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Monday, March 28, 2011

Grand Theft Oh No

Last week, I had a meeting downtown which required me to drive and park in one the cities fine parking establishments. When I say ‘fine’ I mean that it was a lot and it had parking spaces and they charged me eight dollars to park there. Beyond that, I would say it was one of the worst experiences I’ve had parking downtown.

As soon as I pulled in, the attendant approached me and I had a Ferris Bueller moment. You know the point in the film where Cameron has doubts about parking in the city only to have his fears validated with extra mileage racked up on his dad’s Ferrari?

It’s not to say that I think my ’05 Malibu Maxx is ‘so choice’. It’s because, this is my car. This is how I get to work. If this gets trashed or wrecked or breathed on wrong, there are repercussions within my life that cause a cascading world of fail.

So, needless to say, when the attendant says, “If you want to park here, I need eight dollars and your keys” I feel that this is a time to give him only the actual key and take everything with me, including the car seat. Kidding, I left that but took anything of real value out with me and stuffed into my laptop bag.

After the meeting, I returned to an even fuller lot with cars lined up perpendicular to the parking spaces, effectively blocking my car into a tomb. I approached the attendant who was more concerned with collecting the money from new customers instead of helping those, who had already paid, get out. Makes sense, right? After you have paid, you are essentially at their mercy. They don’t care if you have a 20 minute ride back to the office to actually do work. They want the new money.

That’s when they made their mistake. One attendant tells me that there are 20 other people besides me who want to get out of the lot and they’ll get to my car eventually. I didn’t wear a coat but I had one on my front seat and my keyless entry FOB. I figured the least I could do is drop off my laptop bag and grab my jacket instead of freezing outside in the March weather while holding a bag full of my possessions that I felt held some sort of value as to not be left for stealing. While one attendant tells me it will be awhile, the other one says that my key is on the floor mat. ‘Really’, I thought. So, basically, anyone can just come onto the lot and take whatever car they want. I thanked the guy for the information but told him that my car was blocked in on either end.

Then he returned to taking money from more new customers while the rest of us sat and waited. After another five minutes I figured, ’Eff it.’ I had a plan. On my way back to my car, I noticed some poor schlub trying to sneak through a couple of other cars to get out. He basically scratched the hell out of the bumper on the car next to his. I told him to stop and I help him maneuver his car safely out of the space and saw the damage he inflicted on the neighboring car. Yeah, whatever reservations I had for my plan being a bad idea quickly went away with the thought of someone dinging up my car in order to get out. Because far be it from me to think that the lot would be responsible for any damage to my car.

I made it back to my car and saw that only one car stood between me and freedom, a black Mazda CX-9. It was unblocked on its front and back end. I looked around and said, “Let’s do this.” I opened the front door, grabbed the keys off the floor and sat for a minute looking for the damn ignition.


No keyhole. Just a simple knob which I figured out you pushed and turned with no key required. As I started up, I looked at the interior on this car and it was sweet. It was pretty well cared for which made me think, ‘This lady picked the wrong lot to park in’. No matter now. I threw the car into drive and away I went.

I drove it three feet.

Three feet was all that stood between me and freedom. I turned the car off, put the keys back on the floor mat and made doubly sure that the car was unlocked when I closed the door. I went back to my six year old station wagon, decked out in kiddie grime and empty wrappers and dusty dashboard and stained upholstery from spilled syrup due to an ill restrained sticky bun from Thanksgiving of 2006 and the torn ‘Babies R Us’ blinder in the back window, evidence of my kid’s inability to not tear something completely apart once she notices it are all reminders of how badly this car has fallen from grace from the day I drove it off the lot with only 36 miles on it.

Three feet away was a shiny, brand new, more expensive, and larger status symbol. But, I simply saw it as an obstacle. It was a symbol of my confinement. I was quite happy in my little Chevy five door. I just wanted out of the lot.

As I drove out of the lot I ran into the money grubbing lot attendant who attempted to block me in further with another car, but he begrudgingly got out of my way, probably unaware I nearly stole a car from his lot. I was free and this asshole wasn’t about to stop me, now. Out of my way!

You better believe I will never, again, park in the lot on Penn Ave, underneath the Crosstown Blvd. I’ll take my chances with quarters and a street meter. I still hope that lady was able to get in her CX-9. That would have sucked if I would have trapped her there with her keys locked in her car.

Saturday, March 26, 2011

WUMF: March Edition

Here it is, the end of March and coming at you is another edition of ‘What’s Up, My Friends?’.

I feel like such a lazy blogger. I’ve noticed the lack of posts these last couple of months and thought, “Am I really doing justice to my readers?”. Looking back at this month and February, I averaged about six posts each. In January, I had 10. Last year, I was averaging around 11 or 12 a month. I just don’t have the free time. So, am I slacking at blogging or doing extra ‘real’ work that cuts into my time? How about ‘C: All of the above’?

