Sunday, October 31, 2010

Life, Liberty, and the Pursuit of Flabbiness

When, in the course of human events, it becomes necessary for people to discard the hope of successfully dieting and exercising, and to consume the culinary blessings of the earth, the delicious yet fattening array of burgers and fried chicken which the laws of Ronald McDonald and Colonel Sanders entitle us, a decent respect to the opinions of mankind requires that we should declare the causes which impel us to the separation. 

We hold these truths to be self-evident, that all chubby men are created equal, that they are endowed by their Creator with certain unalienable rights, that among these are life, liberty and the pursuit of flabbiness.

The other night while paying the monthly bills[1] I noticed that I've been throwing away $85 a month on a "fat tax," or as it's more commonly known, a "gym membership."  When we moved into our new home last April, I signed the family up for membership in the local country club, including use of the pool, gym, dining hall, and an assortment of other amenities, all for the very reasonable price of the aforementioned eighty-five bucks.  It seemed like quite a bargain at the time, and it would've been, if not for one minor detail.  I never go.

I shouldn't say "never."  In truth, I've been to the gym exactly three times, and that includes stopping by on my way home from work to get my picture taken for the membership card.  But I can't bring myself to just quit because that would be like, well, quitting.  I cling desperately to my gym membership as a way to convince myself there's still hope, the same way a jilted husband refuses to take off his wedding ring even though his slutty ex-wife dumped him years ago and is currently humping her way through the entire starting lineup of the San Diego Chargers[2].  Time to let go, man, it's over.

My self-delusion can be fairly persuasive, but let's face it, I'm not fooling anybody, least of all myself.  Even if I could work up the motivation to hit the gym two or three times a week, there would still be the other four or five days to contend with.  And, if history tells us anything, those remaining days would be festooned with In-N-Out burgers, stuffed-crust pizza, KFC and Subway (Jared can go screw himself, there's nothing healthy about the foot-long Italian BMT with the works).  There's nothing more frustrating than busting your butt in the gym for two days and then throwing it all away on a Ben and Jerry's binge.  It makes you wonder, "why the hell did I waste all that time working out?"

So here's how I justify all this, in case you were wondering.  I'm forty-five years old, and in a committed, happy relationship, so I don't have to worry about impressing chicks with my chiseled physique.  Which works out just fine because my physique isn't chiseled at all.  It's molded out of Play-doh.  Also, while I'm admittedly overweight, you wouldn't necessarily look at me and think, "damn, look at that fat guy."  "Look at the bald guy," sure.  "Look at that goofy dude over there," absolutely.    But at this point, I don't believe "fat" is my primary defining characteristic.  So I've got some wiggle room here.

Which is why I've decided to stop beating myself up over not exercising as much as I should (how's that for understatement?), and sticking to a diet plan that could best be described as "tasty, enjoyable, and won't kill me for at least fifteen more years."  I mean, seriously, when you enjoy burgers as much as I do, you're not going to get over the bar unless you set it pretty darn low.

But I haven't completely given up just yet.  I'll continue to pay the "fat tax" as long as I have to, and maybe someday I'll find the motivation to start working out and eating right.

Then again, you know how many Double-Doubles you can get for $85 a month?

[1] I mean this literally, it's not a euphemism for "it's my significant other's time of the month."

[2] Offense, defense AND special teams.  Even the kicker, a five foot seven Scandinavian guy whose last name contains no vowels.


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Wednesday, October 27, 2010

Waking Up Just Got a Whole Lot Tougher

If shopping were an Olympic sport, my fiance Theresa would be pictured on a Wheaties box holding about seven gold medals and her Visa card.  It's not so much that she spends an inordinate amount of money, she's actually pretty good at finding bargains and doesn't usually go overboard.  What I have a slight issue with, though, is her ability to find (and purchase) items that have no purpose anywhere in the world, much less in our home.  We have a ceramic rooster, for example, and about seventeen small vases that each contain a bouquet of sticks (she told me what those are actually called, but I don't remember and I don't really care anyway).  And don't even get me started on the Halloween decorations.  If it's got a pumpkin or a skull on it, she'll buy it.  Even if it's a total piece of crap like this:

Now, in the spirit of fairness, Theresa could very easily accuse me of the same thing.  I have an office in our home that is pretty much stuffed to the ceiling with autographed baseballs, signed bats, framed jerseys, photographs, all sorts of sports artifacts.  I'm sure Theresa would be quick to say that my collection of memorabilia is a useless waste of space.

She'd be wrong, of course, but I'm willing to acknowledge a different point of view.

But despite her tendency to embrace the worthless, every once in a while Theresa will bring home (or the UPS guy will drop off on the porch) something that makes all the ceramic roosters and votive candles worthwhile.

Which brings us to the Memory Foam Mattress.

A couple weeks ago, Theresa called me at work with this earth-shattering news:

"Hey!  The UPS guy just dropped off our new mattress!" she said.

"We're getting a new mattress?  Was something wrong with the old one?"

"You don't understand.  This is a Memory Foam Mattress!"

"Which is?"

"Oh, you'll see when you get home."

"Can't wait."

When I got home that afternoon, I lugged the 84-pound box of mattress up to our bedroom.  We opened it up and unrolled the four-inch thick Memory Foam Mattress on top of our existing mattress.  It looked like a giant pound cake, and when you press your hand on it, the hand print stays there for a few seconds.  And that wasn't the only quirk.

"It smells like paint," I said.

"Yeah, the website said that'll go away."


We remade the bed.  It looked about the same as it had with the old mattress except, you know, it was four inches thicker.  I had no idea what the big deal was.

And then I laid down on it.

If God had his choice of bedding (and one would have to assume that He does), there is no doubt in my mind that this is the mattress the Almighty would choose.  When you lie down on the Memory Foam Mattress, the spongy foam welcomes and absorbs you.  You're not so much lying on it, you're lying in it.

