Monday, September 28, 2009

The inexplicable reality of bad service in a bad economy

Note: This column appears in the 10/1 issue of The Glendale Star and the 10/2 issue of the Peoria Times

How fresh is the fish?

This is the question my wife asked to our server during our first night out together in forever, by Westgate, at an establishment that shall remain nameless to protect the identity of the incompetent.

We had waited about twenty minutes to ask this question, and were only graced with our waitress’ presence after she had apparently lost an argument with another server as to who was going to wait on our table, an ordeal that I was fortunate enough to capture out of the corner of my eye. As a result, she was forced to introduce herself, and did so thusly, with eyes to the ground and speaking quickly and softly so as to add to the general awkwardness: Hi my name is (unintelligible) and I’ll be your waitress do you know what you want?

No, miss –- the pleasure is all ours, I assure you! It was at this point when my wife asked the aforementioned question.

Now, this is a legitimate question. My wife is Italian, and we are both from back east. Being privy to the inner-workings of both Italian and east coast culture, I understand that there are no boundaries on fish-related inquiries. To ask the question “How fresh is the fish?” to a decent or Italian server is to establish a level of trust. You are in essence saying this: I have a general awareness of fish freshness, so don’t try and give me the week-old halibut you’re trying to get rid of. Your server, in return, now understands you mean business, and will treat you with the class, service and fish-freshness that you deserve.

Believe me I have been at many a restaurant where my father-in-law has asked this very question. How fresh is the sea bass? Many times the server will simply say: No. You don't want that fish. Don't you worry about it, I'll take care of you. There are no additional questions needed. The trust has been established. Sure enough my father-in-law will be served a flounder that was caught and gutted as recently as five minutes ago. This is, as I have come to understand it, the essence of being Italian.

So if asking this question in Brooklyn is appropriate, then asking it in a non-Italian restaurant you have never been to before that is contained within a landlocked state of hunters and carnivores is certainly appropriate. Expecting an appropriate response is quite another matter.

Our waitress’ initial response to this question was a blank stare that said, “I have no idea what you’re talking about, but I am going to stare at you until you elaborate.” My wife stared back. It was a stare-off! Eventually my wife relented, and simply repeated herself: How fresh is the fresh?

“Oh,” said our waitress. “It’s, ummm (looking around on the walls, for evidence of the restaurant’s fish policies, I presume)…fresh. They cook it right when you order it.”

Oh, really? So it wasn’t prepared this morning and left sitting under a hot lamp all day, as if we had just ordered a cod sandwich at Arby's? Fantastic! We’ll have the salad.

What amazed me was not the fact that she associated the promptness with which a fish is cooked with its freshness. (I wasn’t even sure this girl knew what day it was, much less what time the salmon arrived.) Nor was it the fact that she charged us $1 for more bread (!), or the generally awful service.

Because I was able to observe a lot during the lulls when our waitress was m.i.a., I was left amazed that a restaurant in one of the most popular and up-and-coming areas of the Valley, in this terrible economy, chose to operate so indifferently and carelessly. Believe me that this place will not be around in three months.

Another lease up for grabs. One less stop for the fish delivery truck. But don’t blame the economy –- hey, we paid our extra $1 –- blame incompetence.

Thursday, September 24, 2009

Classic card of the week

Kevin Maas, 1991 Waldo Candies

If you are thrown off by the bright solid red background, or the not-so-subtle mentioning of Waldo Candies, then I would like to divert your attention to the bottom of this card, where we discover that the Waldo Candies Ball Player featured here is none other than “Maas,” who, as we all know, plays for the New York American.

Please do not tell me you are still confused. You are? Well then, allow Waldo Candies to elaborate, using their popular 1920s-style Old English and lingo:

Kevin Maas, designated hitter and first baseman of the New York American League Team, was born in Castro Valley, California, January 20, 1965.

Kevinthal Roberto Maas, designated hitter of baseballs and occasional caretaker of the initial base for the New York squadron of the American League subsect of Major League Baseball and its subsidiaries, was born in the Valley of Castro within the Republic State of California to Maria Beverly Rosenberg and Donald Carlito Maas -– son of Zacharia -– on the twentieth day, under the Aquarius moon, of the month of January, in the year nineteen hundred and sixty-five. Stop.