1. Pray for Japan
The biggest news this month was of course, the devastating earthquake and tsunami in Japan. I cannot imagine going through that level of destruction and having a positive attitude. The cascading effect on the people and the commerce of Japan was tremendous and my heart goes out to them. Earlier in the month I made a donation on behalf of the shirt shops, contributing a dollar from every sale I had over a weekend. I ended up at 26 sales but rounded up to $30 just to be karmically balanced. Had this happened in December, I probably would have topped out around $70. That just goes to show you how sluggish sales are this time of year.

Still, there are a lot of shirt brands out there donating money towards disaster relief and the major players, CafePress and Zazzle have information about the cause.

2. OHMAHGAWD, It’s a Tornado!
Not quite as devastating as Japan’s earthquake and at least funnier and more politically correct than Gilbert Gottfried, a lot of national attention went to my little corner of the world, Southwestern PA This was thanks to a tornado that touched down about 11 miles from my house. The comedy comes from a viral video taken by a kid on his cell phone and it went all the way to CNN.

Of course, I had to jump on it with a shirt.

Like I said, it was still a devastating event, as you’ll see from the video. Many homes were damaged and even destroyed. Yet, when you get a little excited and express yourself in true Pittsburghese, you have comedy gold. OMG TORNADO! More intense than a double rainbow.

3. Minecraft is a hell of a drug
My last post was dedicated to my newest addiction, Minecraft. Well, I can’t help but talk about this game. In fact, I have become so addicted to playing and watching the Yogscast videos that I now swear in a British accent whenever something happens to me. In fact, I have a tendency to look on my kid as she’s built a pretty amazing house out of blocks and say, “That’s a nice everything you have there. It’d be a shame if something happened to it.’

Maybe this is where all my free time went to. Yes, I'm sure of it. Now, just one more block.

4. S#!t My Kid Says
One last thing about my kid. Apparently, she is learning how to use words to make bigger ones. We were coming home one night and the police showed up at my neighbor's house. As I was getting the little one out of the car she noticed the police officer standing on the neighbor's porch. Without missing a beat, she says, "Hey, What is that butthole doing over there?" That's not the best part. She knows to say butt instead of ass but she's never put it into a bigger word.

5.  Who the Hell is Kurt Russel?
Being 36, I am bound to transition into that state where I am working with people much younger than myself.  In my last job, I ended up reporting to people who were younger than I am.  I don't know.  Maybe it's the anti-authoritarian in me, but reporting to people younger than myself leads to a little less respect for them.  It's not that I disrespect their abilities or experience... OK, maybe it is.  It's just that I look at younger people and have a little bit of arrogance towards them.  That's my own problem, I guess.   It was especially at a company where I, not only, was older but had been in the company longer.

Still, I do what I can to help get the youth of America by culturing them when I can.  Sometimes they surprise me or show me something new, but in most cases I am showing them something old. 

Case in point, a coworker made the remark that she wanted to see Gone With the Wind because it was a classic.   Yes, it is a classic but that's not the only reason to see it.   If you are truly interested in movies, then by all means, see it.  It is part of the Golden Age of movies with grandeur all around it.  The sets, the sweeping music, the classic performances, and the history it brings.   But, sometimes, we use the word classic to dilution.  AMC shows Will Ferrell movies and they call them classics.

So, I suggested seeing a lot of movies that I would consider classic just to give some scope to the term.   This ended up leading to a conversation about John Carpenter.  John Carpenter has made some cult classics.  The Thing is one of my favorites with one of my favorite actors, Kurt Russell. 

AT this point, she said, "Who?"   I totally facepalmed on that statement.   She is 24 years old and has never seen The Thing, Escape From New York, Big Trouble in Little China, Tombstone, or even Overboard.   That is a travesty in and of itself.   So, I am going to lend her my copy of The Thing and we'll go from there.

Take care everyone.

Wednesday, March 23, 2011

Help! I'm Addicted To Minecraft!

My penchant for getting addicted to games is legendary. I spent an entire series, early on in the blog history, detailing my love of video games throughout my life. I went from the age of the Atari 2600 through PC gaming and ended up at the PS2. And I always vowed to go back and more entries on PS3, Wii, and even online gaming. Unfortunately, I got lazy or busy, depending on your understanding of my free time.

To bridge the gap, I did a couple of ‘one off’ posts about Uncharted and Fallout 3 for PS3 and the Call of Duty series for the Wii. Since then, I’ve taken a break from those and had focused on Need for Speed: Hot Pursuit, which is a game that can get your adrenaline really pumping. I do not suggest playing it for any length of time and then driving anywhere. You’re liable to find yourself speeding.  But this is nothing compared to my new timesuck.

