Thursday, July 29, 2010
The question being . . . "What is wrong with you?"
The short answer is "quite a lot." But it's not my fault, no, no it isn't. There is only one person to blame for all my quirks, screw-ups, annoying habits, and personality flaws.
I'm speaking of course about my kindergarten teacher, Mrs. Fisk.
The year was 1970. The Beatles had just called it quits, Apollo 13 narrowly averted disaster, and in Staten Island a child was born who would one day change the course of television history -- Ricky Schroder. While all of that was taking place, a 63-year old dragon lady named Abigail Fisk went about her daily business of tormenting a classroom full of kindergartners.
Mrs. Fisk was tall and spindly with gray hair, and glasses so thick the New York Rangers could've used the lenses as practice pucks. She probably would have been a good teacher, though, were it not for one minor detail.
She hated children.
While most kindergarten teachers are kind, nurturing, motherly types who do everything in their power to get students excited about the whole going-to-school experience, Mrs. Fisk was just the opposite. Simply put, and here I am being kind, she was a bitter, evil, heartless, soul-sucking bitch. She not only got us kids to hate school, she made us despise everything associated with it. We hated the alphabet, we hated crayons, we hated Curious George and the man in the yellow freaking hat. In our classroom, the Keebler chocolate-covered graham crackers tasted like painted cardboard and the milk was always curdled.
Mrs. Fisk assigned these jobs at random, rather than by any particular skill set possessed by individual students. This only presented a problem when Zolton got the job of "cookie monitor." Zolton Blomfeld was a year older than the rest of us, and he looked exactly like a kid named Zolton Blomfeld should look. He was three and a half feet tall by three and a half feet wide, had a gigantic head bursting with curly red hair, and he smelled like cheese. When it was his job to pass out the cookies, Zolton helped himself to as many Chips Ahoys or Nilla Wafers as he wanted while skipping other kids entirely (and I'll point out here that while the overall gloom in Mrs. Fisk's class caused even cookies to lose their flavor, they were still cookies and as such, we wanted them). Anyway, it was always traumatizing for the kids who Zolton skipped on his cookie-distribution rounds, but there was nothing they could do about it because Mrs. Fisk had another steadfast rule which said, "Don't be a tattletale." This pretty much gave Zolton free reign, because unless Mrs. Fisk actually caught Zolton in the act, he'd get away with his cookie swiping. Witness statements amounted to tattling and were therefore inadmissible. While this "don't tell me your problems" approach is just terrible for a teacher to have, it could be much worse. Imagine if Mrs. Fisk worked as a 911 dispatcher:
"911, what's your emergency?"
"HELP! A GUY BROKE INTO OUR HOUSE AND SLAUGHTERED MY FAMILY WITH A MACHETE! I'M HIDING IN MY BEDROOM AND HE'S TRYING TO BREAK DOWN THE DOOR!"
"Don't be such a tattletale."
To sum up, during my year in firehouse kindergarten, I learned that adults won't help you even if your galoshes are stuck, if someone treats you like crap you just have to deal with it, and no matter how hard you work you'll still end up having to clean erasers. These are the building blocks upon which my psyche was formed. So the next time you think to yourself, "Damn, what the hell is WRONG with that guy?" . . . now you know.
It's Mrs. Fisk's fault.
Wednesday, July 28, 2010
If you were in charge of marketing for your company, you'd want to make sure that the spokesperson in your television commercials was someone that would make your product appealing, someone that the general public would view as entertaining, or trustworthy, or (let's be honest) scorchingly hot. You would not, for example, choose Christopher Walken to be the face of OshKosh children's clothing, nor would you name Mike Tyson as the cornerstone of your "Welcome to the History Channel" ad campaign. Selecting just the right actor, celebrity, or even a specially-created fictional personality is absolutely critical in the success of your company's public relations and marketing.
With that in mind, let's take a look at the best and the worst of what TV commercials have to offer.
This bitch is so artificially perky and genuinely annoying that I wouldn't buy Progressive insurance if they offered a free policy and agreed to mow my front lawn every week. Seriously, I could toss Flo into a friggin' wood chipper and whistle "Zip-a-dee-doo-dah" as the machine chewed her scrawny ass to bits.
The absolute worst of the Progressive commercials (and they're all pretty damn irritating) is the one where she responds with a grating "DISCOUNT!" to everything a potential customer says. Are you a safe driver? DISCOUNT! Do you own a home? DISCOUNT! Do you want to whack me in the head with a Ping seven-iron? DISCOUNT!
And what's with that name, "Flo"? No one under the age of sixty is named "Flo," in fact, the name pretty much died out when the TV show Alice went off the air. Come to think of it, that Flo was just as obnoxious as the insurance lady and they even kind of look alike.
We've got to go back to the mid-1980's for our next P.R. nightmare, the infamous "Where's the Beef?" lady Clara Peller. I was unfortunate enough to have actually been working at Wendy's during this campaign, and let me tell you, you have no idea how absolutely infuriating it was to have every other customer ask "Where's the Beef?!" at the drive-through window. I must've heard that phrase fifty times a shift, and every single time, the douchebag who said it thought it was the funniest thing since Ex-lax brownies.
At the time, the Wendy's people were quick to point out that Ms. Peller was not a trained actress, in fact, she was working as a manicurist on a commercial set when someone thought that her unique voice would make her perfect for ad work. Whoever that person is, I hope he dies a slow painful death involving red ants, or maybe piranha.
Anyway, for about a year, you couldn't get away from the phrase "WHERE'S THE BEEF?!" Walter "Three Electoral Votes" Mondale even used the slogan in his Democratic Primary battle against Gary Hart. Let's face it, if Walter Mondale thinks your ad campaign is cool, it's time to fire your advertising agency.
Okay, to start with, the creation of the "Burger King" character is such a blatant rip off of "Jack" from Jack in the Box, that whoever came up with the idea should be ashamed of himself. But beyond that, this guy is just plain creepy. His facial expression never changes, he doesn't talk, and he's not even entertaining. In various commercials, he breaks into someone's home and scares the shit out of him, infiltrates McDonald's headquarters and steals their hamburger recipe (have we no shame?), and I believe in one spot the Burger King sneaks into an animal shelter and suffocates a dozen golden retriever puppies. He's not a burger magnate, he's a psychopath. Have it my way, you say? Okay, my way is to get rid of this freakish whack job and replace him with, well, pretty much anyone. Except Flo the Insurance Lady.
