Monday, November 13, 2017

Norm Macdonald Clip of the Week: Lee Majors

This week's "Norm Macdonald Clip of the Week" is from his recent Netflix comedy special. He talks about the irony of watching an episode of the "Six Million Dollar Man" and then immediately seeing a commercial staring Lee Majors for a hearing aid called the "Bionic Ear." Norm then imagines the conversation between Majors and his agent for a spot in the commercial. Hilariously sad is the best way to describe it.

Friday, November 10, 2017

Updates: Writing and weather

It's cold. I'm not a fan of the cold. But, such is life. It's part of the seasons. I guess it's time to break out my heavy coat and gloves soon.

I've been reading books a little more than normal lately. Like my drinking, I will often binge read. Over the last couple weeks, I've read three books and am starting my fourth. Then I'll probably go a month or two without reading any books. I guess that's healthier than binge drinking. Not sure if it's as fun, though.

I have some fun writing announcements to make soon. Professionally, I've been working on something with the newspaper. We're still hammering out all of the kinks, but for now, all I'll say is keep your eyes peeled on the blog section of the newspaper's website. A more formal announcement is coming shortly.

Personally, I've been spending my free time working on a writing project that involves my college days. I'm not rushing that and am taking my time. You'll hear more about that in 2018.

I've had four pieces published in the Charleston Gazette-Mail since I started in March. Here's where we learn our valuable lesson about rejection: four pieces published and I was told no on probably five others. But, it all comes back around; that other project may be a home to some of my rejected pieces.

Here are the four I've had printed:

Opioids a more immediate problem than tobacco ... sort of a rebuttal to a retired doctor who wrote a piece about how we shouldn't lose focus on the dangers of smoking. 

Short-sighted efforts to bring back coal are not the answer ... shortly after President Trump pulled America out of the Paris Climate Agreement, I got angry and typed out some words.

Let's keep the Bible out of our classrooms ... my take on the controversial "Bible in the Classrooms" program that Mercer County has taught in schools for decades

Deplorable senators doing what they do best ... taking a look at the Republican efforts to destroy the Affordable Care Act, with a special focus on West Virginia's own horrible senator, Shelley Moore Capito

And, I'll start having some more links to showcase to the world on a fairly regular basis. More on that later.

Sunday, October 8, 2017

Rainy Sunday

A nice, rainy Sunday. It's been "autumn" for a while, but it's still felt like summer every single day. To quote Marge Simpson, "After spring and winter, fall is my favorite season."

Favorite episodes of the simpsons: the one where Rodney Dangerfield is Mr. Burns' long-lost son. The one where Homer has to go back to college. The one where Homer finds a cure for his baldness and his life magically improves. And, pretty much all the other ones. That sounds like an idea for a list one day.

I have some new opportunities coming up at work. I think if everything goes according to plan, this could be something cool for me to do. I know I still have at least one piece waiting around to be published in the op-ed section of the paper; the piece about the Bible class in Mercer County.

I'm working on a couple other side projects. Those are taking time. But, it's time well spent. More on that later.

Monday, October 2, 2017

Tom Petty

The joke among all of our friends was that every band that played at Danny's Bar in Princeton always did a cover of "Mary Jane's Last Dance." It's like the go-to song for any band starting out that needs to learn a few covers to fill time at concerts.

When I was on the college newspaper staff, I had a staff member who was a big music buff, and he had a Tom Petty greatest hits album. I borrowed it to burn onto my computer. He later asked if I still had it. I told him I did not. He wondered who did, then quoted an obscure Simpsons joke that made me chuckle: "Talk about 'petty' theft!" About a year later, I realized I actually did still have the album. Oops.

I had a friend who was feeling sad and wanted to listen to sad music. She was big into emo and was telling me that it was too depressing for her. I suggested some "upbeat sad music," as if that's a genre. I asked if she knew who Tom Petty was. She wasn't familiar with his work. I told her to look up "You Don't Know How It Feels." And that's how she became a fan.

Here, quickly, I'll throw out a rough "Top 10" favorite songs of his.

"Into The Great Wide Open" ... A tale of a couple moving to Hollywood and becoming huge music stars, only to turn bitter at the success they encounter.

"Mary Jane's Last Dance" ... There's a reason why every cover band plays this one. It's a great song that everybody knows the words to and enjoys.

"You Wreck Me" ... Something about the line "I'll be the boy in the corduroy pants, you be the girl at the high school dance" has always resonated with me. There's a nervousness and anxiousness in this track.

"Free Falling" ... Such a nice song about being an asshole to a sweet, innocent girl. "I'm a bad boy, cause I don't even miss her. I'm a bad boy, for breaking her heart."

