Thursday, July 31, 2008

My Life is an Open MacBook

Actual conversation from today:

An oldster comes up to me before a county airport-related meeting in the Bluffton Library, and points to my MacBook:
Oldster: Boy, that's a beautiful machine. That's just really nice. Look at that, it's beautiful.
Me (slightly overwhelmed): Oh this? Yeah, it's ... nice. Works pretty good too.
Oldster: Jeez, I mean, look at that thing. It's just gorgeous. It's a beautiful piece of machinery.
Me (now trying to cover up the palm-stained mousepad and crumbs dribbling out of the keyboard): It's a little old, I think. Actually, it's not mine, it's the Packet's. But I get to use it for meetings like this.
Oldster (not paying attention, still in awe): Isn't that something.
Me: How far we've come, right?
Oldster: Have you seen one of these iPhones?
Me: Um, yeah ... (Or, maybe I should have gone with the Pete Early response: "What do I look like, a f----- homeless person?")
Oldster: Man, are they neat. Hey, do you think that's the direction everything's going in? Do you think everything will be more like this (points to laptop) or more like the iPhone? I've got this old phone, and it's nothing like that.
Me: Umm ... I don't really know the answer to that, I guess. Maybe somewhere in between?
Oldster: Boy oh boy, isn't that something.

Wednesday, July 30, 2008

Siggnificant Other

Tap water and I have always had a pretty strong relationship. Perhaps this was foolish, as I grew up in the Toms River area where, during the mid-90s, more and more children started developing the cancer, something quickly linked to the water supply. This gave birth to the term "cancer clusters," referring to the parts of town where cancer-inducing chemicals had leeched into the water supply (not to be confused with Clusters of Cancer, the worst selling cereal of all time).

Yet all throughout high school, even as my Bio class got extra credit for going to speak at the hearings about the water supply, I continued to drink tap water. Perhaps subconsciously I assumed that if the water hadn't already killed me, it might imbue me with some form of superpowered toxin fighting powers, a sort of Adamantium esophagus that could handle even the dirtiest the Jersey water supply had to offer.

Until I left for college, I was unaware that many people considered tap water a foul liquid unworthy of crossing their lips. To them, drinking from the tap was the equivalent of asking the entire homeless population of DC to piss into their open mouths, chased by a big swig from the storm drain under Larry Craig's K Street condo.

This is how I learned about this phenomenon known as the Brita filter. If you didn't have this product in your fridge, your guests would stop looking for other amenities because they had made the conclusion you also ate dinner with sharp sticks and did your bathroom business in an empty dresser drawer. This is probably why I had such trouble making friends at GW, and why my closet always had a bad stink to it.

The Brita seems to make a lot more sense than bottled water, however, considering the multiple reports (and the growing opposition movement) that have come out over the past year or so saying bottled water is little more than glorified, expensive tap water.

I was always tempted to buy one of those Nalgene bottles, though I was never a fan of the plastic that gave the water all the lovely taste of 10-year-old Play-Doh. I also didn't want to buy 13 Grateful Dead stickers to put on the bottle. Plus, there's the news that Nalgene bottles leech BPA chemicals into the water. More cancer.

So finally, I broke down last weekend and bought a Sigg metal water bottle that has the sleekness of an Apple product yet the authority of a piece of World War I artillery. The metal doesn't affect the taste of the water and keeps it cold, not to mention this thing looks like it could knock a few teeth out in a fight with some bottled water pansy. It calls itself "indestructible."

Then I put the bottle in the freezer the other night and it cracked right open. Oops, not quite indestructible, I suppose. I took it back to the store and got another one.

I went home to Jersey a few years ago to find that my parents had installed a small water cooler on a kitchen counter, like the kind that serves as a gathering spot to talk about last night's Dancing With the Stars in your office. We just couldn't take the water here any more, my Mom said, pointing to the same faucet she had fed us from for years.

For me, I'm still happy filling this new water bottle from the tap. Until they discover in a few years that the metal in Sigg gives you nine types of cancer and two forms of whooping cough, that is.

Tuesday, July 29, 2008

'We hit the ball, Timmy hit a home run'

ah, the wonders you find when you put a Google alert out on your name. Also a candidate for the most unlikely combination of words to follow my name:

The heavy hitting (My Name) drove home Szanca in the next at-bat with a towering homer to right-center.

Donnelly's second home run of the season not only landed with a thud against the aluminum siding of a house across the street from the field, it essentially ended the contest - making the final score 9-5.

