Thursday, December 29, 2016

Newspaper and Podcast Updates

I had a guy call me in my office recently. He was an older guy and asked about a picture I took that was on the front page of the newspaper. He asked if it was current. I told him yeah; I took that picture two days before it was printed. "So, it wasn't five years ago?" No, it wasn't. He thought a lady with her back to the camera was his deceased wife.

When I first started working here, I was given a timeline -- the first year will see me doing this, then the second year etc... It was an unofficial kind of thing; the first year will see me being confused, trying to understand how the town works, then year two will see me knowing more and having an opinion on things. As I begin my second year on the Page News and Courier staff, I see that being true.

I'm fully into covering a lot of things for the second time. When I first noticed it happening, I thought I would be burnt out on it. "This group is holding their annual late-november thing. Write about it for the second time." That's not too exciting. But, as I see some of my bigger stuff happening again - talking to the mayors in the three towns, for instance - I'm excited about that. Last January, I spoke to them about their 2015 and I knew nothing that I was talking about. "Ask them about X, Y, Z. Those were the big things that happened." Now, I know what the big things were and I can accurately speak about those.

I'm still trying to find the time to balance my personal and professional projects. My podcast about restaurant life; talking to servers and cooks and whatnot, is still slated for an early 2017 launch. I had talked to a few people close to me earlier in the year to see if that was an interesting idea. They all agreed that it was. I sat on it for a while, and then broached the subject in a Facebook post asking for opinions. I was very surprised to see a lot of positive feedback from both friends and casual acquaintances.

I still have ideas on how to better utilize my somewhat-dormant YouTube channel. I was working on a project with a partner in the early fall of 2015, but then that got put on hold when I got the job at the PNC and moved four hours away. I told a few people about it, and they seemed to like it. And, then I told a few others and they were a bit confused.

But, I've noticed that I'm not great at pitching things. Saying what I want to do and describing why it is awesome is something that I need to work on. I'm much better at showing a finished product and saying "See? Isn't it cool?"

Maybe that's a resolution for 2017: get better at pitches.

My YouTube idea was cool, and I can always go back to it. It will never not be relevant. So, you may hear more about that one day. But, the podcast is definitely something that I'm working on. There are a few titles for it in my head. I have a few people unofficially lined up to talk to, and I have a million more people that I want to chat with. It will be fun. I'll keep everybody posted on that.

Good stopping point for now. [insert thumbs up emoji]

Wednesday, December 14, 2016

Norm Macdonald Clip of the Week: fiddling around in John Glenn's ass

Timely video after last week's death of the first American to orbit the Earth, John Glenn. During a 2003 appearance on Conan O'Brien's show, Norm Macdonald began talking about his issues with TSA agents at airports. This was right after the heightened security measures following 9/11 were passed.

At that time, Glenn had been screened for a random check by the TSA while trying to board a flight. Norm makes a factual error, but the point is still there: "He walked on the goddamn moon! You think he would get a pass!" He didn't walk on the moon, but still, he was making a good point about how absurd it is that John Glenn needed to be searched as a potential flight risk.

The full interview is above, and they talk about other stuff, including his "hilarious" Star Trek impression and his apartment building's doorman's reaction to seeing it on SNL, looking at jokes about Norm's alleged Polish background, and the infamous Kitchener Leslie railroad hobo story.

The 30 seconds of the John Glenn interview is below.

Tuesday, November 29, 2016

Sunday, November 27, 2016

Top 10 ECW Moments

Every so often, WWE goes through a wave of ECW nostalgia. Extreme Championship Wrestling was the small group that started as a small independent promotion in 1993 with a lot of buzz behind it and ultimately grew into a legit promotion with video games, a cable tv show, pay per views, merchandise. Above all else, they had a lot of influence on the wrestling industry. The famed "WWE Attitude Era" would not have happened had they not looked at ECW's "Extreme Revolution" and thought "why don't we do that?"

WWE recently aired a discussion of ECW on the WWE Network with Paul Heyman, Tazz, Tommy Dreamer, and the Dudleys. That was fun. Lots of neat stories, then some emotion at the end where they describe what ECW meant to them. Tommy Dreamer especially had an emotional moment. 

It coincided with the release of "The Top 50 Incidents in ECW History." This was originally supposed to be a DVD release, the third in the "OMG: Top 50 Moments" sets, after a WWE and WCW release. The problem with those sets was that they were played more for comedy. I watched the WWE set and didn't care for it. I saw the trailer for WCW's version and didn't care to check it out. So, I didn't have a lot of high hopes for this ECW one.

But, they have actually changed the format. It's not the happy-go-lucky version of the other two. It has a different title. And instead of releasing it on DVD it's a special feature on the WWE Network.

What we're going to do in this space is look over the Top 10 moments and see how we feel about them.

10) Sabu vs Terry Funk, Born To Be Wired ... This is honestly one of the grossest matches in wrestling history. There are bloodier matches. There are more violent matches. But this is the only match where I've seen one of the competitors rip his arm open on a piece of barbed wire, tape the wound shut while the match is still going on, then continue like no big deal. The ropes are replaced with barbed wire, and 50-year-old Terry Funk and Sabu proceed to rip each other to shreds during the match, culminating in the two of them having to be cut out of the barbed wire by the ring crew.

9) ECW invasion of WWE ... The wrestling world was a much different place in 1997. WWE was not at the top of the world like they had been through the 1980s and like they would be by the end of the 90s. They were the number two promotion behind WCW. And at one of their Philadelphia shows, where ECW is based out of, the WWE heard several loud "ECW" chants throughout the night. Vince McMahon got curious, and a brief working relationship was formed. It saw several ECW matches on WWE Monday Night Raw, as well as a great in-ring debate between Paul Heyman and Jerry Lawler. Lawler wound up making a few ECW appearances, dropping a match to Tommy Dreamer.

