Tuesday, June 27, 2006

people who piss me off

The world is getting dumber.

I am more convinced of this fact now than ever before. Day after day, I am confronted by overwhelming evidence that people in this country, overall, are borderline retarded.

This is something more insidious than the disappearance of books smarts. I'm talking about the complete breakdown in common sense. As George Costanza screamed, "We are living in a society here!"

Following is a partial list of people who I have come across in recent weeks that deserve to be clocked in the head with a two-by-four.

1. The elevator people.

As a preface, many thanks to Todd A. for inspiring this thread.

The elevator door opens. I attempt to leave the elevator car. But a mass of people from the outside immediately begin shoving their way through the doors, breaching the most basic tenets of elevator ettiquette.

Common courtesy dictates that people leave the elevator, then and only then, do newcomers hop aboard.

Can you imagine if people started pulling this shit getting on and off the plane? We'd be gridlocked down that one narrow aisle. The same concept applies to elevators, and has ever since people started using them to climb the skyscrapers of the 1930s.

Of course, we already have mindless idiots on the plane -- those people who try and cram their oversized bags into the overhead compartment. Most of them would need hydraulic jacks to succeed. But they try anyway, holding up the entire line.

With any luck, they pout or throw a temper tantrum when the flight attendant tells them they must check their luggage. Douchebags, all of them.

2. Cashiers

This one draws more pity than outright anger.

I'm on line at Panda Express with a friend. He gives the girl a coupon for 10 percent off his meal, which I believe should have been something like $5.50. You would think this results in a savings of approximately $0.55, but you'd be mistaken.

The cashier attempted to give him a $0.10 discount. She did not understand the difference between percentages and 10 cents.

No one particularly cared about 40 cents difference, but my friend protested on principle. She had to get a manager to right this situation. Some scholastic institution failed this poor person miserably somewhere along the way.

3. Coaches who call without their stats totaled.

I was working a desk shift last week and took a Legion call during my dinner break, which sucked enough. But I was immediately aggravated when the coach could not start the conversation with the final score of his game.

"Hang on a second," he said. "I had a new scorekeeper tonight, and I'm not sure what some of these marks mean."

Yeah, maybe you should have thought of that before you called me and interrupted my dinner. And if you don't even know the final score off the top of your head, jackass, may I humbly suggest you should pay closer attention to the team you allegedly manage?

You can imagine the rest of the call was equally painful as this yahoo struggled to add up his statistics. After a while, I made sure he heard me chewing through the phone.

4. Door-to-door solicitors

Not for nothing, but our apartment complex has a "no soliciting" sign at the front entrance. I would greatly appreciate it if offending parties would adhere to it. Of course, our inept management here hasn't lifted a finger to stop the numerous flyers for crappy pizza joints, Chinese food huts and rent-to-own housing developments from inundating me with unrequested information.

It's aggravating, and these people should be charged with littering.

By far and away, however, the most annoying people are the ones who actually knock on your door. Lately, we've gotten a lot of those college student types looking to sell us magazines so they can take some exotic vacation.

They always start with some sort of pseudo-clever greeting that's designed to get me talking to them. At first I was polite with these people -- once upon a time, one of them asked me if I wanted to smoke a bowl -- but now I just tell them, "Oh, there must be someone else from your contest here, because I just bought two magazines from him about 30 minutes ago!"

Bottom line: If you can't respect the no soliciting sign out front, I'm sure as shit not going to buy anything from you.

5. Passport people.

For reasons that may become apparent in a later post, I spend a lot of time waiting on line at the post office. This facility has all the forms and does a lot of initial processing for U.S. passports as well. So I'm often around people getting passports.

You'd be shocked at the number of people attempting to obtain this all-important document for international travel only days before their departure date.

I love the expressions on their faces when the postal employees tell them it typically takes six weeks for the forms to be sent to Seattle, processed and returned. They are shocked and start pleading for some sort of special treatment.

"But I need it now!. We are leaving in two days!"

Maybe they should have thought of this when they booked the trip. If these are the people representing America abroad, it's no wonder the rest of the world hates us.

