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Wednesday, July 28, 2010

Blog Changes: Share The Madness of Mongo With Everyone

Ok, I've been at this for almost three years now and I haven't been booed off the stage, yet.  However, I need to keep up with stuff a little better, like writing and grammar skills.  This stuff ain't paying the bills but it's good experience, right?  Right?  Crap.

Anyway, I wanted to share with you a couple of changes I made.  We knocked down a couple of walls and went with a different kind of teak wood.  Kidding.  Actually, I added some share buttons at the bottom of my posts.  You know, the end of post which never seems to come fast enough, here.   So, if you are all web savvy and linked up with the satellites overhead and can play chess with Joshua, you can now directly share my ramblings with your friends on Facebook and other thingy ma bobby mcgees around teh interwebz. 

So, feel free to do what we learned in kindergarten and eat paste.  No, don't do that.  I meant share.

Oh, and by the way, I found that enabling the buttons for sharing in the dashboard didn't do a blessed thing for making them actually appear in my posts.  I needed to do some tweaking to the template.   if you own a blog and want to add this function I found a great fix.  WARNING:  You need to add code to your template so back up your blog in case you screw up.

The Undocumented Spot: Share Buttons on Blogger Not Showing

Queasy Rider Part Two

I recently spoke about how I have lost my edge as a roller coaster and amusement park enthusiast. I don’t know if it’s an inner ear thing or just plain age. It could be that becoming a father took away that desire to put my life and my lunch on the line in an effort to get the adrenaline flowing. I don’t know even know if I still have what it takes to stand in line for a ride that takes you straight up into the stratosphere and then plunges you head first into the ground like Mel Gibson’s career. Maybe I should just relegate myself to riding the train around the park and yell at kids for walking fast past me.

Last weekend, my wife had the spontaneous notion to just up and go to Kennywood. I reeled back in terror, not because she wanted to go to an amusement park but, because she decided to just do it as a spur of the moment thing. We don’t do well with spontaneity. We tried it once on vacation a few years ago when we decided to take the last day of our trip to Myrtle Beach and drive up to the Outer Banks to see the lighthouses. We didn’t realize we would end up in a Post Apocalyptic Pool Hall At the End Of the Outer Banks. It just seems that every time we try to do something on a whim ,we end up causing a rift in the space time continuum. Bad things happen. However, we realized that summer is flying by and our three year old should get to see Kennywood this year. So, I packed up our World Ending Survival Kits and got ready for a little spontaneity. To even out the odds of riding and babysitting, we included my wife’s niece on the trip and headed out.

First off, we picked the hottest day of the century to go to the park. Everywhere little red mercury thermometers were saying, “’Eff this! It’s too damn hot.” The high temperature was listed to be 93 but the heat index probably put it over 103. Now, why can’t they just say it’s 103? I don’t care what the temperature is and then what it feels like. Either tell me what the temperature is or tell me what the temperature feels like, but don’t say both. Pick one and stick with it. It’s the same with wind chill. Just say it’s the worse number in terms of hot or cold. It makes my life easier. I’m standing in my bedroom toggling between fashion choices. “Well, it’s 93 out there so let’s go with boxers. But, it feels like it 103, so maybe I should go with briefs.” Tell you what, that’s how we should report the weather. “Ladies in gentlemen, the temperature is going to be over 100 degrees. Better go with wet suit.”

Secondly, my daughter has no fear. I mean she will run at top speed towards a brick wall expecting the brick wall to move. The first words out of her mouth, upon exiting the Family Truckster and seeing the Phantom’s Revenge plummeting towards the parking lot with screaming and yelling passengers on it, was “I want to ride that roller coaster.” I informed her that she was still too small for it and she rebuffed my comments and said, “But, I’m a big girl.” Kids. We decided to start off small and rode the carousel. She got a kick out of riding the horses and felt that was all the prep work she would need and started picking out all the spin and puke worthy rides to try next. I told her we needed to get some lunch first but she was adamant about living on the edge.  Of course, wanting to eat and then ride spin and puke rides was pretty close to living on the edge for me.

With park food, you cannot go wrong if you get Potato Patch fries. I don’t care how hot it is outside, you can find the will to scarf down those awesome fries with cheese. One great addition to the Food and Beverage department was the presence of forks. While it’s nice to get knuckles deep into a basket of cheese fries, it just makes it easier when dealing with a little one. Midway through lunch, my wife had to take her to the Sierra Mist Misting Station to get cooled off a bit. Did I mention it was hot? That was pretty much the theme of the day. “It’s hot!” It was the kind of heat that negated the effects of drinking four or five soft drinks in a row. I would have done better with water but a medium Pepsi or Mountain Dew was $2.39 and a 16 ounce bottle of water, in the vending machine, was $3.00. I was hot but not that hot, yet.

Next up was the Turtles. This was another one of my favorite rides as a kid. It simply goes around in a circle and every so often goes over a hill. Not too thrilling, to say the least, but that whole grumpy man / inner ear thing was making me a little queasy. That and the fact that the seats were made of reflective metal had me wishing I’d worn longer shorts but the effects of the heat on the outside of my legs was nothing compared to the heat that was generated within the confines of my clothing. The relative humidity of my shorts was somewhere around 110%. Any longer on the length of the material in my short legs would have had me looking for that wet suit. Still, the little one got such a kick out of these rides.

After I regained my equilibrium we headed over to the Lost Kennywood section of the park and my wife, niece, and daughter decided to forgo the long line for the Pittsburgh Plunge and just stand in the observation area to catch the splash down from the boats. Me, I opted to stay as dry as possible since I was the human purse. I had to carry everything in my pockets, cell phone, keys, camera and wallet. I was like a cat. I did not want to get wet. Regardless of how hot it was, I maintained my “stay dry if at all possible” policy.

