Sunday, October 30, 2011

Thanksgiving: The 90-Pound Weakling of Holidays

Is he really saying, "Eat me?"
Recently, my swell pal Suldog wrote a lengthy rant about how the over-commercialization of Christmas has infringed upon the respect and attention that he feels should be given to Thanksgiving.  He's called this piece, and the resulting political movement, "Thanksgiving Comes First."  The basic premise is that we shouldn't begin the Christmas hoopla (in-store marketing displays, TV commercials, etc.) until after everyone's done their Thanksgiving dinner dishes and the Detroit Lions have lost their annual Turkey Day game.

I'll admit that I agree with Suldog's sentiments to a point.  I'm not crazy about hearing "Sleigh Ride" pumping through the speakers at my local supermarket in October.  Hell, I live in Southern California where it doesn't even feel like Christmas on Christmas, let alone Columbus Day.  But I don't think we can blame the supermarket management for this, nor can we pin the yearly Thanksgiving neglect on toy companies, advertising agencies, or whoever's in charge of when "A Charlie Brown Christmas" airs.  No, Thanksgiving is its own worst enemy, and there are several reasons why it has become the 90-pound weakling of holidays.

The simplest, of course, is that Thanksgiving is chronologically-disadvantaged, sandwiched between the two most popular and marketable days of the entire year -- Halloween and Christmas.  Even the lesser holidays like Valentine's Day, the Fourth of July, and Easter benefit from being somewhat isolated on the calendar, although Easter struggles a bit because no one is quite sure when it's coming.  April?  March?  The day before Memorial Day?  Who the hell knows?  But Thanksgiving has a better holiday four weeks ahead of it and a month or so behind it.  It's kind of like the Three Stooges, Christmas and Halloween are Moe and Curly, Thankgiving is Shemp.

The next problem Thanksgiving faces is that there's really not much to it.  Halloween is all about costumes, spookiness, parties and candy.  Christmas, of course, is full of presents, family gatherings, traditional songs, and endless merriment and good will.  What does Thanksgiving bring to the table?  Turkey, cranberry sauce, indigestion, and a couple football games.  Hell, Christmas has everything that Thanksgiving has.  Every year, my family gets together for a huge Christmas dinner of turkey (or sometimes ham), mashed potatoes, that casserole made from green beans and crispy noodles, and Grandma's lemon cheese pie, just like we do on Thanksgiving.  And on top of all that, we get to exchange gifts and listen to the Frank Sinatra Christmas Album.  Put another way, Thanksgiving is merely Christmas without the presents which, unless you live in Whoville, kind of sucks.

So the question becomes, how do we help Thanksgiving earn its proper respect?  I think the first thing we need to do is move it the hell out of November.  Pack up the horns o' plenty and the Indian corn in a huge U-Haul and relocate to the second Thursday in September.  Sure, that puts it a week after Labor Day, but who cares?  Using our Stooges analogy again, Labor Day isn't even Curly Joe, it's more like Moe's second cousin Phil who hated slapstick comedy so he became a plumber.  With Thanksgiving in September, it gets to lead off the fall-winter festivities, building up to Halloween and Christmas.

Next, we need to come up with a Thanksgiving representative, a character who is instantly recognizable and lovable.  Christmas has Santa Claus, Halloween has witches and goblins, Easter has the giant bunny, Valentine's Day has Cupid, even the Fourth of July invites Uncle Sam to the barbecue.  Thanksgiving, though, has absolutely no one banging its proverbial drum.  The closest you'll see is a turkey wearing a pilgrim's hat, but let's be honest here.  The turkey can't possibly be the Thanksgiving rep because by the end of the day he's DEAD!  Not exactly the most festive of all outcomes.  What do you think the reaction would be if every Easter, families got together and slow-roasted a rabbit?  "Say, Jimmy, would you like a leg or an ear?"
James O'Thankful says, "Have another drumstick!"