8) Brian Lee vs Tommy Dreamer Scaffold Match ... As a match, it was a cool brawl. Brian Lee is famous mostly for being the "Fake Undertaker" in the SummerSlam 1994. He was also in the nWo for a spell. But he had a small run in ECW. As a match, this was nothing special. But, as a moment to live on in highlight reels, it is crazy and amazing. The idea of a scaffold match is to fight atop the scaffold and throw your opponent off of it. This one is different in that there are like 15 tables stacked on top of each other in the entire ring. They're around 20 feet above the ring, and Lee winds up falling through four tables. Awesome visual, and a genuinely shocking moment.

7) Sandman canes Tommy Dreamer ... In the early 90s, there was a media storm over an American tourist who got in trouble in Singapore and his punishment was a public caning; the get smacked by a cane. Paul Heyman fed off that and created the "Singapore Caning Match" between Dreamer and Sandman, with the loser having to receive 10 smacks with the cane. Dreamer ultimately wound up being the heart and soul of ECW; the hero on the white horse who always did the right thing. But, in the beginning he wasn't respected by the hardcore ECW crowd. This match, and Dreamer taking his caning like a man, helped him earn that respect that is still there over 20 years later.

6) Ring collapses ... This was always a fun moment that made all of the early highlight reels. There was a tag team called Public Enemy. They liked to have fun and dance. At the end of their matches, they would bring some audience members into the ring to dance and it was always a fun moment. In this instance, the ring entirely filled with fans and they are all jumping around and dancing. The ring kind of moves for a second, then after another moment it entirely collapses and the probably 50-ish people all crash to the ground. There's a brief moment where everybody all looks around confused, then realizing that nobody is hurt they all start dancing again. Just a fun moment that is a great visual demonstration of how much the crowd enjoyed themselves in ECW.

5) Tazz vs Mike Awesome ... This is interesting from a historical perspective. Tazz had been a former, dominant ECW superstar; a world champion and beloved by the audience. In the fall of 1999, Tazz left and signed with WWE, ultimately debuting in early 2000. Mike Awesome had been a journeyman wrestler who had made a name for himself in Japan, but was getting his chance to be a star in America, on his second reign as ECW Champion. WCW came calling and convinced Awesome to leave while still ECW Champion, through a loophole in his contract. He showed up on WCW television and they acknowledged that he was the ECW champ. ECW and WCW worked out an agreement to let Awesome go back and lose the title. Paul Heyman called in a favor to WWE and they loaned him Tazz. So, in an ECW ring there was a WCW wrestler losing the ECW title to a WWE wrestler.

4) Sandman crucifixion ... Raven and Sandman had been in the middle of an intense feud. Raven decided that the next step would be for him to crucify Sandman publicly. The irony is that Sandman had been a carpenter before getting into wrestling and he actually constructed the cross. The two had a brawl, then Sandman's lifeless body was tied to a cross, with a "crown of thorns" aka pieces of barbed wire placed on his head. In interviews, everybody involved has basically said this was the one time ECW went too far. They didn't expect the backlash against using religion to further a wrestling program. Paul Heyman sent Raven back out to the ring to apologize, and he did. He has since remarked that his apology was insincere.

3) Shane Douglas throws down NWA title ... The National Wrestling Alliance is a governing body that looks over several regional promotions. The most popular in the 80s was the Mid-Atlantic promotion, whose top star was Ric Flair. The short story is that Mid-Atlantic became WCW. They initially used the NWA title, but eventually split with that group. They regrouped and in 1994 were looking to crown a champion in Shane Douglas, star of Eastern Championship Wrestling. He won the tournament final and with the NWA title in his hands, Douglas mentioned the prestige of the title and what it represented, then he named several famous NWA champions - Kerry Von Erich, Dusty Rhodes, Harley Race, Ric Flair, Rick Steamboat... "And they can all kiss my ass!" as he threw down the NWA title and grabbed his ECW championship. The promotion then changed its name to Extreme Championship Wrestling.

2) Lesbian kiss ... ECW wasn't just extreme in its in-ring action. The stories were extreme too. Part of the Raven vs Tommy Dreamer feud involved a lady named Beulah. It's multi-layered and went on for years, and was just very well told. Beulah started with Raven and ultimately ended up with Dreamer. Life imitating art, they actually got married and have twin daughters. It came out that Beulah had been cheating on Dreamer. He was crestfallen and asked "Who is he?" Shane Douglas, who had been egging it on, replied "Oh, it's not a 'he' at all!" to which a lady cleverly named Kimona Wanalaya yelled "It's me!" Beulah and Kimona then proceeded to make out in the ring. Dreamer then got on the microphone and said "I'll take 'em both, I'm hardcore," then left with both, implying... well, you know. In 1995 this was a very controversial moment and ECW got in a lot of trouble, getting dropped by several of their syndication partners.

1) The chairs ... This has gone down in history as one of the most famous moments in ECW history. What's the difference between ECW and WWE? Watch this clip. In 1994, Terry Funk and Cactus Jack (aka Mick Foley) were having a brawl with the Public Enemy. All four were in the ring and Cactus asks an audience member to throw him a chair. One does, then another follows suit, then within moments, there are literally over a hundred chairs being thrown into the ring. It's absolute insanity; such a dangerous moment in hindsight, but so cool to watch.

It's a fun 2.5 hour list with a lot of new interviews from the former ECW stars who lived through it. Do I agree with the list? It's all subjective. I would say Shane Douglas throwing down the NWA Championship should probably be at the top. That was shocking and had long-reaching ramifications. In terms of just *hushed gasp* shocking moment, maybe the crucifixion should be at the top.

