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12/19/2007

Well this shouldn't come as a surprise.

With the Mitchell Report out, perhaps the worst kept secret in professional sports has been aired for the world to see. Nearly 90 players have been named, and again there's nothing shocking. Upon reading the list of offenders, your mind either screams, "Well that was obvious," or, "Didn't cross my mind, but it makes sense."

I guess the glory days of old when the only thing baseball players would abuse was a bottle of hooch at the end of a double header. At least then, their legend status still couldn't be questioned. Regardless of how many shots Mickey Mantle put away after a game, you could not deny his talent on the diamond. Steroids, performance enhances and HGH do not allow for such wiggle room. In fact, the question has to be (and likely will) be asked about what is to become of the records set by the guilty.

Hell, some of them have been questioned from the onset.

I guess the question now is, why state the obvious? It takes a quick peak at Barry Bonds' rookie card to realize that 20 years later, something is drastically different. Even ten years ago, I knew something was up with Mark Maguire, having watched him from the time I was a kid. It's ridiculous for some players to assert otherwise, and when Roger Clemens, the 40-plus-phenom of pitching refutes such allegations, it looks silly and petulant.

Another question is how to clean it up. That's up for baseball's governing bodies to decide, and they'd better decide quick. It's not gonna be pretty… there will be a painful transitional period and there are probably going to be several suspensions before things begin turning around. Given the buzz surrounding steroids this year between Barry Bonds, Chris Benoit and the WWE's inconsistent Wellness Policy, you can expect Congress to take action sooner rather than later.

But I think the looming question in the back of everyone's mind is, "How did this happen?" How did America's favorite pastime become synonymous with synthetic testosterone?

Ultimately, no one is going to hold a gun to someone's head to make them take drugs. They will do it of their own volition. However, one question has to be why so many are making that choice. And the follow-up question should be, "Is it due to excessive pressure?"

Professional sports have changed, and many would argue not for the better. Expectations are far higher than they were years ago. You'll note that three of those names on the list were big names for the Yankees. Given the fact that Big Stein fired Joe Torre for not getting the Yanks into the World Series this year (in spite of 5 titles during his 12-year tenure in New York), can you imagine the type of pressure that has to have been coming down on the players?

Is it any wonder?

Baseball has been drawing lower ratings than ever before. Even this year, the fact that the Red Sox won seemed predestined as the World Series drew it's second lowest rating ever. Despite being well attended and beloved by purists, baseball is in a slump. You have to figure that the heat is on a lot of players to perform and produce results. With some players getting astronomical "A-Rod Salaries," you'd best believe that they are getting pressure from all angles to be worth that paycheck. This can only lead to mounting strain, and in many cases, anabolic therapy.

Now I know I recently joked about steroids in comedy with my tragic run-in with Carrot Top, but seriously, there's no joke when it comes to these drugs. This stuff is bad medicine, sometimes even at therapeutic levels.

Pro wrestler Kevin Nash was recently interviewed online following the Chris Benoit tragedy earlier this year. Obviously the topic of steroids came up, and Nash mentioned that after tearing his quad in a match, he was prescribed a low-level form of synthetic testosterone to help rebuild the muscles internally. At 6'10" and typically tipping the scales and about 320 lbs. naturally, he notes that he swelled to over 400 lbs. of muscle while still maintaining a "safe" testosterone ratio.

Now imagine overuse in any athlete.

What honestly frightens me is the potential usage in professional football (American style, not soccer). Those players are under what I think would be even greater amounts of pressure to produce results, and compete in a far more aggressive competitive landscape. Despite the shorter season, the physical rigors are infinitely more intense, and the size of many NFL players dwarfs even the most obvious users in baseball.

Being America's most watched sport doesn't help either. I find the psychological aspects of sports fascinating, and I really feel that intense media exposure coupled with the millions of dollars poured into just a single game run a risk to the competitors' lifestyles.

Now this is not to say that coaches and owners are outwardly approaching their players and encouraging them to dope. Rather, they are left looking for a way to make it happen. The demands placed on them by the culture threatens to amplify the expectations they set for themselves as perfectionists. That's when people start looking for back doors.

Sure, there are other factors at hand. Ego, the yearning to make more money, the thrill of competition, striving to set records, and probably on a deep level, the desire to play as long as possible for fear of what one's life will bring after they "break out of Shawshank" and are forced to survive in the real world. But I think more than anything else, the culture of these sports really needs to be thoroughly examined as a supplement to penalties and regulation.

Look at combat sports like MMA and boxing. You hear very rarely about steroid charges and suspensions in those sports. That is not only because they are so heavily regulated, but also because fighters have more time to recover between fights -- as much as 2 months between battles. This in comparison to the harsh schedule of football and the endless season of baseball. There's something to be said for the body's natural ability to mend itself.

One thing is certain: drug culture in sports is at least in part due to the sporting culture itself. If MLB wants to repair its reputation and not suffer even steeper declines in their ratings due to this all-pivotal "D-Day," an inquest of some sort had better be done fast into correcting the problem at the foundation rather than beefing up reactionary discipline.

Not only that, but as a fan, part of me would still like to believe that the Rocket I beheld so dearly during his early days in the Boston Red Sox really is an "all-natural" miracle man that can still get it done on the mound.

Goodnight and have a pleasant tomorrow.

9/18/2007

Henry Rollins recently released a commentary via his TV show regarding freedom and how the truth in the nation and how it is being obscured, manipulated and thoughtlessly perverted. However, in spite of such injustices, there is a tool, a venue, if you will (and I will) to “out” the truth.

”That’s right, the Internet. Perhaps responsible for the most substantial shift in our culture in decades. There’s so much freedom and potential on the World Wide Web that one is barely able to get one’s head around it.”

Right, wrong or indifferent, Rollins does bring up one very essential point: the Internet is a remarkable outlet for the intellectual masses to clamor and voice their opinions and insights, in turn influencing the undecided and uninitiated.

Perhaps that’s why I’m so wary about the fact that we seem to be squandering it.

Look, I’m not gonna sugarcoat things. I like the Internet. I’m a card-carrying member of Generation Y. I check MySpace, Facebook and YouTube pretty much daily. Being that I don’t have cable (revolutionary, I know), the Internet serves as my primary source of entertainment, news and enlightenment. And for my personal reasons, it has served as the nominal venue for me to express my opinions vis-à-vis my comfy home on the blogosphere.

