Saturday, October 31, 2009

Larry Lobster and Clawshank Redemption

According to the animal-lovers at, a 70-year-old lobster named Larry was released from Oceana, a New York City restaurant, after many years in captivity.

Lawrence "Larry" Lobster IV was arrested in the late 1980's and subsequently convicted on charges of being excessively meaty and succulent. He received the death penalty, and has spent the last twenty years on Oceana's death row, a 50-gallon fish tank in the restaurant's lobby. Just recently, Larry was moved to solitary confinement, a smaller tank of his own, where he was supposedly going to stay until he was executed. Restaurant warden Paul McLaughlin said that the move was due to Larry's "excessive size, and a tendency to nibble on the other inmates."

“I really didn’t mind it so much,” Larry told NBC News. “It was comfortable and they fed me every day. Sure, it was disturbing to see my fellow prisoners get taken away to the Death Pot, but we all knew our time was coming.”

When asked about the other prisoners, Larry recalled, “There was this one guy who was an absolute riot. Whenever the restaurant got busy, he’d tuck one claw underneath his body and drag himself around the tank with his other one, giving the impression that he was crippled. No one wants to pay for a gimpy lobster, so he hung around for years. Another guy made a sign that said I JUST WORK HERE, and wore it around his neck. He’d pretend to clean the inside of the tank and everything. Good times, man, good times.”

Larry was given a reprieve last week, when Bloomberg writer Ryan Sutton questioned the wisdom of eating an elderly crustacean. The public rallied around Sutton's cause, and lobbied for the lobster's freedom. Warden McLaughlin quickly relented, and arranged for a full pardon.

On Wednesday, a news conference was held outside the restaurant, where Larry Lobster read a prepared statement:

“I would like to thank Oceana Restaurant for granting my release. My incarceration was not unpleasant, I was treated well, and I truly enjoyed getting to know my menu-mates. While I would have accepted my fate with dignity, and I am certain that I would’ve been a delicious meal for some lucky human, I’m grateful for the opportunity to return to the ocean and live out the remainder of my life. Thank you.”

Larry Lobster was released off the coast of Maine, and within ten minutes was devoured by a hungry codfish, uncooked and without butter.

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Wednesday, October 28, 2009

Manny, Moe, and Jackass

I know nothing about cars. Nada. I can put gas in the tank, check the air pressure in the tires, and that's pretty much it. My dad and brother are mechanical geniuses, but apparently that strand of DNA just flew right past me.

My lack of automotive knowledge is rarely an issue. But sometimes . . .

I was driving along the 15 freeway last Friday afternoon. Oh, by the way, here's one of the many differences between California (where I live) and New Jersey (where I grew up). In California, the highways and freeway numbers are always said with the article "the" in front of them. For example, "You go south on the 15, head west on the 10, south on the 405, and get off at Century Blvd." In Jersey, it's just the number. "Go east on 22, that'll take you to 78, and you cross the bridge into Pennsylvania." Just one of the many differences between our two sub-cultures.

Okay, so anyway, I was driving along the 15 in my Ford Taurus, and as usual, Friday night traffic was a complete fustercluck. Whenever I came to a stop (which was every ten feet or so) all the dashboard lights would come on and the engine would die. I could start it up again, and as long as I was revving the engine it was fine, but as soon as I stopped . . . kaput.

Let me tell you a little bit about my relationship with dashboard lights. I don't like them. They're fairly useless, in my opinion. Take, for example, the "check engine" light. The last car I owned, a Mazda 626, lasted for 270,000 miles, the last 150,000 or so with the "check engine" light glowing in all its glory.

When the light first came on, I panicked. I pulled the car to the side of the road, opened the hood, and checked the engine.

It was still there. Now, how do I get the light to go off?

When I got home, I called the local Pep Boys store (more on these guys later).

"Pep Boys."

"Yeah, my check engine light is on. What's up with that?"

"Did you check the gas cap?"

"Uh, no, is there a check gas cap light, too?"

"No, but if the gas cap is loose, the check engine light comes on."

"Excuse me?"

"The check engine light will come on if the gas cap isn't on properly."

"What if I have a flat tire, will the oil light come on?"

"Why would the oil light come on for a flat tire?"

"Exactly my point."

Manny (or maybe it was Moe) didn't get it. I went and checked the gas cap. It was fine. Mr. Pep ran through a list of things that could cause the engine light to come on, but he may as well have been reading from a Portuguese recipe book for all the sense it made to me. Sensor this, emissions that, blah blah blah.

I ignored him. The car lasted another several years. Engine light, schmengine light.

So I'm stalling out on the southbound 15, and I figure I better get off the freeway at the next exit. Engine dying, lights a-flickering, radio going full blast so I don't have to hear the sound of the sputtering machinery under the hood, I finally pull over on a side street. And now the engine won't even start. It just makes a weird grinding and clicking noise.

Well, shit.

I call the Pep Boys' 800 number, and get towed to their nearest shop. It's about 6 PM, so Moe (or maybe Jack) tells me that they won't get to my car until the next morning. Fine.

The next morning, I get the call and Jack informs me that the battery is good, but I need a new alternator, whatever the hell that is. I also need plugs, a vacuum hose, and it looks like it's time for an oil change. Total damage, just over $700.

Manny, Moe, and Jacked.

I wish this were the end of the story, but it isn't. I pick up the car on Saturday morning, and everything seems fine. Car starts, no Disneyland electric light parade on my dashboard, we're good to go.

Fast forward to Tuesday morning. I'm driving to work and my battery light comes on. I didn't even know there WAS a battery light, but there you have it. I take the car to my local Pep Boys (not the same one that I was at on Friday) to find out what the hell's going on. Their version of Moe tells me that the battery is dead.

"Um, the guy at the other Pep Boys checked it Friday, and said it tested fine," I informed him.

"Well, it isn't. Let me check something else."