So the turkey is out.  But what if we named an official Thanksgiving Pilgrim, a suave, smooth-talking guy named James O'Thankful (he's part Irish, go with it) who shows up on Thanksgiving Night with extra gravy and a few seasonal trinkets, and reminds your family of everything it should be thankful for.  Love, health, happiness, the fact that Christmas is just a few months away (we've moved to September, remember?).

I think that would be a good start.

In the meantime, Thanksgiving will have to deal with Christmas and Halloween poking it in the eyes and cracking it over the head with baseball bats.

Nyuk, nyuk, nyuk.


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Monday, October 24, 2011

Subway Subterfuge

In case you've somehow missed it, October is "Anytober" at Subway, which means for the entire month you can get any foot-long sub for the low, low price of five bucks.  The commercials are everywhere, the annoying "Five Dollar Footlong" jingle being sung by a wide variety of even more annoying characters.  Cheerleaders, Asian guys playing video games, the list goes on.

"Five!  Five dollar!  Five dollar foot looooong.  Any, any, any! "

Let's start by examining their creation of the word "Anytober."  This, my friends, is what's called a "reach."  "Any" doesn't sound anything like "Oct."  It's a terrible attempt at wordplay.  Last time Subway introduced the "any footlong for five bucks" deal, it was February, which they transformed into "Februany."  While this still wasn't going to earn them the Clever Ad Pun of the Year award, you could tell what they were going for.  For lack of a better word, it worked.

But Anytober?  I'm not buying it.

On the bright side, though, five bucks is a pretty good deal for a foot-long sub sandwich, and since I love Subway, the last few weeks have been Anytoberfest at my house.  But today, Subway and their "Any-any-anyness" pissed me off big time.

I entered the store and decided to try a foot-long pastrami sub.  Never had one before, as I'm more of a Subway Club or Italian BMT guy, so I figured it was time for a change of pace.  I ordered it, gave the (ahem) "Sandwich Artist" my condiment preferences, and made my way to the cash register to hand over a five-spot.

"That'll be six seventy-five."

"Excuse me?  What happened to Anytober?"

"The pastrami doesn't count . . . it's a premium sandwich."

"Doesn't count?  I distinctly remember the cheerleaders singing ANY ANY ANY."

"Right, but that's just for our regular foot-longs."

"Well that's not any foot-long, is it?  It's ANYTOBER, Todd!  Technically, I should be able to come in here and order a foot-long Cold Cut Combo with triple meat, double cheese, and Grey Poupon mustard and have it cost five bucks.  Any means ANY."

Apparently it doesn't.  I paid $6.75.

"Thanks for visiting Subway," said Todd.  "Come again any time."

Which, if you're going to believe their "Almost Anytober" policy, really means, "Come again some of the time."


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Monday, October 10, 2011

iPhone Idleness

I was one of the last people on the planet to own a cell phone. It was 1999, and I just didn't feel the need to be all that accessible. I had reluctantly purchased a pager earlier in the year, and even that was more of a pain in the ass than I thought it would be. But eventually I broke down and got the cheapest Nokia phone I could find, basically a hunk of plastic with buttons that weighed about four pounds.

Ever since then, I've had a rare form of Attention Deficit Disorder, something I call Cell Phone Disaffection Syndrome (CPDS). Every six to eight months, I get bored with whatever phone I have, and end up getting a newer, better, glitzier model. After I got tired of the clunky slab o' plastic, I upgraded to a slimmer, lighter Nokia. But then the RAZR flip-phone hit the market, and I absolutely had to have one of those. All sorts of wonderful features, and it looked so 22nd century. It even had a camera. I couldn't imagine how you'd improve on something that high-tech.

And then someone invented "smart" phones.