Okay, the Six Flags commercials might be regional, so if you have no idea who this idiot is, consider your self lucky. "Mr. Six" looks like the love child of George Burns and that turtle from the Bugs Bunny cartoons and doesn't do much besides dance around like a maniac. I guess the sight of an old man dancing is supposed to be funny, but it's really, really sad. He's not even an old man, he's a young guy wearing a rubber face and a pair of Harry Caray's old eyeglasses.
Naming this guy "Mr. Six" was a stroke of idiocy. I mean, really, is that the best they could come up with? What was THAT writers' meeting like?
"Okay, we've got to think of a name for this guy. Hmmmm. It's for Six Flags Amusement Parks . . . "
"I've got it! How about Mr. Amusement Park?"
"Not bad, let's keep that in mind. Anyone else?"
"Roller Coaster Guy?"
"Wait! Call off the dogs! The search is over . . . we'll call him . . . Mister Six! Get it? SIX Flags?"
"Murphy, you're a genius! Let's go have lunch."
The most recent Six Flags ad campaign has Mr. Six comparing mundane activities like tossing a ball of yarn to your cat (ONE FLAG!) with riding a Six Flags roller coaster like X or Deja Vu (SIX FLAGS!). Originally, the star of these commercials was an Asian dude, but apparently someone complained that his cheers of "ONE FRAG!", "SIX FRAGS" was a racist stereotype. Too bad, because I actually thought that guy was pretty funny. Mr. Six, on the other hand, is just weird.
We're going "old school" on this one.
Mr. Whipple was a grocer (I think) who had an almost obsessive attitude toward protecting his store's supply of Charmin toilet tissue from potential squeezers. Whenever one of Whipple's female customers picked up a package of Charmin, she couldn't resist the temptation to squeeze it because Charmin is so ridiculously soft and squeezable. Whipple, for whatever reason, had a problem with this and would glare at these women and snarl, "Hey, bitches, don't squeeze my fuckin' Charmin." Okay, maybe he didn't put it quite that way but he wanted to. You could see it in his eyes.
Personally, I think Mr. Whipple should've gotten together with Rosie, the "Quicker Picker Upper" lady from the Bounty paper towel commercials. They would've been a match made in paper goods heaven.
In my mind, this is the best of the best. Whoever thought of taking a completely ridiculous character like a jack-in-the-box and turning him into a serious (yet whimsical) CEO deserves a spot right next to Karl Malden in the Television Commercial Hall of Fame. Honestly, who would ever think of making a clown their company's Chief Executive Officer?
Okay, BP, good point.
Yeah, Enron too, I forgot about them.
Still, this guy is simply awesome. From giving that stoner kid a discount on his tacos to sitting at his desk making his sandwiches talk, Jack is the very embodiment of sound leadership. His implementation of "Bowl Haircut Day" to promote the Jack-in-the-Box breakfast bowls was brilliant.
I'd work for him any day.
The debonair Dos Equis representative is truly a man's man (but the ladies love him too). He once had an awkward moment just to see how it feels. He speaks French . . . in Russian. Even his enemies list him as their emergency contact. His personality is so magnetic, he can't carry credit cards. He never says that anything tastes like chicken . . . not even chicken. He lives vicariously through himself. He's a lover not a fighter, but he's also a fighter so don't get any ideas. Chuck Norris carries a picture of him in his wallet.
This is what endorsing a product is all about. The Most Interesting Man Alive gives Dos Equis (a mediocre to above average beer at best) credibility. He doesn't always drink beer, but when he does, he prefers Dos Equis. And therefore, so should you.
I'll be the first to admit it, there is no logical reason whatsoever that I should like these guys. I hate hip-hop, I don't like hamsters, and I would never in a million years purchase a Kia Soul (or any other Kia, for that matter). But the Hamstars are friggin' hilarious. Sure, they're a little bit racist and gangster, but watching those fat furry bodies dance to the catchy lyrics "You can get with this, you can get with that . . . doo-dah-dippity . . . " makes me smile every time. I especially dig the one in the white hoodie. He's got some moves.
As time's gone on these commercials have gotten less and less clever, but when they first hit the airwaves the originality and humor was almost revolutionary. It started out with a basic idea, Geico.com is so simple even a caveman can do it. The point is made, and if it went no further, no one would've cared. But then, cut to a restaurant where the Geico representative is being forced to apologize to a couple Neanderthals (or maybe Australopithicusses, they never really specify) who were offended by the insulting catch phrase. The banter is priceless.
"Seriously, we apologize. We had no idea you guys were still around."
"Yeah, next time maybe do a little research."
"Are you gentlemen ready to order?"
"I'll have the roast duck with mango salsa."
"I don't have much of an appetite."
A few of the other caveman spots were clever, but none ever matched the pure genius of the original. Classic.
Okay, perhaps he came across as a hopped-up cereal junkie. Some kids may have even found him frightening. But when it comes to simplifying your message, you just can't get any clearer than "I'm cuckoo for Cocoa Puffs." Sonny will live forever in my memory because back in the mid-80's, when I was working as a salesmen at Radio Shack, my boss who we'll call Bob (because that was his name) would use the phrase "Cuckoo for Cocoa Puffs" in almost any situation.
"Bob, this lady wants to return her Realistic tape recorder because the rewind button doesn't work."
"Well, that just makes me cuckoo for Cocoa Puffs."
"Bob, any chance we could get an increase in our sales commission this month?"
"What are you, cuckoo for Cocoa Puffs?"
"Hey, Bob, Jennifer called in sick again."
"That woman is cuckoo for Cocoa Puffs."
On and on it went.
Cereal companies have always been pretty good at creating friendly and charming characters -- Tony the Tiger, Dig 'Em the Frog, Cap'n Crunch, etc. -- but Sonny was neither friendly nor charming. He was just plain nuts.