My wife has a piano student who is a bit of a gamer.  He has an Xbox 360 and was a big Halo nut.  We’ve talked a lot about gaming and we’ve spent lesson time racing, much to wife’s dismay, I’m sure. However, he started asking me one day about Minecraft. I had never heard of it. I thought he was talking about Minesweeper.  To hear him speak of it made little sense because he’s in high school and has a tendency to talk really fast and not make a lot of sense unless you really pay attention to him. You can see why I like this kid instead of my usual, “Get off my lawn” mentality. So, I did a little research and was utterly amazed at this game. I also resisted it with as much will power as I could muster.

Unless they are a gamer, trying to explain Minecraft to someone can be frustrating. They don’t understand game physics or sandbox modes or anything like that. So, I found it very hard to try and relate to others about what Minecraft is without saying, “Just go to YouTube and watch a video.” But, I’m going to try to do it for you, the reader.

Imagine the island from LOST as if it were built by the creators of Wolfenstein and then ask people to just go out and build stuff like in a SimCity style of game. Not clear enough? OK long version it is.

To get you into the right frame of mind you have to understand the brevity of the design. Everything in the world of Minecraft is built using blocks. It’s a very cubistic world with really no angled surfaces except for liquids. For being 2011, the level of graphics are laughable but believe me, once you start playing you’ll forgive the crudely drawn landscapes.

You start out on an unknown continent. You have no items in inventory. You have no real direction. You just start building. There’s no score, no end, and no limits to your imagination. Sounds like a typical Saturday with my kid and her basket of blocks. That’s what this is, essentially, a game of building with blocks. Except you have to get the blocks from your environment.

The hills are made of dirt and rock and the beaches are made of sand. There are trees around and even snow in some areas. Basically, you walk up to a tree and punch it. It pops and there is a floating block of wood left in its place. You grab the block and continue to karate chop the tree until you have several pieces in your inventory. Now, you need to start making a shelter. Why? Because nightfall will be soon upon you and the monsters will be out. That’s right, monsters. There is a day and night cycle in Minecraft and during the day, animals roam free. At night, skeletons and spiders and zombies search for unprepared miners. And perhaps the worst of the lot, the creeper will sneak up on you, hiss and then explode. So, your first order of business in Minecraft is to build a shelter. You can do that by opening up your inventory and putting a piece of wood into your ‘crafting’ area. It can then be rendered into wood planks. Those can be used to construct a crude, but effective shelter to keep you safe from the nasties. During the night, you can focus on building tools. Once you are safe, open your inventory and build a crafting bench. One plank in each of the four crafting squares will render a workbench with an expanded area of nine spaces in which to craft items. Place wood planks into the center of your crafting area to split them into sticks to make tools.

Building tools is a fairly simple process. You need only to consider what the essential parts are to a tool. Since you have a nine square crafting area available, putting wood planks in the blocks to form a ‘T’ will construct a wooden pickaxe. This is essential to your inventory in order to do anything else. Well, there are other ways, like luring a creeper into an area and then letting him explode in order to collect various remnant blocks of cobblestone, but that’s dangerous. So, once you have your wooden pickaxe and it is day time, once more, venture out into the world and find rock. Use the pickaxe to bust up some stones in and collect the cobblestone. Using the same method as the pickaxe construction, replace the top of your ‘T’ with cobblestone and you will have constructed a stone axe. Put two a vertical line, consisting of one stone and two sticks and you now have a shovel. You can also build hatchets and hoes as well.

Now that you have a decent amount of inventory built up you want to hold onto it. So using wood planks, construct a chest by placing a plank in all of the nine blocks except the center. Place the chest in your shelter and fill it up with your stuff. Place two chests next to each other and you double the capacity. You can build a furnace the same way using stones and now you can smelt ores and other materials to build more items. Use wood as fuel and sand as an ingredient and you can make glass for windows in your shelter.

The important thing to remember is protecting your items. If you die, you respawn at your original starting point and you lose all your items. If you are pretty close to where you died, you may be able reclaim all your belongings which will all just be floating in the air. However they can disappear over time. That’s why chests are so valuable. It’s the basic rule of adventure gaming. Take only what you need to explore and return to deposit your acquisitions. Lather. Rinse. Repeat.

Once you are ready to really explore, grab some tools and head for the nearest hillside and just start digging. Eventually, you’ll open up a cave or a tunnel into a mine. In order to light the way and see where the monsters might be, you’ll need torches. A simple recipe of two sticks with a piece of coal on top and you’ll have a way to mark your path as well as keep the monsters from spawning behind you while you are exploring. Two rules of thumb when exploring a mine are never dig straight up and never dig straight down. Because, sand and gravel react with the same realistic physics as the real world, you can potentially suffocate yourself in a sand or gravel avalanche because they will fall if there is space below them. Also, lava will fall and monsters will fall through holes in the ceilings of caves. When you dig straight down, you run the risk of breaking into a cavern and falling to your doom.

