WELCOME - Let's Look At Life and Rant About It!!

Friday, April 30, 2010

Today In The Checkout Line ...

I did it ... I swore I wouldn't but I did it anyway ... I bought "Avatar." Well, I didn't actually buy the movie ... I bought a box of Milk Duds which made me think of going to the cinema which caused me to stop at my friend Mike's house and borrow his Avatar DVD. And I watched it.

In a word ... AMAZING. In another word ... SPECTACULAR!!

I like all types of movie ... drama, action, comedy, fantasy, etc. ... so the fact that I loved this film isn't a big surprise. What is shocking is that I wasn't burned by another over-hyped epic.
Like just about everyone on planet Earth not living in a cave, I was bombarded with pieces and parts of the Avatar press machine long before the film's December 2009 release. I knew that the movie had been in some form of development since 1994 ... kids are learning that fact in nursery schools now. I was told repeatedly that Avatar was going to show movie-goers breakthrough motion-capture animation technologies that would set new standards. Info-tainment publications and television shows flooded the newsstands and airwaves with details about Avatar's $237 million budget and the rumored $280 million to $310 million actual price tag for the project. Complete strangers stopped me in the street to ask if I was aware that Avatar was nominated for nine Academy Awards, including "Best Picture" and "Best Director." And if I was exposed to one more James Cameron "exclusive" interview I was going to go old-school postal on somebody or something ... no court in the land would convict me!

To be honest, I actively tried not to see the film and had decided that, if I ever did, I'd hate it. But the story of a mid-22nd century paraplegic marine working with scientists to inhabit artificial bodies and use them to sway the alien population of a distant moon into allowing a mining colony to both aid a resource-depleted Earth and turn a tidy profit (that's a mouthful) was like a siren song. The main human character's hardships and his struggle with doing what's right or obeying his military masters was enthralling. The spiritual Na'vi people were equally captivating, with their brutal-yet-dignified lifestyle. And the prehistoric, often-physics-defying landscapes of Pandora as it orbited a gas giant in the neighboring Alpha Centauri star system were breathtaking. I even overlooked some of the obvious plot points and the textbook gonna-be-a-sequel ending because it was so damn entertaining. I really liked it!

Upon reflection, I can see that my planned film embargo stems from the deep-seeded anger from dozens of movies that promised me everything and delivered very little. In 1997, James Cameron released another little film called "Titanic," promising the most heart-gripping love story ever told between characters "Jack" and "Rose." The world was abuzz with "Titanic Fever" and the film set all kinds of box office records, grossing more than $2 billion internationally. For me it was a big slow boat filled with a big slow story line. I want my three hours back, James Cameron.

In 2001, friends asked me to attend the movies for a little flick called "Pearl Harbor." We had big-name box office draws and noisy battle scenes, all interwoven with a steamy love triangle and enough historical references to make any social studies buff more than happy. I fell asleep ... an event only happening once before when I was forced to watch "On Golden Pond" on DVD. Michael Bay directed Pearl Harbor and he was only forgiven by me after the first "Transformers" movie debuted. Maybe if the planes and aircraft carriers of 1942 had changed into Decepticons and Autobots, I might have stayed awake. And the cast owes me a ticket refund for poor, poor performances ... that's $2.25 from Ben Affleck, $2.25 from Josh Hartnett, and $2.25 from Kate Beckinsale. And I don't care if one of them kicks it in or they all go together, but a box of wasted Skittles is also part of that redemption deal!
And 1994 called to remind me that that nightmare called "Pulp Fiction" ... which I saw at a discount theatre ... still pisses me off. That stupid dance and the getting-stranger-by-the-minute progression of plot and characters. John Travolta is a yawn, Uma Thurman can't act, and I never know if Samuel L. Jackson IS Samuel L. Jackson or if he's Lawrence Fishburne or Morgan Freeman. A buck's a buck, Quentin Tarantino ... cough it up!

Even comedies ... my true love ... have failed me. In 2008, "Baby Mama" was released, starring the campy, nutty duo of Tina Fey and Amy Poehler as a busy executive (Fey) who waited to have children but now finds she needs the help of a surrogate (Poehler) to make her dreams of motherhood come true. Has anyone you know ever watched a preview or commercial for an upcoming movie and commented, "I think we just saw all the best parts in the trailer." They were talking about Baby Mama. The trailer was more meaningful and much less annoying. It was like slow sketch comedy ... I was listening for the "rim shot" to move us into each new scene. And predictable ... not what I expected from the quirky Poehler (thank God she found her home in "Parks and Recreation"). And Tina Fey was just bad, not surprising from the most over-hyped celebrity in show business. She doesn't even return Oprah's calls in a timely manner!

It hasn't always been the big screen that's disappointed me. Friends and family have tempted me to sit in front of the small screen and "be amazed" by their favorite movie. The amazement seldom occurs. Two "death sentence" movies would be "Officer and a Gentleman" (1982) and "Wall Street" (1987). The first is always mentioned as a story of "timeless romance." All I saw was Louis Gossett, Jr., yelling at Richard Gere, and what he should have been shouting was, "hey, how did we get roped into this piece of crap?" And Wall Street's "Gordon Gekko" ... I've heard that character quoted at meetings and slurred in barroom conversationscountless times. His one line, "Greed is good," is well remembered. Well, remember this ... "the movie was bad!"

POINT OF RANT: In a world where people earn college degrees from their home office and doctors use imaging devices the size of an Ipod, why is entertainment still such a risk?

Wednesday, April 28, 2010

Today At DEWmocracy.com ...

We, as Americans, sit at a crossroads ... a political precipice of life-affirming proportions. We get to select yet another flavor to join the royal Mountain Dew family.

I take this duty solemnly. Most Americans, like myself, will probably give this decision more serious consideration, ask more peers for guidance, and perform more research than we did for the most recent presidential contest (come on, the black guy was too hip not to vote for).

Since the 1940s, PepsiCo has been supplying us with one of the greenest, fizziest, tangiest, caffeine-iest sodas ... first in Tennessee and the Carolinas exclusively, then taking the U.S. and the globe by storm. In 2007, Mountain Dew was ranked as the fourth best-selling carbonated beverage in the world. In 2008, like celebrity couples and fickle rap artists, the popular soda came up with a neater nickname and became known as MTN DEW.

This is the second such "election" in the drink's history. As if to undo the nation's error of a second term for George W., PepsiCo presented consumers with three new flavors of Dew and allowed us to elect the winner. In 2008, store displays grabbed our attention and encouraged us to try "Supernova," a strawberry-melon blend that tasted like a wet Pixie Stick; "Revolution," a berry-flavored drink with a not-too-subtle medicine-like finish; and "Voltage," a raspberry concoction that was like a cross between blue snow cones from the carnival and angel wings. Voltage became our reigning Dew, joining with regular and diet versions as well as "Code Red" (a 2001 very, very cherry creation), "LiveWire" (the 2003 tangy orange variation), "AMP" (a Dew step-child energy drink), and "BajaBlast" (a 2004 blend of lime, pineapple, and Dew magic).

