Wednesday, June 30, 2010

When Batman Met Joker . . .

Although the world of film and television is, for the most part, completely fictional, every so often their worlds intersect.  My favorite example of this is an episode of Happy Days when Howard and Marion Cunningham have just attended the movie The Music Man.  As they're leaving the theater, Marion says to Howard, "I think the little boy in that movie looked just like Richie."  The joke here, of course, is that the "little boy" in the movie was played by Ronny Howard, who also played the Cunningham's son Richie. 

Another example.  In Sleepless in Seattle, one of the main plot points is that the female characters are romantically obsessed with the film An Affair to Remember.  Meg Ryan and her friends can't even discuss this movie without bursting into tears.  Of course, the funniest moment in Sleepless comes when Tom Hanks, imitating Rita Wilson's teary summary of the Cary Grant classic, breaks down crying as he and his buddy discuss The Dirty Dozen.  

Anyway, the reason I bring all that up is because just the other night I was watching The Dark Knight on cable.  There's a scene when Batman is interrogating the Joker (played brilliantly by Heath Ledger) that goes something like this:

Batman: Then why do you want to kill me?

The Joker:  I don't want to kill you!  What would I do without you?  Go back to ripping off mob dealers?  No.  No.  You . . . you complete me.

So my question is this:

When the hell did the frigging Joker have the time or inclination to go see Jerry Maguire?  It just seems a little, I don't know, anachronistic to me.  Did the Joker, in full makeup and neurosis, drive over to the Gotham City AMC, purchase a large buttered popcorn and a box of Raisinets, then sit down and enjoy the romantic entanglements of a sports agent and his love-struck assistant?   Doesn't really seem like his type of movie, to say the least.  Nightmare on Elm Street, sure, I'll buy that.  Maybe even some underground Nazi war movie.  Hard core porn wouldn't surprise me at all.

But Jerry Maguire?

Imagine if the Joker had instead drawn his inspiration from other chick flicks, like When Harry Met Sally.

Batman: Why do you want to kill me?

Joker: I don't want to kill you!  What would I do without you?  I love doing battle with you.  I love that you get cold when it's 71 degrees out. I love that it takes you an hour and a half to order a sandwich. I love that you get a little crinkle above your nose when you're looking at me like I'm nuts. I love that after I spend the day with you, I can still smell your perfume on my clothes. And I love that you are the last person I want to talk to before I go to sleep at night. And it's not because I'm lonely, and it's not because it's New Year's Eve. I came here tonight because when you realize you want to spend the rest of your life with somebody, you want the rest of your life to start as soon as possible. 

This would be funnier if you could hear me talking and if I could do a passable Joker impression, but I think you get the idea.

Kind of makes me want to see a Dark Knight prequel, so we get a better look into the Joker's backstory.  Maybe he used to be a sappy sort of guy, you know, pre-dementia.  Maybe he took his wife out to quiet restaurants, ordered the finest champagne, and then took her out on the town.  Maybe on the weekends they'd make muffins together, take long walks on the beach, and then go home and watch Casablanca on their DVD player.  Until one day, EL SNAPPO!  He becomes the Joker, goes on a homicidal rampage, and quotes Tom Cruise.

Weirder things have happened, I suppose.


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Monday, June 28, 2010

Will Power Didn't Stand a Chance

It's summertime once again, and as usual I'm trying to drop a few pounds so I look decent at the beach.  Not that I ever go to the beach, but I think you understand what I'm trying to say.  To be clear about this, and admittedly there may be an element of denial in play here, I do not consider myself to be a "fat person."  As I've said before, I am still comfortably on the "bald guy" side of the "fat guy/bald guy scale."  For those of you unfamiliar with this system, here's how it works.  If I were sitting at Starbucks drinking my Tazo Chai Creme Frapuccino and you happened to glance my way, your initial thought would be, "Hey, look at that bald guy over there."   Therefore, I am a bald guy who could stand to lose a few pounds.  If your first thought was, "Hey, check out that fat tub of goo," well, that's another story entirely.

Anyway, in my ongoing effort to remain on the "bald guy" side of the equation, I have started yet another diet.  My fiance Theresa has decided to join me in this endeavor.  So the other morning, she asked me the simple question, "What are you having for lunch?"

"I dunno, probably yogurt and maybe some tuna," I said.


"What do you mean, 'oh'?"

"Well, we need to go to the grocery store to pick up dog food so I thought maybe we could stop somewhere for lunch."

"Okay," I said.  "How about Subway?"  A happy medium, I thought.  Filling, tasty, somewhat within the limits of my diet.

"Sure, I guess."

So we went to the market and bought the dog food.  On the way back to the car, Theresa noticed a Baskin Robbins in the same shopping center.

"Hey, I've been wanting to try out that Baseball Nut Sundae," she said.

Let me explain something real quick.  Dieting is not all that difficult for me.  I can resist temptation.  However, when Major Temptation joins forces with Master Sergeant Theresa, well, that's more than I can handle.  It's impossible to fight the Battle of the Bulge on two fronts.

"Fine," I said.  "Let's go get some ice cream.  But if that Baseball Nut Sundae comes in a protective cup, I'm outta there."

"You sure you don't mind putting off the diet another day?" she asked.  After all that, it's now my decision.

"Yeah, why the hell not?"

So we had the sundaes.  Still, if we stayed on our diet the rest of the day and did an extra session at the gym, it'd probably be fine.  We got in the car headed over to Subway.

"Oooh, look," said Theresa.  "Let's go to Sonic Burgers!"

"You're kidding, right?"

"No, doesn't that sound great?"

Anything you say, Sergeant.  Private Spineless reporting for duty.

I pulled into the Sonic drive-thru and ordered our meals.  She got the burger and Tater Tots, I got the double cheeseburger and Tater Tots.  Jenny Craig, kiss my fat ass.

Speaking of Jenny Craig, I forgot to mention that just last week Theresa spent a not insignificant amount of money on Jenny Craig food.  Packages of granola bars, low-calorie meals, and healthy desserts gathered dust in our pantry while Theresa and I stuffed our faces with burgers and ice cream.  But I digress.

As we were in the drive-thru waiting to pay, Theresa said to me, "Hey, you've got a weird pocket of fat right there."

Now, I was looking out the window so I didn't know what specific "pocket of fat" she was looking at.  Sadly, there were a couple different possibilities.  Still, after basically brow-beating me into the ice cream and burgers, I was in no mood to hear about my excess blubber.

"You didn't just say that," I replied.

"Maybe I didn't say it exactly the right way."

"Oh, no, it's fine.  How could anyone possibly misconstrue the phrase 'weird-looking pocket of fat'?  And what pocket of fat, if I may ask, are you referring to?"

"Right there, on your hand.  Look."

Apparently, she thought that the fleshy part of my hand between my thumb and index finger could stand to drop a couple pounds.  I didn't react well.

"Let me get this straight," I said, voice rising slightly.  "I wanted to have yogurt for lunch.  Then I compromised and agreed we'd go to Subway.  THEN you talked me into ice cream and THEN you wanted to come here to Sonic.  And now you have the nerve to say my fucking hands are too fat!?  Well, excuse me, maybe I can watch infomercials tonight and see if Suzanne Somers is selling the Thumb-Master or something so I can slim them down a bit!"  I snatched my change from the hand of a completely innocent and unsuspecting cashier.  Great, now I'm a fat asshole.