The "something else" turned out to be the alternator. I explained that the other Pep Boys had just put in that alternator. Well, it was a bad alternator, and because it was bad, it killed my battery.  Bad, bad alternator.

So now I need a new battery. Another hundred bucks. They go to the back to get a new alternator from the shelf to replace the crappy one (free of charge, thank God), and wouldn't you know it, the new one tests bad right out of the box. So they send a guy to another store to get me a new alternator, one that actually works. They install it, I drive home, everything is A-OK.

Until Wednesday afternoon.

I get a call from my lovely Theresa. "Um, did you notice that your car is leaking something all over the driveway?"

"No, I did not."

"Well, you might want to get it looked at."

I go out to my car in the parking lot at work, and there's a huge puddle under it. Oil, I suppose, but for all I know it could be maple syrup. I drive back to my friends at Pep Boys.

"Yeah, I was in here yesterday, and now my car's leaking."

Moe checks it out. Apparently, when the Keystone Karguys at the other store had done the oil change, they also checked all the other fluids.


So my car had been spouting transmission fluid for a couple days. They topped off the fluid, and I was on my way.

Apparently, I'm not the only one who doesn't know Jack (or maybe Manny) about cars. And some of us are actually working as professional mechanics.


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Sunday, October 25, 2009

The Category Five Hurricane

Note to my mother: The events described in the following story are completely made up. Just keep telling yourself that.

When I regained consciousness, I was curled up in the corner of an upward-bound elevator in the Orlando Sheraton.

The year was 1985. I was in college.

Our jazz ensemble traveled from Southern California to Orlando to participate in the Walt Disney World Jazz Festival. Now, you’ve all probably heard the stereotype that band members are geeks, dorks, and various types of goobers. This, of course, is a stereotype and as is the case with most stereotypes, it’s absolutely true. Most of us were nineteen or twenty years old, so we were still a year or so away from being of legal drinking age.

In California.

In the great state of Florida, however, the legal drinking age was twenty, a detail that did not escape our attention. The first night,we were sitting around in the hotel room, plotting the evening’s activities. When you’re underage, opportunities for obtaining alcohol are somewhat limited, and you get used to bumming booze off the older siblings of your party buds, or bribing someone of age to make a beer run. With our new found freedom, though, it was much simpler.

“Hey, let’s go down to the hotel bar and get hammered!” suggested Alex.

Alex Harrison was a trombone player, and I mean that in the nicest sense of the term. He was about six-two, and vaguely resembled Frankenstein. He was the kind of guy who would do anything for a laugh, even if he were the butt of the joke, which he often was. Alex owned a gold Volkswagen Beetle with a sunroof. Just for shits and giggles, he’d open the sunroof, pop his head out, and drive around like that. It was hilarious, as well as ridiculously stupid.

We hooked up with two more guys, Ralph and John, piled into the elevator and headed down to the Zanzibar Lounge. The hostess seated us at a table in the back, and we perused the drink menu. Gator Wizz. The Swamp Bomb. The Barracuda.

“Hey, check out this one,” said John, pointing at the drink menu. He was the lead trumpet player, incredibly arrogant, and among the four of us, had the most experience with alcohol. None of it good, but experience nonetheless. “The Category Five Hurricane. This looks pretty potent.”

The Category Five Hurricane, Zanzibar’s specialty, consisted of three kinds of fruit juice, rum, vodka, peach Schnapp’s, a shot of grenadine, and if I’m not mistaken, turpentine and nitroglycerin. The menu was not particularly specific.

Up to this point in our young, foolish lives, most of our drinking experience was with beer, and we all knew (more or less) what our personal limits were. For example, I knew that three beers gave me a nice buzz, while five had me doing the Technicolor yawn on someone’s carpet. Through an unforgivable oversight, the Zanzibar Lounge did not provide a beer-to-Category Five Hurricane conversion chart, but as it turns out, Budweiser and Hurricane do not have a one-to-one correspondence. It’s more like a one to a very tiny sip correspondence.

We did not know this at the time.

“You fellas gonna trah the Hurry-kine?” drawled the waitress. According to her gold name badge, she was Amanda. A bit on the pudgy side, not spectacular looking, but nothing you’d throw a bag over, either. Let’s call her a soft six on the one-to-ten scale.

“Yep,” said John. “A round of Category Five Hurricanes please, Amanda. We’re ready to party!”

A couple minutes later, Amanda brought out the hooch, and we were in absolute fucking awe. Though it wasn’t made clear by the picture on the menu, the Category Five Hurricane is served in a glass that’s approximately the size of the Stanley Cup.

Oh, were they tasty. Peach, orange, lime, just a hint of turpentine. We blew through the first round of Hurricanes like Anna Nicole at a Viagra convention.

“Okay, the next round’s on me,” said Ralph, although it came out more like, “Oh, kay. Zhuh neft rowd’s agh meh.” Ralph was a throwback to the 1950’s. Leather jacket, slicked back hair that he was always combing. He was a neo-Fonzie, if Fonzie played the tenor saxophone, wore an earring, and had an acne problem.

Amanda carted out the next round, and we dived back in.“Mebbe we orta get zub food zo we don’ get too wayshted,” suggested John, as he stared into his drink.

“Good thinkin’,” mumbled Alex. “Don’ wanna ged sick er shumfin.”

We ordered some hot wings, onion rings, potato skins, and the seafood platter. And, of course, another round of Hurricanes.

By this time, things were getting a little fuzzy. Okay, a lot fuzzy. We knew we had to get up early in the morning for our performance at the Tomorrowland Terrace, so we didn’t want to do something irresponsible like staying up too late.

“You boys ready fer one mo-ah round?” purred Amanda. Over the last half hour or so, she’d somehow gone from a six to a solid eight, and rising.

“Who’sh gudda buy duh nesht round?” asked Alex.