"Walls (03)" ... There are a couple different versions of this song; one is more upbeat and slower, for a movie soundtrack. This version isn't necessarily "harder" or "louder," but it's a little less pop-sounding.

"Learning To Fly" ... Another song about life and the hardships contained within. Sometimes you have to do things before you're ready -- "learning to fly, but I ain't got wings."

"Stop Draggin' My Heart Around" ... Technically, a Stevie Nicks song featuring Tom Petty, but it's great. It's a tale of two lovers singing back and forth to each other, about how they need to figure out what they're doing.

"American Girl" ... A story of optimism; a girl going off in search of what she believes is her American dream.

"Even The Losers" ... Another tale of optimism, as even the losers get lucky sometimes.

"The Last DJ" ... One of the later tracks Petty released, this one is an angry take on the state of the radio industry in the early 2000's.

We'll close with his 2004 tribute to George Harrison. Prince stole the show, but everybody rocked out hard.

Sunday, October 1, 2017

Norm Macdonald Clip of the Week: 'Hey there, Mr. Candyman'

This week's "Norm Macdonald Clip of the Week" is from his latest podcast episode, an interview with everybody's favorite Tool Man, Tim Allen. 

Allen had been in the news lately for his conservative viewpoints and making comments about how odd he felt in Hollywood as a result. In this podcast, those specific comments don't come up per se, but there is a little talk of religion and politics.

But, then Allen eases into "joke mode" and it's a hilarious episode.

In this clip, the group had been discussing outdated, old-timey phrases and it was all a set up for Norm to bring up a phrase which he wonders could have been a prior nickname for Allen.

If any of what is discussed is new to you, yes, Tim Allen spent a couple years in prison in the '70s for selling cocaine. And, Norm finds a way to hilariously and awkwardly bring that up during the interview.

Monday, September 18, 2017

My Monday Mood

Chris Cornell has said that the idea for this song came when he saw two limos driving on the road and thought it would be cool if they started racing. Then, he thought "What if they wrecked?" Then he just started fantasizing about that and the line "The wreck of you is the death of you all," popped in his head and it all came to him from there.

One of my favorite Soundgarden songs. It's definitely toward the top. I need to do another one of those old "Top 25" blog posts. I don't think I've done one in a while. 

Shortly after Cornell's death, I was listening to a lot more Soundgarden and Audioslave and I noticed how eerily morbid a lot of the songs were now that he was dead via suicide. So, I made a list of those songs that, in essence, possibly foretold his death, and I wrote it up.

I sent it to a few places to see if they wanted to publish it, but like when I talk to girls, all I got was rejection. I tried to get it printed on BuzzFeed. It wasn't a dumb quiz or a collection of funny memes, so they passed. So, I posted it over at Medium dot com. In theory, that's a great site, but really, it kind of sucks.

I think my piece "Suicidal Thoughts: The Troubling Lyrics Of Chris Cornell" is pretty cool. Check it out and see for yourself.

* * *

My "Sounds of Summer" columns have all been printed. The third try is on the website, and I think it's nice. I think of all three, I enjoy number two the best; the "songs that say goddamn" edition. When they're printed, the title is always "Sounds of Summer: The [clever phrase] edition." If the GD one had been printed, I was going to see if I could get away with calling it "Sounds of Summer: The 'God, damn' edition."

For those who know their grammar, that's technically not the "GD" word. But, obviously, that one wasn't going to be printed. Nor was my collection of debauchery and other nonsense.

I actually had three other ideas. The first two were not funny enough, and the third was just mean. Here they are:

Sounds of Summer: The 'Creep' edition ... The introduction was going to be a funny tale about how I'm socially awkward and a creep, followed by my favorite songs that are titled "Creep." Stone Temple Pilots, "I think you're kind of neat, then she tells me I'm a creep." Radiohead, "I'm a creep; I'm a weirdo, what the hell am I doing here?" The funny part was that I was also going to use TLC's song "Creep," and talk about how they were "trifling." I couldn't find enough songs called "Creep" to fill out the list, and I didn't think it was funny enough.

Sounds of Summer: The 'Not Wonderwall' edition ... Oasis songs that aren't Wonderwall. Pretty self explanatory. I wrote down a bunch of their songs that I like and was going to talk about how they're better than just that one song everybody loves. Live Forever" was recently in the public eye, as it was the unofficial theme song of the Ariana Grande benefit concert. "Hello" and "She's Electric" and "Lyla" are good ones too.

Sounds of Summer: The 'Hangin around' edition ... The intro was going to talk about how I like to relax and spend time with friends, you know, hanging around. The first song was going to be "Hanginaround," by the Counting Crows. Then the other songs were, ummm, going to, uhhh, be by... Chris Cornell and Chester Bennington and the guy from INXS... and I wasn't going to mention anything about their deaths, and just talk about how those were good songs to listen to when "hanging around."