And that's why we love him.
Saturday, July 24, 2010
His most well-documented attack on the Whos, though, came on Christmas Eve, 1971 when he committed a series of home-invasion robberies. The Grinch had a long-standing hatred of the Whos and their propensity for celebrating the Christmas season by singing obnoxious Who-carols and festooning their entire village with tinsel, wreaths, mistletoe, and other traditional Christmas paraphernalia. It should be noted, however, that not all Whos participated in this holiday cheer-fest. The Who Jews, for example, did not celebrate Christmas at all. Instead, they would light their menorahs and exchange gifts on the eight nights of Who-nukkah.
As the story goes, the Whos barely even noticed that their homes had been ransacked and their presents and decorations were gone. They simply joined hands in the village square and continued with the Holiday Whoo-pla. The Grinch couldn't believe it. What was the use of being a despicable bastard if your victims didn't get all freaked out about your evildoing? Upon hearing the Whos break into a rousing rendition of the holiday classic "Wah Who Doray, Wah Who Doray, Welcome Christmas Christmas Day," he realized that maybe, just maybe, Christmas was about more than just presents, it was about family, and friends, and the Who-spirit.
Who-nukkah, however, still sucked.
After the holiday bonding with the Whos, the Grinch's heart grew three sizes and he became a model citizen in Whoville (although he kept his residence on Mount Crumpet, because there's not much of a real estate market for decrepit old caves). He was elected to the Whoville City Council, he opened a small "handyman" shop, and he and his dog Max could be found at many Whoville parties and events. Finally, in 1989, he married 21-year old Cindy Lou Who, the girl who he'd tricked on that Christmas Eve long ago.
The marriage was not well-received by the Who-population as a whole, primarily because of the age difference between the bride and groom. The Grinch was now pushing fifty, and many Whos spoke out against the so-called "cradle robbery."
"Cindy Lou was always a sweet girl, but she was incredibly naive," said her brother Yuno Who. "When the Grinch softened up that Christmas, she started to worship the guy. Yeah, he seemed to be pretty nice after all that, but everyone knew he had that dark side. No one can change THAT much, and I never really forgave him for swiping our family's Who-Hash and Whoberry pie. Cindy Lou, though, the older she got the more she adored him. I tried to tell her that he was too old for her, that she didn't know what she was getting herself into, but it was no use. She was determined to marry the guy."
After a wonderful honeymoon on the island of Oa-who, the Grinch and Cindy Lou were happy for awhile, but before long the difference in their ages proved to be an impossible obstacle to overcome. The Grinch did not age gracefully, and the youthful and exuberant Cindy Lou began to crave excitement. One night, while working her waitressing shift at Who-ters, she met a 22-year old surfing champion named Troy Watt. One thing led to another, and Cindy Lou started seeing Watt on a regular basis. It didn't take long for the Grinch to become suspicious.
"So, where have you been?" he asked one night, as Cindy Lou arrived home three hours after her shift ended.
"I can't hide this from you anymore," she said, refusing to make eye contact. "I'm having an affair."
This stunned Cindy Lou. "Oh Stanley. How did you know?"
"Know about what?"
"Yeah, him. That's the guy I've been seeing."
"No, it's not a Who. It's a regular human."
"Yes. Watt is a human."
The Grinch was befuddled. "Look, all I'm asking is what's the name of this guy you're sleeping with."
"That's right. Watt is his name." Cindy Lou started crying.
"Why are you asking ME? How the hell would I know?"
"I'm not asking you, I'm telling you. Watt is the name of the guy I'm sleeping with."
"I'm asking YOU! What's his name?"
"That IS the guy's name!"
"So let me ask one more time, you're sleeping with who?"
"No, Watt is not a Who."
"Hee? Wait, why are you bringing him up? Hee is just a friend." It was true. Jimmy Hee was a Who who Cindy Lou knew, and their close friendship grew from the time they were two. They were life-long pals, more like brother and sister, really.
"Who is just a friend?"
"Hee is. And yes, Hee is a Who," said Cindy Lou.
"Okay, so now you're saying that he's just a friend?"
"Hee has always been a friend."
"Then what's the name of the guy you're banging?"
"Right. I'm sleeping with Watt and Hee's just a friend."
The Grinch could feel the blood boiling in his veins. "He's not just a friend if you're SLEEPING WITH HIM, DAMMIT!"
"Hee's not the one I'm sleeping with, Watt is!"
"What's his name? The guy you're nailing?"
"Exactly," said Cindy Lou, calming down a bit. "Now you've got it. I'm glad that's off my chest."
"I DON'T EVEN KNOW WHAT WE'RE TALKING ABOUT!"
"I'm having an affair, I just told you."
"With . . . who?"
"No! With Watt! The Who, Hee, is just a friend!"
"Okay," said the Grinch, exasperated. "Let's start this again. Tell me the name of the guy you're sleeping with."
"TELL ME THE NAME OF THE GUY . . . "
"That's his name!"
"What's his name?"
"Let's try it this way," said the Grinch. "Suppose one night I come home early from work and catch you in the act. I bust through the bedroom door and I see you doing . . . what?"
"Now that's the first thing you've said right."
"I don't know what the hell I'm talking about. You're doing what?"
"Yes, dear, I'm doing Watt. Sometimes Watt does it to me."
"What does it to you?"
"Sure. And, if I may say so, he does it pretty damn well."
"Fine, forget it then bitch, don't tell me. I don't give a shit who the bastard is. We're finished, Cindy Lou 'Ho! Get the hell out of my cave!"
Wisely, she did just that. That was the last she or any of the Whos heard of the Grinch.
For about a month and a half.
"Wah Who, Doray, Wah Who Doray Cindy Lou's a fucking whore.
Wah Who Doray, Wah Who Floray, kill some Whos and kill some more."
Okay, so he was no Cole Porter.
The Grinch and Max headed down to Whoville, where they wandered around in smoldering rage. The Grinch was smoldering, that is. Max, on the other hand, really didn't give a damn. He was about 231 in dog years by this point and it was all he could do to not shit on the sidewalk (though the Grinch would definitely have been okay with that sort of thing, especially on the streets of fucking Whoville).