He quickly came on the scene in 1990, when he belted 21 Home Runs in only 79 Games.

In their attempt to convince us of the professionalism and haughty stature of their line of candy products, Waldo Candies has opted to capitalize “Home Runs” and “Games,” which are neither people, or things that should ever be capitalized. It should also be noted that Waldo Candies has –- intentionally, it would seem –- failed to capitalize or even mention the Yankees, which just so happen to be the New York American League team that Kevin Maas played for.

But I have a question: Are there more of these Waldo Candies ball player cards, and if so, what must I do in order to attain them?

This is one of a series of colored pictures

Are you effing kidding me, Waldo Candies? “Colored pictures?” I can only assume that the founder of Waldo Candies –- Ralph Waldo Emerson Candyland VIII, who was born in 1812 and still held in awe the automobile contraption and the advent of printed color –- was personally responsible for penning the backs of these cards, a feat he accomplished using a feathered ink pen and which were later transferred to Microsoft Word by his secretary, Lashonda.

of famous Ball Players in the American and National Leagues,

What is this obsession with each respective league? And why is “Ball Players” capitalized? I am so annoyed by Waldo Candies right now, you have no idea.

Given Free

Let’s just capitalize everything, Shall We?

with Waldo Candies, “The Famous Candy Confection,” one card in each package. Send 100 Waldo Candies coupons or 1 coupon and $2 to TALLADEGA OFFICE for complete set of four cards.

First of all, those directions are more elaborate than sending in for your Verizon rebate. Also, I’d like to point out that the “series of colored pictures” previously mentioned is four cards. Four. And just to get this straight –- I have to either a) eat a boatload of unhealthy candy, or b) eat some candy and then scrape up two bucks from somewhere, just so I can send away for what will amount to three more weird cards that, combined with the one I already have, will be worth $0.65…in ten years. And if there are only four of these cards, and each package of Waldo Candies comes with a Free card, then chances are if I eat 100 thingees of Waldo Candies that I'll end up with the entire set and thensome, correct? The point is, mom: I need to borrow $2.

Even though this card is silly and stupid, I have to hand it to Waldo Candies. They stayed classy in a world where most candy companies attempted to lure kids into their sugar-filled trap with words like, “Zapowie-balls! Bonkers! Kablewy-chews! Fun Dip! Zammy-zook bites!” and the like.

In conclusion I’d like to rewrite the back of this card in a manner that makes sense to the average 11-year-old:

Kevin Maas played for the Yanks. He hit a bunch of dingers when he was first called up, and everyone thought he was going to be awesome. But he kind of stunk after that. I don’t know where he is. Go eat some candy.

Did you know?
The CEO of Waldo Candies -- Sir Wirthington Wennington IV -- invented the original candy apple after he, drunk off moonshine, fell into a bucket of caramel while eating an apple.

Tuesday, September 22, 2009

Coyotes, casinos, and planes, who cares?

Note: This column appears in the 9/24 issue of The Glendale Star and the 9/25 issue of the Peoria Times

It has been a difficult time for those who prefer answers.

Virtually every major attraction and potential attraction of this part of the Valley has been dragged through the legal mud and has yet to be adequately cleansed. As a result, those in and around the Valley who initially took a side now no longer care, or have joined the third party of “getting this over with.”

We can start with the Phoenix Coyotes, an ordeal that began in early May and has left the city of Glendale, its citizens, Coyotes’ fans, players, millionaire coaches and billionaire Canadians in limbo. And while judge Redfield T Baum issued his decision last week, it should be noted that even he has acknowledged that this is far from over, having said this before beginning the excruciating process of writing down his answer: “I have to write it sufficiently enough so that those of you who don’t like what I write, when you take it to the appellate court, the appellate court will understand all that’s happened.”

Awesome. Nothing more fun than the inevitable appeals process. Also, I am going to go out on a limb and say that the appellate court will not understand what’s happened. Unless of course, they can explain how a hockey team from nowhere has began its preseason.