Today, the ballot again has three contenders. "Typhoon" is a pinkish tropical punch-like drink with hints of strawberry and pineapple. To me, it's like that Hawaiian Punch guy after he's moved into a nice retirement village ... no oomph. Next we have "Distortion," a lime-infused drink that has kind of a syrupy feel to it, and a peppery or minty after bite. Think kamikaze shots from your college days ... or last Thursday. It's reminiscent of Rose's Lime Syrup and pretty damn tasty! It's also got a cool greenish color, like radioactive sludge from any sci-fi movie. But my early favorite in the race for American soft drink taste buds is "White Out." It's white ... like luscious pearls ... or fiery opals ... or the cool special effect they gave Halli Berry's eyes in "X-MEN." Like really bad glaucoma. It's billed as "Citrus Smooth" and it delivers in spades. I also think it screams "mix me with citrus flavored vodka and call in sick tomorrow!"

And like modern elections with their gimmicks and outrageous promotional spending, each Dew candidate has a political ad. Typhoon shows a pink tidal wave washing over a pair of arguing beachgoers ... they deserved the tasty disaster because, in the short time we know them, they seem truly annoying. In the spot for Distortion, viewers are treated to an animated rave with hip youngsters, rockin' DJs, and an it-seems-so-natural cloudburst of raining limes. But again, leading the pack, the advertisement for White Out is far superior, featuring a smiling female shopper who thwarts a pack of crazy ninjas to enjoy her refreshing pearly white beverage. It's like a clip from an '80s action movie, and look where Schwarzenegger's limousine is parked ... at the governor's mansion!

This will truly be an election where you can't go wrong. Especially if you're like me ... in love with carbonation. I loves me the bubbles!! In fact, even with my history with alcohol, I'll choose some fizzy beverage over the "hard stuff" nine times out of ten. It goes back to my childhood. For whatever reason, the children in my family were raised on Kool-Aid and Wylers ... "pop" was a rare treat we had when visiting friends or celebrating holidays at the homes of relatives we only saw once or twice a year. I remember a family that lived on the far end of the block ... the Nelsons. They had two kids that none of us liked, but I think they had a soda pipeline connected to their house. And I'll never forget the first time I pretended to want to play with them and was rewarded with a tall, sweating bottle ... bottle, I say ... of Pepsi. I distinctly recall Mrs. Nelson bringing the chilled containers outside and popping the tops with a bottle opener. That hiss of released pressure and subsequent development of carbon dioxide "bubbles" gives me goosebumps to this day. And the "bite" and "fizz" caused by the carbonic acid separating out makes my mouth water. Is it getting hot in here?!

Anyway, do your dew-mocratic duty and vote at DEWmocracy.com. And as with any election, I exercise my right to introduce a right-in candidate. Around Halloween in 2004, and again in mid 2005, PepsiCo created "Pitch Black," a Dew formula centered around the taste of sour grape. Words cannot describe how wonderful this drink was, but I'm gonna try ... INCREDIBLE! It had zing, and pow, and bam. It had a flashy silver, black, and deep purple can. And it mixed beautifully ... like pretty teenagers in a backseat on prom night ... with Absolut Kurant. Where did you go, my pretty? If I had a fallout shelter, I'd fill it half with Pitch Black and half with Twinkies ... and throw in some books, comics, deodorant, water, vitamins, a good first-aid kit, flashlight and batteries, and a case of Absolut Kurant. And no bombs or war ... I just want a cool place to hide out and get hammered!!

POINT OF RANT: I do loves me the bubbles!

Monday, April 26, 2010

Today At The Gas Station ...

After filling up my gas tank, I went inside to pay and hopefully grab one of the new Mountain Dews ... "White Out," if I can find it. There are a few people ahead of me in line, but I'm not in any real hurry. I wait my turn, move up when the line advances, and start swearing to myself when I see that the lady in front of me is clutching a slightly-rumpled envelope with numbers written on it. She's buying lottery tickets.

Now, I enjoy the lotto ... the thrill of the gamble, the dream sequences running crazily through your mind about how you'd spend $10 million ... but I know a line stopper when I see one. And sure enough, this lady wants a few auto selections (chosen by a computer), three picks based on her children's birthdays, five sets from an office pool, and about four other picks based on God knows what. And she wants some instant tickets, but she needs to know the background history on every one of the maybe 20 rolls on the instant lottery display. "The one with the clovers," she asks, "had any winners on that roll recently?" "And to the left, is that a fresh roll or are there a few purchased already?"

What happened to manners or common courtesy? This lady has every right to make her lottery ticket purchases, but I was raised to try to not hold people up or get in their way. I allow a driver or two to sneak in in front of me when lanes are merging ... it's not like I have to get to the next phone booth before the kidnapper calls. I often let people ahead of me at the supermarket if I only have a few items and they're pushing around a heaping cart or riding herd over some rambunctious children. I still hold doors and let people who seem to be in a true hurry take the cab we're both wanting.

There's a truck stop I pass on my way to and from the office. I get gas and snacks there occasionally. It's really kind of run-down and a bit on the grimy side, but it has one of the best innovations I've witnessed of late ... a dedicated lottery window. There isn't always a cashier manning this station, so lottery gamblers sometimes have to wait a bit to be helped (oh, is that a tear I'm shedding? No, it most certainly is not.). The lottery window is fronted by a shelf with all the forms and little sawed-off pencils (like at the golf course) you need to gamble away a good amount of pocket change. And you can't buy gum or pay for your gas at the lottery window ... that's a distraction. Likewise, none of the other three registers deal with lottery ticket sales, so don't even ask. It's a total win-win ... the ticket buyers can consider their options at a leisurely pace while poor schleps like me can get in and get out. Nirvana!!
And even more heaven like are the newer lottery "vending machines" that offer the game-themed tickets without the need for any human interaction. If they could just fit more of life's general needs into vending machines and keep the prices reasonable, then I could become a happy hermit.

This idea of "retail dedication" isn't new. The express lanes at supermarkets have been helping us quickie shoppers for years, and the self-service checkouts are even better ... except for the tiny area they expect you to balance your merchandise on while trying to complete the transaction. Drive-up windows at pharmacies have also been a great timesaver ... for some reason, the inner bowels of pharmacies can be littered with people waiting for help, playing with the blood pressure machines, and generally contaminating the general public with the biological h-bombs of their coughs and sniffles.

And I think one of the coolest things to come along are those "predictive 'bots" on the Internet ... you know, the boxes and lists that say "People who selected this product also enjoyed blah-blah-blah." Damned if they aren't usually right on the money. Again, win-win ... I see a few selections I would have otherwise overlooked and the online store gets more of my money.

POINT OF RANT: Golden rule, folks ... golden rule!

Saturday, April 24, 2010

Today At The Art Supply Store ...

I'm feeling creative ... that mood where you want to get out lots of pieces and parts and make a mess. So I went and bought three pre-stretched canvases. Big ones ... the largest is 28 inches by 60 inches. I also bought a few small brushes and a bag of seas sponges. I have tons of paint, rags, sealants, varnishes, and larger brushes, all in a box that I get out from time to time. Painting is a long-time hobby of mine ... I love to do abstracts that most people don't "get," and some of my landscapes and cityscapes aren't half bad.Buying canvas ... but I think being creative, for me, is something genetic.

My late father was a carpenter in a manufacturing plant. He was kind of a cross between a designer and a repairman, but it was his home workshop that really showcased his ability to see the potential in a chunk of wood. When he was deep in a project, he lost track of time. His hands were usually a mess and his workshop was peppered with sawdust. I think he taught me a valuable lesson - why clean up until the mess-making is over.