So I got a Blackberry Curve, a phone that would actually let me access the Internet. Sure, it took three hours for the Google home page to download (or is it upload? I can never keep that straight.), but it was the INTERNET! ON MY PHONE! Of course, the original Blackberry Curve turned out to be a complete piece of crap, so a few months later I upgraded to the Blackberry Storm. How's that for brand loyalty? The Storm didn't even have buttons, you just tapped letters on the screen and voila! A text message! Of course, it was virtually impossible to type the letter you wanted because touchscreen technology was apparently too difficult for the Blackberry IT department to grasp, but the Storm was one fancy piece of equipment, if you didn't mind removing and then reinserting the battery every couple hours because the damn thing froze up again.

So I upgraded to the Blackberry Bold because who needs touchscreen, anyway?

Of course, after a year or so, the Bold became more trouble than it was worth. The little pad that you slide your finger across to scroll through your icons (there's probably a name for it, but you know what I'm saying) turned out to be one moody son of a bitch, and sometimes decided it didn't want to do anything. Plus, it browsed the web like Theresa browses Target which is to say, it takes forever and pretty much wastes your entire day. So a few days ago, I went and did something I swore I was never going to do.

I bought an iPhone.

Thankfully, I was eligible for an upgrade so it cost me next to nothing, and let me tell you, this is one absolutely ingenious little device. First of all, yes, it's touchscreen which had proven to be problematic with my now-obsolete Blackberry Storm. But apparently the Apple guys are way smarter than the Blackberry guys because I'm having no trouble typing what I want to type. And if I do happen to make a mistake, the iPhone magically corrects my spelling. Plus, I still have the camera feature, it has a GPS, e-mail, and in addition to all that technological goodness, it's also a telephone.

Random thought: If all this technology had been available in the 70's, we might have heard this Stevie Wonder classic:

I just texted to say I love you.
I changed my Facebook status because I care.
I just Skyped to say I love you.
And I Tweeted from the bottom of my heart.

Moving on.

You can also watch videos on the iPhone, with amazing clarity. But wait, there's even more. Over the weekend, I was introduced to the wonderful world of "apps" which is short for "apparently not having anything better to do with your time."

Some of these apps are quite useful, like Mobile Banking and my personal favorite, the In-N-Out Burger app that instantly points you to the nearest In-N-Out restaurant. What the hell will they think of next?

Slice, slice, Baby!
And game apps! I'm telling you, you have not lived until you've played a thrilling game of Fruit Ninja. You can keep your Angry Birds, the sheer joy of slicing up virtual kiwi, coconuts, and watermelons is beyond description.

Hmm. Maybe there's a "Get a Life" app.

Anyway, I'm very happy with my new iPhone, and I'm sure this will be the last cell phone I ever need to own. I mean, really, how could they possibly improve on this?


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Sunday, October 2, 2011

Just 'Chute Me

I'm not a particularly adventurous person.  My idea of "roughing it" is staying at a hotel where the room service menu doesn't include shrimp cocktail.  Vacations are for relaxing, not for pitching a tent and hanging bags of food in trees so the bears don't eat your Mallomars.

Not everyone shares my cautious attitude, however, so travel agents have discovered another great way to separate vacationers from their money -- provide them with unique and challenging ways to kill themselves.  Rock-climbing, skydiving, and ceremonial fart-lighting while chugging Budweiser from a beer bong (yes, Alabama has a Department of Tourism too) all attract and gloriously cripple thousands of tourists every year.  For thirty bucks, you can even buy a framed action shot to share with loved ones as they stand around your hospital bed.  But, like I said, such treacherous pastimes aren't for me.

Except once.

I was on a Mexican cruise, and the ship docked for the day in the beautiful resort/dump of Puerto Vallarta.  I spent the morning taking the official city tour, which consisted of a high-speed foray in a beat-up '72 Volkswagen Beetle driven by Paco the Tour Guide.  Paco quickly pointed out the carnicerias, which is Spanish for "store that sells fly-infested pig heads."  We saw many of Puerto Vallarta's other lovely attractions too.  I'd be happy to tell you about them, except I was too busy vomiting out the rear window to notice what they were.