There were a lot of moments that didn't make it, and I think that is mostly because WWE is a PG company trying to look at this TV-MA group. The special was rated TV-MA and a lot of language and blood and scantily-clad ladies made it onto the show. 

But, there's no mention of the Mass Transit incident. A 17-year-old dressed like a bus driver and going by Mass Transit lied about his age and got on the show, then was purposely cut by wrestler New Jack and created one of the most gruesome moments ever. Blood was shooting out of his forehead and it was insanity. Lawsuits were filed, and ultimately New Jack and ECW got off the hook, since Mass Transit allowed himself to be cut and knew of the dangers of doing that.

The fire incident isn't included. Cactus Jack wrapped a towel around a chair, doused it in kerosene, then lit it on fire and went to the ring. He swung the chair at Terry Funk, but the towel flew off and onto Funk. As they tried to get the towel off of him, it got thrown into the audience and around a couple audience members. Lawsuits were filed over that one.

The Bubba Ray Dudley in-ring interview from summer 1999 in Ohio isn't included. It was absolutely shocking in terms of what he said to audience members and how close a couple came to jumping the rail and trying to attack him. It was an awkward, uncomfortable moment that he really took too far.

All in all, it's a good list. A couple things missing. A few things out of place, in terms of ranking. But, if you love ECW, or just want to learn more about it, check out the list.

Friday, November 18, 2016

Norm Macdonald Clip of the Week: Norm Ruins The View

This week's "Norm Macdonald Clip of the Week" looks at Norm's disastrous late-2000 appearance on "The View." It's a disaster in the sense that Norm sabotages it on purpose. He's since said that was his intent; he just made up stuff to make them angry. And, it works.

This was during the contested Bush-Gore election, and Norm immediately talks about how much he likes Bush, noting that he wants to get the murderers out of the White House. The hosts are confused, prompting Norm to say "You know Bill Clinton killed a man, right?" Barbara Walters is shocked and immediately tries to change the subject, with Norm continuing to pressure her. "You mean, you never heard about that?"

While they're talking, a phone begins to ring. The hosts seem confused and ask if Norm has his phone with him. Norm suddenly realizes the ringing, pulls his phone out and asks if he should answer it. He mumbles "Hello?" before admitting "The producer thought it would be funny if I brought a phone out and pretended to talk." They cannot believe that he just admitted that they staged a prank during the interview. 

It's so awesome to see him just make them hate him.

One ironic note: they bring up Bill Cosby, and ask Norm for his story. It's likely the same hilarious story he once told on David Letterman's show, but Norm starts it by saying "Bill Cosby, now that's a man who has no accusations against him," referencing his Bill Clinton stunt from earlier. 

Comedy doesn't always have to feature laughs. Norm isn't telling jokes or playing along with any stunts, but he's hilarious here.

Check out Norm's new book. It's hilarious.

Wednesday, October 26, 2016

Lost Page News & Courier Article

There are three major sections in the Page News and Courier. News, sports, and Local Life. It's a feature section. Whoever writes one those articles is decided on a rotating basis. My first one was back in November, when a local man's daughter who can't walk or speak helped choreograph a play. Sometimes it's feel-good stuff like that. I did one about the bike races in town and the controversy surrounding that. People really reacted to that one. Sometimes we cover parades, or do interviews with veterans about war stuff. Sometimes it's a little cheesy. Sometimes it's very cheesy.

I was assigned back in March or April of 2016 to cover an annual event in the town of Stanley - a local vineyard has sheep and they turn shearing them into an event. Yeah. Not exactly my idea of a good time, but to each their own.

One mantra has been metaphorically beaten into my head with these local life articles: tell a story. Make it something interesting and make people want to read it. The news aspect of that isn't too big - "We're shearing the sheep and making some blankets out of it."

So, I went and observed and talked to people and took pictures. It was really early in the morning, it was really cold out, and I was very much out of my element. 

As I was driving home, I was thinking to myself, "What is the story?" What could I get out of that event that was unique and offered something more interesting than just "Sheep were sheared." Then it hit me - I was the story.

An interesting, unique take that had never been done before in the newspaper would be a story about a man who had never been on a farm or touched a sheep to go there and experience everything that was happening.

I wrote it. I turned it in. And, it was rejected. I was given a compliment, though: "It's good, it's entertaining, and this is the direction that long-form narrative magazine writing is going. But, it's not what the Page News and Courier does."

So, it's below. 

* * *

I stare at my phone. I need more information. A sheep-shearing event? At Wisteria Farm and Vineyard? What happens? What is this? I call the number and hear the voice of Wisteria co-owner Sue Ishak on the other end. I need to get to the bottom of this. "I'm new to the area," I begin. "I'm going to be attending your event on Saturday and I'm curious about what exactly will be going on." All I know is that they'll be shearing sheep. 

"We're going to be shearing the sheep," Ishak said. 

I ponder how to probe further. I go for it. "Is anything else gonna happen?" 

"We'll have coffee and snacks," Ishak adds. 

Works for me. "Alright. I'll see you then." 

The next big question in my head: "There's a vineyard in Stanley?" I think about it and realize that I pass the Wisteria sign every time I drive into town. 

Saturday morning, I pull up to the vineyard. It's cold. It had snowed earlier that day, but nothing stuck to the ground. I can think of at least 12 things I would rather be doing right now - 10 of which involve laying in bed. My body gradually gets used to the temperature and I wind up enjoying myself, but that first moment of cold hitting me was misery.

I see a crowd of people and walk toward them, navigating my way through two gates. The first thing notice is the large amount of animal "pellets" under my feet. I stop, momentarily startled, as I see chickens. I have never been this close to farm animals before. One chicken approaches and stops before me, staring me down. I let him assert dominance as I break our stare and walk over to the sound of electric clippers. 