My paternal grandmother, my dad's mom, was a lyricist, although in fact she just liked to play around with words. But on a dare, she mailed her "word stories" to a magazine ad in Nashville and had three songs sold to country music wannabes ... I still have the vinyl records with her credits on the labels in a box somewhere.

My maternal great-grandmother was a poet. She was a small, severe woman who didn't speak about creative topics, but her imagery about the beach, nature, and farm life graced the pages of four different magazines in the late 1950s.

Her daughter, my grandmother, was a seamstress by trade for many years. She could look at fabric and imagine things that others just couldn't see. She was also scandalous. In the mid '50s, she was almost run out of her neighborhood by the other women when she altered several men's suits to be worn by the wife of a Chinese immigrant and local business owner. I think Grandma could have given Project Runway a shot!

My maternal grandfather was a crooner. He sang in all types of groups, and even won several awards in high school and performed as both a solo act and in a barbershop quartet at every county fair that would have them. He was good, so he performed throughout much of the state.

And last but not in any ways least, there's my mother. A self-trained artist. She once designed a condiment label for a local teen burger joint ... she used the $30 prize money to buy paints and an easel. She never got the chance to go to art school, opting for marriage and a family. I don't think she regretted that decision, but, when I was young, my mother took a part-time job as a librarian and used every opportunity to bring home books about painting, art history, weaving, printmaking, decorative arts, and more. She studied as much art as she might have if attending a proper college.

Later, my Mom worked in a print shop where the owner, recognizing her natural gift for design, taught her everything about the business. I think she did as much presswork as she did billing and reception ... the duties for which she was hired.

And in our house, there were always boxes of crayons and colored pencils, reams of paper, markers, glue, glitter, tracing paper, paint sets, glue guns, string and yarn, pastels, scissors and hole punches, ribbon and scraps of fabric, modeling clay, buckets of sidewalk chalk, cardboard boxes of varying shapes and sizes, rulers and protractors, sheets of felt, a woodburning kit, construction paper in nearly every color of the rainbow, and even a big sack of plaster mix from the hardware store. Supplies for arts and crafts were crammed into every drawer and cubby we had. I remember various relatives commenting lightheartedly that my mother wasn't much of a housekeeper, but I never minded. Neither did my siblings. We were the only kids on the block with a moat-surrounded castle made out of Quaker Oats canisters and popsicle sticks, or scary hand-painted monster figurines made from clay baked in an old toaster oven.

In my early teens, my mother suffered a devastating stroke. For about three weeks, it was a constant battle for her to just stay alive. I vividly remember the times when we children didn't go to the hospital and we nervously awaited for Dad to return with the day's "verdict." After months of hospitalization and therapy, she came home ... but her mobility and speech were greatly affected. With great difficulty, she was able to see me as the "Mayor" in my junior high musical. But she missed my high school art shows and other events involving me and my siblings.

I really wanted her to attend my senior design show in college, but the venue and logistics made it nearly impossible. However, my college experience provided some great bonding for my mother and I. Remember I said she liked to learn about all types of art. Every phone call to her or weekend home was filled with me recanting stories about classes and projects. She was outraged by some of my photography assignments, and extremely supportive during my rough brush with the potter's wheel. One Christmas, I gave her a duplicate topography text as a gift. She loved it and would mark all the typefaces she found especially interesting ... her leftover printshop days coming to the surface. From time to time, I would also present her with old pieces of lead type I'd find at flea markets and antique shops. She kept them all on her "special" shelf.

Toward the end of her life, my mother suffered additional strokes and health crises. The family eventually placed her into a nearby convalescent home for the ongoing care she required. I still talked to her about art and design, and when she died I secreted away all her lead type. These little things didn't mean squat to the rest of the family, but they were each representative of a bit of time that just the two of us spent together. I keep them in a box ... it still makes me sad to take them out, but oddly comforting to know I have them nearby.

Even though I have paint at home, I grabbed a big tube of crimson acrylic paint before I left the art store. Red was, after all, her favorite color, and I think my next painting will be all about her.

POINT OF RANT: Moms in all shapes and sizes are priceless gifts ... treasure them.

Thursday, April 22, 2010

Today At The Art Museum ...

I took today off ... a Thursday. I could have asked friends of family members to join me, but I'm handling this adventure solo. With the car gased up and a quick breakfast stop at my favorite "royal" drive-through under my belt (literally), I'm on my way to Toledo and its art museum.

Not everyone can make a day of a museum, but the facility in Toledo is truly top notch, hosting world class exhibits and offering visitors a look at art at its finest.

There's nothing special I'm "after" today, but I always find something. In the past, the museum has awed me with El Greco and surprised me with murals by Picasso in his later years. And one visit had me captivated by the work of a retired microsurgeon from Michigan. It seemed that this gentleman was looking for some use for the expensive surgical tools he had acquired over the years. Being from Michigan, I guess he loved skiing and snow because he created hundreds of framed "snowflakes" ... the kind you make by cutting notches into folded paper. But besides a few traditional "flakes" and ski scenes, his work included detailed beach scapes, wrathful gods and goddesses from popular mythology, and even a crimefighting scene featuring Batman and Robin. I don't know how he did it!

Like with any art museum ... Columbus, Dayton, the Metropolitan Art and MoMA in New York, Art Institute in Chicago, etc. ... I tend to gravitate toward the Impressionists. It's the softness I think that attracts me, and the strong brush strokes. Centered around Paris in the 1870s and 1880s, Impressionist painters used bold colors with wet-on-wet application to blur edges and "play outside the lines." Also, because pigments had become available in lead tubes, these art-forward individuals could capture landscapes, still-life groupings, and even portraits outside. Impressionists such as Monet, Cezanne, Cassatt, and Renoir were said to favor painting in early evening when they could best visualize the battles between light and shadow.

I also love the post-Impressionist Pointillism movement ... Seurat, Van Gogh, Pissarro, and Cross ... where individual dots of pure color are arranged in patterns to create images comprised of hundreds of tints and tones. And modern art ... with its geometric shapes and loud splashes of color ... always sends me to the gift shop to rifle through a selection of postcards and not-always-affordable art books.

But I think the thing I value most about a trip to a quality art museum is the atmosphere. The quality of the air and sound is usually so hushed, almost reverant. There is a sort of comfort that patrons experience as they walk amongst the visual history or sit and stare at the interplay of shape and color. It's a "quiet" like no other.

POINT OF RANT: When you say to yourself "there's never anything to do," look up the stats on the various museums in your area.

Monday, April 19, 2010

Today At My Favorite Wings Joint ...

It's a Monday night and I'm sitting in "T.C.'s Wing House," my favorite wing place in the world, with my sister, her daughter, and my oldest brother's son. Earlier in the day my sister called me at work and asked if I wanted to meet them for dinner after work ... my treat, of course. Of course, I agreed, minus the "me treating" part.

The Wing House is typical of every wing-slinging dive in the country I've ever patronized ... noisy patrons happy for the taste of a cold beverage, multiple big-screen TVs tuned to sports of all types, messy napkin and condiment stations, cool track lighting, crowded tables and booths, and the ever-popular trivia remotes obviously perched on several tables.

I love wings, the spicier the better. But I'm also a bit demanding. I like good spicy food, but for the life of me I can't understand why some of these bars and pubs make these scalding hot dishes that are all fire and no flavor. Heat for heat's sake just doesn't make sense. Does it really make you more of a man if you survive eating something that can dissolve the lining of your mouth and gums? Go figure.

