Monday, August 31, 2015

Odd Bits - The Power Flush Edition

I keep seeing these things on Facebook and other places, where (white) people are all, “This (white) guy just got killed and you didn’t see any demonstrations, did you?

You know, it’s a basic bumper-sticker sentiment… it looks valid on the surface, but the logic behind it is completely askew.  The unspoken point is that we white folks are so much more civilized than those savages.

What I always want to comment back is…

“Well of course you don’t see any demonstrations because white guys haven’t had over 200 years’ worth of systematic persecution.  White guys don’t get hassled, beaten or killed by police over minor infractions.  Sure, maybe it’s happened every once in a while, but it’s a rarity.

"White guys don’t have to worry about getting killed by police over selling single smokes, or having a tail light out, or not signaling a lane change, or just for not wanting to be somewhere near the police.  Oh, and I’m sure it’s just a coincidence that the police had to change their stories once the videos surfaced from each one of those incidents that had people protesting. 

"So yeah, not throwing a protest when something tragic happens?  No extra credit.  We white guys have had it pretty good for a hell of a long time."

Baked Alaskan Debunkery
Just in case one of your right-wing friends or relatives goes on about how Obama’s sending our history down the tubes by renaming Mt. McKinley as Denali, be sure to mention this point.

The State of Alaska renamed the mountain in question back in 1975.  Only the federal government still refers to it as Mt. McKinley, due to the protest of Ohio congressmen (where President McKinley was born).  The bill renaming it to Denali was introduced by the Republican senator from Alaska, Lisa Murkowski, and is supported by Alaska’s governor and other senator.  But yeah, let’s blame Obama, y’know, cuz ’Murca.

Clerks Revisited
I feel bad for those poor gay couples in Kentucky, who still can’t get married because even after three separate court rulings, one court clerk still refuses to provide the licenses.  I had an article on this clerk bookmarked since last July, about how she “prayed and fasted” over her decision to withhold the licenses.

What I want to know is when was the last time someone “prayed over” an issue and then came back with a decision that went against what the person wanted to do all along.  Once they say they’ve prayed over it, you can expect the dogmatic answer 100% of the time.

Just once, I’d like to see someone say, “Well, I prayed and fasted over it, and it became clear that the Lord didn’t want me to swindle people out of their land and then make a fortune flipping it to developers.  So didn’t and now everyone can keep their homes.”

I’ve been reading a fascinating series of blog posts over the last couple weeks, from an unusual source.  Dilbert creator Scott Adams has an interesting take on the Trump candidacy and is going out on a limb to predict that he’ll win the election by a landslide.  It’s not that Adams is fond of Trump’s message… it’s all about the art of persuasion. 

He claims Trump is a “Wizard” at verbal manipulation.  He’s not just evading questions, he’s substitution a negative image with a positive one, and attaching his name to the latter.  And people are eating it up.

While I still think Trump is an ego-inflated clown shoe, I understand Adams’ point.  People who listen passively are easily swayed by this verbal bait and switch.  And sadly, that covers a great swath of the American voting public.

The only way to defeat such a wizard is through active listening, coupled with a degree of common sense.

Like when Trump claims that the 14th amendment is unconstitutional and would overturn it if he becomes president?  Pure BS.  Aside from the assertion that part of the Constitution is unconstitutional, no president can remove an amendment.  It would take three-quarters of the 50 states (38 in total) to ratify a new amendment annulling the one in question.

When was the last time this country successfully ratified an amendment?  Hell, we couldn’t even ratify an amendment guaranteeing equality for 51% of our population.  No matter how hard these xenophobic wingnuts campaign, it’s just not going to happen. 

But he’s out there selling it anyway, isn’t he?  And he knows that he can’t un-amend this amendment.  But he likes that image; doesn’t he?  “That Trump, he’ll get things done.”

It will be up to us to think through all his ridiculous campaign assertions, and everyone else’s, for that matter. 

Sadly, I’m not optimistic.  But, speaking of giant turds, did you hear about the guy in China, in whom doctors found an 11-pound stool.  And I don’t mean this kind:

Dude was constipated for 10 years and complained of abdominal pains before doctors finally removed it.  And here I thought Chinese food was supposed to go right through you.  After it was done, I bet the guy felt loads lighter on his feet.  It was like finally coming up to bat after he’d spent 10 years in the on-deck circle, swinging the heavy bats.

Yeah, I know this was an indelicate thing to talk about, but you have to understand, my family and I love a good toilet story.  We can really talk some shit.

Like last week, when my brother sent me this text message.  He’s getting his bathroom remodeled and they just placed the key piece of equipment.

We’ve always joked that the perfect toilet should have enough power to dispatch a beer can.  Installing one that can handle an oil can-sized Foster’s is just showing off.

Can’t wait to try it out.  Obviously, I’ll try not to hold out for 10 years.

Monday, August 24, 2015

Odd Bits - The Orange Overload Edition

Last week was pretty nice… temps in the 80s, relatively low humidity… So I had the chance to get out and about a little.

Back to Back
I never plan to do this, but sometimes it just works out this way.  I saw three Orioles games last week… Saturday (8/5) and then both Tuesday and Wednesday.  The Wednesday game against the Mets was my original target because it was a player-designed tee shirt giveaway day.

But then Sitcom Kelly and her sister were going to the Saturday game against Oakland and asked me if I wanted to go too.  (Of course I did!)  And then the Orioles announced that they were doing a second “Social Media Night” of the season on Tuesday, which in addition to a seat for the game, include free food, 2 drinks, a free raffle, a tee shirt, and live Q and A with Orioles closer Zach Britton.  I had wanted to go to the first one they did this season, but I was out of town.

So, I had two opportunities to see games and neither of them was for the game I really wanted to attend.  But given my complete lack of anything else going on in my life, why not just go anyway?  So I committed to the back to back games.

