the gravelly voiced Cope on the news and the Internet in the days to come. It's my feeling that the Steelers' should produce a black version of the Terrible Towel to be waved in tribute to Cope at the Steelers' 2008 home opener. Perhaps a statue in his likeness outside the Coca Cola great hall where he held his post game shows called Cope's Cabana. Perhaps even a dedication of the broadcast booth in his name. This was a man that could have easily cashed in on "The Terrible Towel" and retired a very rich man. Instead, he endowed The Allegheny Valley School with ownership of his invention and it has help improve the quality of life of hundreds of disabled people. He certainly has earned the respect and love of his listeners as well as his former employers, and anything less is a load of Gorgonzola.
This is Angry Mongo, on Cope.
"OW, OW, CHICK, CHICKA-CHIC-KAAAAAAAAAA"
Oh Yeah! I did it. I just threw the most clichéd 80's-Teenage-Comedy-Movie-Soundtrack's First Cut right at ya! Don't mess me with me. I know the Crane Technique.
Where did I go wrong? I studied every single one of their movies. I memorized countless witty comebacks sure to leave even the most Zabkaesque of bullies quaking in their British Knights. Still, I was never named prom king for leading the class in a ridiculous, yet catchy, group dance set to a hit song by a pop synth band that prominently featured a keytar. I was never able to become a mythical corporate executive at a Manhattan company just by occupying an empty office and attempt to overthrow the cheating boss. My athletic abilities never blossomed so that I could successfully ski the K-12 with only one ski. How could I have failed? Let's go over my entire game plan and see what mistakes I made.
Establish myself as the social outcast in my school
This shouldn't be too hard. Even if I was not already considered an outcast, I should forgo all status I have by moving to nearby school where no one will suspect I am really undercover, writing a tell all expose for the school paper. If possible, try to find a school in a town where dancing has been outlawed or has a really crappy varsity sports team that I can turn into state champs with a rousing speech. I must make sure to keep the illusion of ineptitude by only sitting with those who make life decisions by tossing a 12 sided die.
I will attract the attention of the stock character known as "The Bully." I will know who he is by the three typical friends that follow him around like puppies.
- Big muscle-bound dumb jock
- Skinny smart mouth shop kid with a knife
- Tubby whipping boy who will eventually be swayed to my side once I overthrow the bully's reign.
Seek the bully out on the first day of school by spilling my lunch on him and/or embarrassing him by accident. Allow him to get the better me of until April, so that I can spring my plan into action.
Make things worse
Step 2 involves alienating myself further by developing an insane crush on the head cheerleader/prom queen. She should have the following features.
- Big blonde hair
- Big boobs
- Failing some class that I instantly become an expert on so l can tutor her.
- Dating or recently broke up with "The Bully."
Meanwhile I will become soul mates with the resident "Bailey Quarters." She must wear baggy clothes like sweaters and long skirts as to hide the fact that she is even hotter than the trophy girl. She must be a brunette, wear glasses, and be smarter than Ken Jennings. She has to help me in my quest while falling hopelessly in love with me. I will then spurn her advances in favor of the trophy girl and my ultimate goal of uber cool.
Set up the competition
Once I have established myself as the underdog, I must throw down the gauntlet with the bully and be pulled into some sort of ridiculous competition that I am completely outmatched at. If it is a sporting event that I have no skill at, it must be something that will allow me to use my intellect to overpower "The Bully." If it is a race I should use my ingenuity or the ingenuity of the local nerds to bypass the conventional route, which will be used by the bully giving him a false sense of security. I will become the tortoise to his hare. This duel will be scheduled the day before the prom to allow me to gain favor among the socially inept and undesirable members of the student body, which even though they outnumber the ruling class of bullies/jocks/pretty folks, they cower in fear at the idea of standing up for themselves.
The coolest of all nerds, if there is such a thing, will instantly become my friend on the first day or will be my cousin, either works. He will use his vast network of dorks to secure everything I need in my quest. He will sneak me into his headquarters through a hidden secret passageway, opened only through an unused locker; He will be able to procure anything I need. At some point I will be given detention for something as a show of defiance or strategic planning and will bond with other outcasts, forming a lasting friendship that will only end after high school.
Extreme Makeover Montage.
Wallflower girl will assist me in transforming my image from geek to chic. The first phase will be to step into the shower and magically, through the use of soap and mousse, turn into a heartthrob. My complexion will be flawless and my hair will perfectly feather. Phase two will require an unlimited supply of money, which I will have possession of through no means of explanation. I will go on a shopping spree where I will try on several ugly and uncool outfits, all meeting plain girl's disapproval. The last outfit I try on will be perfect one winning approval. Make sure it is durable in its design. I will be wearing this outfit for the next 4 months. This entire makeover should take roughly 3 minutes and be set to an inspirational pop rock song which will be instantly a hit.
Afterwards, at the food court, we will share a soda and form an emotional bond. At some point, I have to nearly kiss her only to pull away, cementing her complete and utter devotion to me. The sexual tension will be explosive but I must not lose sight of my goal.
Turn the tables
Unveil the new me by strutting down the crowded hallways of school turning heads and dropping jaws. Make sure to be seen by Trophy Girl who is standing at her locker being harassed by "The Bully." She will leave him in a huff and hang on my arm. He will be unimpressed but begin to doubt his hold on the school. He may, in fact, conspire with a teacher of similar rat-like morals to sabotage me.
That night I will be go on a single date with the trophy girl. At the end we will, most surely, make out. If at all possible secure a copy of Led Zeppelin IV and play side one. Plain Jane will see me kissing Trophy Girl and watch as we slip down out of view in the kick ass ride I borrowed from the Vocational Tech department. The next day, my plain friend will ignore me and not speak to me for the rest of the school year, until prom night. I should also alienate my nerd buddy at some point by beginning to shun nerdom and only hanging out with the cool kids. Don't worry, I'll apologize to him and all will be forgiven in Step 6.
Win the day
With only a few members of my nerd following to stell help me in the competition, I will start out falling behind "The Bully." He will cheat to gain a tremendous lead. He will even employ some kind of sabotage tactic executed by his three friends or the rat-like teacher on his side. I will then battle back to a photo finish, completing the task with half of the equipment I started out with and ultimately beat the bully in our all or nothing competition for social supremacy. This will again last about 3 minutes and will be set to an up-tempo rock song.
Afterwards, "Trophy Girl" will make her last minute choice of accompanying me to the prom, where by some stroke of luck, I will have a tux that matches her dress perfectly. Wallowing in his defeat, "The Bully" will set about to attack me with his friends as backup that night. He could even be drunk. I must remain alert and careful as he will probably take a cheap shot at me even though his physical prowess outweighs mine.
That night I will arrive to the prom, fashionably late, after picking up the uber hot trophy girl. Her dress will obviously accentuate her curves and will make me drool. We will arrive halfway into the prom, interrupting the dancing. Everyone will cheer and congratulate me on my victory.
At some point, the band will point the spotlight at me and I will be cued to lead a "four wall line dance," creating the moves on the spot. After one verse, everyone will become an expert and join in, declaring it the neatest thing since sliced bread. This will all occur just moments before the announcement of the Prom King and Queen.
"Trophy Girl" will of course be named Queen while "The Bully" will expect to be named King. He might possibly be making his way to the stage, not realizing I will be named instead. The newly crowned couple, Me and "Trophy Girl" will begin to slow dance. Out of nowhere, the bully will appear, behind me, drunk and fuming. I will dismiss his attempts at enticing me to fight and must turn my back on him, leaving him an open shot at me. He will take advantage of my blind spot and will knock me to the ground, instantly stopping the music with a sound like a needle scratching across a record. This show of violence will succeed in clearing an eight foot radius around us. I will slowly get to my feet and think of how to fight since I will have forgot to add that to the montage earlier in the year.
