Sunday, December 27, 2015

STP Sunday



I knew of the Stone Temple Pilots as a child. I didn't get into them until I was in college. And get into them I did. What a voice. Loud and angry at times, but vulnerable and sad as well.

I was laying in bed one night in the beginning of December and around 12:30 a.m. I saw people on my twitter timeline talking about Scott Weiland in the past tense. I scrolled back and figured out what had happened. The news had just broken: media outlets had not yet started covering his death. It was just musicians who knew him breaking the news - most notably Dave Navarro.

The sad aspect is that nobody had to speculate on what the cause of death was. Usually when a 48-year-old man leading an active lifestyle drops dead, you pause to wonder. The only thing to really question here was if he was back on heroin, which Weiland had noted he had not touched in several years. The official report stated it was a cocaine overdose.

Every time I hear something about a cocaine overdose, I'm always taken back to a 2010 conversation with a friend who talked about her history of dabbling with the drug in her college days. She very adamantly told me that you couldn't get hooked on it or die from it. I had to explain to her that she was very, very wrong about all of that.

It's always weird to think about how to remember somebody who died of a drug overdose. Do we celebrate their life? Acknowledge their struggle? Scott Weiland was known for being two things: a great artist and a heroin addict.

He spent time in jail over his addiction. That addiction helped break up STP in the early 2000s. Those aren't good. But at the same time, a lot of his amazing songs are written about heroin addiction. "Flys in the vasoline" is a metaphor for being stuck in in those addictions. As he got older and attempted to clean up his life, his music took on a more introspective look detailing his struggles, with lyrics like "This fight could be the last fight" from Velvet Revolver's final studio album.

Shortly after his death, Scott Weiland's ex-wife wrote an open letter to his fans telling people not to glamorize his life, instead to look at what years of drug addiction can do to a family. 
If you're a parent not giving your best effort, all anyone asks is that you try just a little harder and don't give up. Progress, not perfection, is what your children are praying for. Our hope for Scott has died, but there is still hope for others. Let's choose to make this the first time we don't glorify this tragedy with talk of rock and roll and the demons that, by the way, don't have to come with it.
The full letter is posted at Rolling Stone dot com. It goes into uncomfortable detail about Weiland's failings as a partner, parent, and person.

And, honestly, Weiland had become a running joke in the last couple years before his death. If you look at videos of him on YouTube, the comments from the last month are all "RIP Scott" and "what a genius lost too soon" and things of that nature. Scroll farther down to find ones from five months ago and it talks about his awful concert performances and how he's a shell of his former self.

At the top of this post is the original studio recording of "Big Bang Baby," one of my favorite STP songs. It rocks out harder than some of their more popular mellow songs. Below is a recent performance that Weiland's manager had to go into full PR mode for, spinning a story about how he was exhausted and accidentally mixed alcohol with some prescriptions he was taking.

It's a sad way to see a respected artist go out. We want to remember the joyful, full-of-life man at the top, but the reality is the guy below is who we saw more of.

Like he sings above and below, this is what his legacy became: "I wanna cry, but I gotta laugh."

Friday, December 25, 2015

Santa Claus Q&A

Probably like four years ago, I came across a twitter account called @Santa__Claus. It was like Santa had a real twitter account; he talked about things he was doing throughout the year to get ready for Christmas and then on Dec. 24 he would live-tweet going to all of the places and delivering presents. I thought it was cute and funny. So I followed the account. I would see a tweet or two a month and then as Christmas approached there would be a lot more happening. I liked it.

In 2013, I noticed that the account would occasionally push Santa-related items that you could purchase on their web site. I also discovered that Santa had a blog on the site and that people could write a "day in the life" entry and submit it to be posted. They didn't pay for the content, but the way to make it appealing was that you could write it in a way to promote your business or product.

Back then, I was all about getting my podcast off the ground and doing whatever I could to get eyes and ears on that new venture. An idea popped into my head: write up a transcript of an interview with Santa from my podcast.

I would make it cute and cheery, and all that Christmas shit that kids like. But I also tried to throw in a little bit of humor so that other people would enjoy it. Reading it now, I kind of cringe and roll my eyes at how dumb it is. I showed it to two people a couple years ago. One had a small child and the other was just really into Christmas. They both told me they really liked it.

I sent it to that site and nothing happened. I sent it again and nothing happened again. Then I realized that nothing was really happening with that site. They don't update it anymore and so the posting of Santa-related blogs there is no longer a thing.

So it sat on my computer for a couple years. The last time I had a bunch of stuff like that I turned it into my first book. This was supposed to be in the second book. But that one is literally a year behind schedule. So, I'll just post it here instead.

* * * 

Chris Slater: Okay guys, I’m here with that jolly man himself, Santa Claus. Very excited to have him on the podcast. First question, sir: how did you become Santa Claus? 

Santa Claus: Well, when a man loves a woman… I’m just kidding. It’s a very secretive and closely-guarded process. What I can say for sure is that the Tim Allen movie had it all wrong. You don’t watch the current Santa fall off a roof and then you become him. It’s a rigorous process, not unlike your NASA space men. Not to pat myself on the back, but I will say that only the best get selected to become Santa. 

Chris: Is it a committee? Do they vote on it? 

Santa: Errrrr… Something like that. Let’s just say that some secrets are best kept that way. 

Chris: Sounds good. So the name “Santa Claus” is just like a formality title or something? 

Santa: Yeah. Kind of like when the Catholic Church appoints their new Pope. He assumes a new name and identity. That’s what you do when you assume the position of Santa Claus. And then my wife automatically became “Mrs. Claus,” which she really gets a kick out of. 

Chris: How much work goes into making Christmas happen? 

