Tuesday, August 30, 2011

Wild animals: better on television

Note: This column appears in the 9/1 issue of The Glendale Star and the 9/2 issue of the Peoria Times

After four years of blissful enjoyment of my outdoor desert surroundings, it was bound to happen. Last week I came face-to-face with a coyote.

Granted, our faces were about 25 yards apart, but still. I had just finished a jog around the neighborhood, and was cooling down by walking around the cul de sac near our street that overlooks a barren desert that should have been developed years ago (thanks, economy!) when our eyes met.

It was very similar to that time I was viciously attacked by bears (don’t know what I’m talking about? Buy the book!) in that I felt extremely vulnerable. He—I didn’t think to check the genitalia from afar, so let’s go with “he”—sized me up. I have heard that when confronted by a coyote, one should make lots of noise and move menacingly forward as a means of intimidating the great beast. But we were far enough apart that I didn’t feel overtly threatened, plus I didn’t want to take the chance of screaming and approaching and having him charge me, at which point I would have turned around immediately and started running, thus sealing my fate. I know my neighbors wouldn’t have helped. Instead I maintained eye contact while sidestepping towards my house, and when he was out of sight, I booked it like Usain Bolt, minus the casual confidence.

Ironically, I began that day’s jog telling myself that I should really start carrying something on these runs in case of danger. Something light, of course. A knife? I later mentioned as much to my wife and she laughed, saying, “That’s too close!” She’s right. As if I could imagine some violent struggle between myself and a coyote ending with me stabbing the coyote in the heart. Who do I think I am? Some kind of bearded mountain man? I would need something that would allow me to keep a vast distance. Like a machine gun. Or netting that sprays out of my wrists.

The reason I had been contemplating protection was that our friend, who lives in the neighborhood across the street from ours, had recently experienced the pleasure of seeing a bobcat in her backyard. Not near her backyard. In her backyard, where her kids were playing. Not a cute construction Bobcat. The animal bobcat. Again, for emphasis—a bobcat. In her backyard.

Here’s the thing. We live in a development, and while I realize our Home Owner’s Association can’t feasibly be asked to contain the surrounding wildlife, it’s like, I mean … we pay almost $300 per quarter. I wouldn’t mind if all of that money went towards the bobcat/coyote protection fund. Pools? Parks? Pfft. Don’t care. Can you keep me from getting mauled by a desert animal? Cool. Here is all of my money.

This whole situation has also forced me to rethink everything about myself. I used to be like, “The environment! Save animals! This is their habitat!” which is an admirable line of thinking, until you are in a t-shirt and shorts and staring back at a coyote. Now I’m twitching during cartoons. “Winnie the Pooh will EAT YOUR FACE!” is something I screamed at no one in particular the other day while forcefully turning off the television.

Now I will not leave the house unless it’s behind a steering wheel. I’m not sure what to do. It’s either a treadmill or a gun at this point, and I fear either choice ends with me hurting myself badly.

Those treadmills are too narrow.

Dramatization of my encounter.

Thursday, August 25, 2011

Classic card of the week

Darryl Strawberry, 1991 Scores

Everybody knows that Darryl Strawberry is a master at blasting. And also that he is The Franchise. But I have a question about Darryl Strawberry, and I’m wondering if Score, the baseball card company, can answer it. Here is my question, and it’s a three-parter: Darryl Strawberry’s mere presence. Important? Also, do people feed off him? Not his flesh, but like, his ability or something? Finally, can he carry a team of nine players including a pitcher and will them to win if he so chooses? (Bonus question: Does he have an exciting swing?)

Darryl is one of those rare ballplayers who makes his team better because of his presence.

Lesser players make their team worse with their presence. Or, worse, only affect their team in the way that they play baseball for that team, and otherwise said team treats that player’s general existence as a matter of indifference. Not cool, lesser players!

When he is on a roll, he carries the Mets.

I do not enjoy the precondition that Darryl Strawberry must be on a roll to carry the Mets. He is always on a roll, and even if he’s not, he will still carry the Mets, albeit to a place they do not necessarily want to go. Like a chick flick. Or CVS.

His swing is exciting even when he strikes out.

Even when he strikes out looking, it’s more exciting that watching a different player with a less-exciting swing hit a home run. Oh, Bo Jackson hit one into the upper deck? BO-RING! Way to be right-handed with a more compact swing, idiot. Merely imagining what Strawberry could have done to the pitch—even if (especially if!) he missed it—had he swung excitingly, is more exciting than almost anything. Fact: the excitement of watching Darryl Strawberry strike out four times (78.5 on the excitement scale) is more exciting than the Batman ride at Great Adventure (65.8).