Saturday’s game was (Orioles’ shortstop) JJ Hardy Replica Orange Jersey day, so I knew it was going to be crowded.  As you may recall, a couple years ago I was suckered into lining up early to snag an Adam Jones replica jersey, but it was such a flimsy, silk-screen piece of crap, I gave it away the next day.

Still, with expectations lowered, I wouldn’t have minded getting one of the giveaway jerseys.   The game started at 7:00, but when I passed by on the way to the bar, I could see the main entrance was swamped.

The main gate, two hours before opening.

So right off the bat, I wrote off any chance of getting a jersey, because they were only going to the first 20,000 people.  It was not worth spending 2 hours in line, in the hot sun… not when I could be at The Bullpen, putting away some cheap-ass beer.

We finally made a move to leave the bar around 6:00… I thought maybe there was still a chance to get a jersey, but they were long gone.  We had some comfy seats in the lower bowl, in the left field corner.

Our view.  Orioles won, 4-3.

I was really excited about the Social Media Day thing… You could sit in various places; I opted for the rooftop deck over the green “batter’s eye” wall in center field.  I have a friend at work who has sat there before and she said that was where all the babes hung out.  I’d been up there a number of times, but never during the game.

It ended up being a really nice time.  The food was good, (you know, for hot dogs and hamburgers), and it was fun seeing Zach Britton interacting with the fans.  He’s the “closer,” and when he comes into the game in the 9th, they always play “For Those About to Rock,” because he’s a big AC/DC fan.  In answering a couple of questions about them, (not from me), he indicated that while he liked them too, it was his Dad who was really the big AC/DC fan. Said Dad was always playing AC/DC as he worked on his car in the garage.  While I liked hearing that, it really just made me feel O L D!
Zach Britton, wheeling and dealing with the unwashed public. The guy at the mic stand is the Orioles public address announcer.

After the Q and A, I nabbed a seat at the bar and awaited the start of the game… which included an additional 50-minute rain delay, even though nary a drop of rain fell!  They must have seen something coming on radar, which then dissipated or changed direction.  At least I was in a good spot to ride out a storm…
Once the game got underway, I took my seat in the second of two rows, right behind the bank of center field cameras.

I admit it; I might have been somewhat distracted throughout the game.

This was the view when I wasn’t looking at the hard-working members of the broadcast team:
And just for the heck of it, here’s a good look at the area I was in.
One of the things I liked about sitting up there was the built-in table in front of you.  Unfortunately, I had to use it as an elbow support for most of the game.  The seats were basically wide metal bar stools, with no backrest.  It took its toll on my back, and eventually my elbows.  Luckily, the free tee shirt made a good elbow pad.

As for the “babes” my co-worker told me about, she was right, there was a babe sitting right beside me and she was totally my type.  And if I were 20 years younger, I probably would have asked her out.  I would have had better luck with the married camera lady.

Anyway, the O’s lost 5-3, but I had a good time anyway.  I’m looking forward to going to another Social Media Night next year.

The game the following night was more or less uneventful.  I went by myself, did pre-game at The Bullpen, went to the game and sat down in the left field corner.
And of course, I got another Orioles tee shirt.  Because you can never have enough orange tee shirts…  In fact, I did a quick count and I have 10 of them in my current rotation.  That doesn’t count a couple of orange Bowling Green shirts.

And this doesn’t include the one I’m wearing right now.

The Orioles won Wednesday’s game 5-4, on a walk-off home run in the bottom of the 9th.  Sadly, I had already left.  I mean, it was a weeknight and I’d already been out late the night before.  I left after the 7th inning because they were starting to change pitchers a lot, no one was hitting, and it was beginning to look like an extra innings game.  I figured I could watch the end at home.  Oh well…

I briefly considered going to the game on Sunday, but wisely thought better of it.  That was enough baseball for one home stand.  The O’s will be on the road until the end of the month.  I’m sure I’ll be ready to go again by the time they get back to town.  I’ve been to 17 Orioles games this summer… well on my way to a new personal record.  (Last year I went to 18, but that included 2 playoff games.)

In Other News…
I just want to show you this quick thing, because it’s too good to save for next week…

A pro-choice group called Majority Ohio has made their own video, where they used the Center for Medical Progress’s same editing tactics to depict well-known anti-abortion conservative speakers into looking like they’re taking pro-choice positions. 

This video was edited with the same attention to detail and devotion to accuracy as recent videos released by the Center for Medical Progress,’’ said ProgressOhio Executive Director Sandy Theis.”

Yeah, see how they like it, right?

As you might guess, they didn’t.

One of the people who appeared in the video, Michael Gonidakis, president of Ohio Right to Life, had this to say: "It's a darn shame that the abortion industry spends time and money creating sophomoric videos mocking people who are trying to protect pregnant women and their children. Clearly the video creators lack any moral character or regard for anything but profits arising from aborting babies and selling their body parts.  This video and the people who created it are pathetic at best."

Yeah, not so funny when it’s YOUR words being twisted around, is it Skipper?  Let’s see if we have this straight… when your opponent uses deceptive editing, it’s a “sophomoric video,” but when your guys do it, (in addition to lying to people to gain their trust and then leading them into a damning conversation), it’s protecting women (from themselves?) and children (who are not sentient and are the size of a grape). 

Got it.  You’re hypocrites.  Glad we cleared this up.

By the way, if you want to see the video for yourselves, you can click here.

Monday, August 17, 2015

Planned Parenthood - The BS Controversy, and More

Shortly after publishing last week’s post about the Planned Parenthood video controversy, I saw a couple of articles that backed up my main premises: 1) that the video producers worked with Republican congressmen long before the first video was released, and 2) that the goal was to erect further barriers to legalized abortions rather than to effect change in tissue disposal.