"We hit the ball, Timmy hit a home run," Szanca said.

Not only can I not definitively say what sport this is (could be baseball, but also cricket is a strong possibility), I've been scouring the web site to find where this newspaper is located, all to no avail. Best I can find is it's in McKeesport, Pa., where the sky is always blue and the Donnellys always swing way.

Saturday, July 26, 2008

The Best Lede You'll Never Rede

Checking crime reports yesterday, there's this one about a Hilton Head Island man caught shoving a package of ribs and a bottle of barbecue sauce down his pants at the Piggly Wiggly. When the cashier confronted him, his explanation was that he was hungry, and didn't have any money (or, to put it in the stilted newspeak of the Sheriff's Office police reporting: "a clerk did observe a white male place packaged ribs and a bottle of BBQ sauce down his pants in an attempt to conceal and deprive the store of the value of the items." Oh criminals — when will you stop trying to deprive our society of the value of our important items?)
If you're going to shoplift, you might as well get something that's going to stick to your bones, I suppose.

Here's the lede I wanted to write, but didn't.
There's a barbecue in one Hilton Head Island man's pants, and the police were invited.

Here's the full report, as it ran in today's paper:

A man shoplifting from a Hilton Head Island Piggly Wiggly apparently was throwing a barbecue — in his pants, police said.

On July 23, a cashier at the Coligny Plaza store observed a man put a package of ribs in his pants, then move on to another aisle and add a bottle of barbecue sauce, which he also put down his pants. When the cashier confronted him as he tried to purchase two Cup of Noodle soups at the register, the man pulled out the items.

He said he was hungry and didn’t have any money, according to a report from the Beaufort County Sheriff’s Office.
He was arrested and is being held on $1,092 bond at the Beaufort County Detention Center.

The total cost of the ribs and sauce was $13.18.

Friday, July 25, 2008

Trivia team names for the week

You're Next, Bea Arthur*
When Batman Hits His Mom, Does it Say 'POW!"?*
The Overzealous Deputy
One Knol of Jigga
A Stable Career in the IMAX Repair Industry
Matt Griffin's Batman: The Ride Revenge
Questlove's Poorly Wrapped Chipotle Burrito
Closed Exits and the Free Gallon of Gas Scheme
The Atlanta Rooftop Racists Association
The Layman's Deadbolt Shopper's Guide (Trailer Edition)

*Actually used in competition

Wednesday, July 23, 2008

Firefoxy Lady

Firefox 3, I think I love you. If I could marry you and have many, Google-ready babies, I would. It would be so simple to take care of these babies, because they would be easily locatable. "Hey, where's Moz Jr. run off to?" Then I'd hit ctrl F, and BAM, he'd be located before I even finished typing.
Who are these people still using Internet Explorer? Do they also ride trains to the grocery store and wash their clothes on a scrub board down by the creek? Maybe they even work at newspapers (self-zing!).

Foxy 3, your tabbed browsing and improved bookmarking have done wonders for my ADD. I can hardly write a story these days without simultaneously flipping through my Facebook, Gmail, RSS feed and Digg pages at least several times an hour. I just did it three times during that sentence. And once again while I edited that sentence. There were no new e-mails or responses to read, of course. But there might have been, and Google forbid I miss one a second after it arrives. I just can't take that chance in this day and age. ("Jonathan Cribbs has also commented on my photo?!? That son of a bitch...")

Digg is particularly structred for the attention-deficit, tabbed-browsing age. Digg seduces me into opening upwards of 10 tabs at a time to look at the latest geek art or some top ten list of Most Awesomely Awesome Dark Knight Related Topics We Haven't Written About Yet.

So does this mean my attention span is parsed so thin it can barely read a Panera menu without wanting to Google exactly what "artisan breads" means? (a search you can do in Firefox with a right click into a new tab, fyi). Probably. The Atlantic seems to think so.

I did, at least, read all of that article in one sitting. In print form, nonetheless. Now, where did I park my train?

Tuesday, July 22, 2008

A Hero for Our Times

Meet Matt Griffin. He's the hero we need, not the hero we deserve:

Matt Griffin is an on-the-ground serviceman for Media Merge, a Chelsea, Ala.-based high-tech service company. And he's a certified IMAX repair technician.

We located Matt Griffin on The Internet Saturday afternoon in a fit of blinding desperation after hearing that the IMAX projector at the Mall of Georgia was continually overheating and cutting showings of The Dark Knight short or cancelling them all together, ruining the experience for hundreds of moviegoers who (like us) had been frothing at the mouth for weeks at the potential of seeing an 8-story tall Ennis Del Mar.