Theresa was somewhat taken aback by my outrage.  "Maybe it's just muscle.  Yes, I'm sure that's what it is, muscle.  You're so strong."

"Yeah, shut up and finish your Tater Tots."


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Friday, June 25, 2010

Renegades, We Had it Made (Part III)

Click to read:   Part I         Part II

"What made you guys want to see Styx, anyway?" asked Eric.  "They were pretty cheesy, even for the 80's."  Eric never did like the Top 40 stuff, he was more into the hair-and-spandex bands like Def Leppard, Quiet Riot, and Twisted Sister.

"Cheesy?  Are you kidding?" I said.  "Styx was pretty complex as far as their songwriting went.  And they could rock when they wanted to."

"Oh yeah, right," said Eric.  Brutally mocking the vocal stylings of Dennis DeYoung, he started crooning: 

"I'm sailing awaaaaay, set an open course for the Virgin Sea . . . "

Bobby and Katy passionately joined in.  "Cause I've got to be freeeeeee, free to face the life that's ahead of me." 

"Okay, okay," I said.  "I didn't say ALL their songs rocked.  But that was the kind of band I was listening to back then.  Styx, Journey, Foreigner . . . "

"Like I said, the cheesy bands," said Eric.

Obviously we had a difference of opinion on what constituted the best of the 80's, but we did agree that the New Wave movement sucked.   None of us could stand Duran Duran, or even worse, Culture Club.  Boy George, I really DID want to hurt him.

"So anyway, the concert started, and the show was outstanding.  Lasers, special effects, I mean, they were no KISS but . . . "

Styx put on a great show covering their classics like "Blue Collar Man" and "Crystal Ball" as well as some stuff off of their newest album, including the cheesy ballad "Babe".  Dennis DeYoung came to the front of the stage, the lights went down, and he laid it on thick.  "Babe I'm leavin', I must be on my way.  The time is drawing near . . . " 

Throughout the audience, Bics were flicked.  Women cried, men yawned, the fat guy in the Queen shirt who had commandeered Brian's seat continued snoring.

"I don't know why that song is so damn popular," I said, as the final notes dissipated amidst the pot smoke.  "That's probably my LEAST favorite of all their songs."

"Yeah, mine too," said Brian, "but every album needs a ballad.  Plus, it's a good make-out song."

"Speaking of which, how's it going with Lisa?"  She was the senior that Brian was dating.  Since we were only freshman, this was a very big deal.  "You get to second base yet?"

"Second base?  Are you kidding me?  You do know she drives, right?  After the party at Williamson's house last week we drove over to the park and I hit an inside-the-car home run."


"Whatever you say, Chris."

I pretended not to believe him, but he just had that look.  I knew he was telling the truth, the lucky bastard.

Onstage, Styx blasted the opening riff of "Eddie" which finally woke up Fat Guy.  He looked around, completely befuddled.

"What the fu - where am I?" he said to no one in particular.

"You're in my seat, that's where you are," yelled Brian, trying to be heard over the music.

Fat Guy stood up and wobbled, then sat back down.  He tried it again.  Staggering past us, he said, "Sorry, man, got kinda fucked up and lost."  For a minute it looked like he was going to make it out to the concourse, but then he took a turn for the worse.  He listed slightly to his right, steadied himself by grabbing the back of an unoccupied seat, and then he gloriously ejected the contents of his stomach all over the occupants of section 402, row G, who immediately scattered.

Styx didn't seem to notice, and continued with the music.

"That's gross," said Katy.

"You have no idea," I said.  "It was mostly beer, but he'd obviously had a couple hot dogs before the concert.  There was puke everywhere, on the seats, dripping down the steps, it got in this one dude's hair.  The Madison Square Garden crew came over and tried to clean it up, but there was only so much they could do . . ." 

We did our best to ignore the blended aromas of weed and vomit while we enjoyed the rest of the show.  After three encores it was all over, and we headed back down to the trains.  This time, of course, the station was much more crowded, but we found our train without much trouble.

"Remember," I told Brian, "we've got to make that connection in Newark again."

"Yeah, and we have to find a pay phone when we get there so I can let my sister know when to pick us up."

We arrived in Newark at about 11:00 and checked the train schedule to see when we'd be getting back to Bound Brook, our final destination.  We found the bank of pay phones and Brian dropped in a couple quarters.

"Hi Jen, it's me . . . we're at the station in Newark . . . yeah, the concert was great . . . we gotta get going so we don't miss the train, but we need you to pick us up at 11:50 . . . okay, thanks.  See ya."

"We good?" I asked.

"Yeah, she'll be there.  Where do we gotta go?"

"Track six, down the escalators."

We hustled down and caught the train with just a couple minutes to spare, and we arrived home right on schedule.  Jennifer was waiting.

"Hi guys, how was the concert?" she asked.

"Great," I said.  "Except for the fat guy that barfed on everybody."

"You kiddin'?  I thought that was the best part," said Brian.  He told his sister the whole story.

We'd decided early on that once we got home from the concert I would spend the night at Brian's house.  When we got in Jen's car, she gave us an accusatory look.

"You guys smell like weed," said Jennifer.  "You weren't getting loaded, were you?"

"No, but the smoke was everywhere.  Is it obvious?" asked Brian.

"Yeah, when we get home I'll put yours and Chris's clothes in the laundry so they're clean in the morning."  For a sister, Jen was pretty cool.

Brian's bedroom had a separate entrance, so we snuck into the house without being noticed by his parents who were asleep anyway.  I borrowed a pair of sweats and a t-shirt from Brian so Jen could throw our clothes in the wash.

"You guys are gonna have to stay up so you can put your stuff in the dryer," she said.

"No problem," said Brian.  "We're gonna be wired for a while yet anyway."

He turned on the TV and hooked up his Atari.  "Wanna play Kaboom?" he asked.


The next morning we got up early.  I changed back into my clothes from the night before, no longer smelling like I'd just left a party at Bob Marley's.  Jen gave me a ride home.  When I walked in my front door, my mom was sitting in the living room watching TV and hooking a rug.  Her latest hobby.

"You're home early," she said.

"Yeah, Brian was going somewhere with his family so his sister dropped me off."

"So, what did you guys do last night?"

"Ahhh . . . nothin'.  Just played video games."

"I can't believe you had the nerve to even try that," said Mom as she cleared away the rest of the dessert dishes.

"Neither could we, actually.  We talked about it for the next couple weeks, we were sure that either you guys or his parents were going to find out somehow."

"I'm surprised his sister didn't rat you out," said Bobby.

"Nah, she was cool.  Besides, I think Brian had so much dirt on her that she pretty much had to keep her mouth shut.  The hardest part was not telling anyone else . . . "

For the next few weeks, Brian and I kept waiting for the other shoe to drop.  We knew Jen wasn't going to spill the beans, though.  Over the previous Christmas break, while their parents were out of town, she and her friends had a party at their house.  Brian wasn't supposed to be there either, he was staying with another friend but he'd forgotten something and stopped by to get it, only to find Jen and about twenty of her friends tapping four kegs and a bunch of local frat boys.  He assured her that he'd never snitch to their folks, but it was a pretty valuable bit of information to have handy.

