Wednesday, December 30, 2009

Fruit From The Random Tree

Well, I haven't done a post recently and, with the year winding down, I thought it might be nice to do a little mental house-cleaning in anticipation of the new year. no particular order, here's some random thoughts.

- I am convinced that our memories are like a large pot of boiling soup. The stuff we put in the pot represents our memories. The older we get, the more stuff gets put in the pot. And since it's boiling, bits and pieces come bobbing to the surface (our conscious minds), only to eventually sink back down again. And it's totally random. This is why, out of nowhere, some bizarre memory pops up for a little while, only to eventually sink back down again into your subconscious.

- What's with drivers who cut you off in order to get ahead of you, like they're in this all-fired hurry, only to then proceed at 10mph?

- Whenever I need to find a particular product in a supermarket aisle, all I need to do is look for the only other person in the aisle who's standing there, pondering. That's where my product will be. Blocked by this one person. It also works if there's no one in the aisle except for an employee stocking a stretch of shelves. What I want will be right there.

- There are two types of people I dread being behind at Dunkin Donuts. The yahoo who's buying 4 Box O'Joes, 31 bagels of certain exact flavors, 2 boxes of munchkins, and 43 different flavors of donuts; and the parent with small children ("What kind of doughnut do you want, sweetie?" "Nnn-gah!" "What's that? Vanilla?" "Bfnah!" "What's that? Timmy fell down the well?"). If you're behind either of those types, then grab a Snickers bar because, buddy, you're not going anywhere for a while.

- OK, so what's with the couple setaed in two separate non-functional bathtubs outside in those ED ads? I mean, really now. Is that supposed to be sexy? Two people, seated in inoperable plumbing fixtures, unable to make any serious intimate contact because, well, each one is in a separate container, hanging around outside....oh yeah. That's romantic.

- This past Christmas season, I made a new Christmas Song Mix CD. It had an amazing range of songs, like Eric Idle's "F*ck Christmas", Weird Al's "Christmas at Ground Zero", Brad Paisley's "Kung Pao Buckaroo Holiday", Trans-Siberian Orchestra's "Carole of the Bells", and a handful of amazingly done old Christ-centered carols (e.g. Hark! The Herald Angels, O Come All Ye Faithful, O Holy Night). It is quite possibly the most pious Christmas CD I've burned, as well as the most irreverent. That's when I realized that the CD was actually a fair representation of me.

- And speaking of Christmas carols, this was the year I really listened carefully to all of the words to O Holy Night (Carol's favorite Christmas song). I think the chills still haven't completely dissipated yet.

- I'm not into chick flicks, but I'll admit that I really liked "Love Actually". Well, I enjoyed most of it, anyway. Now I have to decide what movie Carol has to see as reciprocity.

- OK, here's a tip for those of you in the workplace who wear a geek tag (employee ID card). When you're in a bathroom stall, make sure the tag is turned with your name and photo facing inwards, so that no one knows who you are. That way, no one can enter the restroom and go "Aw geez, what's going on in here? It smells like someone's sacrificed a goat to the Poo God...who's that in that stall? I see his name tag! I know who you are now, buddy!" You're welcome.

- The following is a list of people I really hope to hear little or nothing about in 2010. This will truly make it a happy new year: Sarah Palin, Megan Fox, Rush Limbaugh, The Gosselins, Octomom, Glenn Beck, Richard Heene.

Saturday, December 12, 2009

Adventures in Christmas Shopping-Land (Part 1)

So, I've been keeping my eye out for some New York Yankees toilet paper. It does exist, and it's usually a favored purchase among us NON-Yankees fans (imagine that...).

I decided that if any place was going to stock novelty items used to wipe your rear end, it'd have to be at Spencers Gifts. And here's the exact exchange I had with the sales girl.

ME: Hi, do you folks have New York Yankees toilet paper?

SALESGIRL (looking scandalized): Ohh, no no no...We don't stock ANY team's merchandise. We don't want to show favoritism, and start a turf war in the store.

ME: Oh, I see. Well, you know, all I could think of was, since this was a totally tasteless and disgusting product, it'd be right up Spencers' alley.

SALESGIRL (nodding): Hey yeah, that makes sense. But nope, sorry, don't got it.

I almost burst out laughing, as the salesgirl was in essence agreeing that the store is pretty much a sleazy tasteless cathedral of tackiness.

So, dejected, Chris and I made our way past the Santa Hooker costumes, the Jingle Breasts, and the T-shirts that announced the non-picky sexual standards of the wearer, and left Spencers, TP-less.

The search goes on.

Saturday, December 5, 2009

Buh-Bye, Forgotten Realms!!

There's a lot of things about D&D 4.0 that makes me hate it. One of the things that I find particularly irksome is how they basically took a fine setting like the Forgotten Realms, turned it on its head, vandalized a lot of the topography, threw in some "Gods of Faerun 90210" into the mix, and then cranked up the calendar by about a century or whatnot.

For a while, this didn't bother me. I had already decided I wasn't going to do 4.0, but instead stick with 3.5, and simply ignore all of the developments in the Realms. It was a parting of the ways when it came to the default D&D rule system, but I was still willing and eager to keep running in the Realms. While that seemed to work, the situation still bugged me; I'm usually one of those all-or-nothing sort of people. Either I'm drinking the entire glass (or even entire pitcher!) of Kool-Aid, or I'm not touching it at all.

Our gaming group is getting ready in January for what I've dubbed The Great Crisis (pardon me, my DC Fanboy is showing), an adventure I've been promising for several years now. See, for the last ten years, most of the players in my group have been playing a handful of PCs in the Forgotten Realms, and advancing levels. Once the PCs got of sufficiently high level, we'd end a campaign, and start up a new FR campaign in a different locale, with a new bunch of 1st level characters. The continuity was still preserved, and sometimes there'd be cross-referencing or other touches that indicate that this was All The Same World.