Then there’s the casino. In one corner is the city of Glendale, who has not decided whether they self-righteously oppose the idea of gambling, or if they’re opposed to their inability to make money off of it. In the other corner is the Tohono O’odham Nation, who claims the right to build on the land near 91st and Northern Ave. Our referee for the match is the U.S. Judicial system, which –- almost eight months after the initial plans for the casino were released –- has made its decision.

I am kidding, of course. That would be silly, an answer. In the meantime, Valley citizens have been forced to waste their hard-earned money elsewhere, but unfortunately, not on the Phoenix Coyotes.

While the federal government has played a large role in this mess, even they haven’t been immune to the indecisiveness they so greatly enjoy and employ. Currently there is a movement to build single-family homes -– what family doesn’t love the deafening sound of F-16s in the morning? -- around Luke Air Base. Those opposed to the development believe it could motivate the base to move elsewhere. Those in favor of the development either view the base as a non-crucial element to the city’s infrastructure, or are the developers themselves. The interesting part of this situation is that a decision has already been handed down. But each side interprets the ruling differently.

There needs to be a decision about the decision.

No matter which side you stand on with regards to any of these issues, you can only maintain your righteous indignation for so long. A slammed fist will eventually turn into a shrug of the shoulders. When the fate of your hometown team or hometown itself is at stake, that’s a scary thought.

Thursday, September 17, 2009

Classic card of the week

Astros Leaders, 1987 Topps

Leading the 1987 Houston Astros was Yogi Berra and his band of merry, old men, of which Yogi was arguably the merriest, and definitely the oldest. While it would be safe to assume from this baseball card that Yogi Berra was the manager of the 1987 Houston Astros, that would be an unsafe and stupid assumption, because Yogi Berra was not the manager of the 1987 Houston Astros. He was the bench coach.

For further explanation as to how –- and in what specific statistical categories –- a bench coach can lead his team, let us turn over the back of the card:

Noticeably absent from this list of team leaders is Yogi Berra. Allow me to relay my confusion as to why, on the front of the card which is titled “Team Leaders,” there is a dream sequence picture of Yogi Berra among several other dudes who have formed a force field of old, white, nondescript baseball knowledge around him, while on the back of the card, which is titled “Houston Astros 1986 Team Leaders,” there exists a listing of actual Astros leaders that does not include Yogi Berra or any other coaches that made up the 1986 Houston Astros coaching staff. What gives?

Here is what gives. You cannot lead by actions. Sure, Glenn Davis and Kevin Bass led the Astros in most offensive categories, but did they lead the Astros in a general sense? It’s difficult to say, but according to the front of this card, no -– they obviously did not. In order to be a true leader, you need to sit on the bench, and be old, and say nonsensical yet endearing things that motivate people like Glenn Davis to go out there and hit home runs. You need to take your hat off every now and then and laugh, to remind your team that this is just a game. But then you need to put your hat back on to remind them that this is also serious, and should they fail, they can have a seat on the bench right next to you, where they will no longer be able to play baseball, although –- because they are now on the bench -- their chances of leading will increase exponentially.

Another person who apparently did not lead the 1986 Houston Astros was manager Hal Lanier, who led was there when his team won the Divison Title, and who also won Manager of the Year for reasons that remain mysterious. Many believe his lack of leadership skills stemmed from the fact that he preferred to hang over the dugout railing instead of sitting on the bench.

Did you know?
During a 1994 interview, Hal Lanier stated that he is still haunted by a recurring dream in which Yogi Berra – surrounded by men that are his father, but not really – laughs at his lack of leadership skills.

Tuesday, September 15, 2009

Glendale, Peoria schools choose paranoia over President

Note: This column appears in the 9/17 issue of The Glendale Star and the 9/18 issue of the Peoria Times

Last Tuesday, Barack Obama, the President of the United States of America, spoke openly and publicly to the nation’s schoolchildren.

The Deer Valley and Peoria Unified school districts, in a wonderful display of caving to the illogical paranoia of a select few, ensured that not every child would see it.