As Josh Thompson, who drove from Augusta only to have his 3:40 show scrubbed, told the AJC that day: "I'm beyond bummed. I'm really [angry]!" (Sources assume that [angry]! actually meant "pissed!").

The situation was dire. Our 10:20 p.m. show was fast approaching. Either we could sit on the floor of Pouya's Atlanta apartment and lament our woes while taking out aggression by firing a machine gun at the heart of the Statue of Liberty, or we could take action.

Like Batman, we sought justice. Justice through the utility belt of our age: Google. A search for IMAX repair companies brought only one real result in the form of Media Merge.

We called. The voice mail picked up. "For emergency service, please press 1 now." Well hell, if this isn't an emergency in the world of gigantic projector screens, nothing is.

Pouya and I made the plea. Hello, we're calling to leave a message for Matt Griffin. Matt, we need help. The IMAX in Atlanta is down and we've got people who drove from South Carolina just to attend it. This is supposed to be the big coming out weekend for IMAX, and it's in trouble.
We know you can do this. We see that you began your career in the mid-1980s as a systems integration manager. In the 1990s, you honed your professional and technical skills before becoming IMAX certified. This is some serious shit, Matt Griffin. You may hear us laughing in the background, but we're deadly serious. This is the 9/11 for the IMAX industry, and you need to be the hero. You're two hours away, you can be here in time. We will purchase you one large diet Coke and a package of Jujubees if we see you in the theater. Matt, please, get here, you're the only one with the skills to repair our broken dreams. This is it, this is the time to shine, to make your industry, your parents and yourself proud and fix our IMAX.

Help us Matt Griffin. You're our only hope.

And then we hung up. There was a sudden flash of hope in the small loft apartment as we all had a collective vision that somewhere, in an office park in Chelsea, Alabama, a goateed man in a button-down shirt had just hit a big red "GO" button on his desk and slid down a chute hundreds of feet below ground, landing in the seat of a rocket-propelled Honda Civic with a "PWNED" sticker on the back, zooming eastward to the rescue.

The rest of our day was nervousness and terror. What if Matt Griffin had already been called out to another job in another city? Did he have the superhero endurance to make it to Atlanta on time? Sure, he's IMAX certified, but the human body can only be pushed so far.

Shows were still being cancelled in Atlanta and we were unsure if we should even make the trip to the mall theater that night. When we arrived two hours before the show, the staff was still unsure if the overheated projector had been repaired.

In line under the hot lamps of the IMAX waiting room, we kept hoping to see a bearded fat man storming into the projector room with a sense of heroic purpose, a box of IMAX repair tools jangling noisily by his side. When we told the theater suits we had contacted the repair company in Chelsea, they nodded politely and said "that's nice," the way you'd turn away a child who told you they had collected 30 pennies to help save your house from foreclosure.

What if Matt Griffin truly wasn't the hero we had hoped all along?

After pushing the movie start time back half an hour, the fever broke and we were allowed in to the IMAX theater to claim our seats for The Dark Knight. The show went off without a hitch, except for the guys sitting next to me who kept talking about how balls awesome it would be to watch pornography in IMAX vision.

We stood up to leave, brains reeling from Christopher Nolan's stunning cinematic achievement. Surely Matt Griffin had come this night; why hadn't he sought us to claim his Diet Coke and revel in his triumph?

That's when we realized: a real hero doesn't need your reward or accolades. He can be the outcast.

Back in Chelsea, we hope Matt Griffin realizes the symbol of hope he is for us as he lies in wait, a bag of Cheetos at his side, listening for the call of citizens who need their hero again.

Matt Griffin, seen here refusing to pay for valet parking at the Mall of Georgia.

Saturday, July 19, 2008

The Joker strikes?

Son of a bitch.

I'm wearing my Joker shirt. I brought my Joker fitted sheet for the air mattress sitting on Pouya's floor. We drove four hours to get here, and had to navigate the Byzantine Atlanta highway system that decided to close all exits on I-75 (helpfully posting signs in the middle of said highway informing us we should "plan alternate routes").

Backup plan for tonight, as of now: steal the IMAX projector from the museum and bring it to the mall. Sorry kid, learn about deep sea creatures some other time. We need to see an 8-story dead actor.