My late father and I had similar philosophical leanings when it came to spicy foods, especially chili. Food that successfully combines "heat" and "flavor" should surprise you, not make you frantically search for a glass of water ... or a fire hose. It should open up your nasal passages, not cause open sores to sprout on your tongue. It should make you sweat, not swoon.

One time in college, one of my roommates, Brodie, decided to make chili. He had a recipe for something called "Texas Oilman's Chili" that called for cubed-up sirloin, three different types of peppers, tons of expensive spices, lots of red onion, and even a healthy spoonsful of horseradish. It was actually delicious, but cost prohibitive for college students. I remember telling my Dad that that chili probably ended up being about $9 a bowl, but once I described to him how good the "sweat" from it was, he offered $10.

Back to the wings ... like most places, T.C.'s has a range of wing flavors ... timid to bold to beyond bold (I bet your regular wing joint has similar selections). There's "mild" and "medium" for the beginners, two tastes that, at most establishments, seem identical to me. And there's two barbecues ... "smokey" and "sweet." The general strength of flavor and heat goes up a notch then with teriyaki (always one of my favorites for it's depth), "Spicy Garlic," "Sesame Ginger," and "Parmesian" (which is surprisingly hot). Then there's a few choices that promise spicy richness ... "Island Jerk," "Mango Fire," and "Burbon Street." And finally, T.C.'s has three hotties to try. One is called "Blazin' Wildfire" and it does simply scorch the land of your mouth and throat like an out-of-control conflagration. The second is "Habanero Heat," combining a tobasco heat with the scorch of it's namesake pepper. And the last flamethrowing menu item on the wing spectrum of taste is ... drumroll, please ... "Valhalla Hot." Down the street it's called "Dante's Inferno." At a place in D.C. near Georgetown where the fish tacos are out of this world, it's named "Five-Alarm Fantasy." It's pure heat ... pure eye-watering irritant. In my opinion, it ain't any good!

Most really "hot" hot wings incorporate capsaicin, an oil found in many types of peppers. Capsaicin affects the nerve receptors in tissues, especially mucous membranes ... that's what causes the burning sensation in your mouth when you bite into a pepper or eat a "hot" wing.

Some restaurants include a copy of the notorious "Scoville Scale," a rating of peppers and corresponding foods according to their capsaicin levels, in their bar menus.

Like with most things, different people have different tolerances for capsaicin. That's why you all know someone who can eat something you consider extremely mild but they freak out over the "spicy" taste. Or who doesn't have one person in your life who can eat things that are just-short-of-actual-fire hot and never flinch.

From my own personal experience, I know that, when faced with a too capsaicin-rich dish or wing, water doesn't help. It just spreads the oil around, making the burning spread more quickly. And don't look to a cold beer for any first-aid assistance ... alcohol is said to only intensify the burn.

For me, ice cream or a small taste of sour cream works best. I have friends who say a glass of milk or a spoonful of yogurt does the trick for them. The fats in dairy products seem to dissipate the burn, and most bars and restaurants have these things on hand.

If lactose and you are not friends, try a lemonade of a lemon- or fruit-wedge from the bar ... the acidity in these items cuts through the capsaicin attack.

And I read someplace that capsaicin and starch don't play well together. The starch in rice, bread, and even a banana can help beat the heat back to a managable level.

POINT OF RANT: If you are gastrointestinally challenged, be prepared whenever possible!

Friday, April 16, 2010

Today In An ATM Alcove ...

I'm humming the Reba McIntyre TV theme song "I'm A Survivor" in my head because I am, indeed, a survivor ... barely.

Today, at approximately 3:03 p.m. EST, I was making my way through a small shopping plaza. I knew there was a pedestrian galleria adjacent with a handy ATM. I wanted some cash to make my wallet feel less lonely. I parked within a quarter block. The weather report had predicted thunderstorms but the sky was quiet ... actually, too quiet. The air had the feel of an approaching storm, but there were no ominous clouds rolling in. And the sky was not blackening ... it was an odd pearly gray color. Flat, like a lifeless curtain waiting for a breeze. The wait, as it turns out, would not be long.

I entered one of the area's three little paved "alleys" with shops and small businesses. No one was in line at the ATM so I quickly entered the boxy Plexiglas enclosure, plugged in my card, and punched the appropriate buttons to get the transaction started. It was my right ankle, badly broken in a childhood boy-meets-big-hill accident and funny about humidity ever since, that first warned me that something was up. Before I had fully turned my head toward the "mouth" of the walkway, a blast of wind and rain came blasting my way, running parallel to the ground. It was like a special effect in a big-budget movie, this undulating slash of form and movement rocketing my way. Bits of grit, twigs, and mulch flew in the wind's path, shooting into the two-foot gap where the vestibule's walls ended about 18 inches from the ground. There was hail and rain gusting against my back, and water was rapidly collecting on the cobblestones, too much for the nearby drain to handle. I felt like one of those game show contestants in the glass box, but instead of grabbing for swirling fives and tens, I was huddled in a smoked-glass hemistructure being pelted by botanical bullets. I could see the wind, a darker, meaner shade of gray hit the dead end wall of the alley not 25 feet to my right. Anything and everything not nailed down came down the funnel of the little shopping side street and hit that wall like nature's shrapnel.

It didn't even last three minutes. The ATM was trying to get my attention, wanting to know which of my accounts to debit the withdrawal against. I finished up my banking and looked up the alley. All was still again, and it wasn't grey out anymore ... more like a sickly yellow. Two pieces of shingled siding had torn loose from the opposite wall ... I think it's the back of a Greek take-out place. Water and mud climbed past the soles of my sneakers, the drain to my side choked and ineffective with debris. Where the shopping artery met the plaza proper, a dentist's hanging placard lay in ruin. My car and all those around it were covered with these helicopter rotor-like leaf pods, but I didn't see any real hail damage. Loose branches and twigs were everywhere.

As I drove out of the shopping center, I saw that very large trees had been downed ... some appeared to have just snapped off in the wind. The temporary nursery tent ... one of those early spring businesses that sell mulch, top soil, gardening paraphernalia, Memorial Day wreaths, potted flowers, and seed sets ... was torn to hell. Clean up in aisles 1 through 100.

All the way home, dodging larger tree limbs in the road, I just wanted to put a name to the strange weather that had flashed through the area ... and had caused my life to flash before me for just a second or two of panic. Now, tornados are a common occurrence all over the U.S. In fact, tornadoes ... rotating columns of air that bridge clouds to ground and spin at anywhere between 60 mph and 300+ mph ... occur on every continent except Antarctica. What I experienced wasn't a tornado.

Hurricanes are tropical cyclones out over water that affect thousands of square miles in and around the western North Atlantic area and limited Pacific Ocean regions. Often named (alternating masculine and feminine monikers), these storms develop intense thunderstorm-ridden central "eyes" and produce damaging winds generally in the 100 mph to 150 mph range ... gusts of 200+ mph are also common. Similarly, typhoons are tropical storms that primarily affect the northwestern Atlantic Ocean and areas from coastal China to the international dateline. A typhoon produces damaging winds in the same range as hurricanes (80 mph to 180 mph), but these storms often produce more destructive waves. Since my ATM was squarely landlocked, I ruled out a mini-hurricane or tiny typhoon.