The toughest part was not telling any of our friends about the concert.  There's no way we could've kept the story from spreading and sooner or later our parents would've heard.  As far as I know, our secret stayed between the two of us (three, if you count Jen) until I was an adult, when I shared it with my family over several slices of Grandma's lemon cheese pie.


Grandma Ruth's Lemon Cheese Pie Recipe

1 small package lemon Jello
1 cup boiling water
3 T. lemon juice
Dissolve Jello in water, add lemon juice and let cool.

One 8 oz. package Philadelphia Cream Cheese-softened
1 cup sugar
1 tsp. vanilla
1 large can evaporated milk--chilled
2 Graham cracker crusts (You can use the prepared ones, but Grandma Ruth made her own with 1/2 lb. Graham crackers crushed and mixed in 1/4 cup melted butter or margarine and press into pie pan).

In mixer, cream together cream cheese, sugar and vanilla until fluffy. 
Add in COOLED Jello and mix well by hand.

In separate bowl, whip evaporated milk until it makes peaks.  Then fold into cheese/Jello mixture.  Pour into crusts and chill. 


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Tuesday, June 22, 2010

Renegades, We Had it Made (Part II)

To read Part I, click here.

"Okay, now that's the part that freaks me out," said Mom.  "The two of you alone on the streets of New York.  Anything could've happened, I'm surprised you didn't end up wandering around Times Square."

"No, no, we were never actually out on the street," I said.  In spite of how it may seem, our venture into the big city wasn't as dangerous as you might think, although if either of my teenagers tried it at age fifteen I'd have killed them.  Penn Station is located directly underneath Madison Square Garden, so to get from the train platform to the arena is just a matter of a few escalator rides.  I explained that to Mom, but it didn't really put her mind at ease.

"Oh, right, because a crowded New York train station is completely safe," said Mom.  She cut a generous slice of pie and handed it to me.  You can keep your damn pumpkin, my mom's lemon cheese pie (using Grandma Ruth's legendary recipe) should be enshrined in the Pastry Hall of Fame.

"Are we talking about the subways?" asked Katy.  "Because I've heard stories . . . "

"Subway system's different," said my father.  "If they tried that, it would've been a whole different situation, especially in the 80's before Giuliani cleaned up the city.  The trains were much safer although I'm with your mother, you guys were pretty dumb."

"Okay, granted, but it's not like we were asking directions from the hookers on 42nd Street."'

"Hey, what did I say about the hookers?" asked Bobby.  "Ix-nay."

"So anyway, we got off the train and . . . " 

We got off the train and headed to the escalators, which took us directly up into the lobby of Madison Square Garden.  We were a little early so we bought a couple hot pretzels and browsed the merchandise kiosks.

"Hey, check out that one," said Brian, pointing to to Official Styx Cornerstone Tour t-shirt.  It was a black shirt with the Styx logo on the front, along with a picture of the band.  On the back was a list of all the concert dates, from March 13 (Chicago) to September 21 (Los Angeles).

You know, like every other concert shirt you've ever seen.

"Yeah, that's pretty cool," I said, "but twelve bucks?  That's insane, how do they get off charging that much for one t-shirt?"

"I know, but think about how jealous everyone's gonna be at school when they see us . . . "

He stopped mid-sentence, as the obvious smacked him in the forehead.  "Wait a minute," he said.  "What are we thinking?  We can't get t-shirts, or a program, or anything.  How would we explain it to our parents?"

I pondered that for a minute, trying to figure out if we could maybe tell our folks that someone else got them for us, or try to keep them hidden for a while.  Nothing really made sense, though, if we took physical evidence home with us we'd just be asking to get busted.  It sucked, but I realized Brian was right.

"Yeah, you're right," I said.  "Damn, those are cool shirts though."

We headed to the doors so we could get to our seats before it got too crazy.

"You have the tickets, right?" I asked.

"Shit, no!  I thought you had them!  What the hell are we gonna . . ."

"Relax, Bri, I'm just messin' with ya again."  I couldn't help myself, he was so gullible.  Like at school when he couldn't remember someone's name (which was often).  He'd see a girl that he wanted to hit on, and he'd ask me what her name was.  I'd always -- ALWAYS -- give him the wrong name so when he went over and said Hi, Stacy! the reply would be something like Yeah, thanks a lot, Brian.  My name's Amy.  Jeez!  He fell for it every single time.

"Okay, where are we sitting?" he asked.

I took the tickets out of my wallet.  "Looks like we're in section 402, row E."  We entered the arena, and headed to up to our seats.  And when I say up, I mean an "we need two oxygen tanks and a sherpa" up.  I think we were actually closer to the stage when we were waiting for the train in Newark.  The opening band, The Now, was about halfway through their collection of terrible New Wave-influenced crap when I noticed a funky smell wafting its way up in the rafters which is to say, our seats.

"You smell that?" I asked.

"What, the marijuana?" said Brian.

"Is that what it is?"

My father interrupted the story, a suspicious look on his face.  "Okay, you said this didn't involve drugs."

"Yeah, I forgot about this part because we weren't actually doing drugs, we just smelled the pot.  We didn't see anyone who was smoking it, but the smell was everywhere."  Having polished off my lemon cheese pie, I handed Mom the empty plate.

"Another piece?" she asked.

"Of course," I said.

"Anyone else?"

Eric and Bobby signed up for seconds while Dad and Katy groaned their refusals.  Mom served me and my brothers and then rejoined us at the table.

"Okay," I said, "so Brian told me that it was marijuana that we were smelling.  I don't think he'd ever smoked it himself, but he recognized it right away . . . " 

As far as I knew, Brian's experience with marijuana was minimal at best.  He'd never talked about it, and given our friendship, I'm sure it would've come up at some point.  However, he did have his older sister Jennifer and a 22-year old brother so I guess he'd been exposed to it, at least indirectly. 

The Now wandered their way thorough their last song, and the crowd went mild.  Even by opening act standards, these guys sucked.  They were a lot like The Police, if Sting suffered a mild stroke, drummer Stewart Copeland lost the feeling in his left hand, and guitarist Andy Summers was replaced by the top three finishers in an Elvis Costello look-alike contest, all playing keyboards.  Badly.

"Man, I'm getting hungry again," said Brian, as the house lights came up for intermission.

"Me too," I said.  We had never heard the term "contact high" before, but in retrospect we were probably suffering from second-hand munchies.  We headed out to the concession stand and got in a very long line.  After what seemed like forever, we ordered a couple burgers and sodas and took them back to our seats.  When we arrived back in section 402, row E, however, Brian had a Goldilocks and the Three Bears moment.

"Dude, look.  Someone's sleeping in my seat."

Passed out, to be precise.  Our intruder had an enormous belly peeking out from underneath a faded Queen t-shirt, and a face cratered with acne scars.  He was snoring.  

"What are we gonna do with this guy?" I asked.

"I'm gonna wake him up," said Brian.  "HEY!  FAT GUY!  WAKE UP AND MOVE YOUR ASS, THIS IS MY SEAT!"

Fat Guy didn't stir, if anything his snoring got louder.

"Screw it," I said.  "Just leave him alone, the row's not full anyway.  Besides, when Styx comes out everyone's gonna be standing."

