Friday, June 29, 2007

American Idle

Traveling on a regular basis finds me standing around a lot in airports waiting in line to board a plane or to order, perhaps, the world’s sorriest excuse for food – and pay money for it. I recall one winter evening ordering what I thought was a chilidog. It looked like a chilidog, and it even smelled like one. However, my taste buds warned me that it was, in fact, an impostor, but I plowed through it overtaken by hunger. My stomach later objected in an “I told you so” sort of manner all through my subsequent flight by sending gas bubbles back up my throat and out my mouth. I, of course, kept it as low key as possible, but be sure those sitting near me stealthily inched as far away from me as FAA regulations would allow. While the heartburn and subdued belching weren’t pleasant, I was successful in going through the entire flight without having to engage in small talk about how I look just like a Hollywood sex symbol or my seat mate’s take on aluminum foil versus Saran Wrap.

By no stretch of the imagination could I be called a “misanthrope”, which is a fancy word for someone who hates all mankind. There’s another name for such a person: Michael Moore. However, I must admit that traveling has caused me to be ever so wary of engaging practically anyone during my sojourns because on the outside a person could look like an easy-going, funny individual who in reality is the king of the take-no-breaths-run-on sentence or the queen of the never-ending story. There are others lurking about whom you would do well to avoid – do not make eye contact if at all possible:

  1. Ms. Coincidence: The conversation will start out innocently enough, but if she senses (usually subconsciously) any lag she will start pointing out coincidences the two of you share. “I see you’re a big Yankees fan. I watched a Yankees game once in 1978.” This will go on forever. The only thing that will save you is a carefully planned diversion involving a herd of buffalo or cardiac arrest for either one of you.
  2. TMI (Too Much Information) Tom: Within ten seconds, he will either start showing you diseased or scarred body parts normally cloaked by clothing or telling you about his time in jail and/or prison. Either way, it’s too late to book a different flight.
  3. The Inquisitor: At the slightest hint of recognition, she will begin to ask you a thousand questions ranging from where you live to the name of your first pet to your favorite wallpaper pattern. Admittedly, there is the entertaining possibility of completely lying to this person and fabricating a totally new life history, but there are two possible pitfalls here: (1) she’ll circle back and ask you the same question – you better remember your previous answer because she will, and (2) you just might start wishing the life you made up were your real life. No good can come of this.
  4. The Loud Talker: Now, he has a loud voice, and there’s nothing you can do about that – at least not until Congress passes that controversial bill allowing you to shoot them at will – but if you’re the one who gives him the slightest reason to open his bullhorn-level yapper, you can bet everyone around you is wishing your name specifically will be added to that Congressional bill.

Just like airport chilidogs, you can’t tell which of your fellow travelers is going to cause you mild to severe discomfort and regret. You’d do well to avoid them all – fellow travelers that is, because there are some really good chilidogs just waiting to be found.

Thursday, June 28, 2007

Long Live El Cid!

What possesses us to name our cars? For those of us who don’t own Herbie the Love Bug or KITT from Knight Rider, it’s not as if we can call them and have them come speeding over to us. Additionally, if we’re asked to come down to the impound yard to pick up our car, it’s a safe bet that the cops found us by using the Vehicle Identification Number rather than asking the car its name. Nevertheless, many of us – myself included – name our cars as if we were naming offspring.

When I was a boy, we had a maroon 1962 Ford Fairlane that my mom called Henrietta. Wanting to spruce up the old girl, I decided to give it a yellow racing stripe with a rather wide brush and interior house paint. (Back in 1974, they made house paint that stuck – believe me!) Sadly, I believe my parents sold that car (yellow stripe and all) for $250 when I was about ten years old.

My siblings tell me that my family had an old Chevy named Bessie that had a hole in the floorboard, and you could watch the roadway beneath speed past. The fact my parents got rid of this car before I was born only goes to show that I’m their favorite – they weren’t all that concerned about my two brothers and my sister and whether they fell through this gap at 60 miles per hour. But that’s another story for another day.

When I was twenty-one years old, I purchased my parents’ 1985 Honda Civic and made it my own. I gave him the name of Sid – short for Sid Vicious. (Honestly, I was never a big Sex Pistols fan, but the name always sounded kind of funny to me.) Four or five years later, while living in Southern California, my wife and I passed another Civic of the same vintage that was completely tricked out: lowered, shiny rims, neon running lights, and fat tires. The windows were tinted, and the bass from the stereo could recalibrate pace makers within a five-mile radius. My wife said that if we were to do that to our car, we could rename him El Cid. Although it was tempting, we figured both the historical and Hollywood references would be wasted on most people.

Since that time, we’ve owned a handful of other cars. We had a Saturn we named Pepe, and a Dodge Caravan named Gordo. Although we have since parted ways with the Caravan and replaced it with another one, we’ve kept the name Gordo – it’s a shame to let a good name like that go to waste. We currently have a Honda Accord that doesn’t have a name because the family can’t agree on one. My youngest son wants Wolverine, and my wife is to the point that she doesn’t care – imagine that – but I’m leaning toward Bruce or Spike.

Speaking of names, if you’re going to go to the trouble and expense of having personalized license plates, you should use whatever you named the car rather than the cutesy combinations some of you concoct in your heads. You know what I’m talking about: MYVETTE, 1KULBUG, 75PINTO, RADZ28, and so on. If you need to remind yourself and others on the road what type of car it is that you’re driving, you probably shouldn’t be allowed behind the wheel of a large metal object that has the ability to exceed 120 mph and run over small animals. Failing that, the government should allow me to more obviously mark your car so we know you’re coming. I’m sure I could scare up a can of yellow house paint.

Monday, June 18, 2007

Feeling Fuzzy

You’ll have to forgive me for another column about baseball, but it is summertime. Let’s look at it this way: it’s either this or some feeble attempt to make the latest escapade of Paris Hilton seem funny and not sad.

Professional baseball – in order for any of it to really make sense – must be looked at as strictly entertainment. We’re not saving the rainforest one home run at a time, nor are we helping fight illiteracy (I hope I spelled that right) with the designated hitter rule. It’s just fun to watch. The sooner we remember that the better we’ll all be – and if you’re not sold on this idea, allow me to demonstrate.

During the regular season, each team is allowed a roster of 25 players. Most teams have eleven or twelve pitchers of whom four or five are starters. The balance of the pitching staff sits in the bullpen with the number-one priority of “keeping warm”. Most often, this is accomplished by playing catch, having sunflower-seed-spitting contests, and finding other ways to amuse themselves and possibly the spectators within their immediate vicinity. If the bullpen is really staying on their toes, their antics will attract the notice of the camera crew and some part of their hilarious hijinks and merry mayhem will appear on Sports Center that night. Failing that, a couple of the guys might be needed to come into the game to help a failing pitcher.

Your remaining thirteen or fourteen players are scattered among the fielding positions, and most often those eight spots go to a fixed list of guys leaving five or six team members – known as Utility Players – to ride the pine at a MINIMUM of $380,000/year. In other words, they get paid AT LEAST $2,345.67/game to sit in premium seats (no having to fight over armrests) and watch a ballgame. (I would be willing to bet that if they wanted garlic fries they wouldn’t have to wait in line behind the guy who’s trying to decide if he’s hungry for a bratwurst or a Polish sausage.)

This is not reality, folks. I started my post-college working life at an insurance company as an adjuster. In all the time I was at that company, I never walked by a conference room filled with Utility Adjusters – all fully paid and suited up – just waiting for a co-worker to be brought down by a crippling case of Carpal Tunnel Syndrome and step in to complete the claims process. If I chose to spit sunflower seeds all over the floor of my work area, that was surprisingly frowned upon. And where were the camera crews when we found a way to lock Jim Stenowski in the women’s bathroom for two hours?

Also, how many workplaces do you know that have a guy in a fuzzy suit walking around rubbing the heads of bald men and dancing the funky chicken – I mean besides the weird dude in accounting who drinks too much at the Christmas party. (On a side note: How does one go about getting a mascot job? What types of things do you put on your resume? “I’m not averse to wearing oversized Papier-mâché caricatures on my head; nor do I object to the feel of felt-like material next to my skin.”)

Lastly, outside of “Paris Hilton Night” at a cross-dressers’ bar, where else do you see grown men wearing spiked heels and black eyeliner? That’s entertainment.

Friday, June 08, 2007

All the World's a Stage

As a young man, I grew up as an Oakland A’s fan. The basis for my fandom was borne mostly out of geography and the fact my dad liked them. In the early 80s, the A’s brought Billy Martin on as the manager, and Pops was none too happy about that. I tried to ferret out the reason(s) for his strong dislike – “hate” is too strong a word as my dad reserved that for other more-important items like broccoli and chicken. However, all I could get out of him was Billy Martin argued too much with the umpire. I knew that my dad had done his fair share of umping for Little League through the years, and that was sure to inform his opinion of verbally belligerent coaches/managers, but dad’s view of Billy Martin seemed to have deeper roots than that.

To this day, I can’t figure it out. I did an Internet search the other day on Billy Martin, and I could find no such evidence of a criminal record, of Mr. Martin perhaps marching in an anti-war protest in the 60s (dad’s not much for the hippies), or of Billy killing innocent rabbits. I even went so far as to type in both Billy Martin’s and my dad’s names together, and the only thing I could come up with was a study for adult acne. (I didn’t read the study, but it’s funny that I never have noticed a single pimple on my dad’s face – or Billy’s for that matter.)

