Monday, September 12, 2011

Fantasy Football Confessions

Let me start out by confessing that the fantasies of my younger days were certainly more interesting, and infinitely more embarrassing, than any that mere fantasy football could possibly provide.

(Although my choice of Duce Staley in the sixth round after he had already retired a few years ago continues to be a substantial source of embarrassment to me, and more fun than a barrel of Dolphins for everyone else in my league.)

If you have known me for a long time, and are female, a millionaire, or both of those, you may even have been a part of these earlier fantasies. Those I will keep to myself.

The years wear on and we take our thrills where we can get them, don't we?

And there are thrills to be had in fantasy football, I can assure you. I have won a game that I had trailed at one time by 26 points when my kicker hit a 55-yard field goal as time expired in the week's last game on Monday Night.

I have lost a game when my opponent's tight end (playing for the Steelers) stepped in front of my wide receiver (playing for the Steelers), and caught a touchdown. That's my six points taken from me and added to him. You can see this coming, right? I lost by ten points.

As a die-hard Philadelphia Eagles fan, I am keenly interested in what takes place within the NFC East division. That has always been the case. Pre-fantasy football, I was only slightly less interested in the rest of the NFC, since those teams stand in our path to the Super Bowl (so far, except for two years, they have stood there very successfully).

Pre-fantasy football, you could measure my interest in AFC teams like the Buffalo Bills or the Cleveland Browns (oddly, both of those teams are named after people, but I digress) with a teaspoon.

That is no longer the case. This year, one of my two starting running backs is C.J. Spiller, who plays for the Buffalo Bills. I was not exactly sure just who C.J. Spiller was, but my brother Dan, who is my co-owner/co-coach/co-general manager (I prefer those titles to co-nerd or co-geek) liked him. C.J. Spiller scored a touchdown on the opening week of the season.

Go, Dan! Go, Buffalo!!

Fantasy football also allows the common fan to show a little sentiment.

As an Eagles fan, I had gotten my mind all set and my brain all washed to welcome in the Kevin Kolb Era last year. He was going to be the quarterback to take advantage of the quick reads and short passing game that had been Donovan McNabb's weaker points for the past decade.

I bought in 100 percent. I was happy to see him seem to show those qualities early on. However, in the first game of last season, Kolb got crushed by a Green Bay linebacker, and second-team quarterback Michael Vick took over.

Kevin, we hardly knew ye.

Vick turned out to be rejuvenated and too remarkable a talent not to play every week. Kolb recovered but was relegated to the bench. It was the right move for the Eagles, no doubt, but I felt bad for the guy whose only mistake was getting injured.

So this year, Dan and I drafted Kevin Kolb (who was eventually traded to the Arizona Cardinals) as our back-up quarterback.

On The Bonecrushers (our team is named after the real-life football team that our grandfather played for), he's still second-team behind Green Bay's star QB Aaron Rogers … we're sentimental, not stupid. But at least we feel like he's one of “our boys.”

So I guess I've come to the confessions part of “Fantasy Football Confessions.” Here goes …

As a guy who played some actual football a couple of generations ago, I think I almost … kind of … more or less … prefer the fantasy kind. I know that playing on the field is a lot of fun, and it provided me with some of the most thrilling moments that I have ever experienced in my life.

That's all on the good side of playing the game. But I'll leave you with the one advantage that fantasy football has over actual football, that actual football can never overcome …

No practice.

Monday, August 15, 2011

Your Godfather Glossary

As hard as it may be to believe (and it certainly is for me), 2012 will mark the 40th anniversary of the release of Francis Ford Coppola's The Godfather.

Before this landmark film, almost no one had ever heard of Pacino, or Caan, and Brando was considered box office poison after his eccentricities had begun to outweigh the profitability of his films.

Just before he transformed himself into author Mario Puzo's fictional Don Vito Corleone, Brando made a movie called The Nightcomers, a prequel to the Henry James classic “Turn of the Screw.”

Ever hear of it? That's what I mean.

Besides resurrecting or sparking the careers of a generation of Italian-American actors (plus Robert Duvall as Irish/German adopted Corleone, Tom Hagen). The movie became more than a movie. It became part of our lives.

It was almost as if Clemenza's adult education course, “Basics of the Whack 101,” (“I left the gun noisy. That way it scares any pain-in-the-ass innocent bystanders away.”) or Vito's last tango among the tomato plants were imbedded into our own memories.

Where women (and some men) have Gone With the Wind; men (and some women) have The Godfather.

And a major effect of a movie that weaves itself into the culture is that it can change that culture forever. That is indisputably the case with The Godfather, as evidenced by how many lines from the film became part of the American English lexicon.

So as a service to the younger readers, who may have only a vague notion of what these expressions mean or where they originated, (and to beat the 40-year anniversary rush) I offer just a few examples of terms that were either invented or changed by the film:

“I'm gonna make him an offer he can't refuse.”
Vito's answer when family friend singer/actor Johnny Fontane tells him that getting the part in the movie that he wants is impossible, because the head of the studio hates him.

Before the Don tossed off these words (and we saw what he meant a short time later in a little incident with a horse's head), “an offer you can't refuse” was usually a good thing. It meant that something almost too good to be true was offered. Maybe free tickets to a ballgame or a sublet to a rent controlled apartment.

After, and forever since, any benign meaning was completely lost. The most common reaction to hearing this sentence these days is to pack up the loved ones, change your identity and skip town.

“Leave the gun; take the canoli.”
Pete Clemenza to Rocco, after they have killed Paulie for conspiring with Sollozzo in an unsuccessful attempt to have the Don killed.

Loyal Corleone capo Clemenza was always teaching. Here he sets priorities for a whack done in a professional manner. Even four decades later, very few of us can hear the word “canoli” without thinking of this scene. Go ahead, try it next time the word pops up.

Also, when asked by Sonny later how Paulie was, Pete uttered the immortal words, “Oh, Paulie … won't see him no more.”

“Luca Brasi sleeps with the fishes.”
Clemenza explains that Luca's bulletproof vest, delivered with a deceased fish inside, means that Vito's most loyal soldier is dead.

Note how much better this sounds than the more common “sleeps with the fish” would. Maybe that's why it's caught on so extensively. Today you can hear people use the phrase in ways that Clemenza would never have dreamed.

“Remember our Science teacher, Mr. Linden? I just heard he sleeps with the fishes.”

“That promotion I was up for? Looks like it sleeps with the fishes.”

“Who ate that pie I was saving in the fridge??!!”
“Oh, that pie sleeps with the fishes.”

… and even “We went away on vacation and now little Tommy's goldfish sleeps with the fishes.”

“Today I settled all family business.”
Michael to his brother-in-law Carlo, who he knows set up Sonny's execution for the Barzini family.

“Settling all family business” has become a colorful (and slightly ominous) way of saying that you're not taking any more crap about the subject at hand. This might be anything from:

A literal interpretation: “Today I settle all family business. I want a divorce, you take the kids and I'm moving to Marlon Brando's old island near Tahiti.”