As they passed the corner of Horton Street and Lorax Blvd., the Grinch noticed a young couple smoking and giggling on the patio of a Who-kah Bar. It was Cindy Lou and Jimmy "Just a Friend" Hee! Without a word, the Grinch pulled out a Seuss and Wesson nine-millimeter semi-automatic and popped Jimmy in the back of the head. Hee died instantly, while Max lost control of his bowels. Cindy Lou just looked at her ex-husband and cried, "Why, Stanley, why? Why did you murder my friend Jimmy? Why?"
He shot her in the chest.
Stan "The Grinch" Wadsworth was convicted of multiple Who-icide and sentenced to life in prison. Compared to his cave on Mount Crumpet, this was an upgrade in lifestyle. He died in 2001 of natural causes, which is to say, another inmate shanked him.
Max is currently the mascot of the Whoville Fire Department.
Wednesday, July 21, 2010
The following story is a work of fiction. Any resemblance to psychos living or dead is purely coincidental. No, really. I promise.
It was ten-fifteen, on a chilly evening in downtown Boston. Jennifer Reynolds and two of her girlfriends left the AMC Theater after thoroughly enjoying Sex and the City 2 for the fourth time. One of the friends suggested that the three of them get something to eat, but Jennifer said no, she had to get up early for work in the morning, but the other two should go on ahead. This was an unfortunate decision on Jennifer's part because if she had gone with her friends to grab a bite, she would've enjoyed a tasty hamburger and a strawberry milkshake instead of what she ended up getting, which was murdered.
As Jennifer walked, alone, to the parking garage across the street, she was followed by the notorious serial killer The Watertown Whacko (cue haunting violin music). Just as Jennifer reached out to open the driver's side door to her 2005 Ford Mustang, the Whacko clubbed her over the head with a sawed off Louisville Slugger, Rico Petrocelli model. Having rendered poor Jennifer unconscious, the Whacko then strangled her to death with a length of rope and violated her corpse repeatedly. When the deed was done, he fled the scene and went home where he put on a pair of his mother's pantyhose, slathered himself in Fluffernutter, and watched reruns of the The Three Stooges while pleasuring himself.
You don't pick up a nickname like "The Watertown Whacko" by being polite and charming.
Which brings us back to Locard and his exchange principle.
Anyway, because the Whacko is careless, he exchanged a good deal of evidence with Jennifer. He left semen (unless he used a condom, but let's face it, he probably didn't), hair, fibers from his clothing, spittle, and other microscopic DNA evidence on the bludgeoned and strangled carcass. Conversely, he also picked up evidence -- strands of Jennifer's blond hair and other fibers, in addition to matted blood on the Rico Petrocelli baseball bat and microscopic DNA on the rope.
The Whacko also exchanged evidence with the crime scene itself, leaving fingerprints on Jennifer's Mustang, footprints on the floor of the parking garage, and perhaps picking up pebbles and dirt in the treads of his sneakers.
All of this evidence would be collected and analyzed by law enforcement officers, and hopefully the Watertown Whacko could be identified, located, and brought to justice. I'm thinking "death by flaying" would not be too extreme a punishment.
So that's Locard's Exchange Principle in a somewhat over-sized nutshell. But it makes me wonder, could this principle be applied in areas outside of forensic science?
Every day, we come in contact with hundreds of other people. I don't mean physical contact, necessarily, I'm talking about conversations, verbal exchanges, even brief smiles or quizzical glances while in line at the grocery store. Is it possible to encounter another human being and NOT have some sort of exchange take place?
A few weeks ago, I was at a local Subway restaurant. I ordered my usual, the Italian BMT, and when I got to the register to pay, the cashier told me that it was covered, the lady in front of me had taken care of it. By the time I turned around to thank her, she had already left. Since I already had my credit card out, I figured I'd continue the gesture by paying for the meatball sub the guy behind me was ordering. I took my sandwich and sat down at one of the tables, and it was then that I witnessed something truly inspiring.
The guy that I had treated decided to pay for the next lady's sandwich.
Who then, in turn, paid for the couple behind her.
This simple act of generosity was repeated six more times , the streak ending only when a customer ordered eight sandwiches for himself and his co-workers. The guy whose "turn" it was looked at him and said with a chuckle, "Okay, I'm nice, but I'm not THAT nice." It got a big laugh from the customers as well as the Subway employees (or, as they like to be called, "sandwich artists").
My point is this. That series of exchanges certainly brightened my day, as I'm sure it did for everyone else who was there, and it reinforced the sometimes-dying belief that people are, by nature, good. It's a lunch that I'll never forget.
Think about the exchanges we have with each other hundreds of times a day. Saying "good morning" to a stranger on the street. Flipping the bird to the asshole that cuts you off in traffic. Reading your kids a bedtime story and tucking them in. Some of these exchanges will be remembered forever, some forgotten almost immediately, but they're exchanges all the same.
The next time you walk in to the bank, order your morning coffee, take your seat on the bus, show up at work in the morning . . . you're going to interact with another person. It's unavoidable.
What kind of evidence will you leave?
Saturday, July 17, 2010
I ran full speed down Runyon Avenue, Mike the Whip in hot pursuit. Mike's top speed was just a bit quicker than mine, so even though I'd managed to get a couple steps ahead of him, the gap was closing. As instructed, I made a hard left at Old Man Wagner's beat up Chrysler Imperial and I looked back just in time to see a rough-looking teenager named Donny fire a bullet right at me. I took it in the gut.
"Touchdown! Burned you on that one, Mike!" I yelled.
"Yeah, yeah, just kick off and we'll see who gets burnt next time."
Mike trudged back down the street, while Donny and I did a triumphant "Can-Can".
Street football has many variations, most of which are dependent upon the number of players on hand. Sometimes, like in the game I just told you about, there were only three players. It was me vs. Mike the Whip, with Donny acting as "steady quarterback". The steady quarterback was a player designated to be the QB for both teams, and was used when you had an odd number of kids. For example, if five guys showed up to play, the teams might be me and Mike against Donny and Paul, with Robbie as steady quarterback.