While this has worked out nicely, people have been hankering to play some of those old high-level PCs again, and some players have at least a half-dozen each. Enter the Great Crisis. I've told my players "Assemble all your past characters; pick out your favorite four; I'll be coming up with a massive storyline that will require four groups of high-level characters, set in four different areas of the Realms."

And so, that's what we're doing once the holidays die down. Four adventures, one a month, two gaming sessions each, set in four different locales in the Realms; adventures that may or not be related or interconnected. That's part of the mystery. Do all these things have something to do with each other? Or perhaps only some do? Or none? Who knows?

Once this Great Crisis is done, regardless of the outcome, I do believe I'm waving "Farewell" to the Realms.

It's always been a point of pride for me that all of the D&D adventures I run are of my own design; no modules here, just home-grown adventure. And yet, my setting is a pre-packaged one, though some parts of the Realms were "officially" fleshed out by yours truly during my tenure as a freelance writer for TSR. Granted, the Realms is a very EXCELLENT package, but it's still not "my" world. And now that, in my own humble opinion, the Realms failed its saving throw against the dreaded spell "Polymorph a cool game setting into a steaming lump of cat crap", I think it's time to trot out....Hawkhaven 2.0.

What's Hawkhaven 2.0 you ask? For that matter, what's Hawkhaven?

Glad you asked. You DO ask such good questions!

Hawkhaven was my original campaign, created during my ignorant, zealous, Monty-haul days as an over-eager rookie DM back in 1978. Oh, I threw in everything but the kitchen sink. I drew inspiration (stole) from Tolkein, CS Lewis, Arthurian legends, the Bible, Moorcock, Lieber, Lovecraft, and a healthy dose of Bullfinch's Mythology, and created pretty much a hack-and-slash goulash where Christian paladins, Muslim warriors, Celtic bards, and Clerics of Hera were teaming up and doing things like finding the Holy Grail, or destroying Stormbringer, or finding R'Lyeh, where dread Cthulhu lies dreaming.

And anything went...optional classes from issues of The Dragon? Bring 'em in! Psionics? Sure! I'd take all those module series from TSR and locate them in my world. Here's the Tomb of Horrors over here, and I'll call one of the mountains in my western mountain range "White Plume", and set the module there. These peaks here are like a barrier, so a certain SF-themed module went there! This village over here is called "Hommlet". Liches polymorphed PCs into giant cucumbers and ate them. PCs slew enemies with improvised weapons such as turkey legs.

Of course, I had a detailed backstory, my attempt at explaining how all of these elements could possibly exist or co-exist. Some of it worked, some of it was a stretch, and some of it was utter BS. But who cared? It was a lot of fun! But I'll say this: If I had the means to travel back in time, and sat at my younger self's gaming table, I'd probably end up beating my younger self over the head with a pizza box while shrieking "Munchkin!" over and over. I may even remember to take the pizza out first, but I make no promises.

So anyways, the thought occurred to me: Why not bring back Hawkhaven, but now redesigned with a greater sense of restraint, "sophistication", and experience? So, I've been digging through old folders (real manila paper ones, not virtual folders on a PC, mind you), folders that haven't seen the light of day since last century, and have been recreating Hawkhaven into a viable, engaging, campaign world that wouldn't get laughed out of a gaming con.

And that's that. So, four months of Great Crisis in the Forgotten Realms, followed by a reboot with Hawkhaven 2.0. Furthermore, I've been paying attention to people on who've been singing the praises of Pathfinder, and I have to admit, I've started reading up on it and it's intriguing enough that it just may become the system used for Hawkhaven. Talk about a fresh start and a clean slate! New world, new system. Aw yeah, I like the sound of that.

Depending on how our personnel roster shakes out, I may even have to look for a couple of new players to jump in as well, to fill out our ranks. So it looks like there's a lot of "new" for our campaign to look forward to in Spring 2010.

I'll miss the Realms, but I have to admit that I'm looking forward to running a campaign in the world that I made, with cool things like the Theocracy of Zor, hobbits with hairy feet, Wizards being the object of public distrust and scorn, a god of Alcohol and Innkeepers, and the Four Elemental Monastic Orders waiting in the wings!

Sunday, November 1, 2009

The Only Three Driving Rules I Ever Need

One of my tasks as Dad of the House of Terra is giving the offspring their first driving lessons. I did so with Adrienne and John, am currently doing so with Chris, and will do so with Rhiannon, when the time is right.

My recent adventures with Chris have prompted me to remember the Only Three Driving Rules I Need. I've imparted them to my kids, and now I impart them to...well...whoever reads this.

Rule One: Don't Panic. Seriously, the worst thing you can do behind the wheel of a car is suddenly panic and try to do something stupid. This rule is particularly aimed at newbies. If you find yourself overwhelmed and/or uncertain what to do next, make sure no one's on your right, then pull over to the shoulder, take a deep breath, get yourself collected, then resume. It's better than slowing down on the road, clogging up traffic and making a hazard of yourself. Just pull over, take five, then be on your way.

The rule has an application for veteran drivers too. Panic can happen if you find yourself skidding, or there's an object up ahead on the highway. Remain calm, brake and steer carefully, and you'll find yourself out of trouble in no time. So. Rule One: Don't Panic.

Rule Two: Be Nice to Police. Police have a tough job. Most of the time, they get to see people at their worst, and when they try to enforce the law, many times they get people copping an attitude. The last thing a cop needs is some nimrod mouthing off just because the officer in question had the nerve to stop them for running a Stop sign, or going 55 in a 30 mph zone. And it's not going to help their mood when dealing with you in return, and let's face it, the cop has the upper hand.