That said, yes, the Internet offers endless opportunities for people from all walks of life to express themselves. But like most good things, it seems to go overboard at times. You know that happens when the two rocket scientists renowned for mixing Diet Coke and Mentos are showing up on Leno. You know something’s up when the term “All Your Base Are Belong To Us” is absorbed into the contemporary lexicon. And you know something’s really twisted when Law & Order is doing an episode inspired by “lonelygirl15.”

(Even scarier when you read an article that the aforementioned webisode series became so popular that it featured Katherine McPhee from American Idol. Want more head-scratching minutiae? It also garnered sponsorship from Neutrogena, leading to the legendary “sell-out” method of product placement and a new character who works for the company. The product life cycle seems to have petered out with the show jumping the shark due to its titular star being killed off. This was of course because the actress playing her now has a film career and her contract requires her full attention. This shit is utterly fascinating to me… how a viral webisode could be victim to all the standard pratfalls of standard network television… replete with a spin-off, of course. For serious.)

Is this the new medium? Is this the influential entity imparted upon us? You have to wonder.

I can’t lie; for every off-color cultural meme that circulates the world’s web browser, there are a handful I dig. I find the humor behind “Ask A Ninja” to be vastly amusing, not unlike classic “Strong Bad” e-mails. And every once in a while there’s something sobering and thought-provoking like Noah Kalina’s photography project. I’ll even fess up to being a fan of Mahir’s page back in college.

But for the most part, these amusing little time-killers and viral elements don’t appear to carry much weight in the long run. From the moment the hit counters start climbing, the clock reaches 14:59:59 and seems to move at a lightning pace. These web icons seem to vanish as quickly as they appeared, yet all having left an indelible mark on culture.

No lie, I was at a Greek event recently and the DJ played the “Numa Numa” song. Dead serious, folks. Someone went to the trouble of getting this CD because of… well, this.

Pretty incredible, huh?

So why am I writing about this now, so late in the game? Why didn’t this begin to bother me during the heyday of Star Wars Kid? I’ll tell you why.

Meet the Internet’s newest phenomenon: Chris Crocker.

Chris’s sob-laden rant about Britney Spears, whether real or fabricated, has unleashed a sea of coverage, commentaries, and of course, parodies. Within days, a similar vlog was uploaded featuring a (terrible) George W. Bush impersonator demanding that we all “leave General Petraues alone!”

This is where I begin to draw lines in the sand… when Internet memes go from confounding to outright annoying. I’m going to say this once: can we please avoid giving this guy the attention he’s clearly craving? We’ve had enough pop cultural trainwrecks in the 21st century to last us a whole millennium. I, for one, do not intend to add to the downward trending of our collective IQ. Mr. Crocker’s “star” already seems to be on the decline as most folks I’ve talked to now regard him as completely abrasive rather than amusing. This is compounded by viewings of his prior work… I would personally rather stab my eardrum with a red hot poker than be subjected to such a half-assed form of “self-expression.”

I guess the entire Catch-22 of the Internet and freedom of speech in general is that it gives anyone the ability to voice their opinions. It’s what makes this nation great and what also makes it pretty goddamned ridiculous at times.

Which is why I will stay on my personal mission to use the Internet to inflict truth as Mr. Rollins so aptly addresses. I understand that these bizarre moments will come and go… sometimes they’ll draw my attention, other times they’ll leave me completely befuddled. With that said, I’ll keep my method of personal persuasion limited to the written word, as it is the primary draw for me to absorb information to begin with. Regardless of whether it’s on paper or on a screen.

And when all else fails, I can still remember the glory days of "Napster, Bad!" Now that's comedy.

Goodnight, and have a pleasant tomorrow.

8/14/2007

It’s no secret that the topic of steroids in sports has become scalding hot in the media these last two months. Between Barry Bonds breaking Hank Aaron’s homerun record and Chris Benoit’s savage double murder/suicide, there is clearly a lot of debate. People want answers and are going so far as congressional hearings to get them. Rightfully so. Steroids in professional sports or even sports entertainment is a dire matter for the athletes and the impression they leave.

It’s also a pretty dire matter in the realm of standup comedy.

I wish I were joking.

Let me set the stage for you. This past Saturday night, after a fun evening of antics and high jinks, I felt compelled to pop in on my local gas station, not to fill up, but to grab an impulse purchase snack to satiate those early AM munchies. Grabbing a Snickers bar, I waited in line at the register. Idly turning around in observance of my surroundings, I happened to notice this man.

I’m not making this up. Carrot Top was in my local gas station convenience store. My first thought?

Jesus H. tittyfucking Christ, what have we done? What hell hath the Lord wrought on us all? Is there even a God that could create such a monstrosity as this?

It should be duly noted that Carrot Top was wearing a top not of the carrot variety, but of the tank family. As in the type that doesn’t have any sleeves.

In short, I was a few spools of cotton away from this image.

Dude, steroids are bad in professional sports, but they’re even more devastating in comedy. If Shaun White is the “Flying Tomato,” then Carrot Top is the “Juicy Tomato.” As in, he be juicing. And I know, carrots are vegetables and tomatoes are fruits, but his material onstage is fruity enough as it is. So he qualifies.

He could also qualify for Mr. Olympia. He’s bigger than me. Bigger than the picture I just offered. I don’t know how else I can get across how terrifying it was to see this man in person. He wasn’t right to begin with. But now… egads.

Steroids are evil. Just like prop comedy. Carrot Top is immersed in both. He is the lord of all that is unholy and wrong.

I need someone to hold me. Please tell me everything will be OK.

Goodnight and have a pleasant tomorrow. Maybe.

6/30/2007

What does it mean for someone to have a hero be usurped, uncovered and disgraced? What does it mean to have an image of another human being tarnished?

Twice in the last month and change, I have caught people in the midst of a lie (that’s a subject for another post… literally, it’s on the chopping block), and I know the level of respect I have lost for them as human beings. But there are much graver offenses out there.

It is traumatizing, to say the least, when someone you revere or admire proves to be anything but a quality, decent human being. That said, it must be earth-shattering when they prove to be the complete antithesis of their projected self.