Of course, these games were usually somewhat rigged, depending on who was pissed off at whom that week. One time a guy named Kenny was the steady quarterback the same week Mike the Whip had stolen his girlfriend. I beat Mike that day by a score of 84-0. Here's Kenny's statistical summary for the game:
As QB for Mike: 0-33 passing, 0 TD's, 12 interceptions
As QB for me: 22-27 passing, 10 TD's, 0 interceptions
Since everyone got to be steady quarterback eventually, those things kind of evened out in the long run.
Street football in my neighborhood was basically intended to be a three-on-three game, although two-on-two would also work. If more kids than that showed up, we just headed to the ball field and played tackle. The basic structure of our three-on-three worked like this:
On your offensive team, you had a quarterback and two wide receivers. Since it was touch football, and because Runyon Avenue wasn't wide enough to allow for the old fashioned Green Bay Packers power sweep, the passing game dominated. On defense, you had a defensive lineman (or "rusher") and two defensive backs who covered the receivers. Since there was no offensive line to block the rusher, he instead had to count Mississippis. You know, "One Mississippi, two Mississippi, etc." Sometimes the rules required the rusher to count five Mississippis before charging in, sometimes it was three. Or, if the quarterback was younger than ten years old or if he threw like a girl (I'm looking at YOU, Gerard Plouse), ten Mississippis were granted. This gave the quarterback a realistic amount of time to drop back and locate a receiver. Over the years, or maybe it was that way from the very beginning, the defensive linemen, in their haste to sack the quarterback, abbreviated Mississippi to the quicker "Missippi."
It was because of the Missippi rule that a kid named Randy hated to play defensive line. You see, Randy had a stuttering problem, so by the time he made it all the way to "four Muh-muh-muhsippi, five Muh-muh-muh-muhsippi," the quarterback had not only completed a touchdown pass, he'd gone into his house, made a glass of Nestle's Quik, and returned in time to finish the Touchdown Hokey Pokey with his teammates.
This reminds me of another story. In the winter, Randy would always wear a knit New York Giants hat, with a fluffy blue and red pom pom, or "beanie", on top. One morning on the school bus, Mike the Whip kept flicking the beanie, which drove Randy nuts. Finally, he turned around and yelled, "Hey! Quit flicking my buh-buh-beanie!" Naturally this cracked everyone up, and from then on no one's winter hat had a beanie on top, they had bubba beanies.
The standard touch football playbook was pretty simple. The receivers ran patterns like the "button-hook", the "square in", and the "run straight downfield until you get to the trash can and turn around, I'll fake it to you, and then go long". The quarterback would wait till a receiver got open (hopefully prior to "five Missippi") and try to hit him with the pass.
One Saturday morning in January, with the temperature hovering in the mid-20's, we had a good game going. It was me, Paul and Randy against Donny, Robbie and Mike (not Mike the Whip, another Mike. Our neighborhood had several Mikes, and about four Joeys). My team was on defense.
"Okay, I said. I'll cover Robbie, Paul cover Mike, and Randy, you rush the QB."
"Aw, muh-muh-man! Why do I gotta ruh-rush?"
"Because you're too slow to cover either of the receivers," I said. In the spirit of fair play, though, I asked Donny if we could change the rules a little.
"Hey! Donny! If Randy rushes, can he just count three Missippis? It's not fair to make him count five, it'll take a friggin' hour!"
"Hell no!" called Donny from the huddle. "It's five Missippis! You don't like it, just let Jiggly Mouth cover Mike or Robbie and someone else rush."
Clearly, the spirit of fair play did not exist on Runyon Avenue.
"Sorry, Randy, you're rushing."
Donny broke the huddle and brought his team to the line. Mike was split wide left, Robbie wide right. Donny barked out the signals.
"Down! Set! Blue 47! Blue 47! HIKE!"
"ONE MUH-MUH-MUH . . ."
Robbie took off on a fly pattern, while Mike cut across the middle. When he tried to stop short, though, he hit a patch of ice and fell to the ground, at which point his jacket broke.
It didn't rip. It didn't tear.
Years later, Randy tried out for the high school football team. Because of his size (and the fact that he moved about as quickly as, say, a glacier) the coach put him on the defensive line. According to legend, during the first intra-squad practice game, Randy stepped up to the line of scrimmage, looked at the quarterback and asked, "How muh-many muh-muh-sippis?" Not missing a beat, the quarterback replied, "Five."
The center snapped the ball, and Randy stood up and started counting, "One muh-muh-muh-sippi . . . ", at which point the offensive tackle planted him into the turf. Having learned his lesson, Randy lined up for the next play with fire in his eyes. Abandoning the Missippi-counting entirely, on the next play he tossed aside two blockers and sacked the quarterback with a flourish. I don't know if he then did the Ickey Shuffle, but he should've.
Randy, Donny, and another kid from our neighborhood named Mark all went on to have a fairly successful high school football careers. With the skills they'd developed in the Runyon Avenue Street Football League, no one was really surprised. And of course, they always remembered football's Golden Rule.
Namely, try not to piss off the steady quarterback.
 In some neighborhoods, this position was called the "all-time quarterback". But those were the neighborhoods where all the douchebags lived.
 In those same neighborhoods, "alligators".
Wednesday, July 14, 2010
This is not meant as an insult to dogs, by the way. They have lots of redeeming qualities such as loyalty and playfulness, and it's kind of fun to watch them run around in confusion when you pretend to throw the tennis ball. But let's be honest here, if dogs were any dumber, they be cats. Or reality television stars.
You won't be surprised to learn at this point that I am not a dog lover. I am, at best, a dog liker. This means that while I have formed a tentative cohabitation agreement with the two dogs that live in my home, I'm not particularly fond of the rest of the species. And in the case of some breeds (I'm looking at YOU, poodles), I have what would best be described as outright loathing.
Which brings us to my cocker spaniel named Munson.
So yeah, Munson is pretty cool. He's no genius, but he seems to have things figured out around here. He's able to distinguish between indoors and outdoors when it comes to doing his business, he's an accomplished fetch player (though the "return" part is hit-or-miss), and he is consistently able to outwit the other dog in our home, Newton, when it comes to finding and then hiding the best toys. To be completely fair, though, this isn't real impressive. Newton is, even by dog standards, a bit of a dunce.