When Darryl is focused in, he can carry the Mets.

Again with the preconditions. Darryl Strawberry has laser-like focus. Did you SEE “Celebrity Apprentice?” His mere presence catapulted someone other than him to win the show.

Almost singlehandedly, he lifted the Mets from fourth place into the NL East division race.

He did, at one point, have to use both hands, but that was only because Ron Darling put on a few pounds after going on the DL.

“The other players feed off him. His mere presence in the lineup energizes them.”

“I didn’t feel like getting a hit today,” Howard Johnson said after an afternoon game in 1989 in which he went 1-for-4. “But when I saw Darryl’s name in the lineup, I don’t know … it just energized me. I mean, he’s usually in the lineup. But for some reason I thought Skip was giving him the day off. So when I saw his name there I was like, ‘Dude. Bro. Let’s do this.’” When Strawberry was removed in the eighth inning for a pitch runner, Johnson subsequently allowed seven ground balls to roll through his legs.

The moment that Darryl signed with the Dodgers, he instantly transformed them into a prime contender for the 1991 NL pennant. That’s how much of an impact Darryl can make on a team.

When Darryl Strawberry discovered a clause in his new contract that required him to play baseball and not just like, exist, he was like, “Whaaaaaaaaaaaaat?”

“Ever since I’ve been here, if Straw hits, everybody feeds off him,” said Doc Gooden.

“Unable to suck from the Strawberry teat, Mets wander around aimlessly, starving, in outfield, lose 81st straight,” is a headline from the Daily News in 1991 that is totally true.

“When he’s hot, he can carry any team on his back,” said Padre GM Joe Mcllvaine.

A focused, hot, Darryl Strawberry on a roll could literally carry the Empire State building on his back up a stairway into the clouds, and when he reached the top, all of earth’s inhabitants would join to feed off him, and his mere presence would make them better people, and then he would toss the Empire State building into the air, grab his bat, swing excitingly, and master blast that thing into the stratosphere, proving he is The Franchise. Then, he will come back down to earth, and fire himself from a Donald Trump reality show because he doesn’t really feel like being there anymore.

My questions have been answered. Thank you!

Did you know?
When asked if he was interested in having the Padres be a team Strawberry could carry on his back, Joe Mcllvaine replied, "Oh heck no. Too much baggage."

Tuesday, August 23, 2011

Softening on the water softener

Note: This column appears in the 8/25 issue of The Glendale Star and the 8/26 issue of the Peoria Times

Although Arizona is quite far from New Jersey both geographically and climate-wise, it is still, I think, located in the United States of America, and therefore I was confused and rather annoyed when it was discovered that we would require certain things here that we did not require back east.

For example, sure, some people tint their car windows back east. The people who choose to do this, mostly, do not wish to be seen doing illegal things in their vehicle, and thus, ironically, become magnets for police. When we first moved here I bought a new car, and people were like, “Did you tint the windows?” and I was like, “No, I’m not a drug dealer.” Then I drove my window-tinted-less car around for two days in the summer and all of my CDs melted. Ha, ha … remember CDs? It was 2007. Anyway, I got my car tinted.

Then people were like, “Your home is too sunny! You need to tint your home windows!” My wife and I were like, “Cool! Another few hundred dollars to spend. Why don’t they just install tinted windows when they build the house?” This question was answered by nobody. So we tinted our home windows. It made (checking my energy bills while wearing sunglasses) … zero difference.

Then people were like, “Tint does nothing! You need window coverings.” This is crazy, I thought. No way we need window coverings. We are NOT doing window coverings. But my wife wanted them, so we got window coverings. Now our home is slightly darker and hot instead of sunny and hot.

Throughout all of this time, many people were trying to convince us that we also, besides all this other stuff, needed a water softener. Never in my life had I heard of a water softener, and the mere combination of those two words made no sense to me whatsoever. Our home was already “looped” for one, so people didn’t understand why we didn’t have one. They said things like, “Just wait until you shower with soft water … it’s amazing!” I did not understand what this meant, but if having an orgasmic shower every day was a reality, my ears were at least open.

A few years ago my in-laws bought a home here, which was similarly looped. My father-in-law asked us about water softeners and if they’re necessary, and I told him what I knew—better showers, apparently, less calcification, and no, not necessary. He was like, “Whatever.” We gave each other a high-five, bonded by a mutual, east-coast recognition of the ridiculousness of water softeners.

