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
Pressure
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.
Allentown
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

Encores:
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:

WTF?? 

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.

Monday, July 6, 2015

In Praise of the Long Weekend

I really felt like I needed that 3-day weekend; it’s been a trying couple of weeks.

In the middle of June, my company relocated its office to a brand new building in a ritzy section of downtown Baltimore, called Harbor East.  It’s about a mile from the old building and smack on the Inner Harbor.

Sounds great, right?  Well, not really for me.

Sure, it’s a nice, fancy, all-glass, ultra-modern facility.  But they put us in a new “open seating” system.  You know; the worst possible situation for an introvert.

And I’d have some respect for them if they had just come out and said, “It’s the most cost-effective way to put the maximum butts in the minimum space.”

Instead, we got a lot of talk about “collaboration space,” and beautiful harbor views.  They have a number of “focus rooms” and “huddle rooms” and “conference rooms” for people to meet and work together.

I don’t have a job in which I need to collaborate.  In fact, very few people here, save for project managers, have a job in which they need to collaborate.  And it’s not like they couldn’t have provided all the same focus, huddle, and conference rooms while still giving us some walls between our desks.

This is a shot of my area.  But thank goodness I really like my co-workers.  There are 8 of us in that little glass bump-out.

And the view?  Well, I know it sure looks good on the Harbor side of the building.  But on OUR side, the back side, we get a view of the traffic jams on the main artery in and out or the area.  On our other glass wall, we have blazing sunshine in the morning, so the blinds stay down.  Otherwise, we’d be roasting hot and unable to see our computer screens due to the direct sunlight on them. 

The other problem is that my walk from subway station to office just doubled, from a quarter mile to just over a half mile, each way.  It’s not the act of walking that bothers me, but the elements are another matter.  Even when it’s “nice” in the morning, temps in the low 70s, by the time I get to my desk, I’m a sweaty mess.  And just wait until I have to walk in rain, snow, or frigid temperatures.

To make matters worse, the city just cut back on the free bus service they offer along my route.  I’d end up waiting for a bus far longer than it would take me to walk.

Anyway, it’s been a big adjustment.  At least the cafeteria is good.

Last week I decided that Thursday would be a good day to go see the Orioles, because I would be getting out early that afternoon, and would be off on Friday.  At the old building, it was about a 12-15 minute walk to Camden Yards.  Now, it’s on the other side of the Harbor.  Even after taking the water taxi across the Harbor, Google said it was a 25-minute walk.

From our front window, I could see the route I wanted to go.

There’s the water taxi, pulling into the Harbor East dock.  All day, it runs from Harbor East to the Rusty Scupper and back.  You can see the Camden Yards Warehouse behind that tall building.  I figured I’d get off the boat and take a straight shot toward the ballpark.

Unfortunately, it’s a lot easier to solve a maze by looking down on it than it is from being within it.  Because as soon as I got off the water taxi, I strode off in the wrong direction from where I thought I was going, heading due south instead of west.

I was 10 minutes out and not seeing anything familiar before I decided to consult The Google to get me back on course.  And that, my friends, is how I deftly managed to turn a 25-minute walk into a 45-minute walk.

Blue line: the way I wanted to go. Red line: the way I actually went.

The map also includes my trying to cut through the parking lots of the Ratbirds’ Stadium, but it was all fenced in and I had to double back.

Luckily, my initial destination was The Bullpen, so I was in a place where I could replenish my fluids.  According to my iPhone, that was a 7.4-mile day.

But all was well.  It was a nice, cool night and I had front row, upper deck seats to watch the Orioles (lose).

And speaking of the Yard, when I got home, I found my newest canvas had arrived.  The last piece of my decorating puzzle was a portrait of Camden Yards, to go on my hallway wall opposite my panorama canvas of PNC Park.

I shot this on 5/30, vs Tampa.


Shows the placement opposite PNC Park and the Hat Wall.

Friday’s big activity was going to see Terminator: Genisys.  I’ve always loved the Terminator movies, so I knew I had to see this one on opening weekend.  And despite the terrible reviews, I loved it.  It was exciting and funny and I was happy to be back in that world again.  Sure, it was kind of complicated, with multiple timelines in play, and the trailer already exposed the biggest plot twist, but it was an enjoyable couple of hours.

You have to give action movies a break… they’re not designed to make sense.  You just have to go with it. 

Saturday was the Fourth, so my brother invited me to go with him and the family for dinner and fireworks at his club.  I had fun, with good eats and beer.  It was too bad that my nephew, Daniel, wasn’t there long.  He was more interested in walking around with his friends than sitting around with the grownups.  And I know that’s how it goes when you’re a 16-year old boy; you gotta be where the action is.  And prowl for babes.

Meanwhile, we had prime seats for the local fireworks…

Sunday was my day of rest, (as if I had been particularly taxed the previous two days).  All I did was a little grocery shopping, then surfed a couple of cable movies before it was time for the World Cup Soccer finals.

I was so proud of our USA women’s team!  They sure removed any sense of game tension; jumping out to a 4-0 lead in the first half, before winning 5-2.  Pens fans, maybe they should sign Carli Lloyd to be a scoring winger for Sid.

Next Saturday I’ll be heading back to Ohio for my annual trip to see my buddies and their families.  Stay tuned for the exciting tales of old men sitting around, grilling stuff, playing music and drinking beer.

Monday, June 29, 2015

That Was the Week That Was

That was quite a week we had last week, huh?  Whole lotta stuff going on in the news that seems vaguely important.  For a change…  So let’s see what we think about it all.

South Carolina
Yep, pretty tragic stuff, with that church shooting.  What that terrorist did… no wait, that was a white guy, so he can’t be a “terrorist,” I mean that “disturbed individual” did was sickening.  But at least people are taking down the Confederate flag!

I know it makes a good story, but I’m just not impressed by all this flag stuff.  But I can see why it grabbed everyone’s attention.  It’s something that’s easy to fix.  It doesn’t take much to pull down a flag and put up something else, like the US flag.  Sure, it makes some waves, but waves level out over time.

And businesses?  They have no backbone at all, especially the big retailers.  They’ll go whichever way the wind blows, so not to lose money or customers.  At least they will for the time being.  It wouldn’t surprise me to find some back channels being set up right now, so Bubba can stay flush with stars ’n bars memorabilia without their having pickets outside Amazon headquarters.

It’s no wonder politicians, even Republicans, are jumping on the bandwagon.  This way, they can appear sensitive to African-Americans, without having to address any actual problems.  You know; if there were any racial problems.

According to Fox “News,” the arbiter of what the GOP is supposed to care about, there is no “white privilege” and racism has already been solved.  Therefore, if there’s no longer a problem with race in this country, they’re not wrong in ignoring it.  No need to be concerned with urban unemployment, minimum wages, food deserts, dilapidated housing and crumbling infrastructure.  “But hey, we let you take down that flag!”

What’s hard to fix is the mentality behind the glorification of the Confederate flag.  Yes, there’s a prideful and nostalgic element, but it’s dwarfed by the gross insensitivity of what it represents to those who aren’t Caucasian.  It’s relic of the Confederacy who fought the Civil War primarily because of slavery.  There’s a reason why stores continue to sell Confederate flag stuff… there’s a demand.

WalMart is no hero for pulling this merchandise; it was purely a dollars and sense decision.  They make a certain amount of money on these things, which is why it warranted shelf space in the first place.  But the negative publicity was going to cost them more in lost sales than what they made on Confederate flags, so the merch gets pulled.  Clean and simple.  Gotta protect the bottom line.

What would have been heroic would be taking this stuff off the shelves before the controversy, say, anytime over the last 50 years.

Obamacare
I’m pretty sure the Republicans are relieved about the Supreme Court decision upholding the ACA because they were painted into a corner.  If they had won, the onus would have been on them to come up with something better.  They’ve had five years and haven’t come up with jack shit.  The millions of people who just lost their insurance coverage would be looking for an explanation, and short of that, retribution, come November 2016.

This way, they can continue to campaign against Obamacare, without having any skin in the game.  They can just keep on doing the opposite of whatever the president wants.

Obviously, the ACA is not perfect.  No legislation of this complexity ever is.  So the answer is to fix the specific problems, not just scrap the whole thing.  You build the infrastructure step by step.  But that’s too complicated for a campaign bumper sticker, so no one is interested. 

Same-Sex Marriage
That was the Big One.  People will be wailing about this one for years.  Well, by “people,” I mean right wing religious dogmatists who don’t see a problem with forcing other people into a lesser class because they conflict with their own sense of religiousness.  The sane part of the country (60% and counting) celebrates this unequivocal statement of freedom and equality.

A truly free country does not let one person’s “freedom” create social and financial hardship for others. 

And like I saw on Facebook, “If the practice of your religion results in the victimization of others; find a new religion.”

I’m sickened by the gross duplicitousness of using religion as a cover for bigotry.  As I’ve mentioned here many times before, there is a whole laundry list of religious prohibitions found in the Bible, none of which are taken seriously in this day and age.  So why this one?  When the religious nuts start seeking injunctions against Red Lobster’s All-You-Can-Eat Shrimp Festival, then I’ll take their claims seriously.

Until then, it’s just the continued cherry picking of the Bible to support their own prejudice.  Period.  And remember, these are the exact same arguments put forth in the 60s, to protest interracial marriage.  The Supreme Court held that we hold no separate classes based on the way we were born.

They just said it again now.  This is America.  If you open a business, you have to cater to whoever walks through your door.  Period.  If you don’t, you have to have a damned good reason, like a health code violation, an illegal altercation or disturbance, or they’re robbing you.  It can’t just be because your discomfort with one of their inborn characteristics. 

I had to laugh at Justice Roberts’ dissent, asking, “Who are we?” to change millennia of tradition.

I would answer; the same people that changed the millennia of tradition when granting corporations personal rights of religion and speech.  It didn’t seem to matter very much then.  What’s different now?

When I first heard the decision, I wondered how long it would take for conservatives to try to get around it.  It didn’t take long to find out.  They plan on using every means necessary to ignore, legislate and regulate their way out granting marriage licenses to same-sex couples.  Hey, it worked on abortion, and that was “decided” over 40 years ago.

Like with the Obamacare ruling, I think Republican politicians are pleased as punch over this decision.  Now they get to bring out their campaign fear tactics in full force.  They can rile up their limited-IQ base with threats of bestiality, pedophilia, polygamy, and any other perversion they can come up with. 

If they can’t run on their accomplishments regarding the economy, jobs, infrastructure repair, health care, or the stock market, they can sure as hell sell some fear to the gullible masses.

I bet their message will fit on a bumper sticker too.

Director’s DVD Commentary:
1: Thank you Cassie, for the opening graphic, which I lifted from your Facebook page.

2: “That was the Week That Was” used to be a news show in the 60s, on which musical satirist, Tom Lehrer, used to perform.  He later made an album of those songs and named it “That Was the Year That Was,” which is the only reason I know that little piece of useless trivia.

Monday, June 22, 2015

Jurassic World

Jurassic Park is still one of my favorite movies.  Back when it came out, I thought I’d seen everything.  For a Dinosaur Boy from way back, who until then thought the horrible stop-action animation of The Land of the Lost was the closest I’d see to a live, mobile dinosaur, it changed everything.

I was married (cold chill runs down back) when it first came out and Future-Ex, her kid (who was 9 at the time) and I went to see it in the theater.  I swear, when the movie was over, we could not convince that kid that there weren’t really dinosaurs roaming the earth.  He didn’t believe there was any way all of that action could have been faked.

OK, he was 9, and not exactly the sharpest knife in the drawer…

Even the sequels were alright.  Granted, the dinosaurs got smarter and the characters got dumber, but the action and spectacle were still entertaining.  I continue to stop and watch whenever I trip on one them when I’m channel-surfing.

So it was with great anticipation that I was awaiting the release of Jurassic World. And wouldn’t you know, it came out while I was away at NoochFest, so I had to wait until last weekend to see it.

I admit it; I have a 17-year old’s taste in movies.  I like big, noisy, effects-heavy spectacles.  And the more monsters, the better.  Those are the only kind of movies that get me to go to the theater.  When there is an interesting horror, comedy, or “talky” movie, I usually wait for it to come to HBO or DVD.

So as I sat in the theater with the movie unfolding, and later as I left the theater, one thought kept running through my mind:  “This may be the most exciting movie I’ve ever seen.”

Only time will tell how it stands up, but I absolutely loved it.  Sure, there are the usual plot holes and implausibilities you find in most action movies, but you just have to forget about that stuff and go with it.

As I recall, the first movie had a huge one.  I mean, how does a T-Rex just sneak into a room occupied by 4 humans and 2 velociraptors, and no one notices?  And where are the giant footfalls everyone feels every other time T-Rex approaches?

I saw Jurassic World in 3-D, and it really added to the adventure.  There were a couple of times I flinched like a schoolboy and then chuckled at myself afterward.  A few other times, I found myself clutching the armrest as the tension mounted, and had to tell myself, “Dude… MOVIE.”

There are a lot of references to the first movie, both in some of the sets, character references and hell, the entire last sequence!  This one really seems like the legitimate sequel to Jurassic Park.  And it makes the other two look like Lego movies, by comparison.

But for all the tension, suspense and general chaos, the movie was basically bloodless.  Most of the killing takes place out of frame, save for people being gulped down whole.  The first three movies were much gorier. 

 A lot of the initial press I saw about Jurassic World centered on sexism, especially Bryce Dallas Howard’s high heeled shoes.  And I suppose a lot of that criticism is valid.  But you know what?  I just can’t give a rip.  I don’t go to movies to see social justice, I go to put the real world on hold for a couple of hours and be entertained.

I enjoyed the heroine’s character development as she went from an antiseptic, bottom line obsessing manager to a righteous badass, saving the hero’s bacon on a couple of occasions.  It was like she turned into a much hotter version of Die Hard’s John McLean.

Same undershirt and everything.

When I came home from the theater, I texted my nephew and told him I thought he’d like Jurassic World.  He then saw it on Sunday and texted me.


So there you have it, from an old man with a 17-year old’s taste in movies, AND from a legitimate 16-year old, the movie’s a winner.  If you like action movies or any of the other Jurassic Park movies, you owe it to yourself to check this one out.  I may go see it again, and will no doubt buy the Blu-Ray on the day it comes out.

At my showing, a couple of movie previews piqued my interest.  First of all, Ted 2 is coming out this summer.  I got at least 3 belly laughs just from the trailer, so I’ll probably have to go see it, even though it doesn’t really qualify as one of my “spectacle” movies. 

But the new Terminator does… it looks good, but I have to wonder.  I saw all the classic Terminator catch phrases used in the trailer, as well as a big plot twist… did they hold anything back for the movie?  I hate when a trailer shows all the best parts, leaving the feature with nothing but filler.

But the Terminator is one of my favorite series, so you know what they say… “I’ll be back.”

Tuesday, June 16, 2015

NoochFest

I just got back from Pittsburgh (again) yesterday, where we held our once-every-ten-years-or-so family reunion for my mother’s side of the family.  We had family members come in from Florida, North Carolina, Wisconsin, California, and, of course, Maryland.

My mom’s last name rhymes with “Gucci,” only with an “N,” so I dubbed the occasion “#NoochFest.”  (Just in case you’re wondering what the odd hashtag was on the weekend’s Facebook/Twitter posts.)

I drove out on Thursday, and was the first one to arrive at our destination in Wilkinsburg; a large rental house that was supposed to be able to sleep 16 (if you bring a bunch of air mattresses).  I knew there was going to be trouble before I even got inside.

The neighborhood was pretty sketchy and even locked, the front door didn’t look very secure.  The weather-stripping was loose and it looked like one good shove would blast the doors wide open.  Once inside, it didn’t get much better.  It wasn’t that the place was in disrepair, but that there was practically no furniture inside.

In the main rooms, there was one couch, one rocking chair, and a canvas “tailgate” chair.  There was a card table and a 3-foot long kitchen table.  That was it, and we had a party of nine coming.  There was no TV, no coffee table, just a lot of empty, freshly vacuumed, square footage.

Upstairs, there were two bedrooms, each with a double bed and a dresser.  Another bedroom had one twin bed and a desk chair.  On the third floor, there was a king-sized air mattress and no other furniture.  Also, there were no A/C vents in that bedroom, nor a ceiling fan, so the temperature was about 95 degrees.  It was completely uninhabitable.  I figured there would have to be some serious negotiating when assigning bedrooms.

My choice was easy… I was the only “single,” so the twin bed looked be mine.  I had brought along an air mattress just in case of emergency, and it looked like we would need it.

So I unpacked and tried to make the place more habitable.  I stocked the beer I brought into the fridge and went around to the bedrooms to turn on the ceiling fans.  Round about that time, the rest of the family began to show up.  They were as unimpressed as I was.

In fact, my brother and brother-in-law were on their phones almost immediately, trolling for a Plan B.  This was supposed to be a long weekend’s vacation, not an exercise in seeing what we could endure.  Luckily, both brother and brother-in-law had a butt-load of Hilton points, so we decided to muster out at the Monroeville Doubletree instead.

Is it me, or are the ice buckets getting smaller?
  Apparently they have ice bucket condoms now.  What’s next, liners for drink glasses?

But after a kind of turd of a first day, things looked up quickly thereafter when we went to Kennywood on Friday.  If you’re not familiar, Kennywood, it’s a small amusement park outside of Pittsburgh, which was built in 1898!  No, the rides are not that old; it’s gone through a number of renovations and they have modern rides.  But there are still a number of rides that were open back when my parents were kids.  That’s what made it so much fun.
One of those rides is the Jackrabbit, which is a small (by today’s standards) wooden roller coaster, with a serious first drop and a number of camel humps. 
Another is the Racer, which is a racing coaster featuring more humps and sharp curves than steep drops.

The other set of cars is to the right of the stairway.

I wasn’t crazy about the Jackrabbit… it reminded me of why my roller coaster riding days are behind me.  I’m just not crazy about the sensation of falling… or rather, the sensation of being rammed straight down into the ground at high speed.

I rode that one with my dad, although that may have been a tactical error.  It took some wiggling to get both our butts into that narrow seat.  You could tell it was built in a day when Americans were significantly smaller.

The Racer was a lot of fun though, as one set of cars would race against the other, often so close to each other, it felt like you could reach out and smack the other team.  I liked that coaster a lot more.  I rode it with my nephew Daniel.  There were individual seats, so we didn’t have to go cheek to cheek.  He fit fine; I probably should have buttered up.  When I got out of the ride, it sounded like someone opened a bottle of champagne.

There was one ride, the Skycoaster, which we were pretty much universally against riding.  Two or three people would lay down on a small platform, attached to the top of a giant tower, and then they would get towed way up to the top of another 280-foot tower, and let go.  The riders would come soaring down like they were on a giant pendulum, and swing back and forth.  It looked just like this:
All I could think of was, “Nope.  Nope nope nope.”

For a closer, clearer view, (which wasn’t shot with a cell phone), click here.

Interesting concept though.  Physics in action.  They should dress people in knight’s armor and have another one released in the opposite direction.  In theory, they would bounce back in the opposite direction a number of times.

After the obligatory train ride, (so us old people could sit down for a moment), the boys wanted to go a water ride.  Now I wouldn’t have minded a nice misting machine, but the last thing I wanted to do was tromp around for the rest of the day in wet clothes and shoes.  My mom, brother-in-law and I passed.  Everyone else loaded up on the raft.
Brother, Sister and Dad, lined up to get on board.  The boys are already seated.

That was the best call I made all day.  They got off the ride completely soaked, with squishy shoes.  Even the giant air dryer didn’t help.

Next were the bumper cars, so I couldn’t pass up a chance to knock my nephews around a little bit.  Daniel thought he had me lined up a couple times, but I was able to pivot sharply and get outta Dodge.  Age and treachery, baby!

We finally sought the shelter of the cafĂ©, got something cold to drink, and united with my aunt and uncles and their families.  Eventually we went back to ride the Jackrabbit and Racer again.

I swear, I don’t know who was happier, the kids or my dad.

There are three generations on that ride; the same one my dad rode as a kid.

A little grandparental bonding time on the Racer.

We called it a day around 4:00, and beat it back to the hotel.  We met up at the house where my aunt, uncles and cousins were staying, for a pizza party.  Their rental place in Squirrel Hill was actually nice.  It was fun to have an low key gab-fest before the next day’s outing at the park.

We had a pavilion on Saturday at North Park, for us to eat and drink and shoot the shit.  So it was pretty much just like the previous night, only outside. 

My brother bought a couple of wiffle ball sets, so they called me out of the stands to pitch to the boys.  They didn’t know that Uncle Bluz was good friends with “Uncle Charlie,” as I showed them how to make a wiffle ball curve by several feet.  Sadly, I exceeded my pitch count in about a half an hour, so they had to make a call to the bullpen for another right-hander.  But it’s cool; I’m almost back to a full range of motion with my right arm…

It was funny though… shortly after we got there, about a hundred motorcycle riders showed up for a picnic at the pavilion just down from ours.  I wasn’t complaining… they had some great music playing.

This is only a few of the bikes; the rest were off to the right.

I told Daniel I’d give him a dollar to tip over that first bike, but he wouldn’t bite.  I’m pretty sure bikers wouldn’t beat up a kid…  Uncle Joe was sure these weren’t “biker” bikers… More like a group of dentist who ride, than the Sons of Anarchy.

The big event for Sunday was going to see the Pirates/Phillies game at PNC Park, aka the most picturesque ballpark in the country. 

The weather was a little worrisome… forecasts called for rain throughout the day.  But it only rained early, before the game… buy enough to make several of us pop for ponchos.

First the ice bucket gets a condom, then me.

But the rain stopped before the game started, and was replaced by stifling mugginess.  I hoped it would be a quick game, but there it was, 0-0 going into extra innings.  But for a scoreless game, it was quite entertaining.  The Buccos pulled off several outstanding defensive plays, featuring a sprinting, diving catch by right fielder Sean Rodriguez.  (It was the #3 highlight on Sports Center on Monday.)  The Pirates eventually won, 1-0, on a walk-off single by Josh Harrison, in the 11th.

And that was that… we went out for dinner and dessert, and all went our separate ways Monday morning.   Granted, as soon as I got home, I had to head back out because Sitcom Kelly had her Sitcom Mom’s company seats for the Orioles/Phillies game.

I must be kryptonite for the Phillies, as they got shut out in this game too.  They must have seen me and went, “What, him again?

Unfortunately we had the obligatory obnoxious Phillies fan right behind us… You’d think that when your team has the worst record in the league, you might want to keep your big mouth shut.  Anyway, a couple other fans threw a couple of pointed barbs his way, which effectively shut him down for most of the night.

Maybe I’m just getting old, but I don’t pay my good money* for ballgame tickets so I can hear some dumbass trying to call attention to himself.  No one is there to see clowns like that.

*Yes, I know I didn’t have to pay for last night’s ticket, but it’s the principle, you see.

Anyway, the fun’s over; now it’s back to the grind.  No more adventures until July, when I’ll be Ohio-bound.  I suppose I ought to be dried out by then.

Monday, June 8, 2015

Odd Bits - The Small Government Edition

Several news stories caught my eye last week, and by running through them all now, I can be the last one to the party because they’re all old news by now.  Such is the lot in life for a weekly blogger.

“Lighten Up, Francis”
I just had to laugh when Rick Santorum, the political face of Catholicism, spoke up to ask that the Pope stop talking about climate change, preferring that he leave the science talk to the scientists.

Ordinarily, I’d agree with him because Catholic leadership has not traditionally cottoned to scientific learning over the ages.  Just ask Galileo.  But this Pope breaks the mold a bit.  In fact, he has a secondary degree in Chemistry, which makes him about 700 times more qualified to speak on scientific matters than Santorum.
This really puts Santorum in a fix.  He can either ignore the leader of his faith, (a faith which seems to be the central pillar of his campaigns) or ignore the direct commands of his wealthy GOP benefactors… coughKochBrotherscough… who need him to denounce mankind’s involvement in climate change, because doing otherwise, or heaven forbid, taking action to address it, would be bad for their energy businesses.

I am once again left in awe of the massive hypocrisy at play here.  Yes, Rick, let’s please stick to things we know about.  Because politicians certainly know about everything, don’t they?  Politicians know that 97% or environmental scientists are wrong.  Politicians know best how a woman’s reproductive system works.  Politicians know exactly how long a woman should wait before being allowed to have an abortion, or how far they have to travel before it becomes an inconvenience. 

What GOP politicians know how to do is meddle in average people’s personal affairs, while claiming to be for less government. 

And that was never as clearly demonstrated as it was in another article I saw, comparing requirements for doctors performing abortions in blue states versus red states.  Many Republican state governments are providing mandatory scripts for these doctors to read to their patients, which contain blatant falsehoods and lies.  (Example: “Medical abortion can be reversed,” “abortion causes breast cancer,” abortion leads to irreversible mental illness and depression.”)

I don’t care what one’s stance is on abortion; politicians are overstepping their bounds by telling trained medical professionals what to tell their patients.  If a person can’t trust the information a doctor is providing them to be accurate, the medical profession falls apart.

Again, GOP politicians campaign on reining in government, but they substitute their factually incorrect dogma for a highly trained, highly skilled doctor’s advice.  Of course, they say it’s all to protect women.  

But we know what it’s really about… it’s just one more piece of the puzzle, designed to prevent women from seeking abortions.  It’s right up there with requiring doctors to have admitting privileges at hospitals, and clinics having the same ER capabilities as hospitals.  If enough clinics close, women will have to drive that much further.  And if they can’t get insurance for the procedure, they might be able to afford it.  And when they do get to the clinic, there are government-enforced waiting periods, which requires either a hotel stay or a second long-distance trip.  PLUS, there are non-medically necessary tests some doctors are required to do, like sonograms and ultrasounds, transvaginal or otherwise.
 And if they’re really just concerned about a woman’s safety, why aren’t there similar regulations for non-hospital places where you can have a baby?  There is a far higher risk of dangerous of fatal complications from childbirth than there are from abortions. 

Just when the fuck did all these congressmen get medical degrees?  I wouldn’t want these fucksticks anywhere near my family, or my wife’s uterus.  (You know, if I had a wife.) 

Yeah, requiring banks to disclose their terms in plain language is a massive government interference into the free market, but these pricks can make a doctor give incorrect information to a woman in need.  That’s the party of “less government.”

My ass.

The Right Way to Solve the Problem
At least there was some good news from the Abortion Wars.  The number of abortions performed in the US has come down since 2010.  Conservatives were quick to claim that the drop was due to their increased regulation of abortion providers, like forcing them to provide sonograms.

However, that claim falls apart when you see that the number of abortions dropped by a similar amount in states without restrictive legislation.

But do you know what is applicable across the country since 2010?  Access to free birth control, made possible by Obamacare.  You know, the program that conservatives are fighting so hard to repeal.

Makes perfect sense.  It’s no wonder people get fed up with politics.

Live Without a Net
With a couple of recent injuries at baseball games in the news, I saw an article about how some people now are pushing to have ballparks extend netting around the infield, to protect fans from flying bats and balls.

And the pussification of America continues. 

Look, it’s simple… pay attention to the game.  If a bat’s coming, duck, or at least get your arms up to protect yourself.  OR, if you’re worried about it, don’t sit right up front!  All these things are choices, and I’m a pro-choice dude.

One of the people in the articles actually said that no one complains about the netting behind home plate, so it wouldn’t be any different if they extended it.

I say, Lady, you must not read Darwinfish2.  I complain about the netting every time I sit in Sitcom Kelly’s Mom’s company seats, behind home plate.  I don’t like that it ruins any chance to take a decent picture.

However, I’m not actually complaining so much that I don’t want the net to be there because that’s a high-risk area.  Foul balls are blasted against the screen with great regularity.  Down along the baselines, not nearly as much.

I’m good with extending the railings, so that people don’t fall out of the upper deck. And I’m good with the net behind the plate.  But leave the rest of the field alone, please?  We can’t just bubble-wrap our entire lives.  If you don’t accept the risk, go sit under the deck.

Oh yeah, it’s harder to be seen back there.

Director’s DVD Commentary: I fully acknowledge that if it had been ME who got clonked on the head by a flying baseball bat, I may be leading the charge for netting instead. Or not.  It would be my own fault.

Our Moment of Zen
Lastly, did you hear about the ISIS terrorist who posted a selfie of him standing outside his ISIS headquarters?  US Intelligence was on it immediately, and 22 hours later the Air Force dropped three bombs on it and destroyed the building.

I only have one thing to say about that:

AHHHHHHHHHHHHHAHAHAHAHAHAHAHAAAAAAA


And here we thought that the worst that can happen to you when you keep your nose in your phone, is getting clobbered by a bat.