The tour ended (perhaps by accident, but let's give Paco the benefit of the doubt) when the VW's right front tire blew out shortly after we'd run over a flock of wayward chickens.  I headed back to the dock with three hours left to kill, and since the ship's casino was closed while in port, I tried to find something "touristy" to do.  I bought a couple packs of Chiclets from the kids on the beach, and that's when I noticed a cardboard sign propped up against a sleeping "extra" from The Three Amigos.  The sign read "Parasailing: $20".

Parasailing is really quite simple.  A crew from the Mexican Navy straps you into a parachute, which is tethered to a speed boat.  The boat heads out to sea, and as it picks up speed, you run along the beach and gently rise into the air.  The captain pilots the boat in a large circle while you enjoy the breath-taking view from an altitude of about three miles.  After a while, the boat comes back to shore, and you return safely to the beach, your life forever changed.

I can give that a go, I thought.  Before fully committing, I decided to assess the risk by watching a few other tourists take their turns.  I popped open a Corona and took a seat at a nearby picnic table.  Over the next forty-five minutes or so, I saw a little kid, an old lady, and a morbidly obese gentleman in an unfortunate shirt and Bermuda shorts have the time of their lives.

If they could do it, I reasoned, so could I.

So I handed my twenty bucks to a guy named Jorge.  His two partners got in the boat as Jorge helped me strap on the parachute.  Jorge then gave the captain the high sign, and we were off.

According to The Official Mexican Parasailing Captain's Training Manual, the take-off procedure requires the boat to stay parallel to the shoreline to provide a sufficient "runway".  Once the parasailer is airborne, the captain then -- and only then -- heads out to sea.  That's how it's supposed to work, and that's exactly how it DID work with every single person I watched go up.

That's not, however, how it worked this time.

As the boat accelerated, I trotted along the beach, waiting to be lifted into the air.

And waiting.

And waiting.

I ran faster and faster trying to keep up with the speedboat, which was now approaching the speed of sound.  Before long I lost the race and gravity took over. I plunged face first into the sand and got dragged about fifty feet.  Fortunately, I came to a quick stop.  Unfortunately, it was because I slammed sideways into a pile of large boulders.  Jorge was yelling at the top of his lungs, "PARE EL BARCO!  PARE EL BARCO!" (in English: "Get your asses back here, this stupid gringo is about to die!").

The captain turned the boat around and returned to shore.  I picked myself up off the ground and assessed the damage.  Banged up hip.  Scraped up knees.  Bump on my forehead.  "Uh, I think I'd like my money back, Jorge.  I'm done."

"Sorry, amigo, no refunds."  At least, that's what I think he said.  It was hard to hear him clearly with my ears full of sand.

Since I didn't want to resort to fisticuffs over a matter of twenty dollars, I decided to give it one more shot.  We secured the parachute, backed up to the original starting point, and tried it again.  This time, the parachute filled with air and off I went, into the wild blue yonder.

It was not comfortable.  I wasn't simply hanging from the harness, I was also "sitting" on a rope "seat" that was digging and chafing its way into the "back of my thighs".  After about fifteen seconds, I was ready for the whole debacle to be over with.

They kept me up there for a good ten minutes, which seemed much longer and resulted in the rope "seat" finding its way into my butt crack.  Given my lack of confidence in Jorge's parachute maintenance skills, I was reluctant to shift around to try and remove the rope from my keester for fear of unhooking myself and plummeting to an embarrassing and watery death.  So I dealt with it.

Eventually, we headed back towards the beach, and I landed without further incident.  Jorge helped me out of the chute, shook my hand and said, "Amigo, chu want to go 'gain?  Only ten dollar dees tine."

"Hell no," I said, as politely as you can say "Hell, no", and I walked back toward the street to get something to drink.  I bought a Corona, and when I turned around I saw Paco's VW, complete with a repaired tire.  I said hello but I don't think he recognized me, which is understandable given my facial lacerations and swelling.

"Welcome to Puerta Vallarta, senor," he said.  "You want a tour of the city?"


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