In this article, they stated that there were several groups of GOP congressmen who screened the videos a month or more before the release of the first one.  The video release was timed to coincide with a vote on providing funds for Susan G. Komen Foundation, which (among other things) gives grants to Planned Parenthood.

Needless to say, many of the bill’s supporters did an immediate about-face and shit-canned the legislation, fearing being labeled as in support of baby part merchants.

The article went on to say how the “Center for Medical Progress” (who employs no medical or scientific staff of any kind) took over 30 months to conduct their “investigations.”

Answer me this: if their goal was to highlight the means of disposal, would it really take 30 months?

Of course not.  They could have made their concerns known to the public at any point.  But they spent over two years cobbling their “evidence” together and editing it into slick, bite-size morsels, meant to play out of the course of an election season. 

This is a political hit-piece, nothing more, nothing less.

To further illustrate the intellectual disconnect with this topic, Ted Cruz rolled out a new commercial to leech off this custom-made political “crisis.”  The spot features the line, “So how did America become a country that harvests organs from unborn children? And who has the courage to stop it?”

The problem is that the opening images depicted images of polio victims.  You remember polio, right?  That was one of the many diseases whose cure was found via testing on fetal tissue.

Just ask Ben Carson.  He personally used fetal tissue during his medical training and research. 

Congress specifically legalized the use of fetal tissue for research purposes 22 years ago.  So where has all the outrage been?  Where are all the bills put forth to reverse the law?

Or could it be they only care about such things in order to pacify the anti-choice wing of their base, during an election season?

In fact, Mike Huckabee is fine with an 11-year old, who was raped by her step-father, being prevented from having an abortion.

To me, that is a perversion of morality and such a complete lack of empathy, I wouldn’t let him near an 11-year old pet, let alone a daughter.  Mike Huckabee (and Cruz and Rubio) is what happens when dogma becomes more important than the pain, suffering and psychological harm of a schoolgirl.

I’m sorry, I have to put the rights of a living, breathing, thinking, feeling, hurting human being ahead of a grape-sized non-sentient collection of cells and plasma.  And I’m supposed to be the Godless heathen…

Planned Parenthood is getting a raw deal here, and millions of women who can’t get affordable health care anywhere else are going to suffer for it.  All of that, because one small group of people think their sense of morality is more important than someone else’s right to control what happens to their own bodies.

Again, here is a link where you can donate directly to Planned Parenthood.

Trump This
The other controversy of the week, (well, last week, to be fair), was when Donald Trump took umbrage to Megyn Kelly’s questions to him and went after her on Twitter following the GOP debate.

Now I don’t really have a dog in this fight because I think they’re both full of shit.  He’s a political clown and she’s a shill for Fox “News.”  But I have an idea about the root of The Donald’s discontent, which I haven’t seen explored anywhere else.

He’s upset with her sharp questions because he’s used to getting his ass kissed 24/7.  He’s not used to being called to explain himself or accused of doing something wrong.  She called out the Emperor for having no clothes and he, having razor thin skin, promptly whined to his sycophants on social media about it.

What Trump doesn’t seem to understand is that this campaign is not his stupid reality TV show, and journalists have a duty to ask hard questions to those who seek the presidency. 

Now, I’m not saying she’s a “journalist…”  I think she was instructed by her bosses at Fox, to take some shots at Trump.  I think they thought he was someone they couldn’t control and it would make their lives easier if he were knocked down a few pegs.  But she absolutely had the right to ask him hard questions.

Besides, that’s what Fox is known for, isn’t it?  Asking hard questions to foes and tickling the balls of their friends?  Since when do you ever see a Republican get asked hard questions on Fox “News?”  They save the fastballs for the scant few liberals they invite on the show and tee up the softballs for their political spawn.

At the moment, Trump is the leading GOP contender.  He’s better get used to some verbal chin music from now on, or else his whining is going to grow awfully old with the voters.

Then again, his hissy fit might have worked.  I later read that he and Fox “News” boss Roger Ailes, worked it all out.  Shortly afterward, he was on Hannity for a good half hours’ worth of ball-tickling.

This is going to be one long-ass election season.

Monday, August 10, 2015

Planned Parenthood

Geez, you do a couple of posts about the stuff you’ve been doing, and the rest of the world goes right down the shitter while you’re busy.

There is a new Public Enemy #1 out there now, and its name is Planned Parenthood.  Now if you’ve been with me a while, you know that PP is an organization that’s near and dear to my heart.  I’m on their mailing list and I make periodic donations.  So when all this video stuff broke, it was pretty alarming.

At least it was until I did, like, seven or eight second’s worth of research and saw that this “sting” video was nothing but a political assassination piece produced by ardent anti-choice activists with the explicit intention of ending Planned Parenthood (and by proxy, abortions), by any means necessary.

These “filmmakers” posed as other people, lied to their interview subjects, guided the conversation until they got some sound bites they could project in the most unflattering light, and then constructed their own narrative through selective editing.  (Like editing out the 10-11 times the interviewee specified that they were not “selling baby parts.”)

So I figured, people will understand that this is a hack job and all will be well.

I don’t know why I figured that.  I should have known better; that people are only too eager to think the worst possible things about those whose actions they condemn.

These videos are political propaganda; nothing more and nothing less.  And with this brand of mass communication, statements being true, false, or out of context don’t matter.  That they’re being said, and megaphoned out into the public arena is what matters.

It’s like that scene in “Jaws,” where the Mayor explains the difference between yelling “barracuda” (“People go “huh?”) and “shark,” (“You have a panic on your hands on the 4th of July.”)

In this case, if they scream “Hey, they’re doing abortions!” people go, “Yeah, we know, how terrible.”  But if they scream, “Hey, they’re chopping up babies and selling them for parts!” people go, “Holy shit, we gotta put these bastards out of business.”