Admittedly, I do find it odd that a manager will argue with an umpire. I’ve yet to see an ump reverse his decision because the manager made a cogent, impassioned plea based on reason and pure logic – nor have I seen one reverse the call because the manager’s voice is louder than a Boeing 737 and his face is three deep shades of purple. Most die-hard baseball fans will argue that there’s a well-thought-out craftiness behind the manager’s meltdown. Some say it’s intended to fire up the players. Others argue that it’s the manager’s way of putting doubt in the ump’s mind so the next close call will go his way. Those are feeble attempts to justify the behavior of a grown man who’s being paid millions of dollars to sit around in tight pants and cleats. I think I’ve figured it out.

Is it simply a coincidence that a lot of the Big League managers are built like the fat lady at the opera? Come on, put a Viking helmet and a blonde wig with long braids on Lou Piniella, and you know the aria from “Flight of the Valkyries” is going to start playing in your head. Either that or you’re going to hear Elmer Fudd singing “Kill da Wabbit, Kill da Wabbit.” These middle-aged men in tights are performing for us, the fans! (It’s not as if they’re suited up and ready to fill in at shortstop at a moment’s notice. And although it seems odd that they wear cleats, they go better with the whole outfit – Wingtips or Penny Loafers would just look silly.)

As younger athletes, these managers were able to scale the wall in the outfield to rob a home run or dash across the infield to turn lightning-fast double plays. Although their bodies have since precluded them from these activities, the desire to perform never dies. Kicking dirt and tossing one of the bases into the outfield may seem like protest against the umpire’s call, but it’s really performance art. Why do you think “Dancing With the Stars” attracts athletes? The ranks of managers are full. It’s too bad, though, that the dancing takes place in a studio rather than on a ball field. I would love to see one of the judges take some dirt in the face or get a base thrown at them for a bad score. Now that’s entertainment!

Friday, June 01, 2007

Burning Questions

Little-known fact about the Geneva Convention: It expressly forbids the use of children as soldiers in war. That doesn’t seem to be surprising given the fact Whitney Houston’s 1985 hit “Greatest Love of All” explains that “children are our future/teach them well and let them lead the way” – the conventioneers are big Whitney fans, although there’s a faction who believes Bobby Brown was treated unfairly in the divorce. At any rate, some of you who have children may have already guessed at the reasoning behind such a prohibition: employing a miniature militia would give you an unfair advantage, and we all know that war is so much better when everyone plays by the rules.

Imagine little Johnny captured by the enemy and taken to a remote area for questioning. Before they even get the blindfold off of his eyes, Johnny’s already on the offensive – not with any weapon involving flint or steel but his tireless 9-year-old curiosity, his Weapon of Mass Distraction.

“What kind of fabric is this blindfold made of? It feels scratchy. My mom says that I shouldn’t put anything sharp near my eyes. Have you ever been poked in the eye? My cousin Philip threw a Hot Wheel at me once – well it was an accident, he was pretending he was Evil Knievel jumping the Grand Canyon – and it hit me right here above my eye. I’m glad he didn’t hit me in the eye because it could have blinded me. Have you ever been to the Grand Canyon? What kind of car were we riding in? Does it get good gas mileage? I hope it’s not making the hole in the ozone layer any bigger. Do you think the hole’s always been there and scientists are just noticing now?”

Although your average youngster could probably deliver the preceding soliloquy in about twenty seconds and in one breath, it would be just enough time for the enemies to lay their guns down and tie themselves up – but not before finding something to jam in their ears. It would seem to be a great idea to give a kid a microphone and broadcast his musings over a loud speaker on the field of battle – the other side would most certainly surrender without firing a shot. However – and this is what the conventioneers foresaw – if both sides were to use this ploy, war would never end!

Although I don’t remember it this way, I must have been hellishly inquisitive as a child, and my parents have found the ultimate revenge. I’m the fourth of four children. My sister, who is the oldest, used to work with lawyers all day and now she works with commercial real estate brokers – she’s bound to have thick skin after all that. My oldest brother is successfully self-employed, so he’s clearly demonstrated his ability to see tough times through. My other brother had the tenacity to make it through West Point and Harvard, and he and his wife are expecting their eighth child ON PURPOSE, so it goes without saying that he’s got grit. Me? I write a humor column and wear pants as infrequently as possible because they make me feel hot – and not in a sexy way. And yet my mom and dad have decided to make me responsible for pulling the plug if they’re ever on life support. Not the sister who works in a cutthroat environment day in and day out, nor the brother who went to West Point and learned to kill. No, apparently I’m the one who has ice water flowing through his veins.

All I know is that if it ever comes to that, I’m going to be asking a lot of questions