6. The loud talker

This one was a while back, but it fits perfectly within the scope of increasing retardation, so I will include it here.

The missus and I were in a coffee shop; I was studying for an exam and she was writing a grant. Granted, a coffee shop is not a library, and I expect a certain decibel level of conversation from the tables around me.

What I did not expect was this one Pig Lady holding a meeting of some Pre-K parents group a few tables down. She was shouting to the entire table, and everyone else throughout the coffee shop. Everyone in the damned place was forced into hearing every part of her conversation.

Meanwhile, the children of these poor parents were wreaking havoc everywhere. The parents completely ignored the fact that waitresses were literally tripping over their kids. These little urchins were crawling underneath our table, precariously close to sticking their little fingers in the electrical sockets.

I must admit, I debated my responsibility in this matter. Should I prevent the child from electrocuting himself, or stand idle in the hopes of teaching a lesson to the absentee parents? The child ultimately left the underside of our table to go trip the waitress, so I never had to make such a decision.

Anyway, at the end of this parenting seminar, the Pig Lady dutifully shouted her email address and phone number to her entire group, and by extension to everyone else in the room.

Naturally, I copied it down in my notes.

As we drove home, I thought about our potential conversation. "Oh hi, you don't remember me? Oh, I was the one 20 tables down trying to study while your children used our table as their personal playground and you infuriated an entire room full of people. Yes, didn't you notice the ear plugs? How did I get your number? You gave it out to all of us, you insufferable windbag."

But my better half talked me out of enjoying such a chat with our new anti-friend. Something about not letting these types of people get under my skin so much.

That's it. Rant over. Can't we all just get along?

some 'friendly' advice

A lot has been made lately about the disaparity between the popularity of soccer around the world and the lack of interest here in the United States. If you have caught any commentary on this subject during the World Cup, it boils down to this:

The rest of the world sneers at us for our inferred ignorance, and we respond with a shrug, along with the statement that "soccer sucks."

At first, I am tempted to go ahead and nod my head in agreement with this sentiment. But that would be too easy. Furthermore, I wholly enjoyed the sport at Rutgers. (It is important to note that any soccer enjoyment derived from the college years came as a fan, and not as a media member dealing with a certain cantankerous, pear-shaped publicist).

Not to pat ourselves on the back, but our tailgates for the Scarlet Knights soccer tilts were nothing short of extraordinary. Preparation of the food and beverage took all day. The festivities started a good four hours before gametime at Yurcak Field. We'd be there before the teams arrived. Grills were transported to the parking lot where ribs, brats, burgers and all the fixings were consumed. Along with lots of alcohol.

I realize this happens for lots of tailgate events, but not a whole lot for regular-season soccer. That's why it deserves the 'extraordinary' label.

Anyway, I digress. The games themselves were excellent too. It was a sport that was worth watching. There were a couple classic Rutgers-St. John's matches that stick out in my memory.

Yet that fervor doesn't translate over to pro soccer. I'm apparently not alone on that, because more kids now play grade-school soccer than Little League baseball. It's the fastest growing participant sport in America.

I will not profess to understand why pro soccer fails to make that connection, but I do have some ideas on what might make Joe Average fan like me more interested in watching.

1. Ties suck.

There is nothing American about a game ending in a tie. We like to win, or at least go down trying. So here is what I propose. Stealing a page from the revamped NHL, once a soccer game goes to overtime, you remove one player from each team every five to 10 minutes.

It's sudden death. Even if no one scores early, you eventually get a 2-on-2 game or something like that. Someone is going to score. End of game, and it's a little more representative of the entire game than a shootout.

2. Don't listen to so-called experts.

As in the NFL, it drives me insane when stupid executives try to give us fans "what we want" in the game, i.e. a high-scoring affair. A good defensive struggle is just as entertaining provided the level of competition is high.

You want high scoring? You'll wind up like the Arena Football League, which is a gimmick more than a sport. Sorry, but tilting the rules to favor the offense makes a mockery of the sport.