That’s another thing I’ve grown out of in my years.  Water rides. I used to love rides like the Raging Rapids and Log Jammer. On a hot day I found comfort in just getting completely drenched on a water ride in order to cool off from the heat. But, in my curmudgeon years, I’ve stayed away from water as if I was a Mogwai. It may not be all about age. The one thing that used to drive me nuts as an Amusement Park employee was when a soaking wet guest would reach into their sock and pull out a folded stack of money. They would peel the dollar bills away from each other, discard the hitchhiking lint, and hand me a few ones to play my game. I wanted to put on a biohazard suit and use tongs to take their money. Things worsened when you got their wet money and you put in the stack of money you had in your apron and then the wetness transferred to the rest of the stack. It just felt dirty. It would be like handing a twenty to a stripper and asking for change. Besides being impolite, it’s a little on the eww side. I don’t think I want the ones you just pulled out of your crotch. It’s nothing against you personally. I support single moms working their way through medical school. Not that I know anything about that.

Apart from my hang ups about getting wet at the amusement park it’s not just about me getting wet. In fact, if it pours down rain, I welcome the relief from the heat. It’s the water in the park that I don’t care for experiencing. It’s that poorly chlorinated water that smells of minerals and sweat that gags me. The water from wet rides consist of whatever base water is in the ride plus all the dirt, grime, sweat and possibly other bodily fluids it collects as it drips off the passengers onto the floor of the ride. It gets stomped around by their shoes and then falls back into the water and then gets recycled back into the ride, ready to splash the next guest. Standing in line for a ride along with tens of others who reek of "wet guest" is not exactly a lot of fun. I am just as to blame as I stand there with the crotch pot set to simmer. I should have chosen briefs for this.

After The Petri Dish Plunge, my wife took her niece to go try out the new ride while I braved the wilds of Kiddieland with my daughter. Now, I fully expected to find myself in the middle of my worst nightmare. I was all set to be amid a sea of rotten children, pushing and shoving their way around the rides. I was prepared to stand in long lines and watch as my little angel turned into a devil as she sometimes [read: often] becomes impatient. What I wasn’t ready for was the exact opposite. She was tickled to ride and was a perfect little doll. The ride operators were courteous and helpful. The other kids were very polite and while there was a little excitement over getting into the gates, they all pretty much took turns.  There were no Altamont or Riverfront Stadium reenactments, anywhere. The only time it even got a little scary was the revelation that I would have to ride the S.S. Kenny with my kid. I thought the S.S. Kenny was supposed to be a kiddie version of the Pirate Ship. However, that was a miscalculation. The Pirate Ship only goes back and forth. This was more like the Cosmic Chaos as The S.S. Kenny goes back and forth and then spins around as it sails. I might as well have been on the Edmund Fitzgerald.

Once my wife returned to tag me out, I booked it for the front of the park to ride the new coaster, The Skyrocket. The wait was almost an hour long, but I was willing to tough it out along with the other park water soaked guests. EW. I then noticed something a little amiss. Up ahead of me was this little whelp of guy holding an infant. Couldn’t have been more than a few months old. Beyond thinking, “Hey, get that kid under some cover, it’s hot and sunny out here,” I couldn’t help but wonder how this guy was going to pull this off when he got to the deck. There’s no way in all of Zelienople that they are going to let that kid ride and I didn’t see any mother around, either. Once we got up to the deck I saw the master plan. Momma was riding two cars ahead of him and when her car came back in, he was ready to get on after handing the baby over to her. Made more sense to me after witnessing it. Still, they handed off an infant over a gap in the floor which made me cringe a little. Yet, that all went away as I got ready to try out a new coaster.  In all, the ride lasted just over a minute and was pretty neat, save the hour wait.

By now, the late afternoon sun was blazing over the park’s horizon and was still very hot.  My wife snuck in another splash down cleansing and an hour long wait for the indoor coaster called The Exterminator while I rode The Whip and the Carousel with the munchkin. We stopped for some pizza and then I was back to Kiddieland while my wife rode the Aero 360 with her niece. Until now, we both looked at that ride like it was enough to make us yack. She rode it twice, though, loving it. I was still enjoying being a proud parent and wearing that badge of honor as my little one continued to ride her heart out on the miniature rides. Unfortunately, another spin and puke called the Dizzy Dynamo. It was a bit like a Tilt-A-Whirl but I felt more like it was a Tilt-A-Hurl. She got to ride the mini Turtles and a few more rides before my wife got back.

We decided to ride the carousel and the Paratrooper before getting ice cream. I was all set to spray the crowd on the Paratrooper while my daughter giggled and laughed all throughout the ride. As we stood in line for ice cream the flood gates opened over the park. It had been threatening to rain since before sunset and now we were caught inside the park. We all hopped up on the covered porch surrounding the cafeteria and ate our ice cream before dodging the raindrops back to the van.

That’s when it happened. We had one more ride to go on and it was the car ride home. This little angel, this perfect child, this kid who spent the better part of seven hours riding her but off didn’t make it out of the parking lot before crashing. So, I guess I can still find enjoyment and excitement at the amusement park at my age without having to wear black socks up to my knees or shake my fist at the “damn kids” who whiz past me heading for the roller coaster queues. I just have to spend some time watching my kid enjoy the hell out of riding the rides. I don’t have to worry about my tubes going all wonky or fear that my Potato Patch fries might make a reappearance. I kind of like it that way. I still like that car ride at the end of the day. That’s still my favorite.  By the way, I need a shower.  I've got some serious "wet guest" funk going on with my person.  Should have worn a wet suit.