Santa: It really is a year-round process. Obviously, things get heavier as we get closer to Christmas. But, we basically work from January 1 until December, I get back home sometime early on December 26. 

Chris: How many people are on your crew? 

Santa: It’s a very big crew. We have our main office that myself and my head elf, Larry, work out of. We handle the logistics of everything. The route, what toys are going where, who’s been good and bad, you know. Larry has his team of five people under him who get most of that work done, then they bring it to me and it’s signed off on. Then we have the factory, where a crew of hundreds works on getting all the toys made and sorted out. And we have the reindeer habitat. We have caretakers there all the time. There are tons of small jobs, but we have enough people to do everything. 

Chris: How does this come together? Like, for example, at what point is the route finalized? When are all the toys completed? 

Santa: Well, it varies from year-to-year. We like to have the route finalized by February. As we get closer to December, we have a better idea of the weather and can make changes accordingly. The toys are a non-stop process. The hard stuff gets made earlier in the year - your bikes and ray guns and electronic whatnots - and some of the easier stuff we can hold off on until early autumn. We begin taking the reindeer on brief test runs once a week beginning in September, then up to three a week by the beginning of December. We need to make sure they know what they’re doing. 

Chris: What’s the best aspect of doing all of this? 

Santa: I don’t necessarily see the children opening their presents; that would be the absolute greatest joy. But, simply knowing that I’m helping these children have a happy day is knowledge enough. I don’t want to get into all of this negative stuff, but for a lot of kids Christmas is the best day of the year for them. And I like helping give that to them. 

Chris: The worst? 

Santa: I got bit by a reindeer once; I don’t remember which one. It’s been years ago. That wasn’t fun, for obvious reasons. Sometimes the weather isn’t great. I enjoy the cold, but sometimes it gets too cold. Rain, sleet, hail, it is not fun. All the good outweighs the bad, though. Dealing with a wet beard is the least of my worries. 

Chris: Why do you keep doing it after all these years? 

Santa: Why not? It’s an amazing challenge to try and top myself each year and deliver an even bigger Christmas season than before. 

Chris: Do you take a break at any point in the year? 

Santa: Not really. I take it a little easier in January, obviously. I went to the beach a few years ago, but that turned into a paparazzi nightmare. Nobody wants to see Santa, shirtless on TMZ. 

Chris: How did the advertising relationship with Coca-Cola come about? 

Santa: Those were a few Santas before me. Obviously, we didn’t know then what we know now about how bad the sodas are for you. But, a little Coke here and there never hurt anybody. Coca-Cola, I mean. That sound bite gets out by itself, and I could get in some deep you-know-what. 

Chris: Very true, Santa. We’re talking about the delicious beverage, here. 

Santa: Little-known fact: they film those scenes with the polar bears for their commercials in the summer. So, it’s like 25 degrees out and the bears have to pretend it’s negative 50. 

Chris: Any plans to shave the beard? 

Santa: Goodness, no. Beards have gotten a lot more cool and acceptable the last few years. I wish I could take credit for it and not those weird hipster kids. The beard is here to stay, just like me. 

Chris: Favorite cookie? 

Santa: Oh, they’re all so good. Sugar. Oatmeal. Chocolate chip. Gingerbread. If you want to leave a cookie for Santa - and an ice-cold Coca-Cola; sorry, they pay me - but, if you want to leave a cookie for Santa, I’m not picky. 

Chris: Any additional comments? 

Santa: Perhaps the most important thing to remember, that I don’t think we harp on enough as a society: be good. Be a good boy, be a good girl. Listen to your parents, be respectful, and always drink an ice-cold Coca-Cola. That last one was a joke, but the others are real. Be good, be nice. The world will be a better place. 

Chris: There you have it, straight from the jolly man himself. If you want to hear from Mr. Claus throughout the year, you can check him out on twitter, he is @santa__claus. That’s two underscores between Santa and Claus. You can find me, I’m @chris_slater. Just one underscore. The podcast goes live at youtube.com/86chrisslater and you can always find more information at chrisslater.blogspot.com. Santa, before we go, we have to hear the catch phrase. 

Santa: Haha sure thing. Ho Ho Ho! Merry Christmas!

Wednesday, December 23, 2015

Book Review: The Dark Knight Returns

Mainstream audiences know the name Frank Miller from the movie world. He co-directed the "Sin City" films and produced "300." Before "Sin City" was a movie franchise, it was a graphic novel. That's where Frank Miller got his start; in the comic book industry. One of his best known works is the 1986 classic 4-comic series "The Dark Knight Returns."

One of the cliche terms I can throw out to describe this graphic novel is "gritty." Visually, emotionally, metaphorically, this has a gritty feel to it. A "film noir" essence. "The Dark Knight" is set in the future. Batman is in his 50's and has stopped fighting crime. Commissioner Jim Gordon is approaching 70 and being forced into retirement. 

So, we have a Gotham City that hasn't had a Batman in 10 years. And soon there will no longer be a Jim Gordon. What could possibly go wrong?

Well, as you can expect, a whole lot goes wrong. And it turns out the world still needs Batman to clean up the streets. But, at his advanced age, is he still any good? If some of this sounds loosely like plot points from the Christopher Nolan/Christian Bale movies, it's because a lot of Frank Miller's work helped influence the tone of that trilogy.

I like a good internal struggle; strife. I'm not a fan of needless fight scenes and stuff blowing up for the sake of blowing up. My favorite thing about another great graphic novel, "The Killing Joke" is that the fight scene between Batman and The Joker ends with a conversation between the two. It's more mental than physical. Anybody can throw a punch, but not just anybody can get deep and analyze a situation.

