Saturday, February 26, 2011

The Best and the Worst: Sitcom Characters

Just the other night, Theresa and I were watching the evening news, catching up on the latest Charlie Sheen self-destructive meltdown, when we got to thinking about all the teen and child stars who couldn't resist the temptation to destroy their own lives.  There's Sheen, of course, then you've got Macaulay Culkin, River Phoenix, anyone named Corey, anyone who starred on Diff'rent Strokes . . . we thought it might be easier to list the former child stars who actually made it to adulthood unscathed.  Here's what we came up with:

Ron Howard

That concludes our list.

It makes sense though, if you think about it.  Ron Howard had the benefit of learning from three wonderful fathers.  First and foremost there was his biological dad Rance Howard, a talented actor in his own right who kept a close watch on young Ronny's career and made sure the kid stayed grounded.  Rance then passed Ronny along to his next father, Mayberry sheriff Andy Taylor, who did a wonderful job teaching Ronny (who Taylor called "Opie") to be respectful, responsible, and honorable.  When Ron entered high school, he was adopted by father number three, a Milwaukee hardware store owner named Howard Cunningham.  Mr. Cunningham and his wife continued to instill in their son (now dubbed "Richie") wholesome family values that Ron embodies to this very day.

I'm not sure how this all relates to the topic at hand, which is TV's best and worst sitcom characters, but I thought it was interesting.

I've always been a fan of television situation comedies.  Taxi is my all-time favorite, but I'm also a fan of Happy Days, Cheers, Two and a Half Men, The Big Bang Theory, and  many others.  I thought it would be fun to take a look at the best and the worst characters in sit-com history.  As always, a few disclaimers are in order here.  You won't see anyone from Friends or Frasier, because I never watched those shows.  From the bits and pieces I have seen, the guy on Friends with the weird voice who looks kind of like a horse would probably make the "worst" list, as would Urkel from Family Matters, another show I never saw.

Also, I've limited the lists to main characters or featured supporting roles during a show's most successful years.  Historically, once shows "jump the shark," so many ridiculous characters come into play that my task would've been nearly impossible.  Hence, you won't find Cousin Oliver, Chachi Arcola, or anyone played by Ted McGinley among my selections.

So here we go, make yourself a bowl of popcorn and plop down on your couch as we venture off into TV land . . .


1. Jim Ignatowski (Taxi)

In every episode of Taxi, you could bank on at least one "Iggy Moment," a scene or a one-liner guaranteed to bring you to tears in hysterics.  The best of the lot was in an early episode when Jim was taking his driver's test: 

Jim: Psst!  What does a yellow light mean?

Bobby: Slow down.

Jim (pauses): What . . . does . . . a . . . yellow light . . . mean?

Bobby: Slow down!

Jim (frustrated): WHAT . . . DOES . . . A . . . YELLOW . . . LIGHT . . . MEAN?!


Jim: WHAAAAT . . . DOESSSSS . . . A . . . YELLLOWWW . . . LIIIIGHT . . . MEEEAN!?

It loses something in print, but it's absolutely brilliant.  Another typical Iggy Moment" 

Bobby: Okay, I'm trying to really tell this jerk what I think of him.  Give me a couple good adjectives.

Elaine: Despicable.

Tony: Repulsive.

Jim: Purple!

Without a doubt, Reverend Jim was the best ever.

2. Hawkeye Pierce (M*A*S*H)

Long before Dr.Gregory House, Hawkeye Pierce was television's cynical, wise-cracking medical professional.  Hawkeye took the concept of "gallows humor" to a whole new level, making off-color jokes in the face of the most grisly wartime tragedy imaginable.

Between surgeries, though, Hawkeye and his sidekick Trapper John (or in later seasons, B.J. Hunnicut) spend most of their time drinking, nailing nurses, and generally making life miserable for their superior officers (Major Frank Burns and Major Charles Winchester in particular).  But Hawkeye wasn't just a one-note smart ass.  On many occasions, the casualties of war got the best of him and he displayed a more serious, thoughtful, and emotional side.  Sure, he was a pain in the ass . . . but he was one of the good guys.

3. Sheldon Cooper (The Big Bang Theory)

I have a feeling that there will be varying opinions on Dr. Sheldon Cooper, The Big Bang Theory's "geek among geeks."  Viewers will either find him brilliantly hilarious or gratingly obnoxious, there's no middle ground.  He's as self-centered as a person can possibly be, a genius who is forced to tolerate the foibles of lesser humanoids (in his mind, "everybody").  Case in point . . .

In one episode, Sheldon is considering donating his sperm, in an effort to create a young genius (he's opposed to the idea of sexual intercourse).  Naturally, he realizes that the potential mother of his biological offspring might dilute the intellectual makeup of his "genetic contribution." 

Sheldon: But then some poor woman is going to pin her hopes on my sperm, what if she winds up with a toddler who doesn't know if he should use an integral or a differential to solve for the area under a curve?

Leonard: I'm sure she'll still love him.

Sheldon: I wouldn't.

Over the run of the show, Sheldon has formed an unlikely, though condescending bond with Penny, the hot blond actress/waitress who lives across the hall.  In the most poignant scene of the series, Penny presents Sheldon with a one-of-a kind Christmas present. 

Penny: Here you go, Sheldon, Merry Christmas.

Sheldon: It's a . . . cloth napkin from the Cheesecake Factory.

Penny: Well, look at it, Sheldon.

Sheldon (reading an autograph): "To Sheldon . . . Live Long and Prosper . . . LEONARD NIMOY!?!"

Penny: Sorry about the smudge, that's where he wiped his mouth.

Sheldon (incredulous): I POSSESS THE DNA OF LEONARD NIMOY!?  With this napkin and a viable ovum, I could create my own Leonard Nimoy!

Penny: Hey, I'm just giving you the napkin. 

4. Norm Peterson (Cheers)

"Sometimes you want to go where everybody knows your name."