Just as I said that, the lights went down, the crowd went nuts, and a voice boomed over the loudspeakers . . . 


They led off with "Renegade".



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Saturday, June 19, 2010

Renegades, We Had it Made (Part I)

It was about twelve years ago on Thanksgiving when my parents learned the truth about their oldest child, their charming, compassionate, law-abiding son who never did anything to dishonor the family.  The golden child, really, the one who spent every waking moment setting a good example for his brothers Eric and Bobby, and his baby sister Katy.

I'm speaking of course about myself.

We were all sitting around the dinner table scarfing down turkey, stuffing, cranberry sauce, and Mom's famous green bean casserole, the one she makes with French's french fried onions.  On most holidays, our family enjoyed reminiscing about our respective childhoods, funny stories from the past.  Dad told the one about Eric talking his way out of a beating with the phrase, "You wouldn't hit your own kid, would ya?" and Mom reminded us of the time Bobby and our cousin Jay destroyed a ceramic gnome that was minding its own business in the neighbors' garden.

Not wanting me to be left out of the fun, Eric said, "There's gotta be a story about Chris getting in trouble, what are we forgetting about?"

Mom stuck up for me.  "He's never really done anything all that bad, not that I can remember."

"Not that I got caught at, anyway," I said.

"What's that supposed to mean?" asked Dad.

"Okay," I said. "There is one thing I've never told you guys, but the statute of limitations on grounding has to have run out by now, right?  I'm thirty-three, you can't punish me for this."

"Well, let's wait and see," said Mom.  "You know, I think I still have your Hot Wheels tracks around here somewhere."  When we were kids, our orange Hot Wheels tracks were our mom's weapon of choice when it came to administering parental discipline.  It worked, those things stung like hell.

"Hold on, Chris, are we going to be sorry you told us about whatever it is?" asked Dad.  "You didn't get herpes from a hooker in Tijuana or something, did you?"

"No, that was Bobby," said Eric, through a mouthful of mashed potatoes.

"Hey, ix-nay on the ookers-hay!" said Bobby.

"Nah," I said, "it's nothing that horrible.  Nothing illegal, no drugs.  Just something you didn't really need to know about at the time."

"Okay then," said Dad.  "Let's have it."

"All right.  It was when we were still living in New Jersey, I was fifteen . . . " 

My best friend Brian and I were sitting in his bedroom playing video games.  He'd just gotten an Atari, the brand-new, state of the art system, and we were taking turns at a game called Kaboom where a villain who looked like the Hamburglar dropped bombs that you had to catch in little swimming pools.  There was a knock at the bedroom door.

"Can I come in?"

It was Brian's older sister Jennifer, 20 years old with a body that would make Suzanne Somers dress in a gunny sack for the rest of her life.

"I got those Styx tickets you guys wanted."

"Holy shit, are you serious?" asked Brian.  We had asked her if she could get us tickets, but we were basically just bull-shitting, as usual.  It was more like, hey, wouldn't it be cool to go see Styx?  Neither of us had been to a concert before, and we'd given absolutely no thought as to the logistics involved.

"Yep, here they are."  She handed me the envelope.  I opened it up and saw two tickets that read:

Madison Square Garden
Saturday, April 5, 1980
7:30 PM

"Wait, Jen, there's only two tickets here," said Brian.  "Aren't you coming with us?"

"No, why?"

"Uh, well, how are we supposed to get there?"

Fortunately, I'd had some experience making the trip from New Jersey to Madison Square Garden.  From the time I was about five, my Aunt Patti took me on regular trips into the city to see the Harlem Globetrotters, Disney on Parade, and the Ringling Brothers Circus.  All of these events were at the Garden, and I knew we could take the train to New York without much trouble.  We hatched a plan.

It started off with the old, "you tell your parents you're spending the night at my house, and I'll tell my parents I'm staying at yours" trick.  If we got together on the Saturday afternoon of the concert, our folks wouldn't expect to see us again until Sunday morning at the earliest.  Jennifer agreed to drop us off at the Bound Brook train station late Saturday afternoon, and pick us up that night, after the concert.  The rest was up to us.

"My God, you've got to be kidding me," said Mom, as she took the lemon cheese pies out of the refrigerator.  "You two actually took the train by yourselves?"

"Yeah, I knew what I was doing, though.  Remember, Aunt Patti used to take us all the time.  Besides, we were fifteen.  It's not like we were a couple of nine-year olds."

"It's different by yourself though, dude," said Bobby.  "You're lucky you didn't get mugged."

"You DIDN'T get mugged, did you?" asked Katy.

"Nah, we were fine.  We were never even outside for more than a couple minutes . . . "

We bought our train tickets at the Bound Brook station and waited on the platform.  The train was almost empty, just a couple in their twenties and an old guy in a cardigan sweater.  No one that looked like Son of Sam or Bernie Goetz.  

"So now what?" asked Brian.  He'd never taken the train into the city before, so he was depending entirely on me.  He didn't seem nervous about it, though.  He wasn't the kind of kid who got worked up about anything, really.  He was in ninth grade and his girlfriend was a senior.  Self-confidence was not a problem.

"In about half an hour we're gonna get to Newark.  We have to change trains there, which isn't usually a problem but we might have to hustle to make the connection."

"What if we miss it?"

"Well, then we're screwed.  We'll have to spend the night at the train station and go home tomorrow."


"Nah, I'm just messin' with you.  Trains come by every twenty minutes, we'll just catch the next one.  We got plenty of time, worst case scenario we miss the opening act."

At fifteen, I was completely cool with the possibility of missing the connection.  When I was younger and traveling with Aunt Patti, though, the mere thought of being left at the station terrified me.  I thought we really would have to spend the night and sleep on benches or something.  One time on the way home from the circus, we missed the connection, by only a couple seconds.  In fact, as the train pulled away, the conductor looked right at me as I stood on the platform screaming "STOP THE TRAIN!  STOP THE TRAIN!"  He didn't stop the train and I didn't stop crying, not for twenty minutes until the next train arrived.  Even at six, I felt sort of stupid.

Brian and I arrived in Newark and checked the connection schedule.  "Looks like we've got about ten minutes," I said.  Our train's gonna be on Track Two, that's down a level.  Let's go."  He followed me down the escalator, and we made the connection with no problem.

The second leg of the trip, from Newark to Penn Station, was a quick one.  Before we knew it, we were in New York City.



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Wednesday, June 16, 2010

What Ever Happened To . . . The Little Engine That Could?

It was a beautiful morning in Toyland.  The dolls were singing, the teddy bears were smiling, and the Slinkies . . . well, the Slinkies weren't doing much of anything because for the most part they're a bunch of lazy bastards.  Meanwhile, on the other side of Mount Whiteman, hundreds of good little boys and girls (and a couple of obnoxious brats whose sense of entitlement was truly disgusting) eagerly awaited the arrival of toys and goodies scheduled for that afternoon.

The train was loaded and ready to go.  As it pulled away from the station, however, Ellsbury the Engine sustained an injury which caused him to grind to a halt.

"Hey, Ellsbury, what the hell's going on up there?" hollered Raggedy Andy.  He was an impatient asshole to begin with, and since Raggedy Ann had gone over the mountain a week earlier, he'd been anticipating their reunion with lust in his nether regions.  He was going to loosen her stitching tonight, that was for damn sure.