Which now presents me with a problem that I have to deal with every morning.  I forgot to mention that the purchase of the mattress included a pair of Memory Foam Pillows which are just as comfy-cozy, and between the pillow and the mattress, they simply won't let me get out of bed in the morning.  My alarm goes off, and immediately Pillow and Mattress try to seduce me into going back to sleep: 

"Chris, just ignore that obnoxious alarm," says Pillow.  "Just let your head sink back into my squishy softness."

"But I have to go to work," I reply.

"Ah, just call in sick," says Mattress.  "Wouldn't you rather sleep till noon?  We're right here with you, to make sure you're nice and comfortable."

"Well, I do have some sick leave saved up . . . "

"That's the spirit," chimes in Blanket.

"Good for you," says Pillow.  "Just shut off the ol' alarm, and you'll be back in Dreamland in no time."

This is what I've been dealing with every morning for the past two weeks.  I really should get back to work soon.

Maybe next time Theresa's at Target, she can pick me up a better alarm clock.


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Friday, October 22, 2010

Interview With the CEO of the Acme Company

Acme CEO Hannibal Blatch
The Acme Company, headquartered in Scottsdale, Arizona, is one of the most diverse manufacturing and distribution companies in the world today.  For decades, customers from Alabama to Zimbabwe have looked to Acme for pet supplies (Acme Birdseed), recreation (Acme Jet-Propelled Pogo Stick), novelties (Acme Explosive Tennis Balls) and even for local weather control (Acme Do-it-Yourself Tornado Kit).

Today we're happy to have Acme's long-time CEO Hannibal X. Blatch here with us to talk about his company's history and shed some light on a controversial lawsuit filed against him in the 1970's. 

Knucklehead Humor: Thanks for talking to us today, Mr. Blatch.  Let's start by having you tell us a little bit about your company's history.

Hannibal Blatch: Yeah, sure.  The original owners of Acme were Ron and Josephine Farkle, who started the company in the 30's as a roller skate shop.  You remember those old metal skates that you had to have a special key to adjust the size?  Ron and his sons made the skates, and Jo ran the front of the store.  It really was a mom and pop operation.  They began to expand in the early 40's, adding a variety of other toys like Acme pogo sticks, Acme red wagons, and Acme hula hoops.  Acme's Toy Store grew in popularity and then in the 1952 the business just exploded.

KH: You mean, sales increased dramatically?

HB: No, I mean the factory blew up. See, Ron and Jo's youngest son Frank was into firecrackers and other explosives and was something of a pyromaniac.  He was trying to improve on Acme's original product, the roller skates, by adding external propulsion mechanisms, or as they're more commonly called, rockets.  During initial testing, Frank's first pair of rocket skates exploded upon ignition, blowing the entire Acme factory sky-high. 

KH: My god, was anyone hurt?

HB: Uh, yeah, the guy wearing the skates was Jackson Pollocked all over the floor. 

KH: Okay, changing the subject.  How did you get involved with Acme?

HB: Well, by this point Ron and Jo Farkle had turned the day-to-day operation over to Frank and their other son Martin.  Those two rebuilt the factory pretty much from scratch and decided to make Acme an all-purpose manufacturing and distribution company.  They moved away from toys and expanded into areas like novelties, military gear, hardware, anything you could think of.  I applied for a job in the warehouse and started out literally sweeping floors and stocking shelves.  Martin Farkle took a liking to me, and gradually gave me more responsibility.  From the warehouse I was promoted into the shipping department, then up into the business department, and after Frank passed away in 1962 and Martin retired a year later, the board of directors appointed me CEO. 

KH: So you could say you really did start at the bottom and worked your way to the top.

HB: I think I did just say that, in so many words. 

KH: How did the company evolve under your leadership?

HB: I just followed the course that the Farkle Brothers had set, continuing to expand our product line.  Acme became a household name, featuring products like Acme Roller Skis, Acme Giant Springs, Acme Earthquake Pills, and so on and so forth.  Our product development department was staffed with geniuses from MIT and Caltech, and they came up with some brilliant ideas.  My personal favorite is the Acme Invisible Paint.  One coat of that will render any object completely invisible.  I painted my car with that stuff once, and you should've seen the looks I got on the freeway. 

KH: So is it safe to say that you took the company from being an innocent toy manufacturer to producing a diverse line of dangerous -- some would say lethal -- products?

HB: Lethal?  No, I wouldn't say that our products are . . . wait a minute, you're referring to that stupid legal bullshit from several years back, aren't you?  Wile E. Coyote was a complete buffoon who used our products for purposes other than which they were intended.  There is nothing inherently dangerous about, say, the Acme Spring-Powered Shoes, but if you're going to be stupid enough to attach them to a large boulder, you deserve whatever harm befalls you.  But despite his own colossal stupidity, Coyote decided to sue us anyway.  I'd call it a frivolous waste of time, but unfortunately the courts saw it differently.  Simply put, Wile E. Coyote was a conniving liar, looking to make a buck at Acme's expense. 

KH: Well, that lawsuit put Acme on the front page of every newspaper in the country and cost the company millions.  There must've been some truth to the plaintiff's allegations.

 HB: None whatsoever!  I'm telling you, our stuff is safe.  Just because Wile E. Coyote got hurt while using, or more accurately, misusing Acme products doesn't mean the products themselves are to blame.  Hell, ANYTHING can cause injury in the hands of an idiot.  People spill hot coffee on themselves, but I don't see you getting all up in Maxwell House's face for producing "lethal products."  It's ridiculous.  I challenge you to name even one Acme product whose main purpose is to cause harm. 

KH: The Acme Giant Catapult comes to mind.