Norm is the guy the Cheers theme song is about.  He's the ambiance, he's the decor, he's the very reason bars like Cheers exist in the first place.  He's saluted with a communal "NORM!" every time he walks in the place.  Hell, if he weren't a friggin' Red Sox fan, he'd be the perfect drinking buddy.

To me, the highlight of every episode was Norm's response to innocuous greetings from Woody or Sam.  A sampling: 

Sam: What'll you have, Normie?
Norm: Well, I'm in a gambling mood, Sammy, so give me a glass of whatever comes out of that tap.
Sam: Looks like beer.
Norm: Call me "Mr. Lucky."

Woody: What's going on, Mr. Peterson?
Norm: The question is, what's going IN Mr. Peterson.  Make it a beer, Woody.

Sam: What's the story, Norm?
Norm: Boy meets beer.  Boy drinks beer.  Boy meets another beer.

Now excuse me, while I go pour myself a beer.  I'll be back in a minute. 

5. Ed Norton (The Honeymooners)

You know I had to go "old school" on one of these, and what better example of comedy greatness than Ed Norton.  For the younger readers out there, I'm not talking about the guy from American History X and Fight Club, I'm talking about the sanitation engineer (sewer man) from TV's The Honeymooners.  Norton was Ralph Kramden's best friend and frequent source of irritation, joining "ol' Ralphie boy" in a variety of get-rich-quick schemes and other hilarious misadventures.

Norton was also the prototype for future gawky, bumbling television characters, most notably Jim Ignatowski from Taxi and Kramer from Seinfeld.  Without question, the best Norton scene ever is from an episode entitled "The Golfer".  There's absolutely no way to do it justice in writing, so here's the clip.  Enjoy!


1. Gilligan (Gilligan's Island)

How this guy made it through a tour of duty in the United States Navy is anybody's guess because there has never been as clueless a moron in the entire history of television.  The Gilligan's Island storyline never explicitly states HOW they ended up wrecking the S.S. Minnow on the shore of a desert island (oh, sure, "the weather started getting rough" but these are trained sailors), but it's not much of a stretch to assume that Gilligan's incompetence was the main culprit.

Once stranded, Gilligan repeatedly screws up the castaways' chances to get rescued.  I mean, sure, the question will always be out there -- if the Professor was brilliant enough to make a two-way radio out of a couple coconuts and some bamboo, why couldn't he patch a two-foot hole in a boat? -- but when push came to stumble, Gilligan was the group's worst enemy.  They should've just shot him.  With, you know, a rifle made from bamboo and coconuts.

Oh, obscure trivia: "Gilligan" was the character's last name.  His first name was "Willie".

2. Judith Harper-Melnick (Two and a Half Men)

This bitch is the Patron Demon of Greedy, Selfish Ex-Wives everywhere.  Let's start at the beginning:

She divorces her husband Alan Harper because she feels "suffocated."  All right, granted, Alan is more than a little bit quirky and he can be irritating at times.  But he's a successful chiropractor, he's a good father, he took care of the Harper household, and he loved his wife beyond all reason.  For that, she broke up their family and forced Alan to move in with his degenerate brother (who, ironically, proved to be less screwed up than the actor who played him).  And what consequences does she suffer for destroying Alan's life?

She keeps the house, and pulls in huge alimony and child support checks.  You'd think that would be enough for the soul-sucking shrew, but it's not, not even close.  In one episode, Judith wrecks her car and questions why Alan hasn't kept up her insurance premiums.  Alan patiently explains that SHE'S NOT HIS FRIGGIN' WIFE ANYMORE, and she needs to take responsibility for herself.  She responds with, "Well, let's just see what my lawyers think about that."

At the risk of repeating myself, he should've just shot her.  Or dumped her ass on Gilligan's Island.

3. Joanie Cunningham (Happy Days)

I can't really think of a sit-com where the kid sister wasn't an annoying pain in the ass.  Dee on What's Happening, Cindy on The Brady Bunch, and Jennifer on Family Ties spent most of their screen time disrupting the lives of their older siblings.  But none were as focused on this goal as Joanie Cunningham, younger sister of Richie and Chuck (the writers always hoped we'd forget about the eldest Cunningham child, but he was there in season one with his ubiquitous basketball in hand).

I always thought Joanie was kind of creepy-looking (though she did get hotter as she got older) with her freckles and shit-eating grin which she usually flashed after getting Richie in trouble.  And for Pete's sake, in one episode she developed a crush on Potsie.  That's right, POTSIE!  Fonzie, sure, I think we could all understand that, but Potsie was second only to Ralph Malph on the Happy Days douchebaggery scale.  What she saw in that guy, I'll never know.  Still, she eventually hooked up with Chachi Arcola, to the point where the network gave them their own spin-off.

Yeah, that worked.

Little sisters should never get their own shows.  Period.

4. Ralph Furley (Three's Company)

For those of you unfamiliar with the term "jump the shark" here's the basic definition: It's the point in time where an entity (usually a TV show or rock band) passes its peak and rushes downhill to a devastating and long overdue demise.  This is usually caused by a key cast member leaving (Shelly Long leaving Cheers is a minor example, though in my opinion the show was better without her), a new and usually annoying character being added (we're back to Cousin Oliver again), or the same character being played by a different actor (Bewitched replacing one Dick with another).

Three's Company was a shark-jumping extravaganza.  Chrissy departed and was replaced by Teri.  Then Teri got the boot and Cindy entered.  And of course, Mr. and Mrs. Roper moved out and were replaced by the new landlord, Ralph Furley.  What an irritating bastard THAT guy was.  It's almost like the producers said, "No, the Ropers just aren't grating or obnoxious enough, we need somebody who has all those same off-putting qualities and . . . hey, what if he actually SNORTS when he laughs?  How would that be?"

They went with it.

And I thought Don Knotts couldn't out-do his portrayal of Barney Fife.

5. Lily Aldrin (How I Met Your Mother)

Now here's a show that baffles me.  Of the five major characters on How I Met Your Mother, only one is consistently funny and interesting (Barney), one is mostly tolerable (Robin), two are usually annoying (Ted and Marshall) and one deserves to be banished from television entirely (Lily).  And yet, with so many bothersome personalities, I really enjoy the show.