This is why Minecraft is so addictive. When I was just outside, digging in the dirt and not really making sense of what I needed to do to survive, Minecraft was rather boring. Punch a pig here. Karate chop a tree there. Oooh, big fun. Then, I had to take shelter. I broke into a hillside and found a small cave and set up a simple dwelling. I waited out the night while I read up on how to make tools. There was a lot of rock around me so I started digging into the walls. I busted out a block and there was this expanse behind it. It just went on and on forever. It was dark and there were noises. I quickly walled up the opening with dirt but I kept thinking. I want to see what’s in there. So, I basically spent time building up tools and supplies to do some exploring and that’s when I realized that I had been playing for a few hours. I simply just gave in to the possibility of what that little hole in the wall could become.

Eventually, I moved on from the cave dwelling because cows and pigs and chicken and sheep kept spawning inside. Not to mention, on occasion, skeletons and creepers spawned inside, regardless of all my torches. I died quite a few times and couldn’t get back inside to where I kept all my weapons were at because a big effing archer skeleton “Waz in my house, killing me lotz.” So, now I am building a new house a few feet away on top of a mound. Unfortunately, building a proper house takes time and I have to run inside the cave with the chickens and pigs while spiders sit outside my window during the night. To fix this, I’m building a tunnel from the cave to the construction site in order to move back and forth. This is what Minecraft has done to me. I’m building tunnels that take twice as long as the actual house construction will take. However, once I’m done, I will have access to a tunnel that will lead right to my cave and all the caverns within. Eventually, I will move on to other caves or even begin to dig in the basement, starting new caves.

So, if you’re even the least bit interested in all this madness, go pick up Minecraft and watch your life slowly be taken away from you. In the meantime, go watch these hilarious Brits enjoy the wonders of Minecraft. Even if you don’t feel like taking on Minecraft on your own, because you have a life, waste a good lunch hour watching their YouTube videos. They’re a riot and make sure you wear earphones because they swear quite a lot. British humor, w/ swearing, ranks up there near Muppet violence on my list of things I absolutely love.

And once you've made that jump into playing, I highly suggest going to Minepedia to research how to do things.   Have fun!

I've also done some shirts for my stores.

Thursday, March 17, 2011

It's Amateur Night, Oh What a Night

St. Patrick’s Day is upon us as well as March Madness. But then again, that is what March Madness is around the bars today and tonight.

Let’s face it, anytime you designate a holiday as a reason to go out and drink, you run the risk of inviting all of the people not field ready to participate and cause problems.

I was a bartender in a former life and absolutely hated working on New Year’s Eve and St. Patrick’s Day. Why? It wasn’t because of the crowds and the busy bars. It was because regular, everyday people tried to imitate the professional drinkers, like a bunch of kids who just watched Jackass and thought it would be cool to light off a firecracker placed between their ass cheeks.

Now, New Year’s Eve is a time for joyous celebration and revelry. But if you feel that you have to go out and get shit faced just to say, “I went out on New Year’s Eve and got shit faced” then you are part of the problem. You get all loaded and then you get all belligerent and start fights.  Then you go and wreck your car or worse.  The real drinkers are not a two night a year partying type. They do it on any day that ends in ‘Y’. It doesn’t matter if it’s the Super Bowl or Arbor Day. They don’t need a holiday to find an excuse to drink, but for the most part, they understand the boundaries.

Granted, there are plenty of drunks out there that cause problems regardless of the occasion and I’m not trying to glamorize or romanticize their lifestyle.  I simply mean that there are people who realize what they are doing and don’t need to go out to a bar and wear a stupid green Styrofoam hat or blow into a noise maker to enjoy some libations.  I am not a heavy drinker and I am quite comfortable sitting in my own home and having a drink on New Year’s Eve, during the Super Bowl or during a holiday meal. But I also know that anybody who comes to my house to do the same and will either spend the night or be cleared for departure at the end of the evening.

But I am not without fault.  I, too, felt the need to be a part of the celebration.  I finally realized how silly it was to go out for going out's sake when my wife and I decided that we just had to go out for St, Patrick's Day and did everything we could to find a place to go drink at.   Yet, all we were met with was busy and overcrowded places that held ridiculous amounts of drunk people.  Then, just to say we did go out, we stopped at a local motel bar and had  drink, then left.  It was at that moment I said, "Eff it!"  No more going out on holidays for stupid reasons.  But my life was checkered with doing such things for the sake of doing them.  I was an amateur in my youth.

When I was in my teens, I thought that if I didn’t go out and party on New Year’s Eve, then I was missing something important.  I had no intentions of drinking at that age, but mandated to myself that I had to go out, regardless.  I simply stated, “It’s New Year’s Eve. We HAVE to go somewhere!”  One particular year involved me organizing a trip to the nearby ski resort, just hoping that something spectacular would happen. My friend came over and we decided that we were going to drive the 45 minutes up the mountain to participate. I didn’t have a license, and technically he didn’t either, though he claimed he could drive a stick shift.  That bit of information was important because the only vehicle available to use was my brother's old Plymouth Horizon.  He was at college, my parents were out and so were his.   The Horizon had seen better days and at this point, I didn’t even know whether or not it had tags or insurance on it, let alone gas in the tank.