What I especially like about "The Dark Knight Returns" is that a lot of the plot is told through talking heads. Something bad will start to happen, then it will cut away to newscasters talking about it and discussing why the crime rate is going up, what's going on with Gordon's retirement, the rumors of Batman coming back, whether or not he is a hero or villain, etc. We're not following the plot by directly seeing it, we're watching it on the news. It helps the viewer stay somewhat clueless, wondering what's going to happen next.

In real life, there isn't a set hero or villain. Everything is a shade of gray. That's the case in "The Dark Knight Returns." People are initially unsure what side of the law Batman is on. The new commissioner calls for his arrest while others are saying that it's a mistake.

In a somewhat convoluted backstory that isn't fully fleshed out here, but is known by comic fans, superheroes are outlawed but Superman works for the President. The caricature of Ronald Reagan forces Superman to take out this menace to society.

The flashes of gray here are interesting in the fact that America is saying Batman is the bad guy and sending Superman, the good guy, after after him. But, really, there's an underhanded tone to this and the President is using Superman. So, who is the real bad guy?

I love the way it makes you think. Superman is being a faithful employee, even though he disagrees with his actions. Is that right? What is Batman doing that's wrong?

With all of those positives, there were a few issues I had.

My main issue is that a couple of plot points were rushed. The graphic novel was originally four comics, so maybe had this been five or six, maybe more, this wouldn't have been too big of a flaw. The premise in the beginning is "Imagine a world without Batman!" The problem is that he's really only gone for the first few pages. He comes back a little too quickly for my taste. I would have preferred more internal struggle and angst than we wound up getting.

"The Dark Knight" introduces a new Robin as the sidekick. Long-time fans know that there have been a few. The original grew up and became Nightwing. The second one was killed by The Joker. The third one had the longest sustained career in the comic book universe.

In this version, a 13-year-old girl named Carrie Kelley becomes Robin. She is saved by Batman and becomes infatuated with the superhero world. This causes her to dress like Robin and follow Batman around, eventually saving him during a confrontation.

So, some girl who is barely a teenager shows up and wants to be your sidekick... You should take more time to think that over before just allowing her to fight crime alongside you. I mean, I like the dynamic that they have. A few times, he tells her not to do something, and of course Kelley does it. Only, it works out and Batman is impressed. But we got to that point too quickly.

Another issues with "The Dark Knight" is that two classic Batman villains - Two-Face and The Joker - are introduced and eliminated so quickly, it's almost like they're filler. Granted, Two-Face does help move along the plot in a substantial way. The Joker, not so much. It's more like they needed a bad guy in the middle somewhere to do some stuff. At the time, The Joker wasn't the revered character that people hold up to mythical imagery today; he's now treated with much more respect and importance by writers. But, he's just sort of a throw-away antagonist here.

"The Dark Knight" came with a lot of hype. So many critics and reviews call it the greatest Batman story every written. I don't know if that's the case. It is one of the more interesting premises. I like the idea of the dystopian future that Batman tries to fix. Those pacing issues really mess with my enjoyment, though.

It is a really good piece of work. If you like great storytelling and imagery, check it out. There's a sequel, "The Dark Knight Strikes Again," released in 2001 and "The Dark Knight III: The Master Race," which is actually coming out right now as a series of comic books to later be packaged as a graphic novel.

Norm Macdonald Clip of the Week


This week's Norm Macdonald Clip of the Week is a bonus, double edition. At the top is Norm Macdonald as a guest on Marc Maron's "WTF" podcast. Maron is a great interviewer who can always get some good stuff out of his guests. He was in the news over the summer for interviewing Barack Obama and the President caught a lot of flack for using the "n-word" when discussing race relations.

Norm talks about his comedy style, his infamous "anti-roast" of Bob Saget, some Saturday Night Live stuff, and he also gets into his gambling addiction. It's a nice chat.

Below is Maron's appearance on Norm Macdonald's video podcast. They talk about times that they bombed on stage, deconstructing the art of doing a podcast, and they tell stupid jokes - Norm intentionally writes bad jokes for them to try and make funny.

Tuesday, December 22, 2015

My trip to Princeton



I went back to Princeton for the first time this weekend after moving to Luray in early November. It was a good time. There were exciting moments, a few dull moments, but all of that is to be expected.

I had a short list of around 10 people that I actually really wanted to see and spend time with. I spent substantial time with four, briefly saw two others and there were a couple that I didn't get a chance to see.

I'm not sure how often I'm going to be coming in. A four-hour drive isn't really something I want to be doing a lot of. But, we'll see what happens.

Tuesday, December 15, 2015

What Dr. Parker taught me about The Killers



In the fall of 2005, I was a sophomore at Concord University. Still fairly naive, not yet so jaded. I didn't even drink alcohol at the time. I don't remember what class it was, but I was in one of the basic 100-level classes in the Communication Arts program at Concord. It was with my favorite professor of all time, Dr. James Parker.

A profile on Dr. Parker was my first assignment for The Concordian, Concord's student newspaper. He was also new to the university in the Fall semester of 2004, just like me. The next week, I did a similar profile on Dr. Matchen, a geology professor. The third week saw a piece on Dr. Crick, a biology(?) professor. That third one was so bad that they stopped having me do those articles.

Anyway... What I remember from this 2005 class with Dr. Parker:

I dropped the class after a few weeks, the first of many mistakes I made while in college. That was the semester I tried to take 19 hours. I've noticed that 13 hours was really about all of the course load I could handle. Yes, I know how pathetic that is. I've never once professed to be a good student.

Dr. Parker had two specialties: television camera work, like lighting and whatnot and he also was a bit of a radio historian; he could talk a lot about the history of the medium. He also brought in his extensive vinyl collection one day. This was back before hipsters, because we all made fun of him for listening to records.