I guess it's the writing.

Anyway, Lily Aldrin is just painful to watch.  First of all, she's married to Marshall Erickson, but she didn't take his last name, which always bothers me.  What, she's too good to be an Erickson?  Furthermore, she spends most of her time drinking at McLaren's Pub in New York, and in one case, visited a strip club.  That wouldn't be worth much notice, except she's a KINDERGARTEN TEACHER.  Not that kindergarten teachers shouldn't have lives, but seriously.  I can't imagine this ditz working with five-year-olds.

She's annoying, plain and simple.  Kind of like a grown up Joanie Cunningham.


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Wednesday, February 23, 2011

The Parker School Merry-Go-Boom

Remember the good ol' days when no one cared about personal safety? We had no seat belt laws, in fact, I clearly remember riding shotgun in Grandma's 1971 Chevy Impala, standing up on the passenger seat. We weren't required to wear bicycle helmets, it was just assumed that if we were stupid enough to crash our bikes (and we were), we'd manage to not crack our skulls in the process. Maybe we (and by "we" I mean society at large) were naive, or maybe it was just a convenient way to manage the overpopulation problem. At any rate, for a child growing up in the 70's, danger was everywhere, and we laughed in its face.

Take, for example, school playgrounds.

Nowadays, there are all sorts of rules and regulations that dictate proper monkeybar height, mandatory woodchip depth to cushion falls from the slide, and the scheduling of inspections and routine equipment maintenance. Due to this wussification of our nation's playgrounds, kids of the 21st century have to put forth quite an effort if they want to injure themselves.

Such was not the case for kids of my generation.

For one thing, all of our playground equipment was built on rock-solid asphalt. No woodchips, no synthetic rubber cushioning. If we fell, we bruised. We bled. We didn't have much grass on our playground, either. The area that wasn't black-topped was simply a large area covered with stones. Most of the time it served as our kickball field, but let's face it, it was basically a rock garden. Did we throw these rocks at each other? Of course we did. Our only rule was "don't aim for the head", with the emphasis on "aim for". By the time I hit third grade, our school nurse was so good at stitching up gashed foreheads she could've given the Toronto Maple Leafs' trainer a run for his money.

All of which brings us to the Parker School Merry-Go-Round Incident of 1973.

You remember those playground merry-go-rounds, right? A circular bench on a vertical axle, anchored in the asphalt? Parker School had one, and it was pretty popular with the second and third grade crowd.

One morning in particular, a bunch of us were in the mood to spin till we puked. To that end, we recruited Big John to supply the elbow grease.

John Pizzarelli was a fifth grader who was old enough to be in seventh. His poor reading skills combined with his blatant disregard for the mandatory attendance policy led to him being held back a couple times. He was enormous but also a real sweetheart, and he could be counted on to make recess a more enjoyable experience for everyone. You need someone to push you on the swings, higher than you ever imagined? Big John was your man. A fall guy to start the rock fights? He's ready and willing. And, of course, he was the perfect source of power for the merry-go-round.

I took my seat and hung on tight. I should add here that this particular merry-go-round did not have any sort of safety straps or restraining bars. There was a bench and a bar to hold onto, and that was it.

It wasn't enough.

John got the ride spinning, beyond any speed that would be considered safe. Mistaking our terror for excitement, John redoubled his efforts and soon we were pulling four G's with our innards in turmoil. My palms started sweating, and I could feel my fingers slipping from the metal bar.

The next thing I knew, I was flying through the air. There were no woodchips to absorb the impact, no fancy padding to cushion my descent. Just the old-fashioned thunk of head against blacktop. A crowd gathered around me, and when I regained my bearings, I managed to stand up. The bell rang, so I headed to class.

Halfway through roll call, I became engulfed in a wave of nausea. Mrs. Fedak called my name, and when I tried to say "here", all that came out was my breakfast. Pop Tarts and chocolate milk, if I remember correctly. I went to the nurse, who called my dad and suggested that he take me to have my head examined.

Not the last time someone would make that suggestion, by the way.

It turned out that I had a mild concussion, and the doctor sent us home with ice packs and instructions to not let me sleep for a while.

In the aftermath of the merry-go-round incident, the Parker School administration took a crucial step in improving the overall safety of the playground. Oh, they didn't lower the monkeybars, replace the stone field with sod, or install woodchips and padding. They established and enforced one simple rule:

John Pizzarelli was no longer permitted to push the merry-go-round.


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Sunday, February 20, 2011

What Ever Happened To . . . Jack and Jill?

Jack and Jill: The Myth
In the early 1960's, the town of Windsor Locks wasn't much more than a quaint rural village on the Connecticut River.  Main Street, the home of local businesses such as Patterson's Pharmacy, Dapper Dan's Dry Cleaners, and Combes's Barber Shop (yes, it was his real name), was six blocks long and displayed exactly two traffic lights.   Like most small town residents, Windsor Locksians were a tight-knit community who had known each other all their lives.  In fact, Shirley Graham, the 85-year old kindergarten teacher at Windsor Locks Elementary School, bragged that she was the only teacher in the country who had taught four generations of the same family (the Cormans: John, kindergarten class of 1901; Michael, class of 1922; fraternal twins Charles and Claire, class of '41; Phillip, class of '63).

Jack Liszewski and Jill Murphy, 1963
At the center of town stood Barrett Hill, its steep slope making it a popular location for roller skating in the springtime and sledding during the snowy New England winters.  On warm quiet evenings, teenage boys and girls would often venture up the hill to "fetch a pail of water."  This phrase was actually a euphemism for making out, coined in the 40's when another pair of adolescent lovers did indeed go up a hill with the intent of drawing water from the well.  One thing led to another, though, and the pair came down the hill with not just the water, but also with flushed faces, hickeys, and, depending on your view about when life truly begins, a beautiful baby daughter.

