Friday, October 31, 2008

Best Halloween Costumes?

Question for everyone who reads this thing (Hi mom and Barry!): what's your best Halloween costume ever?

I had a pretty sweet set up as a kid since my mom was into sewing and was always up for the challenge every year. Off to the Rag shop we'd jaunt in early October and pick out a pattern along with associated cloth and other materials. This led to many intricate, often awesome costumes that included:
• Batman
• Beetlejuice
• Astronaut (excellent use of the Ghostbusters proton pack toy as a space prop)
• Mummy (though the ensemble was unconvincing in the rain jacket my dad made me wear)
And many others I'm forgetting now. Then I got into the mask phase, the highlight of which was the year I went as a werewolf in a mask WITH EYES THAT LIT UP RED!! Some kind of jawesome, that was.

But here's my best:

• The Pink Panther
Yes, I understand that maybe this sounds a little Proposition 8-ish now, but first of all I was 7, so calm the hell down, and more importantly, this costume blew the doors off the competition. I used to bring it to summer camp for costume contest day and endured the brutal summer heat to come out victorious three years in a row. Then I finally lost to one of the camp counselor's kids who was dressed as something dumb like Raggedy Ann or something. Funny how those kinds of things happen.

I always went back and forth between Halloween and Christmas as my favorite holidays growing up. Halloween rises to the top of the holiday pile solely because it's the only holiday that really makes you exercise your creativity muscles.
I'll post my costume this year here once it all comes together. Also, I'd like to note that I dressed as the Joker in sophomore year, LONG BEFORE Heath Ledger was even wooing Julia Stiles. And I was good, damnit.

So in the spirit of the most creative holiday, what's your best?

Tuesday, October 28, 2008

Trivia team names for the week

Hot Dog Sticks
• Submerged Groin*
• Easy Jesus Keeps Us Warm*
• Teary-Eyed Handjob
• Save a Gumball. Buy Bluffton Today
Fluff: Now 25 Cents a Serving
• Tsopping Whet Phanatics
• Jeremy Hsieh's Dead Deer Stew
• The Angry Arby's Employee Revenge
• Has Anyone Seen My B-Shaped Branding Iron?
• Communist Mani-pesto
• I'll Redistribute Your Barack-O-Lantern All Over This Sidewalk

* Used in competition

Monday, October 27, 2008

The Outworld vote is on lock

I've been bothered by the suprising lack of Baraka references during this election, particularly as all the discussion of "taking the gloves off" and "shoving knives into the other guy's throat" really ramped up in the past few weeks.

Finally, the kids over at OMG Lists (a site I appreciate for its unrepentant embrace of the quick-hit list meme that other sites try to disguise as sound research or, worse yet, journalism) have got my back.

6 Awesome Characters With Names Like Barack

2- Baraka from ''Mortal Kombat''

How they're similar:

They've both been accused of hanging out with the wrong crowd. Barack has been criticized for "palling around" with former terrorist William Ayers, while Baraka has been proven to be an associate of definite dark overlord Shao Khan.

How they're different:

Barack may be strong, but he doesn't have large blades growing out of his arms. Otherwise, those ''terrorist fist jabs'' would hurt.

This list also makes sweet reference love to Brak from Space Ghost and Brock Sampson from The Venture Brothers. All of this is a very important element of our political discourse, especially since it appears we are entering the "FINISH HIM" stage of the election.

Side note: I think Michelle would probably look pretty deadly in the Jade outfit. Just saying.

The Wisconsin State Journal will rule us all

Newspaper circulation numbers were released today and all the top 25 papers are dropping circ like hot anvils, and everything is bleak, and the internet still exists, and yadda yadda yadda so forth and so on.

Here's an interesting stat in the numbers however: the top 25 papers that actually gained circulation. Note that only two of them are large (above 90,000) and only four others are above 50,000. I'd love to know what the Wisconsin State Journal has done to boost their numbers 10 percent this year.

Meanwhile, the nation's elite class of newspapers — the ones with the resources and talent that traditionally produce in-depth, groundbreaking work — are all losing readers, sometimes precipitously (AJC lost 13 percent this year; The Philly Inky lost 11 percent). Meanwhile, these smaller papers in smaller markets have been able to gain some traction. You could hypothesize that this is the future fate of newspapers, that the ones in small markets will survive, even thrive, since many are the only news and information source for the local community. But it makes you wonder: what do people think to themselves when they stop picking up the Washington Post or the New York Times? Is it that the journalism is better in these smaller markets, or that the paper in those areas is still just too indispensible a part of people's lives? Will they ultimately suffer the same fate as the biggest 25, just on a longer timeline?