Parker talked about the history of radio and where the position of DJ was going. He talked about how all of the smaller companies were getting consolidated and the radio industry was going to only be run by a few large corporations at one point. It brought to mind the Tom Petty song "The Last DJ," a 2003 track that's about exactly that.

Parker casually mentioned that one trend he foresaw happening was for a wider array of radio personalities being syndicated around, but not being showcased that way; rather, being presented as people from local stations.

For years, I listened to my local classic rock station and never gave what Parker said another thought. In 2010, I was driving to Morgantown. My iPod died and I was forced to listen to the radio. I began scanning station and came across some music I liked. I listened to the next couple songs, then I was shocked at what I heard next: my DJ was on this other station! She was talking about this station like she worked there. That's when I realized Dr. Parker's prediction had come true.

To address the video at the top...

The class was learning about a director's job and what they were responsible for doing. He was talking about the differences between directing for television and movies. Parker brought up music videos, adding that it wasn't like a television show where you watch it once and go on to the next episode in the series. The point of a music video was to be watched multiple times so that the song gets in your head, leading you to buy a CD or ticket or merchandise.

One of the popular songs in the fall of 2005 was "All These Things That I've Done," by The Killers. The music video tells a story of two rival gangs, presumably in the Mexico or Texas area. One is all male and the other is female.

Dr. Parker's words hit me because that video is presented out of sequence. Before each segment, a woman holds a numbered card. There are eight sequences, numbered 0, 4, 1, 3, 6, 5, 2, and 7. In the proper order, it tells a somewhat clear story. But the video shows it out of order, necessitating several views in order to understand it.

I didn't bring this up with Dr. Parker for two reasons. The first was because I figured he hated that kind of music. The second was because I didn't own the album for him to listen to it and while YouTube existed in 2005, it was definitely in its infancy and I didn't know much about it.

Random trivia: the first thing I ever watched on YouTube was a clip from Conan O'Brien's NBC show where he would randomly pull a lever and a "Walker, Texas Ranger" clip would play.

So there we have it. A collection of things I remembered from a 2005 class at Concord University that I didn't even finish. 

Friday, December 11, 2015

Articles I've written: Luray, VA edition

Being a presence in the digital landscape isn't a huge priority for my employer, the Page News and Courier. As such, they don't have a Facebook or Twitter and it appears that only the front-page articles get posted online.

Here's what's available of my stuff online. This is what I do instead of holding hands with girls or having friends.

Luray no longer employing a town attorney

Airport Road renovations begin next spring

Luray Planning Commission to review rezoning request, plans for affordable housing

Firefighters still investigating Shenandoah blaze

Check it out. Enjoy.

Thursday, December 10, 2015

Is it a good idea to crowdfund local businesses?

I was perusing Facebook the other day and came across something that struck me as odd. It was a "Go Fund Me" page dedicated to the locally-owned coffee shop in Princeton, Local Mo'Joe. Get it? The name is a pun.

GoFundMe is a crowd-funding site, similar to Kickstarter. If you want to raise money for an event or something, you create a page and solicit donations. The first time I was ever aware of this was in 2012 when an athlete I follow financed a documentary through Kickstarter. More famously, the "Veronica Mars" movie was made because of fans donating.

I toyed around with the idea of using Kickstarter to help fund the first issue of the magazine I was trying to get off the ground way back when. You can scour my blog archives for updates on how that started, gained momentum, then ultimately failed. It didn't get to the point of asking for financing yet, but I got to the point of assembling a small staff, planning out the first two issues, having preliminary contract discussions with a printing company, and so forth. I still receive a weekly newsletter from Kickstarter for creating an account.

Local Mo' Joe is a coffee shop in Mercer Street in Princeton, WV. It opened sometime around the summer of 2015. The coffee shop is part of something called the "Princeton Renaissance Project," a revitalization effort for the area, specifically Mercer Street. That area has long been plagued with drugs and prostitutes and other unsavory characters. I spoke with Lori McKinney, one of the architects behind the Renaissance Project on episode 10 of my podcast back in the early part of 2014 when things were still in the early stages. We had loose plans to have another interview later that summer but it fell through. The podcast has been on a temporary hiatus for a while now.

Local Mo'Joe is a nice enough place. My first issue is the name. I think it's a ridiculous pun. Get it? Mo' Joe, More Coffee! And it's local. Local More Coffee. I can imagine the brainstorming session: "Let's make up a name that is cheesy and gets stuck in their head, but it needs to also make them think of Austin Powers."

I went several times when they first opened. Aside from the heavy, creaking door with the loud wind chime on it, it's a nice atmosphere inside. I took a few pictures of various times I was there. The first is the menu on a giant chalkboard. The second and third are of me in various states of being disheveled, with some of the ambiance of the place in the background. 





So, yeah, a nice little place. Lots of local artwork and a mix of big tables, small tables, single chairs. It's a place you can realistically go by yourself, you and a friend, or bring a group.

But, the important part: the quality of the products. Right when I moved was when More Joe started expanding their menu, so I haven't had any of the sandwiches. I saw several of their salads and they looked really good. I had a few pastries. How were they: [insert thumbs up emoji].

The chai tea latte? Meh. The smoothies... Oh Em Gee they are good. And they had something called "Monkey Nuts" that was banana and peanut butter and whatnot in it. It was good but I felt awkward asking for it.

The value? Ehhhhhh... Stuff there is a little pricey. I get that it's local and you want to pay a little bit more to enjoy those products. Is the fact that it's local really enough to get people to not buy coffee drinks from a Starbucks or McDonalds? 

The answer to that is "apparently not." On October 13, this GoFundMe page was created. Here's what they have to say on that page:

"The cost of starting a business seems to never end. And in trying to provide the customer with the highest quality of made-to-order foods and drinks, the price grows. We at Mo'Joe are facing additional costs in expanding the menu, creating new jobs, and paying the tax man."