Jack Liszewski and Jill Murphy were sixteen-year old high school sweethearts, and up to this point in their relationship their physical intimacy was limited to hand-holding and light kissing (Jack called it first base, Jill called it third).  Jack's buddies, most of whom had already hit the proverbial home run by anybody's definition, ranked Jack out constantly.

"Hey, Liszewski, when's your girlfriend gonna finally give you some?"

"Hey, Jack, what time's Jill due back at the convent?"

"Got another late night rendezvous with your right fist again, Jackie boy?"

Jack hung out with a bunch of assholes, basically.

Peer pressure being what it is, one summer afternoon in 1964, he decided it was time to take Jill up Barrett Hill to "fetch a pail of water."  Jill, unaware of Jack's expectations, packed a nice picnic lunch of deviled ham sandwiches, cole slaw and Orange Crush.  When they arrived at hilltop, Jack spread a blanket out in the shade of an oak and invited Jill to have a seat next to him.  After finishing their lunch, Jack initiated the kissing, as usual, and after a minute or two he made his move, caressing the side of Jill's right breast with his fingertips.  Jill slammed on the brakes immediately.

"Jack, you know I'm not ready for that yet.  Hands to yourself!"

"Aw, come on, Jill, we've been together for over a year now.  I'm starting to feel like Little Boy Blue Balls."

Put off by Jack's offensive language, Jill stood up to leave.  "Well, if that's all you're interested in, maybe you should find another girlfriend.  I'm sure Jessica Muffet is available, that tramp.  Rumor has it that she went all the way with Jack Horner after the Sadie Hawkins dance.  He stuck in something, and it sure wasn't his thumb."

"I'm not interested in Horner's sloppy seconds, Jill, I'm in love with you," he exaggerated, hoping that by expressing his deep devotion, his girlfriend would loosen up a little.

She didn't.

"I like being with you too, Jack.  Come give me a hug."

He hugged her all right, and while he was at it, Jack went for broke and grabbed Jill's exquisite behind with both hands and pulled her closer.  When Jill felt Jack's arousal digging into her thigh, she screamed and shoved him backwards.  Off balance, Jack tripped over an exposed root (the tree's) and fell all the way to the base of Barrett Hill, where he cracked his skull on the sidewalk.  As Jill ran down to check on him, she too lost her footing and tumbled downhill.  Fortunately, she did not suffer any injuries.

All the king's horses and all the king's men rushed to help . . . wait, no, sorry . . . the Windsor Locks Rescue Squad arrived moments later, and inexplicably tried to mend Jack's bashed-in noggin with vinegar and brown paper.  They transported the unconscious teen to Hartford General Hospital, where the E.R. triage nurse mocked the paramedics' attempts at first aid and immediately had Jack taken to the operating room.  The surgeons tried their best to save the boy, but due to severe swelling of the brain caused by a cerebral hemorrhage, Jack Liszewski died on the table.

Sister Jill Murphy became a nun in 1966, and spent the next thirty years teaching catechism classes at Our Lady of Perpetual Resistance in New Haven.  She died in 1996.


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Thursday, February 17, 2011

Purty Easy, Huh?

During the Summer of '81, which was between my sophomore and junior years of high school, my family moved from New Jersey to Southern California. This gave me just a couple months to get acclimated to the new culture (such as it is) before starting a new school year at Norco High School.

Norco is not the most glamorous of SoCal communities, by the way. Small ranches, horse paths, a constantly lingering dung-like aroma . . . Malibu it ain't. I really can't sugarcoat it, moving to this shit-kicker of a town was a disappointment. Even compared to New Jersey.

Come September, I began 11th grade at NHS. I had no idea what to expect, but as it turned out, it wasn't a whole lot different from Middlesex High back in Jersey, except that most of the Norco campus was outdoors and, you know, the aforementioned dung-like aroma. But in the end, high school is high school, so before long it was back to business as usual.

My favorite teacher, by far, was Mr. Garland, who I had for Algebra II. He was from Arkansas, or maybe Tennessee, one of those states in the Hillbilly Belt. He wore a suit and tie every day, he was very well-mannered, and he had a distinguished southern drawl. His passion for teaching was obvious.  Whenever we learned a new skill - the quadratic formula, trigonometry, ordered pairs - he would give us "drills" to reinforce the concepts.

"Remember, y'all," he'd say, "ya gotta duh-rill, duh-rill, duh-rill, so you get faaast and accurate." That became an oft-imitated mantra among his students . . . "duh-rill, duh-rill, duh-rill."

Mr. Garland's grading policy was very competitive, and it kept us motivated to do our best. After each drill or exam, he would rank everyone's score on the blackboard, with names going alongside the top fifteen. Scoring near the top was quite an accomplishment, and we wore that badge of honor with pride. In retrospect, it was probably discouraging for those who regularly showed up at the bottom (even without a name attached, if you got say, 15% on a test, you knew EXACTLY where you stood), but it sure made us work hard to top each other.

He had an interesting scoring system as well. It wouldn't necessarily be based on a 100-point scale. A test, for example, might be worth 2500 points. We would earn a certain number of points for each question, and he'd also award "neatness points", "extra credit points", "detail points", lots of different opportunities to raise our scores even if we weren't nailing all the answers. In fact, I remember one time that a student who'd struggled all year finally got 2100 out of 2500 (about 85%) and then Mr. Garland threw in fifty "proud of you points" which bumped him up into the top ten. Some of us complained that it was unfair to award "gift" points like that, but looking back on it now, it was actually pretty cool.

As you'd guess, the same group of ten to fifteen students pretty much dominated the top slots, so the competition around final exam time was pretty intense. My crowning glory came at the end of the first semester, when we would find out who made the top ten for the entire course. We're talking about 25,000 total points available. I was sitting about third going into the final exam, so I knew I'd have to do well. I'd at least have to outscore the two people ahead of me (Sharon Reynolds and Darren Holman, if memory serves) to be number one for the semester. I studied, and created my own drills so I was pretty confident. Well I ended up getting the highest grade on the final, which put me at the top overall.

And I didn't even get any "proud of you points".

To build our confidence, Mr. Garland would always remind us that algebra is "purty easy, huh?" He would finish even the most convoluted lecture with that reassurance.