Be prepared for one of three things to happen.
- I will suddenly be given the ability to fight using some weird move I learned 6 months ago in a undeveloped subplot or thrown away sequence. It will only take a couple of seconds and will render "The Bully" unconscious. Everyone will then dance on top of him.
- The nerd brigade will somehow have been invited or will crash the prom, coming to my defense. Lacking dates and given the new found courage to rise up, they will probably show up to overthrow the ruling class and will stand in between me and "The Bully" causing him to back down and leave. It could be possible that they will not show up at all due to all night marathon of Star Trek: The Original Series. Be prepared and check the TV guide.
- "The Bully" will attempt to make his friends do the fighting for him. They will have a change of heart and embrace their inner geek, leaving the bully to fight his own battle.
In any case, the bully will lose. He will leave, never darkening the math lab again. After the entire crowd cheers my second victory, I will then be asked to perform with the band. NOTE TO SELF: Go back and remember to learn guitar in Step 4, it will be important. Oh, and make sure to lean back to back with the keytar guy during your solo.
Get the girl
Accomplishing everything I could ever hope for in the span of 9 months, I will then throw it all away. My "Trophy Girl" date will attempt to embrace me, but I will thank her politely and inform her that I really don't want to be with her. She is everything I will ever hope to have, yet I will toss her aside because I spot my "Plain Jane" friend at the entrance of the gym. She will have traded her pleated skirts for a slinky prom gown that shows off her awesome figure. Her straight and pulled back hair will be styled perfectly causing her to have destroyed the ozone layer wherever she goes. Just by removing her glasses she will become instantly attractive to me and I will make my way to her, groveling and apologizing immensely. She will in turn conveniently forget my previous transgressions and join me in another round of the line dance as we close out the night. Meanwhile, my sidekick nerd who has been by my side the whole year will end up with the prom queen or one of her hot friends.
I will turn in my article for the school paper and be given a full scholarship to some prestigious university where my newly transformed girlfriend is also attending. We will live happily ever after and everything will freeze perfectly still while a final song plays, preferably "We Are the Champions."
At college, I will perform dorm room pranks while switching my major to engineering so that I can work on a top secret government project that can only be completed by extremely bright slacker college kids with no respect for authority. My best friends in the world will gather at a local watering hole where we will have our own table and will all end up betraying each other. We will slowly grow up and fogive each other as we come to grips with our fear of life after college.
Nope, no mistakes were made. I still don't get it. It should have worked. I should be the CEO of a major company or at least a dotcom billionaire married to Shannon Tweed.
Damn you John Hughes, damn you Val Kilmer, damn you Brat Pack! This sucks. Now if you'll excuse me I have to get ready for my shift at Captain Hooks Fish and Chips and my sister's hot friend is about to get out of the pool. I don't want her to walk in on me in the bathroom....while I'm.......swabbing the deck.
By the way, What the Fµ¢k is a Chinese Downhill?
Tuesday, February 26, 2008
I could just imagine waking in my palatial estate with nothing to do but earn interest. I would go down to the garage and peruse my collection. Here are a few of the cars I would like to have in my possession.
- 2006 Subaru Baja
- 1982 DeLorean DMC-12
- 1973 Super Beetle
- 1977 Black TransAm
- 1958 Chevy Corvette Roadster
Now, you have to understand that I am not just your typical dreamer when it comes to owning cars. I have no interest in owning Mercedes and Porsches, BMWs or Ferraris; I have practical interests in cars. They are either from movies or just designs I thought pleasing. One may ask, "Other than being the wrong model for Herbie, The Love Bug, why the hell would you want a VW Super Beetle?" The answer is simple, childhood nostalgia. You see I spent 2 years of my adolescence riding around in a 1973 Super Beetle painted red with a black stripe and white interior. It belonged to a friend of mine in high school. That car represented the freedom I took for granted. The freedom to just get up, get in a car and just drive anywhere is paramount to being a teenager. There was no having to pack up a diaper bag, extra bottles, and clothes for a little one. There was no thinking that I had 12 things to do around the house before sunset of Sunday or I would have to wait until next weekend. There was a sense that I could just leave. I could get away and go have fun with my friends and not have to worry about bills or a job. This car got a lot of miles in a short time.
During the summer of 1991 I was just learning how to drive and did not have a permit as of yet. I relied on older friends to cart my ass around. That summer I spent a lot of time with a small circle of friends that didn't go to school with me. They attended a nearby high school and were met through another childhood friend. Scott, the owner of the car, couldn't have been 120 pounds soaking wet. He was very shy and introverted but on occasion he could get very wound up and hilarious. His parents had bought him the car and had gone to great lengths to instill in him that this car was not a tank and needed to be driven with care. Unfortunately, his parents gave no such lecture to his friends and we had other plans for the car. There are two separate incidents come to mind with this Super Beetle detail this total disregard for parental advice. Trust me when I say, I wish I could make this stuff up.
The first incident occurred on a road trip to Seven Springs, a local mountain resort in our area known for skiing. During the winter months Seven Springs is hustling and bustling with skiing and snow tubing as well as lodging in chalets or condos that overlook the slopes. During the summer months an alpine slide operates in one area while the main lodging area of the resort is home to all kinds of meetings and events such as craft shows and school reunions. This particular day the Italian festival was taking place at the main lodge and it was filled with party goers. While the main lodging area is situated at the base of the slopes, along the top of slopes construction had begun on condominiums. At this time they were still unfinished and roads had not been completely established to and from their location.
We took the opportunity to drive up around and investigate the structures simply because, it was new, and we had no better place to be. The road that led to the plan was already finished and was easy to navigate. We were unsure as to how the road traversed the plan. Was it a dead end or did it loop back around to the entrance? We opted to just blindly drive on in and take our chances. As we reached the end of the plan the paved portion of the road ended and dirt and gravel continued around the back of the condos. We were split on the decision to just simply do a 3 point turn in the middle of the road or to soldier on the unbeaten path. Ultimately, we decided to forge ahead and continue on around the back of the condos using the dirt road. As we rounded the backs of the buildings it was easier to see why these would be desirable. You could literally walk out the back of your condo with you skis on and just head down the slope.
Reaching the end of the condos we expected the road to just connect back onto the paved section and allow us to make a complete circuit around the plan. Unfortunately, it appeared as if the road did not reconnect and we soon found ourselves heading into a wooded area. "Perhaps this is a service road." We thought, "Eventually it will end up back on the main road." We assumed too much and drive suddenly became steeper and bumpier. Up ahead a hiker did a double take as he noticed the red bug bearing down on his position. The dirt road gave way to grass and Scott found it increasingly difficult to keep the car from sliding around as we twisted and turned down this path. Up ahead we gained hope when a clearing became visible. What we didn't know was that we had just come down the mountain by way of one of the slopes. Imagine if you will, you are a party goer at the Italian fest and just happened to catch sight of this VW Beetle being launched out of a wooded area onto the ski slopes. The sight would make you question whether the last shot of Sambucca was one too many. Realizing we were now visible to just about everybody at the lodge we hightailed it for an access road that allowed us to get back onto the main road and we quickly left before anyone got a chance to come find us.
The second incident occurred that same summer and once again involved us going somewhere we shouldn't have. Being high school students without full time jobs we didn't have the luxury to enjoy the local pastimes to their fullest. We often had to improvise or make do within our own means. Four of us had got the idea to go to a ballgame downtown. The Pittsburgh Pirates were riding high this season and getting close to a pennant race. This of course was the year before the dreaded Sid Bream incident in which Barry Bonds failed to throw Bream out at home, but we won't talk about that.