Side note: the INXS guy was believed to be one of those "masturbation gone wrong" tales. But, others believe he was a sad guy.

I chuckled when I thought about the idea. But, the more I thought about it, I realized that there was no good comedy from it. I have no problem saying something outrageous if I think there's a point or if it's part of some greater good. I don't like really crazy religious people, so I have no problem comparing God to a comic book character. With this one, it was shocking for the sake of being shocking, with no good punchline or lesson, so I discarded it. I'm more mature in my 30s, apparently.

* * *

In other news:

I'm getting my wisdom teeth removed Oct. 6. I took Ashley Green to Beckley in 2013 to get hers removed and then drove her home afterward. We watched "Boy Meets World" on DVD and ate popsicles. 

I tried to be a vegetarian again for a while. For the summer and into the fall of 2014, I didn't eat meat and rode my bike around a lot, and had a friend ask if I was doing pills because I was getting thinner. I was pretty strict for about a month, but now I eat meat if I'm feeling lazy.

I got a Simpsons tattoo a couple weeks ago. I had been wondering what to get for a while, to show my love of the show, but I didn't want something obvious. So, I got the town motto tattooed on my right arm, above my elbow: "A noble spirit embiggens the smallest man." The joke is that nobody in the town knows it's a fake word.

I can't stand people that are "beer snobs." They love hoppy stuff with fancy names and IPA's and look down on Miller Lite and the like. I'm not one of those people, but I realized recently that I am a mustard snob. I buy fancy, random flavored and spiced mustards in weird jars and I can't stand the regular yellow stuff.

That's it for now. More later.

Sunday, September 17, 2017

Sounds of Summer: the "too scandalous for print" edition, PART DEUX

The Charleston Gazette-Mail does a weekly seasonal music column called "Sounds of Summer." It's written on a rotating basis by randomly-selected staff members. I was asked to contribute to a mid-August issue. I looked at the past issues and thought that people were taking it way too seriously; nobody really cares what music we love and what touches us deeply. So, I wanted to have some fun with it. I thought of funny stories involving me and women in my past, added some song titles that related to it, and turned it in. I was told we couldn't print that one, as it was a bit too scandalous. I decided to write a second column. I wanted it to be edgy and funny, and I did that. Without mentioning the word directly, I wrote a column detailing my favorite songs that say "goddamn" in the lyrics -- Fall Out Boy, Panic At The Disco, Foo Fighters, Weezer, etc. I was told it was "too edgy." They say that the 3rd time is the charm, so I decided to write about my favorite musicians who died when they were 27. 

The first column can be found by clicking here.

The second column is below. I told a couple friends about my idea and they helped out a little bit. My friend Melisa gave me Fall Out Boy, while my friend Eric suggested Panic at the Disco. I came up with the rest.

The third column was printed by the newspaper and is on their website, found by clicking here.

* * * 

By Chris Slater 

One of my favorite fictional characters is God. The stories about him are grand. Created a universe. Talking bushes. Snakes and apples. He’s a lot like Magneto: he has so much power and makes a lot of bad decisions, but he has the best intentions. He is revered so much that we aren’t allowed to speak his name in vain. It’s in his list of 10 random rules. It’s above killing people and stealing and non-monogamy. 

I love the power that God has to take one of the most casual swear words around, “damn,” and suddenly turn it into something cringeworthy that people hate. Just stick God right there in front of that simple word and you’ve bumped up to a whole new level of swearing. It’s right there with the F one and the S one and the C one. I’m not talking about coal. 

With that said, here are my favorite songs by respected artists that feature that incorrigible, filthy word. 

“This Ain’t A Scene, It’s An Arms Race,” Fall Out Boy ... I automatically have to like any band that gets their name from an obscure Simpsons reference. My favorite use of profanity is when it doesn’t add anything to the original point; they’re just words to take up space. And that’s the case here. It’s not just an “arms race,” it’s a, well, you know. 

“Stranger Things Have Happened,” Foo Fighters ... This is one of the few songs that Dave Grohl and company have never performed live. That’s likely because it’s one of the most personal songs Grohl has ever written. For the funny, charismatic public persona that he puts out there, he writes a lot of troubling, sad music. With this one, the offending phrase is used to help describe the empty room he finds himself in. 

“I Write Sins Not Tragedies,” Panic! At The Disco ... It took me a while to warm up to this band. I was in college when they first came out, and all my friends loved them so much that I think I disliked them out of spite. In this tale of infidelity at a wedding, the star of Broadway’s “Kinky Boots” uses the naughtiest of swears to implore people to keep a door closed. 