"The reciprocals of y'alls basic trig functions are called the cosecant, secant, and cotangent, ruh-spectively," he explained. "The inverse functions are called the arcsine, arccosine, and arctangent, ruh-spectively. There's arithmetic ruh-lations between these functions, which're known as trigonometric ah-dentities. With these functions y'all can answer virch-ally any questions about arbitrary trah-angles by using the law of sines and the law of cosines. These laws can be used to compute the ruh-maining angles and sahdes of any trah-angle as soon as two sahdes and an angle or two angles and a sahde or three sahdes are known. These laws are useful in all branches of geometry, since every polygon may be duh-scribed as a finite combination of trah-angles.

Purty easy, huh?"

Sure, we all nodded, but . . .

My favorite Mr. G. story involves not a test that I aced, but one that I bombed. I hadn't studied for it - I'd had a couple after-school events that week, and honestly, I got lazy. I took the test, had a feeling I didn't do so well (I'd completely blanked on a couple of key formulas), and kicked myself all the way home. The next day, Mr. G handed me back the test, with a giant "D" laughing at me from the top corner of the page.

"Come see me after class. We need to talk."

"Okay Mr. Garland."

After class, I tried to explain. "Mr. G, I know I blew it. I had a rehears -" He cut me off mid-sentence.

"Someone die?"


"Were ya in the hospital?"


"Then ah don't wanna hear it. Here's what's gonna happen. Yer gonna study yer butt off tonight, come to mah classroom tomorrah mornin' at 6:45 and take the test again. Yer not gonna get away with this lazy attempt. Now get outta here."

What? I was getting a second chance. It was my fault I bombed, I didn't deserve this reprieve. Well, I studied until about midnight, showed up the next morning and retook the test, and got an A-. When I turned it in, Mr G looked me square in the eye.

"The only reason you got another chance is 'cause I know yer not a D student. Don't let it happen again."
"Yes, sir." And I didn't. That was the last time I went to any class unprepared for a test. Ever. Which, of course, was Mr. G's intention.

For the two years I attended Norco High, Mr. Garland was voted Toughest Teacher. He was also voted Favorite Teacher. It's not a coincidence. We loved him because he was tough on us, but he also did everything he could so that we'd succeed.

And that, y'all, is what a being a teacher is all about.


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Tuesday, February 15, 2011

Say Eight! Say Eight!

Brian Regan in his element.
I didn't really have anything planned for Valentine's Day, nothing spectacular anyway.  Last year, Theresa and I went to San Francisco for Valentine's weekend, and it was wonderful.  This year, though, it was looking like a quiet dinner and maybe a movie when a friend of mine and I stumbled on an idea.

I was showing Matt a video on iTunes of my favorite stand-up comedian Brian Regan.  If you're not familiar with his work, Regan is simply the funniest comic on the planet.  It's not even up for discussion.  I know what you're thinking.  "But Chris, that's just your opinion.  There are lots of great comics out there, it's just a matter of taste.  You can't say unequivocally that Brian Regan is the funniest."

Generally, I'd agree with you.  When it comes to most comedians, it does depend on one's personal taste as to what's funny and what isn't.  Look at Chris Rock for example, another one of my favorites, I find him hilarious and intelligent, unafraid to take on hot-button issues.  But lots of folks find him offensive.  They're put off by his foul language and his focus on racial issues.  Guys like Mitch Hedberg and Stephen Wright specialize in dead-pan one-liners, often from an absurd point of view.  "I live on a one way, dead end street," says Wright.  "I can never use my car."  Some people think these guys are hysterical; others don't get them at all.

Brian Regan chooses topics that everyone can relate to, and puts a spin on them that will bring you to tears in laughter.  From his take on Fig Newtons ("A serving size of Fig Newtons is two cookies.  Who the hell eats TWO cookies?  I eat Fig Newtons by the sleeve.") to his trip the emergency room ("Then the nurse said she was gonna give me morphine.  Morphine?  That's what they gave the guy in Saving Private Ryan right before he died!"), he makes everyday events his personal playground on which to display his comedic genius.  If you don't think this guy is a riot, it says nothing about him and everything about you.

Matt had never heard of him.

So we watched the video (I showed him the "emergency room" bit), and a few minutes later I noticed him checking something on his computer.  "Hey," he said.  "Brian Regan is performing in San Diego on Saturday."  A few clicks of the mouse later, I had secured tickets for me and Theresa.  Matt and his wife had other plans for the weekend, so they were unable to join us.

Theresa and I have seen Regan at the Improv a couple times, and we own two of his DVD's.  Long story short, we're fans, so I knew Theresa was going to be thrilled with my impromptu Valentine's Day plans.  Plus, we both love San Diego, so we could make a day of it.  A nice two-hour drive, maybe see a movie, have a nice dinner, and then go to the show.  I thought it would be great if I didn't tell her what we were doing, just drive down and let the day surprise her as it unfolded.  I imagined the excitement on her face as we waited outside the San Diego Civic Auditorium, trying to figure out who we were going to see.  I wouldn't say a word until Brian Regan was introduced onstage.  It would be great!

I called Theresa on the phone.


Okay, I'm lousy at surprises.

So we drove down in the early afternoon and went to see the new Adam Sandler movie.  It's pretty funny, once you get past the fact that there's not a single believable character in it.  The premise is fairly ridiculous (they could've solved the central problem in about eight seconds), but Sandler is his usual engaging self and there's a lot of laughs.  After the movie we walked over to Horton Plaza, which is a large mall.  Theresa wanted to stop by Bath and Body Works to pick up some more lotions and hand soaps because her supply at home is dwindling.  I think she's down to about seventy lotions and a hundred and fifteen hand soaps, so it was obviously time to restock.

Next, we went to an Italian restaurant called The Merk.  I have no clue what that name means, but their food is excellent.  We got a table on the patio, I had the penne and meatballs, Theresa had baked ziti.  Good stuff.