Over the past several months, though, I've come to the conclusion that Munson has obsessive compulsive disorder (OCD). Sufferers of OCD have certain behaviors that they MUST perform, otherwise they will, and here I use the medical terminology, go all batshit. For example, some people with OCD wash their hands hundreds of times a day because they are obsessed with cleanliness. Others have to have things organized a certain way, some have rituals like tapping a door five times before closing it, and in one bizarre case (I'm not making this up) a guy had to go thorough the motion of wiping off his hands whenever he saw an El Camino or even heard the WORDS "El Camino."
Munson's case isn't that extreme, but he's still kinda quirky.
Another example, he always has to lay down or sleep in a corner of a room. Not on the bed, not in the middle of the floor. It has to be a corner. And he normally gathers up all his toys and surrounds himself with them. The rubber teddy bear. The stuffed bone. Even the squeaky pig which, given his sordid past, is kind of ironic.
He's also a compulsive digger. This is somewhat annoying when he's tearing up the back yard, but it's hilarious when he's on the tile floor in the kitchen. He gets the front paws going real fast, to the point where he looks like Wile E. Coyote spinning his feet in place, trying to avoid plunging to the bottom of a canyon.
For all his idiosyncrasies though, Munson's about as good a dog as one could hope for. He's not going to be performing on America's Smartest Canines or anything, but on the other hand, he doesn't eat his own poop. He's one of the family, and I'd be remiss if I didn't mention his single greatest quality:
He's not a friggin' poodle.
Saturday, July 10, 2010
Have you ever been watching a television show and had the irresistible desire to punch a character in the face? Who hasn't, right? Well, today we're going to take a look at the ten biggest douchebags in television history. To be clear about this, I'm not talking about the actors who played them (although in some cases the actor himself was actually a bigger douchebag than the character -- I'm looking at YOU, Dustin Diamond).
First, though, we need to establish the criteria. To be considered a true television douchebag, one must fall into at least one of the following categories:
Category A: Takes Excessive Abuse
Douchebags of this type take mountains of crap from pretty much everyone they come in contact with. Name-calling, physical violence, embarrassing pranks, they've seen it all. They have no backbone and therefore serve as doormats for their antagonists. In short, they're a statue in a world of pigeons.
Category B: An Over-inflated Self-image
These guys think that they're charming, attractive, and intelligent while everyone else on the planet just thinks they're dorks.
Category C: Flat-out Geeky
Here we're talking about your stereotypical geeks, complete with goofy glasses, highwater pants, pocket protectors, perhaps a lisp. This is compounded by the fact that generally speaking, these guys have no idea just how dorky they really are. Note: This category does not apply to those geeks who are fully aware that they're geeks and are comfortable with it (see "Sheldon, Big Bang Theory").
Category D: Incredibly Annoying
It might be a squeaky voice, maybe it's a particularly grating catch and over-used catch phrase, or perhaps it's just an excessively perky attitude, but these douchebags do nothing but annoy the crap out of basically everyone. You would cheerfully bludgeon them to death with a pipe wrench.
Category E: Sponges
These douchebags are completely unable to support themselves emotionally or financially and exist solely by mooching off the system or other people. Sometimes they express gratitude to those supporting them, but more often they don't . . . it's just take, take, take and whine, whine, whine.
Anyway, without further ado, here are the top ten, in reverse order:
Douchebag Category: A, C, D
Even among the misfit, remedial class criminals known as the Sweathogs, Arnold was the bottom-feeder. He constantly took crap from Barbarino and Epstein and would do anything they said in an attempt to be accepted by the group. His laugh was reminiscent of a seal with a bronchial infection, and whenever he thought he new the answer to one of Mr. Kotter's questions, he'd raise his hand and shout "OOH! OOH!" like he was giving birth.
Still, Arnold did have sort of an endearing quality about him, and every so often he got the upper hand with his tormentors . . . so he wasn't a complete douchebag. Still, he was in high school and carried a lunch box. There's just no getting past that.
Douchebag Category: B, D
When you're the dorkiest member of a group that includes someone named Potsie, not much else really needs to be said. Richie was the smart one, Fonzie was the cool one, Potsie could at least sing. Ralph always thought of himself as a comedian, but let's be honest, he wasn't all that funny. His humor basically revolved around tired one-liners and recycled Vaudeville routines, and his tendency to claim "I still got it" didn't fool anyone. He never had "it". Hell, the funniest thing about him was his name . . . Ralph Malph. Seriously, what kind of parents would do that to a kid? The thing is, Ralph's father was named Mickey (don't believe me? Click here.) so the Malph family had obviously been screwed up for generations.
8. Danny Partridge (The Partridge Family)
Douchebag Category: B
Anyway, Danny spent most of his time screwing with older brother Keith who was trying to do nothing more than write moderately catchy 70's rock songs and nail all the teeny-boppers he could. Danny thought he was clever, but he was actually just a hippie version of Eddie Haskell, someone just begging to get the shit beat out of him.
And did anyone else notice that it took him almost two full seasons to realize that you don't strum an electric bass, you pluck it?
7. Mike Brady (The Brady Bunch)
Douchebag Category: None specifically, he's just an all-around douche.
It was 1988, I was working at a movie theater in Pasadena. Robert Reed came in to watch some movie, I forget what it was, but for the sake of argument we'll say it was Steel Magnolias. Halfway through the previews, Reed comes storming out of the theater and confronts me by the ticket booth.
"Are you going to turn down the fucking volume in there, or are we all going to go fucking deaf?" asked the man who once chastised his son Greg for sneaking a goat up to his room. Not "Excuse me, but the sound in theater five is a bit loud," not "Would you mind turning the sound down just a tad." Just a barrage of F-bombs.
The character Mike Brady was a douche also, for many reasons. The episode where he and Sam get busted for illegal parking while dressed up in their Prince Charming and Dopey costumes comes immediately to mind.