In the times that I've been pulled over, I haven't shot off my mouth. I didn't offer excuses. I've sat there and simply accepted responsibility for my error, and showed a degree of contrition. The result? More warnings than tickets. Granted, if you get pulled over, a good driving record helps as well (and false modesty aside, mine's pretty good), but even so, a good attitude may be the deciding factor of "Should I give a warning, or a ticket?".

And don't give excuses. If a cop asks you what you were doing, or why, then sure....there's your opening. It happened to me this past summer, and it turned out that the officer knew the person I was doing volunteer work for, and he let me go with a verbal warning.

Again, these people have a rough job. Why add to their grief by being an ass, especially since you're the one that did something wrong? So, Rule Two: Be Nice to Police.

Rule Three: This is the biggest, most important one. This is the one I hammer over and over into my kids, regardless of how long they've been driving. This is "JT's Number One Rule of the Road". And here it is:

Always drive under the assumption that everyone else on the road is a complete moron and has no grasp on car safety, rules of the road, or common courtesy.

Arrogance? Hubris? Elitism? Nope...common sense. If you rely on others to ensure a safe driving experience, you will inevitably be disappointed. Or worse. Here's a sample of accidents I've had, and why they happened.

High School: I was rear-ended while idling at a red light on Route 3A. The girl who smashed into the rear of my car offered this excuse: "I didn't think you were going to remain stopped at the red light".

Early 80's: Commonwealth Avenue, Boston. A cab driver ahead of me tried to outrun a Green Line trolley, and hoped to beat it to the crossing and turn left, making it across the tracks before the train arrived. At the last second, he decided he wouldn't be able to do it, so he slammed his brakes on. I reacted, but not fast enough, and still managed to smack the left front part of my car into his right rear bumper, turning my Honda Accord into a Honda Accordion.

Late 90's: Just outside of NYC on Route 95. A truck driver with a poor command of English wasn't aware that he was supposed to slow down on a curve, and found himself jamming his brakes in order not to plow into traffic ahead of him. His 18-wheeler jack-knifed, slamming my Chevy Cavalier into a Jersey barrier.

There are others, but those stand out as classic examples of people being idiots. I've learned that you have to keep one eye on the road, and the other on the drivers around you. Assume that they're going to screw up. Assume that they're going to slam their brakes for no apparent reason, or drift into your lane without signaling.

And just because you are following the traffic laws, doesn't mean they will. And it'll be cold comfort if you get broadsided but you had the legal right-of-way. Having the law on your side may do wonders for you when insurance liability is determined, but it doesn't help avoid an accident in the first place.

A week after the last time I gave Chris a driving lesson (and the three rules), Carol and I were driving down a side street, approaching an intersection with the main drag. As we approached the light, it turned green. However, I slowed down anyway, and instinctively looked to my right (the main drag's a one-way street) to make sure that everyone was in agreement that a red light on their side meant "Stop, and stay that way until it's green". Sure enough, in the far right lane of that three-lane road, an elderly idiot positively rocketed right through the red light. Had I not slowed down at the intersection, the car would've easily struck my right passenger side door. Right were Carol was sitting.

So, to sum it up, here's the Three Rules again:

1. Stay cool
2. Be nice to police
3. Everyone sucks except you

Monday, October 26, 2009

An Open Letter to the Lost Angeles Angels of Anaheim

Dear Los Angeles Angels of Anaheim California Hassenpfeffer Incorporated:

You suck.

Really. Truly. You suck. It's not "Yankees Suck", it's "Angels Suck". There are black holes out there, with high-powered vacuum cleaners orbiting them, who have less sucking power than you do, you incompetent West Coast pretenders to baseball greatness.

Scoscia? You suck! Vlad the Impaler? Hah. Try Vlad the Sucker. Bobby Abreu? No, it's Bobby Suckyou. Yeah, those aren't very good insults...but then again, the Angels aren't a very good team.

You could have really done something amazing. You could have come close to emulating the 2004 Red Sox. But no. No, you decided it was better to emulate the 1920 Keystone Kops. Was that Game Six of the ALCS, or an especially annoying episode of America's (Allegedly) Funniest Home Videos?

"But we swept your Red Sox!", I hear you say. "Big deal!", I say. Everyone knows the Red Sox were having issues. While on paper Boston had a team capable of really accomplishing something amazing, there somehow wasn't the right balance, the right mix...that, and we really need a masher at the heart of the lineup, to re-instill that same fear of God in opposing pitchers that Ortiz/Manny did. In fact, considering the health issues, the slumps, the whatevers, I consider the Sox as having a successful season, getting as far as they did and winning, what, 95 games? Wish it could've gone on longer, but hey...

Anyways, I digress. You, Angels, suck. Your pathetic display against New York only shows just how truly ineffective a team you really are, and how much you really didn't deserve to be in the playoffs.

Take your thunder sticks and your rally monkey and stick them where the sun doesn't shine. Go home. You honestly suck.

And should, by some massive cosmic flatulence, you manage to make it to the post-season again in 2010, rest assured that the Red Sox, their issues certainly having been resolved during the off-season, will restore the true way of things, which is having the Red Sox tapdance on your incompetent red-capped skulls as they effortlessly glide their way to the 2010 ALCS.

Hey, maybe you can convince Disney to make Angels in the Outfield 2...where a deranged Al the angel (with Christopher Lloyd reprising the role), tries to make the Angels into something that's slightly better than whale barf, and, failing, becomes a demon who works for Satan (played by Scott Boras in his screen debut). And the surprise ending (or would it be that much of a surprise?) it turns out that the Gates of Hell are located right under the new Yankee Stadium.

Speaking of things from Hell, ok, yeah, the Yankees won the ALCS, and will go to the World Series. Normally I don't cheer on anything from Philadelphia unless it's a Best Cheesesteak competition, but in this case, yeah, GO PHILLIES!