HB: Okay, look.  The catapult was a key exhibit in the lawsuit because Mr. Coyote apparently can't read a warning label.  It's right there on the side of the device, "Do not stand directly behind catapult after loading, because if the load is too heavy, the entire catapult may tip over backwards and crush the hell out of you.  The user is advised to stand off to the side of the catapult to ensure his safety."  And anyway, who uses a catapult and a boulder to catch a friggin' roadrunner?  It's ironic, isn't it, that Coyote intended to use the catapult to harm the roadrunner, but it ended up harming Mr. Coyote. 

KH: So you admit that the main function of the catapult is to cause harm.

HB: Maybe when it's used by Mr. Coyote, but history has shown that he can harm himself with pretty much anything.  Rocket skates, anvils, a Christmas package machine, giant rubber bands . . . he's just a world-class injury magnet who doesn't learn from his mistakes.  But to answer your question seriously, the Acme Catapult was never intended to be a weapon.  It's more of a display item. 

KH: What are your personal feelings about Mr. Coyote?

HB: If it weren't for the fact that he screwed us out of millions of dollars, I'd actually feel sorry for the guy.  He was so focused on catching that damn roadrunner that he barely noticed all the physical pain and suffering he caused himself.  In a weird way, that's kind of admirable.  But at the end of the day, he was a liar and a cheat and for that I can't forgive him.  And that's a shame, because he was always our best customer.  No one's done the math, but I wouldn't be surprised if most of the money he won in the lawsuit was money he'd paid to us in the first place.   

KH: Did the lawsuit have any impact on Acme's product line, or on how you do business?

HB: It set us back a bit at first, we had to lay off some employees and streamline our distribution routes, but other than that it was business as usual.  Most of our business now comes from Internet orders, which helps with some of the overhead.  And because our company is so diverse, we're not as susceptible to the current economic downturn.  We'll be fine. 

KH: What do you see for Acme in the future?

HB: Just continuing to do what we do best, provide our customers with a wide selection of top-quality merchandise at competitive prices.  You need birdseed, call Acme.  Running low on axle grease, call Acme.  In the mood for a thrilling ride, who are you going to go to for a jet-propelled unicycle?

KH: Acme?

HB: Damn right.  We've got it all.  That's what ACME stands for, A Company Making Everything.

KH: Thanks for talking with us, Mr. Blatch.  Best of luck to you.

HB: No problem, thanks for having me.


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Wednesday, October 20, 2010

My Fifteen Seconds of Fame

"I hope Chris gets voted off next," says Judy from North Hollywood as she sneers into the camera. "He was real nice to me before the show, but then he voted me off the first chance he got."

Judy, you see, is a trifle bitter, and I can't deny that she has good reason which I'll get to in a minute.

On the syndicated version of "Weakest Link" hosted by George Gray, six contestants work as a team, answering general knowledge questions to build up the "bank". They vote the "weakest link" off after each round, with the eventual survivor taking home all the money. In addition to Judy and myself, the rest of the team is:

Michael, 22, Charlotte, North Carolina, package sorter for a major courier company.

Nikki, 25, San Diego, tarot card reader.

Alaraby, 30, New Orleans, riverboat captain.

Herbert, 35, Los Angeles, truck driver.

Prior to the taping, the six of us were permitted to mingle with one another and there were no rules against forming alliances and developing game-plans. Michael, Judy, and I got together and tried to figure out a way to manipulate things to our advantage. We all sort of agreed that it would be wrong to just decide up front who to vote off and in what order. Seemed too much like cheating. What the three of us finally decided that we could live with would be to simply not vote for each other, and let the chips fall where they may beyond that.

Naturally, right out of the gate in round one, I realize that there's a glitch in the system that we weren't counting on. Judy, it turns out, has the intellectual wattage of a three-year old's Barbie flashlight. I'm not going to pile on here and go through every single one of her stunningly ill-advised answers, but here's a sampling:

Host: What rock and roller from New Jersey was known as The Boss?
Judy: Elvis Presley

I'm not sure what part of this answer I find more disturbing, not knowing that Bruce Springsteen is The Boss or thinking that Elvis was from New Jersey.

Host: In what Broadway musical does a cat named Grizabella sing a song entitled "Memory"? 
Judy: My Fair Lady.

Um, Judy? I think the word "CAT" may have been a clue here.

I manage to nail all my questions including, "What brand of athletic shoe features a swoosh?" Nice to start out with a few no-brainers.

So the voting takes place and, despite our agreement, I just can't rationalize keeping Judy around so I vote for her. The rest of the panel, however, votes for Nikki, keeping Judy alive for round two. The look she gives me between rounds would paralyze small woodland creatures.

The panel, sans Nikki, regroups and prepares for round two. Let me take a minute here to reveal some highly confidential behind-the-scenes Weakest Link production secrets. First of all, there is a LOT of time between rounds as they work the script, reset the stage, and tape the "departee's" farewell address. You don't just zip from round to round. Secondly, the game is not as fast-paced as it seems when you watch it on TV. As a viewer, it's fun to try to answer every single question asked, so the game seems to zoom along at a breakneck tempo. But when you're competing, you actually have more time than you think between your questions and it does help ease the nerves. Once the camera got rolling, I wasn't nervous at all.

Okay, so round two begins, and I get a couple more pretty easy ones. Jabba the Hutt and the Ewoks appear in what Star Wars sequel? Return of the Jedi. What maker of Scotch tape was originally named the Minnesota Mining and Manufacturing Company? 3M. Judy, however, continues to get impaled with pitchforks of pop-trivia while engulfed in the fire and brimstone of game show hell:

Host: What pop duo had their Grammy taken away when they were exposed as lip-synchers?

All together now: "MILLI VANILLI!"

Judy: The Everly Brothers

Host: According to Andy Warhol, every person will achieve how many minutes of fame?
Judy: Fifteen seconds.

Fifteen SECONDS minutes of fame, Judy? Really?

Meanwhile, Herbert the Truck Driver is on a roll. Through the first two rounds, he hasn't missed a single question. Alaraby is hit-or-miss, and my buddy Michael is holding his own.