“Original Prankster,” The Offspring ... The 90s punk group with the highest-selling independent album of all time are still going strong on the nostalgia tour circuit. They typically make two kinds of songs: really poignant ones about internal strife, such as “Gone Away” or “Defy You” or sophomoric pop-rock hits like “Pretty Fly (For A White Guy)” and this one. What I like about this song’s profanity is that there is literally zero need for it. It just exists as a word get from one thought to the other. Nothing more, nothing less. 

“El Scorcho,” Weezer ... The title comes from a packet of hot sauce. Aside from its references to mid 90s wrestlers New Jack and Johnny Grunge, I like this song because of its exuberant, happy-sounding shouting of the worst curse word out there. And also because of nonsense lyrics like “The redhead said you shred the cello, and I’m Jell-O, baby.” 

Chris Slater is a copy editor with the Charleston Gazette-Mail. His first “Sounds of Summer” contained too many tales of sex and debauchery and was deemed unfit for print. Follow him on twitter, @chris_slater.

Tuesday, September 5, 2017

Sounds of Summer: the "too scandalous for print" edition

The Charleston Gazette-Mail does a weekly seasonal music column called "Sounds of Summer." It's written on a rotating basis by randomly-selected staff members. I was asked to contribute to a mid-August issue. I looked at the past issues and thought that people were taking it way too seriously; nobody really cares what music we love and what touches us deeply. So, I wanted to have some fun with it. I thought of funny stories involving me and women in my past, added some song titles that related to it, and turned it in. I was told we couldn't print that one, as it was a bit too scandalous. I decided to write a second column. I wanted it to be edgy and funny, and I did that. Without mentioning the word directly, I wrote a column detailing my favorite songs that say "goddamn" in the lyrics -- Fall Out Boy, Panic At The Disco, Foo Fighters, Weezer, etc. I was told it was "too edgy." They say that the 3rd time is the charm, so I decided to write about my favorite musicians who died when they were 27. 

The first column is below; I literally just thought of stories with women and bars and good/bad times and wrote those, then figured out a song title that relates to it.

The second one, I'll post at a later date.

The third one, can be found by clicking here.

* * *

By Chris Slater

The Sounds of Summer? Des-puh-see-tow? Or something like that? I haven’t watched the most-watched YouTube video of all time. I’m not keen on what the kids are into these days. To quote Abe Simpson, “I used to be with it. But then they changed what ‘it’ is.” With that, here are some random stories that relate to songs. 

“Cigarettes and Alcohol,” Oasis ... I’ve been out looking for a good time, and as the “Britpop” track points out, all I’ve found is cigarettes and alcohol. My attempts at wooing a lady since moving to Charleston haven’t been good. Rejection has been the tale of the tape. One particularly woeful night, I’m staggering home, after a night of disappointment at the ironically-named Red Carpet and thinking about how this isn’t fun anymore. That was the start of my two-month break from alcohol. I’ve since picked up that bad habit again and hit up the bar scene. Still looking for that elusive good time. 

“Every Breaking Wave,” U2 ... I got cheated on once by a girlfriend. Celia asked me at the time not to tell anybody, so I won't go into detail about how she went to the beach and had sex with one of her friends. The next day, I'm working at Outback, pretending to be cheerful to the horrible customers. While punching in an order, "Every Breaking Wave," the only good song on that U2 album iTunes gave everybody, began playing over the speakers. That was when I realized it was about a failing relationship. We're the sand and the waves ruin us. I had to do that thing where you blink a lot and try to maintain your composure. Crying at Outback would have affected my tips. 

“Go Away,” Weezer ... The girl I met on Tinder from channel 13 ghosted me. That's the worst. It's one thing to say "Yeah, this isn't working out, let's not do this anymore." It's another thing to spend a month getting to know each other -- enough time to get over the initial cringe factor of her having the same name as my mother -- and then realize after two weeks of her not replying to texts that you're no longer Facebook friends. I know my faults; I understand why a lot of people don't like me. I've been racking my brain trying to figure out what I did to cause this to happen. I don't know why she was telling me to go away. 

 “She’s Only 18,” Red Hot Chili Peppers ... I realized that I wasn't matching up well with women my own age. 28-, 29-, 30-year-old ladies didn't seem to connect mentally with me. So, I dropped down an age bracket and started seeing girls a lot younger. 18 to 20 became the "flavor of the month." Trends I've noticed in the young kids: they tend to identify as pansexual, a lot are submissive and they spend all their free time on tumblr. As Anthony Kiedis sings, "She took a shortcut to being fully grown." I enjoyed the thrill of knowing I was doing something socially weird. It was fun when they would have to lie to their parents to come see me. I was especially drawn to the fact that they were still upbeat and not destroyed by the crushing agony of life. 