Douchebag Category: A, B, C, D
Lots of TV's misfits had a delusional perception of themselves, but J.J. Evans was the most self-deluded of them all. He thought he was cool -- no, check that, he thought he was DYN-O-MITE! -- but he was basically just a ghetto version of Screech (more on him in a few minutes). His sister Thelma and little brother Michael were both much cooler than J.J. and everyone knew it.
To be completely fair about it, though, it wasn't all J.J.'s fault. Given his physical stature, approximately six feet tall and weighing in at about 58 pounds, the guy was pretty much a walking cartoon. He looked like he went to the blood bank and forgot to say "when". He was so skinny he had to wear scuba fins in the shower just to keep from slipping down the drain. When he turned sideways, he was invisible.
You get the idea.
Douchebag Category: A, B
A veritable encyclopedia of arcane knowledge, Cliff pestered the patrons of Cheers and endured their constant ridicule with grace and dignity. The height, or rather, the depth of Cliff's douchbagginess came during his appearance on the show Jeopardy! With an insurmountable lead heading into Final Jeopardy, all Cliff had to do was not bet everything he had, and he was a sure winner. However, Cliff HAD bet everything and when he responded to the Jeopardy answer "Archibald Leach, Bernard Schwarz, and Lucille LeSueur" with "Who are three people who have never been in my kitchen?", he snatched defeat from the jaws of victory.
His buddy Norm was not surprised.
Douchebag Category: B
Ted shares an apartment with his ex-girlfriend, and as a result, gets a front row seat when she brings home guys that are way better-looking and cooler than he is. And he's okay with this. Some might call that attitude mature and honorable, but who do they think they're kidding? He's a douche. Plus, he comes off like he thinks he's better than his friends simply because he's a college "professor" and can use big words from time to time. Yeah, he's basically a nice guy, but there are plenty of nice douchebags around. Most of them are waiters.
3. Stanley Roper (Three's Company)
Douchebag Category: A, D
KNOTTS: How about if I just recycle all my Barney Fife bits?
PRODUCERS: You can keep the stupid grin and the snorting, but aside from that, you'll have to come up with something new.
KNOTTS: Okay, all right. Can I dress like a pimp?
PRODUCERS: You can dress like a 70-year old white dweeb would THINK a pimp dresses.
KNOTTS: Awesome. I'll go get my white patent leather shoes.
Anyway, Roper has got to be the only male character in TV history who consciously avoided sex. Now granted, his wife wasn't exactly Farrah Fawcett, but you'd think that he'd want to shut off the lights and go for it every once in a while.
Jack, Janet, and Chrissy were constantly putting things over on Roper, most commonly trying to assure him that Jack was gay. This, of course, led to Roper's mocking Jack by doing a little fairy dance. Political correctness was still about a decade away.
Oh, and one more thing. Whenever Roper said something he thought was funny, he looked right into the camera and grinned like an idiot. Again, a pipe wrench would've been handy right then.
Douchebag Category: A, C, D
Also known as "The White Urkel," Screech Powers was a member of a peer group that, in the real world, would have had absolutely nothing to do with him. Oh, sure, Slater would've beaten the shit out of him on a weekly basis, and maybe Zack would've played humiliating pranks on him, but there never would've been anything even remotely resembling friendship between these guys. And the hot girls? Forget about it. Dorks like Screech don't have normal friends in high school. Hey, I don't make the rules. If I did, all high school band members would be allowed to have the cheerleader of his choice for an evening of wanton lust, retroactive to 1983. Are you out there, Lisa DeAngelis?
Douchebag Category: A, D, E
Okay, Alan got kicked out by his bitch of a wife, and then moved in with his brother Charlie. Fine. But the way Alan takes advantage of his brother's generosity enjoying a Malibu beach house, maid service, and free baby-sitting while never offering to kick in some cash once in a while, well, it's disgraceful. Charlie would be well within his rights to kick the shit out of Alan every Friday night at 7:00. One particular case comes to mind. Charlie, for some reason or other, owes Alan about twenty bucks. When Charlie is slow with the repayment, Alan takes it upon himself to siphon gas out of Charlie's car to cover the value.
That, my friends, is major league douchebag activity right there. Never mind that you're living rent-free in a million dollar home, Alan, go ahead and be a dick about twenty dollars.
And Alan gets trampled by everyone. Charlie, his ex, Berta the housekeeper, his other ex (who doesn't have enough brain-power to light a refrigerator bulb), and even his son Jake. For that reason, as well as many others, Alan Harper earns the title of "Television's Biggest Douchebag". Congratulations, Alan, your winner's check is in the mail.
Sure it is.
Feel free to add to this list in the comments section, I'd love to hear your thoughts!
Wednesday, July 7, 2010
As you may recall, a few days ago I wrote about the oppression and disrespect that bald men (or, as we prefer to be called, "Shiny-Americans") have been putting up with for years. We hear it from our friends and co-workers, we get ridiculed out in public, and even the mainstream media has gotten into the act with hairist caricatures like Mr. Clean. I thought I'd gotten all that "anti-bald" frustration out of my system, but apparently not, because this morning I was the target of prejudice right in my own home.
I was getting dressed when Theresa called to me from the shower. "Chris, can you go out to the hall cabinet and get me a new bottle of hair conditioner?"
First of all, what the hell is "hair conditioner"? I vaguely remember shampoo, as I used it regularly until it became unnecessary in the mid-90's. But more importantly here, what about my goddamn feelings? Would you send a legless man down to Footlocker to pick you out a nice new pair of Air Jordans? I doubt it. When I opened the cabinet, though, I forgot all about Theresa's insensitivity because this is what I saw:
I mean, holy freaking crap, what is all that stuff? Shampoo, hand soap, body gel, body wash (which is apparently not the same thing as body gel), air fresheners, hand lotion, two turtle doves and a partridge in a pear tree. My God, she's a hoarder! There's so much junk in there that if disaster were to strike leaving us trapped in our home, and assuming that we still had running water, Theresa's hair would be able to maintain its luster and bounce until approximately the year 2028.
Even so, I couldn't find the friggin' hair conditioner anywhere. Oh, and please be advised that the large bottle of white stuff in the very front of the picture is NOT conditioner, it's shampoo. That's important later on in the story.