I think one of the most annoying thing about the Yankees is how easily, how quickly, the pundits are willing to fall all over themselves praising that Team From Hell, when the players are doing things that, oh, I don't know, they are EXPECTED to do. Hey look! A-Rod's decided to stop obsessing about himself and is actually effective in the post-season! Well, Hell, let's brand him the new Mr. October! After just one partial post-season of doing well! Sure! Why not? Jeter? Yeah, let's nominate Jeter as AL MVP! He deserves it!

Excuse me?

Now, don't get me wrong. I actually like Derek Jeter. But he's not the AL MVP (Mr. Mauer gets that nod). But again, you have the sports media which, in varying degrees, seems almost obsessively eager to decorate the Yankees with all sorts of accolades at the drop of a hat. I really think this is part of the reason for the average baseball fan's deep-rooted hatred of the Yankees....a sort of contrary knee-jerk reaction to the media lovefest overkill directed at the pinstripers.

But keep this in mind...considering the huge contracts they gave out in order to stock their lineup with A-list baseball superstars, and the billion-plus they sank into Toilet 2, nothing short of a World Series win will be considered a successful outcome. OK, so they made it to the dance. But if Philly, which has its own reasons to want to win it all (like being the first NL team to win back to back Series since the Big Red Machine in the 70's), manages to sink the Yanks, then it'll be all for nothing. AL Division East champs? Nope. Not good enough. ALCE champs? Still not good enough. No ring, no validation for their 2009 season.

Philly...You need to win this thing. Heed the lessons of the incompetent Angels of Anaheim. Field the ball. Hit the ball. Do good things. Take down the Yanks in four.

Saturday, October 24, 2009

A Life Story Told With T-Shirts

It must be said, first off, that men are genetically incapable of throwing away T-shirts. What this means is that, over time, men who have a tendency of wearing T-shirts accumulate quite a collection. Such is the case with me.

I store my T-shirts in the lower drawer of our bedroom dresser, and it was getting to the point where the wood itself was probably ready to burst. That's when I decided that it was time to go through the lot and remove the ones that either should be thrown out, or put into storage for some unknown point in the future.

I felt like an archaeologist of garments, working my way through the contents of the large drawer, pulling out T-shirts, identifying their origin, and designating their fate. Naturally, I had to unroll each one and see what it was all about. By doing so, I ended up with a trip down Memory Lane, recalling the circumstances behind each shirt.

My oldest T-shirt is an Origins '78 T-shirt (held at the Ann Arbor campus of U of Michigan). For those not in the know, Origins is to wargames/boardgames what GenCon is to D&D. Before I got into D&D, my big passion was boardgames, particularly historical simulations.

Someday, if I ever get into a rules argument with some munchkin at a gaming con, I eagerly look forward to saying something like "Listen, punk, I have gaming t-shirts that are older than you!"

The next oldest was a t-shirt from a pub in Bermuda, purchased on my honeymoon during my first marriage. That relic came from 1982.

From somewhere around that time period there was also a t-shirt made by a talented old friend of mine named Jeff. We've lost touch, but he used to be one of our gamers. He created this stylized dog named "Sparky", and eventually put the design on a t-shirt, and I got one. Jeff eventually left for the West Coast to become a screenwriter, and ended up writing episodes of X-Files and Angel.

It's amazing, the stuff one recalls by simply going through a bunch of old t-shirts.

My oldest Red Sox t-shirt comes from 1987. Snoopy is on it. I'm not sure why. (Depressing realization sidebar: Charles Schultz is no longer with us, and Snoopy sells friggin' life insurance). There's also a Celtics T-shirt from the Bird/Parrish/McHale era. My sports-related t-shirts have been replenished over the last decase, with a 2004 World Series champs shirt, a 2007 one, and t-shirts with Matsuzaka and Okajima numbers. I even have a Seibu Lions (Dice-K's old team in Japan) t-shirt.

There's some topical t-shirts, like my "Don't Blame Me, I Voted For Bill and Opus" T-shirt, or my Ren & Stimpy t-shirts, including one with Mr.Horse ("Nossir, I don't like it!"). Definite relics of the 80's.

It should come as no surprise that many of my T-shirts are gaming related. There's a whole slew of them from various ConnCons and GenCons, even one or two from the RPGA. They range from the late 80's to mid 90's.

As big of a fan of REM as I am, you'd think I'd have REM t-shirts in abundance. Sadly, this is not the case. Ironically, I wore those particular t-shirts so much that they did indeed overcome even the ingrained male tendency not to throw out old t-shirts, and are now gone forever. I do have one REM shirt, a tour shirt from the late 90's, but even that one is a replacement, secured by Carol. The original was worn to a frazzle.

Superheroes are well represented...there's a Green Lantern t-shirt, a Superman one (except that it's black), and a Flash t-shirt.

I have some slogan t-shirts, but not many. My oldest one is from the late 80's, and it says simply "Whatever". One of my favorite slogan t-shirts is missing ("I may grow old, but I'll never grow up").

One t-shirt that I pulled out of the pile made me chuckle. It was a Wild Wild Web t-shirt, a leftover from my days of working at a in the very late 90's. That particular company rolled over and died in 1999 during the start of the Great Dot.Com Collapse. I was hired to work at a second Dot.Com, started by a handful of survivors of the previous one. I worked there for four months, then got a huge pay raise, then worked there another three months, then the layoffs started, and I was one of the first to go.

Ah, good times!

Nowadays, I find I have a lot of horror-based t-shirts, such as a promotional t-shirt from FearNet, a bunch from HorrorFind, Barrett's Haunted Mansion, haunt gatherings, Salem Mass, etc.

There's also the work-related T-shirts, from various software companies, or blood-drive shirts.

But yeah...t-shirt introspection. A chronicle of where I've been, and where I am now.