Then my father-in-law spoke to an actual plumber about a water softener, and I went to their house after work one day and bam—there it was. Now he is the lead voice in the chorus of those saying we need one. He questions our lack of a water softener as if he has lived here all his life and we just arrived last week. For that reason alone, we must get one.

Also because there are little white thingees in our ice cubes and our dishwasher is so calcified we can basically no longer use it. Arizona! If there’s anything else we need, please let me know now, before we go broke.

Thursday, August 18, 2011

Classic card of the week

Michael Barrett, 1999 Topps “Scouts Choice”

Michael Barrett is a “Scouts Choice,” which means—without even having to look at the back of the card—he has grit, heart, a gritty heart, hearty grit, is a winner, a leader, a leader of winners, a winner of gritters, and also he is scrappy, and a throwback to other scrappers, and a leader of throwback heart-having scrappers. But: does he play baseball? Let’s see what the Bowman scouts have to say.

HITTING: Shows nice, balanced, under-control swing…

As opposed to other major league prospects who show not nice, unbalanced, out of control swings in which they fall down and also their pants fall down.

Knows how to put the ball in play…

Asked the secret to putting the ball in play, Michael Barrett leaned in close to the scout and whispered into his ear, “By hitting the baseball in fair territory.”

Has hit the ball harder every year.

The hardness with which Michael Barrett hits baseballs has increased exponentially each and every year. This is an actual statistic called HQTWSS (Hardness Quotient That’s What She Said) and Barrett’s HQTWSS went from 34.8 in 1997 to 36.9 in 1998, and so on and so forth. In the year 2017, Michael Barrett will hit a baseball so hard that it will hit the outfield seats and the stadium will fall over on its side. “Don’t say we didn’t warn you.” – Scouts

BASERUNNING: No real base-stealing speed, but is aggressive with infallible instincts.

Michael Barrett doesn’t have speed on the bases, but he will run anyway, and every decision he makes on the bases is the right one. He is the Pope of running around the bases.

DEFENSE: Made the “typical” shortstop-to-catcher conversion…

I don’t know why typical is in quotes. Is that sarcasm? The scout who I am picturing in my mind does not compute sarcasm, so … I don’t know.

Now he may be a third baseman –

I thought he was a catcher. I am very confused.

where’s he excellent…

Is that a question? All of the above? None of this is making sense to me.

Behind the plate, shows mobility and feel.

As a catcher, Michael Barrett can move and possesses the sense of touch. Rejoice, Expos pitchers—no more throwing to cardboard cutouts of famous buildings!

ARM: Strong and accurate, regardless of where he plays.

“And get this,” said the scout. “His arm ability remains the same no matter where he finds himself on the planet. It’s almost as if the complex laws of geographical arm strength don’t apply to him!” Arm is also good for punching.

SCOUT’S FORECAST: Though on a yo-yo between positions,

What about third base? Triple yo! YO-YO-YO!!!

Barrett is an asset on both sides of the ball

Sphere or sphere? It doesn’t matter to Michael Barrett! Asset! Michael B-asset!

no matter what number follows his name on the lineup card.

Whether it’s the number “C” or the number “1B” or the number “3B” or the number “PH” or whatever, Michael Barrett doesn’t care. Just get ‘em in there already!

He is a leader and a hustler, and should have a nice career.

If we are speaking in generalities, using only folk wisdom combined with things pulled out of thin air that in no way can be proven, and are ignoring anything related to actual baseball-playing ability, then I know everything I need to know about Michael Barrett. Except which position he plays. But that doesn’t matter. Because his arm works anywhere. Yo-yo. Scouting!

Did you know?
Besides Michael Barrett, another "Scouts Choice" is the turkey club at Milly's Diner off State Route 76.

Tuesday, August 16, 2011

The joy of Swedish home furniture shopping

Note: This column appears in the 8/18 issue of The Glendale Star and the 8/19 issue of the Peoria Times

Ever been to IKEA? It is a Swedish furniture store. Its appeal, I think, used to be affordability, but that has waned—the Swedish economy is worse than ours, I have heard, and IKEA is their only source of income—and now their greatest appeal is lack of furniture salesmen, which is important, because furniture salesmen make car salesmen seem standoffish. (If you are a furniture salesman reading this, I’m just kidding! If you’re not, I am not kidding. They are the worst.)

Besides being not-that-inexpensive and maintaining the sturdy quality of cardboard, another great aspect of IKEA furniture is that it is all in boxes and you have to put it together yourself, later. This is great for a person like me, who is not very good at putting things together. We currently have a large IKEA bookshelf in our home that we cannot anchor to the wall because I put one of the pieces with the anchor holes on backwards and refused to start over. If it falls over, it will be a good excuse to get a new bookshelf. If it falls on me, my wife will bask in the irony.