Most Americans don’t go to the trouble of finding out if the claims are true if it plays to their viewpoint.  And the anti-choice politicians are only too eager to run with it.  In fact, there are two congressmen who were quoted as saying they’d seen the first video two weeks before it was released.

I think I know the reason for that.  It’s my opinion that it was political operatives who set the whole thing in motion.  Maybe a congressman, maybe a close aide.  But I think someone buttonholed these “filmmakers” and said, “Just get us something we can use.  Get us something so hideous and so grotesque, that Americans will rise up and demand the end to Planned Parenthood.”

And look what happened.  There were calls in the House to defund Planned Parenthood before the credits rolled.

I’ve mentioned this before, in a larger discussion of the abortion issue, that the key to reducing the number of abortion is birth control on demand and sex education, both of which are available at Planned Parenthood.  So it’s a quandary that anti-choice people so often fight to limit those preventive measures.  They should be doubling the funding for PP, not reducing it. 

And after the baby is born?  Forget it.  Conservatives don’t want to know about any of that.

So, they don’t want abortions, they don’t want birth control or sex education, and they don’t want the government to provide any help for troubled mothers and families. 

They couldn’t un-legislate Roe vs Wade, so they’ve taken the circuitous route to eliminating Planned Parenthood.  They fight every year to eliminate funding.  They legislate requirements that doctors provide medically unsound and downright false information to patients.  They fight to eliminate the chemical used in abortion pills.  They use zoning laws and building spec requirements to shut down clinics. They require doctors who perform abortions to have hospital admitting privileges, where this requirement is found nowhere else.  In fact, giving birth is statistically more dangerous than an abortion, yet you can give birth at home with no doctor if you want.  Do you think a urologist performing a vasectomy has to have admitting privileges?

When they’re successful at closing down a clinic and women have to drive five hours or more to get to the next closest one, they don’t see it as an undue burden. 

Then there are the required waiting periods, which can necessitate either a hotel stay or a second round of 5-hour drives, and they don’t see that as a burden either.  It’s just some slut, after all.

And they do this because your action offends THEIR moral sensibility.  They do not give a flying fuck about yours.

Last week, Mike Huckabee was quoted as saying, “I think the next president ought to invoke the fifth and 14th amendments to the Constitution. Now that we clearly know that that baby inside the mother's womb is a person at the moment of conception.”

Mike, we don’t “clearly know” any such thing.  The moment of life is an ongoing moral dilemma and a very personal one.  I happen to think when the two cells intersect, it’s a science project, not a person… not until much later.  Who are you do decide this issue for everyone else?  In fact, until you grow a uterus, you don’t even get a vote.  Now go back to playing bass with Ted Nugent.

But this is the key point.  No one enjoys abortions.  No one sets out in life with a goal to go have some abortions.  Planned Parenthood isn’t recruiting people to stop by for an abortion, nor are they strong-arming women who come in for a pap smear into getting an abortion instead.

The only way to reduce abortion (which is a noble goal) is to reduce the need, not the means to get one.  That’s through education and birth control. 

When they do get their way and prevent a woman from accessing abortion services, they need to have something in their hand beside condemnation to offer her.

And until anti-choice crusaders accept these facts, every claim they make regarding concern for women’s health, and children’s health, and the beauty of “choosing life,” rings as hollow as their souls. 

Planned Parenthood provides valuable health services to women who need them.  3% of the time, that’s abortion.  The other 97% covers a myriad of health care needs.  They are hanging on by a thread, because of a bit of videotaped sleight of hand, created by people dedicated to shutting them down by any means necessary.

They need help, to continue providing health services to women with nowhere else to turn.

I’m writing them a check tonight.  You should too.

Monday, August 3, 2015

The Guys Weekend - Baltimore Edition

A couple of years back, I met my buddy the CFO and his son, Jake, in Pittsburgh for a weekend of baseball games when his beloved Tigers were in town for a series against the Pirates.

Cut to this weekend, when the Boys were Back in Town, only this time, right here in Baltimore.  The Tigers had a 4-game series against the Orioles and we had tickets for the first two games on Thursday and Friday nights, and for a Sunday game up in Philadelphia.

It’s been about 6 years since the CFO was here last, so I had some fun things on the “schedule” to keep us all occupied in and around the baseball games. 

Director’s DVD Commentary: Yes, I actually roughed out a schedule on a spreadsheet, but NO, it did not include times we needed to be places (other than things with concrete starting times).  It was just a way to arrange all our options.  And we ended up scrambling it all up anyway.

First of all, since we had three days’ worth of activity taking place downtown, we decided to get a hotel room near the Inner Harbor for Thursday and Friday nights.  We figured there would be less time spent shuttling back and forth on the subway if we just stayed there.  Plus, I wouldn’t have to cook.

We decided to hit the National Aquarium first and take in the underwater spectacle. It didn’t disappoint.

"Hop on, dude!"

Forget the cat and dog... we got Grumpy Frog!

The long sought-after, "Marty Feldman Tetra."

"You talkin' to me?"

These guys were always in a hurry.

"OK, who dropped the Trojan Party Pack into the tank?"

"And now, Jacques Cousteau presents the elusive Saltwater Sea Loogie."
"...And who's been pouring vodka into the dolphin tank?"

All that aquatic excitement worked up a powerful thirst, so after checking into the hotel and gearing up, we made our way down to The Bullpen for some reasonably priced liquid refreshment, or in other words..

We didn’t stay too long, though, because we wanted plenty of time to wander around the ballpark and cause trouble.

Because Jake plays the same position, he wanted a chance to watch the Orioles 3rd base phenom Manny Machado, so we got tickets 11 rows behind him.