My eyes are darting between a man - Ashley Craun - holding down a sheep and making quick work of shaving off the wool, and a freshly-shorn sheep off to the side. I'm still taking in the surroundings as Sue Ishak walks toward me. We had never met in person before, but I guess when you show up holding a notepad and with a camera around your neck, people can figure out who you are. She extends her hand. "You must be," she says, pausing to remember my name. "Chip?" 

I am not Chip, but I am curious about how everything works here. She is happy to explain the process to me. She points out that most people do not even question where the wool in their sweaters comes from, and that this is a nice event for people to participate in and learn something. 

"This is one of those old skill sets that gets lost in modernization," Ishak says. "This is a dying art." 

She also assures me that it is usually a little warmer when they hold this event. 

"We've been doing this since we bought the sheep in 2001," Ishak says. "This has been a public event since we opened in 2009. This is good to let people be a part of it because they usually don't get to see things like this." 

I spy a husband and wife watching the shearing. Their two young children are running around chasing the chickens. I strike up a conversation with the wife, Consuelo Scott. 

"We came here for this," Scott says. "We live in Northern Virginia. We came out for some wine and a good experience." 

The two kids have left the chickens alone and wander over. Knowing people eat up adorable quotes from cute kids, I ask them what their favorite part of today has been. The boy, who cannot seem to keep his eyes on any one thing for more than a second, excitedly blurts out "watching movies in my dad's van!" as his mom rolls her eyes and smiles at me. "I won't use that one," I tell her. 

I lean down and ask little 8-year-old Marisol what is her favorite thing to watch here. Her face tilts to the left, lips pursed, as she contemplates it in her head. "My favorite part is when they shear the sheep and put it on the table." 

A large table is set off to the side. After the wool is removed from the sheep, it is brought to the table. It is all in one piece and looks like a large blanket. A group of six ladies is gathered around. I walk over and ask what they are doing. Sue tells me this is part of the cleaning process. "We shake it to remove any excess dirt, then we pull out the dung tags." She asks if I want to help. Realizing what a "dung tag" is, I politely decline. 

"It's a fun thing," Ishak says. "We have to do it anyway, we might as well make a party out of it." 

One lady making a party out of the event is Debbie Forrest. Between sharing stories about her new grandson and gleefully cracking jokes about her age, she explains to me why she is enjoying today so much. 

"This is up there with Christmas morning to me," Forrest said. "I like the whole process, and the history behind it. I love the feel, the smell of the wool. I like to spin it, and make things out of it. The process is close to my heart." 

She wants to see more people get involved with events of this nature, especially children. 

"This is good for the community to see because it will give them a better respect for natural resources and the process of farming," Forrest said.

Tuesday, October 11, 2016

Chris Slater interviews United States Senator Tim Kaine

Back in April, I had a pretty cool opportunity in front of me when I got to travel to Shenandoah National Park to attend a luncheon with United States Senator Tim Kaine as the guest speaker. The reason for the event was to celebrate 100 years of the National Park Service.

It was a fun event. I talked to his assistant lady; not sure what her actual job was. But she was the one telling him when and where to go. She was really cool. I'm assuming more of an assistant as opposed to somebody with some actual power because of how young she was.

I got a couple minutes with him outside after the event and talked to him about why the national parks are important. Yeah, I know, not the most riveting of conversations, but you've gotta take what you can get.

The ride back from the event was really nice. I took the long route (unintentionally) and spent the time reflecting on how far my life had come in such a short time. I thought about what I did - interview a US Senator for a newspaper article and what I had been doing before that, which was basically the opposite of that.

I didn't know much about Tim Kaine at the time. My editor was describing who he was and what he had done in Virginia before that, and then added "And, it's possible he might be our next Vice President."

I hadn't heard any rumors about who was the VP nominee of who at that point, and it still wasn't even 100 percent sure that Clinton was going to be the nominee... even though the mainstream media's effort to help her secure the nomination was in full swing. So, I wasn't too surprised a few months later when I heard his name announced.

I think it's kind of cool that I got to chat with him, no matter how inane the topic was, for a few minutes back before he became really popular and huge.

Saturday, October 8, 2016

Norm Macdonald Clip of the Week: sort of a book review

My favorite comedian for years, Norm Macdonald, is making the media rounds for his "memoir." That's in quotes because it's titled "Based On A True Story," and it's basically a novel loosely based on his life. I read it in three days - and that's only because I was busy and couldn't finish it in one sitting (and setting, since I read it in the same place).

It's amazing. If you like Norm Macdonald, you will love this book. If you love interesting stories, you'll love it. It's so weird. I don't know how to describe it. It tells his life story between parts from the present where he's making a trip to Las Vegas. He's a notorious gambler. Or, was. Maybe.

The reason it's a novel based on his life, as opposed to an actual autobiography, is because so much of it is made up. The part in the present isn't real; the trip to Vegas with "my trusty sidekick" Adam Eget (and co-host of his amazing YouTube podcast) is totally made up.

The parts about his life... Ummmm... I'm not sure what to believe. This is where "based on a true story" comes into play. He was one of the few hired on Saturday Night Live who didn't actually audition. But, Norm likely did not actually get his SNL job by becoming the morphine hookup of Lorne Michaels. And while he likely did have a crush on Sarah Silverman - because who doesn't? - he probably didn't attempt to hire a hitman to kill Dave Attell because she was dating him.

He has said that the first chapter was true - the reason why he decided to write the book. His manager called and woke him up in a hotel room to say that somebody hacked his Wikipedia page and said that he was dead. It said he died in a hotel room. He looked around his hotel room, to the lady asleep in his bed whose name he didn't remember, to the empty liquor bottles ("such tiny bottles that made me feel so big") and realized that the hacker wasn't so far off.