Scott's parents had again warned Scott not to have the bug on the four ways (highways) as the suspension was not in tip top shape. I have no clue if our little slalom down the slopes had any contribution to this, I didn't even want to ask. We got the bright idea to take the back roads to Pittsburgh turning a forty five minute trip into an hour and a half one. Being of little funds we sat in the nosebleed section paying at most five dollars for our seats and had packed a cooler full of pop and sandwiches to save on spending exorbitant amounts of money on hot dogs and crackerjacks.
The game ended around nine o'clock and we headed back the same route we came in ensuring us of a before midnight arrival or so we had thought. Just before the George Westinghouse Bridge on route 30 east we stopped at a gas station to replenish our drink supply. Scott was a bit worried about making it home before midnight and we assured him we would be quick with our purchases. Scott had decided to wait in the car but I offered to buy him a drink. He got out of the car and made it three feet before his face lost all color.
"What is it, Scott?" I asked, "You look like someone just walked on your grave."
He quickly ran back to the car and confirmed his fear. He had locked his keys in the car. Thankfully, it was not running, but now we were stuck in East Pittsburgh after 9pm. It wasn't the best of neighborhoods and we didn't exactly blend in very well. Scott performed the usual routine of continually checking the handle as if the car was simply joking with him and would unlock itself. We tried all manner of entry to the car including trying to jimmy open the triangular wing window on either side. Now, the easiest and most correct course of action would have been to call Scott's parents informing them of our predicament. Thinking back to his parents' lecture, we considered this a last resort just beyond grabbing a rock and breaking the window.
Being novices in this situation we sought out more experienced help in the matter. We entered the store and asked the attendant for help. The best he could offer was a screwdriver. Apart from dismantling the car in order to gain entry, I didn't see this as an answer to our problem. Ascertaining from our dumbfounded looks that we had no clue on how to use the screwdriver, he offered to go outside and help if I stayed and watched the store, not letting anyone enter. Not that I was any kind of criminal but you have to be some kind of idiot to entrust the safety of mini mart to any 16 year old not employed there. Especially when you are asking this one to play black knight and declaring, "None shall pass."
With a changing of the guard in place, mini mart man and the rest of our crew headed out to the car while I held the fort down. Within three minutes I was ready to surrender the Alamo as a truck pulled up and about fifteen people jumped out, heading for the store. I yelled to the attendant that there was no way I could stop these guys from going in and he returned to the store relieving me of my post. He suggested that we try the local garage within walking distance down the street. After all, as long we got the car unlocked in the next fifteen minutes we would be OK.
We banded together and headed down the darkened street to find the garage open. Two guys who in my mind were the embodiment of Cliff and Norm from Cheers sat outside of the bay watching bugs take a suicidal flight into the bug zapper. We explained our plight to them asking if they had anything that could help us get into the car. Deadpan and without missing a beat, Norm suggested the baseball bat he had sitting inside. Granted, we were two steps away from that option, but still kind of hoped they had some more useful tools. Politely dismissing his suggestion we asked if they perhaps had a slim jim. Cliff said the best he could do was a bent up coat hanger. "We'll take it." We answered and went on our way.
Back at the store we began feverishly working on the car with the hanger. Scott continued to work on the wing with the screwdriver provided to us by mini mart man and just when things couldn't get any worse, the cops showed up. Now, as an outside observer to this situation, don't you think you would think it odd to see four guys standing around a car with various tools in a bad part of town? Apparently, this was a regular occurrence and the police just kept on trucking. We figured they would at least show some sort of interest and the need to flag them down wouldn't be necessary. I guess if we would have shot of them, they would have least stopped to look at us.
With the departure of the police cruiser a new potential threat presented itself. Some locals approached the parking lot, one brandishing what looked to be some sort of weapon. We began to take measures to stop using the hanger and screwdriver as tools and start using them as weapons. The truck full of guys had finally left and Mini mart man returned to help us out. He seemed to know the local guys and they engaged in friendly conversation. Our guard dropped and while half of us continued to work on the car, the other half approached the locals and chatted. Now, in better light, we discerned that the one guy was in deed not brandishing a weapon but was in fact carrying a shoe. Not asking for any explanation he offered up a declaration that, "I lost my shoe." Upon close inspection of his feet we noticed that he indeed had both shoes on and we began wondering if maybe he lost his other leg instead. Taking notice of our little operation they offered to help and two of them tagged out two of our guys and took over at the doors.
Now the cops came back. This time they actually pulled into a parking space on the side of the store and asked what was happening. We explained our situation while he continued to sit in his car assessing the scene. When he returned a blank look to our cry for help, we followed up the request with, "Do you have a slim jim?"
Finally understanding what we were requiring of him he opened the door and proceeded to approach his trunk. Meanwhile, his car proceeded to approach and in fact hit the side of the building as he had forgot to shift it into park. I can safely say our confidence in the police resolving this issue before midnight was dwindling and Scott began searching for a rock.
Once Barney Fife secured his vehicle, he pulled out the most bent up, tarnished, slim jim I had ever seen. It looked as if he had folded it up for easier storage. Not looking a gift horse in the mouth we accepted and he made his way over to the car and began to work his magic, or so we thought. After five minutes with no luck, he called for backup. A second police car arrived and felt a little better. Not because he produced a newer, straighter, shinier slim jim, but because he managed to not hit the building with his car when he exited it. Now, both him and his fellow officer worked from either side of the car while we contemplated Plan Z. We noticed a pay phone on the side of the store just to the right of Barney's Car imprint. Seeing as how both officers were having no luck unlocking the car, they decided to give up and turned the slim jims over to us and went to go lean on their cars and shoot the breeze over a cup of coffee. We realized as the hours passed we were only getting ourselves deeper in trouble and should just maybe put an end to this circus. Scott agreed and accepted fate. He went over to the phone and attempted to call and wake his parents. Unfortunately, someone had jammed gum or some other substance in the coin slot preventing him from using the phone. Luckily, we had a screwdriver handy.
At this moment I started to survey the scene. At the car, we had two of our guys using a slim jim on both doors while one of the local guys used the coat hanger to go in through the wing. Scott was using the screwdriver to chisel the gum out of the phone coin slot while both Barney and his fellow cop traded fishing stories. Mini Mart Man was talking to rest of the local guys while genius continued to look for his shoe and all I could do was think to do was laugh. At that moment Scott freed the gunk from the coin slot and dialed home. And with that our secret trip was blown as well as our curfews.
"Hel...Hello, Mom." His voiced cracked. "Yes, I know what time it is. Look I'm sorry to wake you but..." He paused realizing that the point of no return was directly in front of him. He could still choose to not divulge our location. He could just lie and said we had car trouble and were ten minutes from home. All was not lost. His conscience, however, got the better of him and he continued, "We're in Pittsburgh at a gas station and we're locked out of the car."
"HEY SCOTT, WE GOT IT!" The words pierced the air and it seemed as if all of Pittsburgh had gone completely silent as they traveled to Scott's now reddening ears.
"Shit!" He simply stated and apologized to his parents for both waking and disobeying them. He promised he'd be home in an hour.
Our congregation of idiots dispersed and went about their ways as we returned all tools to their respective owners....except for the coat hanger. Screw Cliff and Norm. We piled into the car and made our way back home. By the time I had made it into my house it was all into the one o'clock hour of the morning and I knew the full wrath of my parents would be making its way down upon my head. I could tell from the light on in their bedroom that while my mother was still asleep, the light served as a reminder that she was waiting for me to arrive. She awoke and looked at the clock becoming fully enraged at the lateness of my return. Now, dealing with the youngest of three children in my family, it is safe to assume, as a parent, that you have probably heard every excuse in the book from "I lost track of time," to "A UFO kidnapped me." As I began to quietly recount my tale of woe the deep set lines around my Mother's brow began to soften and change direction. At one point she had fallen off the bed in a fit of laughter. She said that there was no way I could have made this story up and decided that I had served enough of a sentence. No punishment would be doled out but that next time, I should have called right away.