Earlier this week, pro wrestler Chris Benoit and his wife and 7-year-old son were found dead in Atlanta. WWE ran a full-scale 3-hour tribute to Benoit and his shimmering career through Japan, ECW, WCW and WWE. However, just before the program ended, word broke on the Internet that the primary suspect in the homicide investigation was the man being honored on TV.

Chris Benoit, respected man and role model for up and coming wrestlers, was called out as a murderer. And not just a murderer… perhaps the most heinous sort. He killed his own family.

I won’t go into the grisly details of his crimes. Frankly, there’s more than enough coverage already on the Internet and in the mainstream media. Moreover, given the nature of the deaths, the sinister aura behind them, and the seemingly endless list of oddities regarding Benoit’s behavior and his son’s condition, it’s difficult to even think straight. Seems just when the hauntingly bizarre nature of this story has piqued, another skeleton tumbles out of the closet and adds to the immense pile of bones on the floor.

Not to mention the fact that mainstream media coverage (read: TV news networks and sensationalist reporters) have essentially labeled this a case of ‘roid rage gone berserk. I think enough evidence has amassed to speak to the fragile mental state of this man. Not sayin’ drug abuse doesn’t play a role. I’m sure it does. But it’s only part of the puzzle, not the whole picture.

At the end of the day, the motives are practically secondary to the crime. I don’t think anyone can disagree that for anyone to do what he did is completely heartless and reprehensible. And the driver behind his actions will probably never be known in full.

The point of this post isn’t to analyze the case or come up with the grand solution to his erratic behavior and final act. The fact remains that a man who inspired many both in and outside the wrestling business practically stabbed those people in the back.

It wasn’t long after word first broke about the tragedy that a number of tribute pages and videos were strewn throughout the Internet and YouTube. This was no ordinary man to wrestling fans. He was notorious for his dedication to the business and to his craft. He wasn’t known to the scale of a Hulk Hogan or a Steve Austin. He wasn’t as big as those guys in name or in stature. But to longtime fans, to purist fans, he was by far one of the greatest names to ever lace up the boots.

I don’t want to give a glowing retrospective on the career of a murderer, but Benoit’s track record speaks for itself (and for the purposes of this post, is somewhat necessary). Here’s a guy who spent years honing his craft, working to make it look believable – a daunting task when everyone knows wrestling is “fake.” He’s not the biggest guy, not the best talker by a long shot. Doesn’t even have a character per se, and has spent 90 percent of his career working under his real name.

Simply put, he was different from the big names. But for hardcore fans, that was more than enough. He did his job and did it well. He allowed for us fans to suspend our belief for a while and appreciate something seemingly stupid and scripted like pro wrestling as something more; as an art form.

Once he made it to the big league, his hard work shone through, and his fan base increased rapidly. The so-called “vanilla midget” earned high praise from even mainstream fans and slowly but surely worked his way to the top of the food chain. And after nearly two decades, he earned his place by winning the big one: the world heavyweight championship.

Non-fans have to understand that the belt is a reward of sorts; an acknowledgement of trust and hard work. Think of it as a temporary promotion. You’re the spokesperson for the company.

And as a spokesperson, you’d be hard-pressed to find someone like Benoit. Soft-spoken, humble, determined and driven. All business in the ring, and a devoted family man outside the ring, always willing to shake a hand or sign an autograph from the sound of it.

And to people in the business who were young and training, he was the ideal role model.

And now two cruel, unforgivable acts of senseless violence have caused it all to come undone. The image of Benoit the man has been replaced with Benoit the monster. The fans who used to cheer him now squirm when reminded that his nickname was “The Canadian Crippler.” Memories of his earliest interviews where he methodically and coldly wrung his hands in anticipation of his next opponent, once fun and engaging, now seem chilling when we think of what he did with those hands just a few days ago.

Even his face seems different. It’s frankly unhandsome: rough and haggard, adorned with a stubbly beard, noticeably scarred forehead, and topped off with a thinning hairline and absent incisor. These features used to be regarded as representative of his tough, physically intense style. Aggressive, no nonsense, and to the grindstone. They were traits of pride and accomplishment, like Rocky’s sloped forehead and crooked mouth.

Now they seem perfectly appropriate for the face of a cold-blooded killer. Funny how the only thing that needs to change in this case is the frame of reference.

For the many Benoit inspired, it’s impossible to look at him in the same light now. Impossible not to feel for his wife and son, for their friends and families who have been permanently scarred by this atrocity. Forget the fact that this tragedy will forever change wrestling and its mandates. It has forever altered lives.

Even for me, it’s a hard thing to swallow. I’m no wrestler, nor do I aspire to be. I am a fan but do not watch WWE regularly. Honestly, Benoit was one of the few reasons for me to watch their programming at all. I admired his dedication, the dignity he carried himself with and his tenacity. Those are respectable qualities, and when they were learned, he was not known for being inhumanly violent in reality.

He was flawed. Horribly flawed at the end. Who is to say that he was infallible at all? Who is to know how long he was in this state of mind? Was it because of drugs? Did pressure and depression slowly unhinge him? Truthfully, this is anyone’s guess. There are only a few people who may know for sure, but they can’t tell that story anymore.

The sad thing is that Benoit’s final act will forever mark his name and reputation. It is the defining characteristic that he will always be remembered for in an otherwise exemplary career in the public eye. And given the nature of his crime, that’s not inappropriate.

It’s a shame when heroes let down those who love them. They go from being revered to reviled. All it takes is the loss of trust and character. This happens to be an extreme case. But not the first. OJ. Bill Clinton. Michael Jackson. Clearly there have been others. All flawed. All with legions of fans and followers. In fact, compared to those names, Benoit is not even a blip on the radar. But he was an inspirational entity nonetheless.

For those that loved the rusted hero, the final opinion is the matter of the individual at hand. Some will label him a ruthless sinner beyond forgiveness. Others will admit the horrifying nature of his final act while remembering what a great wrestler he was. Others still will struggle with dissecting the man behind the image for years to come.

What is important is to remember what was learned from him, what we learned about ourselves for those who did admire or respect him, and if a cause is ever determined, to learn from his mistakes. To avoid going down the path he did, whatever that entails.