Ralph passed out face first in a plate of fried clams and cocktail sauce. We took that as a signal that the next round was on him.

By the time we polished off the last our Hurricanes, it was approaching one o’clock in the morning.

“Grf bulla frubba gut googa,” suggested John.

"Waff stroffa," replied Alex. "Bub dubba burble gorp."

“Merf,” I added, reluctantly. “Blubba gunk friff brap.”

Ralph said nothing. He was still asleep in his seafood platter.

We paid the check, which was astronomical, tipped the waitress, splashed some water on Ralph's face to revive him (somewhat) and stood up.

Have you ever been really, really hammered? Not tipsy, not buzzed, hell, not even merely drunk. I mean blurry vision, room spinning, jelly-legged, I-can’t-feel-my-fucking-face blasted. That kind of covers our state of being as we attempted to navigate our way out of the Zanzibar Lounge.

"Oh, Earl, look at those boys," said some blue-haired old bat. "That's just embarrassing."

"Frushk yoooou," mumbled John, drawing a shocked gasp from Gramma Moses.

We somehow made it to the elevator and headed up to our rooms. The sudden movement made me even dizzier than I already was, so I sat down in the corner and stared at the ceiling. It seemed to be melting.

The next thing I knew, I was in the elevator by myself. Nauseous. With a screaming headache. I stared at my watch and waited for it to come into focus.

Five o’clock AM. Those fuckers had abandoned me.

We were all supposed to be in the lobby at eight, so we could go over to Disney World and be ready to perform by eleven. I got off the elevator at the eleventh floor and stumbled to my room. When I opened the door, I noticed an unusual smell. Vomit, mixed with the unmistakable scent of fruit juice and cocktail sauce. I went into the bathroom, and there was Ralph, asleep with his head resting on the toilet seat.

Ralph had ralphed everywhere. The shower curtain. The bath tub. The sink. It looked like “The Exorcist Meets Psycho”.

I kicked him in the ribs to wake him up.

“Fuuuuuuuuuuucccckkkkkk,” he mumbled.

“Yeah, I know, me too. Let’s clean this shit up.”

We did the best we could. When the bathroom was passable (to us) we took turns showering and got about an hour of sleep. We got ready and barely made it to the lobby on time. John and Alex were asleep on one of the lobby couches. Everyone else was milling around, chipper as can be, ready for an exciting day in the Magic Kingdom.

As we dragged ourselves onto the bus, the band director noticed our condition.

“What the hell happened to you guys?” he asked. “You look like you’ve been hit by a tornado.”

He was pretty close. Actually, it was a series of Category Five Hurricanes.

Looking back on it, I'm not particularly proud of our indulgence.  While we did tend to go overboard once in a while, this story is an exception not the rule at least, not for most of us.  A few of our friends, however, didn't seem to know when to stop, and this led to all sorts of problems later on.  If you or someone you know has a drug or alcohol problem, California Drug Rehab could be their step back into life.


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Tuesday, October 20, 2009

The Agony

This is the second of a two-part joint venture with Suldog, recounting two defining moments in the Yankees-Red Sox rivalry. To read Part One of my contribution, go here.

The 2004 American League Championship Series could not have started any better. The Yankees won the first three games, including a 19-8 drubbing in Game Three. Since no team had ever come back from a three-games-to-none deficit in the entire history of baseball, this one was in the bag, and the Yanks were headed to the 2004 World Series.

At least, that how it was supposed to happen.

Now, if you read my account of the one-game playoff in 1978, you know that I remember (or researched) every detail of that fantastic matchup. But since the conclusion of the 2004 ALCS didn't work out so well, getting me to pore over the play-by-play of Games 4 through 7 would be like getting the Kennedy family to sign up for a tour of the Texas School Book Depository. It's just not going to happen. So I'll just dredge up the memories that my subconscious hasn't mercifully deleted.

As I said, the Yanks won Game Three by the score of 19-8. You read that right, 19-8. I've seen lower-scoring Jets-Patriots games. If the fat lady wasn't singing at this point, she was certainly running through arpeggios in the green room. I was so confident that the Yankees were going to polish off the lowly Sox that I was fairly obnoxious about it at work.

"Yeah, this baby's over," I told my secretary. "No one's ever come back from down 3-zip. The Yanks just POUNDED them." I set our phones to play "New York, New York" as the on-hold music.

Game Four took place at Fenway Park in Boston. The Yankees carried a one-run lead into the ninth inning, with the virtually unhittable Mariano Rivera coming in to close it out.

Let's examine this more closely. The Yanks are up three games to nothing, in a best-of-seven series. They're winning in the ninth inning of Game Four. The best post-season closer in the history of the universe is on the mound. The odds of Boston winning THIS GAME were slim. Winning the SERIES?


But then . . .

The Sox got a runner on first base. Boston manager Terry Francona sent in Dave Roberts to pinch run. Roberts was a mediocre player at best, but he could fly around the bases, and as the tying run, everyone in the ballpark knew he was going to try to steal second.

Which he did. And he scored on a base hit shortly afterward, tying the game.

Boston pulled it out in extra innings. Yanks lead, three games to one.

Big deal. No one was really expecting that we'd sweep them. The Bombers will surely finish them off in Game Five.

Once again, the Yankees had the lead late in the game. Once again, Boston came back to win. Some guys got hits, some guys walked, blah blah blah, I think Fat Papi might've hit a homer or something.

Yankees lead the series, 3-2.

This is where I started getting nervous. When the Yankees eliminated Boston in the one-game playoff in '78, that was like a quick bullet to the head of Red Sox Nation. What Yankee fans experienced in '04 was more like a week-long stay in a torture chamber manned by methodical Nazi war criminals.

In Game Six, Curt Schilling pitched for Boston. Schiwwing had a boo-boo on hims widdle ankle, and he was cwying about it to all the weporters in New Engwand. He didn't know if he'd be able to thwow the baseball. Curt was afwaid that his mommy might have to take him to the doctor for a shot, and hopefuwwy a wowwipop.