Unfortunately, Scott did not get the same reaction from his parents to our story. Perhaps he should have had me tell it to them. Maybe there was something missing in his delivery. Needless to say, we didn't see Scott for a couple weeks and the Red Bug never made a trip back to Pittsburgh in its lifetime. A short time later Scott got rid of the car in favor of a Red Chevy S-10. It couldn't hold the four of us inside the cab, but at least if he needed to, he was small enough to squeeze through the sliding rear window as it was always unlocked. I don't know what happened to the Red Bug. I wish I could say that it belongs to some collector who has restored it to its prime, or at least has fixed the suspension. In all reality, the car has probably been junked and stripped down for parts leaving the frame to rot away in a junkyard somewhere in Southwestern Pennsylvania. However, in my mind that car will be eternal and everlasting, a testament to the freedom of a teenager to just gather his friends and just take off for adventure. Every so often, I drive down that stretch of route 30 and laugh to myself thinking back to that night and I still vividly remember our ski slope run at Seven Springs. One day, when I have those millions and am able to build that garage to show off my unique obsession with these hopefully unassuming cars, I will surely find a special place inside for a 73' Super Beetle painted red with a black stripe. And then I'll find a special place for a spare key as well.
Monday, February 25, 2008
However, for a college student who has just been introduced to HTML with no previous training, it was pretty neat. This internet thing is pretty cool. Prior to this my experience with computers were mostly a one sided interface. Growing up in the 80's we were taught Spanish and Math on Apple II's. There was no internet the way it exists today. In my three years of high school, I was exposed to local BBS groups through a 2400 baud dial up modem. Of course, it was certainly not cutting edge technology. I would sit there hunting and pecking around on my brother's PC running DOS 5.0 while gold monochromatic characters burned out my retinas. Personally, I felt it inferior to my Apple IIc with built in 5.25" disk drive that I could hook up to a television set for big screen viewing. Hey, man, I didn't have to boot up a prompt and type in a string of letters and slashes to get things running. I just popped in a disk, hit the power button and I could play Beach Head II and Hacker and Lemonade Stand in blazing 15 colors with in minutes. I was enthralled with the black and white text adventures of Zork and Hitchhiker’s Guide To the Galaxy. There was no worry that I would hack into NORAD and try to start a nuclear war with my Apple IIc. Alas, technology moved on and that old computer just gathers dust in my parents' house. I started the transition to PC's in college after surviving the Apple and Mac attack in high school. I briefly renounced PCs when I first started college because I felt that the Mac OS was simpler and allowed me point and click functionality that our computer lab PCs lacked.
Of course, what did I know? It's not like I was using those Macs for anything special. My friends and I would get a hold of a list of FTP sites from around the world and we'd telneting to some place weird looking for pictures of supermodels and cars I didn't even know how to email at the time. In 1993, I was starting my first semester of college at Coastal Carolina University in Myrtle Beach. Don't laugh, it was a good school and....yeah ok, I went there for the beach, but that's another story. At that time, email didn't even exist in my world and my computer served two functions, doing papers and playing games. When I transferred to Pitt in the Spring, I was suddenly bombarded with all these weird words like PINE, UNIX, and Kermit. I had no clue that computers could talk to each other over long distances, let alone let you talk to the person on the other end of them as well. I had just found out the world was not flat. So, within a year, there I was putting up pictures and links to my favorite sites and surfing the internet for Star Wars pictures.
Soon, my world came to a screeching halt. Mosaic was being given up in favor of Netscape. I couldn't believe it. I had become so comfortable navigation the Information Superhighway with this little browser that I didn't want to give it up. I had begun to really get into creating web pages and even began to promote mine in some search engines. This was quite the blow to my recreational computer time. Still, I soldiered on and found Netscape was just as easy to use and provided a lot more functionality. As HTML evolved and more code was available to help add gaudy looking backgrounds and really disproportionate text and font sizes, Netscape allowed webpages to look more like Stevie Wonder created them with a background in Picasso’s style of painting. Boy, there were some awful pages out there. Here's an example of what I mean, and this guy did this recently. http://www.rogerart.com/ He probably gets a million visitors just from people who have pointed out how bad it looks. Bleeding eyeballs aside it was just fun to create something that could be viewed by fifteen people. After all, how many of us constantly checked our page counters to see if anybody had visited? I still do. There's one at the bottom of the page that tells my I've visited my site 13 times. Apparently, I am the only one who reads this blog and quite frankly, that's probably for the best. I do not claim to be a prolific or awe inspiring writer. My creative ability could be summed up enough with one phrase, "Jack of all trades. Master of none." This is because I have never been formally trained on half of the stuff I do in my life. I learn by doing or by stealing from other people's work. Sad isn't it? If humanity was to be wiped out tomorrow and I was the last living person on Earth, I'd have to learn to walk on all fours and lick myself. Wow, depressed yet?
With the Internet community growing by leaps and bounds my friend Deep decided to let us in on his latest discovery. We were sitting around the dorm one night and he leaned in and asked myself and another friend if we had ever "Chatted" From his demeanor and hushed voice, I thought he was referring to either something drug related or he become British and wondered if we have ever talked. We both shook our heads and he gathered up his things. "Come on, I'll show you." We headed off to the computer lab and loaded up IRC onto our PCs. "Now just start joining channels." There were all sorts of channels, Star Wars, Movies, Music, and Sex....what was that? Immediately intrigued I tried to nonchalantly sneak into that room. If the IRC had a voice you would have heard a thousand voices talking overtop of each other.....and all of them male, constantly asking “A/S/L,” in the hopes of seeing an “f” in the response. I couldn't believe what I had been introduced to. Until now, my dealings with people on the internet had been a one to one ratio through email. Now, I was being bombarded by hundreds of people all wanting know how old I was, what gender I was, and where I was.
Just then my screen went blank. What happened? I just got kicked off by an ASCII cow? I tried to log back on but now my nickname is being used. What the hell? Being unregulated at the time IRC users were sometimes open to attacks by other users who were regular users of a nickname or a channel. If you got in someone's way there were a variety of vicious, yet sometimes completely hysterical, ways to boot someone off the system. I added a few letters to my former nickname and headed back into the #Sex channel to find the SOB that booted me. Next thing I know, I'm being sent a message, not seen by the other users. "Hey, wanna go private?" I was then extended an invite to a private channel where a female user began flirting with me. I began to see what Deep was talking about. We began chatting back and forth and eventually she started getting a little racy with the dialogue . She had all the creative writing ability of a trashy novel and I was eating it up.....Oh my God! I'm a computer nerd. I didn't have much time to wallow in my self degradation. I had to know where this girl was. I threw out the standardized question and when it came to location, she simply said, "Turn around." I swiveled my computer chair 180 degrees to see Deep and three other guys from my dorm floor huddled around a computer laughing, hysterically. Though, it was still a few years away from being accepted into the lexicon of internet slang, I had just been severely "pwned!"