Wednesday, July 16, 2008

Trivia team names for the week

The Hamless Ham
Olivia the Buoytender
John McCain's Dial-Up Modem
Cribbs' Batman Breakfast Omelet Sandwich
Sgt. Slaughter the Stumper
John McCain's Prodigy Chat Room Experience
My Recently Established Male Prostitution Rates
Another Government Bail Out

Vegan Zombie commerce


I feel guilty for not owning a Threadless shirt yet. But then again, I don't feel guilty about not spending $20 (plus shipping) on a T-shirt, no matter how witty and full of hipster cred it may be. The cut off for T-shirt expenditures for me is like $15. I think the last non-thrift store, non-event or roller derby based T-shirt I purchased was in 2001 from Brave New World in TR. Actually, I think my mom bought it for me. Ah, the days when my wardrobe consisted only of name-brand, overpriced surfwear that I had to convince my mom was worth the investment. How foolish they seem now.

Shortly afterward, I discovered the word of The Skinny Fit Shirt and descended deep into its tight, ironic core. I have yet to emerge.

Monday, July 14, 2008

Weather You Like Adam Carroll, It Will Still Rain

Starting in about, say, late May it becomes beyond irrelevant to check the weather forecast for here, because it does not change one iota from day to day. It's a product of the oppressively hot Lowcountry summers, which mix with the air off the water and lead to sporadic, often intense, thunderstorms that will pop up at least once a day toward the latter part of the summer. My tab on Firefox gets dusty during this period, except when I occasionally check the radar map and see if a large blob of easy green or violent red is headed our way.

To illustrate:

Pretty much steady all week long. This is why I never get too bent out of shape when people worry about weekend plans being scrubbed due to rain, as it will reliably rain almost every day, and will usually clear up and return to surface-of-the-sun baking temperatures promptly. Except, of course, for Friday, when the torrential rains of heaven opened up conspiring to both make us miss out on ironically playing the Jesus-themed mini-golf course and laying the groundwork for an impressive, incapacitating hangover Saturday morning.

This was all part of the Adam Carroll (pictured below right) birthday plan, but only a small part. The real adventure comes this weekend on a seven-person adventure to the city of Hotlanta, where upon our eyes will feast on the wonder that is The Dark Knight in IMAX, then feast our bodies upon the nausea that is Six Flags. Meanwhile, his actual birthday is today, though unless I'm watching Christian Bale tower eight stories over me, I don't think it counts yet.

And maybe Heath Ledger's ghost will sing to Adam at some point. Anyway, happy birthday Adam. Let this image be your internet posterity that will forever haunt Google searches of you.

Sunday, July 13, 2008

$20 Worth of Inappropriate Touching

You must be direct when confronted with would-be assholes. This I learned from spending several years behind the counter at game stands on the Jersey boardwalk, where every Vinny and Joey from Long Island thinks they're the first one to ever ask you for a free CD. No, I can't just give you one, I'd say. You have to play the game. And anyway, there's cameras in the stand, and my boss is watching, and the inventory has to check out at the end of every day (none of that was remotely true). By the end of my tenure, it was just easier to say, "No, because I don't want to."

I also learned this lesson from years of being a guy in a world where I have to constantly compete with the image of guydom as portrayed by John Q. Average Barbeast, who is frequently seen treating women in his line of vision in public with all the grace and sophistication of a used car. The girls I've seen successfully respond to Barbeast are direct, unequivocal and uncompromising in their disinterest.

All this came in handy on Wednesday night as I sat at the Metropolitan bar, finding myself on the uncomfortable end of some inappropriate man-groping. Come to think of it, any groping is inappropriate. The scene:

This guy, maybe in his early 40s, who we will refer to as Mayor McGrabhands, walks in, plops down on a bar stool near the door and drops a messy wad of crumpled bills on the bar, like he just grabbed some loose bills out of a charity collection tin. He ordered a Jagermeister, downed it, and started pointing seemingly arbitrarily around the bar, which had maybe five other people in it. He pointed in my direciton once, though I assumed he was pointing to someone behind me that he knew. I turned around and saw no one acknowledging his point. Sign No. 1 of impending trouble.

A few minutes later, he gets up from his seat, walks past me and puts a $20 bill down on the bar next to me, what I assumed was a down payment on a beverage he hoped to order. I was desperately trying not to make eye contact, to no avail, because suddenly I felt a hand rubbing my back in quick circles. Before I could say anything and turn around, he had disappeared off into the bathroom. He left the $20 next to me, and I was determined not to touch it out of fear of some unknown mating ritual it may symbolize.

He returned to his seat after that and grabbed another 20 from his anthill of bills on the bar. He started holding it up and pointing at me. I started wondering if I had in fact inadvertently triggered a secret signal that starts some odd ritual involved in picking up a male prostitute. Like he was supposed to point to the bill, I was supposed to nod, he would order me a drink and we would slip out to his Nissan Altima in the parking lot. If I were gay, this would not be the way to pick me up, fyi.

To wit, I responded, "I don't know what that means, sir." He looked visibly frustrated at this sign, so I breathed a sigh of relief. By this time, a white-haired kindly old gentleman has taken a seat between us, and he and I shared our confusion at McGrabhands' actions. The older gentleman got to experience it firsthand the next time this guy got up to go to the bathroom, because McGrabhands ruffled his hair as he walked past.

"I guess he's just hitting on everyone in the bar, male or female," the guy said, and I chuckled, though I wasn't so sure about the female part. I felt slightly better when upon the return trip from the bathroom, he surprised the girls sitting next to me by slipping his large man hand along the small of one of their backs. "Woah, hey!" she said, more surprised than offended, as she had not been privy to the drama taking place on our side of the bar.

By this time, the man had gotten the attention of the bartender, our friend John. John said he works next door at the hair salon, but he wouldn't hesitate to throw him out if it came to it.

Getting desperate at what he must have seen as his dwindling prospects for the night, McGrabhands then took the seat immediately to my left and locked his stare on me. This situation was clearly only going to end with direct confrontation.

"Hello, can I help you?" I said. "Is there something you need?" he retained the stare, which he must have thought makes a person feel entirely comfortable and at ease with his momentously awkward methods. I turned my gaze back to the front and hoped he would now go away on his own, when, suddenly, The Line was crossed: He had reached over and put his meaty man hand on my upper thigh.

And this is why directness is needed. Because if you live in a world where it's OK to grope someone randomly without any indication that they would find this acceptable, you are not going to respond to demure refusals. "Hey buddy!" I snapped, throwing out the wagging finger of justice as he recoiled. "No, no no!" I told him, the way you scold a child for trying to stick their finger in a socket. "This is a no-touching bar, and you have violated that rule. No touching!"

I turned away and hopped over another seat, while he sat there dumbfounded, dense or obstinate, or possibly all three. John told McGrabhands it may be time for him to leave and slipped into the back room to get the DJ (a much larger, serious-looking man) to prep for a throw-out.

I told John I was bouncing because situation just got too weird. I looked at the bar, and the $20 was still there. After what this guy put me through, I felt no duty to return his cash. I pocketed it.

Then, walking out to the car, after a night of trying to avoid any mixed signals whatsoever, I realized I had just inadvertently set a rate for myself: Twenty dollars will get you a quick grope, nothing more.

Maybe I wasn't direct enough after all.

Friday, July 11, 2008

Column: What's a loud band like you doing in a nice place like this?

(As originally appeared in The Guide, 7/11) — It was a strange feeling last Thursday to be on the way to a concert on Hilton Head Island and considerably excited about it. It was a surreal mixture of emotions, the same feeling you might get if you walked into your elementary school cafeteria one day to discover that instead of cold spaghetti and mystery tacos, they were serving fresh Big Macs and chocolate Fribbles.

This weird cognitive dissonance followed me all the way to the island’s new Shoreline Ballroom to see a concert by Old Crow Medicine Show, a band of young guys who play old-time bluegrass (and with plenty of credibility too — they’re veterans of the festival circuit and spent the following night opening for the Dave Matthews Band in Charleston).

My prior experience with the Hilton Head music scene had been sparse, seeing as there isn’t much of a music scene to experience— which is fine, because that’s not what people come here for. The golf, beaches and restaurants are the big draws, so the island can get away with an overabundance of classic-rock cover bands to entertain vacationers or the occasional Sublime wannabe for the younger crowds.

To find consistently solid live music, the faithful are used to trekking to Charleston (where Bruce Springsteen will be in August), Jacksonville (which hosted Tom Waits last week) and occasionally Savannah (where Cat Power, the Dropkick Murphys and Regina Spektor all stopped recently). It’s called a trade-off, people, and it’s something you come to accept living on a serene resort island. The plays, orchestra performances and art shows are aimed at an older crowd, and the rest of us sit on the beach and cope.

So you’ll pardon the skid marks I left on the ground after entering the Shoreline when I looked at a poster of possible upcoming acts on the wall and saw some names that I assumed were a mirage my brain created after three years in the live music desert.