To pwove to the world that his ankle was hurting weawwy weawwy bad, he marked his sock with wed Sharpie to pwetend he was bweeding.

I guess he'd just watched "The Natural" or something.

Anyway, Schilling pitched pretty well, the Sox won again, and the series was now tied at 3-3.

Let me take a moment here to place some blame at the feet of Yankees' manager Joe Torre. Torre had led the Yankees to four World Series titles in the late 90's and in 2000, but hell, I could've managed those teams to a championship. All you'd have to do is write out the lineup card and stay out of the way. But Joe's handling of the Yankees during the 2004 ALCS was abysmal. I mean, if Schilling was indeed crippled and gushing blood (which I'm not conceding, by the way), why aren't you bunting all over the place to make him run around?

But that's not the worst of it.

The worst of it is how he managed the pitching staff. Here they were, getting ready for the most important game of the year. You'd think Joe would've had a plan so that one of their aces would've been on the mound, right? Nope. Who was the Yanks starter in game seven?

Kevin Brown.

Don't get me wrong, at one time, Brown was an outstanding pitcher. A headcase, but an outstanding pitcher nonetheless. Those days were long gone. By 2004, Brown was a banged up, whiny has-been with a rag arm. At one point during the season, after giving up fourteen runs to the team from St. Mary's Academy for Wayward Girls, Brown took out his frustration by punching a cement wall.

With his pitching hand. Bloody brilliant, Kevin.

Suffice it to say that having Kevin Brown start the seventh game of the 2004 ALCS was like sending Charlie Brown out to kick a game-winning 52-yard field goal at Lambeau.

He got his ass lit up, and quickly. I don't think he got out of the second inning. Javier Vazquez came on in relief and on his first pitch, Johnny Damon hit a grand slam, giving the Sox a lead they'd never relinquish.

The final score was something like 27-2. I may be off by a few runs, but that's what it felt like. The Sox had done the impossible, winning a series after being down three games to none. As devastating as it was, I had to give them credit. Any other team would have rolled over and died, but not those idiots. They kept fighting, and it paid off.


When I got to work the next day, my office had been redecorated with Red Sox pennants, pictures, all sorts of stuff. My staff is hilarious, aren't they? But given the amount of smack I was running when the series was 3-0, I guess I had it coming.

As everyone knows, the Sox then went on to obliterate the St. Louis Cardinals in the World Series, four games to squadoosh. After what the Sox had already accomplished, I was kinda rooting for them myself.

Oh, bullshit, no I wasn't. I wanted the Cardinals to come back from being down 3-0 and turn that sucker right around on Boston. But no. THEY laid down and died like dogs.

Two things about that Yankees - Red Sox series keep popping up, ensuring that we Yankee fans will never hear the end of it. The first is Dave Roberts. It doesn't matter what team Roberts plays for (and I think he's played for just about all of them at this point), whenever he comes up to bat, the announcers will say:

"And who can forget Roberts' key stolen base in Game Four of the 2004 ALCS, which sparked the greatest comeback blah blah blah . . ."

Dave Roberts, the Ghost of Choke Jobs Past.

I wish Roberts would do something else to be remembered for. Anything. Maybe it'll turn out that he was on 'roids, like the rest of those Red Sox were.

Yeah, yeah, I know.

The other thing that will haunt us is the whole "no team ever came back from down 3-0 in a seven game series" thing. It doesn't matter if you're watching the NBA Playoffs, Stanley Cup Finals, or the World Series. Whenever a team goes down three games to none, you'll see a graphic on the TV screen:


It's never happened in the NBA and only once or twice in hockey. But right there, under the heading "Major League Baseball" you'll see . . .

2004: Boston Red Sox, vs. New York Yankees

We'll keep seeing that until it happens again to some other team.

Don't hold your breath, though. That series was once-in-a-lifetime.

Click here to read Suldog's account of this tragic event in American history.

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Saturday, October 17, 2009

Grading the Hollywood Principals

School principals have tough jobs, there's no question about it. Dealing with angry parents, providing discipline to cellphone-wielding juvenile delinquents, helping America's teachers to better themselves all the while maintaining a pleasant, professional demeanor. They are truly dedicated public servants and deserve our respect.

So tell me then, why does Hollywood insist on depicting them as either marginally-psychotic drill sergeants or bumbling boobs? It's not realistic, in any way, shape, or form. So I'm taking it upon myself to set the record straight by analyzing the fictional behavior of three high school principals. Going in order from closest to reality to most absurd, we have . . .


First of all, you have to give Strickland credit for longevity. He was on the job in 1955, and still going strong in 1985. His discipline style remained unchanged for decades. Strict, clear in focus, and completely intolerant of students he perceived to be "slackers".

Which, in his view, was everyone.

Strickland had a great memory. He remembered specific details about George McFly thirty years after he'd graduated, and also drew comparisons between George and his son Marty. You'd have to think that in his time at HVHS, Strickland dealt with over 25,000 students, so to remember the specifics about any one individual, well, that's truly remarkable.

While his issues with Marty McFly were relatively minor, Strickland also capably dealt with the problems caused by miscreant Biff Tannen. At the 1955 HVHS "Enchantment Under the Sea" dance, Tannen was caught with a dirty magazine, specifically the June edition of Ooh La La. Strickland confiscated it, and threw it away without even taking a quick peek.

That being said, Strickland was far from perfect. His slacker-obsessed behavior could border on the psychotic. Take, for example, his reaction when he caught Marty taking a newspaper from his porch. Now, granted, this took place in an alternate reality where Hill Valley was basically Hell (or even worse, Los Angeles), but still. “Shoot first, ask questions later” is not the right approach to take with a confused teenager.