Now armed with chatting, emailing, and web page creation, I set about to completely disregard my collegiate studies and just slack around the computer labs 24/7 printing out blueprints for the Millennium Falcon and adding retina exploding backgrounds to my "All About Me" page. Unfortunately, Pitt did not have an extensive curriculum dealing with web design or HTML, so I was left to sifting through lines of code from other people's sites that I deemed "kewl" and wanted to adopt into my own. My dorm room became a shrine to black and white .jpg print outs and when I graduated java was just becoming the norm in web page design. Once again, the world moved on without me like my Apple IIc to PC and my Mosaic to Netscape. My HTML skills fell out of practice and unfortunately, if I were to get back into creating a webpage, I'd give old Roger Art a run for his money. I still do some HTML work mostly to fix and change a couple things in SharePoint, our newest work application. Unfortunately, there are 12 year olds out there with more knowledge at manipulating and reading code than myself and I've become a dinosaur, a 90's internet culture cliché. I think back fondly on those days when talking with someone meant calling them on the phone or speaking to them in person. Communication is one of the cornerstones of our civilization. Yet, the brightest of our species devise and create new ways to separate us from actual contact, leaving us to hide behind a keyboard and monitor. I wonder if humanity will continue this path towards anonymity and avatars or realize that while the internet is a great tool, it's no replacement for life. Until that day comes, I'll still be trudging around the internet looking for that elusive code to make my name blink. Hey don't laugh; I'm part of the Top 5% of the Web. Take it from me, a member of the HTML Writers guild. It says so on the bottom of my page.
Saturday, February 23, 2008
Part One of a Series entitled, All Your Free Time Are Belong to Us
Imagine if you will, it's Christmas morning in the year 1980 and you're five years old. The year has been somewhat good to you. You're still riding high on the fact that the Steelers won the Super Bowl despite their 9-7 season for this year. The U.S. was beginning to feel patriotic again with the "Miracle on Ice" during the Olympic Winter Games and you were still giddy and confused by the declaration that Darth Vader was Luke Skywalker's father. "But they don't have the same last name." Still, all this aside, nothing enthralls you more than running downstairs to see the plethora of presents that Santa has left you. What did Santa bring me this year? I hope I get more Legos and Star Wars action figures. Maybe, just maybe, we'll get an Atari this year.
You see, video games have been a huge part of my life and this Christmas was nearly met with disappointment as I had finished opening all my gifts but no Atari was to be found. Suddenly, as if it were straight out of A Christmas Story, my parents said there was at least one more for the three of us kids, all the way at the back of the tree. We feverishly opened the big honking box, mystified at what could be inside. It was an Atari 2600! Well, to be truthful, it was the Sears Tele-Games version that included Target Fun instead of Combat. Additionally, they bought us three games to go with it. They were Asteroids, Space Invaders, and Maze Craze. As the ColecoVision and Intellivison consoles became available I lusted for one these as well because the quality of games where perceived to be superior. Since my parents were unwilling to buy me another 2nd Gen console, I opted to just make the best of my Atari and hold out for hopes that the graphics would get better than a square chasing a dot around the screen. I simply became creative with what I had. I would trade games back and forth with friends constantly rotating my stock. It was a frugal effort that kept me from having to buy more 4 bit titles which mostly did not provide much content or replay value as others. Where graphics lacked, I found enjoyment in compelling game structure. My favorite game to this day is Adventure. It offered the first "easter egg" in the form of a credits screen and had a level that randomized locations of objects and monsters allowing for a greater replay value as the game could be different every time.
Alas, my ownership of this game was short lived. It disappeared sometime between 1983 and 1984. To this day I maintain that it was in my house the entire time, having slipped into another dimension through a worm hole located in a chair in our living room. The ratty piece of furniture had a tear somewhere under the seat cushion and I believe that the game fell down between the cushions and was lost forever, along with one of my Lego men, and my math homework from third grade. Honest, Mrs. Kofsky, I swear I did the assignment. It just disappeared from my Trapper Keeper.
For seven years I played that Atari even though the console had declined in popularity and eventually died off around 1983-84 due to the underwhelming appeal of piss poor titles and saturation of the market by every Tom, Dick, and Quaker who wanted to cash in on the craze by stealing programmers from each other to establish lucrative gaming divisions. With the advent of home computers, and computers in the classroom, sales moved away from game consoles and found their way into Steve Jobs' and Bill Gates' pockets. In the past few years I acquired another Atari 2600 while cleaning out the house of my wife's grandmother. Right now it's sitting in my garage collecting dust as I have no place for it or do I have the hookups to make it work on any of my televisions. My own Atari, I believe, is sitting in storage at Dad's office as is most other things of my childhood. Now having access to two consoles, I may consider selling one on eBay if I find it a worth while venture. In any case, I still do play Atari titles, although, they are in the form of ROM images used on an emulator called PCAE. This way, once in awhile, I can still go chasing after a dot with my red square and with only one button, there's no confusion as to how to slay the dragon. If only all of my life was that simple. Think of it, anytime I get the blue screen of death, I need to just blow on my computer as if it were a cartridge and voila, problem solved.
My Top 5 Best and Worst 2nd Gen Console games.
- Adventure (Atari 2600)
- Pitfall! and Pitfall II (Atari 2600) Jack Black once did a commercial for Pitfall!
- Advanced Dungeons and Dragons (Intellivision)
- Star Wars: The Empire Strikes Back (Atari 2600)
- River Raid (Atari 2600)
- E.T. (Atari 2600) Is there any wonder why there are thousands of copies buried in New Mexico?
- Pac-Man (Atari 2600 port) Horrible graphics and little similarity to the original. Reason 2 for the Game Crash of 83.
- Smurfs: Rescue in Gargamel's Castle (ColecoVison) Sure, the music was good. But, if you walked into a picket fence or a blade of grass, you died. Come on!
- Swordquest: Earthworld (Atari 2600) Another popular adventure game, but extremely boring and difficult
- Raiders of the Lost Ark (Atari 2600) Loved the movie but a one player game that required the use of both controllers and lacked half of the movie's elements meant "Welcome to sucktown, population you."
- Cosmic Avenger (ColecoVision)
- Circus Atari (Atari 2600) Highly addictive Breakout style game. Clown deaths are kewl.
- Warlords (Atari 2600)
- Yars' Revenge (Atari 2600)
- Haunted House (Atari 2600) Simply a derivative of Adventure in a 4 level mansion but offered more difficulty.
- Frogs and Flies (Atari 2600) I know this makes six, but I had to add this silly game because it just simplified everything to spending the day eating flies. How cool is that?
Friday, February 22, 2008
Like most grown ups, who came of age during the Alex P. Keaton, Gordon Gecko, and Reaganomics fueled capitalism era known as the 80's, I had a desire to be rich. Of course, I had no ambition to do anything to get rich other than scratch a ticket or make nice with a well-to-do old person and then just wait it out. Unfortunately, life is not like an 80's movie, which I feel is such a bummer. Can you imagine? One day, you’re a minor league pitcher in Jersey, playing for the Hackensack Bulls, and the next one you inherit $30 million dollars in which you have to spend every dime in 30 days to inherit $300 million. The things you could do in 30 days only to realize you have 10 times that amount waiting at the end of the month.
We've all played that "what if" game when we were younger. Hell, I do it on a regular basis when I walk around my home looking at what needs to be done, what I can afford to get done, and what I'd love to really do if money was no object. In grade school we would gather around a sheet of paper and play MASH to decide our financial and marital fates. Those of us with Rain Man like mentality could figure out how to render the most desirable outcome hoping to change our fates and not wind up living in a shack, married to the smelly kid, towing around 5 kids in a Brown Ford, and working as a garbage collector.
See, I misspent my youth, not on sports or honing my studies, but on scheming to make it rich. First I decided I was going to become a stock broker, buying and selling my well to financial freedom. During my college years I had various entrepreneurial endeavors going at once. Several times throughout the year, poster vendors would set up shop in the lobby of the dorms our outside of the Student Union hawking their wares. For $12 or $20 you could have a classic black and white poster of Jim Belushi wearing a college sweater or the ever popular brightly colored poster of your favorite alcoholic drinks and their ingredients. Of course if you were the more pretentious of college student you had the Van Gogh Starry Night poster or The Mosaic Poster of Bob Marley smoking a fat one. I, too, dropped about $25 on both the "Briefcase Full of Blues" and the famous Reservoir Dogs "walk" scene posters to adorn my walls all the while they developed blue adhesive putty stains that would decrease their resale value when I needed cash. I personally felt the posters were a little overpriced and saw the opportunity to sell movie posters at a cheaper price while netting me %100 profits. I combed the local video stores getting free movie posters and stockpiled them in my dorm room. With a third grade art degree and a computer account, I created a snazzy little ad to post all over campus. I made probably somewhere in the realm of $40 which pretty much covered beer and pizza for a couple of weeks.