I rubbed my eyes, and it was still there: Under the heading “In the Works” were several bands I’d not only seen, but actually driven as far away as Orlando to catch live. It was a wishlist, for sure, but the sheer ambition of going after bands like the Drive-By Truckers, Of Montreal, Z.Z. Top and B.B. King is impressive in its own right.

One name stood out as a surely a ludicrous typo: Ted Leo and the Pharmacists. These D.C.-area punks have toured small clubs nationally for years, occasionally riding the coattails of a larger band like Pearl Jam on bigger tours. And I was pretty sure that no one outside the small circle of music nerds I know had any idea who they were. But make no mistake, they will rock your teeth back into your skull.

So what would they be doing on Hilton Head?

We asked the Shoreline staff, and they said that there was indeed a good chance the band will make an appearance on the island with slightly more radio-friendly punks Against Me. The staffer we talked to said the owner has experience booking bigger acts in Columbia, and is testing the waters on Hilton Head. “We’re trying to make it a little more exciting,” she said.

When you think about it, it’s not hard to believe the island could sustain a thriving music venue. The island’s crowds are getting younger. Shows could draw from Beaufort and Savannah, which is stocked with a profusion of hipster kids, though the town is woefully underserved by music venues.

Plus, you can sell it to acts as a vacation trip, a quick detour. Call up Leo, and suggest he take a nice beach vacation to rest up from all that power political punk. Maybe throw in some golf, a few steak and seafood dinners, and you’ve got yourself a deal. This would work better, of course, if Ted Leo wasn’t a vegan. Let’s hope he likes the beach.

Related: I interterviewed Ted Leo (and recorded his outgoing voice mail message) a year ago for no apparenent reason.

Tuesday, July 8, 2008

A Leg up

You see strange things sitting on the beach, particularly on July 4 weekend at the busiest touron beach on the entire island. Here is where you see all the people in socks and gold necklaces, here is where you witness people sprinting across the beach with their feet shooting flames like a Bugs Bunny cartoon because they didn't realize the sand gets hot; and here is where the rinse cycle of the traffic circles deposits the contents of the SUVs and minivans who have been orbiting in a nearly inescapable loop for four hours until they realize the circle has EXITS.

So far be it for me to be surprised by anything that comes along. Yet on Saturday, I was sitting at Coligny (against my better judgment) and saw a man, walking up the beach, with a fake leg — complete with sock and shoe — in one hand and another sock and shoe combo in the other hand. This causes one to ask questions, none of which leads to good thoughts. Where is the person who belongs to this leg? What are they doing that they don't need a leg, or, at least, one of their shoes? And why was this man walking away with it, as, regardless of whatever activity they may be doing, they would surely require a leg upon its completion?

Later in the day, we spotted it: an old woman was walking back up from the beach, with prosthetic leg attached. Seems she had just been out for a dip in these warm South Carolina waters. And who has a problem with that? Not me. But had the guy walking up the beach been followed by a mad, hopping woman swinging an umbrella and shouting expletives in his direction, I wouldn't have been surprised either.

Sunday, July 6, 2008

Things We Lost In the Smash

The items that G smashed last night, in order:
Pork and beans
Mashed potatoes
Some sort of red substance (strawberry sundae sauce, I think)
Cottage cheese
Cottage cheese in container
Potato salad
Lettuce stuffed with flour
Birthday cake (into the faces of children assembled on stage)
Mashed potatoes (again)
Spaghetti Os
More watermelons

Then he let other people smash things, including a cavalcade of kids he let have at a bunch of watermelons.

I'm probably going to write a column or something about this next week, but suffice it to say the show was enjoyable, particularly in the vein of things on Hilton Head that are supposed to be entertaining end up being about as exciting as burned carpet. He was crude, witty, mean, snarky, gross, silly, clever and woefully dated on issues that haven't challenged the mass paradigm since Bush 1 was vomiting on heads of state. He certainly hates the French, could do without the Mexicans, and had lots to say about "these Arabs" and "the homosexuals." Good times. Luckily, there were none of the above in the room.

But despite all those perhaps off-color comments, I was impressed that each time he went on a seemingly un-PC rant, at least it was to set up a joke. He wasn't just slinging blind comments about slutty girls or whatnot around. Example: he asked what the hell is wrong with these girls who get tattoos. "Girls, you're not supposed to get tattoos!" He railed specifically against girls with tats on their lower back, and said butterflies there were particularly stupid. This drew loud applause from some parts of the crowd, though not my plus-one Ginny, who has a tattoo of butterflies on her lower back.