To managing the Washington Nationals: “Today I settle all family business, Ankiel is back to pitching, Werth shaves and it's three hours of infield practice every day.”

“I hope that their first child is a masculine child.”
A nervous, tongue-tied Luca Brasi to Vito Corleone at his daughter's wedding.

It might be politically incorrect these days to hope for one gender over the other, but Luca was what you might call old school. You would think that he meant to wish the Godfather a grandson, and just mixed up “masculine” with “male” or “boy.” But even when he was rehearsing he said “masculine” … so it seems like he was wishing the Don a Sonny-like grandson as opposed to a Fredo-like one.

This quote is guaranteed to get you a laugh and a pat on the back when spoken to any fan of the movie who is expecting a child or grandchild.

“Some day, and that day may never come, I will call upon you to do a service for me.”
Vito Corleone to Bonasera the undertaker, who wants revenge for his daughter's brutal beating.

Did anybody really think that day would never come? But how the undertaker evened the score is one of the most touching scenes in the film. Not by stashing a body. Not by switching corpses, as Bonasera must surely have expected.

Instead, Don Corleone tearfully asks him to use his skills on Sonny's body after he's been shot about a hundred times, so his mother doesn't have to see him like that.

“You've gotta get up close like this and bada-bing, you blow their brains all over your nice Ivy League suit!”
Sonny explaining to Michael that killing Sollozzo and police Captain McCluskey won't be like killing people from far away in a war.

The strip club in The Soprano's wasn't named the “Bada-Bing” by accident. Whether that expression was an Italian thing, or a New York thing or a mob thing … now it's an all-over-the-world thing.

It translates to something like “voila!” or “there you have it”! defines it as “an expression used to suggest that something can be done with no difficulty or delay.”

So today you can hear statements like:

“Sure, my brother gives dance lessons on the side. Just call him up and bada-bing, you're doing Swan Lake by Friday.”

Or …

“Vote for me for U.S. Senate, and I promise that bada-bing, you get a balanced budget ... no questions asked.”

Of course, these are just a very few of the quotes you'll recognize the next time you see the movie. There are quite a few to be found in The Godfather II, as well. But take my advice, and skip the third installment if you love the first two.

I say that for many reasons, but the easiest to explain is that when Coppola could not convince Robert Duvall to reprise his role as Tom Hagen in the third film, he brought in a new character played by … George Hamilton.

I think that's all you need to know.

Wednesday, July 13, 2011

Jeter Gets 3,000 Hits. What's That Mean to You?

When the New York Yankees' newest icon went 5-for-5 to become just the 28th player in over 125 years of Major League Baseball to accumulate 3,000 hits, the sports world went wild.

And why not?

That's a very high mountain to climb. To give perspective on just how high, sportswriters like to equate that feat with similar ones in other sports. So you hear that 3,000 hits in baseball is like 500 goals in NHL hockey. Or 100 touchdowns in NFL football. Or 20,000 points in NBA basketball.

And that's great, except that most of us haven't played in the NHL or NFL or NBA.

How can you measure this in terms of your life?

Well, I've attempted to explain Mr. Jeter's accomplishment in the context of careers, pastimes and hobbies to which I believe regular readers of this blog will relate. And so …

If Derek Jeter were a salesperson 3,000 hits would be like convincing the Pope that gay marriage is really cool, or like selling the NHL on the idea that Phoenix, Arizona is a hockey town.

If Derek Jeter were a mechanic 3,000 hits would be like completing an average of 10 oil changes and four state inspections every weekday for 15 years.

If Derek Jeter were a bookkeeper 3,000 hits would be like never, ever losing a single book. Wait … what is it that a bookkeeper does again?

If Derek Jeter were a doctor 3,000 hits would be like having a lifetime Patient Mortality Rate (PMR) of less than 8 percent. (Although it's true that, measured over a long enough period of time, the Patient Mortality Rate for every doctor is 100 percent, I think the trick is to make sure that the patient is under the care of another physician at the time of his or her demise.)

If Derek Jeter were a bartender 3,000 hits would be like pouring 50,000 draft beers, or mixing 25,000 gins and tonics, or constructing 50 Mojitos.

If Derek Jeter were a gravedigger 3,000 hits would be like excavating a triple plot with a teaspoon.

If Derek Jeter were an attorney 3,000 hits would be like representing O.J. Simpson, Casey Anthony, Robert Blake – and Phil Spector (nobody bats a thousand).

If Derek Jeter were a serial killer 3,000 hits would put him in the category of New York's Joel Rifkin, who is believed to be responsible for 17 murders. [Note: The short but productive spree of Jack the Ripper equates roughly to the baseball career of Sandy Koufax; whereas Pete Rose's record number of 4256 hits would fit 19th century British serial killer Amelia Dyer, who is suspected of the highest total ever – more than 400 deaths.]

If Derek Jeter were a nurse 3,000 hits would be like giving 100,000 shots, or assisting in 1,500 surgeries, or deflecting 5,000 sexual advances.

If Derek Jeter were a flight attendant 3,000 hits would be like logging 2 million miles in the air or stifling the blood-curdling screams of 800 passengers who suddenly discover that they are terrified of flying. [Also, see above reference to sexual advances.]

If Derek Jeter were a secretary 3,000 hits would be like having his title changed to “Personal Assistant.”

If Derek Jeter were a truck driver 3,000 hits would be like driving all of the toys to the North Pole each Christmas season since the Great Elfin Emancipation Treaty of 1968 made on-site manufacturing impractical. (Oh, you didn't know? Sorry.)

If Derek Jeter were a teacher 3,000 hits would be like introducing Stephen Hawking to physics or convincing Eric Clapton to put down that French horn and pick up a guitar for goodness sake.

If Derek Jeter were a plumber 3,000 hits would be the equivalent of 15 miles of pipe installed in one-to-three foot increments in bathrooms across America … bet you thought I would go with a big pile of excrement there, didn't you?

I hope it's clearer to everyone now just how great an accomplishment reaching 3,000 hits really is. Derek Jeter is an outstanding example of determination, dependability and dedication that is rarely seen in sports. It's difficult to put a value on that kind of total commitment.

Difficult, but not impossible. It's $15 million-per-year.

Friday, May 20, 2011

Your "End of the World" Orientation

Dateline: May 22, 2011. Welcome, one and all.

Well, it looks like Christian broadcaster and Biblical calculator Harold Camping was right after all. Humanity has been wiped out and divided into the saved and the unsavory. You are understandably anxious to learn into which group you have been assigned.

More on that later.

First, to clarify: Mr. Camping's prediction was pure dumb luck. We should point out that the life span of your life form has simply expired, and is not the result of any particular atrocious behavior on the part of you or your kind.