I had all these grand visions of showing up to the resort and immediately being thrust into an adventure of epic proportions involving older twins in ski boots. We’d pass for somewhere in our 20s vs. 15 and 16. Maybe we would end up in some kind of spy mission or win a downhill race or at least a hot tub. This would happen by way of improbable yet totally believable 80s movie logic which would only require us to master skiing or spying in the length of a three minute rocking montage. Yes, it would be an epic night involving a stolen sports car, secret microfilm and a bevy of beauties who never bothered to check our IDs. My thoughts were filled with a John Hughes style grandiose plan that would certainly get us a medal of honor and a trip to the White House.

The next morning, my father came up to me and said, “Where did YOU go last night?” He had somehow sensed that we didn’t just stay at home. We were very careful in returning the car to exactly the spot we left it. I was painstaking in returning the keys to the exact same spot on the hooks in the kitchen as to never give anyone reason to suspect we had gone anywhere. But, yet, my father, the master craftsman of bullshit sniffing (He spent 24 years on the board of the Municipal Authority in our town) knew something was up. I had to come up with some cover story as to not risk National Security over our night of decadence and death defying feats of excellence.

I worked out the details in my head. Disavow any knowledge of mischief and instead misdirect his suspicions. In essence I came up with a wonderful lie disguised as the God’s honest truth.

I confessed to my father that we didn’t go anywhere. Somehow, I knew that wouldn’t fly. He knew we at least were in the car. But, how? I then shifted the story to a botched attempt at going somewhere. I told him my friend attempted to drive and ended up stalling the car, repeatedly to the point of flooding it. We managed to make it nearly three feet before giving up. We then threw it in neutral and pushed it back to where it was originally parked, went inside and just watched Dick Clark. That was it. That was the flimflam story I sold my father and he bought it.

Now, I wish I could divulge what really happened that night. Unfortunately, the involved parties are still around and could be in grave danger if I were to reveal any details. Let’s just leave it at the story I told my Dad. I’ve said it so many times it almost feels like the truth anyway. The official record of our actions, that night, is sealed to the public, but let’s just say, America avoided an International incident on December 31st 1990.

So from one amateur to another, stay home tonight. Enjoy a beer at home or at least make it look like you never went anywhere. The safety of the American people is your hands.

That’s my story and I’m sticking to it.

Childhood, Where Are You?

Yes, that is the Mystery Machine.  Yes, that is a DVD set from  Yes, I did just order that.

Why?  My kid.  That's my story and I'm sticking to it. Actually, I've said before that I've been looking for excuses to buy up DVDs of movies and shows I watched and loved as a child.  Well, Scooby-Doo is no exception. 

I grew up on Scooby-Doo, Where Are You? I grew up on the episodes with Scooby-Dum.  I grew up on The New Sccoby-Doo Movies episodes with guest stars like Davy Jones, Jonathan Winters and the cartoon version stars of Batman, Robin and The Three Stooges.  Granted, all of these were rerun as part of my Saturday Morning Cartoon veg fest in the late 70s and early 80s.   I'm only 36, ya know.  

Yes, I have seen every incarnation of Scooby-Doo known, though I try to block out Scrappy-Doo and the 13 Ghosts iterations.  However, I thought A Pup Named Scooby-Doo was pretty clever and fun to watch.  I even let it slide when my three year old caught reruns of What's New, Scooby-Doo? on television.  That's the one that had Simple Plan do the theme song as well as guest star on the show.

However, when OnDemand started carrying the original Scooby-Doo, Where Are You? episodes I spied an opportunity to reintroduce the real magic of Mystery, Inc. to my child.  Oddly enough, she loves it.   I have to rewind and play the same episodes over and over.  Now, when it airs on Cartoon Network, she likes to watch them and doesn't seem to notice the difference in the animation or story setup and even the old curmudgeon in me can appreciate the nods to the original series like Velma's museum that has showcased all the monster suits from the first seasons of SDWAY.

And when I found that DVD set of the complete series of SDWAY, I said, "Must have.  I will be the coolest Dad, evah!"   Of course, that just means I will have placated the little demon for a bit and she will totally abuse my gift and pay me back in attitude.   Kids.  Still, it will be a gift for me as much as her.  I get to relive my childhood and she gets a lesson in classic pop culture. 

Let's face it, the stuff that passes as cartoons these days is pretty lame.   I couldn't see the inherent value of owning a box set of new Scooby-Doo episodes as much as the ones from the early days.  And to think, the folks in charge of churning out the schlock that ends up television would have gotten away it if it weren't for my keen sense of kitsch and that meddling kid of mine.