Then the joke: "It's like the butterflies think your ass is a daffodil!"

This made me laugh, lightly. Had it just been a rant against girls with tattoos, I would have asked the person next to me politely why I was suddenly in my grandfather's living room in 1974.

After the show, I went closer to the stage to take a cell phone pic, where I slipped and nearly took a face dive into the plastic-covered floor now swimming in bits of watermelon, side dishes and canned Italian food products. This would have significantly changed my opinion of the night.

Friday, July 4, 2008

The Gospel According to Gallagher

I swear I will write about other things besides Gallagher on this blog. Someday.

(As originally appeared in The Guide, 7/4) — Gallagher wants to be known as more than the Smashing Comedian. This is why we spent the first 10 minutes of our interview talking about anything other than comedy, watermelons or his upcoming performance on Hilton Head Island.

Gallagher was in Atlanta on Tuesday, you see, trying to meet with Mayor Shirley Franklin to discuss his proposal for a "family reunion resort," a place specifically designed for families to visit and reconnect. (He did manage to get in a three-night stint at the Punchline, an Atlanta comedy club, as well.)

OK, there was some talk about smashing: smashing atoms. Gallagher also had plans to meet with physicists at Georgia Tech to talk about some of his subatomic particle ideas, and he does have several. America dropped the ball on doing research into the atom after World War II, he said. Why in this time of energy crisis, he wants to know, isn't America looking at atomic energy? "Isn't it America's tradition to be the pioneer?" Gallagher said.

As for helping people understand electrons, protons and the dangers of CT scans or cell phones, he's got ideas for subatomic particle action figures and Pokemon-type cards to help kids get interested.

If all this sounds a far cry from the on-stage persona of Gallagher -- the long-haired, striped-shirt melon smasher who brought prop comedy to new heights before Carrot Top even sprouted -- it really shouldn't. His stage show is zany and goofy, but it also includes some modicum of social commentary. The whole Sledge-o-Matic thing became his trademark, but underneath the watermelon bits and pound cake ("I guess it does!") was a critique of consumerism. Free thought is his call to action, and he spent part of our interview railing against people who follow blind trends or submit to the corporate mindset.

"People think I'm odd because I have passions. That's what's missing today in everyday life," he said. "If you're smart or kind of passionate about an idea, they think you're kind of silly. Americans are supposed to be individuals who want to express themselves."

To that end, Gallagher still does about 100 shows a year, in between making online environmental videos under the name Uncle Earth and working on other film projects. "I'm working my way down," he said. But, he says, at least he can work on some of these side projects at each stop.

"I like traveling. I don't mind having a deductible reason to fly to these towns," he said. He's been to Hilton Head before early in his career, as a roadie for musical comedian Jim Stafford, who played a small bar in 1974.

In his heyday of TV specials, Gallagher poked fun at the absurdities of culture and language, asking, for instance, why we park in a driveway and drive on a parkway and why cargo goes by boat but a shipment goes by truck. He said he's evolved his act over the years because comedy always must surprise.

"Comedians have to push the envelope of what's acceptable to get a rise out of the audience," he said. "People are so stimulated these days, so it's hard."

He cited a few examples of such overstimulation: kids with their underwear hanging out, girls with gaudy tattoos and parents who buy cars larger than members of the military drive.

"That's what I do: I poke at people and show them what they're doing. I'm supposed to be an uninvolved third party that gives them a fresh view of their life."

The props are still part of the show -- and he has the ones he's used over the years stored in Los Angeles. He makes his own Sledge-o-Matic and has several of them stashed in airport baggage ("I think baggage handlers recognize its my luggage and keep it").

His hallmark smashy-smashy bit also is still part of the show, but now he lets kids or other audience members come up and swing the mallet.

"It was the next step to take," he said. "They want to say that they not only came to the show but they got to smash. You've got to change with the times. You've got to add new and exciting things."

Wednesday, July 2, 2008

Why I Buy Clothes at Thrift Stores

Because stores sell things like this:
That's $285 for a pair of jeans. Jeans covered in paint. Jeans covered in paint that will probably be worn by someone who has never done a day of manual labor in their life. Jawesome.