You are now undergoing processing and orientation. Please feel free to ask questions. We are here to make your afterlife experience as seamless as possible.

To answer the most-asked question, your pets are fine. Dogs, cats and hamsters have been given souls and intelligence. Custody of the Earth now belongs to them. All remaining creatures have been bumped up one level to compensate for your absence.

Sloths and sea monkeys have been discontinued.

Your predeceased ancestors are anxious to greet you. There would normally have been a light for you to follow and a whole This Is Your Life-style production filled with friends and family to herd you into the staging area. We apologize for depriving you of that bit of theater, but the sheer volume of Armageddon has made that impractical.

Suddenly appearing in your left hand as if by magic you will find a questionnaire. Please answer each question as honestly as you can. Rest assured that your answers will not determine your fate for eternity, but will help us serve future annihilated species more efficiently.

Note that under “Things You Meant to Do But Didn't (and Why),” there will be a sort of door prize given to the most amusing ten percent of responses. Again, your eternal paradise or damnation has already been determined, so go for it!

As you wait to discover your eternal reward/punishment, we offer one of our most popular features, known informally as “What Might Have Been”:

- Chicago Cubs fans can take solace in the fact that their team would have won the 2011 World Series in a thrilling seven-game series had human life continued.

- Medical research was on the brink of a breakthrough marketed as “Brain Viagra” that would have increased human intelligence dramatically.

- Diet pizza would have become a reality in 2016.

And now, for your fate.

Most of you will be overjoyed to learn that you have been assigned what you would refer to as salvation, eternal bliss or deliverance. There are just a few exceptions. To those people who saw fit to protest the funerals of deceased men and women of the military because they presumed to know that the United States had angered god by promoting homosexuality, we can only offer an eternity of watching gay pornography and endless hours to wonder what you were thinking.

Those people will join Misters Hitler, Stalin, Caligula and just a very few others in their own personalized unspeakable damnation.

Finally, I will need to see a suspected alien called Donald Trump in my office regarding verification of the details of his birth.

Wednesday, May 18, 2011

The Great Characters: Allen Jenkins

If you have seen at least 20 movies from the 30s and 40s you have seen Allen Jenkins.

You probably just didn't know it.

Born in Staten Island, he became the world's idea of what a regular mug from New York City should look like, sound like and act like. On screen he was the perfect not-so-smart street thug, but like most things in Hollywood, Allen Jenkins was not necessarily what he appeared to be -- he developed that rough-edged character at the American Academy of Dramatic Arts.

Jenkins' parents were musical comedy performers, and he entered the theater as a stage mechanic after World War I. In his first on-stage appearance, he danced next to James Cagney in a chorus line for an off-Broadway musical. Soon the two chorus boys would epitomize the tough, big city gangster that movie audiences could not get enough of.

As a lover of movies from his heyday, I have always been drawn to Jenkins' characters. There's something so natural and entertaining about him in every role, small or large. And apparently I'm not alone, because the New York Times once called him the “greatest scene-stealer of the 1930s.”

And he worked a lot.

He was the icing on the cake that Warner Brothers could count on to add depth to Hollywood classics like 42nd Street, Dead End and Destry Rides Again, or to play more prominent roles in studio assembly-line productions like Jimmy the Gent and The Case of the Howling Dog.

And to Baby Boomers who may not be as partial as I am to the old, black-and-white movies that made Jenkins semi-famous – you probably know him, too.

He showed up all over TV in the 60s … The Man From U.N.C.L.E., Batman, Bewitched, Ben Casey, Marcus Welby, Adam-12 and more!

(I told you he worked a lot.)

And I only recently discovered where I first ran into one of my favorite character actors ever, without ever realizing it.

He was the voice of authority in a cartoon classic as “Officer Dibble” on Top Cat!

I'm imagining everyone around my age thinking “Oh, yeah” to themselves just about now.

Tuesday, April 26, 2011

The Great Characters: Eve Arden

If you have ever found yourself wishing you had thought of just the right comeback at just the right time, in a way you have wished that you were Eve Arden.

She was the master of the witty retort, and although it's true that she didn't write her own lines (at least as far as I know), she delivered them as no one else ever could -- with an acid tongue alongside a tiny bit of honey.

Just as I had found Walter Brennan on that faithful companion of my youth, television, so Ms. Arden was one of my weekly visitors in Our Miss Brooks. There she was the ever-harried school teacher dealing with hipster students and a demanding principal, all while trying to maneuver a marriage proposal from Mr. Boynton, the shy, clueless biology teacher. (It was the 50s, after all.)

To me, she was funnier than Lucy. (I know that's blasphemy, but what can I say?) And again, as I found with Mr. Brennan, the best was yet to come as I discovered the Eve Arden who had entertained audiences on the big screen from as early as the 1930s.

In over 60 movies and for 50 years, she was the wise-cracking best friend to some of Hollywood's greatest actresses. Joan Crawford won an Oscar for her performance in Mildred Pierce, and Eve was nominated as best supporting actress in the same film. “Supporting actress” was the perfect job description for her. Among her dozens of outstanding performances there was her role as secretary to defense lawyer James Stewart in Anatomy of a Murder. She added a slightly lighter touch to this ground-breaking film that focused on murder and rape, without compromising the seriousness of the subjects.

She never seemed to get the guy, though, which always puzzled me because as far as I was concerned, Eve Arden had it all. Beauty, wit, sophistication (but never too much sophistication) and an amazing ability to put blowhards in their place (a valuable skill in any era).

Commenting on the Soviet Union's press policy in Comrade X: “Probably the government has decided that from now on all foreign correspondents must be blindfolded and led around by seeing-eye dogs.”

In response to Jack Carson's line “I hate all women, thank goodness you're not one of them,” in Mildred Pierce: “Laughing Boy seems slightly burned at the edges. What's eating him?”

In waiting room at police station from the same movie: “Well, what is this, a class reunion?”

In real life she was nothing like her acerbic characters. Except that she was a good friend. Long before it was true of Sarah Lee baked goods it was said that “Nobody doesn't like Eve Arden.”

She was devoted to her family, as evidenced by her decision to basically retire from acting to raise her children. But being a nice person sometimes brings good karma and at a time in her career when she might have been the subject of any number of “Whatever Happened to” articles, she re-emerged into the public consciousness as the befuddled Principal McGee in Grease and Grease 2.

Just as an aside, Eve Arden was so popular that when she appeared on What's My Line, she had to use a buzzer to answer yes or no to the blindfolded panel trying to guess her identity. Why was that? Because there was no pitch or register or accent that could disguise the voice so familiar to millions.

That's a lot of fame for one of the great "character actors" ever.

Tuesday, April 5, 2011

The Great Characters: Walter Brennan

I've been a big fan of movies ever since I can remember.

Especially the old movies. Cagney, Bogart, Stanwyck, Garfield, Hepburn, Gable, Cooper, Tracy … they have been the headliners in some of the great entertainment experiences of my life. But as much as I love the old stars, there was an even larger group of men and women who added the texture and depth to some of the greatest movies from the 1930s, 40s and 50s.