It’s been a difficult week for me, because even though I have no connection to Benoit and never met him, I picked up some good characteristics from him over the course of following his career. I don’t know that I can ever look past what he did. His DVD is already stowed away in my trunk and away from the rack in my living room. I may never be able to watch his matches again. Certainly not in the same light… the thought of watching him manhandle opponents and making them submit is more frightening than exhilarating now.

However, despite the source, the values are essential. And how I apply them in my life is beneficial. I’m resentful that one who offered so much to me has disappointed me so wretchedly. It’s the worst kind of betrayal. And yet the life lessons are undeniable.

Heroes rise, inspire, fall, disenchant. It’s a harsh cycle. But we’re human. None are infallible. No matter how magnificent they appear.

We cope somehow.

Goodnight, and have a pleasant tomorrow.

4/24/2007

I hate disclaimers… however, this is atrociously late for two reasons. One is an untimely passing in my extended “family.” The other is the simple fact that there’s no way I could possibly condense my thoughts on this man in just one day.

“Still and all, why bother? Here's my answer. Many people need desperately to receive this message: I feel and think much as you do, care about many of the things you care about, although most people do not care about them. You are not alone.”

We lost a good one recently. A great one, in fact. Though he’d never claim as much.

I don’t often comment on the subject of fallen public figures. I oftentimes find the subject morbid. In spite of my recent rant about Anna Nicole Smith (which was intended as more of a swing at news media), I’ve really only offered my thoughts on Richard Pryor, Dimebag Darrell and Johnny Cash.

But Kurt Vonnegut’s passing has jarred me significantly, and many others.

It was Vonnegut’s writing that really drove my style and my perception of life as we know it. While I don’t necessarily share all of his opinions (we would likely never have engaged in theological discussion, being that I’m Christian and he was a skeptic), I feel as though his stance on life in general resonated with me over the years.

I first discovered Vonnegut’s work in London some six years ago this time. I took a class in postmodernism in literature, and there were some real gems on the syllabus that I still have. The New York Trilogy, The Crying of Lot 49, Ulysses, and of course, Slaughterhouse-Five.

The latter is the one that really sticks out with me.

I was utterly mesmerized with Vonnegut’s prose and non-linear structure. It was something all too new to me in the world of literature. Not to mention the fact that the book’s protagonist, Billy Pilgrim, the perfect portrait of the unreliable narrator. To say that Slaughterhouse is an important contribution to American literature would be a massive understatement.

It’s not just an anti-war book, although that is surely a component. There’s something special about that one, but all of his works, really, are enlightening, refreshing reflections.

Vonnegut’s contributions are significant for a multitude of reasons, the least of which was not his message. No matter how bizarre or absurd his topic, the thrust of every one of his books is to make the reader question everything. Think for yourself. Whether the matters at hand be political, sociological, religious, scientific, whatever. He really covers the breadth of humanity.

And a humanist he was. Ultimately, Vonnegut’s fascination with humankind, be it from the stance of a cynic or an optimist (I really think it depends on the person in question), truly drives his stories and engages the reader in the plight of doing what’s best for humanity. Or at the least just exhibiting some goddamn good common sense, something we seem to lack a lot of these days.

The remarkable thing about Vonnegut’s books are really the protagonists. Or what he considers to be protagonists. Ultimately they’re not terribly proactive, certainly not in the classic, heroic sense. They also don’t fit the archetypal template of the textbook protagonist. They aren’t particularly good looking and are typically riddled with self-doubt. Moreover, they don’t have any real goal in life… they just sort of meander through the story, giving the impression that their fate is predetermined no matter what their goals.

Billy Pilgrim is a perfect example, perhaps the finest. He spends practically all of Slaughterhouse as a passive observer, merely bearing witness to the various atrocities of Dresden and the war in general. He is literally forced to glide through time, falling away wherever the space-faring Tralfamadorians take him.

It’s an interesting concept, and it’s something that’s gonna force people into working to figure it out. Like many aspects of life in general, it’s not terribly cut and dry. There are pieces that have to be assembled, loves. To quote a good friend of mine, the day of Vonnegut’s passing was “a sad day for anyone with a brain.”

It’s not light fare, and it’s not fluff. It’s easy to read but sometimes tough to dissect. It’s complex, phenomenal literature from a brilliant mind that will not be soon forgotten. They’re contributions that cannot be understated, and Vonnegut’s message needs to be loud and clear, now more so than ever.

Question everything, accept nothing.

“We are here on this planet to fart around and nothing more.”

So it goes.

Goodnight, and have a pleasant tomorrow.

4/03/2007

Can I just share something with you all, dear friends? I have a real problem with indecision in human beings. I’m not really sure what it is, but I seem to be encountering it more and more as of late. It’s frustrating to say the least. More than that, it’s downright disappointing.

I don’t mean to get all hard-assed over here, but the fact of the matter is that we as human beings have decisions to make in life, both large and small. Some that affect us alone, some that affect others and not us, and some that overlap.

I won’t go into the specific details of how, when or where I was faced with these challenges. It’s not worth wasting precious typing time, to be truthful. Let’s just say it’s been more frequent than I’d care to deal with.

This is my outlook: indecision equals a lack of concern. For example: “What do you want to do tonight?” “I don’t care.”

That’s indecision in perhaps the purest form you could encounter. Maybe it’s me, but that’s how it sounds when someone can’t make up their mind. To me, it sounds like the issue at hand doesn’t matter to the other individual. For whatever it’s worth, that’s my take.

And it’s agonizing. Now in the above example, indecision might not necessarily be a bad thing. The subconscious addendum to the second party’s response could possibly be interpreted as, “I don’t care so long as I’m spending time with you (all).” In which case, it’s far from a negative allusion.

I wish that were the case in most circumstances. Unfortunately, the inability to make decisions and stick to them can be an irritant to others. Particularly myself, I suppose.

There are just instances where I feel someone’s lack of care and willingness to make the call equals out to a waste of my time, and you’d better believe that’s frustrating as all hell.

What’s worse are the people who simple go along with this mind-numbingly void attitude. I’m not saying everyone has to be a leader in certain matters, but by God, nothing is more agonizing than a group of lemmings tailing behind the most recent person’s comments.