Time to boot off another teammate, and Michael starts by voting for Judy. He's apparently willing to follow my lead and hopefully his loyalty will hold up. Herbert and I also vote for Judy, but Alaraby has selected Michael. When it's Judy's turn to reveal her vote, she exacts her revenge. She's voted for me. But, ha ha, it's too late, and the police woman from North Hollywood is put out of her misery.

Round three commences and Herbert and I run the table on our questions. Michael does okay, but Alaraby falters a bit. The voting, however, provides a moment of drama and tension for the team in general and for me in particular. Michael and I both vote for Alaraby, thus reinforcing my faith in him, and I'm now convinced that he and I are partners for the long haul. Herbert and Alaraby both vote for me, however, creating a 2-2 tie.

"Looks like we have a tie," says George the Host. "When the vote is tied, the strongest link in the round gets to cast the deciding vote. And in the last round, the strongest link was . . . "

Oh, God. Deep breath . . .



"Chris, tough decision here," continues George. "You can either eliminate yourself, or you can vote to get rid of Alaraby. What's it gonna be?"

"I think I'll go with Alaraby."

So now it's down to three. Me and my new BFF Michael, and Herbert the Truckin' Genius.

I stumble in the next round when I over-think things and blow an easy question.

Host: What is the seventh month of the Gregorian Calendar?

In a matter of three seconds, the following random thoughts crackle from synapse to synapse in my brain:

This has gotta be a trick question, July is the seventh month but are we currently on the Gregorian Calendar?

Wasn't there a Julian Calendar at one point?

It makes sense that the month of July would be on the Julian Calendar, right?

The prefix for seven is sept-, so September would be the seventh month on SOME calendar.

July and August were added later in history for Julius and Augustus Caesar...

"Therefore, the calendar with July and August would be the Julian Calendar which must be the one we use now. That means the Gregorian Calendar had only ten months, sept means seven..."

Me: September.

Host: No, July.


Meanwhile, Herbert the Friggin' Savant from the Truck Stop of Multitudinous Knowledge is perfect again, but since Michael and I have joined forces in Wonder Twin-like fashion, good ol' Herbie could've discovered a cure for cancer during round four and improved his chances of survival not one iota.

"Players, please reveal your votes."



Buh-bye. The trivia truck has jack-knifed onto the soft shoulder of elimination.

Herbert, to his credit, votes for Michael. By this point in the game it is clear that Herbert and I are the strongest players, and he easily could've voted for me in an attempt to go up against the weaker link Michael in the final round. You know, do to me what I was doing to him. At this stage the alliance between Michael and myself is reasonably transparent, a fact that is certainly not lost on the host Mr. Gray.

"So Chris, tell us why you voted for Herbert."

"Uh, well, it wasn't really a vote, uh, against Herbert as it was a vote FOR Michael. They both, uh, played pretty well . . . "

"So you didn't notice that Herbert got all his questions right, and you weren't just trying to get him off the show to give yourself a better shot at the money?"

"Well, George, this isn't about the money, it's about - ."

"Oh, excuse me . . . " interrupts George. "HAHAHAHAHAHAHA!" Very sarcastic laughter from the host sends me, Michael, the studio audience, basically everyone in the building with the notable exception of Herbert, into hysterics.

Herbert's parting shots are filled with hostility.

"Of course they were trying to get me out of there. If I'd gotten to the finals I know I would've beaten either one of them."

Ah, but we'll never know, will we Herb?

So now it's the finals, and Michael and I go from bosom buddies to bitter rivals, not unlike the episode when Catwoman drugged and kidnapped Robin and forced him to betray Batman, creating a serious internal conflict for the Caped Crusader. In that case, the drug wore off in the nick of time ("Holy double agent, Batman!") and the Dynamic Duo returned to their crime-fighting partnership. Such was not to be the case with me and Michael the Metaphorical Boy Wonder.

As the strongest link in the last round, I get to decide if I want to go first. I do.

Host: What impressionist painter created series of works entitled "Haystacks" and "Waterlilies?"
Me: Claude Monet. Thank you, $8 print from Walmart hanging in my bathroom.

Michael also nailed his question, knotting the match at one-all. My turn.

Host: What Mars candy product was named for the infant child of President Cleveland?
Me: Baby Ruth.


Michael scores again, and we're deadlocked at two. Time for the last question, unless we have to go to sudden death.

Host: What disco diva had a top ten hit with the song "She Works Hard for the Money?"

During the final round, the Weakest Link rules allow contestants to take as much time as necessary to come up with their response. Now, I'd imagine there must be some unspoken limits, and if some panic-stricken yabbo just stood transfixed at his podium into the wee hours of the morning, sooner or later a couple of goons with no necks and the NBC logo embroidered on their just-a-bit-too-tight black polo shirts would come down, grab the aforementioned yabbo by the sweaty lapels, and say, "Look, Einstein, do ya know da answer or don'tcha? You got t'ree seconds to spit somethin' out or your official response will be AAAAHHHHHH!"

When I hear the disco diva question, the first name that pops into my head is Donna Summer. But with about ten grand on the line here, I want to think it through. What about Diana Ross? No, she was mostly pre-disco and I don't think it was her anyway. Wait, what about Gloria Gaynor, why do I know that name? Okay, no, she did "I Will Survive." Well, it's now or never, better to just go with my first instinct.

Me: Donna Summer.
Host: Correct!

So it all comes down to Michael's final question. If he gets it, we move on to sudden death, if he misses, I win.

Host: What "Everybody Loves Raymond" co-star was the first winner in the comedy category of "Star Search?"

Long pause. I'm thinking it's a good thing I chose to go first because I don't know this one either.

Michael: I don't know.
Host: The answer is Brad Garrett. That means that Chris is today's strongest link!