And the parts about his childhood, if true, are so sad and heartbreaking. If it's just "based on a true story," then it's great narrative writing. Norm didn't use a ghostwriter. It has a "Fear and Loathing In Las Vegas" vibe to it, if that's your thing.

* * *

The clip above is Norm on Conan's TBS show. As are all of his appearances on any late-night talk show, it's hilarious. He's best in an environment where he can riff and say random stories. And, that's the case here. Conan is a comedy writer at heart; he wrote for The Simpsons and SNL before getting a talk show - so he knows how to interact with Norm when he's "in character" and they work well together.

Saturday, August 27, 2016

Employee of the Month

For a good portion of 2014 and 2015, I was waiting tables at Outback Steakhouse. I was a good-enough server, with the potential to be great if I applied myself. I didn't care about that job, though, so I didn't try hard enough to be great. 

Yes, it is tip-based, so it's fiscally responsible to try hard. But, you learn quickly which people will tip well and which won't, and you base your amount of effort off of that. For the amount of work I put in, I made great money.

One of my biggest issues with jobs like that is the corporate mentality of drinking the proverbial Kool-Aid and being part of the team. I would always roll my eyes when a manager would tell me to do something and I knew that they didn't believe it. They weren't a manager of the restaurant; they were a conduit of the corporate puppet masters above them.

I got a lot of compliments for writing the motivational dry-erase board messages to the employees each day. It was supposed to be done by the manager, but he was Egyptian and English was his second language, and he had trouble articulating the points he wanted to make. I was bored one day and started writing all of the buzz words and jargon and whatnot. He was impressed and that became my unofficial added duty.

Was I a good employee? Not really. As I mentioned, I did enough to get by. I had my vices and bad stuff I did at work, which we'll get into shortly. But, I really think I was allowed to basically be an employee who goofed off, broke several rules, was consistently late and lazy, for three reasons: 

1) I agreed to be the morning opener. Nobody liked coming in early and making less money on the lunch shift. But I did it without complaining.

2) I did little things to show that I was a team player, like the communication board. I knew enough of other jobs to go do them if I needed to. I knew how to make salads and desserts, I knew how to wash dishes, I knew how to do hosting duties. And I would occasionally do all of those.

3) I was personable, fun, and I wasn't a piece of shit. That one is important to get ahead in any aspect of life. For the most part, I think people liked being around me.

We'll get into some of my flaws here in a bit. But, in January of 2015 I realized that Outback was going to start recognizing an "Employee of the Month" award. You got your name on a plaque on the wall, and a gift card of some sort. The January winner was who we expected it to be. "Who's the best employee we've got?" Oh, that guy over there, and he won. 

As the months progressed and he didn't consistently win it each month, I wondered what the criteria was for the award. I'd think to myself, "Really? Is that the best one?"

I began asking around about the July employee of the month. I asked the GM who he voted for. He told me he had been on vacation for two weeks and didn't vote because he wasn't around. I asked two other managers, and they both told me they hadn't voted either. There are only five managers. I came to the conclusion that the whole thing was a charade with one person saying "How about X?" and the others either not caring enough to say anything else, or not even being present.

When July was announced, I jokingly asked the GM why I hadn't been chosen. He thought I was serious and pulled me aside to explain that I was late all the time. It was the first week of August and I hadn't been late once. I told him that and he said "Yes, you're doing very good this month." I told him I was going to be employee of the month for August.

I cut back on my shenanigans and worked hard. I wanted to prove a point. I wanted to see if the voting was legitimate. I paid attention to what other employees were doing, so that way I could judge their performances against mine. I worked more night shifts that month, since they needed an employee to count money and do computer work at the end of the night. A few refused and they didn't trust others. So I was recruited to do it.

At the end of the month, I wrote down everything that I thought warranted one to become employee of the month.

There's the picture. And here's what I wrote:

- Employee of the month focuses on the 31 calendar days in August 2015. Here is what one employee, Chris Slater, did during that month.

- Never once called in.

- After being reprimanded several times in July for tardiness,  was only late twice in August: once to pick up Jamie, once for 2nd shift of a double

- Consistently opens 4-5 days per week.

- Helps bartender open by occasionally getting ice.

- Opener & worker when EcoSure gave us a passing 83% score.

- Opened as host twice.

- Performs ToGo duties a couple days per week.

- Performs management duty of writing communication board 3-5 days per week.

- Performs management duty of assigning running sidework 1-2 days per week.

- Taught a member of management how to open the safe.

- Washes dishes on occasion, whether it is slow or asked by a manager.

- Mentioned in at least two (2) positive SMG survey comments.

- Late-night drinking, which has often hindered morning performance, has decreased significantly. 

- Picked up three head-wait shifts.

- Helped assist a table of 11 when they thought one of them was having a stroke (she was fine).

- Often sent to Walmart for product.

- Worked on birthday without complaint.

And that's what I did in August. Some of it isn't that extraordinary. But, I think the important thing was that the health inspector showed up while I was the opening server. He inspected what I did and determined that we were safe. I was told by the GM that he wanted me there when the health inspector came, because he trusted me to do everything right.

I showed the list to two managers. They both laughed and signed it, thereby giving me their vote. The list was left in the office. I asked another manager about it shortly thereafter. He told me that some of the items were a joke, but that he also voted for me. Three of five managers told me that they voted for me.

One day in early September, we were all called together in the middle of a shift for the announcement. Several employees were looking at me, because they knew about my crusade. Another guy was announced. I jokingly put my middle finger in the air, said "Fuck this shit" and walked off. The August employee of the month was a "no call, no show" less than a week later.

Why didn't I become the August employee of the month? Two reasons:

1) The whole concept is a joke, designed to promote a false sense of pride and internal competition to see who can be the "best."

2) I drank at work. A lot.