Friday, July 23, 2010

Homeless Man Breaks Into Bar Starts Selling Booze Makes Great 80s Movie

What you call a crime, I call great entrepreneurial spirit. The story goes like this. A local bar closes and a homeless man gets hired to help clean out the place. One night he breaks into the bar and instead of doing any burgling, he throws an “OPEN” sign up in the window and starts selling alcohol. First, he runs across the street and buys a six pack of beer and immediately sells that. Then he starts using the profits to buy more alcohol and then sell it. He starts to gain more patrons, upwards of 30 a day, and it all comes crashing down when he gets busted. Why? Word got out that the bar reopened. He was even interviewed and everything. The kicker… he was a former bronco rider who was estranged from his family.

Think of this, recently, there was a story about a teen who turned an old cell phone into a Porsche and it wasn’t an alien being come to Earth to protect the All Spark. He traded up from the cell phone on Craigslist.

When I heard this story, I was immediately reminded about the One Red Paper Clip story where a guy turned a red paper clip into a home. I may have to try this but I wonder where I could go with it. I’m sure if I head over to Craigslist I’ll find thousands of items in the barter section. Each one probably posted by someone trying to duplicate the success of the "One Red Paper Clip" and "Cell Phone Turned Porsche".

What you call a weird story in the news, I call a great 80s movie plot.
The spirit of the entrepreneur is a staple of 80s movies, especially ones that were based on real events. Look at films like Night Shift and KidCo, a favorite in the rotation on HBO, growing up. Then you have the more familiar films like Secret Of My Succe$s and the more recent, Accepted, to play with the themes that are in line with this story. That got me to thinking. This entire news entry has the basis for a run of the mill 80s movie.

Look at all the elements it has in common. Down on his luck guy hired to do a menial task and then gets the idea to go into business for himself, albeit in an illegal manner. I can see it now. A local homeless man gets a temporary job cleaning up a closed down bar before the owner leaves town. Our hero is standing inside this empty bar, sweeping up. Realizing that the job is done and he will be back on the streets with no paycheck he decides to break into the bar and squat there as a resident. He invites two other friends to spend the night off the streets. One, is a “Hooker with a heart of gold” type who really wants to change her ways. The other is a Vietnam Vet who hasn’t been able to hold down a job because of his PTSD.

He turns on the lights as they all enter to make preparations for sleeping. Along with the interior lights coming on, the “OPEN” sign lights up attracting a patron. The unsuspecting or at least uninformed patron sits at the bar and our hero reaches into his own personal cooler to grab a beer and promptly sells it to the patron who pays him for the beer as well as tips him for the service. He leaves and our hero suddenly gets an idea. He then runs across the street to a six pack shop and uses his newly acquired profit to purchase more alcohol. Soon, he has his vet buddy working as a bar back and cook while the hooker works as a hostess and cocktail waitress. You can even include bits like the hooker counting her tips stating that this is the most money she’s made without taking off her clothes.

The second act picks up in the middle of their success as we see them make improvements to the décor, done in a inspirational musical montage, pantomimed with a host of clichéd sight gags involving power tools and paint. Our hero has also hired more homeless friends to work at his bar. He hires a cook who is used to working with road kill as a menu and promotes his vet buddy to Head Of Security. He hires another bartender in the form of an out of work juggler from a travelling circus. He even brings in the stereotypical, out of work and on the street blues guitarist to do play sets, revitalizing his career as a musician. He also starts to attract the suspicion of the local liquor control board. The fact that he’s made it this far is only helped if this actually happened in the 80s. As he continues to see success he starts to develop a relationship with the hooker. The last line of the news article states that the man was estranged from his family and this could be used as a subplot where the hooker finds out he has a wife and rebuffs his affection.

Then we get to the all too important and often seen conflict for the gang. A local orphanage, where our hero grew up, is in dire need of funds. Wanting to repay the sisters for their kindness, all those years ago, he enters the bar, and himself into a bartending competition which includes flair [juggler] and speed pouring events. Just before the competition is set to go, they get busted and he is promptly thrown in jail. Violating several laws, including breaking and entering, serving alcohol without a license and several others he appears before the judge on the morning of the competition. Without bar sponsorship, even the juggler cannot compete, so they are pretty much screwed. At his grand jury trial, his inept court ordered defense attorney fumbles his way through the entire proceedings which leaves a trial date set for the same day as the competition.

During the trial, everything looks bleak but the hooker ends up forgiving our hero and gathers all of the employees to act as character witnesses at his trial. The gag is that, at first, the flood of unseemly people into the court room, such as hookers, homeless people, and other members of the Untouchable-like crowd appear to be the proverbial nail in our hero’s coffin. However, each one gets on the stand and explains how their life was in ruins and our hero offered them a job, a place to stay, and a chance at a better life. Now, we could have the twist where the jury finds him guilty and the judge changes the ruling or some other breath holding moment, but in the end, somehow, he gets acquitted or is found guilty with time served, probation or some other form of commuted sentenced and he’s able to compete with some kind of bar sponsorship and they go on to win the contest allowing him to save the orphanage. Of course, success is short lived as he and all his employees are now homeless and jobless, again.

In the end, whether or not he is able to open the bar again is up in the air but, in my mind, I see him opening up another business, say a temporary employment agency that finds jobs for all his friends. He ends up with the hooker and even a home with a white picket fence.