Thursday, October 22, 2009

The Degeneration of the Common Greeting

Once upon a time, when cars ran on leaded gas and you didn't have to dial an area code in order to call someone a few towns over, people greeted each other with a completely coherent phrase. Usually this was a "good morning", or a "good day", or, if later on, a "good evening". Men, who wore hats during this era (sorry, Safety Dance fans), would tip their hats. Granted, not every person did this every time, but it was pretty much the societal norm.

As time went on, the greetings changed and evolved (devolved?) as society became a little looser, a bit more casual. People started incorporating the phrase "How are you!" as their standard greeting (as well as its sloppier version, "Heyhowareya!").

Next came "Howzitgoin?", a corrupted form of "How's it going?", which was an even more casual form of "How are you"? Now, the thing is, you'd think that people who are greeting you this way are doing so out of a genuine desire to know how you are. This is false. This is just a greeting. It is in no way meant to be construed as the beginning of a conversation about how you are doing, as evidenced by the following exchange:

Co-Worker #1: Hey, how's it going?
Co-Worker #2: Oh man, not so well. I didn't sleep very well last night because I've been so worried about things. My son's become a Scientologist and my daughter's run off to Las Vegas to become a showgirl, and for the life of me I don't know which is worse. Then my wife has post nasal drip, which sounds like a disgusting cereal, you know, "Buy Post Nasal Drip, part of this balanced breakfast", but of course, there is no cereal like that. And my car's making a funny noise, which means expensive repair bills. I also think I'm suffering from ED, but I don't want to take Cialis, because I really hate the idea of having to sit in a tub in the middle of a large field and, hey! COME BACK HERE!!!

No. "How's it going?" Is not a question. It's a greeting. At least it was, until it was supplanted by "Hey!"

That's right: "Hey!" In our fast-paced world, who has time to speak in full phrases, let alone sentences. You see a co-worker approaching, you smile, give a small wave and go "Hey!". And they go "Hey!" back (unless of course they're a total douche or bitch, depending on the gender at hand, in which case, to Hell with them).

So, it's now perfectly acceptable to greet people with a "Hey!". I personally have been experimenting with an even more truncated greeting. Many times, at work, when there's an oncoming fellow employee walking down the hall, I do the following, taking my cue from an aggregate of experiences from these fine folk.

A brief nod of the head. This establishes recognition.
A small upturn of one corner of my mouth, a sort of half-smile. This establishes my pleasure at seeing this person. A full smile is not needed; let's not get too emotional here.
Occasionally, I'll throw in a raised eyebrow, which further establishes my friendliness towards the target.
A grunt. Usually I mutter "vert", or "nerp", or "gurf". This fulfills the vocal requirement, and most people simply assume I'm saying "Hi", or "Hey", or something like that. After all, by the time you utter the word of greeting, they're most likely already 12 Smoots past you, but the mind automatically fills in the proper greeting, based on the simple cue of grunting.

I admit, sometimes I will give a big old "hello" to someone I see, especially if my mood is good and the person appears to be in a friendly, approachable mood.

Then there's the lounge lizard/gameshow host/Manny Ramirez greeting of pointing at someone with both index fingers, a big grin on your face, and clearly a jazzed expression of "Heeeeyyyy, howzitgoin?", without actually uttering those words. This can be tricky to pull off. Personally, it's occurred to me that I do it in only two instances: if I run into someone I really like, or if I run into someone I really can't stand. The former requires no explanation. The latter? I think it's because I know that if I give out an over-the-top greeting like that, it will override my more knee-jerk urge to say something like "Shut up, run out into traffic and DIE!".

So there you have it. The common American greeting, from "Good day" to "gurf".

HANDY WORKPLACE TIP OF THE DAY: This is a valuable piece of advice if you wear some form of employee ID on your belt. If you go into a bathroom stall to do your business and you're wearing such a tag, make sure to turn it over so that no one can ascertain your identity. That way, if you're in there making hideous bowel noises that are reminscent of the cries of a wounded dirigible defending its young, or creating a stench so bad that it causes everyone in the bathroom to undergo a past life regression to the time they suffered a mustard gas attack during World War One, no one will know who you are, and you can unleash the Fifth Horseman in complete anonymity.

Sunday, October 11, 2009

It's The End of the Sox 2009 Season As We Know It (And I Feel Pissed)

I write this with the full knowledge that there are countless fans of other baseball teams that would kill just to have their team make it to the post-season once, let alone six times out of the past seven years. I do realize that we in Boston are especially blessed with an outstanding, talented team that's run by an excellent manager, and owned and operated by a smart group of men who are dedicated to putting the best team on the field that they can.

That being said...


The 2009 ALDS showdown between our beloved Red Sox and the Los Angeles Angels of Anaheim California Jinglehiemer-Schmidt has ended not with a bang but a whimper, as the Halos finally stepped out from under the oppressive post-season dominant thumb of the Olde Town Team, and swept us in very convincing fashion.

Face it...the Angels earned that. They deserved it. Hats off to them.

But the Red Sox? Oh, where oh where to begin...

Submitted for your Jonathan Papelbon. He of the "no earned run in 20+ innings of playoff ball". That's the one. The one who wants to angle for a bigger paycheck when negotiating time comes round. Yeah, let us know how THAT works out for you, Paps!

Now, I'm not tossing out all the greatness of Paps in past games, but like a lot of other things in life, baseball's all about "Yeah that was nice what you did in the past, but what have you done for me lately?". And lately, Paps, you fucked up BIG time...blowing a 2-run lead and pretty much losing this game, this series, and all our playoff hopes, in one steaming turd of a half-inning.

Yeah good luck with that trying to hold out for a bigger payday. Enjoy NASCAR, you hillbilly. Buy yourself a few Hot Pockets while you're at it.

But you know what? This game wouldn't have been so do-or-die if OUR FUCKING OFFENSE SHOWED UP IN GAMES 1 AND 2!!!!! In Games 1 and 2, our offense managed ONE RUN. ONE. This group of talented hitters scored ONE. DAMNED. RUN.