"I think I snapped a connecting rod!" cried Ellsbury.  "I can't move!"

"Well shit," said Rollo the Clown, snuffing out a Marlboro on the sole of his size 38 Chuck Taylor sneaker.  "Someone get this worthless sack of nuts and bolts off the track while I flag down another engine to take us over the mountain."

A few minutes later, a passenger engine pulled up.

"Hey, bro, how about giving us a lift over the mountain?" asked Rollo.  "Ellsbury crapped out before we even got fifty yards so we're pretty much screwed."

"Piss off, clown, I only pull passenger cars.  You and G.I. Joe can sit out here all night for all I care."

As the passenger engine sped away, Rollo gave him the finger.

A rough-looking freight engine came by next.  Rollo decided to try a more diplomatic approach this time.  "Why, hello there, Mr. Freight Engine.  We seem to be in a bit of a pickle here, as you can see.  Would you mind hooking up to our train here and taking us over the mountain?  We'd be ever so grateful."

"Aaaaaaaaaah!" screamed the freight engine.  Like 99% of the world's population, he was scared to death of clowns because they're friggin' creepy, so he chugged off without looking back.

"I hate it when that happens," muttered Rollo, lighting up another cigarette.  Off in the distance, he noticed a small-but-enthusiastic-looking engine heading their way.  It was Phillip, the train yard rookie.  With all the other engines dispatched to their usual duties, Phillip was the toys' last hope.  Rollo couldn't risk blowing this one.

"Hey, Barbie!" he yelled.  "Get your ass out here!"  He quickly briefed her on the situation.

"No problem, Rollo," said Barbie.  "I'll take care of it."  She adjusted her outfit into "full slut" mode, and stood by the tracks.  Phillip went from 50 MPH to a dead stop in about half a second, sparks spraying from his wheels.

"How YOU doin'?" he said.

Barbie laid it on thick.  "We're in so much trouble," she sobbed.  "Our engine, who isn't nearly as strong or as good-looking as you, he broke down and now we can't get over the mountain.  The good boys and girls won't be getting any toys for a long time if we can't get there.  Do you think you could help us?"

"I think I can," he said, half to himself.

"Oh, I'm SURE you can," purred Barbie.  "You're the best."

Phillip never would have admitted it, especially not to Barbie, but he wasn't sure he could pull this one off.  He was the new engine in town and had never gone over the mountain before, not even alone.  With a fully-loaded train of cargo, Phillip was afraid his crankshaft had made a bet his power supply couldn't cover.  Well, no turning back now, he'd have to give it his best shot.

And faster than you can say "all aboard," they were off.

Phillip kept chanting his confidence-building mantra all the way up the mountain.  "I think I can, I think I can, I think I can . . . "  It wasn't easy, but with maximum effort (and sultry encouragement from STD Barbie, who was painting her nails in the engineer's seat), he made it to the top.  At the summit, he beamed with pride and all the way down he boasted, "I thought I could, I thought I could, I thought I could."  Phillip had saved the day and when he pulled into the station, the toys disembarked and showed their appreciation by hosing him off and giving him a good scrub.  Barbie polished his smoke stack.

For the next several months, Phillip was the "Big Engine in Train Yard."  He was well-liked by the other locomotives, and they'd taken to calling him "The Little Engine That Could".  His confidence was sky-high, as he was assigned to all the important shipments in a five-county region.  But after a while, Phillip's ego spun out of control and he started acting like he was "all that and a boxcar full of iPads."  That's when the steel-toed boot of reality kicked him square in the ball bearings.

One morning, Phillip was hooked up to fifty cars loaded with brand-new Porsches.  This was, by far, the heaviest and most expensive shipment he'd ever been responsible for. 

"You up for this one, Phil?" asked the train yard captain.

"I think I can, Joe.  I think I can."

"Well, that's good enough for me," replied Joe.

As it turned out, Phillip was wrong.  About halfway up the mountain, he started slowing down.  "I hope I can, I hope I can, I hope I can . . . "

Two minutes later, as he was being dragged backwards down the hill, his screams became even less confident.  "Oh shit, oh shit, oh shit, oh shit, OH SHIT!  OH SHIT!  OH SHIT!"

The ensuing damage was reminiscent of Hurricane Katrina if, instead of wind and rain, Katrina had pelted the Gulf region with a torrent of train parts and mangled sports cars.  Carreras burst into flame, Boxsters bounced down the hillside, Phillip himself was pitched into a cow pasture where he landed at the feet of a startled Holstein.

When he returned to the train yard, he was no longer a hero.  He was a laughing stock.

"Hey, look!  Here comes The Cocky Engine That Couldn't!"

"I think he sucks, I think he sucks, I think he sucks!"

Locomotives can be a bunch of assholes when they put their minds to it.

After the Porsche Incident, Phillip's confidence was shaken.  He became irritable, and refused to pull any load that was more than a couple flatcars, preferring instead to transport cargo that was inexpensive and had limited desirability.  Things like throw pillows, lawn furniture, DVD's of "The Office".  Joe the Train Yard Captain grew frustrated with his defiance.

"Come on, Phil," said Joe one day.  "Snap out of it.  Today's run is just a few oil tankers, it'll be easy."

"Leave me the hell alone, Joe.  I'm not going to do it."

"What, are you saying you can't?"

"No.  I think I can.  But I don't want to and you can't make me."

That's how he came to be known as "The Oppositional-Defiant Engine That Wouldn't".

No one has much use for a freight engine with a shitty attitude, so the train company had no choice but to sell Phillip to a local zoo where he spent the rest of his days giving kiddie rides to snot-nosed children eating cotton candy.  Then, in July 2005, a circus act came to town to give a special performance at the very zoo where Phillip worked.  That's when the engine noticed an old friend approaching.

"Rollo, how the hell are you?" asked Phillip.

"Dude, what the fuck?" replied the clown.  "How'd you end up doing this shit?"

Phillip told him the story.

"Damn," said Rollo.  "Isn't this a little humiliating?  You look like a beaten-down pile of garbage.  Have some pride, man, you're better than this."

"You know, I used to feel that way, but the hell with it," said Phillip.  "Right now, I'm just The Apathetic Engine That Doesn't Give a Damn."

Phillip the Freight Engine broke down for good in 2008.  All of his metal parts were recycled, and no one knows for sure what became of him.  But his old friend Rollo has a theory:

"I think he's cans.  I think he's cans.  I think he's cans."[1]

[1]  I apologize.  That's just awful.


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Saturday, June 12, 2010

The Day I Became a Thespian

"What do you mean 'Andrew quit'?" asked Miss Goodhue.  English teacher from eight to three, drama director after school, she was at her wit's end on this particular afternoon, working feverishly to keep the 1982 production of Murder Near the LaRue Morgue from falling apart.

"He quit," repeated Andrew's best friend Steve, who was a member of the stage crew.  "He said he can't memorize the lines, and he doesn't want to be in the play any more."

"He does realize that opening night is a week from this Friday, right?"

"Yeah, that's why he quit.  There's not enough time for him to learn his part.  I told him that it would suck to just bail on everyone but, you know, he didn't give a shit . . . sorry, I mean, he didn't care."