“You Can’t Always Get What You Want,” The Rolling Stones ... I went out to the bar one night and ran into two friends -- a girl I knew from working at Outback and one from school. They both hit it off well and we all had a grand time. The night culminated with me getting forcibly removed from a strip club after mouthing off to a stripper -- but that's a story for another time. As the night winds down, school friend looks at work friend and asks a question. I'll paraphrase in order to clean up the language: "Hey, are you interested in joining me for a girl-on-girl sex act?" Work friend says yes. You know that emoji with the shocked face and huge eyes? That's me right now. School friend decides to ask a follow up: "Remember that sex act I mentioned a moment ago? How about we involve Chris in that as well?" I drive us to the most romantic spot to do something like that: the Budget Inn. Work friend opens the car door ... and immediately begins puking all over the parking lot. I try in vain to save the night. But, alas, it did not happen. And I learned that you can't always get what you want. 

Chris Slater is a copy editor with the Charleston Gazette-Mail. He has a weird obsession with anthropomorphic animals and spends his free time watching either “The Simpsons” or professional wrestling. Follow him on twitter, @chris_slater.

Saturday, July 15, 2017

Norm Macdonald Clip of the Week: New "Norm Live" episodes!

The latest season of "Norm Macdonald Live," the video podcast hosted by one of this generation's best comedians, is back for its... 4th season? Or maybe it's still technically on its 3rd season, which abruptly ended last year after only two episodes -- interviews with Stephen Merchant and Bill Hader.

In the preview clip above, Norm welcomes television icon David Letterman onto his show. They discuss Dave's insistence that he's done with late-night TV and his urging that Norm do more with the genre.

This would appear to be during the "jokes" portion of the show, as that's how the clip ends. A standard episode is around an hour long, and begins with an introduction by Norm and his sidekick, Adam Eget, a well-known comedy club owner. After the intro piece, which will often be a funny story, a rambling Norm-style joke he's famous for, or some sort of skit, the guest will come on and they talk about whatever. Then the show closes out with the group reading jokes. Here's a sampling (NSFW):

He's had a wide range of guests on the program: everybody from Billy Bob Thornton to Roseanne to Adam Sandler to Carl Reiner to Larry King to Andy Dick. It's an entertaining way to spend an hour, that's for sure.

The first episode of the new season is particularly interesting, since David Letterman rarely does interviews these days, since retiring several years ago. Dave has always had a soft spot for Norm, noting that he was one of his favorite late-night guests, and one of his favorite comedians. And Norm has always talked about how much he looked up to Dave as both a comedian and television personality. In fact, Norm was the final stand up comedy act on Letterman's "Late Night" program in its final week.

Sunday, July 2, 2017

Makin' pages: My job at the newspaper

I've been a copy editor with the Charleston Gazette-Mail since March 2, 2017. Before that, I spent 15 months as a reporter with the Page News and Courier, in Luray, VA. My job duties at the two are very different.

Luray: Cover local government for three towns, write news articles on whatever pops up, work on occasional feature articles, take pictures.

Charleston: Read over articles, look for grammatical errors, design pages, put articles on the website.

I had experience doing page design in high school and college; eight school years of using the programs and doing stuff. So, I knew what I was doing when I got here, I just needed to familiarize myself with the Charleston way of doing things.

I would say after about three months, I started feeling like more a part of the crew, as opposed to a new guy working here fumbling around.

Below, is a sampling of what I've done during my time in Charleston.

Above is the first page I designed for the newspaper, on my first day. They had me play around in the design program for a while, and after seeing that I had an idea of what I was doing, they let me do this.

I will admit to getting slightly political with this Donald Trump article. I thought it would be hilarious to put a picture of Trump giving a thumbs up to an article talking about how wrong he was.

After a while I got to design the "Valley & State" section, which is essentially like a secondary front page inside the newspaper. There's a little more freedom for creativity and experimentation.

I enjoy throwing in a good pun wherever I can.

That last picture is two of my columns for the opinion section in the computer system, waiting to be printed. More on that later...

Sunday, June 25, 2017

Chris Benoit: 10 Years Later

A decade has passed since the darkest day in professional wrestling history. Monday, June 25, 2007, police officers entered the Atlanta home of Chris Benoit and discovered his body, as well as the bodies of his wife Nancy and 7-year-old son, Daniel.

Sometime over that weekend, Chris killed Nancy -- who had performed in the wrestling industry from the late 1980s until the late 90s -- by wrapping a cord of some sort around her neck and strangling her. The next day, he sedated his son before putting Daniel's neck in the crook of his elbow and strangling him. That Sunday, Benoit sent some erratic-sounding text messages to a few fellow wrestlers, before hanging himself using a pulley system on a weight machine.