3. Let players use their hands.

What's wrong with this picture: We take a crop of elite athletes and limit their ability to use their body. No other sport does this. In fact, in other sports, we like our team members to use every ounce of their athleticism, skill and savvy. It's truly my best versus your best. Mano a mano.

Not in soccer. We get this no-hands nonsense. It's like blindfolding Roger Federer while he serves. Or telling Rajah Clemens he cannot throw fastballs more than 90 mph. Or tying Doc Gooden's hands behind his back while he goes bobbing for cocaine.

It's stupid. These World Cup guys should come up with some scenario in which players can use their hands.

4. Amputees.

I don't expect to get much support from FIFA on my no-hands resolution. So here's the alternative. If hands are such a hindrance to this sport, then perhaps they should recruit players unencumbered by gangly limbs.

Amputees might even be at an advantage, since they would be incapable of incurring any sort of penalty involving the use of hands.

If there are not enough amputees to form an entire league, then each World Cup country should be required to have a certain number of them on the field at a given time. If you think this is an unreasonable idea, I have one response for you:

You know you would watch.

As such, I have achieved the goal of solving the unpopularity problem of soccer here in the United States.

Perhaps some of my more media-savvy friends can forward these suggestions along to someone at FIFA.

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Tuesday, June 20, 2006

Still stuck in the '80s

Since last month's post on the merits of hair bands, I have been thinking about what a busy decade the 1980s were as far as music is concerned. No decade had as many competing influences or changed more dramatically from beginning to end.

Rock of the 1970s like Led Zepplin and KISS somehow melded into hair bands. Punk splintered into pop and rock factions. An alleged child molester became the King of Pop. Rap and rock converged thanks to Run DMC and Aerosmith. Pop lite became unforgivably rampant.

MTV played videos and the compact disc was a brilliant invention.

Amid all that, it is easy to think that rock n' roll, as Neil Young perhaps feared, faded away. Crap like Air Supply and Starship littered the airwaves in 1988 when Joan Jett remembered the heyday of rock in "I Love Rock N' Roll." It was more a wistful reflection than nod to the current times.

But rock indeed flourished in the 1980s. Wedged between the lite fare of Kool and the Gang and the over-the-top ridiculousness of the hair bands were some legitimate bands. You just had to look much harder to find them.

Here's my look at the top five rock n' roll bands of the 1980s:

1. U2

An obvious choice for the top spot. "War" is released in 1983, and is an ambitious, political, rollicking record. As Bono writes in the in the revisionist liner notes, "It is a slap in the face against the snap, crackle and pop" of wallpaper music. "The Joshua Tree" is released in 1987, clinching my No. 1 ranking, as if there was any doubt.

2. Dire Straits

In the lyrics to Sultans of Swing, Mr. Mark Knopfler pens:

"And Harry doesnt mind if he doesnt make the scene
Hes got a daytime job, he's doing alright
He can play honky tonk just like anything
Saving it up for friday night"

It's an autobiographical tale. Dire Straits was a struggling bar band for many years. Knopfler taught high school classes to make ends meet. But he didn't give a shit whether or not they were popular, and the group never conformed its sound to the flavors of the day.

Instead, Dire Straits stuck with its blues-oriented foundation, and Knopfler's dazzling guitar work propelled the band into its rightful place among the elite.

3. The Pretenders

Everything you could hope for in a rock n' roll band, in which punk and rock collided and formed a thrashing, rollicking sound. You knew they were for real on their first album when Chrissie Hynde, a real vixen in her day, wrote the classic line "I shot my mouth off, then you showed me what that hole is for."

One minute, she's singing that, and the next, The Pretenders could also slow it down and play gentle, melancholy tunes.

Following in the tradition of rock n' roll greatness, guitarist James Honeyman Scott, who provided some great riffs on the first album, OD'd and died two days after Hynde kicked Pete Farndon out of the band for his excessive drug use. Months later, Farndon also cashed in his ducat for a hallucinatory trip off life.