Thursday, March 10, 2011

How All on One Equals Quantum Physics

I’ll admit it. I play the lottery. I do. Whenever my brother-in-law has tickets from the Legion and I have a couple of bucks, I try to be the good neighbor and buy at least one. Then they disappear and I don’t find them for months, well beyond the redeem date. I usually don’t win anything, anyways, so no big loss there. It was only a couple bucks and even though a hundred dollars is nice, it’s not the end of the world if I miss out on it by some act of sheer laziness on my part.
However, on occasion I do play the big jackpots and I do pay attention. Around here, that’s Powerball and Megamillions. A few million dollars is quite different than a hundred dollars. Of course, after taking the lump sum and giving the government the assist for their [sarcasm]effort [/sarcasm], I would probably end up with that same hundred dollars I overlook on the local punch tickets. Yet, whenever the jackpots for either big ticket lotteries inch over $100 million, I will walk into a convenience store and put a few bucks towards the tax on the stupid, as it has been called.

‘A tax on the stupid.’ That sounds about right. Considering the odds it takes to actually win one of those jackpots I could die from being in a plane crash more times. And I’m not talking about being on the plane. I’m talking about being in my car on the way to work and a plane falling out of the sky and landing on me. Still, whenever that jackpot rolls into three digits to the left of the leading comma, I will play.

But, I am not a die hard. In the world of lottery players I am a poser. I’m a cherry picker. I’m a fair weather fan. I am the office schlub who throws two bucks into a football pool, of which I may know nothing about, and will win the whole shebang. Those are the people you truly despise, right? You do all your research, watch Sports Center, look at the injury reports, the weather reports, the psychological state of the teams and then consult a psychic before making your picks. Then Bob from accounting goes home and asks his cats to pick a winner between the Detroit Lions and Green Bay Packers and ends up taking home $400 for little to no effort. Of course, I can’t equate my luck in office pools to winning the lottery because I’ve actually won office pools.

Truth is I don’t make a habit of playing because I know what the odds are. Then again, I live an hour away from Jack Whittaker. In fact, there are several small to medium jackpot winners in the area of which I live with Jack being the King of jackpot winners. Yet, that went horribly wrong for him. Still, regardless of how many people say, ‘Money can’t buy you happiness,’ I would be happy for the chance to disprove their theory.

So, I go into the Gas and Sip or local Kwik Stop and will throw away my money on the chance that I can say, ‘You know what? I’m not coming into work today and I don’t think I’ll be in tomorrow, either.’ That’s usually when my trouble begins.

You see, I am a casual player, as I said before. I don’t want to spend a great amount of time in the store making my purchase. I’ve got places to be. I want to go in, give my money and get out. I’m not there to consult the stars and fill out Scantron sheets or remember all the birthdays of everyone I know, their anniversaries and social security numbers. I want to go in and say, ‘Give me five dollars on Powerball, please,’ and walk out. And I have a system of spending, too. When both the Powerball and Megamillions jackpots are real close to $100 million, I’ll put five dollars on each. When either jackpot goes over $100 million, I’ll up it to maybe $10 for tickets. If they get into the $200 million range, I’ll spend $20. If I’m lucky, I may win a few dollars which just goes towards my spending on the next drawing. If someone hits and the jackpots reset, I quit until they get back up there.

So, I don’t spend a lot of brain power on this. But, man, there are people who are crazy about playing. They play every day. They spend unseemly amounts of money on lotteries. They come in with a list and a purpose. They take 20 minutes to go over each and every ticket as they buy it and have their own language for doing it. They are usually in front of me.

Awhile back, I stopped into a gas station on my way home from work to spend five dollars on a weekend drawing. There was no one else in the store besides me and an older gentleman. I took a couple of seconds to check my tickets electronically, only to find out I had won nothing from the last drawing. Meanwhile, the older gentleman got in line next to me and then pulled out a piece of paper. He then proceeded to spend the next 20 minutes rattling off numbers and combinations of plays that would have made John Nash say, ‘Can you stop for a second while I grab another calculator and an MIT grad student?’ I couldn’t even understand what he was saying except that I think there was a niner in there somewhere. Meanwhile, the cashier continued to type with fingers of lightning as if they had some kind of psychic bond and she could anticipate his every move. I’m guessing because this guy probably comes in a lot and does the exact same ritual every time. Mid way through his display of mathletic abilities he starts turning around to see the line which has now formed behind me. Then he starts calling out to various people. Give me a number. What day were you born? What’s your anniversary? He asks the other cashier for a number and they rattle one off without missing a beat. The whole time, the original cashier works the register like an account with an adding machine in a spending montage on Brewster’s Millions.

Finally, the guy finishes and it’s now a half hour later and I’m late. I walk up and say, ‘Five dollars on Powerball, please.’