Now a monsoon showed promise. Monsoons, often called "rainy seasons" by area inhabitants, are disturbances in normal weather patterns where wind direction generally reverses and large amounts of rain and sustained damaging winds (40 mph to 100 mph) are produced. Monsoons are often driven by differing heating and cooling patterns between large land masses and adjacent bodies of water. Monsoons are typically associated with areas of Asia, western Africa, and Indonesia.

I think I experienced a hybrid "monphoon" weather system. Or I was hit by a freak "phoonado." Whatever it was, area emergency services needs to program an appropriate alert into the sirens.

POINT OF RANT: Never feel safe just because you have an umbrella at home, at the office, and in the trunk of your car.

Thursday, April 15, 2010

Today At The Medicine Cabinet ...

I need aspirin ... I have a headache like the percussion section at a salsa club is warming up in my skull. It's stress, I know. It's April 15 and I waited until the last day to file my taxes. And this year, I owe big.

Now, numbers frighten me in general, so for the past three years I have had my taxes done by a professional. The preparers I use are a popular resource, and luckily the company has an office right around the "Block" from my house.

This year I was, however, organized ... all my forms in a folder, including a hard copy of last years return. I had made less money this past year and had made several large charitable deductions ... the crisp receipts also in my handy-dandy folder. It made sense in my noggin that I shouldn't owe anything, so I walked in to my appointment with head and hopes held high. Big mistake!

After only about 45 minutes I was informed by Leah, a very friendly and seemingly-competent individual, that I would be receiving a pitiful state refund (about 20 percent of what I saw last year) and would owe the federal tax ogre about $1,000. Huh?! Staying polite (I think), me and my new "tax buddy" went over everything a second time and I signed on the dotted-be-damned lines as prompted.

What happened? Well, apparently I forgot that my oh-so-happy-for-it-at-the-time state refund from last year would be considered income for this year. And my charitable deductions were not as powerful as I believed. My unique figures simply put me over some "bracket" line where things fell apart tax-wise.

Now I'm home with a pounding cranium looking for aspirin or Tylenol or whatever. The medicine cabinet and bathroom vanity drawers are a no-go, so I go and check the small wall cabinet I put in my kitchen alcove a few months ago. And there I see something that gets me thinking ... teabags. I think it's about a 14 hour drive to Boston. If I call in sick, write a check at the store for extra traveling money, and drive straight through, then I can use Friday to dump all the Lipton and Celestial Seasonings I can afford into the damn harbor and flip my tea-steeping middle finger at the powers that be. Isn't that one of the big reasons the Colonies wanted out from under English rule ... unfair and undue taxation.

I know there are pundits who say "blame the economy" and "the government has already made concessions to the little guy," and they take shots at administrations clear back through the Reagan years, but seriously, all geopolitical posturing aside, six years ago I couldn't wait until early February so I could get my W-2s and get my taxes filed as quickly as possible because healthy tax refunds were the norm and life was good.

And not to beat a dead horse, but the whole tax process doesn't even seem to be geared toward helping the Average Joe and Josephine. During my tax appointment, I was asked if I had "stock dividends" and "monies derived from mineral rights" to declare. And with a straight face, I was asked "do you own any properties in international territories?" and "if you receive a refund do you intend for the money to remain in the United States?" I'm sure my mouth was hanging open in dull-witted disbelief. Do a lot of eight- and nine-figure earners like Sir Richard Branson have their taxes done in the 'hood on the last possible day?, I wondered. Did the top hat and monocle I was wearing make my tax rep think I was wealthy?

POINT OF RANT: Always keep extra aspirin on hand.

Tuesday, April 13, 2010

Today In My Refrigerator ...

I found a can of CheezWhiz in the frig door. I don't remember buying it, so it's probably pretty old. The can is dinged up and I can't find an expiration date, but I just have to try a quick squirt.

Damn, that's good ... not really good tasting, kinda like the rubber soles that peel off of really old sneakers. But good, like cool ... cool food.

There should be a "cool food" section in the supermarket and a corresponding "cool food" compartment in every refrigerator. At the store, this aisle or section should look like part of the U.S.S. Enterprise, with lots of metal, conduits, and pulsing lights. At home, even the most basic model of frig should have a stainless interior area with see-through doors and specialized cubbies and movable partitions.

And what would go here ... CheezeWhiz, squeezable condiments, GoGurt!, Dippin' Dots (freeze dried ice cream), that sqeezable peanut butter/jelly mix, nasty vegetable drinks that taste like delicious fruit, Magic Shell ice cream topping (because it is the essense of cool), aerosol whipped topping, spray-on salad dressing, and any other food with a unique delivery or storage system that I forgot.

I think this desire for uniquely-delivered edibles stems from my childhood fascination (okay, obsession) with aerosol cans. It started at an early age ... about four. Deodorants, hair sprays, air freshners ... if it had propellant I was into it. I was like an addict but, surprisingly, not once did I ever think about inhaling the products or trying to concentrate the fumes ... even when I was older and knew about that craze. I think I just enjoyed the action of pretending to spray things from my hands, kind of like Spider-Man. And the sound ... that sweet hissing sound that accompanied my aerosol play ... it was like pixies whispering in my ears to keep being naughty.

But my freaky hobby was not without its perils. Both my parents did not like the fact that household products kept disappearing or turning up empty after just being purchased. I remember one incident with my mother ... she worked part time and would walk to and from her job because it was only about six blocks away. She worked two evenings a week and one summer evening when I was probably seven, I couldn't fight the urge to share my passion with the tree that leaned up against our back steps. So after checking to see that my sibling babysitters were engrossed in whatever was on TV, I slipped through the back screen door armed with two nearly-full cans of Pledge. I distinctly recall my plan ... it was probably going to be about 20 minutes before my mother started for home, so I had nearly a half hour to "change the tree." I somehow got it into my head that by spraying the tree with the fruity-scented dusting product I was going to make the tree smell like that forever ... maybe even start growing fruit from its branches. So I found a knothole in the tree and just started spraying away in staggered strokes. I had almost emptied both cans when my mother, sounding like an enraged bull, came zooming out of the backyard darkness and ripped the cans from my grasp. It seemed she had left work a few minutes early and, about two blocks from our house, knew something was wrong because "the whole goddamn world smelled like lemons!!"

And then there was my father. Dad didn't really get involved in the whole aerosol crisis until it mutated to include his shaving cream. I must have thought I was exceptionally clever to build all those shaving cream shapes in the bathroom sink and him being none the wiser, as if he were eternally perplexed at how fast his stockpile of Colgate was being used up. I even decided to help out the family once by "waxing" the bathroom floor with his shaving products. He came looking for me that unfortunate day ... wearing socks, mind you ... and went from a searching vertical father to a painfully horizontal monster. I don't think I ever saw him that pissed the rest of his life!

When I was about eight, I invited my neighbor, nine-year-old Brad, into the inner sanctum of aerosol worshippers. And Brad had a pellet gun. Brad expanded my world through gunplay ... we would steal aerosol products from both our households, take them down to a creek near our primary school, float them in the water, and then shoot them. When a can was pierced, it was amazing and magical the way it would shoot through the water, sometimes spiraling up on land. Sometimes reversing and coming back toward us. We had our own little Kennedy Space Center where every launch was a spectacular failure. I miss Brad ... I think he eventually got interested in matches and my Mom called our friendship quits.