Looking back on that experience, there are a few things that have stayed with me. One tidbit, not related to the game itself, is that before the show when we were waiting in the hallway outside the studio I got to meet Heavyweight Champ Lennox Lewis, who was taping "The Tonight Show" across the way. He is by far the largest, scariest human being I've ever encountered in my life. You know how guys are always saying, "Yeah, for five million I'D fight the heavyweight champion"? I wouldn't. No way.

But above all else was the sheer amount of fun that entire day was. The whole taping took about two or three hours, and I enjoyed every second of it. Even had I lost, it would've been a great way to spend an afternoon. Aside from Herbert, who, truth be told, was a bit of a pompous ass and a poor sport (he seemed genuinely pissed off after the show), the other contestants were very nice and a joy to be around. Even Judy. In retrospect, I feel bad about stabbing her in the back such as I did. In the heat of the moment, though, and with the consistently bad answers she was giving, it seemed like the best thing to do. But to be on the safe side, I have since been sure to follow all highway laws whenever I'm driving through Officer Judy's sector of North Hollywood.

To Judy, in case you're reading this, I really did like you. You seemed very nice and I certainly meant nothing personal.

And the Broadway musical featuring a cat named Grizabella?

Well, Judy, it was "Cats".


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Saturday, October 16, 2010

The Best and the Worst: Lead Singers

The heart and soul of any successful rock band is the lead singer (or as he's often called, the prima donna man-whore).  Throughout rock and roll history, lead vocalists have ranged from the soft-toned Graham Russell and Russell Hitchcock of Air Supply (okay, I'm using the term "rock and roll" very loosely) to the harsh and garbled howling of Pearl Jam's Eddie Vedder. 

Today, we're going to look at the best and the worst of rock's famous frontmen.  Before we begin, though, a few disclaimers are in order.  First, I'm only choosing singers from reasonably well-known bands.  Yes, I realize the lead singer from The Vines is absolutely horrific, and I'm sure there's some anonymous garage band in Hackensack with a vocalist who sends the neighborhood dogs into spastic convulsions.  I'm not going to waste our time with those losers.

The second disclaimer is this:

When we get to the "worst" singers, this is by no means an assessment of the particular band in question.  In fact, some of the best bands in history have had less-than-stellar lead vocalists (I'm looking at YOU, Rush).  But taken out of context, the talent of my five worst singers is - at best - marginal.  Oh, and one more thing, we're only going to be looking at frontmen for bands, not solo artists.  So no whining about me leaving Springsteen out of the conversation.  Argue amongst yourselves as to whether he'd be among the best or the worst.

Without any further ado, we'll begin with the five best singers in the entire history of rock and roll. 


1. Freddie Mercury (Queen)
Freddie was one of a kind, a unique talent with an amazing vocal range.  He could bring an audience to tears with a ballad like "Save Me" and then turn right around and blow the roof off the arena with an anthem like "Bohemian Rhapsody".  Even at his most raucous, he never crossed over into the world of "screaming"; his voice was always under control and on pitch.  Plus, he was exceptional during Queen's live performances, commanding the stage like a Broadway star, not "just" a rock singer.  No doubt, Freddie was the best of the best.

2. Robert Plant (Led Zeppelin)
Like Mercury, Robert Plant could sing anything.  Hell, "Stairway to Heaven" alone is more stylistically diverse then the entire repertoire of a band like, say, KISS.  Not that there's anything wrong with KISS, mind you, but after awhile their music just becomes a mish-mash of three-chord sex songs.  By any standard, Led Zeppelin will always rank among the top three or four rock bands in history.  You don't do that with a mediocre singer (unless you're AC/DC, which we'll be discussing in just a few minutes).  Plant's voice is distinctive, and for my money, the definitive sound of rock and roll.  

3. Sting (The Police)

Before he decided to shun bandmates Stewart Copeland and Andy Summers and embark on an iffy solo career, Gordon Sumner (aka "Sting") and the Police were probably the most easily-identifiable band of the early 1980's.  Their music was a unique blend of new-wave and reggae, and hits like "Every Breath You Take" and "Every Little Thing She Does is Magic" provided a ubiquitous soundtrack for high school proms across the country (and also in England, if they have proms there).  Personally, I'm a fan of early Police -- I'll take "Roxanne" and "Can't Stand Losing You" over "King of Pain" any day -- but there really isn't a "bad" Police album (though in fairness, they only made five).  All in all they were an outstanding band, a unique talent in an era that brought us dreck like Culture Club and A Flock of Seagulls. 

4. Roger Daltrey (The Who)
Although I wouldn't necessarily call myself a Who fan, there's no denying the band's place in rock and roll history.  They're one of the few bands who had incredibly skillful musicians on guitar, bass, and drums along with an exceptional singer.  As I hinted at earlier, Rush is probably the best band musically, but I can't listen to more than a couple of their songs back to back before Geddy Lee's voice starts to grate on my nerves.  On the other hand, the chick singer for Paramore whose name I'm far to lazy to look up right now has a great voice, but the band is just so-so and all their songs tend to sound alike.  When you're talking about bands that combine instrumental virtuosity and outstanding vocals, you're pretty much down to The Who, Led Zeppelin, and depending on personal taste, Metallica.  So, Roger Daltry clocks in at number four on my list, mainly because I really like the song "Baba O'Riley". 

5. Brandon Boyd (Incubus)
 What the hell, I may as well include someone who's actually made an album this century.  For those of you from my generation (catch the Who reference?), Incubus may very well be the best band you've never heard of.  My younger readers, assuming there are any, will certainly agree with me when I tell you that Brandon Boyd is probably the most versatile singer on the modern rock scene today.  Songs like "Megalomaniac" and "Anna Molly" require him to stretch the limits of his range, yet he never goes over the top into the realm of screaming.  Mellower tunes like "Drive" show off his softer side, and prove that he's not just a rock star, he's a very talented singer by any standard.  So all you old farts out there, go ahead and download some Incubus, you won't regret it. 