Benoit had missed scheduled events during that week, calling officials and explaining that his family had all gotten sick with food poisoning. He missed that Sunday's "Vengeance" pay per view event, where he was to wrestle CM Punk for the vacant ECW Championship that he was scheduled to win. He had no contact directly with WWE officials that day, and it was publicly stated during the show that Benoit was missing the match due to "personal reasons."

WWE officials learned of the erratic texts that he sent on Sunday that Monday. They called the Atlanta police and asked them to perform a welfare check. The officers then discovered the bodies. Around 5:00 p.m. the decision was made to cancel the 8:00 p.m. 3-hour show for that night and air a Chris Benoit commemorative episode. Before the show was off the air, the word had gotten out that it was being investigated as a murder-suicide. It wouldn't come out until Tuesday that it was Benoit who had murdered his family.

To commemorate the five-year anniversary, I wrote a piece over at @TricycleOffense in 2012 looking at where I was and how I felt that day in 2007. I looked over it for the first time in a while and I feel like it still holds up well. So, the following is an excerpt from that article.

* * *

Tricycle Offense | July 9, 2012

I remember the day clearly. I usually tried to avoid working on Monday nights, but sometimes I would have to. It usually worked out, as I would get off at 8 p.m. and make it home in time for wrestling at 9. This time, Monday Night Raw was a special 3-hour episode and started at 8 p.m. That is when I was scheduled off and explained to the manager my predicament. They all understood my weird obsession with wrestling, so I was allowed to leave at 7:45.

I made it home at 8:15 and quickly turned on the television. What I saw completely threw me off and confused me.
Bill Goldberg.
Goldberg, who hadn’t been a WWE wrestler since 2004, was on my television destroying everybody around him. I watched for a few seconds and quickly realized what I was watching – the Royal Rumble from 2004. A 30-man battle royal, this was the segment in the middle after Goldberg had just entered. The winner of that event was Chris Benoit. It led to his World Heavyweight Championship victory in the main event of WrestleMania 20.
I had figured out what it was, but I still didn’t know why it was on my TV screen. That is, until a graphic at the bottom of the screen popped up saying “In memory of Chris, Nancy, and Daniel Benoit.” I didn’t have Internet access where I was, and this was before the proliferation of smart phones. I called my then-girlfriend Kelly. She wasn’t a wrestling fan, but kept up with it by proxy from being around me. She answered the phone:
Me: “Go to for me.”
Kelly: “What? Chris, no.”
Me: “I think Chris Benoit is dead.”
She couldn’t get to, as their site was over capacity. I told her to try Again, she couldn’t get through. I had been on her computer, so TNA’s website was in her history. She went there and they had posted a condolence message for Benoit.
I watched the rest of the show in a trance. I couldn’t believe that one of my favorite professional wrestlers was dead. I tried to wrap my head around that. And around the fact that all three were dead. I was trying to brainstorm how. Car wreck? Carbon monoxide poisoning? Home intruder? I thought of every possible scenario except for the actual one.
Since WWE had just found out hours before Raw that Benoit had died, the show that night had been canceled, and a 3-hour tribute was quickly put together. It was highlights of Benoit’s career introduced by the announcers, as well as video comments from wrestlers in Benoit’s memory. A few weeks earlier, WWE had started the controversial “Mr. McMahon has died” angle and Vince appeared in the ring inside the empty arena saying that the show was originally supposed to continue that story, but because of Benoit’s death they were dropping that.
Later that night, I got online and tried to find out more information. I still couldn’t load, but I managed to get onto and saw a brief blurb that said the incident was now being treated as a murder investigation.
Before I went to bed that night, I re-watched the 2-disc Benoit documentary that WWE had released in 2004. As I was watching one of my favorite wrestlers discuss his early days in ECW, his turmoil-filled years in WCW, and finally his road to redemption in WWE, I started processing the information in my head. I wasn’t feeling very good about the situation the more I thought about it. As sick as it sounds, I remember thinking to myself as I was falling asleep, “I hope Nancy killed Chris.”
I didn’t want one of my heroes tarnished. That’s what Chris Benoit had been to myself and a lot of other people. He had been a hero. He was an example of hard work and dedication paying off for somebody who was told he wouldn’t be able to do something.

[Read the full post at Tricycle Offense dot com]

* * * 

WWE came under a lot of fire for airing the tribute show. In their defense, who could have imagined something like that happening? The next day, on the Tuesday ECW program, a taped message from Vince aired before the show. He noted that now that the facts are coming out, there will be no more mention of Benoit's name. 

McMahon noted that the WWE superstars were going to go back to what they did best -- entertaining everybody watching. He said that that day was the first in the healing process.

So, where are we 10 years later? Have we healed? What is the state of WWE and wrestling in general?

For the safety of the wrestlers, the industry is in a much better place. After the 2005 death of Eddie Guerrero from heart disease, WWE began implementing their Wellness Policy. After the 2007 death of Benoit, they finally started getting really serious about it.