It was national news heading up to the speech that parents were concerned that Obama would use this as an opportunity to push his political agenda. Ya’ know, to clamor for that elusive 13-year old vote in the 2012 election, and to impose socialist values upon children who may not otherwise be able to define socialism. Much of the fear stemmed from the phrase “help the president,” which some people believed continued: “…convince everyone of this healthcare plan, and that abortion isn't so bad.” I had hoped this particular area of the country would see through the paranoia, and be smarter than to suppress such a positive and culturally relevant event.

My hopes were dashed when the school districts -– amidst an apparent “flurry” of phone calls from concerned parents -- allowed kids to “opt out” of watching the nationally televised speech. In one fell swoop, the abilities of every teacher in this area were elevated above that of our president; their agendas deemed less dangerous. I can only assume that every scared parent knows each one of their child's teachers very, very well.

What started as an address to the nation’s youth at the outset of another school year quickly regressed into something that required a permission to slip to see, as if each class was going on a field trip to see "Debbie Does Dallas." The stipulations placed on each student to watch the speech were downright comical. But my favorite came from the Deer Valley school district, which planned on showing the speech only in high schools, only within the American History and American Government classes, and “only if the speech is relevant to the curriculum that’s being taught.” I struggle to realize how a national speech to schoolchildren by the current and first African-American President in this nation’s great history does not automatically fall into the category of either American government or history. And I wonder if Glendale high schools did not immediately turn off the TV when Obama neglected to begin his speech with a recap of Custer’s Last Stand.

Students were given the opportunity to participate in an alternate activity if their parents had deemed a speech that they had not yet heard to be inappropriate. In a decade or so, when the subject of “where were you when the President spoke to us?” comes up, I feel for the young adults whose response will be: I was coloring. Why, what happened?

Where was I when the President spoke directly to my generation? I cannot say, because it never happened. Not that I can remember at least. I feel like it would have been cool though, and had there been any strange circumstance in which the President had said something that conflicted with my faith or value system, it would have allowed for an open dialogue with my teachers and parents. Oh well. When I was in high school, we got to watch the OJ verdict. So that was cool. We also once watched "Frosty the Snowman" in class on the day before Christmas vacation. I was 16.

Despite the restrictions of Glendale and Peoria schools, the speech happened anyway. President Obama urged the nation’s youth to take pride and ownership in their education, even when outside circumstances make school more difficult. I wonder though how much pride a Glendale or Peoria student takes from an educational system with no backbone.

Then again, if you play the speech backwards, the second letter of every fourth sentence spells out “socialism rules.” So maybe there was cause for concern after all.

Barack Obama: Experience his presidency on your own time, kids. Today we learn about real life issues, otherwise known as "fractions."

Thursday, September 10, 2009

Classic card of the week

Royals Future Stars, 1980 Topps

Let us travel back in time…to the future!

The year is 1980, and what the future holds for the Kansas City Royals is the untapped and limitless potential of three pitchers poised for stardom. Going from right-to-left, we will use futuristic hindsight and stale sarcasm to determine how each pitcher reached his respective level of fame.

Dan Quisenberry (rest in peace) -– contrary to what this card may attest -– was not considered a future star by the Kansas City Royals. At least not according to Wikipedia, and those guys are never wrong:

Quisenberry signed with the Royals as an amateur free agent in 1975, and was considered a marginal prospect.

Quisenberry would drop his marginal status in 1980 and attain future stardom. He then went on to attain actual stardom due to the fact that he was a pretty awesome pitcher and one of the more dominant closers of the 80’s. So far, we are 1-for-1. I am having fun.

For Bill Paschall, what the future held was arguably the least informative Wikipedia page of all time. It is quite possible that Bill Paschall attained stardom in some field other than “pitcher for the Kansas City Royals” -– a field that is not recognized by the Internet. Perhaps he is a star father, or something stupid like that. So in this case, I am going to take Topps’ word for it and assume that Bill Paschall cannot walk down the street in his native Virginia Beach lest his image be captured by the merciless paparazzi. That puts the count at 2-for-2. We are on fire!

This card is from 1980, but judging by the picture of Renie Martin one may assume that this card was released around the same time as the first printing press. I am honestly not even sure what this is. His picture looks like a still shot from when they finally release one of those old timey movies in color. He could be the “ghost of baseball future” in the 1951 version of A Christmas Carol…now in Technicolor!