Folks, let me put it to you this way: followers are toolkits. Depending on the idiom, I really believe that there is a time not to be a leader. But when you’re not a leader, I believe you should at the very least be an attentive student/listener. At least that’s the case in my experience. But one who just idly breezes by is just sad.

Now do I have a twisted sense of beliefs? I don’t think so. I’ve just found lately that I have little tolerance for fence-sitters. Because to me, it means you don’t care. And in some cases, that’s fine. But if you don’t care, then please, don’t be so eager to offer your two cents. I think it’s great that we all have a voice and the forum with which to share it. That said, if there’s nothing to share, then there’s no reason to pipe up. Some people just love to hear the sound of their own voice, even when they bring nothing to the table.

Perhaps I’m being a bit of a curmudgeon about it, and there’s merit to that, no doubt. I’ve come to realize I hold other folks to a pretty high standard, but at the end of the day it’s nothing less than I’d request of myself. And I don’t think it’s asking too much for people to nut up or shut up.

To me, this really loops in with my post at the onset of the New Year regarding change. It doesn’t really surprise me that those who are unable to make firm decisions, be they grand or minute, are typically the same people who are unable to initiate change for themselves. We really are living in an age of rapid growth, and I guess I just feel that as individuals, it’s essential for us to grow. It should come as no surprise then that I just happened to allude to the Samurai principle of seven breaths in that post. Go back and check it out. Nothing wrong with hitting up the buffet table for seconds, y’know.

So when I deal with people who can’t or won’t take a stance, be it good or bad, I really feel like I’m looking at lost opportunity and wasted talent.

As trite (and unapologetically geeky) as it sounds, my memory hearkens back to The Karate Kid. Something Mr. Miyagi said to Daniel really sticks out. Upon the first day of his protégé’s training, Miyagi asked Daniel if he was ready to begin. Daniel’s simple response was, “I guess so.”

Miyagi then said: “Walk on road, hmm? Walk left side, safe. Walk right side, safe. Walk middle, sooner or later, *pwch!* Get squish just like grape. Here, karate same thing. You karate do ‘yes,’ OK. You karate do ‘no,’ OK. You karate do ‘guess so,’ *pwch!* Just like grape. Understand?”

Yes Sensei.

And for the record, dorktacular as my 80’s movie reference is, this is from back in the day before movies with the elderly inspirational teacher were cliché. So that line holds some water, true believer.

I digress. Cheesy as that reference is, I do believe there’s value to it. I see no point in strolling in the middle of the road, and for me, there is no “guess so.” Unfortunately, I’m very aware of the fact that the world does not navigate on my map, so there’s little I can do to change that course.

Aside from bitch here. That makes me happy.

Goodnight, and have a pleasant tomorrow.

3/28/2007

Recently some friends and I took in a showing of the film 300.

Yes, I am Greek. No, I do not have Spartan blood.

No, we were not yelling at the screen. C’mon. We Greeks are a civilized people, haven’t you heard?

All joking and ethnocentric undertones aside, I really enjoyed it. I wasn’t too surprised to hear that it got mixed reviews, however. Something inside me figured that critics wouldn’t “get it,” so to speak.

I’ll be the first to admit that Braveheart is one of my favorite films ever, but it did kickstart an ugly trend in Hollywood. That of the sweeping, inspirational, violent, historic epic. After that flick, we were inundated with stuff, weren’t we, folks? Gladiator, The Patriot, Joan Of Arc, Troy, and so on.

But to me, 300 is in a slightly different vein. Not just because of it’s phenomenal writer (one Frank Miller), or it’s impressive CGI landscapes. See, there’s an ever-present thematic element regarding belief in that film.

Operative term in that last sentence is “ever-present,” mind you.

Let me put it to you this way: I have only seen a handful of the Braveheart-esque films listed above. With that said, I tend to notice a pattern in a few of them. Nation at war, main character finds no reason to fight until the loss of a loved one. Main character finds something worth fighting for following that untimely loss. Main character happens to find a new love in the process. Typically dies by film’s end, representative of his/her passion for what they believe in.

To the extent that 300 is similar to those films in the elements of struggle and war, that I’ll grant you. Where the line is drawn happens somewhere in the sands of belief.

See, the Spartans were a proud people from birth. They never had a doubt in what they held to be true. To them, theirs was the most glorious city/state in all of the known world, and they were more than willing to fight and die for it.

I realize that these flicks are rarely 100 percent historically accurate. I think you have to really accept them as artistic treatments, otherwise you’re gonna be pushing up daisies when next you duel with a history professor. However, Hollywood has this bad habit of throwing in a sappy catalyst that drives the main character to his/her willingness to fight. Naturally, that would cause anyone to go over the edge and fight in the name of vengeance and passion.

The Spartans have always been portrayed as naturally passionate. Therein lies the grand divide.

I’m not gonna hit you with anything that will spoil the movie now, but here’s how the conflict comes about in 300: the Persian emperor and self-professed God-King Xerxes tries to convince King Leonidas to yield in the way of the massive Persian army, thereby surrendering Sparta and making the conquest of Greece that much easier.

That’s it. No one has to die, no loved ones are threatened, no massive deus ex machina occurs that drives him to lead his warriors.

You want our turf? Come get some.

That’s the difference. Inherent belief. I feel that’s the point that many people are losing under the stylized battle scenes and sweeping landscapes. I can see how that is.

Of course, this is just my interpretation of the film. Yours may be vastly different and you’re wholly entitled to it.

What I’m getting at, though, is that this film serves as a powerful metaphor for the importance of beliefs in our lives.

I don’t really care what that belief is with the next person… be it within the realm of religion, politics, society or pizza toppings. I may not agree with Individual X’s beliefs, but by God, as long as he/she believes in something, I have a massive amount of respect for that person.

I think the thrust of many of my posts over the years have had to do with apathy. I feel as though our society is more apathetic these days, and people act without a core basis for their words and deeds. Now whatever that cornerstone may be, so long as it provides them with a path they feel to be right for them, one that doesn’t carelessly damage other human beings… hey, more power to ‘em.

It’s easy to just do A, B and C. It’s more significant, however, if you do A, B and C predicated on the beliefs of X, Y, and Z. OK?