Benoit -- and Guerrero before him -- were both heavily using steroids, but not being criticized for it. That culture seems to have largely been removed from the wrestling world. Jacked-up bodybuilders with unnatural bodies are a thing of the past.

True to their word, Benoit has not been mentioned or shown on WWE programming in the last 10 years. You cannot search "Chris Benoit" on the WWE Network, as nothing shows up. You can still watch events that feature his matches, though.

There was an uncomfortable stigma around wrestling in the later half of 2007 and for a while afterward. That, too, is largely gone. The wrestling world that Chris Benoit existed in has turned over both a new generation of wrestlers and fans. There are a lot of young fans who have no idea who Benoit is.

What is Benoit's legacy? Does he deserve to be remembered for what he was before June 25, 2007 -- one of the greatest wrestlers of all time? Does he deserve to be remembered as a heinous murderer who took two innocent lives before taking his own? Is there a gray area for possible head trauma from concussions clouding his mind? Alcohol use? Steroid "roid rage" potentially?

As I mentioned five years ago, Benoit was the unofficial catalyst for increased head trauma awareness in sports. The National Football League has been under fire for the issues that happen to their athletes. 

I feel like we won't know for a long time the full extent of brain trauma in athletes. The only way to study an athlete's brain is after he or she has died. A lot of athletes -- both in professional wrestling and other sports -- have agreed to donate their brain to science. All we can really do is wait for those findings.

To put a positive on the tragedy, increased awareness of head trauma related to concussions and the cleaning up of an oftentimes filthy wrestling industry is perhaps what we have 10 years after that awful late June 2007 weekend.

Sunday, June 11, 2017

#PizzaBlog Looking at the first summer

The Facebook "memories" deal showed me something from five years ago that made me do a bit of a double take. Five years ago, June 10, 2012, was the last day of operation for the "old" Pizza Hut building in Princeton. The one between McDonalds and Hardees, and across the street from the high school, shut down on that day and opened shortly after at its current location down the street in the Kroger plaza. I wasn't there when that happened.

I marked the occasion by getting nostalgic with some friends via text message, telling them that the five-year mark of "our" Pizza Hut closing was that day. We shared memories and good times, and also a few bad times.

It got me thinking about old times and things that have changed. With that, let's take a look back at how I got hired at Pizza Hut in June 2005 and my immediate thoughts on my first summer.

* * *

I sat around for the first week or so of my summer break in 2005 not doing a whole lot. I made it a point to watch Maury Povich every day. If I got up early enough I would catch "The Price is Right," but it was a chore getting up to watch something at 11 a.m. so I often missed that. I was sitting on the couch with Jed, my cat, when my mom walked past and innocently asked, "Why don’t you go get a job?" Hmmmm. A job? I’d never thought of that. Still 18 and not really being able to function on my own, I asked my mom what to do. She explained how the process worked: you go inside the building and ask for an application. Sounded simple enough. I didn’t have a car but we lived down the street from Stafford Drive, where a majority of fast-food businesses were located.

The walk wasn't long, but it was hot outside. Not prepared for that, I got a sunburn on the part in the middle of my getting-long hair. I bought SPF-80 sunscreen at CVS the next day and wound up using it literally only one day that summer.

The first place I stopped at was Hardees. I got an application and continued making my way up the street. Pizza Hut was next in line. Then McDonalds. Big Lots. Roses. On and on the application gathering continued. To this day, I’m still not sure if I imagined the following: I am positive that I saw some sort of sex shop. I remember looking at a window and seeing a pair of thigh-high leather boots and handcuffs. I walked past it without going in. I was still timid about things of that nature. The reason I'm still figuring out if my mind played tricks on me is because I never saw that place again. Now there’s a bank standing where the alleged sex shop was, but I never once saw that place again. Granted, I didn’t really look for it, but still.

I walked back home feeling accomplished. I sat back down on the couch and went back to petting Jed and watching TV. I showed my mom all of the applications I picked up. "Why didn’t you fill them out?" she asked. She didn’t care for my answer: "I didn’t have a pen." She told me to fill them out and take them back. Begrudgingly, I started writing down my name, address, and not checking the box asking if I’ve been convicted of a felony. 

I thought I was done walking for the day but I wasn’t, so I grabbed my completed applications and trudged back down the street. I walk into Hardees and hand somebody the application. They ask if I want to speak with a manager. Sure, I say. The manager’s a little busy so they ask if I can wait for a minute. Not really understanding how finding a job works, I say, "That’s okay" and leave. 

I go next door to Pizza Hut. I walk in and hand my application to an attractive, yet older woman. Her name is Janice. She is the general manager. She asks me to sit in a booth with her and conducts an impromptu interview.