Besides boasting a career 4.27 ERA, Renie Martin also has a name that sounds similar to a popular cognac and also a not-so-popular female rapper who is named after a popular cognac. It doesn’t get more future starish than that.

So let us raise our glasses of cognac to the Kansas City Royals, who have been churning out future stars since at least 1980, most of whom immediately go on to different teams or who never actually become stars at all. Ching!

Did you know?
Socrates once said: "The attempt to write humorously and with hindsight about 'future stars' that never actually became stars is the literary equivalent of shooting unfunny fish in an unfunny barrel."

Wednesday, September 09, 2009

One magic loogie makes parenting confidence disappear

Note: This column appears in the 9/10 issue of The Glendale Star and the 9/11 issue of the Peoria Times

Last Friday my wife dropped our foster daughter off at daycare, only to discover that the previous day, she had spit at her teacher.

I’ll let that one sink in for a minute. Believe me it took a while for it to sink in with me. The first thought that came to my mind was when “Pumpkin” spit at “New York” in the first season of Flavor of Love, and so I immediately saw our foster daughter as a future reality show contestant where she competes for the affection of the hype-man of a formerly great rap group. Is any of this making sense? No? I am sorry.

Now, this may not be that much of a surprise to you, the average reader. A foster child exhibited questionable behavior? Alert the authorities. But this is most certainly a shock to anyone who knows my wife or I. Especially my wife. Because let me tell you something: Had our little one attempted her loogie technique within 50 yards of us, I can assure you that the mere glare from my wife would have rendered her glands unable to produce saliva for at least the next six months.

And therein lies the confusion. How could this child, who knows darn well how she is expected to act around us, act so differently when we are not around?

More importantly…spitting? Where did she even learn such a thing? I don’t spit. I don’t even like when guys inexplicably spit in the urinals of public restrooms. It certainly wasn’t from me. I don’t think.

As two people who are frequently put off by the misbehavior and often disrespectful nature of some people’s children, we now found ourselves on the other side. It was embarrassing.

Even though I was on the road miles away, I am fairly certain that I faintly heard the gasp my wife let out upon first hearing the news. When I went back that day to pick our foster daughter up, and I explained to the people there my utter disbelief at what had occurred, I could feel the penetrating glare of disbelief: Uh, huh. Sure, yeah. No idea how this happened. Yep.

When the dust settled, we realized that it was -– even though an innocent woman had taken a loogie to the torso –- our precious egos that had been damaged the worst. It was a hard, but valuable lesson in parenting. We had fallen victim to the “not my child!” syndrome. Even more amazing considering the child in question is not our child.

Somebody –- probably Winston Churchill; that guy was always saying cool things. Or, maybe it was my mom –- once said that parenthood is humbling. Indeed, it is. And while that motivator to be a great parent is a crucial element to the loving discipline so essential to all children, sometimes the focus needs to shift towards the child, and away from how we want other people to see us as parents.

However, should I ever become the parent of a contestant on a VH1 reality show, I will be humbled. And a failure. There is work to be done.

Thursday, September 03, 2009

Classic card of the week

Turk Wendell, 1993 Upper Deck

Turk Wendell –- seen here exerting the kind of extracurricular energy that was lost on ol’ Heavy Legs Pavano -– was an interesting chap:

Famous for his odd behavior on the mound, Wendell also has talent.

Wait -– he’s weird AND has talent??!! Just when you think you’ve seen everything! Let us discover more about this odd, yet talented human being. Wikipedia, can you provide confirmation on this case of non-conformity?

Wendell is probably best known for his baseball-related eccentricities.

I knew it! Please elaborate:

This included brushing his teeth in between innings,

Ha, ha! Cuckoo, cuckoo! Seriously though –- that is pretty strange. Then again, I didn’t start brushing my own teeth regularly until I was like, 16. So at the time this card came out, I pretty much thought that any time spent brushing teeth other than the five minutes before you left the house to go to the dentist was weird.

eating black licorice,

And that is odd because…most people prefer red? I am unsure why eating black licorice is strange. Did he eat black licorice at times when eating black licorice would otherwise be viewed as inappropriate? I mean, if he was bringing a value pack of black Twizzlers to formal dinner parties, then yeah -– weird. Wikipedia however, respectfully declines to expand. Ironically, this fact further decreases the weirdness of Wendell’s in-between-innings teeth-brushing escapades.

and never touch any line on a baseball field when coming onto or off the field.