Here's the numbers (via Fitz and Jen at E&P):

WISCONSIN STATE JOURNAL -- 97,012 -- 10.61%
MACOMB DAILY (MICH.) -- 46,014 -- 9.40%
THE VILLAGES DAILY SUN (FLA.) -- 30,616 -- 6.98%
TRENTON TIMES (N.J.) -- 53,303 -- 5.34%

FARGO FORUM (N.D.) -- 49,834 -- 4.70%
BOWLING GREEN DAILY NEWS (KY.) -- 20,804 -- 4.01%
MAUI NEWS (HAWAII) -- 20,887 -- 3.99%
SANTE FE NEW MEXICAN -- 25,616 -- 3.70%

IRON MOUNTAIN DAILY NEWS* (MICH.) -- 9,303 -- 3.69%
ELKINS INTER-MOUNTAIN* (W.VA.) -- 10,583 -- 3.67%
CHAMPAIGN NEWS-GAZETTE* (ILL.) -- 41,578 -- 3.21%
DESERET MORNING NEWS (UTAH) -- 71,133 -- 2.09%
SANTA MARIA TIMES (CALIF.) -- 18,823 -- 2.08%

ERIE TIMES-NEWS (PA.) -- 56,124 -- 1.81%
BEND BULLETIN (ORE.) -- 32,951 -- 1.79%
PARK HILLS DAILY JOURNAL* (MO.) -- 8,023 -- 1.79%
QUAD-CITY TIMES (IOWA) -- 50,820 -- 1.66%

BEAVER COUNTY TIMES (PA.) -- 39,417 -- 1.55%
ARIZONA DAILY SUN -- 11,292 -- 1.54%
SOUTHERN ILLINOISAN -- 26,256 -- 1.50%
BATON ROUGE ADVOCATE (LA.) -- 92,030 -- 1.35%

Interesting note: Ken Doctor at Content Bridges points the finger at the quality of the content. Makes sense to me:
One big reason the numbers are declining is the product itself. In the last year, we've seen unprecedented cuts in the product -- and the customers are noticing. It looks like the amount of newsprint is down about 10-15%; some in stories, some in ads. Trusted bylines have disappeared overnight. Readers notice, and talk to their friends, and they're saying: it's not the newspaper it used to be. When the subscription notices come, they're a little less likely to be acted upon.

Tuesday, October 21, 2008

Mooo York City?!!

Ladies and gentlemen, if I say I am not exaggerating, you will agree. This is how 90 percent of the conversations with sources and other people on Hilton Head have transpired over the past two weeks when I tell them I'm moving:

Me: I'm leaving y'all soon.
Source: Really? Where are you going?
Me: New York City to try to find a new writing job.
Source (flummoxed): New York City?!!
Me: Uh ... yeah.

I might as well have said I'm leaving this backwater planet to go find work on the orbiting space station.

Every time someone says it, I can't help but think of this Pace salsa commercial that was all over my TV in the 80s. It was one of those ads that stuck deep in the psyche, so that when ever my mom told my dad she was going into the city for the weekend, my friend and I would shoot our heads out from the bedroom and shout: "Moooo York City?!!" And laugh heartily before returning trying to figure out what the hell all these extra buttons did in Super Mario World.

Here, for nostalgia:

Apparently, they revived this ad campaign in 2004.

Reflections from a First-Ever Camping Trip

One of my biggest frustrations growing up (besides the shortness, the tragically underweight stature, the lack of any discernible ability at any of the common playground sports beyond wall ball and the insistent brief mortality of all pets, including three rabbits and a cat) was the lack of any camping in my life. I even joined up with the Boy Scouts for a few years, starting in Cub Scouts and on until you get that weird uniform with the half tie and the badges for things like "Moonwalking" and "Keeping out the Gays."

But we never went camping. Never even talked about it. My other friends in other troops would come back to school on Monday with tales of wildernesses conquered and marshmallows s'smored, shiny new badges bragging from their chests about new achievements in "Successful Outdoor Bowels Evacuation" and "Wiping with Leaves (special honors)."