Of course, being that I put this in the 80s, you’d have to have an 80s cast from the 80s.

Our Hero – Michael Keaton / Mark Harmon / Steve Guttenberg / John Ritter
Our Veteran – John Goodman / Gary Busey / Bruce McGill / Jim Belushi
Our Hooker – Karen Allen / Shelly Long / Fran Drescher / Carole Davis / Geena Davis
Our Cook – Vincent Schiavelli (only one choice there)
Our Bad Guy – Dabney Coleman / Charles Grodin
Our Juggler – Bill Irwin (Mr. Noodle from Sesame Street)
Our Blues Singer – Buddy Guy or John Lee Hooker
Your Honor – Harry Morgan / Wilford Brimley / Harold Gould

Ok, must get out my big old typewriter [clack clack clack], chomp on my big stinky cigar [puff puff wheeze], and write this masterpiece. Then I will have to get a DeLorean equipped with a Flux Capacitor in order to go back in time and make this film.  Yet, if I were to be in Hollywood and make this film, now.  I would not only set it in the 80s.  I would write it and film it like an 80s movie.  Think, Wet Hot American Summer style.

Oh, it could so work.  Where's that extra plutonium I had lying around?

TRON Legacy Trailer From Comic Con 2010

Say what you want about remakes, sequels, adaptations, and even 3D films, this is the one thing I've been waiting for since I was a kid.  The trailers I have seen have blown me away.  The fact that Pixar is involved is reassuring.  Let's hope this doesn't complete the trifecta of suck that was the long awaited sequels/prequels to Star Wars and Indiana Jones.   And you got to love how they used CGI for a good reason to de-age Jeff Bridges.   Check out the latest trailer from this year's Comic Con.

The Mongo Abides.


Wednesday, July 21, 2010

Kids These Days

No, this is not another rant about the decline of adolescence in today’s world. So, feel free to stay on my lawn for the time being. But after I’m done, go away. [adjusts old man cap and hikes up trousers]

Actually, I had the chance to observe a few different children this weekend, either in person or over the web. Some of these experiences are touching, some heart breaking, some well, let’s just say it’s my kid and as bad as an influence I have been on her, she makes me laugh… and that’s why she’s still alive. [finger snaps, guns, wink] Kidding.

Let’s start off the weekend with Finley Pletcher. I did a hap hazard write up on her for Friday to help boost the opportunity for her family, old high school friends of mine, to get some additional exposure to their daughter’s fight with LCA. I could have taken more time but I was doing it quickly to get it up before the weekend because they were doing a fundraiser on Saturday.

I got to meet Finley at a concert this weekend and she is as adorable in person as she is in the write-ups I’ve read. She’s a brave little girl in a scary situation. We spend the early years of our childhood learning from experience. We learn by associating concepts based on our senses. Balls are round because we can see the shape and feel the texture of an object that lacks corners and straight lines. We hear the sound of a ball bouncing and know what it is. A big part of these experiences hinge on our perception based on sight. Not to rely on television as a crutch, but my own daughter has learned more from watching PBS and…. unfortunately, The Family Guy, than I could hope to teach her. More on that later.

I work in a field that is dependent on my ability to be able to look at and read information. And, on the side, I have the other business that relies on graphic design. Well, I know it looks like I’m blind or at least nearsighted when it comes to my work in that respect but just think if I couldn’t see at all. Still, growing up, I was a very visual person. I would have taken a movie over a book any day. That’s pretty bad for someone who had aspirations of being a writer. Even when it came down to books made into films, I was more about being handed all the information then having to do the extra work when I was reading. I’ve sort of shifted my concentration whereas I read more than I see. That goes with the notion that I don’t get to watch as much television and film but I am still not reading literature. It’s mostly tech writing, blogs about my line of work, or simply distractions from life.

But, if I were to lose that sight that I so dearly relied on, well, I’d be lost. To see someone at the precipice of total darkness and still being very much a kid and enjoying all the privileges of that age is very brave and inspiring to me.

Next up is little Selma. Selma the two year old granddaughter of my wife’s boss. Selma, and her three month old sister have an exciting and scary life. While they are both native to Southwestern Pennsylvania, Selma has spent almost half of her life in Vietnam with her parents who both work there. Her sister is going to be returning with them in a little while and will spend probably close to two years of her life, there, while her parents continue to work for the government.

Imagine being a small child and having to board a big plane for a 19 to 20 hour flight. All the little bumps and jolts taking you on a rollercoaster trip of sorts. Then, you are dropped into a distant land with no familiar faces. No uncles or aunts that you are used to seeing. No grandparents to come and visit and for a few hours of the day, your parents are gone while they work. Granted, at such a young age, most kids haven’t formed a huge attachment to the comforts of living in your native land. Canada is the only other country I’ve ever been to and for all the similarities between them and the U.S. there are still things that look different than I’m used to around here.
My own kid makes this list just because of her biggest adjustment. She lost one of her closest relatives this past April. My mother-in-law used to regularly babysit my daughter and when she died, my kid really put things into perspective. For being only three she gets a lot of concepts and knows that “Grammy” is no longer alive and, as she puts it, is at Kevin’s. [Heaven] We blow her a kiss every night and she is really easy going about it but there are times when she looks at us and says, “I miss Grammy.” Just last week, she broke my heart. My sister-in-law called to talk to my wife and my daughter wanted to speak to the person on the phone, no matter who it was. When my wife put her sister on speakerphone and she said, “Hello” her voice sounded a lot like their mother’s causing my daughter to yell out, “Grammy!” It devastated us to have to tell her it wasn’t. Now, she still has her other Grammy and they spend time together but losing one makes that one even more special to you. We hope she always remembers what a great person my mother-in-law was and never forgets their time together.