I don't think my parents sent me to a therapist for my spray-can fixation, but I think they may have found a more subtle form of mind control and applied it. As I look at my life, I notice that my cleaning shelf contains only dust "wipes" and multi-purpose cleaning "sheets." I use a gel deodorant and Glade Plug-Ins, and my shaving cream comes in a squeeze tube. I don't even use non-stick cooking sprays because I think they make food "taste funny."

So maybe the possibly-ancient CheezeWhiz I found actually tastes like gourmet cuisine ... it's just the hypnotic suggestions implanted long ago by my parents still hard at work.

POINT OF RANT: We all need to do our part to protect the ozone layer and the environment, even if it involves mind control.

Sunday, April 11, 2010

Today At The Bowling Alley ...

I was meeting two old friends ... one male and one female ... for some catch-up chatter and a beer of three when I was struck by a thunderbolt of an idea. I phoned "the girl" and told her my evil plan. She loved it and was sure our other friend, "the man," would be all in.

So instead of a pub or a restaurant, we all arrived in our separate vehicles to spend a beautiful spring Sunday afternoon in the bowling alley bar. And "all in" was what we became when beers turned into pitchers, and pitchers were joined by shots. And a game of darts brought on more shots. And then it was time to bowl!!

Bowling is such a great sport. Reportedly originating in Germany in 300 AD, bowling was officially sanctioned in America around 1895 where it became a popular pastime for the citizens of NYC. Health professionals describe bowling as an anerobic activity with similar exercise valaue as power walking with free weights. I don't know how health nuts bowl, but I describe it as a"sport" where drinking, swearing, horseplay, and the consumption of greasy foodstuffs like wings and chili fries are almost mandatory. And with electronic scoring, you get to give yourself crude names that other bowlers can see.
If you're a good bowler, your teammates and others around you cheer and congratulate your performance ... you feel like a star. And if you're a bad bowler, your teammates and everyone nearby LOVES YOU and you ARE a star!

Of all the sports out there, bowling is also one of the few I can actually stand to watch on television and enjoy. At first, I thought it was just me and my ADD coming to an understanding, but I think bowlers come across as real people ... not big name celebrities with their assorted scandals or mega-athletes that make more money than God. Bowlers are just regular "Joes" with a little extra talent ... who doesn't enjoy watching the Everyman succeed?

If you like simple things, there are still small-town alleys out there with basic set ups, old school snack shops and arcades for the kids, and plenty of league action to help you groom your game. And if it's highlife you're after, there are lanes that will boggle your mind ... like the lanes at The Orleans in Las Vegas with 70 lanes, 24-hour access, multiple bars for meeting people, and all the glitzy neon and club atmosphere you can handle.

So with a liver fighting for its life, I bowled a respectable 188 that Sunday afternoon with my two friends. And we celebrated one of America's underrated pleasures.

POINT OF RANT: Take the family bowling!

Thursday, April 8, 2010

Today At My Old High School ...

My niece's car was being worked on ... something about the oilpan. She needed a ride home from a cheerleading clinic, so here I was sitting in front of my hometown alma mater feeling very old.
My niece has been a varsity cheerleader for three years. She enjoys it, even though most of the family teases her relentlessly about the ditsy, shallow, and vapid cheerleader stereotype. I have never met any of her "co-spiriters," so imagine my shock when she exited the school with four other girls who looked about 26 and were clearly on their way to work the stripper poles. And not at the good clubs, but the ones near the airport. Any airport. Every airport.

After she was inside the car and belted in, I asked my niece about the "advisors" she was talking to at the school's door, or the older sisters who walked out of the building in her company. Or were they young mothers that just looked really good for their age? "No, those girls are sophomores," she replied, "... and the one on the left is a freshman." The one on the left had the breasts of a well-developed college senior. What kind of growth hormones is the USDA of FDA or whatever agency letting slip into our food supply? These were not the girls of my high school years. And what the hell was the deal with the tans??!!!

We sat there with the car idling for a few more moments and maybe 15 more girls exited the school by themselves or in small groups. And each young lady was a proposterous shade of brown. Now, not everything has changed in my high school. I know from observation that the student body of the entire school system is extremely Caucasian. There are exactly three black students and a handful of individuals of mixed race. But the girls I was ogling in a completely scientific manner looked to be Black, Native American, and whatever races produce a dark skin coloration that appears dirty, unhealthy, and slightly orange at the same time.

"Tryouts are in three weeks, and prom is a week later," my niece, whose own legs were about three shades darker than her arms, continued to explain. "The race is on!!"

Unlike my high school years where extra money was funneled into gas and beer, my niece and her cohorts use their handed-over-from-parents cash for more important necessities ... tanning.

Believe it or not, ancient civilizations used to worship the idea of being pale. Pale pallors meant that you weren't toiling in the fields with the masses. Light complexions were a sign of high status, and both men and women often applied cosmetic concoctions to lighten their look.

But in America, it was the decade of the '40s that had popular magazines touting the benefits of sunbathing. Movies and media of the '50s and '60s strengthened the linkage between being tan and living healthy, fun-filled lifestyles. In 1978, the first tanning beds hit America by storm, offering the tan look without the need for time and real sun. And over the last decade, self-tanning lotions and spray-on tan application systems have gained in popularity.

However, the "look" of a healthy tan doesn't necessarily match up with the facts about tanning. Like our sun, tanning beds emit ultraviolet radiation that causes a substance in the skin called melanin to darken, producing a wide range of tan skin tones. Most tanning beds produce a mixture of UVA and UVB rays, causing both primary (and quick) skin darkening and delayed tanning. Suggested lotions and limited exposures are designed to prevent the natural damaging effects of UV radiation.

But all is not perfect with tanning and tanning beds. The darkening of melanin, by definition, is the body's defense mechanism to damage. Exposure to UV radiation has been directly linked to the development of skin cancer, cataracts, compromised immune systems, and the premature aging and wrinkling of skin. In fact, according to Internet sources, the U.S. Public Health Service classifies ultraviolet radiation, like that produced by sun lamps and tanning beds, as a human carcinogen. And the World Health Organization strongly objects to the use of tanning beds for cosmetic reasons, especially in young people.

I think pure science isn't the end-all to this issue, either. Factors like genetic predisposition, quality of tanning equipment, and common sense thinking have to come into play.

And then there's human nature ... that great desire to cheat any given system ... that has to put in its two cents. According to my niece, several of her friends tan at two different "salons" in a given day ... that's a no-no. Others sweet-talk the attendants into letting them go longer in the beds than suggested. And my niece has three immediate relatives who have battled cancer, so I'd like to shake her 'til she sees stars ... and the light ... about risking her health for temporarily darker skin.

So as I drive away from my old high school, I look in my rearview mirror and see young modern women wearing shades of skin that nature DID NOT provide. And I imagine them in another 10 years with dermis like shoe leather. Not a pretty picture!

POINT OF RANT: There is no definite answer to this one ... your transitory appearance vs. your health ... you decide.

Wednesday, April 7, 2010

Today At The Dog Park ...

I have this friend named Trevor. Trevor, to start, was a friend of a friend's roommate. Likeable on first glance, Trevor proved to be a constant source of amusement and adventure, and became a first-level friend. Trevor taught me how to sled on cafeteria trays. Trevor helped me cram for art history finals. Trevor helped my back to campus after consuming 29 gin and tonics at "10 Cent Well Drinks Night." And it was Trevor who talked me out of making a serious commitment to a girl who I thought was extremely proper - I later found out her nickname was "Rugburn."