They were the character actors.

Over the years, the term has come to be known as a sort of actor's actor. You hear the multi-million dollar faces on the big screen claim to be more like character actors than stars. Sometimes that's true and sometimes it's not. But these handful (and many, many more) were the real deal.

They were the best friends, the flunkies, the befuddled policemen, the judges, the clerks, the henchmen, the drunks, the mobsters – and one time the Wizard of Oz.

I've always wanted to find out more about these familiar faces, so I thought, “Why not do a some some simple Internet research on them?” Since no good reason not to occurred to me, I'll begin with probably the best one ever.

Walter Brennan was one of my grandmother Reilly's favorites. Not quite in her Grand Trio of Red Skelton, Ed (“The Perfect Fool”) Wynn and Lawrence Welk, he was still must-see TV for her before that term even existed. The show was The Real McCoys, and she never missed it.

I could not quite understand how such a sweet woman could be so attached to a character like Amos McCoy, who I saw as loud, cranky, mean, intolerant and almost always wrong. Of course, this is a good example of why people seldom ask the advice of 9-year-olds.

What I discovered in later years is that Walter Brennan was the King of Character Actors. I'm not alone in that opinion. He won the Best Supporting Actor Oscar three times. (But maybe that wasn't such a great percentage when you think about it, since he was in over 130 movies total – including at least four silent ones.)

He was comical as Humphrey Bogart's drunken partner in To Have and Have Not, and comical AND scary (no easy feat) as Judge Roy Bean in The Westerner. He teamed up with Cooper to play his down-and-out, harmonica-playing traveling companion in Frank Capra's classic Meet John Doe, a part that inspired a song just a few decades later by a group called Floyd's Big Gun.

And he added a touch of quality to dozens of lesser-known movies that sorely lacked it.

The irony about my discovering Brennan playing a crotchety old man on television is that he had been playing old men on stage and in films since he was in his 20s. I recently saw him playing a bit part as a limousine driver in a fairly forgettable movie from the early 1930s (one of my great pleasures in life is Turner Classic Movies). I calculate that he would have been around 35 at the time, but he looked every day of 50.

It was a glimpse of what was to come.

Thanks to Google and Wikipedia I have discovered that he was pretty much the opposite of me politically. They characterize him (no pun intended) as ultra conservative in his personal life, supporting Barry Goldwater and eventually George Wallace in their presidential runs.

But that doesn't diminish my enjoyment of his work at all. I will look in on any movie that shows him in the credits, and prepare myself for the next little jewel of a performance, no matter what the quality of the rest of the film.

Yes, Grandmom Reilly was definitely onto something.

Monday, March 21, 2011

My Criminal Past

There is something about being 7 years old that makes you feel like you can get away with anything.

Logic, evidence, eye witnesses … none of these matter in the case against you. But I'm getting ahead of myself a little here.

In my Southwest Philadelphia neighborhood, I was one of the good little boys. There was that one time I jumped out of the bushes to attack the kid who had beaten me up the day before, but that was considered just part of the mean streets in the world of the urban single-digit-age set.

I had gotten noticed in the neighborhood a year or two earlier when I had taken to standing on our street corner in my new Superman costume – hands on hips, with bright red cape flowing in the wind. I can still remember that as a feeling of total joy that no drug or personal accomplishment could ever come close to matching.

But it seemed to make the adults a little nervous. More than one approached my parents saying that they just knew I was going to run into traffic one day, confident that I could stop anything from a two-ton Edsel to an 18-wheeler as long as I was wearing the suit. When mom and dad brought this to my attention, I really only could think of one response:

“I'm not a complete idiot.”

But it turns out that maybe I was.

In 1961 our main source of amusement on Reedland Street was flipping baseball cards. One boy (it was a completely gender exclusive activity) would flip his card, and the other boy could call “match” or “unmatch” and flip his own. It was a face up/face down situation, and if you called it right you got both cards.

It was pretty intense and, as much as 7-year-olds can, we focused on the rhythms of the game. You could get on a “match” roll and call that five times in a row, then toss in an “unmatch” given your vague knowledge of the laws of averages, then back to your lucky “match” run. It went along fast, and cards could be won or lost before either player knew for sure who was winning.

And that's where my plan came in.

I could sense that every opponent concentrated on the game at hand, rather than his stash of cards. It occurred to me that I could very easily take three-to-five cards from the top of his pile, all the while pretending to hone in on the flipping. So I did just that.

It was an enormous success, too.

In almost no time my collection of cards had nearly doubled, although no one could remember me having a great run of luck. The secret was to spread out the crime. No one person lost so many cards that he questioned how his pile had dwindled to such an extent.

You're probably thinking that I may well be a criminal genius, having concocted such a sophisticated ruse at such an early age. If you were to label me “The Mozart of Misdeeds” or a “Prodigy of Pilferage” I couldn't really argue with you.

But like the criminal enterprises of my predecessors Al Capone and John Dillinger, it all came crashing down.

My slight of hand had gotten so routine that I failed to pay attention to the dangers of parental supervision. One of my victim's dads caught me in the act. He didn't confront me, but he told my mom. She told dad. They couldn't believe that I would do anything like that.

So I denied it.

That resulted in a huge neighborhood summit, where despite adult witness testimony I continued to deny it. Even under the pressure of an entire block of grown-ups and their children scowling at me day and night, I still managed to create what I imagined to be reasonable doubt through the power of denial. Just the same, my cards were confiscated and I was banned from baseball cards for one full year.

I'm not really sure if I ever came clean on the Great Card Caper – until now, I guess.

The whole episode did cure me of my wayward ways. It takes a lot of energy to engage in nefarious activities. And so I come to you today an upstanding citizen. Partly due to morality lessons learned over the decades, partly due to a sense of fairness that comes with maturity and partly due to a third consideration:

A life of crime is just too much trouble.

Thursday, March 10, 2011

My Celebrity Encounters

Oh, I have had my brushes with the famous.

It began when I was around 8, and one of my best friends got to go on the Gene London kiddie show in Philadelphia. Granted, that wasn't me on the television, but it started my fascination with seeing those TV people in “real life.” I asked my friend to tell me the story of his day over and over. I couldn't get enough.

I think I was ahead of my time. It seems that infatuation with celebrity is the one overriding description that will define our era. There was the Paleolithic Age, the Ice Age, the Iron Age, the Industrial Age and now -- the Celebrity Age.

There have always been special people. The Greeks had their gods and the early Christians had their saints. Today we're crawling with them. In fact, between reality TV and politically slanted, opinionated blowhards … we may all be celebrities one day!