"What's taking you so long out there?" hollered Theresa from the shower.
"I'm navigating my way through the Valley of the Lotions, give me a second!"
After knocking over a half-dozen squirters of hand soap and a couple hair sprays, I was able to locate a bottle of Alberto VO5 grapefruit mandarin splash Vitaburst volumizing conditioner which, according to the bottle, is bursting with vitamins B, C, and E. I'm not making that up, it actually says, "bursting with vitamins B, C, and E." The bottle also says "new", but given the ridiculous amount of shit Theresa has in the cabinet, this bottle may very well have been purchased in 1993.
I took the bottle to Theresa. "You find it?"
"Yeah, all the way in the friggin' back." We then engaged in the conversation that inspired this rant.
She then went to the cabinet and said, "Look, there's a bottle of conditioner right here in the front, I don't know how you missed it." This was an attempt to either make me feel stupid or make herself feel better about the fact that she basically runs a shampoo museum.
"Let me see that," I said.
She handed me the bottle, a smug look upon her face.
I read the label. Suave coconut shampoo.
"Look here," I said triumphantly. "SHAMPOO!"
"Oh," she said.
Damn right, "oh". Somebody got sham-punked.
Saturday, July 3, 2010
" . . . when we allow freedom to ring, when we let it ring from every village and every hamlet, from every state and every city, we will be able to speed up that day when all of God's children, black men and white men, Jews and Gentiles, Protestants and Catholics, will be able to join hands and sing in the words of the old Negro spiritual, "Free at last! free at last! thank God Almighty, we are free at last!"
One can hardly argue the point Dr. King was making here, specifically, humans have been granted certain basic rights and those rights should apply to everyone regardless of race, creed, color, or religion. In fact, King went so far as to list specific groups of people -- blacks, whites, Jews, etc. -- to leave no doubt that he meant everyone, EVERYONE, should be "free at last." But despite his efforts to the contrary, he did in fact overlook one group of Americans, the group that has undoubtedly suffered through generations of oppression, strife, prejudice, and ridicule.
I'm speaking of course about bald people, or as we prefer to be called, Shiny-Americans.
"Yeah, it's just been a little hectic. I've been pulling my hair out trying to get this paperwork finished."
Pulling her hair out? Oh, that's real nice, just throw it in my face, why don't you? Yeah, I get it, ha, ha, Chris, you don't HAVE any hair to pull out. Well, I'm going to remember this when it comes time to write her job evaluation, that's for sure.
And that sort of thing happens all the time. Someone will come into my office and say, "I'm just going to drop this on your desk and then I'll be out of your hair."
You insensitive asshole! Would you walk up to a quadriplegic and extend your hand for him to shake? Wave to Stevie Wonder across a crowded room? Have a deaf guy paged over the Dodger Stadium public address system? Of course not. But you'll have no problem telling a Shiny-American that you'll "be out of his hair in just a minute."
Here's another thing. When you hairy-headed freaks start whining about your "bad hair day," it makes me want to whack you across the forehead with a Louisville Slugger. Complaining to a Shiny-American about a "bad hair day" is like telling a starving Ethiopian kid that the porterhouse steak you had last night was a bit undercooked. At best, it's thoughtless. If you ask me, though, it's downright cruel. I'm going to say this one time, and I expect all of you to make a note of it: No day with hair is a "bad hair day." Appreciate what you have, for someday it may be gone.
Hairism has also found its way into the mainstream media. While civil rights activists have lobbied against racist caricatures like Aunt Jemima, the "Yo quiero Taco Bell" dog, and the Asian guy who did the Six Flags commercials, apparently no one has a problem with the most offensive stereotyping of Shiny-Americans ever perpetuated.
What, my head is shiny so that means I'm supposed to scrub your bathroom? My impeccable cranial hygiene makes me the perfect candidate to polish your kitchen counters? It's time to stop labeling people simply because of their hair (or lack thereof).
I am proud to be a Shiny-American, and refuse to conform to the expectations of the majority. I look with disdain upon products such as Rogaine, intended to make us feel like we must have hair if we are to be considered "whole." I will not wear a toupee, nor will I subject myself to mutilating surgery such as plugs or implants. I am a proud, strong, bald man and I will not be shamed into defacing my dignified dome.
It's time to to take a stand and fight for the rights of follically-impaired individuals everywhere. That's why I am declaring July to be National Bald History Month, so we can take time to appreciate the contributions that Shiny-Americans have made to our country. Great men like Dwight Eisenhower and James Garfield proved that you don't need gorgeous flowing locks to be elected President of the United States. The Blue Man Group showed how joining together with other bald people can lead to great success and acceptance. Michael Jordan became a successful athlete while overcoming two social obstacles, being a Shiny-American and also being very, very tall.
Bald History Month can be celebrated in a number of ways starting, of course, with a national holiday on July 11 in honor of Yul Brynner's birthday. In the Broadway musical The King and I, Mr. Brynner was one of the first stage performers to use his baldness as a trademark, paving the way for future Shiny-American actors like Telly Savalas, Patrick Stewart, Bruce Willis, and Elmer Fudd.
For those of you who have been blessed with a full head of hair, take a moment this month to connect with your Shiny-American friends. Tell them that you understand their plight, and maybe offer to help apply the sunscreen to the hard-to-reach spots on their noggins. Get to know the person underneath that gleaming melon, see him for who he is rather than as a target for tired old jokes.
And to my reflective-skulled brethren, I say this:
Let us not wallow in the valley of hair despair, I say to you today, my friends.
Even though we face the difficulties of today and tomorrow and tolerate insulting names like "chrome-dome" and "cue ball", I still have a dream. It is a dream deeply rooted in the American Dream.
I have a dream that one day this hair-obsessed nation will rise up and live out the true meaning of its creed, "We hold these truths to be self-evident, that all men are created equal."
I have a dream that one day in the hair salons of West Hollywood, the sons of Shiny-Americans and the sons of hair stylists will be able to sit down together at the table of brotherhood.
I have a dream that my two children will one day live in a nation where they will not be judged by the the lustrous hair which adorns their heads, but by the content of their character.
I have a dream.