They expand upon those costs in a later paragraph:

"Your donation would go toward securing local jobs, covering operational costs, expanding our ever-evolving menu, and paying to host live music performances."

What it sounds like to me is that the ownership of Local Mo'Joe is having issues covering those costs. Those costs include hiring people, paying the employees as well as the company's bills, food for the menu, and hiring live musicians.

Of all of those, only the live musicians are non-essential costs. To be a coffee shop, they need employees, ingredients, and a place to house those ingredients. That's what this GoFundMe is asking the community to help take care of.

Since October, they have secured $340 through five donations. They have set a super-unrealistic goal of $11,000. 

I feel like the $340 in donations from the community is $340 too much. A business should stay open by offering its services. If coffee and sandwiches can't keep Local Mo'Joe in business, then they need to sell something else or go out of business. It's ridiculous to ask for handouts from the community. 

Is this page going to solve their problems? Considering that it's been active for almost two months and has received only five donations, and also the fact that the largest donation comes from somebody who has the same last name as the lady who created the page, I'm going to say that this won't solve their money issues.

Will the Local Mo'Joe survive? Historically, looking at businesses on Mercer Street, no it won't. Would I like to see it survive? Yeah. Will I support this business? If I'm in town and want something to drink and a place to sit down, then yes I will. Will I go above and beyond and donate money to pay their bills? No. And nobody else should either.

If you want to donate $$$ to Local Mo'Joe, here is the link: https://www.gofundme.com/mj67p7hg

Thursday, December 3, 2015

Norm Macdonald Clip of the Week



This week's "Norm Macdonald Clip of the Week" is ripped straight from today's headlines!

Oscar Pistorius first gained fame for being the first runner to compete in the Olympic games despite the fact that he had no legs. Dubbed the "Blade Runner" for the prosthetic legs he would wear during his races, Pistorius was an inspiration to people around the world.

On Valentine's Day in 2013, one of two things happened, depending on whose story you believe. According to Pistorius, he believed his South African house was being broken into, he got out of bed, grabbed his gun, and fired at the bathroom door which is where he heard the commotion. The person behind the door was the girlfriend of Pistorius and she died from the wounds. He claims it was an accident in a moment of terror. The prosecution contends that it was done on purpose after an argument.

Originally, he was charged with accidentally killing her. Spent a little time in jail and was on house arrest. The ruling was overturned and he was now found guilty of murder. USA Today has all the details over at their site. 

In this clip from Conan O'Brien's TBS show last summer, Norm and the gang talk about Pistorius. Norm contends that the murder doesn't trouble him, but the fact that Pistorius is a cheater for running in those races with prosthetic legs. We get a few jokes out of it, then Norm hilariously turns around the original point and makes Conan and Andy Richter look like idiots.

Monday, November 30, 2015

George Harrison (1943-2001)



Everybody's third-favorite member of The Beatles died November 29, 2001. He was the first member of the group to release a solo album, and he also has the highest-selling solo album of any former member of The Beatles.

I was in the 10th grade when Harrison died. I knew of The Beatles and enjoyed what I had heard of them up to that point. I didn't know much about Harrison in particular. I got much more into the group in college and the members solo careers.

Just thought I would commemorate the anniversary of his death. Next year will be the 15th anniversary, so I would expect more of a mainstream memorial. 

Click here to see a cool article about his musical contributions to The Beatles.

Click here to read my Top 25 Beatles songs that I ranked a couple years ago.

Click here to read what I wrote shortly after The Beatles finally released their music catalog to iTunes.

Thursday, November 26, 2015

Thanksgiving, 2008-2015



Thanksgiving Day, 2015. What am I doing? Nothing. For a detailed look at my 2008 Thanksgiving Break from college check out my book, a collection of essays and stories. I can turn anything into a plug for that thing.

I've lived in Luray, Virginia now for almost a month. Friends I've made: zero. Articles I've written for a newspaper: 13. I consider that to be a fair trade off.

I like this area. It has a very small-town vibe to it and I'm cool with that. If we're looking back at my life, it's more comparable to a Jackson County, Ravenswood and Ripley vibe, than it is to Princeton and Mercer County.

Just realized I spent 14 years living in Jackson County and then 14 living in Mercer County. How long will I live in Page County? I was jokingly told that I would be given six months before they would even consider firing me. So I have that going for me at least.

* * *

It's like John Lennon said, "And so this is Thanksgiving?" He didn't really say that. Thanksgiving used to be a big holiday in my family that I really enjoyed. But, as often happens, you grow up and things that appealed to you 20 years ago don't hold as much reverence. And, you know, most of the family members I really enjoyed seeing are dead now or strung out on drugs. I haven't been to a family reunion since 2012 and I'm not losing any sleep over it.

That 2008 Thanksgiving (which you can read about for only $3.99) is the last time "the family" got together for a feast. Most of the childhood celebrations have turned into a blur of good times and mashed potatoes. I remember the 2003 edition, my cousin brought a friend and I didn't like her. She scared me. Her ears were gauged and she had nails going through them. Like, actual nails that you hammer into stuff.

So, with all of that stated, let's take a look at what I did for various Thanksgiving celebrations.

2009 ... Kelly and I had just moved into our apartment together. It was called "Brown Apartments" and was a brick building. We made fun of my friend Robbie who tried to find my place one day and told me "I was looking for a brown apartment." 

Kelly's mom gave us a fouton and we spent Thanksgiving Day putting it together. I had to go get something and on the way back listened to that Arlo Guthrie song that everybody plays on Thanksgiving.