That piece, actually, was purchased years ago on a trip to IKEA in beautiful Elizabeth, New Jersey. That trip remains the greatest test our marriage has ever witnessed, and it culminated when we hit a pothole on the New Jersey Turnpike on the way home and the glass shattered on several pieces we had just purchased. The sound of that glass breaking and the look on my wife’s face will remain etched in my memory forever. (This also doesn't account for the stuff I broke personally, later, while trying to put stuff together.)

So we had fond feelings about IKEA when we decided to make a trip back there, this time with a small child who has a six-minute window of adequate behavior in the grocery store. IKEA, I’m pretty sure, has four locations worldwide, and one of them happens to be in Tempe, although it’s really Mesa, and the drive felt like it is was in Tucson. Part of the 10 was closed, as was part of the 101, and the 17 was whittled down to a half-lane, so it took 26-hours round-trip. Luckily, it was 130-degrees.

IKEA, as anyone who has been there knows, is a process. The minimum requirements are a pencil and a dream, and also adept navigation skills, not only for the overwhelming—apparently people are going to college soon? Who knew?—and inconsiderate foot traffic, but to properly follow the arrows on the floor. You MUST follow the arrows. If you spot something, you need to make a decision then and there or risk a return trip around the compound. In fact, seeing something you like in IKEA is burdensome, knowing what it will take to actually get that thing into your home the way it looks right now. I guess that’s why we didn’t buy much. Plus the prices. We saw a couch we liked, but it was $1,400 and made of clouds.

The child was relatively well-behaved for a two-year old in a Swedish furniture store, and for her troubles, one of the few things we did purchase was a blow-up ladybug pillow, which was, relative to her future as a functioning member of society, essential. When we got home, we realized we did not, apparently, purchase the accompanying and required filler for the giant bug. IKEA, in a cruel twist of horribleness, has a website but does not let you order from that website. Some say, "Why even have a website?" IKEA says, "Whatev!"

So … we must return to IKEA. For ladybug pillow filler.

No rush though. We’ll get there. When she’s ready for college.

I don't know what this picture means, but I like it!

Thursday, August 11, 2011

Classic card of the week

Jay Buhner, 1989 Topps

During the heyday of my card-collecting, few things set off the alarm of excitement in my heart more than seeing a distinguished logo on a baseball card—a “Rated Rookie” insignia, a “The More You Know”-type colorful “Future Stars” banner bursting across the center of the card, or, as in this case, a Rookie All-Star trophy goblet logo. To see one of these things meant that you might have something special on your hands. “Something special” being a card that may, in a few decades or so, be worth enough money to cash in and pay off a tiny fraction of a bloated student loan so the creditors will get off your back for two seconds. Or to like, pass down to your son or some crap like that.

Anyway, as you can see here, Jay Buhner drank his beverage of choice—Buhner Juice: a potent long-standing family recipe of orange juice mixed with pretzel stand and school play intermission refreshment-famed “orange drink,” and vodka—from the Topps All-Star Rookie trophy goblet, a luxury he was afforded after blasting 10 ding-dongs in only 192 at-bats with the Mariners in 1988. Jay Buhner as a baseball revelation was cause for great joy in Seattle; great lament in New York.

Now, I know what you’re thinking: Sure, Jay Buhner liked to play baseball. But what I really want to know is—what sports did Jay Buhner enjoy watching, so that I can be like Jay Buhner and watch similar sports?

Jay’s favorite spectator sports are pro basketball and baseball.

Jay Buhner
: I’ll watch a pro basketball game or two. None of that college crap! With the two-handed bounce pass … pfftt. Gimmie a break. Long live the Supersonics!

Jay Buhner’s wife’s friend’s husband, Jim, who Jay Buhner just met: I have a basketball in my garage. Wanna shoot around?

Buhner: Dammit, Jim—I said I’ll watch a game or two. I gotta play stupid baseball 162 times a season all over the freakin’ place and I’m sick of it! Can I be a spectator here for like two seconds?! Sheesh. Now put on the game and hand me my Buhner Juice.

Jim: Sure, here. What else do you like to watch?

Buhner: I like to watch baseball. And "Saved by the Bell: The College Years." That's all the college entertainment I need.

Players who had the greatest influence on his career were Willie Stargell and Bucky Dent.