"Why is that kid staring at me? Do I owe him money?"

It was an exciting game; the Tigers jumped out to a big lead, but the Orioles fought back, although the rally fell just short and they lost 9-8.

On Friday, we got tickets for a guided tour of Camden Yards.  Over an hour and a half, we were given the history of the area, a rundown of all the architectural decisions that went into creating Camden Yards, toured the luxury boxes, the scoreboard control room, the press box, and ended up being led down onto the field, around the grounds crew who were watering the infield, and into the Orioles dugout. 

This was the coolest thing I’ve done in years.  Unfortunately, I had to press my luck.

The whole time, our guide told us, “Stay off the grass, you have to stay off the grass.”

From the clay cinder track, I walked up short of the grass, thinking, “OK, I’m not on the grass.”  But I had to touch it.  My goal for the entire tour was to touch Major League grass.  As I bent over and lowered my hand, I heard the tour guide say sharply, “Don’t touch it…”

But the signal from my brain had already been received and was past the point of no return.  I lightly brushed the grass with the back of my hand, and then leaped back as if I’d been touched a stove.  Dude wouldn’t even look at me for the rest of the tour.

The CFO piped up, “It doesn’t touch the field, or else it gets the hose again.”

(Yes, I know it’s not the right cadence for a legit Silence of the Lambs quote, but I have to give the CFO credit.  Because he’ll demand it in Comments either way.)

 “I’m sorry I bent your grass, Mister.”

Later, I emailed Sitcom Kelly this picture,

and wrote, “Guess where I just was.”

She replied, “Fun!! Did you carve my phone number in the bench?  Did you get out to the bullpen? (not the bar). Put my number out there too.”

Sure, what’s one more athlete to go missing and end up clawing at a dirt wall at the bottom of a pit in Sitcom Kelly’s basement?

Because we still had a bunch more time to kill after the tour, we checked out the Maryland Science Center.  The place was really cool, but there was something about it that just gave me an uneasy feeling.  I'm not sure why...

This time, we sat in one of my regular spots, the left field club seats.  We had a lot more elbow room up there, which was good.  The CFO had to banish his son, for wearing an Orioles shirt instead of Tigers.  (It was a laundry situation.)

We saw another exciting game, with the Tigers again jumping out to a big lead… 6-0 in the 4th inning, before the Orioles came back to win 8-6.  The whole series ended up in a 2-2 split, so neither of us won bragging rights.  So I just fell back on the O’s sweeping the Tigers in the playoffs last season.

Saturday was an open day, as far as specific events go, so we decided to fill it (and us) with lunch at noted Meat-a-torium, Fogo de Chao.

I even skipped the free breakfast at the hotel, just so I’d be good and ready for the Meat-O-Rama.  But then what do we find?  The place doesn’t serve lunch on Saturdays.  I couldn’t believe that.  The busiest day of the week at the Inner Harbor and they don’t do lunch?  Sorry… that does not compute.

Instead, I gave the guys a tour of my new office building and then we ate at a local (upscale) deli.  Sure, it was good, but it just wasn’t the same as unlimited meat on a skewer.

After lunch, Jake wanted to ride a water taxi, so we jumped on one that said they were going across the Harbor to the Rusty Scupper.  I assumed this was one of the free ones, the “circulators” that run every 15 minutes, but it turned out to be a paid route with several stops.  He said the Circulator boat didn’t run on weekends.  Gah!  Wasn’t shit working out on this day, I tell you.

I told the guy to just take us back to where we started from, but it was too late.  He didn’t charge us, but we wouldn’t have a ride back. Instead, we walked all the way around the Harbor to get back to our parking garage, in the searing sun.

On the bright side, though, we went by a guy and his son doing a stunt act at the base of the Inner Harbor, so we stopped and watched for a bit.  As a finale, the guy had his 7-year old son stand on top of a half-beachball, on top of a keyboard stand, and escape from a straightjacket.

(Yes, they really have straightjackets for kids, and no, he wouldn’t tell us where we could get one.)

The kid was amazing though… I mean, YOU try balancing on a ball without the use of your arms…

We killed the rest of the night eating pizza, drinking beer and watching the next Orioles/Tigers game on TV.

On Sunday, we drove up to see the Phillies/Braves game at the new(ish) Citizens Bank Ballpark.  I have to say, I was impressed.  It was really a beautiful place, with wide aisles, good food, and lots of little standing room nooks to have a bite and watch the game.

Our original seats were in the sun, and the ushers had no problems telling people to move to shaded spots… as opposed to Baltimore, where the ushers will shoot you dead for switching seats… or touching their grass.

The Philadelphia Naval Shipyards were about a mile from the ballpark, and as luck would further have it, the CFO’s old ship, the USS John F. Kennedy, was docked there.  So we ran over there after the game so he could reacquaint with the old girl.

She was being dismantled, so she’d seen better days.

Just because we missed out on Fogo on Saturday doesn’t mean we gave up on our hopes to have a meat feast… we just postponed.  The guys were going to leave Monday morning, but instead we decided they could leave later, after meeting me at Fogo for lunch.

Brandishing our last forkfuls.

Trust me, (because as I write this, I’ve got the meat sweats and am sitting in a puddle of grease,) we got our money’s worth.  Just about everything they carved off for us was delectable.  You should have seen me doing the Fred Sanford Shuffle back to the office afterwards.  Don’t think I’ll be needing dinner tonight, thank you very much.

Anyway, that was the weekend… a packed one at that.  I think I did more stuff over the last 4 days than I’ve done in the last 4 years.  But it was fun being the host, and I hope my guests enjoyed their stay at Chez Bluz. 