Lastly, I’m going to have to close this out on a sadder note. The final child I had need to mention was a little boy named Carson Rudick. My wife went to school with his mother and over the weekend, Carson died after a long fight with cancer. He was only five. The updates we received over his mother’s facebook page just killed us. We had just returned from a concert in my hometown. The lead singer of The Clarks, Scott Blasey, returned home for a solo performance in the town square. Although, he did not perform entirely by himself as two of his daughters arrived and took over the concert. They sang some covers with their Dad, including songs by Taylor Swift, Train and rounding out their set with a duet of Being For the Benefit of Mr. Kite. Honestly, how many children, under five, know that song off-book? Not many. Anyway, our little one got to meet Scott after the show and get pictures taken and once we returned home and had settled into our evening we saw the updates on Carson.

I have known people in my life who have had cancer. Some have beaten it, some have continued to struggle with it, and unfortunately some have lost their battle. And while the death of my mother-in-law was hard, she didn’t ultimately die of cancer. She had given cancer a run for its money and in the end a stupid brain hemorrhage killed her.  But a little girl, named Samantha, had bone cancer and did die of the disease. She was only 11 and was a fighter. She was the granddaughter of one of my former bosses, when I worked in a hotel. I got to meet her and saw, first hand, how courageous she was. And as a man who does not put faith in a lot of things outside of what he can see or touch, I prayed for that girl.  I prayed hard for nights on end. I asked for anything and I was never answered. That is what sucks most of all. A child with their whole life ahead of them taken from this Earth way too soon. I couldn’t even begin to fathom what my life would be like if I lost my little girl. For all the gray hairs and broken toys… that I didn’t contribute to, for all the Desitin painted walls and nail polished comforters, my life is constantly filled with joy on an hour to hour basis because of her being in my life. You truly discover a whole new level of love when you have a child and you will protect them with your whole being from the dangers that exist in this world.

So, for as much as I bitch about kids these days I just wanted to let you know that I still find inspiration, joy, bravery, and sadness in those I’ve had the honor and privilege to meet or read about. I won’t get on any Whitney Houston sing along but I do feel that the only thing out there that’s going to save the lot of us is our children. Hug them often. Hug them tight. Never forget the good and the bad. Give them your love, protection, and undying devotion. Raise them right and they’ll repay you in something more valuable than gold. Kids these days are special and we really need to be the best person for them to look up to.

And then, of course we’ll embarrass the hell out of them with pictures of their childhood. They’ll buy us just as many crappy gifts as we buy them. Socks, come on! We’ll put them on a golden pedestal and claim they are the best singer, actor, athlete even though they aren’t. But I wouldn’t have it any other way.

Now, get off my lawn and take your ball with you.

Monday, July 19, 2010

Pittsburgh Is Popufur

At last count, I believe that Pittsburgh was on just about every list known to man. I don’t know what it is, but Pittsburgh is becoming a very popular city. Maybe it always was. Maybe, I’ve just been blind to how well liked Pittsburgh is outside the confines of the tri-state area. Maybe, we need to tone it down a bit. I’m afraid of my favorite burgh becoming a snob.

Let’s see. We topped "America’s Most Livable Cities List" on Forbes and The Economist. We’ve ranked 12 on the “Fun Cities” list. We were rated one of the best cities to work in during a recession. I mean there isn’t a “Best City for…” list that we haven’t probably been on in the last four years. Hell, we even hosted the G-20 last year which was relatively tame compared to the issues that Toronto is having this year. Yeah, we had some incidents downtown and in Oakland but I’d call the Super Bowl and Stanley Cup celebrations more cause for riot gear than the G-20 protests. Yeah, we burn couches when we win a national championship.

However, for the last five years, Pittsburgh has been host to another event which is cause for a double take downtown. Anthrocon. That’s right, the furry convention holds court in downtown Pittsburgh every year. If you don’t know what a furry is, then you probably don’t want to know. Put it this way, a furry is someone who failed at attaining that lifelong goal of being a mascot. Now, I don’t want to get into a leg lifting match with people over the case of whether or not this is all too weird. People dressing up in animal costumes is simply a lifestyle and my biggest issue is why people would want to dress up in huge fur covered costumes with large heads and walk around downtown Pittsburgh in late June or July. I’m sure the inside of those costumes are about as pleasantly smelling as the Pirates road standings, at this point.

“But, Mongo, they request litter boxes in their hotel rooms.” Sure, that is a bit different, but quite frankly, I’ve been in my house waiting patiently to use the bathroom and thought about my cats’ litter box once or twice as my back teeth started floating.

“But, Mongo, these people are sexual deviants who are into weird sex.” And you aren’t? Ok, that was a bit unfair. I don’t know what your habits are and unless you have documented proof that every single person that dresses up like a unicorn mixed with a lion mixed with a luck dragon and carries a sword is a sexual deviant then you need to explain to me how you know it to be true. I’d love to hear that story.

The fact that the furries love Pittsburgh doesn’t surprise me. In fact, if I woke up tomorrow my head sewn to the carpet, I wouldn’t be any more surprised. The one thing that does surprise me is that they didn’t ask the ex-pierogi to be master of ceremonies or at least reached out in a show solidarity and attended a Pirate game to boo the team. Unfortunately, not only would their booing be drowned out by the booing that should be going on at a Pirate game, they were playing out of town.