Trevor was also the definition of "open." At keggers, it was a 50/50 proposition if he would be leaving with an inebriated sorority girl or drunk-on-his-ass frat dude. Trevor was heteroflexible and we never really discussed the issue, he was just being Trevor. But when Trevor recently breezed through the area on a business trip and asked if I wanted to see a place where "the sex and cruising was wild," I hesitated, weighing his crazy past with the excitement of reconnecting for a few hours. I agreed to be ready in an hour.

The Ohio springtime weather was bewitching as I waited outside. I was dressed casually but smart, nice chinos and a newish dress shirt. I wanted to look like an adult, but not too old. Surprisingly on time, Trevor pulled up with Sheba, his terrier/doberman/spawn of Satan mix. It seems we were going to the dog park to watch Sheba frolick with complete canine strangers.

I, of course, was overdressed for the outing, but Trevor just thought the whole thing was funny. So did Sheba, who in her excitement whizzed a strip down my left pant leg as she shared steering duties with Trevor.

After a 20 minute ride, we arrived at the park. About an eighth-of-a-mile square, the park was busy with two- and four-legged patrons. There were maybe seven other cars in the small parking lot. A variety of humans and dogs milled about, with the animals inside a fence with two volunteer "monitors" that worked each afternoon. I counted about 12 dogs so some people brought more than one beast to play.

The park itself was a mix of flat and wooded areas, littered with every type of ball and chew toy imaginable. Comfortable-looking benches sat close to the running area so that people could relax but staty close to their pets (most people stayed inside the fence with their animals). Everything seemed very well maintained.

Trevor quickly put Sheba on her retractable leash and went over to a bin that housed spare dog bowls and borrowed one. He filled it with water from a nearby spigot and motioned me over to a bench. "Watch this while I get her started," he instructed me and then towed Sheba (she fought the leash the whole way) over to the entrance gate.

As I sat, I glanced over a clearly painted set of rules for using the dog park. Most of it was common sense, but I also thought it was a very responsible move. No roughhousing, no leaving your dog unattended, no food inside the fence, a suggestion to use tha holding area just inside the gate to see how your animal was reacting to being so close to others, and, most importantly, immediate leashing and removal of your dog from the premises if he or she acted up. There was also a standard disclaimor about the city/county/parks department having no responsibility for your do or dog's actions ... legalspeak for you can't sue us if something happens.

Manners ... expectations ... nice looking facility ... what could go wrong? I'm sure the organizers of the Super Bowl, Carnivale, Mardi Gras, Gay Pride, and New Year's Eve in Times Square have the same delusions. It seemed like all I did was blink and the scene went from quaint and serene to lude and lawless. The two "volunteers," obviously individuals who liked dogs but didn't get to spend a lot of time with people, focused on talking up all the owners and didn't once glance at the dogs. The people on the benches who weren't deep in conversation with the helpers (Trevor was telling them both one story or another) had their noses in books or seemed to be deciding the fate of the world via cellphones. And the dogs, oh the dogs ... the growling and the chasing and the yapping and the teasing and the nipping and the chasing and the butt-sniffing and the attempted mounting ... it was out of control. I looked for cameras, first to corroborate what I was witnessing and then to record it for the reality series that was obviously taking place. Seriously, I looked for a studio audience and all the "grips" and "gaffers" and "best boys" because this couldn't be happening for real. And if it was a tv show or movie, then Sheba was a lead actor. She had latched on to a female beagle about her size and was hurriedly humping hindquarters to beat the band.

It was like seeing a car accident ... wanting to look away but unable to look away ... for several minutes before Trevor plopped down beside me, nudged me in the ribs playfully, and snickered, "Did I tell ya? Did I tell ya?"

He had told me. And Trevor, after all, is a man of his word.

POINT OF RANT: Think carefully before going places with Trevor.

Monday, April 5, 2010

Today In My Recliner ...

Although I think humor binds us altogether, I want to digress to a story that's all about heart.

Last evening ... Easter 2010, my family was sharing a simple evening meal to accommodate the most members' schedules. Somehow the topic of age came up. My nephew ... a medical lab technician at a rural hospital ... whistled to get everone's attention. He had a story.

It seems that day, at 5:30 a.m., he had been sent to draw blood on a 92-year-old lady whom he had chatted with briefly on previous visits. He had to rouse her from sleep and, without her hearing aid, he had to speak loudly and tell her his intentions. He worked his "magic" with little pain and started to leave. Since the patient seemed alert, my nephew asked her how she felt and if she was looking forward to spring. She commented positively and began to get comfortable, a plan for returning to sleep apparently in the works.

Collecting his specimen, he said, "before I forget, I want to wish you a very Happy Easter! ... today's Easter." To which she replied, "thank you, sweetie ... and you do the same."

About an hour later, after returning to the lab and busying himself with upcoming shift-change routine, the patient's test results finished and one of her "levels" was high. My nephew called up to the floor and told a nurse the results. "Well thanks for the heads up," she stated, "but I'm afraid that patient passed away a few minutes ago. You were probably the last person to see her."

As we sat quietly amidst honey mustard chicken and mashed potatoes, everyone of my family members was quiet. I was tearing up, as I am as I write this entry. My nephew had taken less than a moment out of his young life to speak to someone in a less-than-positive position. He took the time to simply ask someone how they were doing. It's so easy to forget the small acts of kindness we see in our chaotic lives, or the impact we can have on others by just being decent people.

POINT OF RANT: Take the time whenever you can to celebrate the good people in your life and let those important around you know what they mean to you. And nephew, I couldn't be more proud.

Sunday, April 4, 2010

Today In My Easter Basket ...

Easter ... a Christian mainstay event ... a day when Christ arose from the tomb and a day when many of us make our one of two appearances at church each year. Easter has Pagan origins as a festival or fertility and renewal. Easter, like every holiday, means different things to different people. But in middle America, the celebration of the Easter season couldn't happen without the helping sugary hand of candy.

Unlike Halloween where we have to wear idiotic costumes and beg for treats, Easter is just a bonanza of sweets displayed in a variety of baskets, pails, bins, and other containers ... even Tupperware.

This season I made a concerted effort to assemble affordable but fun Easter "loot" for members of my immediate family. Kit Kats for nephew ... check. Candy necklaces for neighbor girls ... check. Big League Chew gum for my uncle ... check. Solid chocolate bunnies for several people ... nowhere to be bloody found!!

Oh, sturdy and solid chocolate hoppity-hops are out there ... if you mean 5 lb. hares of heinous proportions, or big-name candy shop cottontails that require a second mortgage (okay, let's be real, third). I found three-foot tall hollow "goliath" bunnies dressed in their holiday finery, peanut butter bunnies with their sickly orange "spray-on tan," dark chocolate rabbits so riddled with cocoa they make my cheeks hurt, "crispy" creatures with ricy skin conditions, and white rabbits looking embarrassed that the word "chocolate" was even associated with them. I even found these mutant vegetables-with-faces made out of chocolate ... they watched me as I passed them in the aisle, assessing my ability to stop them if they tried anything with me or the other shoppers.