Gotta love Wikipedia’s continued crusade against grammar. Also, I would venture to say that the majority of baseball players are superstitious about stepping on the lines. I think what separated Wendell from most was that he emphatically did not cross any lines, as evidenced by the above photo.

There is more valuable info regarding Wendell’s views on steroids, his unheralded good works off the field, and –- my personal favorite –- his use of Rick Ankiel’s wildness as justification of why it’s okay to throw at opposing Cardinals players. But it was his desire to play his last season of Major League Baseball for free that really struck a chord with his many fans:

“I want my last season to be a testament to the game,” said Wendell.

“And I want that testament to be me, jumping all over the field, eating black licorice, brushing my teeth all the time, and doing silly things out of respect for the game, for free. Just like the old timers did it.” But leave it to Turk Wendell to put things into their proper perspective:

“I only wanted a few things in life – a wife, children, to play baseball and to hunt deer.”

Ah, the American dream in four parts. It should be mentioned that these wants are listed in order of least to greatest on the life scale.

Did you know?
When asked if would consider consolidating his desires into children that play baseball and a wife that hunts deer, Wendell angrily drove his pick-up truck away.

Tuesday, September 01, 2009

The Glendale Star & Peoria Times: Facebook junkies

Note: This column appears in the 9/3 issue of The Glendale Star and the 9/4 issue of the Peoria Times

There is little doubt that many of our loyal readers have asked themselves this question since at least the dawn of the Internet, and possibly even before that: How do I express my love and affection for both The Glendale Star & Peoria Times in an online forum?

Well, I have great news. We are on Facebook.

For those unaware –- a lack of awareness that must be purely intentional, as this website has not so subtly taken over the free world –- Facebook is a social networking site. What does social networking mean? It means you can do stuff on the Internet at the same time as somebody else! Or at a different time. Social networking, ideally, can lead to marriage, divorce, a new job, a lost job, and tentative plans to meet in Vegas that never come to fruition.

If you haven’t already raced to your computer to socially network, allow me to relate my own experience with Facebook. I joined about a year-and-a-half ago. Since then I have become friends again with many people from grammar school, high school, college, past jobs that I was unceremoniously fired from, and random encounters, many of which I have little to no recollection of. For the most part, the extent of these renewed relationships involves the simple fact that Facebook recognizes the friendship. There is no required interaction. It’s perfect!

On a more important level, Facebook has allowed me to interact more easily with family and actual friends. It has enabled me to look at pictures of people I know, and also people I do not know, and judge them, which has been, obviously, awesome. I can also express myself by becoming “a fan” of certain things. For example, I can become a fan of the band so-and-so, and people can be like, “I like that!” or “They’re the worst!” or "I hate you" and other crucial dialogue. Last week my friend Lisa became a fan of ice cream. So the options are limitless.

Which brings me to the Star & Times. We are now on Facebook under “Pueblo Publishers,” so check us out. (You need a Facebook account to do so, which is free, and which will change your life.) Become a fan, and get instant links to our own revised websites, write comments on our wall about how much you like us, and post provocative pictures of yourself reading our newspaper at home! You won’t regret it. Well, you might. But still.

The Glendale Star & Peoria Times have covered their respective cities for decades, and I doubt the great forefathers of this family-owned company could ever foresee the impact of Facebook. Yet here we are, an active part of this ever-changing media landscape which has made news and pointless columns such as mine more accessible to more and more people.

I imagine that by the time Pueblo Publishers establishes its online fan base, Facebook will have been surpassed in popularity and relevance by some other social networking site. (Twitter is an example, but it’s different. And stupid.) If that should happen, we’ll join that site, too. Because that’s how we roll here. Always adapting. Always networking. Always newsing.

Some have said we’re better than ice cream.