San Diego Civic Auditorium
And then it was off to the Civic Auditorium.  I had pre-purchased the parking ticket so it was just a matter of finding the right lot.  Turned out to be a little tougher than I had anticipated.  San Diego is one of those cities that's laid out in a grid.  The east-west streets are numbered (First Street, Second Street, Third Street, Fourth Street, Fifth Street, Sixth Street, Seventh Street . . . you get the idea), and the north-south streets are lettered (A Street, B Street and so forth).  But here's the problem.  Every street is one-way, so the odd numbered streets all go east, the even numbered go west, and the north-south streets alternate as well.  So if you're trying to get to, say, the Civic Auditorium parking structure on the corner of B and Second, you've got to plan your route with plenty of time to navigate the labyrinth.

We found it eventually, it was the third parking lot we pulled into.  But as you know if you've been reading this blog for a while, whenever I have plans -- a ball game, the movies, a show -- I leave us plenty of time for such drawbacks so we still got to the auditorium with about an hour to spare.

In short, Brian Regan was fantastic, as always.  His show was almost entirely new material, including my favorite line of the night, "I think what Michael Vick did was wrong, so to support animal rights, at my house we had a few friends over for a Be Nice to Dogs pig roast."  For an encore, Brian came back onstage and took requests to reprise some of his older, and very popular routines.  He did "I Walked on the Moon" and a few others, but sadly, we didn't get to see my favorite, "Emergency Room".

But have no fear . . . here it is.  Enjoy!


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Saturday, February 12, 2011

Stolen Flowers for Mommy

It's the Summer of 1968. I'm three years old.

I see flowers growing in a garden in front of my house. Mommy is tired from my baby brother or sister that's in her tummy, and she's crying about something on the TV. Maybe if I take her some of these pretty flowers it will make her happy again.

"Let's get some flowers for our moms," I say to my friend Michael. He lives across the street and we play together all the time. Sometimes he's bad, though. I saw him get his mouth washed out with soap once for saying "shit". That's a bad word. He didn't like the soap at all, but his mommy said, "Don't spit it out, chew it up and swallow it." So he did, or else she would have spanked his butt. Nobody likes getting their butt spanked, and Mike's mom is good at it.

We sit down in the dirt next to the flowers. I find the prettiest blue one and pull it up out of the ground. The clump of dirt at the bottom looks like the chocolate cupcakes that Mommy gets from the store. Mike picks a flower, then we each pull up two more. Mike goes across the street to surprise his mom, and I take my flowers upstairs to Mommy's room. I hope she likes them.

"Here's some flowers for you, Mommy."

She starts crying harder. Did I do something wrong?

In the years since that day, my parents have filled me in on, as Paul Harvey says, "The Rest of the Story".

Mom was five months pregnant with my brother Eric, and was going through all the physical and emotional symptoms that this entails. On top of that, the events of June 5, 1968 were being rehashed on the morning news.

The assassination of Bobby Kennedy.

Suffice it to say, Mom was a wreck. Which is why her adorable, wonderful, loving, and most of all quite charming three year-old son was trying to cheer her up.

When she saw me standing there with a handful of flowers, clumps of dirt falling on her bedroom floor, Mom's emotional fortitude red-lined and she started bawling her eyes out. She gave me a big hug, put me down, and laid down in bed.

I went back outside to play with my Tonka trucks.

Unbeknownst to me, when our landlord Mr. Thomas got home, he was furious about his meticulously manicured flowerbed being uprooted and trampled by a couple of bratty three year-olds. He wasted no words in expressing his displeasure to my pregnant mother.

In her highly emotional state, Mom did not take this well. So as soon as my dad got home from work, she told him what happened.

Dad then went next door, threw a ten-dollar bill at Mr. Thomas and said something to the effect of, "Here's ten dollars for your fucking flowers, and if you talk to my wife like that again, we'll be settling up another way."

This exchange was overheard by Mrs. Thomas, who proceded to rip her husband the proverbial "new one".

"How dare you yell at a pregnant woman! Her darling son took her those flowers to keep her from being sad, and you're worried about how your precious garden looks? You're going to go over there and apologize right now!"

And he did.

Daddy and Mommy take me to King Kone for ice cream. I like chocolate the best. It's all melty, so it drips down my chin and I get some on my shirt. But Mommy doesn't get mad. She just smiles and wipes my face.


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Wednesday, February 9, 2011

Knucklehead's Blog-Off: We Have a Champion!

After five grueling rounds of competition and hundreds of ballots cast, we have a winner in Knucklehead's Blog-Off 2011.  By a stunning final vote of 103-99, our champion is . . .


In a come-from-behind victory, Homemaker Man has earned the title of Knucklehead's Blog-Off 2011 Champion.  His winnings include an authentic, autographed Knucklehead refrigerator magnet (no, I'm NOT kidding), a gift card to the Outback Steakhouse, and this really cool badge to display on his blog . . .

I also wish to congratulate the lovely and talented Cardiogirl for being the runner-up.  She was in the top two or three every week, and never failed to entertain her readers.  While there is no cash prize for second place, she does win an autographed Knucklehead magnet, suitable for sticking.  Also, in the event Homemaker Man cannot fulfill the duties of Blog-Off Champion, Cardiogirl will step in to handle those responsibilities, whatever they may be.

Additional thanks go out to all of you who participated this year.  Quirky, Mike, Eva, Fred, Not Actually God, Candy, and Vicki.

And finally, thanks to everyone who visited our contestants blogs and cast a ballot in the Blog-Off.  I hope you enjoyed the posts and maybe even subscribed to a couple new blogs along the way.  That, after all, was the intent of the contest in the first place.

Thanks for joining in, and I hope you'll stick around.  I'm already looking forward to Blog-Off 2012.


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Monday, February 7, 2011

The Pen is Mightier

I was in second grade, sitting at my desk practicing cursive B's when the classroom phone rang.   As I watched Mrs. Michaels talk to the principal, the contents of my stomach did a spot-on impression of the Ringling Brothers' acrobats.  I was in big trouble, and I knew it.

It began the day before when Robbie West said he had something to show me.