I have no comment here, other than to say that, while thinking of a comment, I Wiki’d Bucky Dent to see if he like, coached Jay Buhner or something, because, ya’ know: why else would someone name Bucky Dent as an influence other than because of his famous home run, which wasn’t so much an influence as it was a thing that happened? And I came across this. See if you can follow:

Dent was born 25 November 1951, in Savannah, Georgia, to Dennis O'Dey and Russell "Shorty" Stanford.

Bucky Dent was born to two dudes. Got it.

He went home from the hospital with his mother's brother and his wife, James Earl and Sarah Dent. He and his half-brother were raised by the Dents, and they changed his last name to theirs, but his mother would not allow them to legally adopt him.

Recommended easier way to say this: "Aunt and uncle." Also, is his mother “Dennis” or “Shorty?”

He and his half-brother thought of the Dents as their parents, and until he was ten years old, Dent believed his biological mother was his aunt. Later in life, she mentioned the name of his father, whom Dent tracked down and developed a relationship with.

Happy 10th birthday, Bucky! Hope you like the cake. Also, I am not your actual mother. No biggie. For your 18th birthday I may “mention” the name of man you might be interested in developing a relationship with. Okay, make a wish!

Sorry for the tangent there. Probably more apropos for a Bucky Dent card, but what can I say—he is a great influence on my blogging. As is Wikipedia.

Anyhoo, Jay Buhner went on to have a very nice career, hitting over 300 home runs and having the marketability of a shaved head and goatee that garnered him immense popularity in and around Seattle. Scientists believe that had the Yankees never traded him, they—the Yankees, not the scientists—would have won 12 consecutive World Series. So there’s that. Jay Buhner remains in Washington, a most intimidating spectator.

Tuesday, August 09, 2011

Who plays where – battle of the babes

Note: This column appears in the 8/11 issue of The Glendale Star and the 8/12 issue of the Peoria Times

We have a Yankee room in our house. This is pretty much what it sounds like, unless you are a million years old and still associate Yankees with northern folk. It is a room filled with New York Yankee-related pictures and memorabilia. The room was not, amazingly, my wife’s idea, although she has never been opposed to it. One time, she even bought me, as a gift, a Yankee lamp. It was the greatest day of my life.

Having a Yankee room was a concept of the mind of a young, passionate Yankee fan with an extra room, no children, and a lot of Yankees stuff. Initially the room was a place to put all the team-related things I had acquired throughout my life, but it slowly morphed into a reason to acquire more stuff. That said, I had embraced a minimalistic approach—less is more, and I wanted to feature only the classier signed photos and nostalgic items, such as my box of Derek Jeter corn flakes. But once I made the conscious decision to stop acquiring, I found myself continuing to acquire items, as my extended family has embraced the room as a foundation for gift-giving. (My mom and mother-in-law share the very thoughtful characteristic of discovering what someone likes, and then getting them that thing forever. If you casually mention around them that you like, say, walnuts, my mother-in-law will put them in everything each time she cooks for you, and my mom will buy you a year's supply of cashews and say, "I know you like walnuts, but they didn't have any, so I got you cashews," while she laughs and my dad nods his head. Suffice it to say, they have been a steady source of merchandise.) Now I have more Yankee stuff than I know what to do with, and the room is more cluttered than classy. So, note to family: from now on, send money.

Another concept behind the room was to have it be a place to hang out with friends and drink beer and watch actual Yankee games or sports in general, as my wife and the wives of my friends hung out downstairs and watched HGTV and drank wine and talked about how frustrated they are with us. But this idea was flawed, mainly in that most of the few close friends I do have here don’t like the Yankees because, I guess, we live in Arizona, and, more importantly, because they have as much time and opportunity to do such things as I do, which is none. Not helping matters is the fact that the TV in the room, which came with us from New Jersey, is not HD and weighs three tons and, ummm, doesn’t get Yankees games.

Unable to utilize the room for its intended fantasy, we were forced to make it practical. It is now a Yankee-guest-workout-storage room which, quite frankly every home should have. The room, however, was recently threatened thanks to a separate concept—a playroom for our daughter.

Obviously, it was more important that my Bucky Dent-signed photo remain on the wall than my daughter be able to experience daily, real-life joy in a safe, contained environment amidst a bevy of toys. Eventually, it was decided an upstairs playroom for a girl her age was as impractical as the Yankee room has come to be. Instead we will attempt to morph a downstairs room into a play room/office, where stuffed animals and a shredder will coexist.

So the Yankee room remains, but it has been put on notice. To increase its chances of survival and ensure the light on that lamp is never turned off, I am in the market for an affordable HDTV. And time. Plus more friends. Apply within. Must love Yankees.