She then asks me, ‘All on one ticket, OK?’

I froze. She was speaking some foreign language to me. She repeated it and her voice became all slo-mowy and distorted. I was asking for an apple and she was asking if I wanted a motorcycle horn and urine sample and it was all in a language with clicks and whistles and niners.

‘Um? Yeah sure.’

The entire time the old guy went on predicting the next solar eclipse and forming a string of numbers that mathematically explained LOST seemed effortless. I get asked a simple question and totally blanked.

This guy was Jeopardy and I was Wheel of Fortune.

‘All on one, OK?’

Mind blowing. It was the equivalent of saying the true name of God and having your head explode. I went home and trepanned myself with a power drill. Now, I don’t worry about such things. I just stare at the trees and watch the leaves blow in the wind. At peace.

Tuesday, March 8, 2011

Millennium Falcon Fail

Ok, this is a short one, for once. Actually, I have two really long ones eventually coming, but then again, so is Christmas. They aren’t even of real topical relevance. It’s just me opening up my brain and spilling it out for you to look at and say. “That boy is crazy!”

Here we go. A few things keep popping up in my state of consciousness towards pop culture. A while back, one of my Tweeps posted a picture of a vintage Millennium Falcon toy from the 70s. This past weekend, while talking with my mom, we discussed how my seven year old nephew has discovered Star Wars. He has seen all the movies, thanks to my DVD collection, and has begun playing with all the old toys, thanks to my childhood bedroom. One item that he is playing with is, you guessed it, The Millennium Falcon. Just the other day, an old friend of mine from growing up reminded me about playing on the playground during recess and using the merry go round as my own personal Millennium Falcon.

All of this means something yet I don’t quite know what the universe is telling me. Oh, right. Post something about The Millennium Falcon. Got it, universe. Thanks again.

That Millennium Falcon toy I had growing up was the single coolest toy I ever had. It was huge and made noises and took batteries and held a bunch of action figures and it made me squeee! However, the one thing I never could figure out was…

Which way were the action figures supposed to sit in the damn gun turret?

Technically, the Falcon had two, one on top and one on bottom. Even though the toy version only had the top turret, the seat wasn’t exactly designed to be intuitive to that idea. I mean, realistically, Han and Luke went either up or down in the ladder and then sat perpendicular to the ladder so it could go either way.

I think 90% of the time I had my action figures sitting upside down in the chair. Maybe, I was wrong. Who cares? I was a kid. The world was my universe and I was Han Solo breaking hearts and making Kessel Runs in less than 12 parsecs.

Next time we’ll discuss the radar dish. Where did it go? Did the filmmakers understand that it was the first thing on the toy to break off and made a nod to that in Return of the Jedi? Stay tuned.

Sunday, March 6, 2011

Oscars 2010

Outside the fact that Natalie Portman won for best actress and The King’s Speech surprised… no one by taking home the rest of the top tier awards from the 83rd Academy Awards, did anybody really care about the show?
Let me put it this way. From probably about 1990 through 2003, the Oscars were appointment television for me. Being who I am, it would not be a stretch to say that the Oscars were kind of like my Super Bowl or World Series. I loved the telecast and the ceremony because deep down, I wanted to eventually be up there on that stage, accepting an award.

Beyond 2003, I had pretty much accepted two things. I was never going to win an Oscar, let alone be nominated for one, and no one else in my household or immediate family actually cared enough about the awards to watch them with me. My wife placated me a few times but it’s a rather long and boring ceremony full of people getting up on stage and thanking a lot of people until they are forced to hurry up and talk over top of the orchestra.

Also, beyond 2003, I stopped going to the movies with any regularity that would indicate that I have any exposure to the movies that are being considered for nominations. The sad truth is that the last movie I saw in the theater was New Moon and I was dragged there by my wife out of spousal obligation and the contingency that she would go with me to a movie of my choice. That movie would have been Tron Legacy… and I still haven’t seen that and it’s March 2011.

Now, if I want to watch the Oscars, I record them on my DVR and I manage to strip away all the fluff and just get to the award presentations and a few select pieces of dialogue and other presentations. In fact, I managed to watch the entire telecast from Sunday night in an hour and a half. I could be called a poser for not taking in the entire experience, however I see myself as a pragmatist, sacrificing a little Hollywood magic for time sake. Let’s face it. The running gag is that ceremony takes too long.

I’ve gone on before about how to speed up the awards and drum up ratings.  This was two years ago. Since then, they went back to the format of having the opposite sex winner from the previous year give out the acting awards which is much nicer. The In Memoriam bit was nice, although Celine Dion causes involuntary convulsions and they still missed a bunch of people. (Peter Graves, Corey Haim, Gary Coleman, Maury Chakin, and others.) However, the new thing with having 10 films for best picture is still a crap shoot.