Onstage, the rest of the cast muttered random phrases like "what an asshole" and "I can't believe this crap" as it dawned on Miss Goodhue that she now had to find some dumb sucker to step into the pivotal role of Manny the Mugger on short notice.

I happened to be at this rehearsal, not because I had any interest in acting -- I didn't -- but my girlfriend Tanya was playing the lead and I usually went to the after-school rehearsals with her, to wait around so we could get something to eat after.  Amazing how early in life we become "whipped," isn't it?

Anyway, I was sitting in the back of the theater, somewhat amused by the predicament that Andrew's irresponsibility was causing, when all of a sudden I noticed everyone onstage looking my way.  Tanya said something to Miss Goodhue, and then walked back and sat down next to me.

"So, Chris, what are you doing next weekend?"

"Uh, I was gonna come see your show on Friday night, other than that, who knows?"

"Miss Goodhue wants me to ask if you wanna be in the play."

"Forget about it.  I've never acted in my life."  That wasn't exactly true.  I did have a co-starring role as a French hen in the Hazelwood School first grade production of The Twelve Days of Christmas.  I got to wear a beret, a plastic beak, and a cute little phony mustache.  But there was no real acting involved, outside of shouting the phrase THREE FRENCH HENS ten times, and I was pretty sure that experience wouldn't help me much in the current situation.  "Thanks for asking, but I'm not interested.  Sorry."

"C'mon, it'll be easy.  You've been at all the rehearsals, you know the part, Manny the Murderer.  And hey, you're from Jersey, you already have the accent!"

"Let me see if I get this.  I've never been in a play before.  I've got a week to memorize the part.  And I'll have what, four rehearsals before opening night?"

"Five.  There's rehearsal this Saturday."

"That's crazy.  I mean, if I studied real hard I might be able to do okay, but I don't know."  I really was giving it some thought.  But then all the worst-case scenarios popped into my head.  Freezing up onstage, forgetting my lines, having to wear that stupid stage makeup.

"Nah, never mind, I was right the first time.  Forget about it."

"Chris, please," Tanya said.  "There's no one else who could possibly learn the part."

"What about Steve?  He's been at the rehearsals and he's Andrew's friend.  It would serve him right for hanging out with that douchebag in the first place."

"You're kidding, right?  Steve still hasn't memorized the Pledge of Allegiance."  It was true, he hadn't.  Among other things, he still thought it went "One nation, under God, invisible . . . "

By this time, Miss Goodhue had come back to join us.  "So, what do you say, Chris?  Are you up for it?  We could really use your help."

I was going to lose this battle, I could feel it.  Miss Goodhue was one of my favorite teachers, and with Tanya giving me the will-breaking "make you do anything" eyes, it was like trying to fight off the United States Marine Corps with a Wiffle Ball bat.  And if we're going to be completely honest about it, I've never really had much of an issue with being the center of attention.

"Give me the damn script."

Tanya and a couple other cast members helped me work on my lines at lunch, after school, and on one occasion, during Mr. Schrodetzki's mind-numbing chemistry class.  By the time the Saturday rehearsal rolled around, I had most of it under control.  A couple all-nighters over the weekend, and not only did I feel like I was completely prepared, I was even getting into the character.  I played Manny as if he were a low-level goon in the Corleone family.  Since I'd just moved from New Jersey to California five months earlier, it wasn't that much of a stretch.

 An excerpt:

MANNY: Look, Granny, I gotta hide 'dis body somewheres, and your basement's as good a place as any.
GRANNY:  You can't hide it here, Manny, someone's going to call the cops.
GRANNY'S PARROT: Call the cops!  Call the cops!  Call the cops!
MANNY: Just back off and lemme take care a 'dis, Granny.  And if dat boid don't shut up, I'm gonna stuff a pilla wid it."

So opening night comes, and Act I is going well.  Manny is an audience favorite, with the laughs rolling at all the right places.  In fact, all the actors were doing a great job.  The only glitch came at the hands of Stage Hand Steve, who had been given the incredibly easy, no-possible-way-you-can-screw-this-up task of pulling the ropes that opened and closed the curtain.

Steve's cue at the end of Act I was when Manny says the line, "I swear, I'm gonna moider dat boid."  See, Granny's parrot served as one of Manny's foils, yakking constantly and attracting unwanted attention from the neighbors and the police.  The thing is, Manny threatens to kill the boid several times during the course of Act I, which apparently caused Steve's over-taxed brain to short-circuit.  Thus, when Manny (me) said a different line, "Keep talkin', ya stupid boid, and I'm gonna blast your freakin' beak off," Steve became confused and closed the curtain.

About a scene and a half too soon.  Way to go, Steve.

The audience got really quiet because, clearly, something was amiss.  Maybe it was the timing of the scene, maybe it was the panicked look on the faces of the actors, but it was obvious that the curtain was not supposed to come down at this point.  Since it was just me and Tanya (who was playing Granny) onstage at the time, I looked at her and said, "Okay, I've got this.  We'll have Steve open the curtain, I'll say something funny, and we'll just go on like nothing happened."

"You sure?"

"What choice do we have?"

I looked over at Steve, who was still unaware that there was a problem, and said, "Open the curtain."


"Steve, open the curtain," said Tanya.  "You messed up.  Just open it."

The curtain went back up and the audience settled down.  I ad-libbed the next line.

"And anudder ting, Granny, not only am I gonna whack that stupid boid, I'm gonna put a couple bullets in the freakin' moron who closed da coitain in da middle of da freakin' show!"

The audience exploded with laughter, and the rest of the show went off with no further problems.

I had so much fun doing Murder Near the LaRue Morgue that I decided to audition for another play later in the year.  I did well enough to be cast in the leading role, in which I had to dress up like (I'm not kidding) a sweet old grandmother.

A story for another time, perhaps.


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Wednesday, June 9, 2010

The Route of All Evil

"Bartender, make it a whiskey sour!"

That was my usual order at the Little White House Bar and Grill on the corner of Hallock and Bound Brook Road. I usually stopped in for a drink before work.

I climbed up onto the stool at the end of the bar, and slapped that day's edition of the Courier News down in front of me.  The after-work crowd had just started to drag in, and the stools were filling quickly.  The room smelled of stale beer and solitude.

"Here you go, mister," said Mr. Baker, the grizzled old suds-slinger, as he placed the Dr. Pepper in front of me. He took the newspaper and set it down behind him.

"Got any extras?" asked a reptilian-looking construction worker as he took a pull off his bottle of Schlitz.

"Yep, sure do." I handed him a copy, and he gave me fifty cents. Cool, a quarter tip. I finished my Dr. Pepper, and headed out.

"See ya tomorrow, Mr. Baker."

"Yeah, be careful out there kid," he replied, as I walked out the door.

I slung the canvas newspaper bag over my shoulder, climbed back on my beaten up Huffy with the crooked back rim[1], and started to make my daily rounds. The bar was my first official delivery, conveniently located right across the street from where I picked up my batch of papers each afternoon. I always enjoyed a quick Dr. Pepper, and I could usually pick up a couple extra bucks peddling my extras.

Armed with sixty or so papers and a bag of rubber bands, I'd work my way down Runyon Avenue rolling, banding, and slinging that day's edition onto various porches (or, upon customers' request, putting it in their mailbox).