Top 10 Most Cliché College Dorm Posters of All Time
Next, I answered some ad in the school newspaper that promised huge amounts of cash by just passing out fliers. I paid $20 for the packet that gave piss poor photocopies of scams and pyramid scheme fliers. All I had to do was pass them out affixed with my phone number and when someone called me; I sent them out the scam program and kept a percentage of the cost. Again, because of my student computer account, the only investment I had to make was the initial buy in of $20. I could use the computer labs to reproduce the fliers and just wait for the phone to ring. Unfortunately, I developed a sense of conscience and began reading the crap that was contained on the fliers. I knew the programs were worthless and targeted towards people who had an overwhelming desire to get rich quick, people like me. I ate the $20 and tossed the packet.
During the summer months while I toiled away in an amusement park for minimum wage, I orchestrated a tee shirt sale for my department that consisted of over 100 people. I paid one of the park caricature artists to draw an amusing scene that depicted the trials and tribulations of our jobs. I took it to a local print shop that handled silk screen printings for local sport teams and finagled a heck of a volume discount based on pre sale numbers. Then I figured out a cheap price for the shirts with just enough mark up to cover my expenses and netted my a few dollars for my trouble. I figured out that the first year I ended up selling about $600 worth of shirts and the second year sales jumped to an even grand. Still, I didn't see a large profit because I didn't want to cheat my friends and coworkers out of their money.
Finally, I gave up the schemes and settled on my collegiate career in Theater Arts, because quite frankly, I really did not have any marketable skills besides acting. I tend to think I was pretty good, too. I had it all planned out. I would finish up college, work the summer stockpiling money, and then make my way across this great nation of ours to Los Angeles where I would instantly be discovered and given my own sitcom and blockbuster movie deal with sequels to keep me busy into my 40's. What I realized was that I really didn't like the politics and backdoor dealings of Hollywood and I didn't want to starve for my art becoming a waiter to pay the bills on my less than one bedroom apartment over a biker bar, tucked ever so snuggly between a pawn shop and a tattoo parlor. So, I never left for L.A. Instead, I opted for staying here in good old Southwestern Pennsyltuckey and just became part of the working force...as of all things a waiter. Actually, I started out as a bartender.
After college graduation I worked on an assembly line assembling rear projection screen televisions. You could say I worked in television, putting the mirrors on the casings. Then I had a slick idea, I would start flipping bottles of spirits like Tom Cruise in Cocktail. So, I left the assembly line and began working my way through bartending school while I tended to paint balls and golf balls at a nearby recreational park. During the day, I would learn about parfaits and high balls while at night I worked for minimum wage (a slight downgrade from the television assembly line) getting run over by brats in go karts. After completing my grueling two week course at bartending school, I flipped through the job leads, and set out to make my fortune schlepping drinks. I foolishly put in my two weeks notice at the golf course and concentrated on looking for that job that promised Cocktails and Dreams. I ended learning a very valuable lesson that summer. No one was willing to hire a bartender right off the street with no experience, no matter how much they were trained. I didn't even get to flip any bottles. That was a separate course that cost a few hundred dollars and I already dropped $500 on the bartending school.
Luckily, I had the kind of parents that let me live with them post college and pre life long career. I finally got a job working as a bartender in the banquet department of a hotel. We made more than minimum wage and tips were under the table. Soon, I moved out of my parents' place and into one of my own. While, I didn't live high on the hog, I always had money for food and rent. Eventually, I went from being a bartender to being a banquet captain, which allowed me the opportunity to work morning shifts and gave me more money. Through the good fortune of knowing....er dating the right people, I was able to leave the hotel for greener pastures. In three years I had gone from having no income to making almost $25k a year. In all those years of scheming to get rich, I turned up nothing but nickels and dimes. Yet, by having patience and doing a little work, I went from having no job, to $7.50 an hour as a banquet captain to $12.00 an hour as a customer service representative. It didn't stop there, either. In another 5 years I managed to get promoted three times. I now have a house, two cars, and some of the basic luxuries of home. I got them all just by working. Of course, I now have a daughter and it throws a huge wrench into the works.
Oh yes, expenses will mount up and I've been back to my wily ways of not so much getting rich, but making extra cash to cover expenditures. I've done it all from trying to sell pithy t-shirts and buttons adorned with this blog's logo. I tried to get in on the Tickle Me Elmo craze ywo years ago by buying a couple of them, hoping to turn around and throw them on eBay when supplies ran low around Christmas. I ended up getting stuck with two Elmos for over a year. Everyone had the same idea and instead of there being no supply and a huge demand in retail outlets, there was a huge supply and little demand on eBay. I ended up selling them with some creative auctions that told the story from my wife's point of view. She was extremely agitated by the fact that I spent money on these things and couldn't sell them. The anecdotal listings struck a chord with some folks who were willing to bail out a disgruntled housewife, but not a stupid husband the year before. I had got the idea from another eBay ad about worthless Pokemon cards that netted a few hundred dollars based on the listing being written from the point of view of a frazzled mom in the grocery store with her kids.
Let's see, there was also the idea about selling "Get Rich Quick" and "Money Making Home Business" eBooks on eBay for a dollar a piece with the ability to reproduce at no cost. No, of course, I didn't buy them. A simple search on Google revealed a treasure trove of inexperienced webmasters that left their index directories wide open for me to pilfer the .pdfs from and post up for auction. Hell, I've even resorted to selling nothing on eBay. That's right, nothing. I did some research on Mystery Auctions and found that people were willing to spend a dollar or two on "digital envelopes." The digital envelopes "happen" to contain a word describing a dollar amount and that gets paid to the buyer through their PayPal account. Different monetary amounts are scattered throughout hundreds of these "envelopes" ranging from fifty cents to five dollars.
Everyone who bought an "envelope" stood to make at least 30% of their investment back while some actually made 500%. Now, this was all designed so that the amount in the envelopes was always less than the total cost for all available envelopes and the concept of the "mystery envelope auction" was more about giving and receiving positive feedback while offering the chance to make back five times what you spent. While somewhat scam worthy, I never stole money from anyone. I always clearly worded the auctions so that everyone understood the concept while not violating eBay policies. Over the last few months eBay has cracked down on these auctions and I reaaly don't want to risk losing my account over the $20 I would make per auction. During my heyday with it, I ran quite a few auctions and was able to raise $100 to buy my PS3. Again, I didn't buy it for full price, I used a mehtod from what's called an "Incentived Freebie Website" to get it for 1/4 the cost. I detailed all this in my first entry and as you can see I have listed a few along the side of my blog.
So, there it is. I've spent my life looking for an easy route to fame and fortune when the only real wealth has been derived from having a family and doing honest work. Who knows, in another 5 years I could be the CEO of a fortune 500 company.....or I'd be willing to sell you information on how to become one for little to no money on eBay. Check my feedback!