You know what? We didn't deserve to advance. Really. We didn't. Hideous is as good a word as any for how they played. "Shit" is another good word.

So, to the Angels, I say "Well played. Hats off. You did good. Now please, please, please, kick the Yankees' asses in the ALCS."

And speaking of the Yankees...

In a development that surprised no one, including people who don't follow baseball, the Yankees simply glared at the Minnesota Twins in a menacing fashion and the Twins pretty much just crapped their pants and died, resulting in a sweep. Beating the Twins was no accomplishment that either the Yankees or their fans should take even the slightest iota of pride in. The Twins had no business winning the AL Central in the first place. In fact, the Twins didn't so much win the AL Central as the Tigers lost it.

This is why the Angels must win. The Angels must win so that we Sox fans don't find ourselves in the uncomfortable position of rooting for Manny to beat the Yankees (although wouldn't it be sweet if the Dodgers played the Yankees, and JOE TORRE wound up beating his old team? The answer is, "Why yes...yes it would"). Personally, I think it would be hilarious if the World Series ended up being an all-West Coast series. They could call it the Left Coast Series. Or the Laid-back, Mellow Series. Or the La-La Series. Or the Nobody (including most Californians) Gives a Rats-Ass Fuck Series. Fox will drop a big load in their collective pants if they have to air a Series that doesn't include either a) the Sox, b) the Yankees, or c) the defending champion Phillies.

Just so long as the Yankees don't win it all. Seriously, the last thing we need is to have the new Toilet christened with a World Series win. No one will ever hear the end of it, especially from those sycophantic, pinstripe-fellating hacks on Fox and ESPN. I don't want to see that billion-dollar boondoggle of a stadium EVER have a World Series banner from the 21st century. I want to see George Steinbrenner eventually slip off quietly into eternity without seeing another Yankee World Series win. I want to see his two sons, the Bozo Brothers, also eventually slip off this mortal coil at their appointed time, without seeing a World Series win.

A-Rod? Nope. No ring for you. Mr Leah Texiera? Nope. No ring for you either. Joba the Hutt? You should be so lucky, you brain-dead thug.

OK, let's face it....if you're reading this, you're reading the words of one seriously hacked-off Sox fan. However, I'm a Sox fan who maintains enough of a nodding acquaintance with Mister Reality to know that the Sox weren't going to win it all this year. No, the frustration, the sheer pissed-offness, is there because of the way the Sox lost. It just feels that they didn't put up that much of a fight.

I have to say, kudos to whoever it was, a columnist on, or a sportscaster, or some blogger, or a raving wino in the subway, who went on record as saying that the Sox batters couldn't hit quality pitchers. Whoever it was that said that, they were right.

There you have it. Rant over. Sure, I still believe the Red Sox totally rock, and I will eagerly be looking forward to next year (something tells me there'll be some personnel changes in the lineup). Considering the tumultuous year they had, they did pretty well, all cons thingsidered.

Go Angels

Sunday, September 20, 2009

What's Roland Emmerich's Issue??

Let us journey now to the year 1996, when Spice Girls roamed the Earth, everybody loved Raymond, and the Nintendo64 ruled the video game world. A commercial aired during the Super Bowl showed the unforgettable image of the White House being spectacularly blown up by a humongous spaceship, eliciting two major reactions from people: "Oh, wow! That is SO cool!", and "Man, I hope Slick Willie was home at the time!"

Yes, this was the year of Independence Day, sometimes inexplicably called ID4, a movie that taught us that strippers have mad survival skills, dogs can outrun firestorms, and that Macs are compatible with alien computers. Produced and directed by Roland Emmerich, the producer, director, and co-writer of the successful Stargate two years before, ID was a big, dumb, chunk of cinematic junk food, where you disconnected your brain and just sat back and enjoyed the pretty explosions. Don't think too hard, just smile and go "cooool". Oh look, there's goes Washington DC! And there goes New York City, including a spectacular destruction of the Empire State Building that features a vantage point that doesn't exist in actual NYC! Oh, and LA gets torched too.

Fast forward two years to 1998, where lovers of good music struggled against the omnipresent wailing of Celine Dion's heart going on, and a chemically-enhanced pair of MLB players attacked Roger Maris' home run record. This year, Emmerich brought us the cinematic crapfest knwn as "Godzilla", and introduced us to the phrase "Matthew Broderick, action hero", which makes about as much sense as "Jon and Kate Gosselin, responsible, loyal, dignified parents". This particular stinkfest showed Godzilla trashing New York, which had just recovered from its alien invasion damage of two years prior. But there was good old NYC, once again pretty much smashed flat.

Two years later came The Patriot, which showed us how Mel Gibson single-handedly won the Revolutionary War for us, but New York wasn't destroyed in that one, nor was Washington DC, for that matter, though I suspect that in the latter's case, it was probably because of the minor detail that the city didn't exist at the time. To Emmerich's credit, at least he didn't depict a frothingly insane King George III piloting a gigantic hot air balloon over Philadelphia, and dropping the World's Biggest Cannonball on Independence Hall. Followed, of course by a fiery explosion.

Four years later, Emmerich set back the cause of environmentalism by several decades by inflicting us with The Day After Tomorrow, where he managed to top Independence Day's unrealistic factor by leaps and bounds. Once again, New York City takes it on the chin. Flooding! Freezing! Wolves! (wait...wolves!?!?!?). Washington DC doesn't do too well either. Oh, and LA gets messed up too. Killer tornadoes, don't you know...

We'll just skip past 10,000 BC, which many people did as well. There was no NYC or DC or even LA at the time, although there's the possibilty that several savage tribes of cavemen did in fact survive unevolved, and became known as New York Yankees fans.