4. Guns N' Roses

We could debate the value of labeling them a hair band for a long time, but regardless of the outcome of that discussion, it is unquestionable that GNR is simply a damned good band. While other hair bands paid attention to fame, GNR paid attention to the music.

"Appetite for Destruction" might be the best album of the decade. It was dark, angry, violent, and cocky and brooding -- can I use more adjectives? -- much like the arrival of the Rolling Stones more than two decades earlier.

"I see your sister in her Sunday dress
She's out to please, she pouts her best
She's out to take, no need to try
She's ready to make."

The onset of grunge in the early '90s pretty much happened overnight. But if there is any link between the rock of the '80s and grunge, Guns N' Roses is it. Maybe if Axl kept his shit together a little better, GNR could have transcended the two eras.

5. The Traveling Wilburys

At the same time Hair Metal imploded, rap began its ascent into the mainstream and pop turned into pussy rock comes along this late 80s oddity.

The Wilburys are more of an all-star team, and I debated leaving them off because of this. But then I reconsidered. I believe they would have done several more albums together had Roy Orbison not died. So they are included.

And if you vote in favor of including a band that fully completed one album, then how can you not include one with a lineup of Bob Dylan, Tom Petty, Jeff Lynne, George Harrison and Orbison?

Some honorable mentions:

Tom Petty and the Heartbreakers consistently rocked through the decade. ... Midnight Oil, a poor man's U2, remains one of my all-time favorites. "Blue Sky Mine" and "Diesel and Dust" are two stacked albums from start to finish. ... Two Boston-based bands that received consideration were The Cars and the J. Geils Band. In each case, I decided that a lot of their best rock occurred during the '70s, and some of their 80s hits, such as "Centerfold" veered too much toward pop to be considered pure rock. ... The Replacements also merited consideration.

I'm sure if I have forgotten someone, you will surely let me know.

Notable omissions:

You may be wondering why I have not included my all-time favorite of all all-time favorites, Bruce Springsteen and the E Street Band, in any of the above. While he did produce some work that clearly merits inclusion in the top five during the decade, notably The River ('80) and Nebraska ('82), he also produced the worst albums of his career in the 1980s.

In my mind, you subtract the bad from the good. In the '80s for Bruce, it's about a wash plus Brilliant Disguise. And Brilliant Disguise, as good as it may be, cannot carry the albatross of the double-release on its own.

Moreso, Bruce became a musician in the 1970s. He became a rock star with the release of "Born In The USA" in '80s. There's a difference. ...

Also, I'm sure DA will cry foul that I did not mention The Pixies. Well, DA, I respect their talent, but they're just not my bag, baby. So they're not on the list.

There you have it. I promise that I'll end this '80s kick soon and move into a more relevant decade. As some of you know, I have a tendency to remain about 10-15 years behind the times.


Monday, June 12, 2006

a simple thought

It always makes me leery when I eat at a restaurant that has those "Employees must wash hands before returning to work" signs in the restroom.

Of course, I want their employees to wash. But it says little of the restaurants hiring practices if they are accepting the sort of people who need to be reminded of this simple hygenic habit. Really, do they need to write this into the employee manual?


Wednesday, June 07, 2006

boys to men, part II

If you haven't read part I yet, start with the post below this one).

I think an unintended consequence of feminism in the last 40 years or so might be the pussification of American men.

Call me crazy, but I think women wanted equal opportunities and commesurate salaries. Not cucumber-and-mudbath facials with their metrosexual husbands or boyfriends. If you know a guy who does things like this, please go kick him in his nutless sack.

I cannot say this with certainty a) because I didn't live in the 1940s and b) I have no statistical information to back it up, but it seems like there are a whole lot more whipped guys around nowadays. Nice, passive guys who let their wives or women in general walk all over them in the misguided hope that maybe next month they can get a blowjob. Maybe.

There are probably a whole lot of factors that caused this societal shift. Feel free to chime in on what they might be later, but for the remainder of this post, I'm going to focus on only one.

While not entirely to blame for this phenomenon, I believe the media deserves a large share of the blame. Television has depicted American men in unflattering, erroneous lights.