I was a shift manager at Pizza Hut. While the restaurant was closed on Thanksgiving, they were open the next day. Part of closing the place down is to get them ready to open the next day. I drew the short end of the stick and had to go in on Thanksgiving night and prepare dough for the next day. So, I got drunk at Pizza Hut, ate chicken wings, and made dough. First time I ever drank Milwaukee's Best. My verdict: Really? Is that the best they've got?

2010 ... Candace came and spent a week with me while she was off from school. Our exploits are chronicled in Facebook pictures from five years ago. And, also in a blog called Thanksgiving Break. Facebook changed the way that the post pictures on their site, so every link on there to a picture doesn't work. We had a good time.

2011 ... This was probably one of the worst weeks of my life. Candace came in and we were going to repeat what happened in 2010. I had recently left Pizza Hut and started working at one of those gambling places, which has been chronicled in archived blogs here. The first day Candace came in, we were eating at Cafe Soleil, which has since closed down. I got a phone call from work asking me to come in early. I do that and am promptly fired.

They're very strict about anything there, since their entire existence is predicated on losers pumping thousands of their dollars into those machines. So, if they have even the smallest issue with you, you're fired. My friend came to visit me and was loud. Lady gambling complained and I no longer have a job.

Remarkably, I get a job at another gambling place within two days. I go in for my first day of training that night. An older lady is teaching me everything. I don't know why this place didn't have a mop, but the way you "mopped" the bathroom at night was to take a rag and wipe the floor. I went and did that and when I came back the lady said "Are you really done that quick?" At this point, I'm 25 years old and in decent shape. She's in her 50s and most of her time doing that chore is likely spent bending over and getting back up. I go back and sit in the bathroom for 10 minutes then come out pretending like I scrubbed the floor.

The next day, Candace goes to Walmart and I go to work. I walk in, smile at the lady who trained me last night, then walk over to clock in. She stops me. "Did nobody tell you?" No, nobody did. Apparently I was fired after five hours on the job. Apparently the lady who spends all of her time in there gambling knew my boss and complained that I wasn't as helpful as I should have been.

In my defense, a job like that is tip-based. You do stuff for them and they give you money. I was training and this lady was my trainer's customer, so I didn't want to get in the way of her tips.

I had worked at Pizza Hut for six years, put in my two-week's notice and wound up staying an extra two weeks after that. Then I'm fired from two jobs in one week.

It gets better! Later that night, when coming back from Athens, home of Concord University, I get a flat tire! Candace and I are pulled over on the side of the road, roughly 10 miles from home and it's late at night. I call the car insurance people. At that time, I would get one free towing covered. The guy on the line tells me that he has one on the way. Half an hour later he calls back and says that the person is too far away and isn't coming and that nobody else will either. He then proceeds to ask if I will be okay. I told him that I wasn't going to die, but that I would like to get my car towed.

A couple hours later, I'm home. This week seems like it would make for a good story somewhere else, so I'll save it all for then. We went to her parents' house the next day for dinner. The only thing I remember from that is on the way there, we were behind a truck with a dead deer's head staring at us.

2012 ... I don't remember much about this year's holiday. It was once again spent at Candace's parents house. I fell asleep on a chair in their living room for a while. Of the four or five times I went to their house, one time I drank beer and got a little tipsy but I don't believe it was this day. There was also the time her religious mother found out I did not share her beliefs. But that's an awkward story that should probably remain buried forever. I think 2012 was the year that I played the mashup between Jay-Z and Linkin Park in Candace's car and she got mad at me about it. It wasn't "I don't like this, please change it." It turned into an actual her-getting-mad-at-me situation for playing a song she didn't like.

2013 ... At some point in the early part of 2013 I began dating Ashley Green. There's a date when we actually started seeing each other and then a day when we started telling people. By this point she had moved to California and we were doing the long-distance thing. I spent the week of Thanksgiving with her, then she spent the week of New Year's with me. Then it all came crumbling down shortly thereafter. Not really. We managed to hold out until May or whenever. That stuff is hard to keep up.

Going to California was a lot of fun. It was good to see the girl that I loved. For most of the week, I thought Ashley lived in apartment 20. Then I realized the one next to her was 2P. But, it was fun to get away from my life and just relax. I upgraded my phone while I was there, moving on from my beloved BlackBerry and getting an iPhone. I also bought a pair of Vans there that I still wear constantly.

I interviewed her for episode 06 of my podcast. Click here to check that out. It ends on an optimistic note, as I ask her if she thinks long-distance relationships can work.

2014 ... "Stone Cold" Steve Austin had a t-shirt that had "Alcohol Fueled" written on the front of it. That would about sum up my November in 2014. I wrote it down and calculated it at one point: I was drunk for 22 days that month.

That was probably at the height of my "woe is me," lost my license, had to move in with my mom, my girlfriend broke up with me, I have a job I hate, why isn't life working the way I want it to, blues. I had friends confronting me about my behavior, my mom gave me an intervention one day while she was driving me to work, I was out of hand for that month (and a few before and after) and I realize it now.

Thanksgiving Day, I woke up to find that CM Punk was the guest on Colt Cabana's podcast to break his silence on leaving WWE earlier that year. Too many people were excited about it, as the server crashed and I had to wait a day to listen. I spent most of the day laying in bed, avoiding people. I went downstairs, quickly ate some food, then went back upstairs for a couple hours until it was an acceptable time to walk down the street to the bar.

It was snowing out and I wore shorts. At one point I was walking to the bathroom and heard a guy say "This dumb motherfucker wore shorts!" I turned around and his friend jumped between us, like he thought I was gonna start a fight over that comment. I can't be mad at him. All he did was state a fact.