1. Brian Johnson (AC/DC)
This is not singing.  Brian Johnson sounds like a Chipmunks version of James Brown, and that is in no way a compliment to either the Godfather of Soul or Theodore.  That being said, though, Johnson's voice is absolutely perfect for what AC/DC is trying to get across, which is gut-clenching, wall-shaking rock and roll.  That doesn't mean the guy's a good singer, though.  I mean, really, imagine what it would sound like if he tried to cover a song like the Beatles' "Strawberry Fields Forever" or the Kansas hit "Dust in the Wind".  It would be hilarious, sure, but you would never play in Peoria.  I don't know what that means, exactly, it's just something I heard somewhere once. 

2. Billie Joe Armstrong (Green Day)
I'm starting to realize how weird it is that some of my favorite bands have mediocre singers.  I mean, I'm actually a big fan of Green Day, but there's no denying the fact that Billie Joe Armstrong sings like he's battling a nasty cold.  Here's my written transcription of the first verse to "Boulevard of Broken Dreams": 

I wog a lode-ly road, the oad-ly wud thad I hab ebber dode.
Dode doe where id goes, bud id's hobe to be and I wog alode.
I wog dis eb-dee streed, on the boulevard ub brogen dreebs.
Where duh city sleebs, and Ibe the oad-ly one and I wog alode.

Who knows, maybe the band's name has something to do with Billie Joe's coughing up loogies all the time.  Makes sense, doesn't it?

3. Kurt Cobain (Nirvana)
I'm not going to say that this guy shot himself because he realized he was a lousy singer, but it wouldn't be the worst explanation in the world.  Call me a purist, but I always thought the whole point of singing words to a song was for people to actually be able to understand them.  I challenge ANYONE to recite the lyrics to the chorus of "Smells Like Teen Spirit" without looking them up.  Yeah, I know that Nirvana is generally considered to be a ground-breaking, genre-defining rock band, but I'm sorry, I just don't get it.  Hell, their drummer Dave Grohl is a thousand times better a singer than Cobain, and he never sang a single word for Nirvana.  Judge for yourself.  Listen to "Smells Like Teen Spirit," and then go listen to Grohl's vocal on the Foo Fighters' "Everlong".  You'll hear exactly what I'm talking about. 

4. The Guy From Nickelback (Nickelback)
Giant douchebag, party of one, your table is now ready.  In an industry where originality is always hard to find and wanna-bes are everywhere, Nickelback sets the all-time standard for rip-offsmanship.  There is not one single thing about this band that hasn't been done by someone else, a thousand times better.  Let's face it, you know your band's in a world of trouble when you're trying to sound just like Pearl Jam but if we're going to be completely honest, Nickelback would need five years of practice and a better guitarist just to receive a back-handed compliment like "hey, you guys kinda sound like Creed."  And aside from that, Nickelback's singer just seems like kind of an ass.  I recently heard that he walked off stage in Europe after a "fan" threw a bottle at him, after the singer asked, "Do we have any Nickelback fans out there?"

I guess actions really DO speak louder than words. 

5. Anthony Kiedis (Red Hot Chili Peppers) 
Here's all you need to know about Anthony Kiedis.  When he was a teenager, his three best friends (a bassist, guitarist and a drummer) had a cute little garage band.  Anthony hung around with them a lot, but since he didn't play an instrument and couldn't sing, there really was no place for him in the group.  But young Anthony apparently had a bit of Lucy Ricardo in him, so after months of hounding his friends (and probably supplying them with just the right amount of narcotics), they agreed to let him join the band as their lead vocalist.  Unfortunately, though, his official membership in the Red Hot Chili Peppers didn't change the fact that the guy still couldn't sing a note.  This is why early Chilis' albums sound like really bad rap music which is of course redundant, but it's really the only way to describe it.  In fairness, Kiedis's vocal skills gradually evolved into something listenable, but it's still not good singing.

Their bass player kicks ass, though.


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Thursday, October 14, 2010

Taco Shakes and a Side of Sour Cream

July, 1983. Naugle's Drive-Thru. Corona, California. 11:00 PM.


"Welcome to Naugle's, can I take your order please?"

"About fucking time," said the customer, from the comfort and safety of his Honda Prelude. "Gimme a macho combination burrito and a taco with sour cream on the side."

"Would you like something to drink with that?" I suggested, as per the official Naugle's Employee Handbook.

"Did I ask for a fucking drink? Just get me my order and make it fast, I'm in a hurry."

"Thank you, please pull - "

The Honda screeched to a stop at the drive thru window, Mr. Congeniality wedged in between the steering wheel and the back of the driver's seat. I estimated his weight at somewhere between "fat turd" and "disgusting fuckin' lard ass". His car was practically form-fitting. This guy needed a fast food burrito like Tiger Woods needs e-Harmony.

"That'll be three dollars and eighty-five cents."

He shoved a five-spot at me. I gave him his change, and started helping my co-worker Ryan prepare the order. Since it was so late at night, it was just the two of us and our assistant manager Dave on duty. Ryan prepared the macho combo burrito while I took care of the taco.

"Hurry the fuck up in there!" came a yell from the window.

Dave overheard this, and called out from the office, "You guys need help out there?"

"Nah, we're fine." With thoughts of revenge, I finished making the taco, wrapped it, and bagged it with the burrito. Tossed in a couple of napkins, and gave him the bag.

"There's no fuckin' hot sauce in here!"

I gently placed three packets of Naugle's Hot Sauce in his blubbery paw, with a slight smirk on my face.

He peeled out, and headed on his way as I shut the window.

About two minutes later, we heard a banging on the dining room door. It was locked, as 11:00 PM was the beginning of "drive through only" time.

Ryan and I went to the door. It was Mr. Congeniality, holding a half-eaten taco in one hand. His other hand was covered in sour cream. "Let me in so I can talk to the fucking manager!"