Not in a "I can't make it through my shift without a drink" kind of way, but in a "This job is mentally uninspiring and it's so unfulfilling, I'm gonna go sneak out to my car and catch a buzz" kind of way.

The same way that a majority of employees there would smoke pot before or during their shifts. And, also the same way that - depending on the day - a minority or majority of employees would drink before or during their shifts. Yeah, I was the "face" of Outback Boozing, but that was because I didn't care. A lot of people did it.

I did take it too far several times. I'm a line-pusher. If I can get away with drinking one strawberry-flavored malt beverage at work, I want to see if I can get away with drinking two. Then three. Then four. And so on, and then an employee is picking me up off the grass in the parking lot and trying to hide me in the back until I sober up.

Those were the couple of exceptions that a few would never let me forget. And that became my reputation. And I didn't care to fight it or correct them. I've learned now that if you have a job that you enjoy and mentally stimulates you, that you tend to drink less and for the proper reasons.

And that was part of my mentality behind the employee of the month thing. I can do all of those "good" things while having that reputation as a bad employee.

And that's my tale of how I spent August of 2015 testing if there was really system in place for employee of the month at Outback Steakhouse. My conclusion: there wasn't.

Sunday, August 21, 2016

30 Years

I believe it was John Lennon who said "And so this is 30." Not really. I use that joke a lot. I last did it in a Thanksgiving post. Anyway... They call it the Big Three Oh. And that's how old I am. How am I feeling about it? Not as bad as some of my friends. They're going through the "OMG I'm so old now" thing. And I'm going through the "Yeah, I was born in 1986, I'm 30" thing.

I'll recap a conversation I had with a friend via Facebook Messenger Thursday a few minutes after midnight:

"Whoa! You're 30! You seem so much younger."

"Yeah, I'm 30. I was born in 1986, graduated high school in 2004."

"Wow! You don't seem 30."

And it continues like that for a while.

I was thinking about past birthdays and thought it would be fun to see if I can remember what I did for every birthday in my life. Around the time I turned 5 is when most of my memories start, and one of them is my birthday. A few of the early ones may be spotty and hazy. And, then a few of them after 21 might be hazy as well.

Age 05, 1991 ... We lived in an apartment on Flatwoods Road in Ravenswood, West Virginia. I remember I got a bunch of Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles toys.

Age 06, 1992 ... No recollection

Age 07, 1993 ... No recollection

Age 08, 1994 ... No recollection, but I do remember that I had been to a couple birthday parties held at McDonalds. And I wanted one of those, but my mom wouldn't do it.

Age 09, 1995 ... This was when I was in my phase of liking hockey for some reason. I got a pair of Wayne Gretzky shoes and a new hockey stick. Me and my neighbor, Josh, played roller hockey in his driveway.

Age 10, 1996 ... I don't remember my exact birthday, but I remember two moments right before and after. I got my ear pierced when I was 8. Just the left ear. That was the only one you got back then, or people talked about you. I wanted to get another one. Why? I don't know. I already had the earring in the bottom of my ear, so I got one at the top. That was a couple days before my 10th birthday. School started a couple days after my birthday. I remember on the first day, Mrs. Kearns - the teacher - talked about how she had been in Charleston the day before to see a speech from Bill Clinton and got a sunburn.

Age 11, 1997 ... We had the party at my grandpa's. This was around the time I started to fall in love with wrestling, so that was the theme. I wanted my cake to have "nWo" written on it in icing, but for some reason that request was ignored. We watched WrestleMania 13, featuring one of the greatest matches in the history of all wrestling -- Bret Hart vs Steve Austin. My friend Joe and I loved it all. My friends Vince and Tyler, who hated wrestling, sat there for three hours.

Age 12, 1998 ... My mom's friend Paula and her 1-year-old son had been staying with me and my mom for a couple months at this time. Paula had some sort of appointment in Charleston that day and so I needed to go with her to watch her son while she went inside. Her car didn't have A/C, so it was miserable going up. Then I sat in the car with her son for what felt like forever, but was likely just an hour or so. Then the car broke down three times on the 2-hour drive back home. It was a long day. Solid contender for worst birthday ever.

Age 13, 1999 ... When I waited tables for a couple years, my fellow employees always hated the cheesy birthday songs we were supposed to sing when a table requested it. The reason why I never hated it and was known for being one of the most energetic and loud singers was because of my 13th birthday. My mom and her boyfriend got into an argument that evening, so he wasn't joining us for my birthday celebration. It was a negative mood as we sat at Shoney's celebrating me becoming a teenager. Then people came out singing and clapping and bringing me a piece of cake and it made me smile and feel good. And when I had the chance to do the clapping and dessert-giving, I always remembered that I could help have a positive impact on somebody's day.

Age 14, 2000 ... I went back-to-school shopping with my dad and his family. It was the first time I had ever been to an Olive Garden. I apparently lived a very sheltered life as a child. Near the end of the meal, as I got up to walk to the restroom, people started walking toward me and clapping, so I had to sit back down until they were done.

Age 15, 2001 ... I don't recall there being too much of a celebration this year. My mom and I had just moved to Princeton a couple months prior. Since it was the summer, and we didn't live right in town, I hadn't made any friends my own age yet. School started a week or so later. After the 2nd or 3rd day, my cat had kittens. Probably one of my earliest eye rolls in life was after hearing my mom tell me that I should tell everybody about the kittens and it would help me make friends.

Age 16, 2002 ... My girlfriend Kelly came over. We watched "Black Sheep" and held hands.

Age 17, 2003 ... Again, hung out with Kelly. I had been in Ripley with my grandpa for like a week or so before that. My allergies were really bad for some reason. I remember I woke up one day and there was so much gunk and mucus and watery stuff coming out of my eyes that it had dried up in my eyelashes while I was sleeping and I couldn't open my eyes when I woke up.