Thursday, February 21, 2008
Ok, I embellished a little bit, there. Actually, my parents didn't drink that much coffee, but I still couldn't understand why they needed this pot of pick me up to get going. I had no trouble finding the energy to do something. Sometimes, I lacked the desire, but certainly not the energy. I could wake up in the morning, have my breakfast, and I was off and running all day long. Back then, in a forgotten time called the 80's, we kids did something that hasn't been tried for years. We played outdoors. We didn't have Playstations or iPods. We had Ataris and Walkmans which derived little enjoyment after an hour or two. We found enjoyment in playing outdoors. Whether it was a pickup game of football or baseball, we were gone all day long until the universal signal for returning home was sounded. That sound was the buzz of the street lights flickering on in the neighborhood. Some of us tested our parents resolve with this issue by playing at the edge of our yards after the incandescent glow of fluorescent bulbs shone as bugs repeatedly bounced into and around the polls. My point was that as children we did not have the need, nor did our parents have the desire for us, to consume coffee. We ran on pure, uncut youth, the kind that had an unbelievably high street value.
Flash-forward to about seven years later at the height of my adolescence, my brother, who was an additional seven years my senior, had been close to finishing up his Bachelors of Science at the University of Pittsburgh at the time. He had gone through a few phases in college during the transition between the 80's and the 90's. There was Kenny G and Dave Koz playing the soft soporific sounds of the saxophone, skiing at Seven Springs, cardigan sweaters, and The Joy of Painting with Bob Ross. Yes, he actually bought paints and canvases and made happy little trees and clouds all over the place. He is quite talented. Now, as his younger brother, looking towards the elder male in the family to emulate and copy, I did everything he did. I wore Cosby Cardigans with turtle necks complete with French rolled Bugle Boy pants. I made copies of all his Kenny G and David Sanborn CDs....to which I made cheesy mix tapes for dates. Yes, I would drive to the movies in my parents Oldsmobile while blasting "Songbird" on the AC Delco radio with that special someone. Of course, most fads are just that, fads. In time, I opted for Faith No More, Guns and Roses, and Eric Johnson.
However, there was one fad that my brother introduced me to that stuck from that day forward. He began drinking coffee. Mind you, I was just starting high school in 1990 and the only association myself or my friends had at that time with the word Starbucks was from Battlestar Galactica (The original series with the guy from the A-Team) or the force fed reading of Moby Dick in English class. We had no idea that 3000 miles away an empire was being created. My brother had started bringing home these bags of premium flavored coffee. The bags were labeled as if they were brands of weed like Maui-Wowy or Appalachian Ass Kicker. There was French Vanilla, Suisse Mocha, and Hazelnut. Now, I'm not taking about those little cans from General Foods International. I'm talking about little bags from a coffee shop with ground up gold inside. I hesitated at first, remembering my experience from years before, but my brother introduced me to cream and sugar. Soon, I was looking to inject the stuff into my eyeballs. My world had suddenly gone from the sepia tones of Kansas to the blinding Technicolor palate of Oz. It wasn't that I even needed the caffeine, I just liked the taste. Within a year or so, he stopped buying those little bags of wonder and I started searching for replacements. I began putting vanilla extract in my coffee, and chocolate milk, anything to get that much needed flavor boost missing from regular old house blend. By the time I graduated in 1993, I had become a cappuccino fiend. I ingested coffee in every form imaginable. There was a brief instance where I loved these iced coffee drinks called Cappio. I drank them so often that, after awhile I became so turned off by them that I never touched the stuff again. Then the local mini marts like Sheetz and 7-11 started carrying these cappuccino machines that just mixed flavored power and hot water together. It was like the coffee version of crack, cheap and highly addictive. It was about this time that Starbucks finally made its presence felt in Western Pennsylvania. We had one single location on campus at The University of Pittsburgh. It was situated in the basement of the Cathedral of Learning and they accepted meal plan money. Oh, joy. I could have the high quality stuff and it was part of my college meal plan.
The Cathedral Learning
Well, here we are 19 years later and while I do not know if my brother still drinks coffee with the same amount fervor as he once did. I, myself, have been unable to completely kick the habit. As I graduated college and entered the workforce, I've been relying on coffee to keep me from snoring at my desk. However, like all good things in life, a good idea tends to become exploited. I've always been a little cheap when it comes to paying for expensive items and nowadays, Starbucks is a once in a while venture. I personally only ever order one thing there, Venti Caramel Macchiato with three Splendas. It's not because I am such a creature of habit that I only stick to one drink and never explore the menu, it's because I don't understand the culture or the terminology. The height of pretentiousness seems to be in ordering the size of your coffee in Italian and quite frankly we've gone a little nuts with the different types of preparation of the same drink. It's sad when I have to wear a wristband with all the vocabulary written on it as if I were a quarterback in the huddle trying to decide what play to run.
There are times I choose to take a break from coffee altogether. I tend to get a little cranky from the years and years of caffeine addiction and withdrawal can be such a bad thing. It sounds stupid, but my drink of choice in college was Caffeine Free Diet Pepsi. Once I acquired the taste of drinking diet there was no turning back. I also didn't want all the caffeine so I opted for the decaf brand. One particular week I had not been able to get decaf and was reduced to drinking the high test stuff. I quickly switched back to decaf with no step down plan and found myself in a Mongo like rage. A ridiculous and banal argument with my then girlfriend resulted in my shattering the windshield of my parents' beloved Oldsmobile. It was a fluke accident. I simply hit the windshield with my palm using very little force, however, my class ring which weighed about 19 pounds spider webbed the windshield and sent me into a no caffeine zone treatment program. It was quite a hard task to complete considering I don't know of any 12 step programs for caffeine addicts. Cheap adolescent theatrics aside, the withdrawal from caffeine was a symptom of a bigger problem and I moderated my caffeine intake and became a little more passive and Zen like.
Now that I am in my 30's and have a little one just starting out, I rely on coffee to get me through the mornings at work, but otherwise I lay off the caffeine at home. One day, perhaps, I will let my daughter try some coffee if she asks but I will do my best to keep her away from such vices that her mother and I were accustomed to partaking in when we were younger. I want to set an example by which childhood shouldn't be about gaming consoles and computer instant messaging. I want her to try and revitalize the playing outside movement. I want her to grow up healthy and buck the trend of adolescent obesity that has become rampant in her culture. Mostly, I want her out of the house for a few hours so I can sit and enjoy a cup of coffee in silence. As I approach middle age, I become the embodiment of Steven Keaton from Family Ties, warning my child about the dangers of capitalism and vice. I've turned into an 80's coffee burnout, the kind who drinks decaf coffee just for the taste and waxes nostalgic about the early days of Smooth Jazz and pegged pants.
Now if you'll excuse me, I need to flip Duotones over to side two in my walkman, preferably before this paint dries on my happy mountain. Oh, and pass the flavored creamer, will ya? I'm jonesin' for a little French Vanilla.
Wednesday, February 20, 2008
In my realm of real world, not cyberspace mind you, I work in an office. It is an unassuming building perched on a hill top above a busy intersection. We are a simple people, making our way the only way we know how, by avoiding work as much as possible. Until about a year ago, we had access to all manner of distraction the internet had to offer, iTunes, Streaming Satellite Radio, eBay, facebook, myspace, and of course YouTube. Oh, how we'd wile away the hours watching badgers in a loop, listening to our favorite Howard Stern bit, flipping over to Will Ferrell getting cursed out by a two year old, all while sniping each other's bids for the last Prada bag or bootleg copy of the Star Wars Holiday Special. Damn you, wookielove5! Next time, next time.
Now with our IT group finally getting on board with traffic shaping and blocking sites, we have lost all access to myspace and YouTube. With other sites soon to be on the way, we have to think of creative ways to get our daily fix of wasting time. I had moved on to writing up articles to be posted into a non existent blog. The equivalent to a tree falling in the forest. One day, I happened to be on a much needed coffee run and saw something spectacular, a coworker was watching something on YouTube. But, but, YouTube was deemed blocked by Websense. How is it possible that this fellow cube dweller was able to see the elusive monster from Cloverfield? I asked him and me made pinky swear not to tell anyone. He gave me an IP siteURL that hadn't been picked up by our IT people. I quickly ran back to my desk, secured my headphones in the appropriate jack...you must check this, otherwise you could be embarrassed...and let the magic happen.
Suddenly, relief came in waves of Robot Chicken bits and music videos forgotten by time. I was able to peruse all the videos people had been emailing me for months. I finally found out who Chris Crocker was and figured out how to connect all the people on LOST through one easy video. My life was given meaning, again. No longer did I have to toil away on senseless excel sheets or answer ridiculous meeting requests regarding my job performance to date. The internet was finally given back to me and all was right with the world again. Like riding a bike, my fingers quickly keyed Alt+Tab like a seasoned pro when folks wandered by my cube throwing a glaring eye at my screen. People begun to notice a spring to my step, a gleam in my eye, and a reduced need for a cup of Double Folgers' Regular coffee from the kitchen. Alas, there were some adverse side effects. My regular trips to coworker's cubes to keep up on Survivor and Big Brother slipped to biweekly status. The once, long standing meeting at the coffee pot with my friends was met with my absence. I don't know what ever happened to those folks. Perhaps they found a new job and have gone on to bigger and better things. Maybe, I'll find a bypass for MySpace and see them once again. Maybe, just maybe.
But for now, I have to check out this kid stacking cups. I hear it's unbelievable.
Quick list of favorite my YouTube clips.
Tuesday, February 19, 2008
With the advent of the ability to use the internet to manage my expenses, I've freed up a lot of time, saved on checks, and hardly have any reason to use stamps. See, all my bills, ranging from utilities to credit cards are managed online. Most of my expenses are set to automatically debit my account on a certain day, just like my paycheck is automatically deposited into my checking account every other Friday. It's a wonderful setup. Every month, I get an email update that my account will draft a payment to the Cable Company or Gas Company and I just make sure I always have enough to cover everything until payday. I no longer have to worry about writing checks or balancing books because I always keep an eye on my bank statements and constantly check my account online to see what is available and what is going in or out.
I have adopted the same sort of logic with my television viewing habits. It used to be that I had two VCRs in house at all times and a revolving slew of 6 hour tapes being recorded and erased at a frequency that was more than my attempts at an extended absence greeting for my voicemail. I rotated tapes once a day and kept a system by which the tape on the top of the pile was ready to watch and must be done by the end of the week. You see, you put that tape here which is what you have available to watch. Now, anytime you decide to watch something you back up and only record that much space as to.......you get the point, right? By the way, who killed Laura Palmer?
I realized that the Digital Age was catching up to my viewing habits and the fact that I needed to smoke a fat joint to be in sync with the constant speeding up and slowing down of my degrading VHS tapes was not something I wanted to invest money into on a regular basis. I opted to buy a DVD recorder because I didn't want to pay a monthly fee to TiVo. However, I would have been able to make the payments automatic. So, I spent almost $200 on a DVD recorder and a few rewritable discs. Everything seemed to be working fine, but some programs never recorded because of copyright issues and others were cutoff because there's some new trend with having shows go over a couple minutes from their regularly scheduled time. By the way, what was in that Hatch on LOST?
Then a breath of hope came my way in the guise of my cable provider. I could bundle my phone, internet, and cable into one package and get a dual channel DVR. Ooooh, yummy. Soon, I was using VHS tapes to balance my entertainment center while I zipped through commercials and paused live broadcasts. I kept my queue to about 20% full and regularly watched my favorite shows. Last season (2006-2007) in particular offered a lot of new shows which I would give a passing glance, possibly setting for RECORD ALL EPISODES. If I didn't really care for them, delete the show, delete the scheduled recording. Gotta love it. But then I started to notice that a lot of my newly scheduled to record shows began getting cancelled. Smith, gone. Studio 60 on the Sunset Strip, gone. Yet, American Idol and Wife Swap, and all manner of reality television trucked along at a steady pace. Soon, I became disgusted by the lack of quality shows on television and used my DVR and Cable box to seek out shows on cable channels that I always wanted to watch......oh look, Spaced is on BBC1. Must see television became must see by the end of the week.....or maybe next. I was so disgusted with the networks and producers that I wanted to go to my window and do my best Peter Finch impersonation. Unfortunately, I have glass block windows in my family room and very small windows that open only about three inches.
Once the season ended an amazing event happened during the summer. I had a daughter. Soon, my television remote gathered dust and I didn't get to watch my shows. It wasn't that I didn't have time. I can always juggle a remote with a bottle and burp cloth. It's not hard to learn. It's just that we kept mostly to one floor of my house with the newborn and I didn't have the DVR attached to that floor's television set. When the fall season rolled around, I already had built up a good 50% queue that I swore I would during 2 hour naps and before she awoke in the morning. By December, I had close to 80% and saw no end in sight. I began to whittle down what I could, but my wife threw up a dastardly roadblock.
"What are you watching, dear?"
"Las Vegas, honey."
"Oh, I like that show. Hold off and we'll watch it together."
And just like that my DVR nearly exploded. I couldn't get to shows that I watched alone fast enough and began fast forwarding through the Crime Lab musical montages on CSI: New York just so I could get all the dialogue and get rid of the episode.4 or 5 weeks of episodes began to pile up. I tried to think of ingenious ways to trap my wife in the room while I stated to watch a show she liked, drawing her into the drama onscreen and allowing me to delete the episode.
"Oh the baby's crying."
"No, that's on the television, our baby's fine."
As of February, I had all aired episodes of some show called Moonlight still queued up, unwatched. I had planned on watching one episode, declaring the show dumb (I liked it better when it was called Angel), and removing it from my recording schedule. Unfortunately, my wife wanted to watch it as well and the shows piled up in my queue and started to stagnate. We managed to catch an episode one night at someone else's house and both agreed it was dumb. I deleted all the episodes and my DVR sighed in relief as if it had undid it's belt after Thanksgiving dinner.
I also noticed something else. My DVR queue was going down and I wasn't watching nearly enough of my shows to affect it in such a way. New shows weren't being recorded. I checked the recording schedule and there were no shows slated to record. What had happened? Did I miss the apocalypse? Were brain hungry zombies wandering around my yard and I didn't notice them? DID THE GODDAMN NETWORK CANCEL ALL MY SHOWS? None of the above, although there is some weirdo wandering around my yard in a bathrobe. I think he may be looking for his newspaper, though. Can't be too careful. BANG!
Apparently, there had been a writer's strike and all of this season's shows depleted their completed scripts and reality television took over in the absence. How the hell did I miss this? I'm usually up to date on these newsworthy items......oh that's right, the baby. I delegated new technology in the form of my DVR to pick up the slack. See, while I had continued to record the shows I liked, I just kept an eye on my queue and didn't notice whether or not they had been adding new shows. As long as I never went over my DVR space, I knew I could watch them whenever. Since I had become so disenchanted with television, anyway, I failed to pay attention to what was happening. I simply started living in my life. I was actually, happy that the strike took place because it gave me some breathing room in my life to allow things to happen in a more relaxed manner. The funny thing about the strike and unions for that matter is that even though about a half of the shows and movies out there were worth watching, when the WGA went on strike, even the piss poor writers got to picket for more money. I think the strike should have been performance based. Granted, these are only my opinions. Still, why should some hack that writes crap for a show that somehow stays on the air get the same residuals as a good writer who has to go through three or four cancelled shows or pilots that were never picked up because the networks and producers go with the lowest common denominator in terms of talent?
Now that the strike is over, and everyone is back at work, I will have to start watching all those shows, because apparently it ended in time to churn out more episodes this season for all my shows, currently in my DVR queue. Now, if only I could get my wife to look at the television.
"Look, Honey. Sawyer has his shirt off." I would say hitting pause.
While I wait for her to close her mouth and settle on the couch for the next 2 hours, I think I'll check my bank account.