"Dave! A customer wants to talk to you! Should we let him in?"

"Yeah, go ahead, I'll be right out."

We got the keys, opened the door, and Hurricane Fatass blew right by us. Dave met him at the counter.

"What seems to be the problem, sir?"

"I opened my taco and I got sour cream all over my fucking hand! The outside of the shell was covered with sour cream! Who made this fucking taco!?"

Dave looked Ryan and me. "Who made the taco?"

"I did," I said. "I just made it like the guy ordered it."

Dave looked back at the customer. "What did you order, sir?"

"A taco with sour cream on the side."

Dave looked at me. "Well?"

"That's what I gave him! A taco with sour cream on the side!"

Dave had overheard the rudeness with which Mr. Congeniality had treated us earlier, so he was not quite as accommodating (or angry) as he might otherwise have been. "Well, sir, it looks like an honest mistake. Have a seat and we'll get you a new taco. Sorry for the misunderstanding, but in the future, you might want to be more clear about your order."

Ryan made the new taco and gave it to the guy, who left in a huff. We even let him keep the sour cream-slathered one.

What can I say, I take things literally.

I worked at Naugle's (now Del Taco) for a few months in the early 80's. During the summer I worked the late-night shift, along with several other high-school students and the aforementioned Dave, who was in his early twenties. On weeknights the late shift was very slow, so we found different ways to combat boredom.

Like the infamous Milkshake Contest.

At Naugle's, we didn't have the usual kind of shake machine where the chocolate came from one spigot, the vanilla from another, and strawberry from a third. Instead, we had a shake mixer full of, well, shake mix. To make an Dick Naugle-approved Naugle's milkshake, we first put in vanilla ice cream, then the flavoring (chocolate syrup, strawberry syrup, etc.), then the shake mix and we'd blend it all together. This setup made it possible (hypothetically, of course) to make any kind of shake we wanted by simply replacing the traditional chocolate syrup or vanilla with an ingredient of our choosing.

In some cases, it was great. The orange soda syrup made for a wonderful Creamsicle Shake, for example.

One boring evening, Ryan and I, along with Steve (grillmaster extraordinaire) decided to have a milkshake contest. We would take turns creating shakes, and see who could come up with the worst-tasting (but non-fatal) concoction.

The Rules:

1. The competition would consist of three rounds, one shake per contestant in each round.

2. All entries must include ice cream, shake mix, and no more than three other ingredients.

3. The creator of the shake had to take three sips, the other two contestants just a sample.

4. All three contestants must agree on the worst-tasting for it to be declared the winner.

Ryan kicked off round one with a blend of ground beef, cheese, and taco sauce. He dubbed this the "El Shako Con Taco". Ryan took a sip, dislodged some beef from the straw, took two more sips, and said, "Dang. Just tastes like a cold, liquid taco." Steve and I concurred.

I was up next. My recipe? Strawberry syrup, sour cream, and french fries. It tasted like salty strawberry cheesecake. Later, we made it again without the fries and it was delicious. Serendipity.

Steve countered with what he called the "Shakeburger". Catsup, pickles, and American cheese. After much deliberation, "Shakeburger" was declared the leader. It was the pickles that did it.

Round two featured the "Veggie Special" (tomatoes, lettuce, and onions), "Shakin' Bacon" (self-explanatory), and "Not 'Cho Shake" (tortilla chips, cheese, and guacamole).

"Shakin' Bacon" climbed to the top of the leaderboard.

In round three, Steve made a mustard shake, took three sips, and immediately yakked in the trash can.

He won.

For the longest time, I hoped beyond hope that the fat guy in the Honda would come back and order a shake. He never did.


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Monday, October 11, 2010

Ninth Grade History With Rocky Balboa

Mike "Rocky" DiMaria was my ninth grade World Cultures teacher, which was odd since the man seemed to have about a fourth-grade education. We called him Rocky because he bore a striking physical resemblance to Sylvester Stallone, though he didn't have quite the same level of intellect. Mr. DiMaria was hired to coach football and the job description really should've stopped right there, but in the ultimate wisdom of the Middlesex High School administration, Rocky was also assigned a few social studies classes.

It was your classic "fish out of water" story. Just imagine, well, imagine Rocky Balboa teaching a high school social studies class, I guess. His lack of knowledge combined with his dumb-jock arrogance blossomed neatly into a new breed of douchebag.

For example, one morning Professor Rocky was "teaching" us about the great philosophers "SO-crates" (and this was well before "Bill and Ted's Excellent Adventure" came out) and Plato. Now, I'll give him credit. He pronounced "Plato" correctly and didn't even mention a "fun factory". However, during his lesson he threw in the little-known factoid that Plato was such a well-known and respected philosopher that early astrologists (his word) named the last planet in the solar system after him.

Now, understand from the get-go that we all knew that Mr. DiMaria was a Grade A sphincter biscuit, and this was far from his first case of foot-in-mouth. But what can I tell you, we kinda liked the big lug, so we'd just play along good-naturedly and fire back a few challenges every now and then. This was one of those times.

"Uh, excuse me, Mr. DiMaria," said Steve, "I realize you're the teacher and all, but isn't the last planet called Pluto?"

"No it ain't," replied Rocky. "Most people tink dat, but it's ack-shully called Plato."

"Are you sure?" chimed in Regina. "I always thought it was Pluto. That's what we've been taught, anyway."

"Trust me, it was named for Plato."

"I dunno, Mr. D.," added Jill, stifling a chuckle. She was by far the smartest student in the entire ninth grade, and enjoyed razzing those with lesser intelligence, meaning everyone. "Pluto was the God of the Underworld. Since Mercury, Venus, Mars, pretty much all of the other planets were named for Gods, doesn't it stand to reason that Pluto is too?"

"Dat's a common mistake, Jill, but I'm positive it's Plato, like the philosopher."