Don't Call Us Office Drones

Thanks to Colin McEnroe of The Hartford Courant for reminding people that newspaper jobs aren't supposed to be like regular 9-to-5 rat mazes. He wrote last week about, you guessed it, the general sense of malaise that is driving journalists into alcoholism (well, further into alcoholism) over the past few months. Other reporters may hate some of these, but McEnroe hits on the essence of the business that I know I and other reporters signed up for when we felt the rush of our first stories. Some of my best nights have been in the newsroom until midnight or later. Also, I hate getting up early:

1. REGAIN YOUR SENSE OF URGENCY. One problem with newspapers -- not just The Courant -- is that they're often a little a boring. They go for days and days without a "Holy S--t!" story on page one. There are ways to address this. One of them is to put the g-d paper together at night. If you're a morning newspaper and there aren't a hell of a lot of reporters and editors in the building at 11 p.m., something is wrong. The building should be damn near empty until 2 p.m. and full until 11. But somewhere a long the way, newspaper jobs gradually started to resemble other white collar jobs. They lost some of their romance and replaced it with comfort and security. We all wanted to go home to the suburbs, have a glass of wine, interact with our spouses and kids. Much better for our lives but probably not for newsgathering. (Meanwhile, cable news and the internet actually tightened up the news cycles -- people now expect to be updated fast.) If the news staff is going to be an elite strike force, it had better include a lot of workaholics and night owls.

The next suggestion I think deserves more credit than people realize. Some papers have requirements for their reporters to live in their coverage area; we don't have that, but there's definitely an advantage to be a member of the community you cover — you find out tips and background info when you're out at the bars on a weekend, you see the same traffic delays and drainage problems that your readers do and you have an important sense of connection to your community:

2. A FEW OF YOU MUST MOVE TO HARTFORD! When I started out at the Courant, you know how many Courant reporters lived in Hartford? Most of them! I could give you names and names! A whole bunch of us lived on Zion Street, of all places.Three or four different staffers bought houses on Madison Street and, under somewhat terrifying conditions, tried to rehab them. We drank in Hartford bars. We partied in Hartford apartments. We got arrested by Hartford police. Andy Kreig's New Year's Eve party in Frog Hollow was terrifying! Do you know how many Courant reporters and editors live in Hartford now? Very few.
...You see, suburbs are, also, really, really boring. That's why people like to live there. That's why it's really big news when anything dire happens there.

And this one just seems to make sense, to me at least. Why, for instance, is the Washington Post OK with David Broder and Tony Kornheiser, two of their biggest names, taking buyouts? Apply this to another industry: "Hey, the Cavs are in trouble this year — let's buyout LeBron's contract to spend money making viral web videos for the Cavaliers Web site!"
But there's probably a reason I'm not running a newspaper (other than having no desire to take up what is surely a completely thankless and tiresome job):

3. KEEPING THE ABOVE IN MIND, LOCK UP A FEW FRANCHISE PLAYERS. I will never understand the newspaper industry's love of buyouts. You lose good people that way -- people you might have been able to keep. The Courant still has a few dozen people who are so good that they can maintain the paper's brand name. They're smarter and more skilled than any comparable group you could assemble from local TV, radio, other papers and blogs. But that's getting to be a closer and closer call every time the paper downsizes. There are now people that the Courant really cannot afford to give up. You gotta have that strike force of smart, aggressive, skilled, knowledgeable, workaholic blue chippers. You almost can't afford to lose even one of them in this round of cuts.

The Internets Have Spies in This Watermelon

After the interview with aforementioned watermelon-smashing comedian yesterday (which went phenomenally. See below.), I got a call from his publicist. She said, "Hey, I wanted to ask you something. I found this on the internet yesterday..." Then she proceeded to read the entirety of the previous blog post back to me, putting particular emphasis on the part where I copy and pasted her e-mail into the blog.
"Is this you? There's no name on it."

Uh-oh. I came clean and said that indeed that rambling belonged to me. Then I hemmed and hawed for a minute, blubbering something about it being a "private blog" that's not really public (which is the definition of "private" of course. College!) They have one of those internet scrubber services that finds any mention of Mr. SmashPants (I'm not using his name so I don't get fingered again). I quickly changed the subject to ask to get on the guest list for the show. This is why I love moonlighting as an entertainment journalist: it's a vacation from the rigid (and warranted) ethics of the newsdesk, where I've turned down everything from lunches to cake to free comedy passes to skybox access to five free Chipotle burritos (I almost cracked on that one. Would five burritos have been worth my journalistic soul? That depends on whether they were out of guacomole).

Anyway, the interivew with Gallacres was tremendous. We spent the first 10 minutes talking about nothing that had anything to do with comedy, watermelons, Hilton Head or the 1980s. Did you know that subatomic particles can be an alternate energy source? Neither did I. But I know someone who does. And he wants you to know all about it.