Well, there and at Chez Marriott…

Tuesday, July 28, 2015

Billy Joel – M&T Bank Stadium, Baltimore

Back in January when they announced that Billy Joel was playing at the stadium this summer, I thought I might like to go.  On one hand, I was like, “Hey, why not?”  I mean, who doesn’t like Billy Joel?  He’s like the Sara Lee of music.

On the other hand, the tickets were around $150 a pop, plus I’ve seen him twice before.  The first time was in 1984 on the Nylon Curtain tour, ($13.50) and in 1994 on the River of Dreams tour ($28.50).  So it’s not like I’d be missing out on anything I haven’t seen.  In fact, I saw him in his prime.  He’s 66 now, so who knows how he’d sound?

When I discussed it later with my brother, he was ambivalent about it as well.  His wife wanted to go, but he remained on the fence.  So I said, “Tell if she wants to go, I’ll go with her.

So that’s how I ended up going to a Billy Joel concert with my sister-in-law.

My brother secured the tickets and a parking pass for us, so last Saturday evening, we were off.  We were concerned about the traffic in the area, because there were some other events going, namely Otakon (Asian pop culture convention), which was taking place at the convention center right across from the stadium. 

We got to the stadium in good time and were on the property, heading towards our designated lot when a parking attendant waved us in another direction.  Next thing we knew, we were back on the street in bumper to bumper traffic.  It took us another 25 freakin’ minutes just to get back to where we wanted to go.  Talk about “pissed.”  Good thing we left early.

Anyway, we got through security and into our seats about 10 minutes before showtime.  We were in the lower bowl, 34 rows up, dead center to the stage.

The stage was set up on what would be the far 30-40 yard line.

The opening act started promptly at 8:00.  Who was she?  I have no idea.  She was never introduced, nor thanked later.  Even Googling it, I couldn’t find a reference.  She sang three Leeann Rimes songs, plus a couple of other covers.  We figured that if it really was Leeann Rimes, there would have been a little more press and/or publicity.  But she sounded good, whoever she was, and ended her set right at 8:30.

Both the lower bowl and upper deck were packed, so we were hoping that the two seats to my left would stay open.  My SIL had a smelly guy sitting beside her and was hoping we could slide down.

I figured the real show would start at 9:00, but at 8:50, Billy Joel fired up the band and ripped into Big Shot.

Is it me, or do you get a little “Wizard of Oz” here?

Unfortunately, as soon as Billy Joel came on, a couple of bro’s came charging up the stairs and into the empty seats.  Next thing I know, I had Fat, Drunk and Stupid (henceforth “FDS”) crammed into not only his seat but a couple of inches of mine as well.  Just want you want on a hot July night… to be mashed hip to hip and leg to leg with some huge, sweaty, drunk dude.

But onto the show… which was fan-freakin-tastic!  Because he wasn’t touring on a new album, all he had to play were his time-worn favorites and occasional chestnuts.  I was happy to say I knew every song he played.

On three occasions he gave the audience a choice; he’d name two songs and determine what to play by our applause.  It was pretty cool, even though I suspect it was a setup.  Each time the crowd went overwhelmingly for the second song.

One of those was “Say Goodbye to Hollywood,” after which he said, “So, you guys really know the old shit…”

One of the benefits of seeing such an experienced and confident artist is that you can tell he’s just being himself.  Between songs, he’d tell stories or talk about the songs like he was playing piano for a group of friends in someone’s rec room.  Just very casual but in complete control of the room.

The third song was “The Entertainer,” which featured the lyrics:
I am the entertainer and I may have won your hearts
But I know the game, you’ll forget my name
I won’t be here in another year
If I don’t stay on the charts.”

After the song, he said, “I didn’t know what I was talking about when I wrote that… I haven’t been on the charts in 23 years, but here we all are…”

To me, the show contained three big surprises.  First of all, they bought a sign language guy… or rather, a team.  Right there, at the base of the lower bowl, there we saw a little platform, lit from below, and a guy doing sign language to all the songs. 

It wasn’t just one guy, different people tagged in every couple of songs.  My only beef was that during the instrumental parts, they should have played air guitar.

It was clear that Billy Joel was trying to give everyone the chance to experience the show.  Even his piano revolved.  Well, not constantly, or he might have spun off… but it would rotate 180 degrees every couple of songs, so people on each side of the stage had a chance to see his face.

Second surprise: Billy Joel’s voice was perfect.  I swear, if you closed your eyes, you’d swear he was still in his 30s.  That was jarring, considering how he now looks like a Russian villain from a James Bond movie.

All night long, he never lost a note or wavered; he just hit them all spot-on.  His mid-range was great, and his lower notes sounded even fuller, which makes sense given his current expanded size.  But even on “Innocent Man,” which calls for an insanely high note… well, he didn’t attempt that note from the original record.  But he went just a tad lower, just short of falsetto, and knocked it out of the park.  I was impressed, considering he used to farm that note out to one of his backup singers.

Oh, and the band; they were so versatile.  I mean, his songs come in all kinds of styles and they handled them all, from the perfectly harmonized doo-wop of “For the Longest Time” to the crunch of a heavy metal classic.

Which brings me to the 2nd surprise.  About two-thirds of the way through the show, he said he wanted to bring up one of his roadies to do a song, and we were perfectly welcome to “boo his ass off the stage.”  The guy wanted to do a “religious number,” and it would be up to us whether we liked it or not.  With that, he introduced his guitar tech, this big dude named, “Chainsaw,” and the band broke into a rocking cover of “Highway to Hell.”
I’ll tell you, the guy was good.  He stalked about the stage and sang the shit out of that song. 

About this time, though, we were getting pretty fed up with our “seatmates.” between Smelly Guy spilling his beer on my sister-in-law, FDS standing up and enthusiastically mock-signing with the sign language guy (while smelling like a skunk dipped in beer), and the Woo Girl screaming three feet behind my left ear during every break, we were getting pretty tired of all the local “flavor.”