But before that happens, please bear with me as I attempt to inflate my own importance by bringing you the reflected glory of my celebrity encounters, shown here in chronological order:

Jack Dempsey
My father took my brother Dan and me to New York City in the summer of 1969, and it was a trip filled with memorable events. First, Phillies star Richie Allen failed to show up for a double-header we attended at Shea Stadium, and was suspended. But the main thrill was dinner at Jack Dempsey's Restaurant on Broadway.

He was the heavyweight champion from 1919 to 1926 and, along with Babe Ruth, one of the most famous men in America at that time. And now … he was sitting at the dinner table with us! My dad had written a term paper on Dempsey's life years earlier and the champ was fascinated by that. He sat with us for about 15 minutes telling stories and even asked us what sports we liked best. I'm sure I didn't eat much with my mouth wide open the whole time. It's still hard for me to believe that dinner really happened.

Tom Poston
I think it was that same trip to New York where I saw this star of The Steve Allen Show (and years later handyman George on Newhart) crossing the street. I didn't say anything to him.

Harry Chapin
Dan, my cousin Michael and I went to The Main Point in Bryn Mawr to see Harry in 1972. That was an intimate, coffeehouse venue holding (I'm guessing) about 250-300 people with general seating – no assigned seats. Naturally we were late and when we arrived there were almost no seats left. Dan and Michael scrambled and found singles, far apart but just fine. I was the last man standing in a real-life game of musical chairs. There was a large speaker on a seat in the front row, however, which I moved to the stage and replaced with my derriere. There was a minor complaint from management, but seeing no other option they let me stay there.

Harry was an hour late, but his band put on a great show while we waited. When he arrived he was amazing. The show lasted about three hours, but the most amazing thing was that Harry spent each of his three breaks sitting next to me! Now, I had just seen him with Johnny Carson a week or so before, so when he asked me if the traffic was always this bad in Bryn Mawr, I responded “I don't know, heh-heh,” avoiding eye contact as much as I could. I was completely star-struck.

But Harry would have none of that. He kept talking to me, asked me what my favorite of his songs was (it was Taxi) then dedicated it to me on stage. Each break he was back in the seat next to me, telling a story or asking my opinion … generally treating me like an old friend. By the third break I was slapping him on the back and suggesting names for his next album. What an incredible man he was, and gone way too soon.

Vincent Price
In 1973 I was a freshman at Susquehanna University and one of my student jobs was to help set up the stage for guest speakers and various visiting dignitaries. We never got any dignitaries, but I suppose Vincent Price came fairly close. He certainly was the most dignified man I had ever met. Still is.
He chose me for the vital task of holding his coat while he gave his speech. His routine was to start out in his spooky voice with a spooky quote from Edgar Allan Poe while the auditorium was dark as night. Once the audience's spines were sufficiently chilled, he ever so slowly walked on stage in a spotlight in a long, black coat. At one point during his reminiscing about his career, he would say a predetermined word (which I now forget) and I would walk on and take his coat. When he was done (about 45 minutes later) I was to take (exactly) two steps on stage and hand him back his coat, folded over my left arm. He and I went over this procedure four times before the speech. I don't think he trusted me as a fellow performer. In spite of his lack of confidence, I performed flawlessly. As he passed me off stage, without looking at me even from the corner of his eye he said, "Well done, young man." Maybe it's just Mr. Price's eerie voice, but I have always wondered if he really meant that.

Larry Holmes
In 1975, I was an assistant manager at Wendy's in Phillipsburg, NJ, which is just across the Delaware River from Easton, PA, Larry's home town. Holmes was not yet a champion, but was a regular on TV fights. He loved Wendy's hamburgers and we gave him a “celebrity discount” if I remember correctly. I made it a point to shake his hand whenever he came in. (Harry had loosened me up a little.)

Henny Youngman
In 1980 I worked with a beautiful graphic artist named Lisa who moonlighted as a waitress at a swanky hotel restaurant on weekends. It was in that capacity that she waited on Mr. Youngman, who she reported was an avid flirter -- even as he approached 75 years of age. She flirted back to the extent that she got to design business cards for him and received two backstage passes to his show in Philadelphia.

And that's where I come in.

Lisa knew I was a sucker for Henny's old-style, rapid-fire act so she invited me to join her. Once backstage I was shocked at how bad he looked. He sat all alone before the show, looking very old, very pale and half asleep. He asked if I had any donuts, which I didn't. But as it happens, I always know where to get my hands on donuts ... so I got him a few.

Then stunningly, as soon as they called him to go on, he perked up, practically ran on stage and proceeded to do a good hour of material. When he came off stage he asked me if I had a car, and if so could I drive him to his hotel.

And so it came to be that I drove my Chevette piled with Henny's three violins and cases in the front passenger seat, and Lisa and Henny in the back about 10 blocks until I watched a comic legend and his violins walk off into the Center City Philadelphia night.

Lisa and I talked all the way back to her place about how we probably wouldn't see him around much longer. And sadly we were right ... he passed away 18 years later.

The Inn From the TV Show Newhart
On a trip to Vermont I visited the inn used for exterior shots on the show. The interior was completely different, and yes … a little disappointing.

Jon Stewart
In 1990, Jon was co-hosting Short Attention Span Theater on The Comedy Channel, a cable network almost no one watched … or even had, at that time. I was a big fan of the show, and I wrote a few little comedy bits that Jon actually used on air. I was thrilled, and when I saw that he was going to appear on a publicity gig at the King of Prussia Mall, I was not going to miss that.

I went there with two friends for moral support in case he blew me off, but when we got there he was all alone at a table in the middle of the mall. No one knew who he was. I walked up and introduced myself, starting with the very confident phrase, “You probably don't know me, but ...”

He shouted out (with very obvious over-enthusiasm), “Jack Huber! Jack Huber! I can't believe I'm meeting Jack Huber!” The walking traffic at the mall stopped, looked at the two of us, recognized neither and continued on their way.

Unfazed by all this non-recognition, he talked to me for about 30 minutes, encouraging me to keep writing and telling me that he really liked my work. He was about to get his first Letterman appearance and asked me to wish him luck. My level of fame has stayed about as it was then, but I hear that Jon has gotten more well known. It couldn't happen to a nicer guy.

Joe Frazier
I was the biggest Joe Frazier fan I knew years before he ever fought Muhammad Ali. I followed each fight and even adopted as much of his training regimen as I could manage to do (significantly less that he did).

So when Smokin' Joe walked into the Erin Pub in Norwood in full tuxedo on St. Patrick's Day 1993, I was ready. He went from table to table, shaking hands and just generally interacting with the crowd. I had no idea why he was there but I didn't care. When he got to me I asked him about a fight he'd had when he was young.

Eddie Machen was a tough fighter, long past his prime, who was meant as a stepping stone to bigger fights to come. But the wily veteran managed to clip Joe, stunning him and threatening to derail the Joe Frazier Express.

Joe seemed eager to talk about a fight with someone other than Ali. “That old man hit me so hard I thought I was on the canvas! They told me later that I hadn't gone down!” The future champion came back to win that fight and I had a moment I still think about to this day.