"Do you have a car?"

"No, but I live right down the street. I walked here."

"Do you get sick a lot?"

"No. I don’t remember the last time I got sick."

"You’ll have to take out that lip ring. Are you willing to shave your goatee and sideburns?"

"That’s not a problem."

"Do you have black pants and black shoes?"

"Yes I do."

"Okay. Come back here tomorrow at 8 o’clock."

I went outside and called my mom to tell her I had a job. And that’s how my journey into the working world began.

Having a job was such a culture shock. I had never thought of myself as being sheltered, but I really was. Having a job was the first time I was exposed to -- for lack of a better term -- different people. And I don’t mean race or religion or anything like that. I mean different in the sense that until then all I knew was that you go to school, graduate, go to college, then go on to your career. 

I had never met a high school dropout before. I had never interacted with an old man who had no other career options aside from minimum wage. If you’ve never met somebody who society deems a "loser" then you have a negative connotation of them. Service and food industry workers have a bad reputation of being slackers and criminals and, yes, losers. 

Working along side these people showed me that most of them were really good people who were just in the middle of a bad situation. I met a lot of nice, smart people that were just there because they didn’t graduate or they had a kid and couldn’t get past surviving day-to-day and paycheck-to-paycheck. They wanted to move up and beyond but you get stuck in a rut and then you’re there. I liked those people and felt bad for them. 

I told myself early on that I wasn’t going to wind up like them: working a minimum wage job past a certain age. At 18, I didn’t know when I was ready to move on, but I eventually pegged that age at 25. If I was still working at Pizza Hut at 25, then I’d be a loser by my standards. And that’s what wound up happening, but we’re getting ahead of ourselves.

Two people I met early on stick out for important reasons. The first was a server named Debbie. She was one of the first people who warmed up to me and made me feel welcome there. We also had the same birthday -- August 18, although she was 10 years older than me. I thought it was really odd that she was 28-years-old and waiting tables for a living. At one point she was asked if she wanted to become a manager. She said no, her reason being that she made more money serving. Even at 18, with no experience in life, I thought that was a bad way to think. I didn’t understand why she wouldn’t want to work her way up the ladder. Wasn’t that the point of working? To go higher and higher? I didn’t realize that there were people who just thought short-term and didn’t see the big picture. Yeah, she made more money as a 28-year-old pretty server, but wouldn’t there be more job security as a manager once those 28-year-old looks start to fade?

I don’t remember the name of the other guy who sticks out to me. He was a delivery driver. From a visual standpoint, he sticks out because he was the first man I ever saw in person who had sleeve tattoos. A New York Yankees logo that was purple stuck out on the inside of his forearm. He had worked in the past as a tattoo artist, which I thought was cool. 

He was the first guy I was around that I ever heard talk about drugs. At this point I still hadn’t seen any; we were still a few years off from that. But, he talked about when he lived in Florida and used to sell cocaine. One night he had acquired some methadone, the drug people use to wean themselves off of heroin. He was asking around if anybody wanted to do it with him. He gathered up a few volunteers. I assume they had a good time. 

On a more personal level for me, this guy was the first person I ever heard who had something negative to say about college. Until that point, my mindset was go to college, graduate, get a career. It shocked me when I heard him say, "I can’t believe I have a graphic arts degree and I’m delivering pizza." As I got older and more jaded I understood where he was coming from, but at the time it was total and utter shock to hear somebody speak that way about graduating from college.

I felt an odd sense of pride every time I put on my Pizza Hut uniform. I liked the way I looked in it and I liked the way I felt when I went to work. I knew I wasn’t making a major contribution to society, but I still felt like every little bit counts. People need pizza and it was my job to give it to them. 

I used to often wonder what kind of people were eating the pizza I made. While I was placing toppings on a slab of dough I would imagine office workers having a party or kids eating with parents or business workers working on their next big proposal. One day I spun an elaborate story in my head about a man holding a woman hostage at gunpoint and ordering a pizza while he figures out what to do next and how his life got to this point. I had a very active imagination.

At the time I was a part-time, seasonal worker. I worked during the summer, went to school, then came back each additional summer. The first summer I was still learning and getting used to everything. I recall the odd look on the manager’s face when I asked her to show me how to use the mop wringer. "You mean you don’t know how to mop?" "No, I know how to mop. I’ve just never used one of these bucket things."

The final pizza I made that summer was a personal pan with pepperoni and green peppers. I left and completed my second year of college. Coming back for my second summer at Pizza Hut was important. I met what would become the core group of friends I’d have for the next five years or so.

* * *

And there are some memories from my first summer of working at Pizza Hut. I may check back in with some more stories about the people I encountered, and some more anecdotes. And, I will may take a look at summer number two at some point.

Check out my past #PizzaBlog entries here: