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Wednesday, January 27, 2010

Apple Launches the iPad or a Big Ass Button Remote Control

Apple finally launched the iPad.  What I find extremely ironic or perhaps morbid is that Steve Jobs looked as thin as it did during the unveiling.   To his credit, he is surviving pancreatic cancer and had a liver transplant but still it was a bit off putting to see him turn sideways and disappear.   The iPad is supposed to combine a bunch of different concepts into one device.  iPhone, web browser, book reader, email, etc., etc., etc.

Frankly, it doesn't look all that impressive except for the lower than expected price.  For $499, the entry level model is a 16GB version.  For the 64GB version you'll pay $699.  For a pay as you go data package you'll pay $14.99 or $29.99 for unlimited usage.  And don't expect to be able to use your provider for internet, unless you have AT & T.   I expect your billing statement will probably be thicker than the device.  Lastly, for those of you expecting some space age revolutionary looking tablet, guess again.  You've already seen this one in a smaller version, the iPhone.  Hell, I've seen the droid do the same stuff and it fits in your pocket.

If you really wanted to be innovative, Steve, you should have also packaged it as an LCD monitor.   Think about it.   You come home to a television stand that displays what looks like a flat screen television.  You spend a few minutes watching the news and decide you want to cap off the night by reading a book.  So, you walk to the television and lift it off its cradle.  You turn it on its end and use your finger to flip through the pages of an exciting novel or search out clues to the final season of LOST.   When you're done, you simply return the device back to its cradle to charge and act like a television again. 

Now that would have been something to see.  Instead we get the following.

is the



Monday, January 25, 2010

UK Hotels Offer Bed Warmers To Guests Who Promise Not To Raid Mini Bar

I have done my share of staying in hotels over the years. Whether it be business or vacation I have stayed in everything from a Holiday Inn to the no tell motel right off the interstate. Now, everyone talks about how hotel rooms are pretty much worse than sleeping in the bathroom at the bus station but I try to give the benefit of the doubt. Besides, all I need is a nice Silkwood shower and a complete change of blood and I’ll be fine. Unfortunately, they don’t offer that with Triple AAA.

But, the next time… which will also be the first time, I ever travel to Great Britain, I might decide to skip staying in a Holiday Inn. “Why?” you say. After all, statistics show that by staying in a Holiday Inn you can do anything in life from pilot a commercial aircraft to playing Madison Square Garden as a rock star, at least that’s what I was led to believe after years of “But I did stay in a Holiday Inn” commercials. However, this recent story on Reuters makes me feel like spending the extra money on a hoity toity hotel just to be on the safe side. Dumber, but safer.

According to the story, certain Holiday Inns offer, by request, a bed warmer. Now, most people would think that with turn down service you might find a nice little electric blanket switched on, warming up your bed, but here the warmer is some guy named Rupert who works in maintenance. That’s right. They warmer is a hotel employee who comes to your room and slips between your sheets to bring the temperature up to a balmy 68 degrees. Now, that’s service.

Look, I’ve been in hotel rooms with Syroco furniture, no phone and a bathroom so small you have to step into the tub to open or shut the door. I’ve also stayed in ones with a shower that you just walk into and has jets all over the walls. The one thing that should be universal, regardless of features or amenities is cleanliness. I’ve worked in the hotel industry and I’ve had to toss rooms in the morning and believe me, I was a bit put off that they didn’t change the comforters with every reservation. I can understand if you are staying a few nights but this was mainly a business and wedding place that had a high rate of turnovers in guests. News reports about bed bugs and bodily fluids make me want to take a sleeping bag and hang it from the closet and dangle like a caterpillar in a cocoon.

This, however goes beyond the “ick” factor. This is like, let’s stick a big ole sweaty guy in your room for twenty minutes to warm up the sheets. I actually prefer turning down the nice crisp sheets and feeling a little bit of coolness. Then I flip the pillow a few times looking for the cool side. I really don’t want someone else’s athlete foot ridden tootsies and who knows what else stewing in the pocket of sheets.

Granted, these are specifically by request and only in Britain, so I don’t think we have to worry about it here. Although, I think here they just call it the Tiger Guest Package and the person doesn’t leave until the morning.

Friday, January 22, 2010

Dear Food Network, Hire Me

As much as I enjoy watching Giada De Laurentiis… cook, I can’t help but wonder if perhaps there needs to be a show for the idiot in the kitchen, like me. After all, one of my first cooking endeavors had me trying to be creative by putting some vanilla into a pot of beans and weenies. There was brown sugar in there. I thought it would be a good idea. I didn’t know one iota of cooking basics and have yet to live that incident down over the last ten years. So, for the dumb ass in the kitchen I think there needs to be a show that doesn’t take itself too seriously and has a lot of fun while being informative. Think "Tool Time" with skillets and whisks instead of power tools.

I am a married with family and we very rarely cook. My oven and stovetop are pretty much storage. Even the microwave holds items. It’s kind of like the equivalent of having a Nordic Rack which is a Nordic Track or other piece of exercise equipment that is utilized as a place to hang laundry on after it comes out of the wash. But, I can make some dishes. I can make spaghetti and even jazz up the sauce from a jar without resorting to vanilla extract. I can make chili from a recipe I could only get from my father-in-law after I married his daughter. I do pretty good French toast and some other baked goods, but real meals escape me or at least the motivation to make them does. I guess that I am more kitchen lazy than kitchen incompetent….hey that’s a good idea for a title.

So, here’s my unsolicited pitch. You’ve seen talk show hosts like Dave Letterman have someone on to make something and he spends more time screwing around and drinking the cooking sherry, straight from the bottle, than actually preparing something so let’s go with that idea. I would be the host of a cooking or home show that dispenses more tips on “What Not To Do.” It’s like Martha Stewart with knuckles dragging across the hand knitted rug.

Each week I would have a theme and actual chefs would come on to cook a meal and show me how to do it. Meanwhile I would bet totally inept and would make jokes or break a lot of stuff, this would not be a struggle in the acting department for me. During the cooking segments we would have two dishes being prepared, one by the pro and one by the putz, me. At the end, we compare to see what it should look like and what it probably will look like. I want truth in advertising here.

Now, there are guy type shows on The Food Network but do we really need to see Guy Fieri going for the ole 96er eating speed record. Not to mention, I don’t use product. I’m just your average idiot who doesn’t know the difference between jam, jelly, or preserves. The draw and attraction to the show would be the honesty with which I would truly screw up dishes. In fact, I expect there to be a lot of broken dishes and food splashed around so that it looks like something exploded in the kitchen. Granted, a lot of this will be done for effect. Also, I like to be able to interject a sense of Pop Culture trivia, sort of like an Alton Brown delivery with very little important information. I would love to devote entire shows to recreating recipes used in movies and television shows.

But why would anyone watch such idiocy when they could be tuning in Paula Deen and learning how to make hoecakes. Because Paula would be a guest and I’m sure her and I would have a huge amount of fun going back and forth. My only hopes would be that the guest chefs would not take themselves too seriously on my show and it would give the audience a chance to see their favorites cut it up and have fun. I expect a food fight at least once a month….maybe when Giada shows up.

Of course, I know I can never realize this pipe dream. I wouldn’t last one three minute egg’s length of time on Iron Chef. They’d have to rename it cheap ass aluminum foil chef for me. I couldn’t go onto a cooking show competition and expect to wow and dazzle anyone but wouldn’t it be funnier if the guy hosting the show was so ridiculously incompetent that he would have three fire extinguishers on the set and a fire marshal on speed dial?

Come one TFN. Why not dumb it down for those of us who think that Semi Homemade with Sandra Lee should still have a Le Cordon Bleu degree as a prerequisite. Think about it, Home Improvement was more popular because of the antics that Tim Taylor would get himself into rather than the home life. Here I would be the Bob Vila of the kitchen. Did you ever notice that they never let Bob do any dangerous work? And how can you resist having a show on the air that could or could not end in the Emergency Room every week. There should be a warning in front of the show like on Jackass. In fact, there’s an automatic drinking game built into the show from the first episode.
  • Take one drink every time the host uses too much of an ingredient.
  • Take one drink every time the host uses the wrong ingredient.
  • Take two drinks every time the host pronounces something wrong (no lie, I was in Applebee’s once and ordered the Tuscan Chicken and called it Tucson Chicken. I thought it was a South Western dish)
  • Take two drinks every time the guest has to control the host’s attention.
  • Take three drinks every time the host swears and gets bleeped.
  • Take four drinks every time the censors miss it.
  • Finish the bottle if the paramedics or EMS is called.
So, write your congressman or go bug Rachel Ray or something. Start a petition, update your facebook status to read “If you believe my friend Mongo deserves his own cooking show because I want to see him catch on fire, at least once, add this to your status for an hour.” Do the work for me because I’m too busy leveling up my cafĂ© on Facebook. Get on the ball and get me on TV. Think of the carnage and wonderful dishes we can bring to your home.

Tuesday, January 19, 2010

No Show For the Poe Toaster

For the last 60 years a ritual has occurred which rivals that of the annual pilgrimage to Punxsutawney to see if a groundhog will see his shadow. Every January 19th since 1949, a figure known as the Poe Toaster has appeared on the grounds of Westminster Hall and Burying Ground in Baltimore, MD. He or she, disguised in black, makes their way to the grave of Edgar Allan Poe, raises a toast of cognac and then leaves the rest of the bottle along with three roses. It is believed that the roses are meant as a remembrance of Poe, his wife, and her mother who all are interred at the cemetery.

Diehard Poe heads are usually on hand to witness the mysterious event without ever knowing the identity of the toaster. In 1999, a note indicated that the original toaster had died or had at least passed the torch onto a “son” or new toaster. Last year, no note was left, which was odd being that it was the bicentennial of Poe’s birth. Even stranger yet was the no show of the Toaster this year.
Some observers actually cried when the news of no toast had taken place. Some wonder if the toaster had taken ill or had died prior to handing off the torch to another. In any case, the curator of the Edgar Allan Poe House and Museum intends to keep a close watch over the site for the next couple of weeks in case the Toaster just happens to show up.
Now, I have a great and profound respect for Edgar Allan Poe. I’ve read several of his stories and poems over the years like Eldorado and The Gold Bug as well as The Masque of the Red Death, The Casque of Amontillado, The Raven, and The Pit and the Pendulum. The one story that has eluded me over the years is the Fall of the House of Usher, but it is definitely on my to do list. Still, this event that has taken place over the last 60 years is something I would definitely get a kick out of attending. Being a native of South Western PA, one would think I would be more up to making the trip out to “Punxsy” as we call it to see Phil’s shadow. Not bloody likely. First of all, I’ve watched the recorded event on cable and it seems like a big drunken party. The observance of the Poe Toaster has that air of macabre being set in a cemetery and the only imbibing to be taking place would be that of cognac or some port wine, which does not come in a box.
To sit in silence and witness such a mysterious event would interest me more than crowd surfing with a bunch of drunken coeds who would rather do a body shot of the groundhog’s belly than to actually be a part of something more steeped in history and culture than a prognosticating Punxsutawney Phil.
But from the looks of this year’s absence of the Poe Toaster, one can only speculate if 200 years after the birth of Poe was a good stopping point. Perhaps a toaster will show up and most likely it will be a copycat trying to keep up the tradition. Given the ravenous fandom of this event, it would be rather humorous but off putting to see multiple Toasters show up at the same time. Perhaps a coordination of members to a secret Poe club can keep the dream alive. After all, It’s hard to think that one will raise a glass to Poe’s memory nevermore.

Monday, January 18, 2010

Papa John's Overcharges You and Then Shows You How They Did It

When I was a wee Mongo, I wanted to do one of two things when I grew up. I either wanted to own a pizza shop or be a fire truck. (That’s my go to comedic response. I need new material, I know.) This was of course before I saw the Star Wars Trilogy and all that changed. My parents’ hopes for a doctor in the family dropped to 66%.

Flash forward to 1996 and I’m working for an amusement park in Ohio. As I come back to my matchstick dorm room after a long day, I find someone waiting for me.  It's  the pizza guy. Turns out, the local Papa John’s franchise was smart enough to make a bunch of plain and pepperoni pizzas ahead of time and then just camp out in front of the dorms, waiting for workers to return after their shift. They were able to sell out nearly every single time. It was actually a great thing as you could never get through to them on the phone, because they were inundated with calls from the park.

I quickly became, and remain to this day, a fan of the excellent pizza as well as the garlic sauce for dipping my crusts.  Perhaps one of my cholesterol level’s saving grace is that there isn’t a location within delivery distance of my house, and I don’t get welcomed home from a hard day’s work by the pizza guy, waiting for me with a large extra cheese.

But from time to time I do get the opportunity to have a PJ pie and will drive the fifteen minutes to go pick it up. This weekend was one of those times. I looked online to see what they were offering and found a deal for two large, one topping pizzas at $16.99. Not bad. Along with a two liter of cherry coke at $2.29 (which is a huge rip) and tax brought my total to $20.44. My wife asked me to call it in so that the online order didn’t get screwed up. We both have an aversion to ordering food online to be picked up or delivered.  I placed the call for pickup and even asked if they had a two liter of cherry coke available, just in case. The guy on the phone said, “Yeah we got about two left.” He rang up my order and told me a total of $22.86. I said, “Um, are you sure?” He said, “Yeah, both pizzas and the two liter comes to $22.86.

Now, I didn’t want to argue with the guy on the phone because I didn’t want anything done to my pizzas while they were being made, ala what happened in the kitchen at a Dominoes in North Carolina. Instead, I said fine and then immediately looked at my mock order online for my location with the exact items at the same prices and hit “PRINT.” I drove out to the shop to pick up my order. Once again, the guy said, “$22.86.” Now, with proof in my hand and the pizzas already in front of me, I debated the point.

“Look here, fine sir.” Ok, I didn’t really say that but I was polite. “We did a mock order online and came up with a different total.” He said, “Yeah, online ordering has different prices and specials.” I said, “Really, because the deal was two large, one topping pizzas at $16.99. Your menu up there confirms that as well as the $2.29 for the Cherry Coke. Are you telling me that online tax is different for your location?”

Now, he starts back peddling. “Yeah, it is. Here I’ll show you how we got that total. I’m not really supposed to do this, but come around and check out the screen.” I walked around the counter while thinking back to my younger days of wanting to be on this side of things and looked at his screen. “There, you see? You have two large pizzas at $12.48 each with the discount making it $16.99 total plus your two liters, $22.86.” I looked at the screen and said, “Well, there’s your problem. You have two bottles of soda on there and neither one of them are Cherry Coke. I mean who the hell drinks Fanta, anyway?” Now, I’m not one to immediately call shenanigans on someone but this was clearly not on the up and up. After all, he had to confirm that he had Cherry Coke in the cooler and then added two different sodas instead. If he would have added both sodas as Cherry Coke, I might have missed it.

“Oh,” he said, “Yeah that’s not right. Ok, let me fix that but it’s still going to be more than what you saw online.” I said, “Fine. Let’s take a look.” After he spent two minutes toggling between screens and trying to figure out how to salvage his markup, with me directly over his shoulder, he finally fixed the order to have two pizzas, one two liter, and tax bringing the total to $20.44 which is exactly what I had on my print out.

Whether or not this was an intentional attempt to overcharge me remains to be seen. Seeing as how I would be the one retrieving the two liter from the cooler leaves him free to not have eyes on the slip. In fact, you don’t even get a real itemized receipt except for a sticker on the side of one of the boxes. In any case, I walked out of there with what I wanted for the price I expected.

I always get looks from my wife when I closely inspect receipts and bills that seem a little odd to me. And while $2.42 for a phantom pop plus tax is hardly cause for an EECB to John Schnatter and company, I still think that you need to be very careful on how you get billed for these things. Of course, asking him to relinquish his gold Camaro as reconciliation for overcharging is not a bad idea.

Still, it isn’t the first pizza place to try and dupe me into paying more because of fuzzy math. A local Fox’s franchise gave me three different totals on an order. I called up, placed the order and got one total. I did a double take on that and called back. They gave me a different total and I asked them why? “Delivery charge.” I said, well then, change it to pick up. I live five minutes away. I went to get it and they gave me a third total, different than the first two, even when I subtracted the delivery charge. Needless to say, I do not order from them anymore.

The one I can never truly reconcile, without a calculus degree, is Pizza Hut since they do the entire bill and then discount your coupon leaving you to wonder if they really did do things correctly. I would expect the discount to come immediately under the line item in order to remove confusion.
So, the next time you go out, take a minute to inspect your bill and don’t be afraid to get an itemized receipt. You may be surprised what secret ingredients get baked into the amount. Perhaps I should have followed my dreams, as a child making Play-Doh pizzas. Just think how I could have made a fortune on overcharges alone.

Friday, January 15, 2010

How To Send Donations To Haiti Relief Effort

On Tuesday, January 12th, 2010, a devastating earthquake hit the impoverished nation of Haiti. While the death toll climbs into the tens of thousands and the destruction to the capital of Port au Prince is massive, the effort to get relief supplies and help to Haiti is overwhelming as the world comes together as a community to reach out to those in need.

Unfortunately, with every good intention comes thousands of evil ones. A pattern has emerged since 9/11 and the 2004 tsunami where the online community bands together and uses the Internet to raise awareness and money to help victims of natural disasters. Facebook, Twitter and other Web 2.0 concepts have increased the availability and efficiency of relief efforts. However, scam artists and other scum bags are also aware of these methodologies and strike while the proverbial iron is hot snatching up domain names that sound like legitimate services to aid emergency and humanitarian services.

Facebook status updates took on a familiar tone of broadcasting a cell number you could text to in order to make a donation to the Red Cross and other organizations. Always wary of these types of communications I shied away from doing so because the immediate response to the disaster doesn’t leave a lot of time to research the available outlets in order to separate fact from fraud.

However, I did read an article on ABC News in which they echoed my concerns but assuaged discomfort in participating in a worthwhile cause without fear of being duped into hidden fees and hacking of my accounts.

The bottom line is that people want to help. Some folks are so good natured that they trust to a fault and that’s almost as bad as being in a disaster. They want to reach out and spread a little hope and in a economic lull the worldwide response to this effort is amazing. If only we could see everyone in this world as a neighbor or friend and not just when something bad happens. If only the world could organize as a driving force for peace and safety instead of answering the call just because you want some karma points.

So, whatever your method for helping is I applaud you for putting your humanity above nationality. Just remember to go with organizations you trust and show caution if you see an ad on Facebook or some other website. Call your church. Go to the Red Cross’ website if you are unsure of how to participate. Check with local Emergency services like ambulance and fire. They will probably know who to put you in touch with that is on the up and up. And if you are so inclined, pray for those most in need.

If you want to donate by cell phone Text "HAITI" to 90999. Be sure to correctly spell the word and send it to the right number.

From the Red Cross' website.
The public can also help by texting “Haiti” to 90999 to send a $10 donation to the Red Cross, through an effort backed by the U.S. State Department. Funds will go to support American Red Cross relief efforts in Haiti.

Thursday, January 14, 2010

Sequel, Remake, Adaptation, FAIL FAIL FAIL

Hollywood seems content with destroying everything. Let’s see, in the past few years we have seen nearly every television show made into a movie, a thousand crappy sequels, and total remakes of franchises that ridiculously trash the original’s memory and/or simply have no business being remade.

We had Transformers the movie come out and it had a sequel, which quite frankly, compared to the original animated movie, these two might as well been called Challenge of the GoBots Parts One and Two. Last year we had a big screen adaptation of G.I. Joe which was an embarrassment and unfortunately, since it made $300 million worldwide, expect a sequel. Another cartoon, Johnny Quest, is maybe getting a live action flogging. The cartoon aired back in 1964, which was more my father’s generation, but my older brother and I saw it rerun, on television, during our childhood. The live action version supposedly has Zac Efron attached as Johnny Quest and Dwayne Johnson as Race Bannon. Now, if Hollywood gets on the stick, expect Dev Patel to be in talks to play Hadji. I’m just saying. If Zac Efron is already 22 and going to play Johnny Quest, who is only supposed to be 11 years old, then it would be totally in the scope of the evil empire of Hollywood to go after Dev Patel who is only 3 years Zac’s junior as Johnny’s friend, who is also 11.

Also we’ve got The A-Team coming out with Liam Neeson as Hannibal and Bradley Cooper as Faceman. I just watched the trailer and I feel a little dirty for getting into it whenever I would hear the original theme song teased. Still, as a friend put it, “Who from our age group is telling them that is ok?” To which I say, I don’t know but I want them to stop it.

On the sequel front, it was just revealed that Sam Raimi and Tobey Maguire are out for Spider-Man 4 and that Sony helped put them there by requiring Sam to deliver a 2011 film which would have been in his mind, inferior in terms of integrity and quality. Hollywood’s answer to everything, just reboot it. (See below) Yeah, because that worked for Batman….but not The Incredible Hulk. I mean, come on, the franchise is only seven years old and respectable enough in its three films. Why monkey with it? Oh, yeah that’s right, Hollywood can’t stand to wait for quality. Or perhaps they suffer from Blue Screen of Death syndrome and figure rebooting will solve the problem. I don't know, maybe they just want an assembly line of movies being churned out. Maybe they figure that if they put enough crap on the wall, something will stick and make them money.

Remember Indiana Jones and the Kingdom of the Crystal Dull? Yeah, that was a case of, “We gotta make this or we’ll all be too old.” Now, I spent a few years reconciling with the Last Crusade as a fitting ending to the series. It is. I had the same problem with Return of the Jedi because the Empire was beaten by Ewoks. Still, that film has gone on to be a great ending to the original trilogy. That was until George Lucas went back and put Hayden Christiansen in place of Sebastian Shaw at the end. I mean he went back and remade a sequel. That’s like double epic fail. He monkeyed with something that was already a great film and then ruined it by changing the ending which made no sense. It didn’t. Don’t you sit there and say, “Well, the ghost of Anakin was when he was still a Jedi.” Bullshit. When he turned back to the light side and shot put Palpatine over the railing of the Death Star, he came full circle and the image of Shaw as Anakin was a perfect coda to the redemption of Anakin Skywalker. “But But, if that were so, then he should have been limbless and scarred all to hell as a ghost.” Um, and Obi Wan should be standing there holding his head at his side since Darth Vader decapitated him in A New Hope. No dice on that theory my young padawans.

I’ve gone off topic or as my wife likes to say, “I’ve gone to Erie.” She thinks I’m long winded. This is true. Anyway, the only sequel I’m actually looking forward to this year is Tron Legacy. Why? Why not? I just hope it doesn’t suck. I hope that the same brilliance that went into the design and parallels between a computer world and the real one on the first one can be captured again and by all accounts, from the footage seen at Comic-Con last year, we should be in for a treat.

Reboots and remakes are never a good idea. I don’t care how much blood you think is still in a stone. Once it’s done, it’s done. To date I can only see two reboots that have truly worked and those were done very recently with Star Trek and the Batman franchise. On the 80s front, The Karate Kid is getting a reboot with Jaden Smith and Hackie Chan. Honestly, leave it well enough alone. First of all, the film is called The Karate Kid and it is set in China. Fail number one.

Fail Number Two: Clash of the Titans is getting remade and this is beyond fail for me because it has no Harryhausen stop motion animation. Granted after Star Wars, this was the height of cheesiness in 1981, but still made the original movie a cult classic even though it totally disregards a lot of established Greek Mythology. And wait a second…Liam Nesson is set to score a fail hat trick. He’s in an adaptation (A-Team), remake (Clash of the Titans) and a sequel (The Chronicles of Narnia: Voyage of the Dawn Treader.) Ok, well, we’ll give him a two out of three fail on that since The Chronicles of Narnia aren’t that bad of a film series and it’s still kind of relevant.

Fail Number Three hasn’t officially happened yet, but it looks as if there is talks of a Ferris Bueller’s Day Off remake. *bang* head hits desk, gray matter everywhere.

Now, I do have to waffle a bit on probably the most anticipated remake in 2010. My partner in pop culture crime, and very good friend, is against the Burtonized Alice in Wonderland whereas I am willing to give it the benefit of the doubt. Well, maybe she’s not totally against it but is very jaded against it. Quite frankly, after Syfy totally destroyed Alice in Wonderland last year anything would be better. They didn’t do a half bad adaptation with Tin Man, but this was beyond awful and I feel bad for Matt Frewer and Tim Curry. They’ve really gone far off the radar of getting good parts.

However, as much as I’d like to say that I was on board with Burton’s adaption/remake of Charlie and the Chocolate Factory, because it was closer to the book than Willy Wonka was in 1971, I’m still for the Gene Wilder version which was not liked, oddly enough, by Roald Dahl. Here, you are messing with classic literature and I’m willing to give Burton a chance, although I would have liked to have seen if American McGee could have pulled of his movie version of Alice with Sarah Michelle Gellar but that looks to be not happening, at least with Gellar. Still, by the looks of the trailer, I’ll be happy and it’s all about me, right?

*sigh* I wish someone would just stop this madness. The depths to which Hollywood will sink to make a buck knows no bounds. Hell, they’re probably pissed that Hamlet 2 was a play within the movie by the same name and they couldn’t option it for a real film. But, just wait, they’ll remake it in five years and get their wish.

Monday, January 11, 2010

The Tonight Show With....Um, We Don't Know

Growing up I would hear a familiar voice at 11:30. I would just be drifting off to sleep in my bed as Ed McMahon would say, “Heeeeere’s Johnny!” It was like Ed was tucking me in at night and offering me a last drink saying, “Heeeere’s Water!” This was the practice during the school year. I would stay up until the news came on, watching shows like St. Elsewhere, Trapper John MD, Fantasy Island. Hart to Hart, Matt Houston, Cagney and Lacey, and my favorite, Hill Street Blues. Each week I loved hearing Michael Conrad do the roll call and then end with, “Let’s be careful out there.”

But during the summer I would watch Johnny Carson after the news since I was allowed to stay up a little later. When I went off to college I switched to watching David Letterman as most kids at my age did. Of course, my brother watched him, too, when he was in college, but that was seven years prior, when Dave was on after Carson. Since then, I’ve pretty much stopped watching the late night comic shows, although I will catch Jimmy Kimmel on occasion, usually hoping to see This Week in Unnecessary Censorship because there is nothing funnier than censoring Mr. Rogers or The Muppets even if it’s not something that needs it.

Frankly, my television experience anymore consists of me living vicariously through my DVR and hoping I don’t max out my available space. I spend the late night show time slots catching up on shows that air during the times when I am giving my kid a bath or basically running around getting things ready for the next day. Still, I keep an eye on what’s going on with television so I can program accordingly.

I will admit that in college, I was an avid watcher of 10PM shows like Homicide, Law & Order and ER. But, after I graduated I sort of dropped off in watching them. Now, if there’s a show on at 10PM, I watch it the next day or on the weekend. But, for NBC, that is no longer a concern since they moved to having Jay Leno on at 10PM. To say I’m not a huge fan of Jay Leno is sort of true. I’ve never really taken to him outside of his stand up act years ago. He might be the nicest guy in the world but I really don’t care. What I do care is that NBC is trying to hold onto something that it can’t. Jay’s time with the Tonight Show was a great thing and it kept the late night staple going after Johnny Carson retired. I don’t think the show had the same impact as it did under Carson but it kept the money rolling in from every direction. Since it was time to hand over the reins to Conan O’Brien, what could NBC do to hold onto their Golden Goose?

So, they rolled the dice on axing their 10PM lineup and gave Leno that spot while letting O’Brien take over the Tonight Show. That didn’t pan out and now they are looking to shuffle the deck, again. But to what end? Is it fair to tell Conan O’Brien that he’s going to be bumped to after midnight? After all, if Leno is already tanking at 10PM, what will happen if they put him back on at 11:35PM and hope that the audience sticks around for Conan? Should they? Jay Leno without the Tonight Show is probably not as good and hoping he can gain the street cred back by making the show shorter and later seems like beating a dead horse.

That’s not to say that Conan is doing better with the mantle of Tonight Show host. His ratings have slipped, too. He’s not your mom and pop type host, but one that reaches the college kids who are still up at the late hour. Moving him to 11:35PM expects the general public to accept his style and hope that the audience will shift their viewing to earlier instead of being at the clubs. But remember, Dave Letterman went through the same growing pains in 1993. He initially took off running with the lead spot but after the O.J. incident and Hugh Grant’s appearance on The Tonight Show, he dropped from the top spot. Still, Letterman has consistently performed well and why shouldn’t Conan after he gets adjusted to his new slot?

I say if they really want to keep Leno around, bump him to after Conan. But NBC won’t do that. They’ll move Leno to 11:35 and bump Conan to midnight making the Tonight Show, the Tomorrow Show. Why? Because NBC wants to recoup their losses quickly instead of waiting for things to pan out. Also, if they get rid of Conan they owe a substantial amount of money. They can’t change the name of the show or risk having to pay him per his contract. And, if Conan gets courted by another network, he stands to lose, too. Leno is pretty much making it hard for everyone. He’s going to be the Brett Favre of late night. He just won’t go away.

Thursday, January 7, 2010

In My Day...

There’s an old group of sayings, usually coined by our parents or other baby boomers about what it was like “in their day.” “In my day, we didn’t have 300 hundred channels. We had three.” We’ve all heard it at one time or another. And if Al Gore needed any ego stroking he could just saddle up next to a senior citizen and ask them about snow. “In my day, we had snow three feet deep and had no school for a week.”

Now, it comes to pass that my generation as adults and parents can start spinning their own nostalgic yarns about how we could build snowman five feet high that would last for weeks. And it’s true, at least for us here in Pennsyltuckey, we haven’t had a lot of snowfall since we were in high school. In fact, my senior year occurred during the all too well known and oft quoted, “Blizzard of 93.” I can count on both almost two hands how many times we were called off during my three years of high school. Since my district covered an extensive area that included, what we considered, “the mountains” we had a lot of times where it wasn’t that bad at my house yet school was cancelled anyway.

I remember once was during my Sophomore year when we had a cancellation I was really peeved because I was going to be out of class all day to help with the stage crew for a multi school choir concert. To brag to your friends that you got of class all day just to have them cancel everything for the day but the reason you were out of class was a bit of a downer.

From then it was a whole decade before I saw a record snowfall. That was in February of 2003 and I actually walked up the main street of my town and didn’t see a car. But that was it for almost seven years. During that time we barely saw enough snow to make a snow midget. If we did get a good snow it was in April and was only around for a week before it melted.

So, here we are kicking off 2010 with record snowfalls around the country. Temperatures, overall, are low in even the Southern regions. What really gets me is how much of a surprise this is to anyone. I mean should we be shocked that it’s January and snowing? Well, for the past few years we’ve been rather spoiled. I’ve been able to get by without using the snow blower, which doesn’t work, in my driveway. Now, I can’t keep up with the shoveling. But, still, this is after all, winter. It should be snowing. Yet, people are out there driving like they are from South Carolina. I swear I need to leave five minutes earlier in the morning to get to work, not because of road conditions but because people are so ridiculously ill equipped to drive in this weather. There’s cautious and then there is idiotic.

We usually see oddball weather, or more accurately, appropriate weather roughly every seven to ten years around here and how quickly people forget what it was like when it happened last. It makes me laugh because we are society of memory driven denizens that recall a simpler time without cutting edge innovations like smart phones and the Internet and yet for all our waxing nostalgic about walking to school, uphill, both ways through three feet of snow we panic and complain when it happens again.

Here’s a rule of thumb for all you people unsure of what to do in bad weather. If you turn on the news and you see a story about a salt truck that plunged over a 100 foot cliff because of road conditions, maybe you should stay home. Or at least leave extra, extra early so that you are out of my way by the time I get there. Another favorite picture of mine is the news stories of people with their cars stuck in the snow. Usually, you get a low shot of one of the tires as the reporter says the following. “When he left for work today, this is what happened.” Next thing you see is the person spinning their wheels in the show. Last time I checked, rule one for getting unstuck in the snow is to NOT jam on the gas pedal spinning your wheels at high RPMs.

The one thing I haven’t seen a lot of anymore is the mad dash for bread and milk at the store with just the slightest threat of snowfall. Usually as soon as the weatherman flips his coin and chooses snow as the prediction it’s like Black Friday out there with Cabbage Patch Dolls.

So, as we brace for more snow, and it will happen again this winter, just letting you know, realize that a level head is the one thing we all need to keep in our bag of tricks when we go out, or as we called it in my day, common sense.

Monday, January 4, 2010

I'm Dreaming of a Dark Christmas

In my 34 years on this Earth, there have been more forgotten Christmases than ones I can remember. The first three are a bit hazy, for sure. Sure, there was the year I got the Millennium Falcon and immediately broke off the radar dish. Something that foreshadowed the events of Return of the Jedi. Then, there was the year we got an Atari, although to be totally accurate it was the Sears Tele-Games version that came with the darker word grain finish and Target Fun instead of Combat. But for the most part, Christmas seems to come and go without a memorable event that makes it stand out against the mosaic of all Christmases combined. That was, until this year. Perhaps the two most remembered quotes of the holiday will be “Remember Caillou” and “Fire! Fire! I need a grown up!”

To start I should back up to Christmas Eve. Our two year old and a half year old is starting to get the idea of Christmas and we wanted to record the act of putting out cookies and milk for Santa. Of course, my daughter is all about quality assurance and immediately checked the cookies for suitable eating after she put them down on the stool in front of the tree. We also put some carrots out on the front porch in case the reindeer get tired of waiting on the roof. After lights out, we made sure Santa had enough space to put out all the presents. In fact, Santa became quite the vandal as he left messages on our back door, front door and refrigerator in red washable ink. It was something of a cross between Danny Torrance’s “REDRUM” and John McClane’s message about having a machine gun, "Ho, Ho, Ho." From the scrawling penmanship, I felt Santa was a sadistic bastard who didn't realize how hard it would be to clean up the mess after all was said and done.

The next morning, my in laws came over to watch the joy and awe like effect Christmas morning has on a child. The night before she was able to open one present and her excitement for that told us that a room full of presents should be a big deal. I stood in the living room, camera at the ready, and she waltzed down the hallway. She walked into the living room, right past the tree and over to an end table where her gift from the night before was sitting. She proceeded to stand there and show it to her grandmother, reveling in its coolness. Meanwhile, the blazing tree and multitude of gifts, that stood not two feet from her, went unnoticed. She didn’t even bat an eye at the cookie crumbs or gnawed carrot bits on the front porch. Looks like Christmas memories for her will be few and far between as well these first few years.

After we coaxed her into opening at least three of her gifts, we managed to clean up the discarded boxes and torn paper and prepared for a trip to my parents. It’s always hard to travel with children. They get so worked up because of the holiday and then you have to do all this travelling which just exhausts everyone. Not to mention, all kids want to do is play with their toys after they open them and to rip them from that playtime and trot them off to another person's house is not pleasing, even if that person also has presents for them. Since, my child was oblivious to presents at this point I figured it shouldn't be a problem. Although, it’s nice if we can work in a nap for her before we leave. She was already excited, not because she would be opening more presents but because she would be able to play with her cousin.

Now, we haven’t really seen a white Christmas around here for years. They are usually rainy and cold, but not white. This year was no exception, adding wind to the mix. It was hard at times to keep the new minivan on the road. Center of gravity was the one thing I hadn’t considered when replacing my low to the ground coupe. The car shimmied all over the road as the wind whipped over the hills and onto the turnpike. As we pulled into my parents’ driveway we could see the pine trees, that lined the driveway, bend and sway in the breeze. We took a few minutes to sit in the new sun room, which they had just added, and watched the closest pine almost kiss the glass more than once on the large windows.

About ten minutes before we were ready to eat, the power went out. My wife and I were standing in the living room with our daughter when it happened. I immediately called out to her to stand still as I walked over to try and find her in the darkness. Even if the outage had been confined to our house, alone, there would have been no outside lights to even give off the faintest glow through the windows. My parents live on the outskirts of town in a semi rural area, surrounded by farms and small housing plans. The only lights you get out there are from other houses and the occasional street light. We were pretty much in total darkness. Once I had gotten a hold of my kid, I picked her up while others worked on getting flashlights and candles. Once we had some light to go around, I grabbed a flashlight and aimed it straight at the ceiling. The white ceiling acted as a reflector bouncing the light around the room creating enough light to see but not enough to blind you from pointing a light in your face.

Luckily, my mother had finished cooking and was just getting ready to serve dinner when this happened or we may have been reduced to eating a Christmas dinner that was smiling at us. "Fa Ra Ra Ra Ra..." Now, I half expected my daughter to be in hysterics at this point. After all, she has issues with the dark in our house. But instead, she kept repeating the same thing over and over in the darkness. “Remember Caillou?” and then she would trail off into toddler incoherency. For those of you without small children, Caillou is a Canadian kids' cartoon on Sprout, based off of books. It’s about a little bald headed boy named Caillou. One of the episodes centered around a storm that caused the power to go out. She made it a point to tell everyone in “This one time at Band Camp” fashion “Remember Caillou, when the lights went out?” This went on for a least 30 minutes.

Dinner was excellent as always and afterwards we retired to the sun room to open presents. Usually, we would all just open simultaneously but due to conditions we took turns. One person would hold a flashlight while the other would open and vice versa. My father who claims that he doesn’t need or want anything for Christmas was actually jazzed for one present he opened this year. It was an LED lighted head band. It was practical and easily applicable in our current situation. We had candles around the room and a few oil lamps but this thing threw off a lot of light. He even hung it on the ceiling fan shining enough light for everyone. Even in perfect conditions we would have had trouble navigating from one side of the room to the other with all the presents. Because of the outage it was twice as tricky and this little bugger helped out a lot. At times, we couldn’t tell what exactly we had opened or who it was from, but we all enjoyed ourselves.

After presents, traditionally came pumpkin pie, but for some of us Tylenol would have been welcome. A couple of us began complaining of slight headaches and a bit of dizziness. We didn’t realize that maybe three oil lanterns would be a hazard. We decided to forgo the lamps during pie and coffee and I opted to wear the new most excellent Christmas present since Ralphie got his Red Ryder B.B. gun. The light was great if you needed to shine directly in front of you but in this case you could blind someone. So, I flipped it upside down and allowed the light to point upwards. I walked out into the living room where my daughter was playing and heard my nephew calling from the kitchen. He had taken up residence at the kitchen table with his new Nintendo DS while waiting for desert.

On the table, a gel based candle had finally reached its flash point and the gel caught fire, creating a larger flame. “Fire. Fire” He called out, calmly, while still playing the game system. My wife and sister in law stood in the kitchen and assessed the fire. It didn’t look that bad but it soon became bigger. “Fire. Fire” he called again, “I need a grown up!” They rushed over and I made my way around the living room and into the kitchen. Both my wife and sister in law had begun blowing on the table which was now engulfing the entire candle and with every blow threatened to spread. They both seemed sort of stunned and a bit alarmed at the growing threat. I calmly walked over and grabbed one of the pie plates. In what looked like my ignorance of the situation, in order to save the pie from disaster, was actually methodical. I merely placed the plate on top of the candle, snuffing out the oxygen supply. Both women looked at me like I had just grew antlers.

With the fire out, we proceeded with desert which deteriorated into fits of giggling and uncontrollable laughter brought on by what I can only figure was exposure to the oil lamps. My brother asked what my father used for fuel to which my father said, "Some can in the garage." I followed up asking if the can had a dirty old rag for a cap. All the while, I wore the head band lamp upside down on my head shining upward at the ceiling. My head nodded as I laughed at the littlest of things causing the light to create a strobe effect. My wife, who had really felt the downturn of the holidays this year declared that this would be the most memorable Christmases ever. With that, my daughter looked up with a whip cream goatee and said, “Remember Caillou?” Once again, we broke up into hysterics.

But my wife was right. I admit, this season was a bit of a downer. After all, 2009 was pretty unfavorable in that we had more valleys to navigate than peaks in terms of moods. Her mom battled cancer most of the year, beginning with surgery to remove a brain tumor, moved onto pulmonary emboli and a diagnosis of ovarian cancer, that ended with her having additional surgery and chemotherapy. She lost her job due to redundancy from a merger/acquisition in her company and her home was flooded during heavy rains in June. Her usual spunky attitude towards Christmas was dour with thoughts of having to wear a wig or shell out money for repairs and Christmas presents from her savings instead of regular pay. In the end, she came out on the winning side but had taken a lot of lumps to get there and it showed. We should be thankful that we get another Christmas with a woman that should have been dead 13 years ago. That’s 13 Christmases that were unremarkable just because no one was missing. Had it gone the other way, my wife would have probably done everything she could have to forget the holiday.

Still, she was right, this was the best Christmas ever. Thankfully we weren’t all too hopped up on diesel fumes and could remember it….and Caillou.

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