So, furries love Pittsburgh and I guess Pittsburgh is sure to be on the top list of Cities who love Furries. I can only imagine that we are one step closer to being chose for a future Olympic Games site. But that might just bankrupt the city so let’s stay off that list.

Thursday, July 15, 2010

Finley's Fighters - Four Year Old With Degenerative Retinal Disease

I'm putting aside the humor and ranting for this post. 

This Saturday, in my hometown, a fundraiser is being held to raise money for the Foundation Fighting Blindness.   Little Finley Pletcher, who is four years old, has Leber's Congenital Amaurosis — LCA — a very rare degenerative retinal disease that causes vision loss.  She's already been declared legally blind despite being diagnosed only a year ago and will eventually go blind. 

I went to high school with both her parents and as a friend, a father, and someone who relies on and cherishes sight every day this just kills me.  So, I'm asking those of you who can find it in your hearts to make a small donation, any donation to the cause in Finley's name.  I'll be doing so as well.  If you follow the link, below, to the local news story you can see more of the details.   Those who cannot attend the barbecue but want to donate, may make checks to the "Foundation Fighting Blindness" and send it to the Kovalls, Finley's grandparents, at 1231 Sycamore St., Connellsville, PA, 15425, beginning at noon Saturday.

4-year-old, family keep hope in the face of blindness

Mixed Nuts, Finley's mom's blog.

Foundation Fighting Blindess page for Finley

Tuesday, July 13, 2010

Squeal Like a Fan: Teen Obsession and Growing Up In Pop Culture

I remember the biggest craze, growing up, was either the fist fights between moms at Christmas over cabbage patch dolls OR The New Kids On The Block.  I remember the way my pubescent female friends swooned over the boy band.   I remember the clothes, the albums, the Trapper Keepers, the branded textbook covers and even the brown paper bag ones, scribbled in pen, with the words, “Mrs. Jordan Knight” or “Mrs. Donnie Wahlberg” or “Mrs. Joey McIntyre” and maybe one or two, “Mrs. Other New Kid.” Nobody loved Jonathan. What was the other one named, Marlin? Merrill? Oh, well.

But then these girls grew up and stopped obsessing over these boys from Boston and went onto other interests, “Mrs. Dylan McKay-Walsh.” Um… Ew.

So, now that these same girls are moms and they are forced to reckon with their past obsessions being reborn in their children as they see their daughters drool and squeal over the latest of bubblegum trends and while their daughters are scribbling “Mrs. Justin Bieber” all over their facebook walls, the moms are scribbling all over their grocery lists, “Mrs. Cullen-Black.” Um…. Ew2.

But there is the other side of the coin for teenage obsessions. Boys had their own likes in the world of pop culture. I whole heartedly remember having my own scribbles on my book covers, “Mr. Susanna Hoffs” and “Mr. Debbie Gibson.” Um… [facepalm].   I was also a huge fan of Erin Gray from Buck Rogers and Alyssa Milano, pre Phoebe Cates/Demi Moore short haircut. The walls in my bedroom were adorned with not one, but two posters of her; one wearing a big gray sweater and the other a New Jersey Devils sweater. Of course, I also had a door length poster of Samantha Fox in a swimsuit, too. Once I gave up the ghost of ever becoming the object of Samantha Micelli’s or Debbie Gibson’s affection, I moved on.  But I still kept the option open for Susanna Hoffs a little while longer.  Hey, it was the only reason for repeated watchings of The Allnighter.

Yet, like all childhood obsessions, we grow up and we grow out. I no longer scribble “Mr. So and So” and though I joke about all these things, like they actually happened, I still laugh at the mere thought of having such obsessions, even in smallest amounts. Of course, now, I’d be remiss if I didn’t admit my own squealing, today, over such goodies as Kristin Chenoweth and Giada De Laurentiis. Um… Yum. But it’s nothing compared to the pure hysteria seen today when Taylor Lautner appears before a crowd of pent up female wolf lovers at a showing of Eclipse in Pittsburgh. You can even see the blushing on the anchors of the local news team as they report footage of him leaving the theater, which was pretty much his hair and chin behind a bodyguard.  Sorry, no abs, ladies.

However, teens today perhaps or more savvy and learn to adjust quicker to memes and trends as seen in the lack of love ,these days, for Miley Cyrus. I’ve noticed in a few people that her choices in art and clothing has registered an out of tune note with some teens who actually “get it.” Just a couple of years ago, older teens were on the bandwagon with Paris Hilton’s and Britney Spears’ trashy lifestyle.  Even South Park made reference to it in the episode, “Stupid Spoiled Whore Video Playset.” Maybe we are seeing the pendulum of risk behavior begin to swing back the other way. One can only hope.

Now that Hannah Montana is scheduled to end we can be sure that there will still be “Miley Watch” as she most likely continues her musical and acting career. Except, now there will be no “Uncle Walt” telling her to go back upstairs and wipe that crap off her face. We’ve seen Britney hit rock bottom, maybe. We are now engrossed in the spectacle that is Lindsay heading to jail, a la Paris Hilton, which if she actually makes it to jail, she will most likely not serve the entire sentence. Frankly, it’s probably the best thing for her.

If Miley is smart she will recognize these examples of how not to conduct your privileged life, [begin rant] driving that post fame vehicle at high speeds, while under the influence, into a crosswalk full of nuns and then fleeing the scene as TMZ chases after you and Perez Hilton attempts to draw scribbles all over you.  [end rant] She still wants to focus on her career but needs to carry those tween fans that are starting to get older and smarter as well as attract new fans that can relate and identify with her music. She’s opted to not go to college which is probably dumb move number one. There are plenty of stars out there who balanced the best of both worlds, fame and a good education. She says she can always go back. I said the same thing when I graduated, with a theater degree, 12 years ago. I still have yet to finish an application.