"You sure it wasn't Pluto like Mickey's dog?" I asked.

"Don't be stupid," he said.

We debated the issue for a few more minutes. Not one of us had ever heard that there was a planet called Plato, of course, but Rocky was unwavering. I guess his Bachelor's program at Comatose State University had a unique curriculum.

Most of us in Rocky's class also had several other classes together. Naturally, were eager to share our newfound knowledge with Mrs. Stamen, our science teacher. Since she possessed a PhD from Princeton along with an enthusiastic passion for teaching, we were giddily curious as to how she'd respond to the scientific theorizing of the offensive line coach.

"Hey, Mrs. Stamen," I said. "Did you know that the last planet in our solar system was named for the philosopher Plato?"

"Who told you that?" she asked.

"Mr. DiMaria," said Regina. "He was pretty certain."

"No, seriously," Mrs. Stamen said. "He really told you kids that?"

"Yeah," said Steve. "What do you think?"

"I think Coach DiMaria is a sphincter biscuit."

Okay, she didn't really say that. What she actually said was, "It's Pluto. I'm going to have a word with Mr. DiMaria. If he wants to remain ignorant that's up to him, but I'm not going to let him pollute you kids."

So a couple days later during World Cultures, Jill asked, "So, Mr. D, did you talk to Mrs. Stamen about Pluto?"

"Uh huh," he said. "But I still tink it's Plato. I'm gonna have to check."

"The word of a Princeton PhD isn't good enough?" asked Regina.

"I'd perfer to do my own research."

Really, you'd "perfer" to?

We had a lot of fun with Rocky. Jill actually kept a journal entitled "The Wisdom of Rocky DiMaria" where she wrote down all of his verbal diarrhea. Among the classics:

"If you finish your test before you're done, put it in dis basket." Do we have a time machine in class, maybe?

"Da people of China are dyin' due to a lack of starvation." Lack of starvation, Rock? Wouldn't that be a good thing?

"Two great wonders of da Egyptian world is da pyramids and da Spinks." Oh really? Would that be Michael or Leon?

Yeah, if that guy was qualified to be a high school social studies teacher, I'm gonna be the first astronaut on Plato.


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Monday, October 4, 2010

Don't Mess With My Oreos!

Let's just get it out of the way right up front.  Oreos are the closest mankind has ever come to achieving perfection.  A pair of delectable chocolate cookies with just the right crunch, sandwiching a layer of exquisitely textured creme filling.  You don't even need to dunk these heavenly morsels, they stand on their own just fine.  And to top it off, you can enjoy 'em with STYLE!  Remember the theme song?  "A kid'll eat the middle of an Oreo first, and save the chocolate cookie outside for last."  Repeat as desired.  My dear Mr. Nabisco, you are the Patron Saint of Chocolaty Goodness.

Or were.

Somewhere along the way, Mr. Nabisco went overboard.  I don't know what caused it.  Boredom, maybe. Over-confidence, perhaps.  Maybe he got caught up in this attention-deficit decade that offers up two hundred varieties of everything from cellular phone services to potato chips.  Whatever the reason, under Nabisco's supervision, someone over in product development decided to screw around with greatness.  First came the Double Stuffed Oreo, which was perfectly acceptable.  That's just more of a good thing, like adding an extra patty on an In-n-Out Double Double.  That's greed, not change, and as Gordon Gecko so eloquently put it, "Greed, for lack of a better word, is good."  And so were the Oreo and its Double Stuffed comrade.

But Nabisco and his minions couldn't leave well enough alone.  No, they just went friggin' berzerk, like the Lucky Charms people did when they started throwing a bazillion different kinds of marshmallows into the fray, screwing up what was already a great cereal.  The Lucky Charms of my youth featured pink hearts, yellow moons, orange stars, and green clovers.  That's all, and it was wonderful.  But then the blue diamonds crashed the party.  Completely unnecessary, of course, but it didn't stop there, oh no.  Next came the rogue purple horseshoes, and then all hell broke loose.  Red balloons, pots of gold, rainbows, little green hats, shooting stars, and now they've added hourglasses.  What's lucky about an hourglass?  It wasn't for DOROTHY!  Has Lucky the Leprechaun started dropping acid or something?  Sure, maybe at one time I was "always after his Lucky Charms," but now I just want to snap, crackle, and pop the little fucker's spinal column.

Okay, back to the Oreos.

Like I said, I had no problem with the Double Stuffed edition.  But suddenly, out of nowhere, Cool Mint Creme Oreos appeared.  No offense, Mr. Nabisco, but let's just leave the mint cookies to the Girl Scouts, shall we?  They've got it down friggin' pat.  Then, with Halloween right around the corner they whipped up a batch of Oreos with orange filling.  These mutant-cookies didn't look festive, they looked radioactive.  And then, chaos took over.  Spring Oreos with yellow centers, red-filled Oreos for Christmas, chocolate filled, strawberry milkshake, white fudge, Golden Oreos . . . cats and dogs, living together, MASS HYSTERIA!

This is not to say that the expansion Oreos aren't tasty.  The strawberry milkshake ones, in particular, are delicious.  But they're not real Oreos.  Call them something else, maybe, let's say, "Strawberry Smushkadoodles", whatever, and I'll be the first one in line.  And don't even get me started on the peanut butter Oreos.  They're the Cousin Oliver of the Nabisco Bunch.  Annoying, unwanted, funny-looking and, let's admit it, just a tad creepy.  Oreos are chocolate cookies with white creme filling.  Period.

It's time for consumers to take a stand, show 'em that we mean business. I propose a national boycott, forcing Nabisco and General Mills to gather up all the wannabe Oreos and A.D.D. Lucky Charms and ship them off to the Island of Misfit Food where they can hang out with Blue Heinz Ketchup, New Coke, and the McRib.

Or better yet, send them to China and give 'em to those starving kids my mom always told me about.


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