I hate using the word “automaton” to describe my fellow humans, but really, lots of people fit that description. Get up in the morning, punch the clock, time to make the doughnuts, go home, prime time network TV, beddy-bye, wake up again, lather, rinse, rewind. I don’t get the impression that folks really take a step back, look at the big picture and ask themselves why they do what they do.

To me, if you have an essential foundation of beliefs, a rough framework, even just an unrefined idea to work off of, you’re that much better off in life as a whole. Channeling your decisions and actions back to those beliefs gives you so much more internal feedback, you’d be surprised at what’s doable.

That’s why to me, 300 is a phenomenally brutal, testosterone-infused metaphor for the simple notion of fighting for your beliefs. And I respect anyone who is willing to go to the lengths the Spartans did for what they believe in. It’s a tremendous commitment to your convictions, one that few nowadays would be willing to do.

As for me, I’m willing to see this movie again. On that note, I’m off to bed, for tonight I sleep in Hell. Or Hoboken. I always mix those two up.

Goodnight, and have a pleasant tomorrow.

3/13/2007

My parents definitely went the distance to teach me the value of a dollar as a kid. It should come as no surprise, then, that my folks are avid Costco shoppers. They’re also occasional patrons of BJ’s. Prior to that, during the days of the oldskool, it was Price Club. We never had a Sam’s Club in Waterbury. I guess Sammy Boy wasn’t down with the Dirty Water. Maybe he’s smarter than he sounds.

But yeah, back when I was living at home and studying for my MBA, I’d take pretty much every Friday afternoon with Grandpa Frank, go to lunch at Spartan’s (shameless plug for my friend’s family’s place and 300 all in one shot!), then hit up Costco for some bulk shopping hysterics.

After adhering to that routine for almost two years, you can imagine I got pretty familiar with the joint. I could still navigate the Waterbury Costco in my sleep. I also noticed certain behavioral trends of the customers that I must now vent about.

People, please heed my warning… if you go to Costco, you will encounter more blathering idiots than at a Carrot Top show. For serious.

I’m not sure what it is about the place… but when I shop at Costco feels like I’m going to war. I have to very meticulously lay out my plan of action for the day. I must leave room for all variables or alternate navigational routes in and outside the building. I have to put on a game face that would make Chuck Lidell cringe.

It’s a jungle out there, baby.

I realize there’s little I can do to influence the owners of Costco in hopes of improving the shopping experience. But maybe, just maybe, I can knock some sense into the peons that frequent the store.

And if not, bitching about them will make me feel better anyway. Get your gloves on, keep all punches above the belt, now let’s get it on…

- Please be mindful of the directional arrows in a parking lot. This is atop the list of pet peeves, because if you’re doing your shopping on a Saturday, you can bet your bottom dollar you’ll encounter three near-collisions with your fellow motorists. I’m sorry, but an arrow pointing towards you does not mean “this is the direction you’re coming from.” It’s the direction you’re going in, monkeyboy. On my most recent trip, I literally had two people clogging the lanes because they either failed to notice the necessary direction or just plain disregarded it. On a regular road, you’ll get your license revoked for that shit. Me, I’m ready to have your knees revoked, ya dig?

- Once inside the store, always keep to the right with your carriage. Let’s do our best to govern the lanes as we would our roads. This is not your run of the mill Stop & Shop, this is war, and the trenches are loaded with vermin aching to nibble at deals. It gets congested quick, and it’s not uncommon to be stuck in the same spot for two minutes or more because of traffic jams. Costco’s aisles are by far the I-95 of grocery shopping.

- If you need to abandon your carriage to grab something, please keep your sojourn to 30 seconds or less. Again, with back-ups as intense as they are in this place, we need to be respectful of our fellow shoppers even if they’re ugly. Going hand in hand with this, please go to the store knowing what you need in advance. This isn’t Macy’s, let’s try to cut down on the window shopping as much as possible. If you’re reviewing an item for more than two minutes at a clip, you don’t need it. Move along, those eggs are calling your name.

- For the love of God, do not bring children or senior citizens with you. I adore kids and value the elderly, but in Costco, they prove burdensome and detrimental to the process. A day of shopping at Costco should not be family day. Just imagine going to the grocery store with your 5-year-old. You know how they always make a dash for the candy at the checkout and then ask you if you can buy it for them? What do you think they’re gonna do when they see a five pound bag of Reese’s peanut butter cups or a tub of Twizzlers? It’s especially ugly if you have two or more kids that can walk, because then you find yourself chasing them around to try and keep them from getting squashed by intensely focused shoppers (which are plentiful in this franchise). A kid in a candy store has got nothing on a kid in Costco. As for seniors… it’s just agonizing to watch them have to keep up with the carriage, especially if they have a cane. And wheelchairs? For-frickin’-get it. You’ll accumulate more dirty looks than Michael Richards in Harlem, although only half as many death threats. Trust me, this comes from someone who spent nearly two years walking in front of the carriage and pulling it gently so his grandfather would be able to steer properly in lieu of his waning strength and eyesight. Do your family a favor and leave them home. The world will thank you for it. Keep your parties to two adults or less between the ages of 18 and 65, thanks.

- The sample tables are not campgrounds, so don’t pitch your tent there, literally or figuratively. Trust me, I’m as curious as you are to try new kinds of quiche and quesadillas, perhaps even get a quick fix on an old favorite like mac and cheese. But if you’re planning on waiting right in front of the microwave while Esther waits for those pizza bagels to finish, I’m likely to shank you with a shiv. Samples are wonderful, free is wonderful. Free samples make mouths happy, but your insistence on waiting 10 minutes for those raviolis to finish while staying stationary in a busy aisle is likely to make you and the lemmings in back of you immensely disliked and potentially in harm’s way. Remember, once you step through those doors, courtesy to your fellow man is right behind great deals.

- Please watch where you’re going. This is more intense than driving on the freeway… if you narrowly averted a collision in the parking lot, you won’t in the cosmetics section, I assure you. Two carriages are going to collide, and your frustration will mount rapidly. It’s easy to want to browse and casually look around, but when there are 700 people with an average IQ one tenth their numbers, it’s key to be aware of your surroundings. I’ve actually taken to checking shadows on the ground when nearing corners, and if I’m at the right angle (and the person is abiding by the second recommendation I posted above), I can normally stop short before brushing up against some twisted Bluth family reject.