Like Plax, but pink

Not to bring up this again, but ... this.

Monday, August 08, 2011

The message was clear?

Here is Peter King today discussing, for some reason, backup quarterback Brad Smith and the, apparently, amazing impact he will have on the terrible football team, the Buffalo Bills:

On Sunday Smith stood in shotgun formation on a sweltering afternoon at St. John Fisher College, with four receivers spread across the line. At the snap he felt pressure, rolled right, took a step toward the line as if he'd run, then stopped in the face of a strong rush and flipped the ball ... 55 yards in the air. It fell shy of Stevie Johnson, but the message was clear, and the threat. Buffalo has a new toy.

That new toy is ... an incomplete pass machine? I am confused.

However: Where can I get one of those?!

Thursday, August 04, 2011

The Green Beret

In the book, there is a section devoted to occurrences at a fictional and hypothetical newspaper that I totally never used to hypothetically work at and completely made up off the top of my head. Here is another part in that series, which is not in the book, because I just wrote it like, the other day. I hope you enjoy. All of this is true, in a hypothetical kind of way, except the names and some very minor details ...

The sales team—and by sales team I mean woman with eight kids who wore sweatpants to work and sometimes brought a few of her kids in and who didn’t “sell” as much as she drove around doing personal errands—at the paper was somewhat understaffed. This, rather gloriously, resulted in a revolving door of eccentric personalities who, for reasons ranging from “not having a driver’s license” to “clashing immediately with Hank” (the same Hank who had hired them), lasted, on average, three days.

Eventually, Hank became so frustrated with the sales process that he decided to sell himself. Not his body, on the street—that would have been awful. I mean he decided to take over, with a little help from his “assistant publisher,” a woman named Michelle who did, in fact, assist Hank tirelessly in the process of getting absolutely nothing accomplished.

For the first several weeks, Hank’s sales plan involved he and Michelle spending three hours at the local diner eating and discussing the sales plan. They would later come back to the office, high off omelettes and bottomless cups of coffee, and spend the rest of the day talking to coworkers about, respectively, sports and CBS sitcoms.

But one day Hank and Michelle had a revelation. There were several ports in the area that transported working citizens into New York City via ferry. Our paper, per my job requirements, was available at these ports, in beautiful, warped newspaper stands which had collages of graffiti penises and which, during the harsh winter months, housed local wildlife. (I once attempted to remedy this blight, but encountered a bee’s nest in one stand, and got stung, and so I stopped.) This way, people could grab a copy of our paper, which they didn’t, and absorb its content on the pleasant water ride into the city. Hank and Michelle’s brilliant idea: sell advertising to the NYC businesses closest to these incoming ferries.

Indeed, why wouldn’t New York City businesses, which had literally dozens of newspapers in New York City and other outlets by which to advertise, if they chose to advertise at all because, ya’ know, they were right by the ferry in New York City, choose instead to advertise with us, a small, New Jersey, politically-based weekly newspaper a mere hop, skip, jump, and 50-minute ferry ride over the East River? It made sense.

So much sense, in fact, that Hank and Michelle returned from the diner that day with the gusto of having just formulated the plan that would save the paper from the financial abyss in which it currently resided. The following day, they would go into the city and sell.

Amazingly, they did not make any sales. When they returned from the city after yet another wasted day—albeit one in a more bustling and hip environment, so it probably didn’t feel as wasted, to them—the gusto of the previous day’s reentrance was equaled by their current frustration and anger. The reasons given for their lack of success varied, but included the city, in general, being “stupid” and “uppity,” and also a little racism was thrown in to boot, as it seemed communication with several small business owners proved difficult. Hank did a few tasteful impressions for the office, which lightened his mood a bit. Anyway, New York City’s loss. Good luck surviving, financial and social epicenter of the universe!

But before all of this happened, before Hank had grown frustrated enough with the sales effort to hop on a ferry with a donut and a dream, he had hired a woman named Janet, who was, of all the wacky people he had briefly hired on whims to sell ads, the greatest.

Janet was from a nearby town which a local radio station had recently dubbed, “the white trash capital of New Jersey,” to, as far as I deduced, no argument from loyal listeners. Not that anyone held this against her—literally half of our working staff was from this town. Nevertheless.

She was youngish. In her early 30s, it seemed, although she had a son who was like, 17, so … who knows. She had short, black spiky hair. She wore a beret. Everyday. Every single day, she wore this beret. Also, she was missing several front teeth.