Over-reactions aside, though, Strickland was an absolute peach when compared to . . .


Richard Vernon was a proponent of an authoritarian style of discipline, not unlike Strickland. The difference, though, was in the level of focus. Strickland was a laser beam. Vernon was poorly-loaded birdshot.
And let me back up a bit. The clearest evidence that Vernon had questionable management skills is the simple fact that HE was the one supervising the Saturday morning Breakfast Club. Clearly, a wise and experienced principal would've delegated that shit detail to one of his VP's.
One Saturday morning, Vernon made the critical mistake of leaving five detention students unsupervised for huge chunks of time. The library was spacious. He could've simply set up office space in one of the side rooms so he could keep a constant eye on things. All things considered, Vernon's pretty lucky that Bender didn't wind up shanking Andrew Clark or at the very least boinking Claire. That would've been a lawsuit for sure.
And really, Vernon's discipline techniques are for shit. Here's a transcript of his attempt to intimidate John Bender:
Bender: Eat my shorts.

Vernon: What was that?

Bender: Eat... My... Shorts.

Vernon: You just bought yourself another Saturday.

Bender: Ooh, I'm crushed.

Vernon: You just bought one more.

Bender: Well I'm free the Saturday after that. Beyond that, I'm going to have to check my calendar.

Vernon: Good, cause it's going to be filled. We'll keep going. You want another one? Just say the word say it. Instead of going to prison you'll come here. Are you through?

Bender: No.

Vernon: I'm doing society a favor.

John Bender: So?

Vernon: That's another one right now! I've got you for the rest of your natural born life if you don't watch your step. You want another one?

Bender: Yes.

Vernon: You got it! You got another one right there! That's another one pal! You through?

Bender: Not even close bud!

Vernon: Good! You got one more right there!

John Bender: You really think I give a shit?

Richard Vernon: Another! You through?

Bender: How many is that?

Mediocre rookie TEACHERS know that when you get into an argument with a student, the adult always loses. No way was Bender going to back down, and a man with Vernon's experience should've known that.

Despite his claim to Carl the janitor, I doubt that the faculty at Shermer found Vernon to be a "swell guy". In fact, he was kind of a jackass. But that being said, he did make an effort to provide discipline, and as off-the-mark as he was, he couldn't really be defined as a complete bumbling idiot.

THAT title is reserved for . . .

Apparently, Richard Vernon's run-in with John Bender led to his dismissal (or at least resignation) from Shermer High School, because just a year or so later there was a new principal in charge. One has to question the competence of the Shermer School District superintendent and school board, because they managed to find Ed Rooney, who was even less qualified than Vernon.

Talk about a guy with a misplaced priorities. Rooney spent an entire day hunting down Ferris Bueller, an SHS senior with a lackadaisical attitude toward school attendance.
Discovering that Bueller was absent for the ninth time that year (not a particularly horrific attendance record, by the way), Rooney abandoned the school, perused pizza joints and video arcades (accosting a teenage girl in the process), and eventually committed the crime of breaking and entering when he snuck in through the Buellers' doggie door.

Shermer must've had at least 800 students. To neglect 799 of them to pursue a pointless vendetta against one is simply asinine. A phone call home, sure. A letter, absolutely. If that doesn't work, you simply contact the Shermer School District's School Attendance Review Board and let them take over. That's their job.

With all that time he saved, maybe Rooney could've done something about Ben Stein, the mind-numbing economics teacher.
Just once, I want to see a movie (and I mean a comedy, not one of those "marginally based on a true story" films like Lean On Me) where the principal is a normal human being. Is that too much to ask?
In my opinion, the only real conclusion we can draw from Hollywood's depiction of principals is that film-maker John Hughes was a "slacker" as a teenager and could've benefited from a visit to Mr. Strickland's office.

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Wednesday, October 14, 2009

What Ever Happened To . . . Schroeder?

In his childhood circle of friends, Schroeder was "the quiet one". Never caused any trouble, didn't want to be the center of attention, he preferred to spend his time practicing the piano and listening to his beloved Beethoven. His only pet peeve was a girl named Lucy Van Pelt, whose unwanted attention and infatuation with Schroeder drove him to distraction.

Lucy's affection blossomed into full-fledged stalking by the time they got to high school, and during his junior year, Schroeder and his parents were forced to file a restraining order against her. That was also the year that Schroeder gave up the piano.

"My love of music never left, but I found out pretty quickly that piano players don't get chicks," Schroeder told Rolling Stone magazine. "At least, not NORMAL chicks. And Beethoven's cool, but after you've played Fur Elise a thousand times, it gets kinda boring. When I was sixteen, I heard my first Hendrix album, and I knew right away that my future was as a guitarist."

With his perfect pitch and natural talent for music, Schroeder took to the guitar immediately, and formed a band called Lucy's Obsession. The band had a distinct sound, blending hard core punk rock with the neo-classical and Romantic elements of European music. During the late '70's, Lucy's Obsession climbed to the top of the charts with their eponymous debut album, featuring the top ten single I Gotta Rock. Schroeder talked about their first bona fide hit in a 1979 interview with Circus Magazine.

"That song (I Gotta Rock) came from my childhood. Every Halloween, a bunch of us would go trick-or-treating and we'd talk about what kind of candy we got at each house. 'I got a candy bar, I got a caramel apple,' stuff like that. Well, there was this one kid with a huge head, I can't remember his name, but he was a total loser. For whatever reason, at every house we went to, all of us got treats except him. He kept getting rocks. So when we showed each other what we'd gotten, he kept saying, 'I got a rock . . . I got a rock.' The phrase just stuck in my head, and it ended up being our biggest hit."

Between 1979 and 1993, Lucy's Obsession recorded seven albums, including the Platinum Psychiatric Help, Five Cents, which was released in 1984. Although the band never really caught on with the mainstream music world, they did receive a lot of attention in 1986, when Schroeder filed a lawsuit against an up-and-coming alternative band called Jane's Addiction.