The problem was, I fear, our scout master, who was our friend's mom, Mrs. Perkowski. And, look, I'm not saying this to be sexist in the least bit, but it is what it is: all the other troops were led by other kids' dads. I'm fine with a mom leading us, but our meetings tended to stick to the more homemakerish activities: sewing, crafts, cooking ... some light ironing (OK, not that last one, I don't think). Other kids were out learning how you can skin a badger with a plastic knife in a pinch and creating small subatomic explosions with chemistry sets; we were inside playing "Mother, May I?" Divergence: Holy crap, did you know there's a merit badge for journalism? I just discovered this. Here's one of the requirements that probably turns kids to attempt the Disabilities Awareness badge instead:
Find out about three career opportunities in journalism. Pick one and find out the education, training, and experience required for this profession. Discuss this with your counselor, and explain why this profession might interest you.
Anyway, we never got to camping, an omission of my youth that severely limits the amount and veracity of believeable first-person Jersey Devil stories I can share. My family also never seemed interested in it. In fact, I can never remember the subject ever coming up. Family vacations were, in rough dates and order that I can remember:

1988: Disney World
1989: Hershey Park, Pa.
1990: Busch Gardens/Colonial Williamsburg Va.
1991: Disney World
1994: Disney World
1995: Random time share in New Hampshire
1996: Wildwood, NJ
1998: Dominican Republic

Upon telling my friends that the family was going to New Hampshire that one year, my friends' response was: "Oh, you're going camping?"
Um, not exactly. We stayed at a time share I think my grandparents traded something for, went to a water park and visited the Funspot, an awesome arcade I would not understand the full importance of until watching King of Kong many, many years later. I stole a skeeball from some place nearby and gave it to a friend as a souvenir.

So camping was never in the cards, just as neither were skiing, snowboarding or European travel. And that's fine because it wasn't our family's thing, and my parents did the best they could, plus we had little to complain about in the grand scheme of things. The bonus is that it now gives me all the opportunity of approaching new things with child like wonder at this late stage in life. Like, assuming I ever get to Europe before they cut off any more incoming American travel, I can go all Harry-Potter-fanboy crazy excitement overload if I get to visit a real castle. Or if I ever go skiing, the sensation of running face-first into a 100-year-old oak tree lined with porcupine spines (as is sure to happen. See aforementioned lack of athleticism) will be slightly overshadowed by the new thrill of this crazy mountain death sport.

And, when I finally got to go camping last weekend, it was pretty supertime fun jamboree. Note: I do not consider camping at music festivals as actual "camping," because any place where the late-night sounds of Daft Punk wafting across the grounds lull you to sleep is hardly the great outdoors.

Somehow this weekend I was the only one present at first who sorta knew how to start a campfire, despite lack of previous camping experience (thank you beachfront bonfires using pieces of dune fence, multiple conflagrations at Ally's cabin). It was hardly roughing it, and it was only for a night, but much memories were made, and only several minor injuries were tallied.

Here are some reflections:

• That pile of old newspapers dominating the backseat of nearly every reporter's car makes great kindling.
• A competing newspaper, particularly one that is available at the camp supply store for free, also makes excellent additional kindling.
• If someone sitting near you at the campfire calls your cell phone late at night, do not answer. It is a ploy that will end in you being tackled into mud.
• My boycott of shopping at Wal-Mart continues to be vindicated.
• Roasted bananas filled with chocolate are now the official vegetarian substitute for s'mores.
Official Park Ranger stance is you are not supposed to drink in the campground under any circumstances. But really only if he can smell it as you walk by. Unless you are 21 and have your ID on you. Even if you don't, it's still not allowed, I guess. Look, just pour one of your cups out and continue on your way. Thanks.
• The smell of campfire smoke does not come off for at least three days (and counting).
• I am apparently a jerk when it comes to informing people we need more wood for the fire.
• You don't need religion (or a blanket) when you've got the Easy Jesus.

All of these skills will come in handly when I'm a homeless person in New York City. Do you get a merit badge for learning how to start a trash can fire? I'm all over it.

photo credits top to bottom:; J. Hsieh personal collection;

Friday, October 17, 2008

Editors blame Canda

Original lede on my story today:
Don’t blame Canada. It may be the solution to what looks like a rough year ahead for the tourism industry on Hilton Head Island.
With financial woes brewing fears about shrinking tourism dollars, marketing officials are looking to the north to tap new visitors who are less affected by the shifting economic situation.