- Once you get out to the parking lot, make haste in loading your trunk and getting out of there. It’s helpful to use the corrugated packaging they leave at the front of the store for easy handling of your loot, but if there is nothing readily available, try to load your take in clusters. Not the cereal, the quantity. If I see you depositing a gallon of whole milk followed by a gallon of 1% milk, I will reach for my sharpest key when you’re not looking. If it doesn’t require two hands to lift, you can maximize your time by inserting multiple items. Once inside the car, buckle up, make sure any other riders are secure, and leave promptly. Don’t dilly-dally on your Motorola, for that is even less courteous than talking on the road without a headset. Ideally, you should be able to pull out no more than 30 seconds after closing your door provided there’s no car trouble. Because there will be car trouble if it’s any longer, as I will be funneling that two pound bag of Domino sugar I just bought down your gas tank. Thank God there’s so much of that stuff, because I feel it really drives my point home when I teach people like that a lesson.

Obviously I doubt anyone will take my advice to up the level of consideration for their fellow shoppers, but if nothing else I feel that many will be able to commiserate with me on the experience. And if you’re one of the latter, you now know the acceptable criteria for slugging someone in the head with that Yamaha beginner’s guitar they carry. That’s why those things are on the shelves, people.

Goodnight and have a pleasant tomorrow.

3/11/2007

The FCC has thrown down the gauntlet. This is me picking it up, slapping them in the face with it, and saying, “I challenge you to a duel, tools.”

Y’know, I’ve gone on and on about censorship on LSS for many years now, and you would think that I would be given a moment of peace where I don’t have to complain about the utter idiocy of the FCC and their ongoing need to restrict content.

Folks, what happened to practicality in this country? Did we just toss that one out the window some years ago without a care in the world? When did people stop using their brains and start using their attorneys? There are just days I want to slug my monitor reading some of this rot.

Perhaps it’s just baffling to me that a federal entity is so ready and willing to expectorate on the First Amendment, which, in case you may have forgotten, is perhaps the most important benchmark in our nation’s history. It is something that makes us wholly distinct from most other countries, and the principle behind it is as pure as our government is impure.

But I digress. The notion of “exceedingly violent programming that is harmful to children” is absurd. Seriously, you show me a pre-schooler who’s staying up to watch 24, and I’ll show you an eight-year-old who smokes a pack and a half of Lucky Strikes a day.

The burden of censorship ultimately lies on the parents’ shoulders in my opinion, and I’d like to think most of us would agree. Folks, my mom and pop were very careful about what I watched growing up, and I have little doubt I’ll be the same way. Granted you can’t monitor your children all the time. Eventually they’ll get one past the goalie and catch a late night showing of Gladiator on Showtime. That said, it’s inevitable such stealthy forays into more mature television will be made.

I can think of all my friends growing up, and how we’d do our best to keep the tape player volume down while listening to Andrew Dice Clay’s forum in filth on cassette, all the while repressing peels of gut-busting laughter with our hands over our mouths. I remember having friends over when I was about 11 or 12 years old and renting Predator, even though it had been released several years prior. It seemed like we quoted that movie ad nauseum for about two years. I have similar memories of watching Terminator 2 on VHS shortly after its release.

It’s the little memories such as this that really make being a kid glorious. The sort of stupid little moments when we’re trying to bypass our parents’ parameters and throw our young minds into more “adult” territory. You can’t beat that.

And y’know what? My parents never protested when my tastes in media started maturing. They realized that my “heroes” were bound to transition from He-Man and the Ultimate Warrior to Arnold and Dice. That’s part of growing up, and in retrospect, it’s probably a lot tamer than the antics my own folks engaged in during their heyday.

Besides, I say if the government wants to regulate the amount of torture exhibited on a show like 24, they should first teach their own troops the virtues of not stripping down hostages to their birthday suits and applying leashes to their necks. Just a thought.

Goodnight and have a pleasant tomorrow.

2/15/2007

I’m gonna petition to rename the Planet Fitness in Orange, CT the “Anna Nicole Memorial Center.” ‘Cause every time I go there, her face is plastered over every frickin’ television set. It’s worse than being stuck on the “It’s A Small World” ride at Disney on acid.

I feel like the only person in the nation right now who doesn’t care about Anna Nicole Smith. Not that I’m ever happy when someone buys the farm before their time, but c’mon now… let’s be realistic about this gal.

We’re talking about a woman whose greatest accomplishment was, in all honesty, posing naked for Playboy. And when you look at her résumé, that was perhaps the most wholesome thing she has ever done. And I do mean ever. Where should we begin? The marriage to the nonagenarian millionaire, the horrid reality show, the questionable weight loss, the classless announcement of her pregnancy on her website, her son’s passing, the questionable nature of her babydaddy, and I’m fairly certain she was involved in that Tylenol tampering scandal back in the 80’s. Did she really contribute anything to society other than causing a lot of people a lot of pain and frustration?

Point is, point is, why is mass media making such a huge deal about her passing? I understand the basic answer: it’s news. She was known (inexplicably despite a complete lack of talent), now she’s gone. OK, fair enough. Cover her passing.

But for serious people, I don’t think Saddam Hussein’s execution got this much coverage. Not to say he deserved to be posthumously revered, but considering how his capture was such a visible government initiative, don’tcha think there would’ve been more news about it?

Mother Theresa, Ronald Reagan, Gerald Ford, all of them are taking a backseat to Anna Nicole and her ginormous yahoos.

What’s that you say? They weren’t celebrity-status figures? Oh, now it makes perfect sense.

So long as there’s a breath in my body, I will never understand the public’s need to gush over low-talent, low-rent celebrities. I feel like most of America spends an unhealthy amount of time reading about other people’s lives instead of focusing on their own. How is it that we value ourselves so little that we feel the need to live vicariously through a bunch of pencil-thin, unrefined, overly tan divas will forever be a Rubix Cube to me. I can’t get the damn colors to line up in my head and probably never will.

What gets me the most about this phenomenon (I call it the Hilton Factor, because it seems that Paris Hilton’s presence on this planet has only accelerated this morbid fascination) is that it’s not restricted to entertainment publications or websites. It’s everywhere, people. Hell, I’ve practically just stated that I don’t understand the Hilton Factor, nor do I follow it. I don’t have a subscription to People or Us Weekly, and my impulse buys at the Stop & Shop checkout lane are limited to M&M’s and Chapstick.