Robbie was a key figure in most of my childhood mishaps.  The Evel Knievel incident, the Knickerbocker Toy Factory debacle, and of course, the Courtship of Debbie's Hooter.  He was a nice enough kid, but trouble seemed to find him and he was always eager to share it with the rest of us. 

"Whatcha got?" I asked.

"Check this out."  He showed me a ball-point pen.  But it wasn't just any pen.  This pen had a picture of a gorgeous bikini-clad hottie on it.

"Cool," I said.

"Wait, there's more."  Robbie turned the pen upside down and the bikini disappeared!  The chick was totally naked!

In today's world, a nudie pen would be no big deal whatsoever.  Any eight-year-old with a computer and moderately clueless parents can pull up all sorts of sexual debauchery with a couple mouse clicks.  But in 1973, a glimpse of boob was a lot harder to come by.

"Where'd you get that?" I asked.

"Swiped it from Stop-N-Shop."

"Trade ya for it."

When the haggling was done, I'd obtained the nudie pen for my Nerf basketball set and five pieces of Bazooka bubble gum.  I thought I'd gotten a great deal.

Didn't really work out that way.

My first mistake was taking the pen to school with me.  I was eight, what did I know?  I tucked it away in my desk, hidden safely in my pencil box.  No chance of the teacher finding it.

And then came my second mistake.  I took it out to lunch with me and showed it to Gordon Wackerman.  Why I chose Gordon is a question that perplexes me to this very day.  He was in my class, but he wasn't a particular friend of mine.  In fact, most kids didn't like him because he smelled bad and picked his nose a lot.  But for whatever reason, I walked over to his lunch table and sat down.

"Hey, Gordon."

"What do you want?"  he asked, digging for another nostril nugget.  Gross.

"Lookit what I got."  I showed him the pen, and demonstrated its magical powers.  Curiously, Gordon didn't seem all that interested.  "Isn't that cool?" I asked.

"I guess so."  He took a bite of his baloney sandwich, essentially ignoring me.  This boggled my mind.  What guy our age wouldn't be interested in a peek at a naked lady?   That's Gordon, I guess.  Captain Weirdo.

"Okay, well, see ya later."  I got up and headed out to the playground for recess.

I was playing on the swings when I noticed Gordon talking to Brenda the playground aide.  Their conversation lasted about ten seconds, and when it ended, Brenda headed my way.  The booger-eater had ratted me out!

Brenda was a scary figure, as lunch ladies and playground aides tend to be.  She weighed about two-eighty and wore way too much makeup.  She looked like Humpty Dumpty with a wig.  She gave me a withering scowl.

"Do you have something that you shouldn't?" she asked me.

If I'd been four or five years older, I would've snapped out a smart-ass reply.  "Yeah, a pair of your daughter's underwear" maybe, or "a bad case of the clap, if you believe what my pediatrician says".  Instead, the terrified and un-witty second grade version of me reached into my coat pocket and, without a word, handed her my stripper pen.

This was uncharted territory for me.  When the recess bell rang, we all headed back to class.  Kids were laughing and skipping, but for me it was more like the Bataan Death March.  I sat down at my desk and started working on the cursive B's.

Mrs. Michaels hung up the phone and headed over to my desk.  "Mr. Skyler wants to see you in his office," she said.

I walked down the hallway, picturing the horror that awaited me.  Did they still paddle kids in school?  I didn't know, but I had a feeling that I was going to find out, one way or the other.  For sure my parents would get a phone call, which meant a severe grounding or worse.

I entered the main office and said to the secretary, "Uh, Mrs. Michaels said I had to come see Mr. Skyler."

"He'll be with you in a minute," she said.  Was she smiling?  What's THAT all about?

I waited in the reception area for what seemed like four hours.  Suddenly, the door to the inner office swung open and with a thunderous explosion of flame and smoke, Mr. Skyler appeared.  He stood about seven foot five, and wore a long black cape and derby hat.  His eyes glowed red, and a thick green liquid oozed from festering sores on his face.  When he smiled, his fangs sparkled in the fluorescent glow of the ceiling lights.

Or so it seemed.

"Come in and have a seat," he commanded.

I went in.

I had a seat.

Mr. Skyler sat down behind his desk, opened the top drawer, and took out a pen.  MY pen.

"Tell me where you got this."

There were a lot of things I could've said at that point.  I could've feigned ignorance.  I could've said that I found it on the school bus that morning.  I could've really given the story a twist and claimed that the pen was Gordon Wackerman's and he was just trying to get me into trouble.

I didn't say any of those things.  When the cards were on the table, I panicked and turned snitch.

"Robbie West gave it to me."

I was eight years old, give me a break.  I'm not proud of it.

Mr. Skyler then gave me a very stern and dignified lecture about how the human body is a wonderful creation, and that it should not be thought of as dirty, blah, blah, blah.  To be honest, I wasn't really listening.  I was too busy trying to keep my bladder under control.

The lecture ended, and he sent me back to class.

I sat by Robbie on the bus ride home.  He got called to the office right after I did ("I have no idea how they knew you gave it to me," I insisted) and apparently received the same lecture.

"Did you get the pen back?" he asked me.

"No.  Skyler probably kept it."  Wouldn't have surprised me.  He could've stashed it in the drawers with the skulls of former students and the keys to the school dungeon.

It was a long time until Robbie and I got anywhere near illicit nudie stuff again.  If I recall correctly, it was fourth grade when he found his dad's stash of Playboys.

We didn't take them to school, that's for damn sure.


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Sunday, February 6, 2011

Knucklehead's Blog-Off Finals!

Ladies and Gentlemen!  In-N-Out Burger and Budweiser, the King of Beers, welcome you to the final round of Knucklehead's Blog-Off 2011!

Llllllllllet's get ready to rummmmmblllllllle!

This bout will be one round, for the Knucklehead Blog-Off Championship of the World.  Bloggers have each written a piece entitled "Party of Four," which will become self-explanatory when you visit their sites.  This match has no word limit.

And now, our contestants.