Lede as it appeared in today's paper:
Canada might be the solution to what looks like a rough year ahead for the tourism industry on Hilton Head Island.
With fears about shrinking tourism dollars, marketing officials are looking to the north to tap new visitors who are less affected by the economic downturn.

Sigh. This hardly qualifies as risk taking, but maybe I should quit this place already and try something more exciting.


Wednesday, October 15, 2008

Tuesday, October 14, 2008

John McCain: So Lost Without You

A McCain/Palin mailer arrived in our mailbox one day last week. As we do with all political mailings, I put it on display in a prominent position in our living room. Just so happens we already had a copy of Air Supply's 1985 self-titled album atop our entertainment center (you can ask why we had this there, but I assure you there is no good reason for it, other than its milk-crate-and-mullet combo called out to me from the thrift store rack). I placed the mailer atop the album and sat on the couch when, what to my wondering eyes should appear, but a near-perfect convergence of necklines and head space over the bodies of Graham Russell and Russell Hitchcock:

Here are the originals:

And there's more: the same week this arrived in the mail, Air Supply is scheduled to perform right here on Hilton Head. Coincidence?? Or secret crap-rock right wing cabal? The only way to find out is to go to the concert, so we will never, ever, ever know the answer.

Also, if you hit play on the album at the beginning of McCain's convention speech, "All Out of Love" syncs up perfectly with the last two weeks of his campaign.

Thursday, October 9, 2008

The Big Plunge

I found myself in an odd, nearly surreal position a few weeks back. There I sat, looking directly into the eyes of a job offer at a significantly larger paper, on a good beat, for more money, in a nice area, with some room to grow and explore, and with absolutely no desire to take the job.

The job was undeniably a step up the ladder I put in front of myself way back in high school, when I first felt the hot bite of the newspaper bug and immersed myself in the mystique of the newsroom, the clack of the keyboard bouncing off the walls, phones slammed down with harried aggression by bedraggled reporters, my own phone ringing at a late hour with an irate editor at the other end, demanding more information, more questioning, bellowing on about standards and printability; then the satisfying smack of the paper on the front porch the next morning with my name in small print across the front page topped by some dramatic headline, the ego always kept in check by the quick yellowing decay of day-old newsprint, the knowledge that each day's achievements are only as good as the next day's deadlines.

I loved it. Still do. The problem is, it doesn't exist any more. Or maybe it does still exist only in the hearts of the dedicated printies, those with ink and fire in their veins, the people whose idealism is being strangled to death every day by the latest budget cutbacks, staff shortages, shrinking news hole and general top-down malaise infecting the newspaper industry that makes a newsroom about as cheery a place to work as a factory that produces greeting cards for dead pets. Those people are still out there, the ones with good ideas, the energy, the talented enthusiasm and dedication to a higher purpose and an understanding of the damned importance of the journalism newspapers provide that should have drawn us all to this profession in the first place. Honest truth is: we are being shunned away from the industry in droves by an overarching mindset stuck in the old model of journalism, when newspapers were fat with advertising wealth and market dominance, and technology was seen as an annoyance rather than a tool. At too many papers, it was too common for everyone to enjoy their privileged perch atop the world of information purveyance, never stopping to see the ripples of evolution rocking the foundation. (The music industry went through the same thing, fyi. So don't say we couldn't see it coming.)

With salary freezes, job cuts, shrinking circulation and a future strategy that is focused on paying off creditors instead of trying to regain ground, what incentive is there for us to stay?

I sat in that interview in Virginia and asked the editors point blank "What are your ideas to turn this thing around?" and "What is the plan??" only to have them look back at me, shift papers on their desk and say things to the effect of, Well, , uh, we need to hold on to the readers that we have, we need to keep providing the top-quality product we've always produced, we need to redesign to attract younger readers, we're experimenting with web video, and so on with the same thing I've heard echoed from coast to coast, A section to the classifieds.

I kept after the line of questioning, not something I was doing to impress my interviewers with tenacity. It was the only action I could harness to repress my inner voice wanting to scream: "That's not enough."