Wednesdays were always a pain in the ass, because that was the day that the Courier News included an extra section of advertisements. The Wednesday paper was a lot thicker, and sometimes I'd have to load up half my inventory, deliver those, and then go back home to pick up the second batch. And I'd really have to crank up my arm to reach the porches, which tended to affect my accuracy. One Wednesday, for example, I took out the screen in Mr. Wagner's front door, which took a chunk out of my profits for that week.

Yeah, Wednesdays sucked.

The route started on the corner of Runyon and Pond Avenue. The first major challenge was at Old Man Schmitt's house. Mr. Schmitt was an ancient German immigrant, and very particular about where his paper ended up. Top step, center. He could get a little cranky when it ended up somewhere else.

"Hey! Paper boy! Ve don't vant zee paper in zee hedges, ya? It goes right here on zee top ztep! Got zat?"

"Ya, I mean, yes, Mr. Schmitt. I'll make sure to put it there tomorrow."

"Zehr gutt! Dankeshoen."

Hey, be thankful your screen door's still intact, I thought.

Most of my customers were pleasant and generous. Mr. McMaster, for example, gave me a dollar tip every week. Since a weekly subscription was a buck twenty five, an 80% bonus was nothing to sneeze at.

Mr. and Mrs. Van Wyck, on the other hand, would always seem to be "away" on collection Fridays. They fell so far behind on payments that I considered calling my dad's co-worker Paulie Bonafacio to encourage them to be more diligent with their financial obligations.

"'Scuse, me, Mr. Van Wyck. Ah, a friend of ours says dat ya seems ta be a bit, ah, slow wit' da payment. I t'ink we might need ta have a talk..."

Perhaps the next day's edition of the Courier would have a fish wrapped in it.

And then there were the Robinsons, with their Satanic Rottweiler named Bruno.

Bruno presented a challenge all his own. He was fenced inside the front yard, but despite Mrs. Robinson's assurance that the dog would NOT, in fact, rip me limb from limb should I open the gate and put the paper on the porch, I was not willing to take such a risk.

So my task was this:

I had to throw the paper from the sidewalk, clear the yard, and land it on the front porch. Of course, if I came up short, Bruno would treat the afternoon edition like a wounded squirrel and rip it to shreds. I remember one Wednesday when it took a few tries.

First attempt: Wide right. Chew toy.

Second attempt: Short. High fiber dog biscuit.

Third attempt: Hit Bruno. Pissed him off. Wet my pants.

Fourth attempt: Landed on the front porch. I got the hell out of there.

Final score: Bruno 3, Porch 1.

After a few months on the job, I'd saved enough money to buy myself a royal blue Schwinn Varsity, the Porsche Carrera of ten-speed bicycles. I passed the clunker Huffy down to my brother Eric that same afternoon. Having two circular wheels sure sped up my daily rounds, and the classy new ride made me the envy of the neighborhood.

Which turned out to be a very bad thing.

One afternoon, I went to the garage to get the Schwinn and start my rounds. I raised the garage door . . .

. . . and it was gone. Someone had broken in, cut through the chain, and stole my bike. I still had my papers to deliver, so I went to my brother and borrowed my ex-Huffy. But before I started on my route, I had to go drown my misery.

"Bartender, make it a whiskey sour . . . "

[1] Click here for the rest of that particular story. 



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Saturday, June 5, 2010

Some People Just Need to Be Executed

Today, kids, we're going to be discussing everyone's favorite topic, the death penalty.  As hot-button issues go, the death penalty doesn't quite inspire the same blind rage and utter insanity as, say, abortion, but it ranks well above the never-ending "who'd you rather nail, Mary Ann or Ginger?" debate.  Everyone has an opinion on whether or not we should kill our nation's criminals, and arguments are bound to ensue whenever the topic comes up.

The pro crowd is always quick to point out that our prison system is not designed to rehabilitate America's sociopaths.  Sure, if a guy does five years for grand theft auto he may, upon release, think twice before hot-wiring that Dodge Viper.  But let's face it, the nut case who's doing time on death row because he raped and murdered fifteen Wesleyan University sophomores and then dined on their spleens while wearing his grandmother's underwear and singing "I'm a Lumberjack and I'm OK," well, for that guy, rehabilitation is pretty much out of the question.

On the other hand, the anti-death penalty crowd usually invokes the "two wrongs don't make a right" argument, insisting that murder is wrong even if it's a thrice-convicted unrepentant child-molesting serial killer that's getting the needle.  "Killing the criminal won't bring back the victim," they say.  Well, no, it won't.  But it will probably make the victim's family feel better and, honestly, is the world going to be worse off because Hubert "The Carlyle Pedophile" McGibbon is dead instead of just locked away?

Personally, I'm a big fan of the death penalty, I'd go so far as to say we don't use it often enough.  Obviously I'm all for taking out the rapists and murderers, but why stop there?  I mean, just because the asshole standing over there on the corner hasn't killed anybody, does that make him a worthwhile human being?  I say, "not necessarily."

Let me be clear on this.  I'm not talking about those among us who are useless and pathetic in a quiet, harmless sort of way.  I know plenty of people who contribute nothing to society, but they're not pissing anyone off either.  We can safely leave those folks alone, no problem.

But I truly believe that the death penalty laws should include the following provision:

"Any person who demonstrates through his actions that he is a completely worthless piece of shit with no redeeming characteristics whatsoever shall be put to death.  The manner of execution shall be determined by those who have been victimized by said person."

Meet Matthew Clemmens, a 21-year old degenerate asshole from Cherry Hill, New Jersey.  On April 14, Matthew and a buddy (let's call him Douchebag) were attending a Phillies game at Citizens Bank Ballpark in Philadelphia.  After taking full advantage of the stadium's "we're only supposed to serve two beers per customer but who's counting, wink, wink" alcohol policy, Douchebag began heckling, swearing at, and eventually spitting upon fans in the area.  One such fan, an off-duty police officer, took exception to Douchebag and Matthew's belligerence, and asked them to please refrain from their disruptive behavior because his 11- and 15- year old daughters were bothered by it (I'm paraphrasing, the officer/dad may have phrased his request a bit differently).

Douchebag, however, did not heed the father's warning and continued his antics.  Security was summoned, and Douchebag was escorted from the premises.

And that's when the fun really began.

Matthew was allowed to remain in the stadium, and instead of doing what a rational, non-shit-faced person  would have done, that is, shut the fuck up and watch the game, he decided to avenge the persecution of his good friend Douchebag.  Tapping into his inner Karen Carpenter[1], Matthew stuck his fingers down his throat and made himself vomit all over the 11-year old girl.

You read that correctly.  He fucking puked on a kid.  On purpose.

One can only imagine the horror that poor girl experienced.  Needless to say, stadium officials and the local police immediately apprehended Matthew and from the looks of his mug shot, well, they weren't shy about using "reasonable force." 

Now, to be fair about it, I'll admit that I do not know Matthew Clemmens.  Perhaps he's a really nice young man who donates money to children's hospitals, volunteers for the Special Olympics, and spends his weekends making tuna fish sandwiches and delivering them to a local homeless shelter.  Maybe he's a member of the Cherry Hill Episcopalian Boys Choir, and enjoys feeding the pigeons in the park every Sunday afternoon.  I suppose it's possible that his actions on that April day in Philly were completely out of character and in no way represent the wonderful, caring human being that Matthew Clemmens really is.