After the obligatory “Piano Man,” (was there ever a more perfect sing-along song?) and before the encores started, we decided to make a break for it.  Being 34 rows back into the bowl, it would have taken us at least 15 minutes just to get to the concourse.  By that time, we were out of the venue, back to the car and hitting the freeway on-ramp.

I didn’t like missing more of the show, but I would have liked sitting in the parking lot for the next hour even less, especially after the experience we had getting in there.  Instead, we were out the door at 10:50, to my brother’s house by 11:10, and I was home by 11:30.  It was beautiful!

Back in my prime concert-going years, I used to carry a pen and pocket notebook with me to shows, to record the set list (and any other noteworthy events).  Now in the digital age, I used the Notes app on my phone.  So in case you’re interested, here is everything Billy Joel played:

Big Shot
The Entertainer
Vienna, by audience choice, vs Zanzibar.
Say Goodbye to Hollywood. Also audience choice, vs (something from the Turnstiles album).
Movin Out
An Innocent Man
Downeaster Alexa
NY State of Mind
For the Longest Time, by audience choice vs Keepin’ the Faith
My Life
Goodnight Saigon, in which he brought out a dozen Army and Navy vets, to sing along.
Always a Woman
Don't Ask Me Why
Highest to Hell
We Didn't Start the Fire.
River of Dreams
Scenes from an Italian Restaurant (one of my favorites)
Piano Man

Uptown Girl
Still Rock n Roll to Me (Both of which we heard as we walked out and even while we were in the car.)
Only the Good Die Young (I’m just assuming he played this one… he always does and it usually closes. But I can’t say for a fact he didn’t play anything else too.)

At minimum, it was a solid two-and-a-quarter-hour show and a damned good one, at that.

Thursday, July 23, 2015

Down Home Week Part 2

Wednesday was going to be a big change from our usual repertoire of sitting around all day, grilling and then going out to the bar.  The CFO’s daughter, Kyrie, wanted to take me out on the town… my old college town, where she now goes to school.

It all started back in April, when she sent me a text message, asking me if I’d ever been to a particular coffee shop in Bowling Green.  She said, “I would like to have an afternoon with you to show you my BG that I have discovered since I always knew your BG.”

Are you kidding?  Roll around my old college town with my beautiful niece?  Book it.  It went on from there:

You may recall that she and I have a very close relationship.  In fact, she’s kind of my blogging “muse,” and has inspired a number of my best posts… The Elf and the Leprechaun,  Letter to a 16-year old Girl, Letter to an Incoming College Freshman, The Pros and Cons of the 80’s…

So shortly after noon on Wednesday, Kyrie picked me up and we headed down to Bowling Green.  We started off by walking around the “downtown” section, checking out all her favorite shops.  I kept trying to remember what all the bars used to be called.  There sure seemed to be a lot more of them now, though.  Or maybe I just stuck to my couple of favorites.  You know how I like routine.

She showed me that coffee shop she liked, called “Grounds.”  It was more like a coffee shop/used record shop/used book store/toy store.  Sure they sold coffee and snacks, but there was all this other stuff to look at and poke around with.  And they had this big shelf of classic board games and puzzles.  There was a puzzle in progress on an open table, which apparently anyone could stop by and work on.  It was pretty cool.  I totally would have hung out at a place like that, back in the day.

We also rolled through an antique shop.  I have to admit that it’s kind of jarring when you see relics from your own past classified as “antique.”

Also jarring was this:


The card says, “Fata Manu (death hand).”  I don’t know if those are real hand bones in there, or if it was built from chicken bones.  Looks like the last remnants of Freddy Krueger.

Since we were in the area, we walked by my first apartment, the infamous place from my “3-way of Love” and “Summer of Bow-Chicka-Wow Wow” posts.  The last time I’d been by the place, it looked like a dump.  This time I was pleasantly surprised.

The apartment was all clean and painted up.  There were no more toys and trash lying about outside and there was a For Rent sign posted.

Figuring it was empty for the summer, we walked up for a closer look and I took some pictures.

That addition in the back was the roommate’s room, back in The Day.

Imagine my surprise when someone popped out from the front door and asked if we wanted to come in and take a look around!

They assumed Kyrie was my daughter and we were looking for a place for her to live, but I wasn’t going to pass up an opportunity like that!  I explained that I used to live there in 1984 and I’d love to come in and have a look.

What as funny was that there was a trio of college students living there… 2 guys and a girl, which was the inverse of what it was when I lived there.  The place had been all fixed up… the kitchen looked new and everything had been updated. 

They said the windows were still really cold and leaky in the winter, though, just like they used to be.  I remembered trying to put that plastic up over them that you had to tighten up with a blow-dryer.  They said they still have to do that.

When we got out of there, we headed over to walk around campus.  There didn’t seem to be a much of student activity going on, just a lot of construction.  Kyrie took me over to the Student Union, where they had relocated the Commuter Center.  I spend all my non-class time at the old Commuter Center, so I was hoping they had done the place justice.

They hadn’t.

I liked the plaque, but a tiny little walled off section of chairs seemed awfully inadequate to service the entire off-campus community.  Granted, it was nestled amidst a much larger casual seating area.  They should have just called the entire section the Hazel Smith Off-Campus Student Lounge.  I knew Hazel Smith and she deserved better.

Still, that’s just a minor quibble.  I had such fun rambling around with Kyrie.  I told her it reminded me of when she was a little girl of about 4 or 5, and she and her dad and I were walking across campus.  Every time we’d pass a couple of cute coeds, she’d run up and say “HI!” like a tiny, elfin welcoming committee. 

The girls would always giggle and say “hi” back, probably wondering what a cute little thing like that was doing with the least fashionable gay couple in NW Ohio.  I asked the CFO if I could borrow Kyrie one time for a solo stroll, because she worked even better than a puppy.  Who knew it would take 15 years for that to happen?