And it isn't. The strategy for newspapers to save themselves at this point, according to every person I've heard from at my paper and others, from low editors to top executives, from three years ago to just last week, is the following:

1) Offer readers shorter stories
2) Offer readers fewer of those stories
3) Hire less staff to cover a smaller area
4) Provide your staff with a smaller pool of resources with which to do their jobs
5) Charge more for the product
6) Add superfluous video to newspaper Web sites
7) Wait with open arms for readers to return

I'm not a business person, but that strategy seems redonkulous to me, and I have yet to see any evidence to disabuse me of that notion. I'm not in the position to say I have all the answers (though several people have proposed many good ideas that deserve review), but at our paper alone, the fact that every day we walk through the door isn't a Defcon 2 lockdown all-hands-on-deck affair trying to figure out how to turn this ship around is baffling to me. How long do you let yourself keep getting smacked by cannonballs until you stop worrying about bailing out the water and start returning fire, or, at least, turning in the other direction?

The editor from Virginia called me back a week later. How would I feel about taking on an crucial beat out in Suffolk? We need someone who can dig into things, she said, and you'd be a perfect fit.

I thought about it and talked to her again. I just can't do it, I said, the echo of the response surprising even a part of myself still. I need to find something else. Newspapers are clearly not the answer. Not the way they've been handled, not the way they're set up now, not with the stubborn impediments to progress that are frustrating our generation with no end in sight.

And that was it. That phone call was essentially my break up with the newspaper industry (at least for the short term). And that bitch still had my CDs.

So then the big decision lumbered back into the picture: what the hell else are you supposed to do when the only industry you've ever had interest in no longer is viable? I bounced around several ideas that included the obligatory trip-to-Europe-to-find-myself-or-at-least-someone-who-looks-like-me, or moving to the ATL to live with Cribbs and Pouya and turn freelance tricks for any john publication willing to pay. Neither seemed to click as the immediate answer.

I knew I couldn't stay here, on Hilton Head, this quiet rock I've lived on for damn near four years, where I've gathered an intricate collection of life experiences, heartbreak and help, but where the tank on challenges and excitement has long since run dry.

After a period of heavy thinking, er, heavy drinking ... that is to say, heavy thinking while also drinking ... and consultation with friends, my spinning Twister blade stopped and I realized uncertain times call for uncertain measures.

New York City.

The plunge into the center of it all, the beating heart of the beast, in search of something different on lost city streets or in the shadow of shiny skyscrapers, where the great sum of creative forces amass before trickling down to all the rest. The goal is Brooklyn, an interesting place with interesting people, where lots of friends and associates have already landed and made a successful go of it since college.

The action came hot and fast after that. I told the Packet I was quitting effective Nov. 4, the latest in a stream of resignations, and that they had best get a replacement ready. I called my mom and told her the plan, and she reacted with a sort of verbal shrug of the shoulders, a surprised complacency. You always seem to land on your feet, she said. I sighed with relief back at her and silently hoped she was right.

I spread the word at work and started reaching out to any and all contacts in the city. My boss's first thoughts were to give me the name of a good soup kitchen. True story: St. Anna's near Rockefeller Center, he said.
"Do you know this from experience, Fitz?"
"Well ... no, no. I just know the guy..."

Sure you do. (Note: I just Googled this and am not sure if it is a real place or not.)

The nerve-wracking part is that I have no job leads, no housing arrangements and pitifully (I do mean pitifully) little money saved up, even less so maybe after this weekend when I stepped on this dude's over-priced Quicksilver sunglasses and may have to buy him a new pair.

All I've got right now is the pledge of a few couches to sleep on, a familiarity with the regular content of Brooklyn Vegan, some friends who are making a living in some writing related fields in the city and a tall pile of clips that I've got no choice but to put full faith in at this point. Surprisingly, no one has advised me that this idea is a bad one, or even warned against incautious career evacuation. A handful of my editors were even visibly exuberant at the thought, saying things like, "I wish I could do that too," and, "What a great idea." Mostly I'm sure this is meant to either console my soon to be homeless sorrow, or to reflect their joy at being able to hire a newer reporter at lower pay rate.

Part of me always knew I'd end up in the city at one point or another (I also have the same assumptions about California, where I was heartily applying for jobs up through this summer), possibly a byproduct of growing up in Jersey, the gleaming heights and roar of the subway train just a school field trip's journey away at all times, the excitement always bleeding over state lines and down to our suburban enclaves. I was in the habit for awhile of telling all creative types I met that I'd see them again when we crossed paths in the city, the terminus everyone must pass through.

About Nov. 10 or so, I'll pack up my tiny red Saturn, having sold most of my large belongings to the new reporter taking over my bedroom in the apartment, point the car north and plunge into the great unknown, the wild tumult of houselessness and funemployment (the new buzz euphemism) and all the excitement that is being an wandering journalist full of pent-up writing vigor, searching desperately for an outlet.

Cut to Paul Mitchell's house days later, my birthday actually, when his parents weren't home and we climbed a ladder up onto the roof of his dock house, ignoring the warnings of instability broadcast by the tequila warming inside our stomachs, us gripping tightly on to the ridges of the slightly sloping roof that was thankfully, maybe presciently, made of a sturdy, non-slip material.

It was Hsieh and I up there this time, and, as we crouched on the roof facing over the black expanse of Broad Creek, we decided to jump in toast to our different adventures on the 15-foot drop. I rocked on my heels and threw myself off the perch feet first, opening my lungs to a mad scream of "BROOKLYN!" stretching out to the vast patch of marshland in the distance, with Hsieh a second behind chasing after his echo of a hurried "ALASKA!", both screams tearing through the silence that buffeted the still creek-front houses. We hit the water with a quick splash and I sunk deep into all the salty memories of the last four years, the edges lined with waving marsh grass and the top crowned in Spanish moss dripping in to give everything that sleepy, dream-like quality.

I swam to the dock to hoist myself out of the brackish creek, its waters still not hinting at fall even in the bottom of a September night.

It's these things about Hilton Head I'll miss the most. But my time here has come to an end.

[photo credits, bottom up: 1) Jay Karr, 9/30/08; 2) personal collection, 11/07; 3) Social Security Administration; 4); 5)]

Justifications for Avoiding Going into the Newsroom

(Oct. 9 edition)

• Construction at or near my desk, designed to hide death spasms of newspaper with cosmetic improvements
• "Married With Children" marathon on Spike I was able to watch during lunch hour
• Gas prices? Sure, probably
• Need to visit Hilton Head's only "adult" store for work purposes upon opening at 3 p.m.
• The unbearable horror of refrigerator clean out day, and other corporate nonsense that make me never want to work in an office again

Here's a list I made today, based on true events.

Responsibilities of an HR Director, As Divined Through Our Company E-Mails

• Announce refrigerator clean out
• Warn of items that will be removed during refrigerator clean out
• Decide on date for second notice of refrigerator clean out
• Announce general work space clean out
• Post fliers in hallways announcing general work space clean out
• Consult on locations for bins during work space clean out
• Cut health insurance benefits
• Consult Euphemism Dictionary for words to replace "drastic care reduction," "triplicate cost increase," and "no raises this year"
• Inspect refrigerator post-clean out
• Procurement of flu shot reservations from interested staff members
• Ensure that every time sheet is filled out each pay period
• Denote members of the staff who have failed to fill out their time sheet each pay period
• Organize charity function that costs more than the money that will be raised
• Post fliers announcing upcoming charity function

Wednesday, October 8, 2008

A Graphical Depiction of Productivity

Sigh. If only I were kidding. The Legend of Zelda music. Is. Still. Awesome.

EDIT: I guess I should have added "Creating bar graph" to that also.


I challenge you to find a euphoria greater than the one that immediately proceeds successfully fighting your bank on an overdraft fee. That $35 lands back in your account like warm cocoa cascading down an icy winter's throat chaffed with the bitter winds and sharp daggers of arctic chaos. Huh? That's nonsense. I'm clearly still delirious with the ecstasy. Especially since the overdraft was for a charge of FIFTEEN EFFING CENTS. And, let's be serious, Bank of America (and any bank really) isn't in a position to be pissing off customers these days.

Tuesday, October 7, 2008

Debate Drinking Game No. 2

Yikes, putting "my friends" on this list was alcohol poisoning, as Sam McDowell put it. Here's our rules for this debate tonight. Unexpected things we should have put on the list: "overhead projector," "that one," references to various people who are the role models for McCain, condescending reference to minority audience member's lack of knowledge of major financial institutions.

one drink
if anyone says...

Main street
Wall street
my friends
Kitchen table
middle class
-anyone shakes head in disbelief
"Our Chinese Overlords"

two drinks...
"blue collar"
first name of a voter

three drinks....