She was extremely perky. This was probably what sold Hank on hiring her. I highly doubt she had a resume. If you were nice and could “yes” Hank for a sustained amount of time, he would hire you on the spot, for anything. But Janet wasn’t just traditionally perky, like Katie Couric or something. She was oddly perky. Dysfunctionally perky. She was pleasant as all heck, but you never left a conversation with her without feeling as though something wasn’t right, ya’ know, mentally. This was our new salesperson.

One day Janet walked in while Dylan and I were at the copy machine discussing fantasy baseball. Overhearing us, Janet jumped in to excitedly mention that her brother used to play Strat-O-Matic baseball (an old board game that many consider to be the forbearer of fantasy baseball). “Cool!” was our response, as we attempted to steer the conversation back to each other. But she went on to explain to us, in great detail, what Strat-O-Matic baseball was—regardless of the fact we both informed her we were familiar—and how much fun it was, and how good her brother was at it, and also: Does she still have that game somewhere? She may still have it. Do we want her to bring it in to work tomorrow? Maybe we can play it at work?! She’ll look for it later! She would call her brother if she knew where he was! He’s into drugs! We know what Strat-O-Matic is, right?

Dylan would later take advantage of Janet’s quirkiness for humorous purposes and once engaged her in a conversation about Guinness—it was St. Patrick’s Day, and Janet was wearing all green, and her beret and missing teeth finally seemed appropriate—that lasted, I think, four hours.

Janet ventured out for days alongside our one-woman sales team. She did not sell much. On the rare occasion that she was able to sell even the smallest ad, the confusion that ensued back at the office when it came to actually putting that ad together often proved insurmountable, and was, unbeknownst to us, adding to Janet’s rising stress level.

Because I worked late into Wednesday nights getting the paper out, I came in later on Thursdays. One particular Thursday, there seemed to be much commotion as I pulled into our huge, pot-hole-filled parking lot. I had been hearing sirens, and noticed flashing lights, and when I pulled up, there was an ambulance in front of our small office building and a handful of people were congregating outside. When I walked inside, paramedics were wheeling out Janet on a stretcher. Her beret remained in tact, but an oxygen mask was over her face. She had suffered, apparently, a panic attack, and was having trouble breathing.

Dylan stood in the background, wearing a look of genuine concern mixed with genuine restraint. “Godspeed, Janet,” I think I heard him whisper as they rolled her away. In my mind, I see her giving the small crowd a thumbs-up, but that may have not happened.

She was okay. In fact, most of the seasoned veterans of the office were largely skeptical as to the legitimacy of her condition. Janet, however, either due to embarrassment, recovery, or the fact that she didn't have a driver's license, never came back to work. I think she lasted the better part of two weeks, which was a new record for sales department hires, although her exit was, I believe, the most dramatic, and most costly, insurance-wise.

Wednesday, August 03, 2011

Whereabouts unknown

I never know where to put my cell phone when I’m walking around and stuff. Where am I supposed to put it? I am a man.

Years ago I purchased, for my cell phone, a belt clip. This was nice because I could put my cell phone in it. Then I read on the Internet somewhere that belt clips for cell phones aren’t cool. Get a fanny pack, dorkface! I got rid of my belt clip, and by “got rid of” I mean I broke it in a way that was accidental and purely coincidental to my realization that belt clips aren’t cool. Perfect timing!

Then I was like, “Maybe I can put it in my pocket!” So I put my cell phone in my pocket. Not my pocket with my keys, but my other pocket, with my Bert’s Bees lip balm. It fit, but it jutted out of my pants and stretched the fabric. “Is that a cell phone in your pocket or are you just happy to see me?” is what someone said to me once. So I was like, “Are you implying that my penis is squared-shaped and flat and exists on my upper thigh? I am happy to see you, but I do not have an erection. Hey, my leg is vibrating!” I also read on the Internet that cell phones near the groin area are NOT good for the groin. Groin danger! I mean, skinny jeans are in but belt clips are out?! I AM CONFUSED!

Then I was like, “Wait, I have more pockets!” I put the cell phone in my back pocket. Not the back pocket with my wallet, but the other one. This was great when I was walking around, although it chafed my buttocks slightly. But occasionally I would need to sit down again, like on a bench or something, and I was back at square one. “Move your phone, buddy—I live on that bench,” is what a local crazy person said to me once. Also, my back pockets are smaller, and getting to the phone proved difficult when I saw someone I sort of knew and wanted to avoid conversing with by pretending I was on my phone. Can’t talk now—talking to someone better and farther away! Pinky wave!