Watch any commercial or sitcom on television and the man will invariably fall into one of three categories: 1) The vagina. 2) A fatherly doofus. 3) An adult behaving like a child, the backlashers against pussification.

Let's start with the first category.

Dawson Leary, the central figure of Dawson's Creek, is as putrid as any character on TV. This poor cat spends every single minute of every single episode trying to figure out how to get into the pants of Katie Holmes, whom the entire town of Capeside wants to bang.

Leary spends years pathetically pining after her. He saddles up as her best friend -- every guy over the age of 10 knows that the friend route is a ticket to nowhere -- but it unrealistically works for him on this show. Even once he starts dating her, he tortures himself with endless analyzation of their entire relationship.

This is a poor, poor role model for any youngster watching this show.

A far better choice would be Pasey, Dawson's best friend. Once Dawson inevitably screws up his relationship with Ms. Holmes thanks to his constant fretting about the state of the relationship, Pasey steps in and starts dating "Joey Potter." Who got to deflower her? Pasey, of course.

Another pathetic example on television is Ross from Friends. He makes Elton John look like Paul effing Bunyon. Ross is a whiny bitch on a shitty, overrated television show. Ross should be taken to pasture and euthanized. I just want to jump through the TV and smack the bastard. It's that simple.

Onto the second category -- the fatherly doofus. As far back as Michael Keaton on Family Ties, father's have been painted as out-of-touch, un-hip clowns. See Simpson, Homer. Or Romano, Ray. Their wives run their shows because of their husband's ineptitude.

I'm not saying one is right or wrong, or that I don't wholly enjoy The Simpsons, but you would never see a character like Ward Cleaver on television today. The responsible family patriarch is dead on today's television sitcoms.

And then there's the third group. There has been a predictable backlash toward the sorts of men portrayed in my first two categories, but they really don't paint men in any better fashion. Apparently the only way to resist the brainwashing of feminization, according to television, is to remain stunted in bratty adolescence.

I don't watch many of these shows because I'm usually busy toiling on a desk shift, but you know where I'm going with this. The shows that follow the same, unoriginal pattern. According to Jim. King of Comedy. Two And A Half Men. There's even a show called Men Behaving Badly.

All feature grown men who behave like yammering children. On the one unfortunate episode of According to Jim that I saw, Mr. Belushi spent the whole 30 minutes pouting like a preschooler because he didn't want to talk to his wife's lame friends at a barbeque. That was an episode.

(Strangely enough, all the dudes on these shows have attractive girlfriends/spouses. This is also completely unrealistic, because if I ever acted like that, I'm sure my lovely fiancee would kick my sorry ass to the curb).

There's a Burger King commercial out there with three pouting guys who refuse to eat "chick food" like quiche. Likewise, TGI Friday's has a commerical that features a bunch of dudes banging their utensils on the table and shouting at the meat they are about to consume -- like infants.

Does all that reflect a mere shift of television programming or mirror a larger shift in men's role in society? I don't know.

Somewhere in between the far corners of this television-man spectrum -- the drooling adult-infants and the castrated sallies -- lies the vast, under-represented American male population.

Men who are reasonably intelligent and responsible. Men who provide for their families. Men who appreciate the occasional sighting of an attractive woman, but would never cheat on their ladies. Maybe that's not interesting enough for TV, I don't know.

The problem with television is it can only portray a simple character. A guy either behaves like a crude infant harrassing dames, a befuddled doofus or a metrosexual. In reality, we're a lot more complex than that.

So here's what I want:

The Ward Cleaver character might be as unrealistic as some of the other stereotypes listed above -- how can someone who named his son after a part of a female's anatomy take himself so seriously? -- but he's probably closer to most guys than the others.

So how about a Ward-like character who enjoys watching girls on the trampolines at the end of The Man Show? That would be some realistic reality television. Or how about sending Clint Eastwood into some of these scripts to fucking regulate and get Dawson and Ross to sack up.

The bottom line is this: Television writers of America, you owe it to your audience to do better.

boys to men, part I

Some of our readers here have young lads at home. Some of the rest of us, God help us, might also procreate in the future. So today's two-part series is for anyone who plans on raising rugrats in the foreseable future.