John Gorka
If you don't know this singer/songwriter, you should check him out. I saw him at a lunch time concert at a bookstore in Bryn Mawr. I got there early and he was setting up chairs for the audience. I helped him out and wound up getting a song called Raven in the Storm dedicated to me for my troubles.

Thomas “They Blinded Me With Science” Dolby
I was working at Discovery Channel headquarters in Bethesda, MD in 1997, when one of MTV's earliest stars stopped by for a meeting. He was selling a new sound system for the Internet at the time, and gave an impressive presentation. There were about 10 of us in the meeting and we all introduced ourselves, as you do at those things. After the meeting he went to lunch with some Discovery higher-ups.

What impresses me to this day about Thomas Dolby is that about six hours later I ran into him on the elevator as we both were leaving the building … and he remembered my name, saying “It was a pleasure to meet you today, Jack.” Okay, maybe that's an old salesman's trick, but it's still working on me.

Well, if I've done my job correctly you're sitting there both dazzled by, and jealous of, all of my close relationships with these bigwigs, kahunas and VIPs. And isn't that really what it's all about these days?

Saturday, February 26, 2011

How To Write for the Internet

Please ignore the following paragraph (I'll explain below).

The sex of any individual, that is the sex of everyone, is determined by chromosomes. Charlie Sheen's sex was determined that way. So was Sharon Stone's sex, all the Playboy models' sex and Lady Gaga's sex, too. Lindsay Lohan's sex, for instance, was determined very soon after her mother became pregnant by means of a sex act. Jennifer Aniston, all of the Kardashian girls, Justin Bieber and Kate Gosselin – all of those sexes were determined in much the same way. So if you're looking for explanations of what determines sex, that's it.


When writing for the Internet, there are two ways to be successful. One is to write entertaining, topical, well thought through articles on subjects that appeal to many people.

The other way is to cram as many of the most popular keywords that people search for into every article you write.

The instinct for a writer to get as many readers as possible is a strong one. Anyone who has studied literature knows that such luminaries as Shakespeare, Dickens and Twain were blatant self-promoters. All three were eventually regarded as celebrities, or as close to celebrity status as was possible given the meager media outlets of their primitive times.

I have no doubt that they would be keywording their wordsmithy tushes off to get their work out there if Internet technology were available in their day.

So I ask you: Who am I to put myself above them?

A few other things to remember about targeting the Internet:

-- Since search engines send so many people to your little chunk of the Web who really have no interest in being there, you might want to begin your article in a way that makes it difficult for them to know when to bail on it. For instance, if your topic is auto repair you could begin with how the term “auto” came to be, with references to automatons, automats, auto-erotic asphyxiation – subjects in as wide a range as you can imagine. This will keep the reader hoping for something that he or she likes while piling up your “time on page” stats.

-- It's very helpful if you have an exaggerated opinion of your opinion. So be sure to work on that.

-- People almost always should be doing something else while they are reading your work, so it's a great idea to make your Web page look like work material, maybe a spreadsheet or a pie chart. You must keep at it. Writing entertainingly for a pie chart is a specialized skill, developed over years. (One I'd like to see those three big literary names mentioned above try, I'll tell you.)

-- In the face of enormous competition to get eyes on your page, insinuating yourself into the mainstream news is a big advantage. If you can save someone's life, or find money and give it back, that will put natural human curiosity about “pseudo-celebrities” to work for you. However, if you're thinking of doing something heinous to get on the news, let me stop you there. We see a big spike on criminals' Web sites for a few minutes but then authorities take them down, so that ends up being lose-lose.

-- Try to keep up with current profanity and ways to show disrespect (I actually stopped at the term “dissing” someone, which is woefully outdated I know). If you don't, you'll never be able to understand the comments that readers write about your work.

So, as a veteran with weeks of Internet experience, I feel privileged to pass on my knowledge to a new generation of Internet writers. And for those of you who have made it this far down the page only to find that my article was not what you for looking for, I say this:


Sunday, February 13, 2011

Warning: Valentine's Day Is Not for the Timid

On the morning of Thursday, February 14, 1929, seven men in Chicago were lined up against a garage wall and machine-gunned to death by murderers allegedly sent by Al Capone.

For them, at least it was over quickly.

Valentine's Day has seen many massacres of the heart since then. It begins with the best of intentions. Kindergarten teachers make it a class project. “Let's make our own little Valentine's cards for our classmates.” Of course they intend to include everyone, but the awkward feet shuffling and “I thought you were checking that list” looks start when the cards are dispersed on the big day.

For some mysterious reason they find that there are no cards for Lawrence with the permanent snot drip or “Cootie Connie,” the girl with five identical school outfits. Last-minute, store-bought cards signed by the teachers are the kindergarten precursor of years and years of super-sized kitty litter and Campbell's Microwaveable Soup-for-One.

Middle school, high school, college, the working world … each has its own little traps of love, lust and infatuation.

For every heart-warming Valentine story of true love, I believe I can show you one of discomfort (at best) or despair (at worst). Something like these from the pages of Cosmopolitan Magazine:

You Don't Look Dutch
A new guy surprised me by planning the perfect Valentine's Day date: a romantic dinner followed by fireworks show on the beach. Everything was great until the check arrived. He asked me, “Should we split it or do you just want to pay for your meal?” After dinner we took a walk on the pier. He bumped into a girl, who was obviously his ex-girlfriend, and after talking and laughing for about 20 minutes without including me he finally said, “Oh sorry, this is my friend, Kat.” We broke up the next day. - Katrina

Come On, I Mean He Saved the Union!
After a long dry spell, I was psyched to finally have a new guy in my life so we could spend Valentine's Day together. Call me corny, but I was hoping I'd get flowers or chocolate — you know, what every girl wants! Instead, he gave me an old Abe Lincoln bobblehead that looked like it came from the bottom of his closet. I honestly didn't even know what to say, so I just mumbled “thank you.” After a few more bad dates, I pulled off Abe's head, and kicked that boy to the curb. - Adrienne

Naturally, it's easy to find stories of stupid men in these situations. It's part of our basic DNA to give dumb gifts. (I kind of like the Abe Lincoln gift that Adrienne got, for instance.) But that street goes two ways.

I have heard many secret stories from guy friends regarding the horrors they have experienced on this day for celebrating love. You never hear of those stories because Valentine's Day is widely regarded as one for the girls. The flowers, the chocolate, the diamonds, the heart-shaped-anything-you-can-imagine. It feels vaguely unmanly to complain about getting the smelly end of the day.

But it happens all the time.

There was Mary Lou, who promised to meet three different guys for Valentine's dinner only to decide, after the reservations had been confirmed, to go with the four-star restaurant and the two-star guy.

Angeline was famous for ordering lobster and a splitting headache, requiring her to leave immediately after her dessert truffles.