"Yeah, Jane's Addiction hit the scene right about the same time that the Five Cents album came out," Schroeder recalls. "It was such an obvious rip-off that our lawyers suggested we do something, so we filed the suit. We let them keep the name, but let's just say that some money changed hands."

Jane's Addiction lead singer Perry Farrell could not be reached for comment.

When asked about Lucy Van Pelt, stalker and inspiration for his band's moniker, Schroeder became agitated. "She really made my life difficult in high school," he said. "When we were little, she was just annoying, but as we got older, she pretty much freaked out. She'd send me articles of clothing in the mail, follow me home from school, peek in my bedroom window at night. My parents eventually went to court and put an end to it. She still shows up at our concerts sometimes, though. I think she's got a thing for [the band's drummer] Steve now."

Confusion still remains as to whether "Schroeder" is the guitarist's first or last name. Rumors have surfaced claiming that his real name is Heinz von Schroeder and he is actually descended from Nazi war criminals. Other sources claim that his name is Schroeder Reinhardt, and that he is a relative of jazz guitarist Django Reinhardt. There has been no clear evidence either way, and Schroeder himself refuses to tell. "I've heard the rumors, of course, and they're all wrong. And now that the band and I are famous, I kinda like the mystery. There are lots of one-named musicians. Sting. Bono. Slash. So that's just who I am. Schroeder."

Lucy's Obsession reunited in 2008 after a fifteen-year sabbatical, and is currently touring the U.S. opening for Linkin Park.

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Wednesday, October 7, 2009

Subliminally Sticky

I was watching TV the other day and I happened to see a commercial denouncing the use of steroids. The image on the screen was a baseball, football, basketball and volleyball on a bench in a locker room. As the narrator went on ( about the hazards of steroid use, the balls got smaller and eventually shriveled up.
I couldn't help but wonder, "Hmmm. Is there a hidden message that they're trying to get across here ( Could shrinking balls somehow be connected to the use of steroids?"
Nah, probably not (
This got me thinking about the whole concept of subliminal ( advertising. For years, companies have slipped sexual images into photographs. Take this Coke ad, for example:

See the not-so-subtle imagery? Look closely at the reddish brown shapes. I guess it could've been an accident, but . . . nah, who am I kidding? That's silhouette nastiness right there. (

I guess the thinking here is that our subconscious minds are always on the lookout for porn. Probably not a bad assumption, since that's what our CONSCIOUS minds are usually up to, but sometimes it just goes too far. The most famous example, I suppose, would be the barely-disguised schlong ( on the cover of Disney's The Little Mermaid. Check it out.

Now, I can't imagine what point Disney's artists ( were trying to make with this, unless it's to say that gold-plated tally-whackers were a key feature of early undersea architecture. But here's what's truly frightening. Take a look at the octopus bitch's expression. I wouldn't want the willie anywhere near that level of feminine hostility. She could easily go all Lorena Bobbitt on someone and sell the thing at a bait shop.

Nightcrawlers, indeed.

And finally, the old trick of hiding the word "SEX" in an advertisement. It's shown up everywhere from cigarette ads, liquor billboards, to (once again) Disney movies. Yep, those perverted Imagineers managed to sneak "SEX" into The Lion King.

In print advertising, you'd be amazed at how often ice cubes are the culprit( Take a look at the gin ad below. Although the cubes are stacked vertically (can anything be stacked horizontally? Hmm, something to ponder), you can clearly see the S, E, and X. Pretty clever, no?

Now, I'm no psychologist, but I can't think that this makes that much of a difference. I prefer the more direct approach, anyway.

Turtle Wax, anyone?


Seriously though, you should take a minute and visit my friend Nate at His company specializes in all sorts of stuff that can help you promote your blog. You need Quirkyloon bumper stickers? He can make 'em. Out-Numbered magnets? No problem. I Shoulda Been a Stripper window clings? Done.

As an added incentive, Nate will give you ten percent off your order just by mentioning the key word "Knucklehead". He's that kinda guy.

But wait, there's more! The first three commenters who are willing to leave a mailing address (or shoot me an e-mail at will get an official "Knucklehead" refrigerator magnet absolutely free.

And that's a priceless bit of memorabilia right there, brought to you by, that's right,

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Monday, October 5, 2009

Here's to You, Mr. Bogataj

Vinko Bogataj.

Chances are you don't recognize the name. But while the name itself might not ring a bell, I'm pretty certain that you know who Vinko is, and you're probably familiar with his singularly spectacular claim to fame.

Vinko Bogataj was born in Slovenia in 1950. He had a relatively normal European childhood, and I'm sure his parents doted upon little Vinkie and cherished his every word, as parents do. Sometime during his teenage years, the adolescent Vinko made a fateful decision, setting in motion a chain of events that would forever secure his place in history.

Vinko took up ski jumping.

On March 21, 1970, Vinko Bogataj was entered in the Ski Flying World Championships in Oberstdorf, Germany. A light snow had begun to fall, and when the time came for Vinko's third jump, the ramp had become quite treacherous. As he hurtled downward, he realized that the weather conditions had significantly enslickened the ramp, causing him to go much faster than he had anticipated. He lowered his center of gravity in an effort to abort his descent. Instead of stopping, however, Vinko lost his balance and fell to the ground, where he ceased being a ski jumper and instead transformed into a 155-pound helmeted projectile hurtling off the ramp, crashing to the ground, bouncing into a crowd of stunned observers, and miraculously suffering no more than a mild concussion and a compound fracture of his self-esteem.

All of which would have long since been forgotten had an ABC Sports film crew not been taping the event.

You've guessed it. Vinko Bogataj is "The Agony of Defeat Guy."

Imagine what this would be like. You make a single mistake, and you are remembered for that one thing and nothing else for the rest of your life. And it's not like this was some horrific event, either. It's one thing when you're Joseph Hazelwood and your one mistake was getting shit-faced and wrecking an oil tanker causing a spill of epic proportions, killing marine life in the area and disrupting the balance of nature. One wouldn't expect a gaffe like that to slip by unnoticed. Or Custer, whose one mistake led to his troops being massacred at Little Big Horn. That was an historic event.

But that's not the case with poor Vinko. Vinko didn't turn the ocean into an oil slick. Vinko didn't cause soldiers to die. Vinko didn't slaughter college girls, plan an attack on the World Trade Center, or fire a rifle from the Texas School Book Depository.

Vinko fell down.

For the next thirty years, the opening sequence of ABC's Wide World of Sports featured Jim McKay's narrative accompanying a series of video clips. "Spanning the globe, bringing you the constant variety of sport. The thrill of victory. The agony . . . of defeat."

Every season, "the thrill of victory" was different. Muhammad Ali raising his arms after a knockout. A.J. Foyt taking the checkered flag at Indy. A bunch of kids from Connecticut winning the Little League World Series. But "the agony of defeat" remained unchanged. Vinko Bogataj flew off the ramp in Oberstdorf 52 times a year for thirty painful years. Good grief.

Ironically, and I suppose fortunately, Vinko Bogataj was oblivious to his informal induction into the Screw Up Hall of Fame. Having retired to a quiet life in Slovenia, he was blissfully unaware of ABC's Wide World of Sports and was therefore quite surprised when, decades later, he was invited to be on the 30th Anniversary special.

For the love of God, I hope they briefed him ahead of time.

But what if they didn't? I can only imagine, a tuxedo-clad Vinko sitting in a palatial ballroom at the MGM Grand, gazing up at the dais where he sees ABC executives and assorted celebrities. Perhaps he's seated at an elegant table, complete with ABC centerpieces and embossed place cards, eating rubber chicken and sipping iced tea with Dorothy Hamill, Evel Knievel and Bruce Jenner. All of a sudden, the lights dim, a hush falls over the ballroom, and Jim McKay's voice booms over the speakers.


Theme music kicks in.

Oh boy, thinks Vinko. Ziss is incredible! Whole show devoted entirely to zee sports world. I had no idea such thing even existed. And I'm sitting right next to zee Evel Knievel! I vunder if I can get his autograph later, yes? Whatta country!


Vinko sits, eyes wide, his attention on the big screen. Zee thrill of victory, yes! There's Mary Lou Retton getting gold medal . . . Ali scoring big knockout . . . how cool vood be to appear on zee video celebrating victory, no? Zee big honor!


Hey, what the . . . "AUUGGGH!!!"

In honor of Vinko Bogataj, I think you should all take a moment and share a personal screwup with a friend, and have a good chuckle at your own expense. After all, everybody makes mistakes and we shouldn't have to live with one small goof our whole life. Unburden yourself. Whether it's a huge, public disaster like the Exxon Valdez, or a small, private faux pas. Maybe you got pantsed in front of the girl you had the hots for. Perhaps you took a header, and face-planted yourself in the punch bowl at your sister's Bat Mitzvah. Whatever your blunder, understand that you're not alone.

Just remember Vinko. Remember him fondly.

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Friday, October 2, 2009

The Ecstasy

This is the first of a two-part joint venture between myself and Jim "Suldog" Sullivan, honoring the start of baseball's postseason. Since Jim is a die-hard Boston Red Sox fan and I'm partial to the New York Yankees, we decided to give our opposing perspectives on the two most significant clashes between the teams. We're going to start with the one-game A.L. East playoff in 1978 . . .

On October 2, 1978, the New York Yankees and Boston Red Sox squared off in the greatest baseball game ever played. One game, the winners moved on to the American League Playoffs, the losers would be packing it in for a long winter's nap.

I was thirteen at the time, and a complete fanatic. To this day, the 1978 edition of the New York Yankees remains my all-time favorite team. Sure, the '77 season was incredible, and the Jeter-Torre Dynasty from 1996-2000 was a euphoric period in Bronx Bomber history, but '78 was simply magical.

It didn't start out that way, as the Yanks trailed Boston by 14 games in July and looked dead in the water. As July turned into August, though, they began a comeback. The fiery but lovable manager Billy Martin was replaced by the more laid-back Bob Lemon, and by September the Bombers were right on Boston's tail. Over one spectacular weekend at Fenway Park, the Yankees swept a four-game series by scores of 15-3, 13-2, 7-0, and 7-4. So complete was the domination that in one of the games, Yankee catcher Thurman Munson had gone 3-for-3 before the Sox's Butch Hobson had even batted. That series, forever known as "The Boston Massacre", put the two teams in a tie for first place. The Yanks took the division lead down the stretch, but the Sox got hot at the end, pulling even on the last day of the regular season.

I lived and died with every game. The one-game sudden death was sure to be a nail-biter.

I ran home from school that day, burst through the front door and flung my bookbag into the corner. I turned on WPIX channel 11 just in time for the first pitch.

Mike Torrez was on the mound for Boston. He'd been with the Yankees the year before, playing an important role in their 1977 World Series victory. But today he was the enemy, and I was hoping to see the Bombers light up Torrez like the Christmas tree in Rockefeller Center.

Ron Guidry was chucking for New York, ready to put the finishing touches on one of the best seasons a pitcher has ever had. His record coming into the game was 24-3, with an earned run average of less than two. He was, for the most part, unhittable. Earlier in the year, Guidry struck out eighteen California Angels in a game, earning him the moniker "Louisiana Lightning".

You had to like the Yankees' chances.

New York went down quickly in the top of the first. My friend Paul came bounding up my front steps during the commercials, out of breath from the three-block sprint from his house.

"What'd I miss?"

"Nothin'. Yankees didn't do squat in the first. Boston's just coming up."

He flopped down on the couch, I went to the kitchen to grab us a couple of Cokes, and we took in the action.

The Red Sox drew first blood in the bottom of the second, on a home run by Carl Yastrzemski. Yaz was about 87 years old at the time, but he managed to hook one around the right field foul pole. We watched in disgust as a Boy Scout from Martha's Vineyard helped the elderly Sox legend around the bases.

"Yaz sucks," muttered Paul.

"Yeah, he's not as bad as Fisk, though. That guy's a douchebag."


We hated every one of those friggin' Red Sox. Rice. Lynn. Burleson. Every damn one of 'em.

We looked out through the screen door and saw the guy from the other side of the duplex, Mr. Ostertag, grinning. He was from Boston originally, and our neighborhood's only Red Sox fan."HOW 'BOUT THAT YAZ!" he taunted.

"Just go back inside, old man," I said, good-naturedly. He was actually a pretty nice guy, but there's just no accounting for taste.

"Da Sawx ah just gettin' stah-ted," he replied.

"Yeah, we'll see."

Torrez held the Yanks in check, inning after inning. In the sixth Boston scored again, making it 2-0.

"It's all ovah now, boys," came the voice from next door. "Don't lemme hear ya cryin'!"

"Yeah, sure, Mr. Ostertag. It's not over until your mother sings," Paul fired back.

After we heard Mr. O's screen door slam shut, Paul and I exchanged nervous glances.

"Man, 2-zip, we better start hittin'," I said.

"Torrez is looking great. I'm not liking this at all."

I feigned confidence. "Ah, we'll be okay. Reggie's gonna be the hero just like last year."

Someone was about to become a hero, all right, but it wasn't Jackson.

With one out in the top of the seventh inning, Chris Chambliss singled. Roy White followed with another base hit, putting runners on first and second. Jim Spencer stepped up to pinch hit for the second baseman Brian Doyle. Spencer was a power hitter, and manager Bob Lemon sent him to the plate hoping that he'd be able to hit one out. With the Yankees' number nine hitter on deck, Spencer represented the best chance to take the lead.

He unceremoniously flied out to left.

Bucky Dent was a light-hitting shortstop in his second year with the Yankees. Known mostly for his glove and pretty-boy looks that made him the heartthrob of our female junior high classmates, Dent had managed just four home runs during the entire season. Put another way, Bucky Dent hit home runs about as often as Dom DeLuise said "no thanks" to the dessert tray. Perhaps Dent would be able to draw a walk or something, but his .240 batting average led Paul and me to assume that the inning was as good as over.

"Well, this inning is as good as over," said Paul.

"Yeah, but we'll have the top of the order coming up in the eighth. There's still a chance."

With the count one ball and no strikes, Bucky fouled the ball off his shin and crumpled to the ground. Beautiful. The guy can't hit to begin with, and now he's on a bum leg. As Bucky writhed in agony, Yankees' center fielder Mickey Rivers noticed that there was a crack in the bat Dent was using. He handed a new one to the batboy, who ran it over to Dent as he was hobbling back to the batter's box. Friggin' hopeless.

"So, how'd you do on the math test in Cornell's class?" I asked Paul.

"Ninety-four. You?"

"Eighty-six. I screwed up the Pythagorean Theorem."

"Shouda studied."

"Yeah, no kidding."

Our conversation was interrupted by WPIX announcer Bill White . . .


We went nuts. The last guy on the team you'd expect to hit a home run just gave the Yankees the lead in the most important game of the year. Paul and I rushed out onto the front porch, yelling our heads off. We peeked in through Mr. Ostertag's screen door and saw him sitting in his recliner, staring at the TV. He looked sick.

When he finally decided to acknowledge our presence, he just looked at us and muttered two words: "Bucky. Dent?"

"BUCKY DENT!" we shouted back at him.

By the time we went back inside, Mickey Rivers had walked and stolen second, Torrez had gotten the hook, and Yankee captain Thurman Munson was coming to the plate. Munson had struck out in each of his first three at-bats, but this time he doubled to the gap in left-center, driving in Rivers for a 4-2 lead.

"Okay, man, just get the ball to Gossage and let's finish this thing," said Paul.

Sure enough, Lemon brought in Goose Gossage and his 100 mile-an-hour fastball with one out in the bottom of the seventh. He got out of the inning with the score still 4-2.

In the top of the eighth, Reggie hit a majestic home run to center, extending the lead to 5-2. Paul took the opportunity to needle Mr. Ostertag, who was still in his La-Z-Boy puffing on unfiltered Camels.

"Hey, Mr. O! I think I hear your mother singing!"

"It ain't ovah till it's ovah," he replied. Friggin' geezer had the nerve to quote Yogi Berra.

Turns out he was right, though. In the bottom of the eighth, Boston rallied for two runs, closing the gap to 5-4. The Yankees didn't do anything in their half of the ninth, so it all came down to the last three outs.

And damn it if the Sox didn't threaten again. With two outs, they had runners on first and third. A single would tie the game, a double to the gap could win it.

And who was up for Boston, with a chance to seal our fate?

Yastrzemski. Friggin' Yastrzemski was advancing to the plate.

"Well, we gotta bring in Lyle now, right?" Paul asked me.

"Probably. Lefty on lefty, and Sparky owns Yaz anyway."

Lemon stuck with Gossage.

Paul and I were on the edge of our seats.

"Just one more out, Goose. Come on . . . "

Somewhere in this favored land the sun is shining bright;
A band is playing somewhere, and somewhere hearts are light.
But we laugh at Mr. Ostertag, who chain smokes, swears and pouts;
There is no joy at his place, 'cause Yastrzemski just popped out.

Click here to read Suldog's perspective on this great moment in baseball history.

The second part of our tandem post, detailing the 2004 American League Championship Series, will be published on October 20th on both blogs.

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