Then I was like, "Maybe I can wear cargo pants everywhere! More pockets!" So I bought 10 pairs of cargo pants, and I started putting my phone in the side pockets, and knee pockets, and tiny pockets with zippers exclusively crafted by underage Tainwanese children for the American luxury of cell phones. It was okay at first, minus the violent thrashing of the hard phone against my body, but then someone was like, "Nice cargo pants! What is this, 2009?" And I was like, "What does that mean???" Also, it was like, 112-degrees out, because I live in Arizona, and the cargo pants suddenly seemed very inappropriate. I wish I hadn't purchased so many pairs!

Then I was like, “Maybe I can hold my phone! In my hand!” That was okay, but my hands get sweaty, and I read on the Internet that hand sweat isn’t good for cell phones, and that cell phones aren’t good for hands. Also, I drop the phone ALL THE TIME! I used to have a cover for the phone, but I dropped the phone so many times that I busted the cover. Now when I drop the phone, it splits in two, and the battery goes flying underneath a parked car. I have to put it back together and hope it turns on again. Fingers crossed!

I like to go jogging, and sometimes before I go out for a brief jog, my wife will say to me, “Call me if you encounter a wild beast and need to be picked up, and I’ll call you if I have a question about what the heck is going on with the television,” and I’ll be like, “Pfft. Babe, I’m not bringing my phone!” And she’ll be like, “Why not? What if it’s AN EMERGENCY??!!!” And I’ll be like, “Babe, these are athletic shorts! I can’t have my phone bouncing all around up in there! That is extreme discomfort!” And she’ll be like, “Why don’t you hold it?” And I’ll be like, “Babe, are you serious?” And she’ll be like, “Fine! But if you get back to the house and everything’s gone because we were robbed and I’m under the bed traumatized and shaking, YOUR FAULT!”

No, society’s fault! They have yet to give me an acceptable place to put my phone. Also, they should stop robbing people!

Tuesday, August 02, 2011

Looking up in a world of downers

Note: This column appears in the 8/4 issue of The Glendale Star and the 8/5 issue of the Peoria Times

I wouldn’t necessarily call it naïveté, but when I was younger I had a much more minimalistic outlook on life. Sure, I thought about the bad things every now and then, but it never really stuck with me. People get sick? That stinks. Hey, Woody Woodpecker is on! This is, I think, an integral part of a child’s makeup, as no kid should be contemplating such matters.

When I was a teenager, and then a young adult in college, I retained a fundamental understanding of reality, but I was nevertheless, like many of that age throughout history, invincible. Even when news or a particular event would strike my mind as something to consider, I still acted otherwise. With blinders, blissfully undeterred.

Suddenly I am a full-grown adult with a family and a slew of new perspectives and fears, and when unfortunate news is revealed—no matter how far removed from my own day-to-day life—it stays with me in a way it never has before. And whether coincidence or as a direct result of this newfound and rather unwitting and acute awareness, it seems like unfortunate news is revealed more and more often these days.

Should, however, any such news manage to slip past me, my parents, who are in a more advanced stage of morbid awareness, will alert me immediately, usually at the outset of any conversation. Did you hear about (the awful thing) that happened to (good, innocent person)? This, combined with consistent attention to the obits—Did you hear (person I cannot remember from my childhood despite their insistence that I do) died?—makes for pleasant small talk.

It used to be a running joke between us “kids” how the adults at family functions always managed to find the common ground of morbidity. A birthday party or graduation, it seemed, was yet another event to remind them of their own mortality. Yes, there would be cake, but first they must discuss who is sick, and who is dead, and how imminent the threat of terrorism/natural disaster/recent political decision is right now. “Debbie Downers” we would call them, as we lightened the mood by changing the subject to something more comically inane.

But now, like the adults, I too sometimes find myself preoccupied with such matters, unsure if or when to reveal these concerns as a topic to which others can relate (i.e.: this is supposed to be a humor column, right?). Of course anyone can relate—we all share common fears and anxieties—but few ever really agree on an appropriate occasion to do so. As a result, we are often left to our own devices, and solitary occasions like a sleepless Sunday night. Good times!

Luckily for me, and many others I am sure, said childhood was grounded in a foundation of faith, which has served me well, and better each year as misfortunes mount, some resolved, some ongoing, some viewed from afar. And while those who lack it often view faith as a mere coping mechanism—coping is difficult regardless—those who boast it recognize it as something much greater. Truth. Actual reality. To be honest, I don’t know how some people get by without it.

Strife abounds, but faith—like a teenage me, except even more so—remains invincible. And while I may have Debbie Downed this entire paper, the point is a positive one. And that is this: Have faith. Eventually, there will be cake.