POW reference
Africa reference
Single-mom reference
Any swing state
failed attempt at humor
McCain trips on his own loose skin
"green collar"
"the internets"
teen pregnancy

Finish the bottle if..
McCain attempts wink, but his eye gets stuck
Obama calls him "Walnuts"
McCain calls him "boy"
McCain says "articulate"
CNN switches screen graphic to "Abe Vigoda life status monitor"

Obama brushes shoulder off
Brokaw makes fun of the "less-than-greatest" generation
Palin shoots Obama from a helicopter
Joe Biden crashes a train into the building

Your E-Mail Provider is Terrible

If your e-mail has an ad at the bottom of it when I open it, please stop sending me electronic communication until you resolve this matter. Either set your computer on fire, return to sending hand-written letters or switch to freaking Gmail already. Not using Gmail at this point is like being the only proto-human in the cave who refused to stop using their appendix. Let's evolve and move on already.

I'm far from the only one who thinks this. Blogger Adam Singer of The Future Buzz (a site about online marketing, social media and all things 2.woah) has some solid advice for knuckle draggers. And he's a professional, people, not just some clown spouting off a grudge after opening another work e-mail from an an oldster's crusty AOL account:

I will be perfectly honest. When I see people with an, or address they instantly lose any and all tech credibility with me. I’ve had discussions with several people on this, and I’m not the only one who feels this way.

I have used and experimented with quite a few of the free, web-based email services. Let me save you a lot of time: Gmail is above and beyond the best.

Using web-based email is a great portability solution for your email, whether it is for personal or business use. However, Gmail is light years ahead of AOL, Hotmail and Comcast. It boggles my mind that anyone still uses them (I single out these other brands of webmail because they are so popular).

He also lambastes the in-email ads of the other services. And, let's be serious, in this world where we probably soon won't be able to open a toilet without seeing a pop-up ad for refinancing mortgages, can't we all agree we should cut down on the intrusiveness of ads wherever possible?

UPDATE: Orlando Sentinel tech writer extraordinaire (and one-month away from husbandhood) Etan Horowitz wrote a guide last week for users who want e-mails. He also agrees Gmail is tops. Again: Back off man, he's a professional.

Monday, October 6, 2008

The Myth of the American Adult

Here is one of those things you quickly learn upon entering the so-called real world that is both disquieting in its fundamental truth yet still an adept tool at dismantling all the hypocritical BS you've been fed throughout the public education system:

There are no such things as "adults" in this world.

At least, not adults in the vision I always had of the tall, shadow-casting stentorian figures standing in sober attention while pulling the great levers and switches that make the nations of the world run; or the higher echelon of individuals who serve as arbiters among the childish disagreements that clog up daily life, those who put personal feelings aside to bring the finality of compromise to a dispute; nor are there grown-ups with that god-like light of right and wrong we cast our parents in, that light that uses life experiences beyond your own to bring perspective or at least inquisitive direction to the questions of youth, before going home to sign checks to the electric company, register the payment in the ledger and fall to sleep on a comfortable bed of maturity.

These are the visions I always had of growing up, of a world significantly less interesting than that of the kids but filled with certainty, responsibility and sensibility.

I was promptly disabused of this notion upon graduating into this world, where I was surprised to discover a bunch of slightly larger, sniveling children, whining about the same broken toys and bitter disputes that have dominated playgrounds for generations, made all the more depressing by the attempts to dress up in fancy suits and pass of as functioning cogs in society, shielding themselves in these illusory honorifics along the way.

I've come to believe this underbelly of immaturity is more a mark of our civilization than our ages.

Case studies:

• Public meetings.
At any number of meetings on issues mundane or of great import, I occasionally sit in front of an oldster, an airport supporter, an airport detractor, a military man, or just some loud chud, who will spend the entire meeting sniping, sniveling and snarling at the comments being made by officials on the dais or fellow citizens at the podium, sometimes hurling childish and churlish comments in a thinly veiled stage whisper. This, of course, occurs at what is supposed to be an open and intellectual forum for public discussion. Last week at a meeting to discuss recycling for Hilton Head, some guy kept interrupting the meeting to spout off his anti-recycling platitudes. It's fine to have these views, of course, but that's why there's a designated public comment period, and why other people are given time to speak as well.

This is beyond frustrating because these kinds of behaviors are the same ones that got me kicked out of 8th grade English for laughing at the technicolor wonderland that was the made-up face of our teacher, who the second track kids had appropriately dubbed "Skittles." The only bad marks I used to get on my report cards from grades 1-8 were also for "talks during class." My parents, initially concerned about this during the first years of my education, soon took a "what a load of bullshit" stance on this particular grading category, for which I am grateful. They do not, unfortunately, hand out report cards at public meetings.