When we concluded out walk through Memory Lane, we headed back to her apartment.  If I thought it was weird that she was old enough to have a real apartment, it was even weirder when she made me a drink… a vodka and cranberry.

“Hey, Bartender!”

After her boyfriend rolled in, we headed off to meet up with the rest of the crew for our annual meal at Myles Pizza.

And the picture doesn’t even do it justice.  Best pizza ever.

Because the VP had to go out of town on Thursday, the CFO got custody of me for the night, so we limped back there after dinner for a night of ping pong, billiards, and party games.  We stopped by a liquor store on the way, and I spotted this:

STFU!  I should make this my new avatar.

He just moved into a new house earlier this year and I hadn’t seen it yet.  It was real nice… maybe I can retire there, instead of in a refrigerator box in the VP’s garage.

Best of all, I learned that the CFO can work magic in the garden.
Never would have believed it if I hadn’t seen it with my own eyes.  Better living through Kellogs.

The highlight from Thursday was going to see the World Famous Toledo Mudhens.  Five of us went: the CFO and his son, Kyrie and her boyfriend, and I. Naturally, they lost again.  It seems like they always lose when I show up.  When I got home, I checked my records and indeed, the Hens are 1-8 when I’m there, including losing the last five.

Then again, it could be the CFO carries the bad mojo.  He never wanted that ballpark built in the first place.

Who’s the movie star?

After the midweek flurry of activity, Friday was just a lay-about day, where we watched movies and worked on the leftovers from the week’s grilling, (which were still damned good!)  We finished off with one last trip to Shawn’s Irish Tavern, the 4th of my stay.  I bet they’re wondering, this week, what happened to all their profits.

Sorry, I had to go home sometime. The VP got me up to Detroit Saturday afternoon, and I enjoyed another uneventful, empty-middle-seat flight.

Thanks guys, for another stellar visit.  If you need me, I’ll be at Betty Ford, drying out.  And to the CFO… I’ll see you and the boy next week, on my turf!

Monday, July 20, 2015

Down Home Week

I spent last week back where I grew up, in the farmland outside Toledo, Ohio, or in other words, my annual Boy’s Week Out vacation.

I swear, it seems like all we did was eat grilled meat and thick pizza, and drink beer.  Well, it doesn’t exactly seem that way; that’s pretty much what we did.

The flight was pleasantly uneventful, and for a further bonus, the middle seat stayed empty.  Score!

My buddy, the VP of Hell No picked me up in Detroit and we landed at our usual haunt, Shawn’s Irish Tavern, within a little over an hour.  There, we met up with the VP’s dad, and my other buddy, the Chairman of Fuck-Off (aka the CFO).

After lunch, we picked up reinforcements from the beer case at Kroger’s and then made way for the VP’s garage, for a night of loud music, stories and a lot more beer.

One of the topics for discussion was how big the VP’s grandson was getting, and how well he’s doing in school.  He’s 12 now, taking classes for “gifted” students, and is even mentoring younger students.  The VP said the boy even had a girl over for dinner.  They told him, “No upstairs and no downstairs.”

I responded, “Was that referring to the house, or his date?”  You never know with 12-year olds anymore.

Sunday, we had the whole circus over for dinner, with the guys’ kids and grandkids in attendance.  The VP grilled up a bunch of chickens…

…and made some Water Cooler Corn on the Cob.

This was our first attempt at this particular method of making corn, but it worked like a charm.  All you do is shuck the corn and put it all in a large insulated cooler.  Then you boil a couple pots of water, pour it in and close the lid.  After 15 minutes, the corn is done.

It really worked out well… it’s a good way to do it when you have to make a large quantity, like the three dozen ears we made.

The next day, the VP had a go at grilling a pork roast.  This one got dicey, as we raced to get the grill going before we had a weather event.

Our little burg is located halfway between Perrysburg and that wall of rain.

It turned out OK, though…

…and the VP turned it into a huge pot of pulled pork.  We barely had enough energy left to make it out to Shawn’s afterward, for the MLB Home Run Derby. 

The CFO’s daughter and her boyfriend came out with us, which was wonderful, but weird.  I’m definitely not used to her being old enough to come out and drink with us, but it was a hell of a lot of fun. Plus, it gave me time to properly interrogate the boyfriend.  (He passed.)

 The CFO is lucky she’s such a good girl; good enough not to pull the prank me and the VP were trying to get her to do.

We saw the CFO down on the end of the bar, talking to some young thing… (“young” being comparative, you understand), who seemed to be giving him the googley eyes.  So we were trying to get her to go down there, throw her arms around her dad and go, “Oh, there you are!  Where have you been?  Don’t you know our baby needs diapers?

Fortunately for the CFO, she was far too skeeved out by that proposition to actually do it.  (And I’m not saying she was wrong; I was only interested in causing trouble.)

Later, the VP was trying to explain to her about how her dad still had needs, which continued to skeeve her out.  I was like, “DudeIx-nay on the eeds-nay!

After the pork on Monday, the VP went for grilling a turkey on Tuesday.  Again, we had to grill through the rain…

…but again, it came out beautifully, full of rich, smoky flavor.

He stuffed it with apples, onions, and bratwurst.

After dinner, we were off to Shawn’s again, to watch the MLB All-Star Game.  Yes, I know we keep going back to the same place, but it’s the nicest bar in close proximity.  I was hoping that I’d run into someone I knew, but that never quite worked out.

Wednesday broke the pattern of grilling out and drinking beer, when the CFO’s daughter made good on her promise to show me around the places she likes in my old (and her current) college town, Bowling Green.  But I’ll have to tell you about it next time or else this will run way too long.