* * *

So those are my memories of the last few Thanksgiving holiday celebrations. How has 2015 been? Nostalgic. Mixed bag. It's fun to look back at the past, but not all of the past is fun. The future, though, I think that is looking good for me. We'll revisit this in a year and see how 2016's holiday was.

Wednesday, November 11, 2015

Norm Macdonald Clip of the Week


I was perusing the news on Tuesday morning, November 10 and came across an article noting that Helmut Schmidt, a former German Chancellor, had passed away at the age of 96. It instantly brought to mind a dumb joke that Norm Macdonald had made on his podcast.

The format of the podcast is Norm Macdonald and his co-host Adam Eget interview a celebrity guest. They talk about whatever for a while, then they have a segment where they read jokes. Norm writes all of the jokes and they are in his style, and he hands them to both the guest and Adam to read. Part of the hilarity is that the jokes often don't work, aren't funny, or just fall flat.

Early episodes of the podcast focused on the live aspect of the show, as it was streamed live. For later episodes, they don't point that out as much. This episode streamed live on April 1, 2014. While they were telling jokes, Norm also began birthday announcements. He said:

"... and former German Chancellor Helmut Schmidt would have been 95 today. April Fools! Former German Chancellor Helmut Schmidt is alive and well!"

Ironic in a way that the death of Schmidt reminds me of a joke where his death is used as a setup only for the punchline to be that he's still alive.

The April Fool's joke comes at the end of the video. The jokes before are dumb, but kind of funny. It's a decent way to spend a couple minutes.

For more information about Helmut Schmidt, check out his New York Times obituary.

Sunday, November 1, 2015

New job update: trying to move



I was talking to a guy recently about fighting. He said that if he got into a fight with me that he wouldn't punch me in the face, he would mentally mess with me. He said he would stomp on my hands so I couldn't type.

Speaking of typing, I start my new job next week. I'm a reporter for the Page News and Courier in Luray, Virginia. It's four hours away from Princeton. So, I have to move. That's been an issue. I dealt with a very unprofessional landlord in Luray.

I was told that this was the guy to deal with; that he would help me out. I called him and he was very terse on the phone and ended the conversation quickly. I didn't think much of it; he could have been busy when I called. He said he would email me an application. 

The next day I still didn't have the application so I called and left a message. Nothing. Next day, I send an email. He replies the next day and sends it to me. It was a Microsoft Word document with questions typed out and you fill in your responses. He accidentally sent me somebody's filled-out form. So I have this lady's social security number and all of her shit at my disposal. I erase her answers and put my own and send it back. 

Three days later I still haven't gotten a response, so I email him and basically say "Sorry to bug you, but I'm sort of on a deadline with needing to find a place quickly. Can we get this process started." He waited a day to reply with, and I'm paraphrasing, "Sorry, bro. They decided not to move. You can't have this place."

He had one other place that he said was going to be vacant at the beginning of November. So I replied and asked about that one. And it's been over a week and he hasn't replied. I guess I'm done with that guy. 

I feel bad because my new boss was like "This is the guy I recommend." And now I have to break the news that he was a very unprofessional douche to me.

So, yeah, I have to live in this town next week and I still don't have a place to live.

* * *

My announcement on Facebook got 150 "likes." That's about as many as a whore who posts a new profile picture. People seem to be happy for me. That always makes me feel good.

I watched "Clerks" recently for the first time. It's Kevin Smith's first film and tells the story of two guys who drudge through their lives of working at a gas station and video store and being losers in their early 20's not doing more with their life.

I didn't like the move, per se. Most of the dialogue felt forced. But I felt that connection with what Kevin Smith was trying to represent: the drudgery of having a meaningless existence and feeling like you're not accomplishing anything.

During my interview for the job in Luray, I told a story about one of the best and worst days that I ever had. It was the same day and it really illustrated my life and how I felt about it.

I was freelancing for the Princeton Times and covered the 2011 edition of the March of Dimes. It's an event where people raise money for research for premature babies. I show up and explain who I am, and everybody is so excited to see me. I'm treated with such respect and people are nice to me.

I interviewed a woman holding her premature newborn in her arms. She had twins and one died. And the other one barely survived; the one I was looking at. And she talked about how important this was to her and how she didn't want anybody to go through what she had to experience.

I did that and felt amazing, like I was actually helping contribute something positive to the world. Then I went to the job that actually paid the bills, manager at Pizza Hut, and had a pizza thrown at me by an angry customer.

Such a high and such a low all in the same day. It really made me think long and hard about my life.

* * *

I guess that's all for now. I'll update everybody on the apartment search and what happens with this new job.

Monday, October 12, 2015

Lisa has been a vegetarian for 20 years

On October 15, 1995, one of the greatest episodes of "The Simpsons" aired. It was titled "Lisa the Vegetarian" and it chronicles Lisa's decision to stop eating meat and the ostracism and hardships that followed.

Slate has a great piece about the history of that episode that you can read at this link: Lisa the Vegetarian.

I was 9-years-old when that episode came out. I always liked it and have seen it countless times. "You don't win friends with salad" is one of the funniest moments in the show's history.

For me, personally, I toyed around with the idea of being a vegetarian for probably a year before I really got into it. I remember one day being in Wal-Mart and looking at the meat section. There were so many cuts of steak and chicken sitting there. Then past it was the processed lunch meats. Off to my left was the frozen chicken nuggets and burritos and whatnot.

I looked at that and thought to myself, "I wonder how many animals those are?" And then I thought about every grocery store in the area around me that has those same amounts of animals. Then I zoomed it out further to think about surrounding areas, then zoomed out further and more broadly looked at the entire scene. And it really stuck out just how many dead animals were bagged up around me.

And we've all heard the stories about the poor conditions that these animals live in, chickens and cows and pigs. Go research that if you don't.