Stefanie tried to wrangle four meals from four guys and take all the food home in those swan-shaped aluminum foil things.

Donna required a limo.

Every year, Lorraine had a boyfriend for a limited time only … from just before Christmas to just after Valentine's Day.

Paula … well, Paula was a sweetie.

Which brings me to my unexpected conclusion. (Unexpected to me, at least.)

Even though I started out to warn those of you who have not yet been struck by that little twerp's arrow, I realize that I'm still a believer. Kind of. Some of the time. More or less.

It only takes one really great Valentine's Day to almost erase all of the terrible ones. Just like it only takes one great love to make us forget all the mistakes we met along the way.

Thursday, February 3, 2011

I Think Inside the Box

I can't draw. However, if there were a Museum of Masterfully Finished Coloring Books I would be very well represented there.

As a child, my crayon-rendered portfolios were filled with blue skies, green grass and perfectly aligned red brick walls. There was never a speck of color outside the lines. That's what we all thought we were supposed to do.

One day, as we concentrated so diligently on our work, the purple-grass/orange-clouds people took over. The “creative” types who saw the world not as it was, but as their fertile minds could create it. Suddenly there was poetry that didn't rhyme and those oddly shaped Michelob bottles.

They were thinking outside the box.

The Star-Spangled Banner now took twice as long to sing because the singers kept adding wild notes between the melody.

New age baseball managers started inventing positions. Now they had fifth starters, spot starters, long-relievers, left-handed specialists, short men, middle relievers, set-up men and closers.

Budweiser came up 36 different flavors of beer.

Call it “The Picasso Principle.” It goes something like this: The farther away from the norm that a person can think, the closer to genius he or she is. People who, in a less tolerant age, would have been institutionalized in madhouses were now writing, directing, legislating and designing football uniforms for the University of Oregon.

And I'll admit that those of us who liked to stay inside the lines started to feel a little left out.

But here's a little secret. Not all of those outside-the-box ideas are genius ideas – even when geniuses think of them:

- Thomas Edison built a machine to hunt down ghosts.

- Alexander Graham Bell spent the last 30 years of his life (and a small fortune) attempting to create sheep with six nipples instead of the sheep-standard two.

- Leonardo DaVinci invented shoes that would theoretically allow a person to walk on water. (Seen any water-walkers lately?)

- The Japanese inventor who had a hand in bringing us the floppy disk, CDs, DVDs, digital watches and karaoke machines has a new invention – a spray for a woman's most delicate regions that makes her irresistible to men.

But if some of our great minds have hit a few foul balls, these inventions by lesser lights ought to earn their creators a permanent home in The Out-of-the-Box Thinking Hall of Fame:

- A well-known U.S. company has “a serious product” ready for release (so to speak): Underpants that hide the smell of farts. (No word on its sound-muffling capabilities.)

- Fake breasts that contain milk. Dad wears them so that he may enjoy the bonding experience (but not the tugging experience) of breastfeeding his child.

- The baby mop, which is a wider version of the standard mop, but with no handle. You gently place it under your not-yet-walking toddler, and he or she begins to earn his or her keep as each movement mops the floor.

- Umbrella shoes. Yes, they're tiny umbrellas on the toe of each shoe to keep your feet (but sadly not your ankles) dry.

- The banana guard, which is a plastic receptacle shaped exactly like a banana (but available in designer colors) that can hold the uneaten portion of your peeled banana when it's just too much for you to finish all at once.

- The nose-shaped pencil sharpener. I'll say no more on that one.

- The safety coffin, which offers an escape hatch in case you wake up after a huge mistake has been made.

Actually, that last one makes a lot of sense to me.

So, okay – I will acknowledge the great advances that some of these forward-thinking ideas have brought us. Microwave popcorn is far superior to the old-fashioned Jiffy Pop shake-it-over-a-flame method, for instance. And Velcro … well, you just gotta love that.

But we worker bees deserve some respect, too. How would these magnificent minds know where the box they want to think outside was if we weren't already in there plugging away? And after all, we're the ones who basically serve as the ultimate judges for all of these great ideas, right?

You don't agree? Ask the outside-the-box thinkers who came up with Ben Gay Aspirin, Bic Underwear or New Coke.

Sunday, January 30, 2011

26 Things That Might Not Be True

You've heard them your whole life.

“Facts” and inside information that you really have to wonder about.

There are the multiple explanations for the facts of life, for instance, from birds dropping babies down chimneys (is there ever really an age when that seems plausible?) to sharing a straw to using the rest room of the opposite sex.

True, in the particular case of procreation, the truth turns out to be even more bizarre than most of the fiction, but that's a discussion for another day.

There was the story that aspirin in a Coke had the same approximate effect as LSD. And the rumor that Walt Disney was frozen after his death (he was cremated, but substitute Ted Williams and you're closer to the truth). And myths like giant alligators in the sewers, muggers who steal kidneys, tee-totaling college students and on and on ….

I come to this topic genetically, I think. One of my uncles once described my Grandfather Huber as “the biggest mass of misinformation” he had ever met. And so I bring you these nonfacts. Some I have heard over the years, and some have occurred to me as interesting ways to change the world if I were in charge.

Also ... I've included three true items just for the fun of it. See if you can pick them out.

1. All birds can talk, but so far only parrots and a very few others have chosen to.

2. Left in the sun, mayonnaise becomes mustard.

3. The arrow was invented decades before the bow, and was originally used simply as a pointing device.

4. Worldwide, women named Stella are taller than men named Mickey.

5. Coke the drink once contained coke the drug.

6. People who can't sing also can't bake.

7. During the American Revolution, over 600 people were executed for keeping the “u” in words like colour and flavour.

8. The word “stout” was invented as a way to describe King Henry VIII without insulting him.

9. Everyone in Ireland knows everyone else there.

10. The first man to milk a cow spent the rest of his life in prison as a pervert.

11. Benjamin Franklin proposed that the turkey be the symbol of America, not the eagle.

12. Every McDonald's has a secret VIP room where gourmet burgers and fries are served by supermodel waitresses.

13. The French horn got its name from the punch line of an off-color joke.

14. As he took office in January 1981, Ronald Reagan was under the mistaken impression that he had promised all Americans free sausages.

15. Babe Ruth is one miracle away from being declared a saint.

16. Potato chips were invented by a chef who was trying to spite a complaining customer.

17. More automobile accidents are caused each year by bees trapped inside the car than by texting and cell phoning combined.

18. No drummer has ever lived to be 70.

19. Small portions of the King James Bible were actually rewritten by William Shakespeare.

20. Two out of five men think of brassieres when they hear the word “infrastructure.”

21. In Argentina they sell men's suits that expand or contract with you as you gain or lose weight.

22. Voters in Delaware will decide this March which name is correct: cougar, puma, mountain lion, catamount or panther.

23. People in glass houses hate being told what to do.

24. William “Bill” Fontaine was named Meteorologist of the Year for coming up with the term “Thundersnow.”

25. Before prizefighters were known as “boxers” they were called “spaniels.”

26. The most interesting man in the world always drinks beer. In fact, it's kind of a problem.

So there is my contribution to what government agencies and political campaign managers like to call “disinformation.” If you were playing along, the actual true information is contained in numbers 5, 11 and 16.