• Politics.
Nothing exhibits the petulant nature of children taken to the absurd ends under the cloak of adulthood more than the current state of American politics. Recall, if you will, the Republican stagecraft "sleep over" held in 2003 to protest the Democrats' blocking of judicial nominees. Or watch any of the cable news coverage of the current election, where surrogates from both parties react with faux outrage to the inconsequential non-issue of the day with all the authentic zeal of Matt Hitchens castigating me in a pre-match "interview" in his basement before we entered a makeshift wrestling ring made of couch cushions, wherein we had agreed on a time and manner in which I would execute my deadly Vicious Knee Drop finishing move (side note: this did actually hurt a lot, I'm told. Knobby knees, my one super power).

• Landlords.
The very least of qualifications for even playacting as an adult in this world should be to take care of your responsibilities, particularly in a way that affects the lives and bank accounts of other people. Yet there I sat today at my computer, now six months after having moved out of our last house, writing a stern, admonishing e-mail to our former landlord — who has not called us back in six months, who has not responded to several letters, who has ignored a court notice seeking her reply to our small claims suit and who has not, from what I can tell, set one foot inside her property since we vacated it — scolding her like a parent chasing after a child who has not done her homework, made her bed or cleaned up the shit stain her puppy left on the dining room floor six months ago. We have a hearing at the court on the 20th and I have no expectation that she will attend, which means we still won't have our security deposit back, which means we will have to keep pursuing it to put a lien on her house and a black mark on her credit report for the next decade, which still doesn't give us our money, so we may be forced to hire one of those teams of sweaty, hairy men with gruff voices and dark coats who knock on front doors with the explicit purpose of using car maintenance equipment to damage people's extremities.

I had a similar problem with my first landlord on the island, but at least he was in town and able to be contacted by phone. He just offered a serires of lame excuses as to why he couldn't return the money, even four months after move out. SC law, by the way, is uncharacteristically unambiguous on this issue. Thirty days to return the deposit. Go on, look if you don't believe me.

This kind of deriliction of legal obligations angers me to no end. I have an overpowering desire to find this woman, shake her stupid and scream "WHAT THE HELL IS WRONG WITH YOU?! BE AN ADULT AND FOLLOW THROUGH WITH YOUR OBLIGATIONS!" in her big dumb face until she cries. Then I'll shake her some more and step on her favorite Cabbage Patch Doll, just for good measure.

Countless other examples of the lack of actual adulthood exist, from sports fans who get into fights in the stands to Sean Hannity to oldsters who don't turn off their cell phones in the movies or meetings to any — and I do mean any — comment thread on the interwebs that shows just how mature people are when they think no one's looking, to that abhorrent "Disaster Movie" franchise.

After college I soon learned that we're all just a bunch of children, somehow trying to convince each other that these suits and cars and offices mean we've entered a period of maturity where we champion a sober and serious approach to the world, all the while secretly refusing to share our toys and finding more sophisticated ways to taunt each other from the safety of basement couches we bought ourselves this time. The people who manage to coexist a lot more freely in this world are the ones who give up on this apocraphyl notion of "adulthood" and consent to keep exploring the different angles of the day around us, never so arrogant to assume that we ever grew beyond the mysterious and scared status of being a kid, lost in a world so much bigger than us.

And for the record, I never stopped talking in class.

Saturday, October 4, 2008

Rejected McSweeneys Submission

Rejection No. 5. The rejection e-mails are always pleasant, at least.


-Executive ball clicker filled with C4
-Herman Miller Aeron Chair covered in broken glass
-Coldcut platter found in Dumpster behind A&P
-"World's Best Boss" mug previously used for ingesting liquid LSD
-Bring Your Smallpox to Work Day
-Anthrax-coated Krispy Kreme doughnuts
-Paper shredder possessed by soul of executed serial killer
-Water cooler filled with Africanized Honey Bees
-YouTube video of HR director on spring break

Wednesday, October 1, 2008

Contents of a 27th birthday

• Copy of Against Me! Reinventing Axl Rose CD
• My name spelled out in large soft pretzels
• Framed 36 x 24 textured painting of poster from Aqua Teen Hunger Force movie
• Cigar
• Digital camera
• Package of false mustaches
• Dairy Queen ice cream cake
• Drunken dock diving into Broad Creek

A pretty good day by any measure.