In the burnt sienna corner, writing out of the Murder Capital of America, Detroit, Michigan.  She's five feet, eight and one-half inches tall, and has a total body fat measuring nineteen percent.  She never leaves the house without a ponytail, low-top Converse, and her glasses.  Her favorite catch phrase is "Sweep the Leg," and she loves black olives, Dr. G Medical Examiner, and sarcasm.  This squirrel-hating wife and mother of three hopes to one day plan an entire vacation around a visit to In-N-Out Burger.

Cardioooooooo . . . . Girrrrrrrrl!

And in the hot magenta corner . . . hailing from Everett, Massachusetts.  He stands five feet, seven majestic inches tall and weighs in at one cubic yard.  He lacks even the most rudimentary education or understanding of the outside world.  He's got a head of paper and a heart of gold, let's have a rousing ovation for . . .

Homemakerrrrrrr . . . Maaaaaaaan!

Below, you'll find the links to their final-round entries, and you can vote over in the Knucklehead sidebar.  Voting ends Wednesday, February 9th at 6:00 PM Pacific Time, and the results will be announced shortly thereafter.  Good luck, bloggers!

And the links:


Homemaker Man (Musings From the Big Pink)


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Thursday, February 3, 2011

Celebrity Health Tips: Debunk'd!

When it comes to health and nutrition, I'm admittedly not an expert.  My dietary habits are deplorable, my exercise routine consists primarily of walking to the refrigerator, and I visit the doctor about as often as Mel Gibson visits the Museum of Tolerance.  I freely admit this, so if ever you see a book entitled, "Knucklehead's Guide to a Healthier Lifestyle", you should take it with a grain of salt.  Or an In-N-Out Double-Double.  But please buy the book, because I'll need the money to finance my triple-bypass.

It seems obvious, but dietary suggestions, health advice, and other matters of science are best left to the professionals.  Not everyone agrees with this, however, as we're constantly being bombarded by celebrity-endorsed health tips that make absolutely no sense at all.  For example, supermodel Naomi Campbell, actor Ashton Kutcher, and his mom Demi Moore follow a diet that includes nothing but maple syrup, lemon, and pepper, for periods up to two weeks.  Can you imagine?

"What's for breakfast, Mom?" Ashton asks Demi.

"Same as yesterday, Ashy dear.  A bowl of maple syrup."

"Oh, good!  And did you remember to pack my lunch?"

"I did indeed.  It's a nice, juicy lemon and freshly ground pepper."

Don't get me wrong, I've had lemon and pepper together too.  But it was slathered on a grilled piece of chicken.

Naomi Campbell told Oprah (of all people) that she follows this diet because "it's good to clean out your body once in a while."

With maple syrup?  Sorry, I don't get it.

Naomi, Ashton, and Demi, however, are nutritional visionaries compared to pop star Sarah Harding.  Sarah told Now magazine that she crumbles charcoal -- that's right, Kingsford briquettes -- over her food.   According to the article, she does this because, quote, charcoal doesn't taste of anything and apparently absorbs all the -- and here she uses the technical medical term -- "bad damaging stuff in the body." 

The Sense About Science group asked chemical scientist Dr. John Elmsley to comment on this idea.  When he finally stopped laughing, Dr. Elmsley said that while charcoal is known to absorb toxic molecules when used in gas masks and sewage treatment -- notice he made no mention of the human digestive system -- it's unnecessary when it comes to diet.  It seems as though the body is already capable of managing the "bad damaging stuff."

Which brings us to British cage fighter Alex Reid.

Remember the scene in the movie "Rocky" where Stallone wakes up at the crack of dawn and chugs a glassful of raw eggs?  Disgusting, right?  Well, Alex Reid's training regimen takes this concept to entirely new level.  To prepare for a big fight -- I swear I'm not making this up -- he "reabsorbs" his sperm.

"I believe that semen has a lot of nutrition," Reid says.  "A tablespoon of semen has your equivalent of steak, eggs, lemons, and oranges.  I am reabsorbing it into my body and it makes me go raaaaah."

So let me see if I understand this.  Alex Reid is training for a fight, and he has two choices for dinner.  On the one hand, he has a large steak, a cheese omelette, orange slices and a glass of lemonade.  On the other hand, he has a shot glass of his homemade man chowder.  He's saying this is an equal choice?  Call me crazy, but why not just eat the steak and eggs?

But hey, maybe that's why I'm not a cage fighter.

Please tell me Alex Reid didn't lose to THIS Tom Watson.
You'd think that with such an unorthodox training diet, Reid must be seeing some outstanding results in the cage, right?  I mean, why "reabsorb" your jizz if it's not actually helping?  But get this.  Alex Reid hasn't won a bout since 2005.  He's had seven fights since then, and he's lost every single one of them.  His lifetime record is eight wins, nine losses, and one draw.  In September, 2010, he lost to a guy named Tom Watson who I'm hoping to God isn't the same Tom Watson who won the 1975 Byron Nelson Golf Classic.

I wonder if his nickname is "The Spermanator".

In addition to being thoroughly grossed-out, scientist John Aplin said sperm can't be reabsorbed.  The little buggers die after a few days, and the nutritional content of the ejaculate is really rather small.  As though that's the only drawback.

You know, now that I think about it, "Knucklehead's Guide to a Healthier Lifestyle" isn't such a bad idea.  Compared to these other diets, a Double-Double couldn't possibly do any harm.

Of course, you'll want to sprinkle some charcoal on it first.


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Wednesday, February 2, 2011

Knucklehead's Blog-Off: Semi-Final Results

The semi-final round of Knucklehead's Blog-Off 2011 brought about a controversy that I won't elaborate on at this time.  All three contestants wrote engaging, humorous Dr. Seuss-like posts, and each received a good number of votes.

Midway through the voting period, Mike W-J, the author of "Too Many Mornings" (and last year's champ), decided to withdraw from the competition.

As a result, Cardiogirl and Homemaker Man will advance to the finals.  Tune in Sunday for the details and hoopla, as we get ready for the CHAMPIONSHIP ROUND!


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