Age 18, 2004 ... The day I became a man was also the first day of college. I began the day at 9:30 in the remedial math class, taught by the tennis coach who has a mullet. He gave a speech that day basically saying "You're in the class because you're not good at math." He pointed to a coat hook on the wall. He said, "Hang your ego up on that as soon as you walk in the door." It was also my first day of learning that what happens in high school doesn't matter anymore. I was walking through the student center and was stopped by a table of four people I graduated with. I had only been friends with one of them. But I was accepted into the group immediately because we had that common high school bond in this new area.

Age 19, 2005 ... I didn't really do anything, I don't think. I hadn't been intending to grow my hair out, but around the time of my birthday I realized that it had literally been a year since my last trim. It was long and in a ponytail. So I got it cut. That's my main memory from turning 19.

Age 20, 2006 ... I don't think I had a party this year. School always started around my birthday at this point. And I never really cared about a birthday party.

Age 21, 2007 ... The night before, I spent my 21st birthday with a bunch of my friends having a few cocktails. On my actual birthday, I was there for freshman orientation, since I was the Editor-in-Chief of the student newspaper. I had recently gotten my first tattoo, so I showed that off to a bunch of people.

Age 22, 2008 ... I hung out with my friend at his band practice, after we were both done working at Pizza Hut that night. That's about all I remember. I got to play the drums a little bit.

Age 23, 2009 ... Me and my friend Mark had a joint party at the local strip club. We had been going so often that summer that the strippers knew us -- a couple gave us their real names and one even added us on Facebook. It was a fun time. 

Age 24, 2010 ... Candace, the girlfriend at this point, had balloons sent to my apartment, as she lived three hours away. That was sweet. Later that day, I'm on Concord's campus and send a tweet making some sort of joke about their being a lot of attractive 18-year-old girls around. Candace is incensed, using her good deed against me. "I send you balloons and you do something like this!" We had our volatile moments.

Age 25, 2011 ... I think the actual day was spent in a bar with some friends. But the actual "birthday party" was spent in Morgantown with Candace. She tolerated my wrestling love and ordered SummerSlam for me. That was the culmination of the "Summer of Punk" angle.

Age 26, 2012 ... Again, I don't recall doing anything on my actual birthday. The next day was the wedding of one of my friends. I wore a white shirt with a blue tie, without realizing that was the color theme of the entire wedding party. It was a fun time.

Age 27, 2013 ... I had recently started working with a guy named Matt. This was the day we officially became friends, I think. We had known each other casually for a month or so, but he found out it was my birthday and he made a fuss about how we had to go out. We started out at Cheers, the sketchiest of sketchy bars in Princeton. We met a nice lady inside and talked to her. We later walked outside and saw her puking. We then went to Danny's, where against my better judgement I did several shots of Jack Daniels and had several bottles of Bud Light Lime. I had to be at work at 8 a.m. the next day. The employee I'm supposed to let inside at 9:30 finally wakes me up at 10 asking where I'm at.

Age 28, 2014 ... Matt and I again hit the bar. We knew the bartender. We drank for free. And we drank a lot. I remember just being handed tons of random shots. At one point, the bartender comes over with a bottle of Jack Daniels and tells me to open my mouth. And he just starts pouring it in. After a while, I start going behind the bar and getting my own beers. Near the end of the night, I'm double-fisting a Smirnoff Green Apple and a Diet Coke. The bar serves food during the day. I go back and start making sandwiches for people. The bartender comes out, looks at me in shock and asks what I'm doing. "Making sandwiches. Want one?" He thinks for a second before saying yes.

Age 29, 2015 ... Am I getting more responsible as I get older? Probably just more tired. I worked that morning and afternoon, then I went home and didn't go out. 

Age 30, 2016 ... Went to a "Business After Hours" networking thing held by the Chamber of Commerce with some friends from work. The chamber people are tipped off that it's my birthday and get a room of people to sing to me. Afterwards, I hit the Luray bar scene and spend the day after my birthday recovering.

And there's my first 30 years. What's gonna happen in my next 30 years? Then start singing the awful Tim McGraw song to yourself...

Saturday, August 13, 2016

Evolution of Punk

CM Punk's first match in the Ultimate Fighting Championship octagon goes down at UFC 203 on September 10, live on pay-per-view. To lead up to that, a documentary about Punk's nearly two-year path from signing the contract to stepping in the ring will debut on August 15. The trailer is above.

I'm interested in watching the 4-part documentary. I'm not going out of my way to watch the fight, but if it's something I can easily view I'll check it out. I just don't have a huge interested in the UFC.

I do, however, have a huge interest in CM Punk. It's hard to put into words just how important he was for wrestling. He was the guy who didn't look like the typical WWE star, but went in and kicked down every door until the wrestling world was forced to notice and accept that he was a star.

But... the respect wasn't there from the WWE higher-ups, and it all culminated in Punk walking out of WWE in January 2014. He was formally released from WWE that summer. He received the papers on his wedding day. Vince McMahon has stated in an interview that it was an unfortunate coincidence; Punk doesn't believe that.

Punk has been a long-time UFC fan, so it didn't raise any eyebrows when people found out he was at the Nov. 2014 event. Nor did it arouse any suspicion when it was found out he was going to do an interview during the show. He's friends with a lot of UFC higher-ups and he's a good talker - why not get him on television?

He made the announcement and got the world talking. There was a lot of chatter about whether or not he deserved a UFC contract. People dedicate their lives to trying to make it to the UFC and never get there. And Punk was essentially handed one based on his celebrity status.

Punk began training in January 2015. People were eyeing a fight later that year, or maybe early 2016. A shoulder injury took him out for a couple months and the timeline went away. UFC head Dana White began an online reality show to find an opponent for Punk.