So why was I able to list every single one of Anna Nicole’s atrocities? Because much like her cleavage, you can’t miss them. Even big time news networks like CNN and Fox News have reported heavily on every one of her moral misdeeds, and now said networks spending an inordinate amount of time covering this “tragedy.”

I use the quotes because, let’s face it, did anyone out there really think that this woman would make it past 40? Living hard like she apparently did on such a regular basis is bound to catch up with you, so even if drugs or alcohol wasn’t the immediate cause of her demise, it’s a fairly safe bet that they were connected in some fashion.

I think what gets me most about this is the fact that Anna Nicole Smith didn’t contribute a damn thing to anybody. Think about it… did she really enrich anyone’s lives? I don’t mean to get on my moral high horse here, but c’mon, people. Did this woman leave a lasting impression short of catering to young men’s masturbatory fantasies in the early 90’s and then giving them all STD’s some ten years later? She didn’t do much of anything. This seems to be a qualification of the Hilton Factor… you don’t really have to do much of anything. You just have to be out in public. A lot. In front of droves of cameras. Wearing next to nothing. Probably inebriated.

When you look at it that way, the only thing that’s missing for concubines are the cameras.

But I can understand honoring certain celebrities for their achievements upon their untimely passing. Christopher Reeve? He strove for stem cell research. Steve Irwin? He educated our youth and engaged them. John Belushi? He simply made us smile.

Anna Nicole? My slate’s as blank as her Oscar Nomination tally.
And what has she left behind? A baby girl, two to four possible fathers, a whole boatload of cash she didn’t earn and a black eye to news media that’ll take a long time to stop swelling.

Yeah, I know. I must sound callous writing all this, but I just gotta call a spade a spade. Untimely or not, I just don’t see the reason to plaster this gal’s face on the TV screen any more than it already has been.

Frankly, I was more torn up about the fact that they used multiple dogs for the role of Lassie. Way to screw up childhood mainstays, Hollywood.

Goodnight, and have a pleasant tomorrow.

1/03/2007

Five years later and I’m still sitting at the keyboard, ruminating, observing, analyzing and prophesizing as the Landshark swims on.

Believe it or not, I wish I didn’t have to. See, I’ve come to the conclusion that if I still have stuff to vent about on this blog, then there are still things that are seriously wrong with this world and the bodies that inhabit its crust.

What’s even more worrisome is the fact that I’m actually recycling a complaint I filed nearly ten years ago. Way back in the Skidmo’ days, I had a “protoblog” for lack of a better term known simply as “The Soapbox.” One of my earliest entries was in regards to an age-old tradition that I felt was woefully outdated.

New Year’s resolutions.

Maybe I’ve gotten too Zen in my old age, but it’s nice to know I have managed to retain some of my opinions from the good ol’ piss and vinegar days of my late teens and early twenties. Now that I’m approaching the dreaded demographic of late twenties, it’s important to know that the fire of my younger, more naïve days hasn’t burnt out just yet as I slowly descend into the grim chasm of adulthood.

Then again, I think some adolescence in my 30’s could spice this ‘berg up quite a bit.

I mused back in the Soapbox days about how pointless New Year’s resolutions are. I don’t think I have ever been able to grasp why it is important to start a year by making adjustments to yourself. I think I’ve always subscribed to the school of thought that if something needs changing, there’s no time like the present. I mean, I think I can appreciate the sentiment of starting the year off on the right foot, but that shouldn’t mean holding off on setting the ball in motion until the ball actually drops.

If nothing else, I think it’s best to make it a point to improve oneself prior to the beginning of a new day. That way, once you sleep off the hangover, you can hit the ground running without a care in the world.

The reason I bring this topic up is because, quite frankly, I heard one too many people offering up resolutions this year prior to doce-dash-treinte y uno. No more cigarettes, joining the gym, resisting the urge to jerk off in the peanut butter because it’s crunchy and not creamy, the usual. I just don’t understand why we as humans feel the need to put timelines on things when it comes to self improvement.

And let me clarify… I think it’s a good thing to set goals for oneself as a means of personal development, and sometimes deadlines are not a bad thing. If you’re going to have a lung removed, it’s probably a good idea to put down the Pall Malls. But we have this incessant need to put things off until X-Date to begin the changes we yearn for so deeply.

I don’t think this is necessarily a sign that we don’t want to change and grow. Far from it. Those are innate human characteristics that we just cannot escape. Rather, I think we are scared of the steps that are necessary to initiate that change. We want to evolve, we’re just afraid to do the gruntwork. And all honesty, I’m as guilty as anyone in some circumstances. I honestly can’t recall ever setting a New Year’s resolution, but I can remember thinking about how I was going to change up my diet on multiple occasions… just so long as I could finish the pepperoni calzone in front of me first.

Hey, change takes work. It never comes overnight, nor with ease. That’s part of growth, right? That’s part of the reason we have a term like “growing pains.” It hurts like hell, people. Get some protective headgear.

So, to me, I think New Year’s resolutions are a huge copout. Maybe they’re not necessarily acts of cowardice, as I feel that cowardice must be a conscientious decision on the part of the offender. Nor do I necessarily feel that they are signs of weakness. I just don’t think we necessarily know any better.

I truly believe if we were willing to take more initiative with ourselves, we’d be less inclined to fault and confusion.

Oscar Wilde once wrote, “Never do today what you can put off until tomorrow.” However, I much prefer Yamamoto Tsunetomo’s concept of seven breaths in Hagakure: “In the words of the ancients, one should make his decisions within the space of seven breaths. Lord Takanobu said, If discrimination is long, it will spoil.’ Lord Naoshige said, ‘When matters are done leisurely, seven out of ten will turn out badly. A warrior is a person who does things quickly.’ When your mind is going hither and thither, discrimination will never be brought to a conclusion. With an intense, fresh and undelaying spirit, one will make his judgments within the space of seven breaths. It is a matter of being determined and having the spirit to break right through to the other side.”

I don’t know why I like that so much, but I don’t have time to explain right now. I’m on my seventh breath and have decided to bring this transcendental piece to a close.

Goodnight, and have a pleasant New Year.