Saturday, January 15, 2011

What If Your Religion Is Wrong?

I choose to believe in a higher power, mainly because that's the smart move.

If I'm right, I tip my hat and strut on through those Pearly Gates into an afterlife filled with non-stop fun with my favorite people for all of eternity. At least that's my heaven, your results may vary.

If I'm wrong, there's no one to apologize to. It's just a sigh, an “Oops!” and a move on to the next thing (or no thing, if that's the case).

My god has an odd sense of humor. Or maybe one just so advanced that mere mortals are at a loss to explain it, other than to say that he “works in strange ways.” Among his best jokes are hammerhead sharks, college football's non-playoff BCS system and sex. (He never really thought we'd figure out that last one on our own … or if we did that we'd actually do it.)

But I think his very best joke is the invention of religion.

Now, I should be clear on this point … no matter what religion you believe in (or don't believe in) there is a chance that you are absolutely right.

However, given the odds, it might be a slimmer chance than you think. That's just the sort of thing that gives my god the giggles. You see, my god made the universe so grand and so overwhelming that it is impossible for humans to comprehend or even imagine. You know how dogs can't understand algebra? It's something like that.

The more we try to figure it out, the more fun it is for him. Each path we create to salvation and each bizarre practice or prohibition we establish to please him … pleases him.

And we just keep amusing him with our fervent shots in the dark:

There are 19 major world religions. These 19 can be subdivided into a total of 270 large religious groups. Within these groups, there are 34,000 separate ones just within the Christian heading.

Here's a quick rundown of our Top Dozen Guesses:

Christianity: 2.1 billion
Islam: 1.5 billion
Secular/Non-Religious/Agnostic/Atheist: 1.1 billion
Hindu: 900 million
Chinese Traditional: 394 million
Buddhist: 376 million
Primal/Indigenous: 300 million
African Traditional: 100 million
Sikhism: 23 million
Juche: 19 million
Spiritualism: 15 million
Judaism: 14 million

It stands to reason that every true believer in a religion believes that religion is the one true religion. But simple math (not even algebra) tells us that the vast majority of the people on Earth who consider themselves members of a particular religion are just plain wrong.

That's hard to accept, and so sometimes people want to stress how strong their faith is by stating what they think is stronger than faith. They say they know.

This leads to statements like: “I know I'm being saved because I've accepted Jesus,” or “I know I will be with Allah by becoming one of his martyrs,” or “I know Zeus will smile down on me because I killed my third-favorite goat for him.”

What they don't realize is that knowing is the opposite of faith. Faith is believing what you do not know.

The strongest, most well-meaning faith that humans are capable of mustering doesn't change the basic truth: No one knows.

All this doesn't mean that people should run out and switch religions. (I have found that my influence on the world is substantially less than that, anyway.) But maybe just a little tolerance is in order. People whose beliefs are different from yours may be just as good and kind and faithful (and right) as you are.

As for me, I think I'll continue to put my faith in a god that knows how to have a good time.

Of course, I could be wrong.

Sunday, January 9, 2011

Things That Make No Sense to Me

With age comes wisdom. Or so I was led to believe.

But the truth is, unless you're a cult member (they have answers for everything), the questions that occur to you over the years far outweigh the knowledge you acquire. The existence of a higher power and life after death are a couple of the bigger mysteries that enter our minds with the passing years.

Those two are more or less out of my league. However, I can address just a very few ... a tip of the iceberg so to speak ... of the lesser things in life that baffle me:

Bottled Water
I may be penny wise or frugal or just plain cheap, but I just can't bring myself to purchase water in a store. How does this sound for a business plan? Charge people a tidy sum for virtually the same thing they can get for free at home. Give it a fancy name, French if you can think of one, and you can charge even more. And, oh yeah, package it in a material that kills the planet like … oh … let's say ... plastic.

I could access ancient records of my grades to prove this, but suffice it to say that I can't even understand enough calculus to give you an example of how baffling calculus is to me. Wait a second … here's something I sort of remember: Calculus has “imaginary numbers.” Even with an infinite number of numbers available, calculus feels the need to imagine more numbers. Come on, calculus! I mean … really?

“Stock futures are up four points before the opening bell.”
I'll admit that I don't know the first thing about the stock market. Well, that's not strictly true. I do remember learning in sixth grade that people jumped out of tall buildings when it crashed in 1929. (Some lessons you learn in school are just too cool to forget.) But even given my ignorance of the subject, isn't this statement about the same as saying, “The Phillies lead the Mets 4-0 as we prepare to start the first inning.”?

I realize that where food is concerned it's quite literally a matter of taste, but to me these are like eating tiny balls of snot.

I have never understood the amazing appeal of this pretend soccer game where you twist poles to spin attached players who attempt to push the ball into the goal. To me, it's a tremendously cumbersome simulation of an unpopular sport on an unwieldy table. But I have resigned myself to the fact that this is an indication of some kind of defect in me. Almost everyone I know loves it … I don't … I now concede that they're probably right.

And there is one more item that I'll bring up as part of my “Hall of Fame of Things That Never Made Any Sense to Me” …

8-Track Tapes
For the benefit of those of you under 45 or so, I'll explain that these were approximately 4-inch by 8-inch cartridges filled with a theoretically never-ending loop of the greatest music from the mid-1960s through the 1970s. Just about every car I rode in during those years had an 8-track player in the glove compartment and a back seat filled with the tapes. (I believe Led Zeppelin tapes came with every player.)

The sound was pretty good, but the one (I would call it major) flaw was this: The lengths of the tracks did not coordinate with the lengths of the songs. The music would fade out in mid-song at the end of one track, there would be about a 3-second silence, followed by a mechanical click (or clunk, if you prefer), 3 more seconds of silence and then a fade in continuing where the music left off.

Having heard these albums on 8-track enough times, a person started to believe that the pause-click-pause was part of the songs. (It was a dumber, more innocent age, I'll admit.)

I have a hard time envisioning today's iTunes generation putting up with that sort of flaw. But what made the 8-track so difficult for me to understand even then is that for most of the time that it was popular there was a far better alternative.

Standard cassette tapes existed. You know, the mini reel-to-reel inside that little plastic case. I know they were available because I had one in my car. These were the obvious, no-brainer choice ... technologically superior, musically non-interruptive, smaller, easier to store, longer playing time with better sound and … I'd better stop here before I blow a gasket.

I'm suddenly reliving a 30-year-old argument with my 8-track-loving friend, Tony.

Feel free to chime in with some things in this wild world that make no sense to you!