Mickey Gall ultimately won the chance to face Punk. They had a spring 2016 date set for the fight, but Punk required back surgery and they went back to the drawing board. After he was fully healed, they added the fight to the September event.

Two years of speculation - if he can do this or if he will fall flat on his face - will all culminate when Punk steps into the octagon in September. In a fitting irony, the building Punk will look to earn his respect in is the same building he walked out of in WWE. The Monday Night Raw in January 2014 and UFC 203 in September 2016 both call Cleveland, Ohio home.

We'll see what happens. I'm curious to watch it all unfold.

Friday, July 8, 2016

Wrestling Review: #TheFinalDeletion Matt Hardy vs Jeff Hardy

It was hyped for weeks, and it finally happened Tuesday night, July 5 -- #TheFinalDeletion match between Matt and Jeff Hardy. For the longest time, we didn't know much about this match. Just that it was filmed at Matt's North Carolina home and that it would be unlike anything that wrestling fans had ever seen.

Then, the reaction videos started appearing. In a really cool twist, TNA Impact Wrestling filmed various wrestlers and other personalities watching the match and all we could see and hear was their reactions. It built anticipation.

But, first, what led to this:

Matt and Jeff Hardy are brothers from North Carolina who first popped up in WWE in the mid 90s as what is now known as "enhancement talent" aka the nameless, random guys who would always lose. Matt was in his early 20s and Jeff was a teenager.

The era from 1999-2001 was the height of their success as a tag team, as they became huge stars and loved by fans of all ages. They were cool. Matt was the ring general, the leader of the group. Jeff was the wild one, the free spirit. He had the crazy-colored hair and would do all of the insane flips that drove wrestling fans insane.

WWE first tried to split the group apart in late 2001, with Matt getting jealous of Jeff. The feud lasted less than a month and was quickly forgotten. They eventually went their own ways a year later when WWE did their initial brand split. Jeff was a popular babyface, eventually leaving WWE in 2003. Matt became the more well-rounded character, starting off as a heel known as "Matt Hardy, Version 1." Like all good bad guys, they eventually start to be respected by the crowd and he turned into a good guy.

Jeff came back in 2006 and WWE had the Hardys reunion tour for most of 2007. By 2009, they went into their first full-blown "Hardy vs Hardy" feud, with the same theme as 2001 -- jealousy. Matt was jealous that he was the better wrestler, the architect behind the team and got no respect from the fans while Jeff was universally loved. They had a couple matches and that was the end of that. Jeff left the company on good terms later that year and Matt was released on bad terms in 2010.

Jeff has had two stints in Total Nonstop Action Wrestling, the first in 2004 and lasting about a year. Then he came back in 2010 and has been there since. He has gone through a lot of ups and downs in the last six years, from being a multiple time World Champion to getting suspended and sent home for showing up "impaired" at a live pay-per-view. TNA got a lot of deserved criticism for actually sending Jeff to the ring in that state.

Fast forward a few years and Matt and Jeff are both in TNA together. They have reunited and have held the tag team championships. Then, Jeff breaks his leg in an outside-the-ring accident. So, Matt is on his own.

It culminated with Matt winning the TNA World Championship. Through some chicanery, Matt is stripped of the title without ever defending it. It builds a lot of sympathy for Matt as a good guy. When the time finally comes for him to get his rematch... the turn happens! 

Matt Hardy, sympathetic hero that we all love, now wants to be known as "Big Money" Matt. He takes cocky, Ric-Flair-esque character traits and becomes a very entertaining bad guy. Also, around this time, Jeff comes back and costs Matt the world title. So, they are now in a feud.

They have a couple crazy matches filled with extreme high spots that Jeff is known for. Matt tweets that his injuries will likely end his career. Nobody believes him, and he shows up a month later looking and acting crazy. He has a blond streak in his hair, is talking with a weird accent, and will only refer to Jeff as "Brother Nero." His middle name is Nero.

He is no longer "Big Money" Matt. He is now "Broken" Matt Hardy

Matt now wants to destroy Jeff. He tells him that this will be "Ovah!" They have a contract signing for the match that quickly goes viral for how weird it is. It's produced like something off of a cheesy television show.

Jeff defeats Matt in their first match and Matt posts a Facebook Live video promising a retort, but is actually five minutes of him standing in his hotel room staring at a camera. After Jeff wins their second match, held in a steel cage, Matt again posts a Facebook Live video, this time it is of him writhing around in pain in a bed.

It all culminated in #TheFinalDeletion match. Matt challenged Jeff to one more match, promising that one Hardy will be deleted. The anticipation built. And built. And then it happened. There are a lot of people who love it. Chris Jericho, one of the biggest stars in WWE, tweeted his support of the match.
Others hate it. Wrestling purists will say that it's ridiculous. The experiment paid off, though. TNA got their highest ratings since they moved their show to PopTV, formerly known as the TV Guide Channel.

It is below. It was presented in a couple different parts throughout the TV show, so the spots where commercials would have been are actually plugs for TNA's show changing nights.

I'm still figuring out how I feel about the match. There are some ridiculous campy parts of it. The actual wrestling match isn't anything special. The acting is decent by the others involved. Matt is overacting on purpose. Jeff is Jeff, which is all we'll say about his performance.

It's an interesting piece of business. I'm still deciding if it's "so bad it's good" or just so bad. It was entertaining at a few parts, so I can't complain... I guess.

In terms of this as a layered story, I like it. Matt Hardy was a veteran good guy wrestler who turned heel because he achieved his dream of winning the title and he still wasn't getting the respect that he deserved. He was cocky and on top of the world. Then, his brother cost him the title and destroyed him. He went from "Big Money" to "Broken." That all makes sense and is very compelling.

From what they're implying, this does not appear to be the end of the story. So, it will be interesting to see what the fallout from #TheFinalDeleton is.