I have another piece of advice for Miley. If you plan on focusing on your career then start networking with people, with proven track records, who can help you. And If you plan on continuing to act, I HIGHLY suggest doing some theater. Even if it’s Off-Off Broadway you cannot discount the experience as anything but helpful and enriching. The chance to collaborate with creative people in that kind of environment is one of the best resume and experience builders there is. Work on those acting chops and learn from those who know how to do it. Stay away from the Glitter and Crossroads type of films and pay your dues in grease paint and stage lights. You’ll be a better person for it. If you are worried that taking a break from the bubblegum pop set will hurt your career then you already realize that your fame is probably fleeting. Maybe college isn’t such a bad idea. I suggest business or media and communications in your case. You’ve got a brand to uphold. Don’t blow it.

There were a lot of fallen idols in my teenage years.   We just saw Corey Haim and Gary Coleman die this year.   Yet, the level of partying and addiction seems a lot less classy then it did in the 80s.  When I recently discussed the parallels of Lindsay Lohan's life with those of the 80s starlets I was reminded of a hysterical, yet sad but true, sketch from Saturday Night Live entitled "America's Most Wanted: Former Child Stars" which recounted The Barrymore Gang.  I wondered if SNL would try to dust off the sketch and update it to today's stars and fads with Lindsay, Britney, and Miley.  I was then told that even in her worst days, Drew Barrymore held more sense of class than Lindsay ever could.  This got me to thinking, "Maybe the drug scene was more chic and glamorized in the 80s than now."  Shows like Breaking Bad and Weeds portray the lives of drug dealers but it's not like Bright Lights Big City and Less Than Zero. It's more like, toothless, penniless, running around in your underwear with a .44 tucked into the waistband of your BVDs instead of the glitz and glamour or the neon party scene. Maybe it really was a downward spiral of seedy motels and bathrooms and we didn't have the paparazzi and bloggers to document the cracks in the painted facades. 

And on that downard note, I’ll get off my soapbox now and back to scribbling “Mr. …”  Hmm.

How is Markie Post looking these days?

Thursday, July 8, 2010

How Hot Is It?

It’s apparently so hot in the Pittsburgh and the surrounding regions, known as Pennsyltucky, that people’s brains have melted. Yes, their memory receptors have begun malfunctioning because they are complaining. That’s right, complaining. Lest we forget that six months ago a lot of us had no power, three feet of snow, and little hope of being able to get the kids out of the house and back into school before we went crazy. It must be scorching out there.

I remember sitting in the darkened and frozen cave that was Chez Mongo, wearing full snow gear, exhausted after trying to dig out my car. My wife had put a pot of boiling water on the stove, which was luckily gas powered, in order to raise the temperature to a balmy 46 degrees, so that out cats didn’t rise up and attack us for letting their comfy 70 degree home get chilly. We had been forced to take up temporary residence at my in-laws, which involved packing up a week’s worth of gear for us and our two and a half year old. I remember getting completely unpacked, futon mattress on the floor, with linens on it and clothes out of the suitcase before having the hunch to call our house to see if the answering machine would pick up. One of my cats answered instead informing me that “You better get over here. The house is possessed. One minute darkness, next minute every light and appliance is on full blast. I has a scared.”

Yep, the entire Eastern seaboard was pummeled with snow in February. So much snow, that civil services shut down the government, paramedics told injured people to walk up the road, plow trucks were in short supply and nearly every roof in the tri-state area collapsed. And we all bitched about the cold and the snow and the power outages and the lack of communication and ability to harvest crops and kill rival mafia members. Civilization was crumbling around us as we were forced to *gasp* talk to each other in person.

But that’s all ancient history, now. No one cares about the three of snow that sat on top of their cars. No one bats an eyelash at the thought that if the Sun were to say, “Oh ‘eff it!” and shut off tomorrow we’d be plunged back into cold temperatures. As long as the mercury doesn’t stay on the north end of the thermometer for more than a week we’ll be happy. I mean we could be faced with the prospect of seeing Justin Bieber burst into flames and Lady Gaga might have to stop wearing elaborate costumes and that would be bad. Please, President Obama, invoke sanctions against the Sun and order it to stop being so hot. You are magical and can solve all the world’s problems. You are not some mere mortal in an executive office that has protocol and procedures to adhere to, right? Make the Sun stop. It’s too hot.

Dear God, I have to walk outside, across the grass filled yards, in the bright warm Sun, wearing shorts and stare up at a blue sky that isn’t filled with clouds and a million snowflakes laughing at me with my puny snow shovel. HOW CAN YOU BE SO CRUEL? I have to drive on the open roads, using all lanes, with the windows down, or AC on, listening to reports about beaches and pools and barbecues and concerts and fireworks and baseball games. MAKE IT STOP! I have to see scantily clad ladies laying out and sunning themselves. OH MY RETINAS! (just kidding honey *smooches*) I have to hear the sound of my kid laughing as she splashes around in the pool and gets all tuckered out that she naps for three hours. THE HORROR!

The only thing that gives me solace is that six months from now I’ll be back to breathing heavily as I shovel out the car, frostbitten, flush faced and snotty nosed. That will make it all better. Sigh. Yeah blizzards. Hooray for States of Emergency.

‘Eff you, Sun.