In the last couple of months, I've stumbled across some random articles that, put together, paint a bleak picture of what it's like to be a young boy in this country. It's interesting reading, and something to ponder if it could affect your kids.

In our culture and in schools, boys are being placed at a precarious disadvantage from the moment they start preschool until after college -- if they make it that far.

By most accounts, they're not.

This Newsweek article seems to be the most comprehensive one in confronting the scope of the problem. I don't want to rehash it, but the jist of it is that boys' brainpans develop differently than girls. And this era of standardized test scores and elimination of gym class and recess magnifies boys' weaknesses and reduces their strengths.

That's a very, very fast overview. Read the article. Maybe you agree with it, and maybe you don't, but here are some alarming statstics that I've cobbled together from various sources that must be explained:
  • 58 percent of college students are female; 42 percent male, the largest gap ever.
  • Boys are twice as likely to be diagnosed with a learning disability -- eight times more likely to be diagnosed with ADD/ADHD -- than girls
  • 40 percent of boys under 12 are being raised in single-parent homes
  • Boys are six times as likely to drop out of high school, and that figure even includes dames who drop out after they get knocked up
One of the things that angered me in the Newsweek story was a quote from this ludicrous mother, Cris Messler of Summit, N.J., who brought her high-energy 3-year-old to her doctor hoping for an ADHD diagnosis because her kid was too antsy. She wanted him medicated.

I'm sorry that she finds life as a parent tough and draining, but young boys are supposed to be full of energy and rambunctious. Doping her kid up on Ritalin and propping him in classrooms in some sort of vegetative fog is downright reckless.

Someone should call DYFS on her.

Unfortunately, there are a lot of parents like her -- overmedicating their kids for the sake of making it easier on themselves and their teachers.

So what's the answer? I don't know exactly, but it's apparent the schools need to make significant adjustments in how they teach and deal with young lads. We need some sort of legislation for boys to do that -- akin to what Title IX did for girls in the '70s.

Moreover, I think the troubles foisted upon boys in school are a possibly symptom of a larger problem -- the pussification of America. We'll get to that in part II.

Thursday, June 01, 2006

Making a Lastings impression

Watching the Mets this week, I cannot think of another prospect who has received as much hype as Lastings Milledge. The Big Apple media treated him like a visiting dignitary upon his ascension from Triple A.

The team has considered him un-tradeable for a while now. The Red Sox wanted him in a potential package for Manny Ramirez last winter. The Mets said no thanks. So we assume he will be that good.

Two thoughts on his rise:

1) It's impressive that the Mets actually hung onto some homegrown talent. This is a team that has a history of devouring its young.

As far back as '87, there was the bone-headed deal that brought in Frank Viola for a while in exchange for every pitcher under 25. More recently, that fucktard Steve Phillips dealt Scott Kazmir in exchange for Victor Zambrano in the most ridiculous and unneeded trade in team history.

So Omar Minaya gets a high-five for sticking with the kid.

2) Getting back to my original pernt, I think the last Mets prospect to garner this much attention was Gregg Jefferies, who had nearly impossible expectations thrust upon him.

Jefferies hit .321 with 6 home runs in 29 games in New York in 1988, and I think everyone just assumed he would become the city's next five-tool superstar. When he hit only .251 his next season -- officially, his rookie season came in '89 -- I don't know if he ever recovered from the constant mental beating he absorbed.

In 14 career seasons, Jefferies hit .289, 126 HR and 663 RBI -- this was the pre-roid era, so cut the cat some slack. In his years as a full-time starter, his average stats were .292, 11 HR and 55 RBI per season.

He had himself a nice little career. Some yahoo even threw him a Hall-of-Fame-vote bone last season. But he was a solid, not special, starter for a decade in the major leagues. But from a Mets perspective, he's viewed as an unmitigated failure.

So let's give Milledge some realistic expectations, take a dose of reality ourselves, and not coronate him the next Howard Johnson just yet.