But probably not.

I'm betting that Matthew is precisely the beer-barfing, foul-mouthed, Santa Claus-hating lowlife that he appears to be, and as such, I say we execute the fucker.  According to my new law, the puked-upon child would get to determine how ol' Matthew would be put to death.

And with a police officer for a father, I'll bet she could come up with a really good one.  Something like covering the bastard with A-1 Steak Sauce and tossing him into the lion habitat at the Philadelphia Zoo.  Beer-basted asshole, family style.

I'll bet the lions would eat until they puked.

[1] For you younger folks, Karen Carpenter was a 1970's folk singer who suffered from bulimia, or maybe it was anorexia, anyway, one of those diseases where you think you're fat and make yourself vomit whenever you eat something.


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Wednesday, June 2, 2010

Jets Helmet $500, Mantle Hat $245, Bombers Ball . . . Priceless

I'm a man of many hobbies.  There are the normal ones, like dwarf tossing, snake juggling, and whistling the entire Simon and Garfunkel songbook while riding a pogo stick, but in addition to those, I'm also an avid collector of sports memorabilia.

It started kind of by accident.

A couple years ago, shortly after Thanksgiving, Theresa asked me if there was anything special I wanted for Christmas, something I wouldn't normally buy for myself.  After batting the idea around for a while, I decided to look into sports collectibles.  As it turns out, there are a great many websites devoted to just that, and it didn't take me long to hit the mother lode.

"Hey, T, come here and check this out.  I think I found something."

"What is it?"

"An official 1978 World Series baseball, autographed by Yankee shortstop Bucky Dent."  I showed her the picture of it online and she jotted down the website.

Christmas morning came, and after the traditional orange-frosted Pillsbury danish and a glass of eggnog, we opened the presents.  When I unwrapped my last gift, I was in for a surprise.  Not only had Theresa gotten me the Bucky Dent ball, she also "threw in" an official 1978 Yankees yearbook, autographed by Mr. October himself, Reggie Jackson.

Let me take a minute here to give you a quick history lesson.  Red Sox fans, you might want to skip ahead a few paragraphs, as this won't be a pleasant memory for you.

Are they gone?


I'm a third-generation New York Yankees fan, I've been following them since I was about five.  As with any team, there have been good years and there have been bad years.  But without a doubt, the 1978 version of the Bronx Bombers is my absolute favorite for a number of reasons.  First of all, it was a team of characters.  Billy Martin fighting with George Steinbrenner, Billy Martin fighting with Reggie Jackson, Reggie Jackson fighting with Thurman Munson.  A band of brothers this team was not, but once they took the field, their personality clashes (mostly) disappeared and they racked up win after win.  The '78 season started poorly though, and by July the Yanks were 14 games behind the despised Boston Red Sox.  But things turned around in August, and by the end of the year, the two teams were tied for the division lead.  To make a long story short, if it's possible at this point, the Yankees beat the Sox in a single-game playoff and went on to claim their 22nd World Series title.

So, the Bucky Dent ball and the Reggie Jackson yearbook sent me off on a noble quest.  I decided to obtain a signed piece of memorabilia from every single player on that 1978 team.  When I was a kid, my mom took me and a few friends to a Dodge dealership in Scotch Plains, New Jersey to meet Catfish Hunter and Thurman Munson.  I dug out my old scrapbook and found the piece of paper the two Yankee greats had signed for me.  For my birthday, Theresa had the autographs mounted and framed, along with the 1978 Topps baseball card of each player.  It's still my favorite piece, because I got those signatures in person, not from an online auction.

So I had Dent, Jackson, Munson, and Hunter.  Four down, thirty or so to go.

And now, three years later, I'm almost there.  It was fairly easy, though not always cheap, to get signed items from high-profile players like Ron Guidry, Willie Randolph, and Goose Gossage.  The bench players, little-knowns like Domingo Ramos and George Zeber for example, were a bit harder to find.  There are only two players left on my list, pitchers Bob Kammeyer and Larry McCall.  Kammeyer died several years ago, and it's been next to impossible to locate any signed memorabilia.  That's probably because he only pitched seven games in the majors, and his only notable accomplishment is to have surrendered eight runs in one inning without recording an out, and then receiving $100 from Billy Martin to intentionally hit Cleveland's Cliff Johnson with a pitch.  Larry McCall is currently the pitching coach for the Bluefield Orioles, and his major league career was about this same as Kammeyer's, minus the horrific inning and beanball bounty.

Along the way, I've also picked up some other great memorabilia.  A signed Mickey Mantle hat.  A Jets helmet autographed by the entire Super Bowl III team.  Another of my favorite pieces, a signed ticket stub from Dennis Martinez's perfect game against the Dodgers, a game that I attended. Martinez autographed it for me when I met him the following season.  I'm a purist at heart -- the autographs I got in person are more valuable to me than those I've simply purchased online.

Which brings us to last week, when I received a one-of-a-kind item, something that has immediately taken center stage in my office.  It wasn't a Bob Kammeyer or Larry McCall baseball.  It wasn't a pair of Marilyn Monroe's underwear autographed by the Yankee Clipper Joe Dimaggio (although that would be awesome).  No, it was something far more special.

You've guessed it, I am now the proud owner of an official game-used softball signed by the Bombers, a men's softball team from the Boston area.  I discovered this group of athletes a year or so ago, when blogger and Bomber veteran Jim "Suldog" Sullivan detailed their season on his site.  I read about the pitching domination of Dave Vargas, the blinding speed of Fast Freddy Goodman, and the leadership and dedication of Ron Johnson.  And no discussion of the Bombers would be complete without mentioning the player with perhaps the best name in all of sports.  Better than Al "The Mad Hungarian" Hrabosky, better than Dizzy Dean, better even than Mickey Mantle.

I'm speaking of course of the Bombers young left fielder, Cam Zirpolo.  I have no idea if Cam Zirpolo is a good player or not.  For all I know, he rides the pine and only enters the game if one of the elderly Bombers (and there are several) breaks a hip or something.  But his name simply begs for an introduction by boxing announcer Michael Buffer.


Suldog knows I'm a fan of Cam Zirpolo and the rest of the Bombers, so he sent me a softball signed by the team.  Suldog's autograph is there, of course, as is Cam Zirpolo's (you've always got to say the first and last name to retain the "coolness factor" . . . though he did sign the ball "Cameron Zirpolo" which doesn't have quite the same ring to it).  Big Jay Atton, Josh Lebrun and Dave Vargas also added their John Hancocks.

But I noticed something else.  Lots of the Bombers have really shitty handwriting.  I mean, seriously, you'd need the Rosetta Stone to decipher some of these scrawls.  For instance, take a look at this guy's autograph.  Unless he's Chinese (in which case, I humbly apologize), this is just a horrible effort at writing one's name.

Still, I'm proud to add this great artifact to my collection.  Thanks, Suldog, and please pass along my appreciation to your teammates along with my best wishes for an outstanding season on the diamond.  I look forward to reading about the heroics of all the Bombers . . .  the Atton Boys, Joey Baskiewicz, Buddy Carchide.

And especially the Chinese guy.


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