Which brings us to 2009, where Beatlemania once again sweeps the nation (Ecclesiastes 1:9). Checking out the upcoming movies for the fall and winter, and you see the previews for "2012", Emmerich's latest "effort". This mega-disaster movie, based on a long dead culture's idea that 2012 will be a special date of change, contains the usual eye-popping special effects as we're bombarded with scene after scene of mega-disasters. Watch as a tidal wave roars over the freakin' Himalayas! Gasp as the USS John F Kennedy is hurled by a tsunami into the White House (man, I hate when that happens!)! Watch as not only LA but all of California dies screaming as the entire state falls into the ocean! Something happens to New York, but I'm not sure what, but on the other hand, you do get to see the faithful masses in St.Peter's Square, assembled to pray for deliverance from the disasters, get crushed by a falling St.Peter's Basilica (ha ha! That'll teach you God-praying types! Have a church dropped on you! This is the irony, folks!).

Personally speaking, it's gotten to the point with me that I see that preview and just roll my eyes, shake my head, and go "Here we go again" (more on that in a future blog, entitled "My Apocalyptic Boycott").

But it also begs the question...what's Roland Emmerich's issue? This man is continually trashing New York City and Washington DC! I don't think the man has missed a single opportunity to blow up NYC or DC, especially the White House. Oh, and sometimes LA. Is Emmerich a critic of the Federal model of national government, and is more of a states rights advocate? Does he just owe a lot of money to the IRS? And what about New York? Did he get mugged there? Did he contract some kind of STD while visiting Times Square years ago? What's the story?

One could argue that NYC and DC (and LA) are big, well-known cities, and thus can convey the impact of some mega-disaster in a way that the average movie-goer can identify with. To those people I say "Shut up. Don't be a killjoy". Besides, there are other recognizable cities out there, like London, for instance. At least Michael Bay had the good taste to show Paris getting flattened by a chunk of the killer asteroid (Fun Fact: You can see the Eiffel Tower from any point in Paris; movies and tv shows tell us so).

So, that's pretty much it. All of this to just throw out the simple question, "What's Roland Emmerich's Issue??". A slightly less obvious question is, with him destroying the Earth, where does he go from here? Can he keep raising the bar? What's next? "Roland Emmerich Destroys the Entire Universe"??

Thursday, September 17, 2009

Why Little League Is Better Than Youth Soccer

When Carol and I drive home from work, we take the scenic route through picturesque Hollis, avoiding highways, toll booths, and most of the annoying drivers. This town is the quintessential New England small town, with old slate tombstone cemeteries, a monument in the town square, white-steepled churches, expanses of farmland and orchards, farm stands, real rural New England stuff.

During the spring, when we drive this route to go home after work, we pass the public sports fields. There we see the Little Leaguers engaging in practicing or playing our National Pastime. This always brings a smile to my face. In the fall, we see the Youth Soccer types going through their paces. This always makes me wrinkle my nose, as if I had just trod in something moist and unpleasant.

Being an introspective twit, I wondered why I look so fondly on Little League baseball, but turn up my nose at Youth Soccer. It was more than just the fact that I've been a Little League coach or that I'm a Red Sox fan; something just hit me in such a way that I think baseball for kids is outstanding, while soccer makes me want to gag.

Now, I may not have been a soccer coach, but I've seen three out of four of my kids play it, and have attended many of their games, some practices too. Suffice to say, I got a good handle on what goes on. Let's look at a small sample size of what Youth Soccer is all about, shall we?

From what I've seen, the average kid in Youth Soccer goes out on the field, runs around for about an hour, never touches the ball, then the game is over. But everyone is told "good job!". At the end of the year, everyone gets a medal for the sheer physically taxing task of just showing up and having a pulse. There's playoffs of some sort, so yes, team skill and achievement is indeed recognized on some level.

But for the most part, as a kid, you can just suit up, go out on the field when the coach tells you, run around and flap your arms like a deranged chicken, never be contaminated by the touch of the soccer ball, and you'll be labeled a "winner".

Of course, if you're a goalie, or a really athletic and/or aggressive, you'll get more than your share of ball contact.

Now, let's look at Little League baseball.

You play a set position, and are expected to have at least some degree of skill and/or make an effort at that position. Sometimes, the ball will be hit to you. You will be expected to do something about it. Then, there will come at least one time during the game where the attention will be on you, as you and you alone stride up to the plate, and are expected to make a contribution. And everyone will see whether or not you've done so. You can't just run around the batter's box and flap your arms and cluck like a chicken (well, you can, but you'll look damned silly doing so). You will sink or swim, rise or fall, on your own merits.

Ladies and gentlemen, I humbly declare that Little League does a better job at building character and getting kids ready for what we laughingly call "the real world", than Youth Soccer does.

Youth soccer is this politically correct, self-esteem coddling, warm fuzzy-fest where kids get a medal and a standing ovation for just showing up and not voiding their bowels in their soccer pants or accidentally killing a spectator when one of their cleats flies off during a wild kick.

Little League baseball has this arrangement where everyone gets their chance to be in the spotlight, at least once, probably more. Sure, the kid may fail. But that's life. Sometimes, you fail. Sometimes, you succeed. You know, kind of like real life.

It's what you do after you fail that sets you apart from the crowd. Do you devote more time and practice and actually improve your skills? Or do you mope and quit because you're not getting showered with accolades for the simple act of having a pulse and a uniform that matches those of your teammates?

This is not to say that Youth Soccer is useless. Some kids can certainly get something good out of it. But all in all, when the final math is done, I think Little League builds more character, builds more team spirit, give more incentive for self-improvement, and still manages to be a fun pastime.

And at least Little League doesn't have annoying "baseball moms". A few psycho dads who try to relive their glory days vicariously through their sons, yes, but that's about it (and it's more than enough).