So I decided that I didn't want to have a part in that. I didn't want to contribute to something that I didn't feel was humane. So at some point late in the spring of 2014, I made the decision to become a vegetarian.

One of my biggest issues was making sure I could be healthy and maintain that lifestyle. I know people can do it. Two of my favorite wrestlers did not eat meat. CM Punk was a vegetarian during his record-setting WWE Championship reign. As he trains for his UFC debut, I'm not sure if he still follows that diet. Daniel Bryan has been recognized by PETA for his vegan lifestyle. He initially started it when he was getting sick a lot and his doctor told him that his body would have more energy if it didn't have to digest meat. Oddly enough, about five years later his body developed an intolerance to soy and he had to start eating meat again.

It worked for most of the summer. I enjoyed a lot of potatoes and rice and salads and trail mix. I tried to work with tofu, but that was hard to figure out what I was doing there. Veggie dogs had an odd taste to them, but I realized that regular hot dogs did as well, so I rolled with it.

I had a few friends who were really supportive of it. Some were kind of curious, asking questions. And then some were just assholes.

Ultimately, I stopped being a vegetarian for the same reason I stop most things: laziness. I still hold the same beliefs. I don't like contributing to the meat industry. But I have realized that me making a stand won't do anything. It won't stop what's happening. I'll still occasionally realize "I haven't eaten meat for three days. That's cool." But, done are the days of scouring the McDonald's menu to figure out what is vegetarian. Basically, I could eat french fries and salads without the chicken on them.

And so that's my tale of being a vegetarian. I toyed around with the idea of writing an article for Thought Catalog back then along the lines of "Best vegetarian options at fast food restaurants." McDonald's didn't have good choices. Taco Bell had multiple options if you played around with it a little bit. Burger King sold a veggie burger at one point. Stuff like that. Never got around to it.

But, yeah, that's a great episode of The Simpsons. I have some more ideas of things to write that involve that show. That's still in the planning stage. As the time draws closer, I'll give more details.

Tuesday, September 29, 2015

Podcast, YouTube updates



I ran into a girl at an establishment the other night. I won't say where we were, but we were both drinking. She said to me, "I love your podcast! I listen to it all the time!" That was odd to me for two reasons: 1) It's always weird when people compliment me and 2) I haven't recorded a podcast in months.

Why haven't I? I initially took a break because of two reasons. The first was because I had a great idea for a show and the person I wanted to talk to backed out. That was a little discouraging. And then I was a few weeks away from getting my license back and decided to wait for that so I could go drive and interview people. Then, through a loophole in the system, I had to wait another month. And that depressed me. And I just didn't feel like talking about anything.

And I don't know if I have felt like talking about anything of substance since then, to be honest. I've had my moments. I've had a thought pop into my head in the shower or driving down the road and I would think "That's clever! I should expand upon in podcast form." Or, something would happen and I would want to talk to somebody about it and get their view. But, I just didn't.

The closest I came was a few months ago with the armed guards at the recruiting center. After all the commotion I caused on Facebook, I figured I would talk to them and get the full story. And as we all know by now, they decided against talking on the record with me. So, there went that.

My biggest concern is that I don't want to half-ass something. And before anybody who has ever worked a job with me starts to chime in, allow me to clarify: I don't want to half-ass anything I actually have a passion for. Pizza and waiting tables and that month I worked at CVS were not passions of mine. Journalism. Talking to people. Broadcasting the truth. Those are my passions.

I was burnt out. Depressed. Anxious. I was all of that weird stuff that nobody likes talking about. Drinking heavily as well. I'm at the point in my life where I sort of halfway-acknowledge that vice. So I wasn't as creative as I should have been.

And I didn't want that to show in any creative endeavor of mine. So I didn't express myself through that medium. I do those blogs that I call "Unfinished Works" where I started to do something and then couldn't finish it. You could almost call those blog outtakes or something. And I didn't want to do that with a podcast.

There are people who really like what I speak into a microphone or the questions I ask somebody. And I didn't want those people to think "He used to be really good at that." So I didn't do anything.

I think that's about to change. I have been getting the itch to start podcasting again. I still listen to a lot of podcasts regularly. I still think I'm really good, as good as or better than some of the people I listen to. Why shouldn't I go back to doing it?

With everything, you need a plan. And I've been slowly working on that plan. Expanding my YouTube channel has been a big priority of mine lately. It's the unofficial home of my podcast and random videos of me (mostly digging my car out of the snow last year). I want to make that more of a multimedia hub of content.

I've been developing a YouTube show of sorts. I've told a few, close friends about it and they all think it's a good idea. And the reason that hasn't become a thing yet is because you can't half-ass something like that. It has to look good and worthy of being watched. And what that mostly means is that I need to make my bedroom look like it's not really my bedroom.

So, that's where I'm at. Ideas. Planning. Plotting? Development. Good stuff will be happening. I'll keep everybody updated.

Thursday, September 17, 2015

Norm Macdonald Clip of the Week



This week's "Norm Macdonald Clip of the Week" is from one of Norm's comedy albums. He takes a look at the origin of the Marvel superhero group "The Fantastic Four." Norm imagines what it was like when the group decided on their names. Basically, they are all named after their powers: The Thing, Invisible Woman, and the Human Torch. With one exception... The guy who can stretch his body is named Mr. Fantastic. Norm looks at the awkwardness of the other members realizing that.

Norm wrote it out and has other people voicing the characters, with himself playing Mr. Fantastic. It could be a Saturday Night Live sketch; it's in that same style. Norm used to write for the show back in the day, in addition to performing. He most notably recently wrote the hugely popular Celebrity Jeopardy skit from the recent 40th anniversary SNL episode.