And speaking of crap, the hosting was off. I mean no disrespect. I give credit to Anne Hathaway for trying to hold it together but if felt like James Franco quit half way through and she sort of carried him the rest of the way. He seemed bored or tired or looking for an exit. I imagine that being first time hosts and not well known comedic talents, the writers did not give them a lot of material to riff on where hosts like Carson, Crystal, or Hope would have been quick to jump on something. For that matter, the only real huge thing of note was that Melissa Leo dropped the F bomb during her acceptance speech.

And for the love of God, I give the utmost respect to Kirk Douglas but he put the nail in the coffin on the timing during his bit. He was awesome but it’s like watching Dick Clark do the countdown. You respect him, you give him your attention, but you wish someone would have been nice enough to say, “Maybe you should sit this one out.”

I understand the whole point of getting a younger class of hosts. The whole point of having Alec Baldwin and Steve Martin hosting last year was to inject a younger demographic of viewer thanks to Baldwin’s 30 Rock street cred. And it worked. This year there was a lot of social media integration with twitter and other platforms in order to bridge the gap between those who sit and watch the show and those who sit and watch the show while surfing the web for Oscar updates.

It used to be a lot more important to me to watch the entire show. To me, the Oscars were part awards ceremony and part magical presentation. Think of whole backstage allure of the theater. What goes on in the wings and in the green room? I remember a few years ago there was a gauntlet the winners would run and there would be footage of them after their win talking about or adding additional footnotes to their speeches. With shows like 30 Rock and my guilty “gone too soon” pleasure of Studio 60, I am always interested in what makes a production run the way it does. Also, you need to have hosts that are comfortable making jokes, attract a built in audience as well as new ones, and have the ability to cause moments of sheer fun to occur.

Billy Crystal and Johnny Carson were great because they broke that fourth wall and told you things that were happening. After the Jack Palance push up bit, Billy would periodically come back and say, “Jack Palance just bungee jumped off the Hollywood sign.” We need that back.

In order to do that whole ‘capture the magic of Hollywood’ thing I propose a radical idea. I say the host of the 2011 Oscars should be…

Wait for it…

The Muppets

Ok, I must admit I have been knee deep in Muppetdom this past weekend. First of all, I’ve been trying to introduce my three year old to them outside of Sesame Street. Yes, those Muppets are educational and kid friendly but the other Muppets, from The Muppet Show and the films are where the real comedy gold lies.

Pepe the King Prawn on the Bonnie Hunt show from a few years back.

Here’s Pepe and Seymour the elephant telling a dumb joke with hysterical form.

Now, Pepe isn’t a best usage case because he’s one of the newest Muppets. But looking at the landscape of the Muppets I can see a huge area for win.

First of all, having Kermit host the awards gives you that gravitas of someone who can handle the duties of being host. The opening number could be the various Muppets dropped into the scenes of the movies adding hilarity, not to mention you could dust off the “Muppet Show Tonight” song. Who better to provide commentary on how well the show is going than Statler and Waldorf? Fozzie could be writing Kermit’s jokes and have some back stage moments with presenters. Scooter can handle the booth and call the show while Clifford could handle other duties with hosting and presenting. Dr. Teeth and the Electric Mayhem could be the orchestra, in full tuxedos, with Animal being the exception having his sleeves ripped off.

Rizzo and Gonzo could have a myriad of responsibilities that would lead to hilarity backstage. Piggy could be reporting backstage with winners. Pepe. Oooh, Pepe would be hysterical but I don’t know what he would do.

Seeing as how ABC broadcasts the Oscars and along with The Muppets, are properties of Disney it’s an easy relationship to make this happen. With Jason Segel writing the new movie which will air this year, that brings you your point of relevance to what’s happening today as well as your younger generation demographic. November is just three months from February and with home sales probably kicking in about then you have that on the minds of people watching.

Besides, nothing makes me laugh more than having a Muppet either binge inappropriate, reacting to something for laughs… which then grow to swell, or be abused. Having the Muppets exist in a real time environment, riffing and improving would be nuts. It’s just one of those absurd images that spark a memorable moment.

I may be hoping against hopes because to pull off this production you would have had to start a year ago in order to plan the design. I mean we all know that the Muppets are just the tip of the iceberg. There is a performer underneath a table or a masking, doing all the work. But I would want to have the magic not be broken. I would want the stage designed to conceal the performers as best they could, feeding the illusion. You have to design specific set pieces that allow for them to move around unseen but you could tape segments ahead of time to allow for performers to move to a new scene or at least exit without breaking character. The magic of The Muppets is steeped in best practices and I could envision a lot of ways to hide the “hands.”

Still, it would be a trip to see them pull this off and could be just what the Academy Awards need to bounce back into the graces of so many of us who remember the grandeur of the Oscars.   I'm not alone.  There's even a facebook page that I stumbled upon after thinking of this myself.

Will they succeed?   Ellafino.

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