I close with an exhortation that does have something to do tangentally with the subject at hand. During my years of coaching Little League baseball, I saw many instances of a kid who'd hit the game-winning home run, or turn a fantastic play at short, or struck out the opposing team to win the game, then look expectantly over at the stands to find their parent(s), and find none there. The beaming expression of pride would falter, and I could see disappointment replacing it. And let me tell you, it would really rip me up inside. Lord only knows how much more torn up the kid was. Because I tell you, kids remember. Whether it's showing up for a youth sport, a dance recital, a scout meeting, whatever; kids remember. Even if you can't make it to every event (and with so many two-income families and a recession still going on, it surely can't always happen), even attending just some of them means so much to the kids. And it may not always be on a conscious level, but kids remember.

Tuesday, September 15, 2009

Vanity, Thy Name Is License Plate

Call them what you will: vanity plates, initial plates, custom plates, personalized plates, but from this unscientific viewpoint, it seems that there's more of them out there than ever before. I had always heard that New Hampshire was a state of rugged individualists (as well as a state of tax free booze, motorbikers without helmets, and scary people in isolated shacks who married their cousins), and the vanity plate is a commonplace and (relatively) cheap way of flying your flag of individuality. You can't swing a dead pedestrian without hitting a car with vanity plates on the roads of New Hampshire.

The most common question, however, is "What the Hell is this person trying to say with their license plate?" Now, some plates are easy....that's because some plates are complete words. My wife, my oldest son, and myself all have vanity plates and they spell out complete words. Now, granted, the words themselves may be unfamiliar to people who don't have the right context or aren't "in the know", but even the uninitiated can point to a license plate that spells a complete word and say "That is a complete word; it's probably a proper noun, and I don't think I've ever seen it before, but that's definitely a complete word. Time for pie."

No, it's the plates that are made up of what usually ends up being a handful of consonants, clearly for space's sake, that makes some of us scratch our heads and go "What IS that?" The following are the best real-life examples we've seen. While in some cases it may be obvious as to what the owner is trying to communicate, it's fun to be obtuse.

OFFLMT: Obviously, this plate is spelling out "Offal Mountain". It is clear that the owner of this car considers it to be a first-class shitheap.

SWTTHNG: This plate reads "Sweat Hang". This driver must perspire heavily, until beads of sweat hang off the tip of his or her nose. Thanks for sharing.

SNFLWR: This person is obviously commanding people to "Sniff Lower". I can't think of any possible circumstance that this phrase can be used that will actually end well. Really.

SHTNSTR: This one's our favorite. Clearly, this is "Shit N Stir"...sort of like "Shake N Bake", but far, far more disgusting. You probably can NOT find this at your local grocery store.

Do you know any more? By all means, feel free to share in the comments.

Wednesday, September 9, 2009

Why Do This?

Well, when creating a new blog, you have to start somewhere. Somehow, the idea of just jumping in without some sort of preamble seems awkward and wrong. I'm sure I'm not the first blogger to begin their serial ramblings with some introspective, navel-gazing piece about why they're doing it, and I know I won't be the last.

So why do it?

Well, first of all, it's easier than using the Notes function on Facebook. There. That was easy.

Secondly, I believe that bloggers, and indeed anyone who puts any degree of time and effort in their Myspace/Facebook/Whatever profiles, is operating under the impression that somehow, somewhere, some person or persons actually gives a crap about what they have to say. And I guess that includes Yours Truly. And perhaps, yes, I do have some interesting things to say. I just never know what people will find interesting or what they'll find dull. So, I'll just hurl the verbal equivalent of pasta at the wall, and see what sticks.

Thirdly, there's the whole idea of venting. As I believe I mentioned in my Livejournal, when I used to do it, blogging is the electronic equivalent of throwing open a window and shouting at the top of your lungs. Maybe it's something good; maybe it's something bad.

And just what can you expect to find here? Observations, anecdotes, venting, rantings, ramblings, weirdness, humor, weird humor, sentimental hogwash, unasked for advice, reminiscings of what life was like "back in the day", and oh yes, hobbies...stuff like roleplaying games, and baseball.

In fact, the name Obstructed View comes from a sort-of column I did for a Red Sox fan site a while back. I liked the name enough that I'm taking it with me. So don't be surprised if sometimes this space has some bizarre satirical take on the Red Sox and their opponents.

So, brace yourselves, buckle up, keep hands and feet inside the car at all times, and enjoy.

And to start us off, here's some words of wisdom that I've come to incorporate in my life's philosophies. Some of them are from other sources, some are things I've come up with on my own, as I've explored this crazy little thing called life.

"I used to complain about not having any shoes, until I met a man with no feet. Wow. That was gross. It sure made me forget about the no-shoe thing, let me tell you."

"Before you criticize someone, walk a mile in their shoes. Then when you do criticize them, they're a mile away, and hey, free shoes. Sort of solves the problem of the first saying, don't you think?"

"Give a man a fish and feed him for a day; teach a man to fish, and you'll never get him to do any chores around the house; he's too damned busy going fishing with his buddies and drinking beer. Jerk."

"A rolling stone gathers no moss, but a few of them sure have gathered a buttload of wrinkles. Holy crap, have you seen Keith Richards lately? Talk about Night of the Living Dead!"

"If you love something, set it free; if it returns, it's yours forever; if it doesn't, hunt it down and kill it."

"Men are from Mars, women are from Venus, crap is from Uranus."

"You can catch more flies with honey than with vinegar, but why the Hell would I want a bunch of flies in the first place?"

"All work and no play makes Jack want to kill his family with an axe. Redrum!"

"Remember, if a monster chases you and your friends, you don't have to run faster than the monster- you just have to run faster than at least one of your friends."

"Two roads diverged in a wood/And I took the one less traveled by/And promptly destroyed my car's suspension/Guess that's why less people took that road, huh?"