Friday, July 2, 2010

Switch Hitter

After being a homeowner for almost six years I can pretty much say I know my house inside and out. However, there are those times where I stumble upon something I cannot clearly say I was fully aware of in the last six years. I’ve either forgotten that it was there or I just never bothered to look. Now, I’m not talking about things I’ve put into the house like appliances or other objects. For the life of me I can’t find a check that I know I left in the kitchen one day and it pisses me off that I haven’t found it yet. Then there is some AA batteries that I specifically bought for something and now cannot find the unopened pack in the abyss that is our Red Room. With a three year old it’s not hard to believe that things could go missing but these are things she wouldn’t have had access to. Perhaps I need to go down and check out the history of the area. I may have bought a house that was built on some old cemetery. “You only moved the head stones. Why? Why?!”

Still, like I said, every once in a while I come across something that totally shakes my confidence as someone with a pulse. It could be a blemish on the hardwood floor in the dining room that I continually look at as if it is a spider preparing to eat me alive. I’ve probably blown at it or gotten real close to it a hundred times in the last six years and still thought it was a bug. It just so happened that a couple of months ago I became baffled by a light switch.

Now, when I first moved into my house I had to go through the whole “This switch does this and that switch does that.” In fact I had to call the previous owner to ask about one in the garage because I couldn’t figure out what it went to. Turned out it powered an outlet just outside the garage which I use for holiday lighting. Yep, Clark Griswold, here, uses one outlet for all his exterior illumination. But this was almost six years ago. Here I am years later and I am just realizing I don’t know what this switch by my front door does. At least I don’t remember what it does.

There are four switches here. So, I do what everyone does. I flip it. I flip it. I flip it. I flip it. Nothing. I open the front door and flip it. Nope. The porch light is on another switch. I look inside the door that goes to the attic which has two switches. One doesn’t do anything and I’ve switched it a thousand times before I realized it went to the attic fan which has a pull chain on it as well. I guess it’s an override. The other switch belongs to the attic light. Back to the front door. I try another switch. The light above the entryway blazes on like a UFO ready to abduct me for some probing. I try the fourth switch. Nothing. What in the blue hell? Oh, never mind. That one powers the outlet behind the loveseat. We only use that during the holidays as well. I continue flipping the unknown switch while looking around the room. Still no clue as to what it does. Eventually, I get bored and stop looking.

A few days go by and I am expecting company. I go to the front door and turn on the porch light. The UFO shows up again. “Dammit! Six years in this damn house and I still can’t turn the porch light on in the first try. I switch off the entryway light and turn on the porch light. But I had to think about it first. Meanwhile that phantom switch stares at me. “Come on, you know you want to try me. I can feel it. You want to start flipping me incessantly because you don’t know what I do. Go ahead.”

“No. I will not be pulled into this insanity. Good day to you, sir.”

Another couple of days go by and I realize that the front porch light is still on. I flip the switch. Nothing. “Oh for the sweet love of Zombie Jesus. That’s the outlet switch.” I turn off the front porch and go on my way. Then I come back and flip that damn phantom switch three more times. Maybe it only works in the daylight or maybe the problem is that it needs to warm up first.

Now, as a tangent taker, I need to tell you this other story. When I was a kid, we had a dusk to dawn light on the back of our house just above the living room window. It was one of those big white lights that took forever to warm up and once you got it going, you didn’t want to turn it off. Growing up, I remember seeing E.T. in the theater with a friend of mine. I went with him and his mom and afterwards they dropped me off at my house. I was about seven years old and I walked into my house like it was a strange and scary place. I couldn’t find my parents anywhere and proceeded into the living room at the back of the house to sit down and watch some television.

The comforting beam from that huge ass lamp outside bathed the room with enough light that I could walk unassisted across the room to the switches by the back door. I reached up and flipped the switch and suddenly I was in total darkness. I flipped the wrong switch and shut off the outside light. I immediately flipped it back but who knows how long it could take to come back on to full power. During that time I was likely to have been eaten by a grue. Suddenly I became a berserk ridden child and pinballed all over the house looking for a room with light. It was if the power completely went out in the entire world and I was trapped in a box. I made it into the kitchen where I found my parents. I don’t know where they were at the time. Perhaps they were out for the evening since I was gone and didn’t make it back in time. Perhaps they… um, never mind. Let’s skip ahead. This memory came back to me as I waited for whatever mythical light that was attached to that stupid phantom power switch to warm up. It didn’t.

I forgot about the switch for about a week and then I was doing something in my living room and had to turn on the UFO light above the door. I ended up turning on the front porch light and my wife said, “What are you doing?” I said, “I know, I hit the wrong switch.” I then proceeded to hit the phantom switch because I had finally forgotten that I didn’t know what it did. “Doh!” Finally, I got it together and cued the UFO and looked my wife. “Honey, do you know what the hell this switch does? I can’t figure it out.”

“That’s for the light in the yard. Remember, we went through this when we first moved into the house.”

Then it dawned on me. There were two switches that I thought served no function. The first one was in the garage and the second one was at the front door. When I called the previous owner he told me about the garage and the fact that they installed a gas powered lamppost in the front yard. It’s a pain in the ass because it’s always on. I have to close the valve on it to shut it off and it’s a bitch to relight. Not to mention I have to buy mantles from a certain store at a certain time of day and they’re $10 a piece. I originally thought the switch in the garage powered it but they told me about the outlet and that the switch at the front door that doesn’t do anything was for the lamppost when it was electric. “So, I guess it doesn’t do anything. It’s a dead switch.” I said, and flipped it back and forth one more time. OK, two more times. OK, three.

The next day I got a call from some old guy in Sweden. He said, “Cut it out!”

OK, four times.

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