I wasn't looking for more choices than my freshman year college course catalog. I wanted tradition. I wanted that teasing peek-a-boo box that lets you see a bit of naked chocolate rabbit flesh. I wanted that sexy brown color and not-too-sweet chocolate aroma. I wanted that strange chemical formula/periodic chart composition that creates a confection that, if the rabbit had a wick in its head, could pass for a chocolate candle. I wanted to see the word SOLID proudly displayed on the package, giving me instant Easter confidence that all was well and the economy would bounce back and my cat would be more careful in and around the litterbox, saving me valuable clean-up time.

Now, in my neck of the woods, we have superstores we'll call W, K, and T. I bet you have them too ... they're literally around every corner. And grocery store chains - places like Different-K, M, or your area's version - also stock a boat-load of confections from which to choose. With such a selection, why did everything seem so figuratively and literally hollow?

Feeling somewhat defeated, I was making a few last-minute "basket" selections - Post-Its, playing cards, super-bounce balls, and corn cob skewers - when there, on an endcap with baby wipes, I found Nirvana and it's name was Russell Stover.

Thank you, Russell Stover. Bless you and yours, Russell Stover. Are you a real person, Russell Stover? If I had a kid and named him Russell Stover, would he hate me for it?

POINT OF RANT: Never give up ... stick to your guns ... anything worth having takes work. But, more importantly, this cautionary tale of my hunt for Leporidea Cocoa is a warning of to all Americans of impending doom. Why the hell are Skittles and SweetTarts even kept near the chocolate during prime pre-Easter shopping? I believe that forced breeding programs and government gene splicing experiments involving these tangy targets and my beloved solid chocolate bunnies have created the ultimate soldier ... the chocolate vegetables-with-faces I mentioned earlier. They appear innocent, all smiles and fetching colors. But they have been built for guile, trained for espionage, and taught the 653 ways to kill. And with the genetic make-up of rabbits, they will breed fast (like rabbits) and they will breed often (a litter as big as 13 every 32 days). Stay watchful!

Saturday, April 3, 2010

Today At A Softball Game ...

Today I attended a girls' softball doubleheader to support the child of some good friends. A few minutes before the first pitch, many of the assembled parents and grandparents were buzzing about the coach and a "radical" decision he had made earlier in the week while preparing for an away game. It seems this crazy-man produced a small lockbox and instructed all his players to place their cell phones inside with a promise to return them when the bus was on its way home later in the evening.

It seems the coach, like me, sees cell phones as a possible distraction in life, not just the God-sent gift society thinks they are. I had the opportunity to speak with the coach and ask him a few dangerous questions.

Why'd you do it? "Last year, I had a player taking photos and texting with a friend in the stands. Not only is it disrespectful to other players, but it's a dangerous distraction with the alert noises and ringtones."

Why not just a ban during actual playing time? "I want my players preparing for the game, getting focused ... not flirting with boys online or texting another player three seats away on the bus. Getting your head in the game should be a focus, not planning your social calendar."

What have parents said? "A few have been very supportive, but some see it as a personal punishment for their child. I'm surprised that they get more riled up about cell phones than how their child is performing on the field."

What about a double standard - do you have a cell phone "on you" during games? "There are different rules for coach and players, I'll admit. I'm the adult with responsibility for these young adults. I need to be reachable to parents not attending games or to opposing coachs and officials that might need to notify me of a delay or change while in route to a game. My phone is on 'vibrate' durings bus rides and games, and in fact I usually give it to my statistician for monitoring so I don't even have to worry about it."

I SOOOOOOO support this guy. Let's face it ... we need our cell phones for communication and emergency situations. And I guess we have to support our human habits to gossip, record nearby happenings like FOXNews, and support YouTude with more Star Wars hamsters, laughing babies, and surprised kitties. But we need limits, especially teenagers.

I've done some research and it's alarming the number of legal bans, high school handbook entries, and pending cyberbullying legislation aimed at distancing students and their "cell appendages" on school property and during school-related activities. And why are such extreme measures needed, you might wonder. In Wisconsin, a female high school student had to be officially arrested and fined for refusing to stop disrupting a class by texting. In Connecticut, high school students used cell phones to start and escalate a student brawl by inviting more participants and enflaming the situation with texts and phone video footage. And excuse me for sounding like Ms. Manners, but in an Oregon high school a cell phone ban was finally instituted when students disrupted an assembly presented by a holocaust survivor with their ongoing texting and cell phone use.

Personally, I use my phone sparingly. It's a phone. I don't use it to write. I don't use it to take vacation photos. I don't use it to run a business. And I respect the rights of those who do use cell phone applications to manage their lives. But rude is rude. I don't usually answer my phone when I'm having a face-to-face conversation with someone. I don't put others at risk by talking or texting from my phone when I'm driving. And I have pleaded with my niece and nephew to not stick their faces in their phones at family and social events.

POINT OF RANT: Cell phones can make life more manageable and interesting, but they shouldn't become the focus of our lives.

Thursday, April 1, 2010

Today In A Storage Tote ...

I was looking for some old magazines I had saved for reference articles when I found a small storage tote of old comic books. April isn't just the scary tax month ... it's a celebration of an American icon. SUPERMAN.

In April of 1938, National Allied Publications ... a predecessor of today's DC Comics ... launched Action Comics #1. The story was based on a character created by Jerry Siegel and refined with the help of artist Joe Shuster while the two men were working in Cleveland in 1933. The original character was actually a bald world conqueror with telepathic powers. The concept piqued the interest of many, but it was five years before their revised heroic creation ... modeled after swarthy American actor Douglas Fairbanks Sr. ... made its way into the hearts and minds of the American public.

Action Comics #1 introduced us to Kal-El, a man who was sent to Earth as an infant to escape the destruction of his homeworld, Krypton. He was found in a crashed rocket by Jonathan and Martha Kent and raised with solid values of family and community as their adopted son, Clark. At an early age, the Kents discovered that their son's alien origins included some unique gifts such as super strength, enhanced speed and reflexes, invulnerability to most weapons, heat and x-ray vision, and the ability to fly at incredible speeds.

Over the decades, the adventures of Clark Kent have entertained millions with incredible acts of heroism, dynamic battles with a vast array of villains, touching romantic entanglements, and an ongoing struggle to fit in with people who he has sworn to protect while never truly being one of them. There have been radio serials, newspaper cartoon strips, dozens of comic book titles, paperbacks and novels, feature films (not the best), animated cartoons, and three notable TV series ... the latest going into its 10th (and supposedly final) season this fall.

I have two favorites. In the comics, I think Superman is best in the Justice League of America series, an assemblage of some of the world's greatest heroes like Wonder Woman, Black Lightning, Zatanna, Green Lantern, Batman, Flash, Aquaman, Firestorm, and Doctor Light. As a member of the JLA, Superman can share the responsibilities of being a hero and gets the opportunity to let his guard down around other empowered individuals. There are even a few alien members, so they can lament about being "strangers in a strange land."

And on television, Smallville wins hands down. It's slick and dark and the characters are ruggedly handsome/incredibly sexy and extremely capable. And there's definitely an innocence to the show that isn't easy to find on today's channel guide.
So HAPPY 72nd ANNIVERSARY, SUPERMAN!! ... you don't look a day over 32.

POINT OF RANT: Did you know Siegel and Shuster sold their rights to the Superman character for about $130? There have been lawsuits and concessions made to the men and their families, but ... WOW ... that's definitely finding a Picasso at a yard sale!