Thursday, September 29, 2011

Day 134: On Baseball, and Taxes

You've basically got two ways of thinking about people: like (good) or dislike (bad).

Somehow I still think like (good). Which isn't to say I haven't seen people do extraordinarily awful things. I've done some awful things myself.

It's hard to see the positive sometimes when you see deceit and outright lies, greed, selfishness and worse. There are a lot of things that lure people to become jerks. Money is a prime motivator. People will get cut-throat in its pursuit. I love competition and think that is one of the things about capitalism that is generally a good idea. "Build a better mousetrap."

But things in our society encourage the wrong values. Being financially strong and able to maximize your enjoyment of life is a good thing. But some people don't understand where the line is. They want to have a nice car, be able to live in a comfortable home, provide for their family. They want to be able to hold on to this comfortable lifestyle and protect it from catastrophe such as huge medical expenses or some other problem. All that's fine and dandy.

But sometimes wealth can be excessive. When someone has several multi-million dollar homes, that's carrying it a little far. It goes beyond needs, way beyond.

This is why I respect only a few of the mega-rich. Bill Gates has been active in donating huge sums of his vast wealth. Warren Buffett lives in a modest home in Nebraska that he purchased decades ago. He also advocates higher taxes for the wealthy.

Meanwhile, richies like the Kochs use their vast wealth to try and spread misinformation and influence political outcomes through lies.

Who is spending their money for the good of society and humanity in these examples? And what would YOU do in these situations?

Paying taxes is pro-America. Only luck allows people to be born into wealth. If your wealth came about through hard work, innovation and effort, then at one time you were just a lowly plebe like the rest of us.

I'd love to go to the government and say "You know, if I didn't have to pay taxes, I would be a job creator, because I would spend more money and stimulate the economy."

Sounds great. But communism "sounded" great. In practice, neither of these things work.

Taxes pay for all these things we take for granted. We're such spoiled brats in this country. We have infrastructure -- roads, power grids, public buildings like schools -- through the collective. The collective pays the taxes so that we have these things that stimulate our economy, provide incentives for businesses to start and thrive, for people to have jobs to pay taxes!

Those taxes also protect our property and our rights by paying for law enforcement and firefighters. Like many Americans, I have family members who have been in law enforcement and fire departments. These people work long hours, under the most stressful conditions, and for crap salaries. They're never paid like so-called "stressed out" workers such as banksters.

Teachers are paid by us too. Or rather, underpaid by us.

Having these things are all pretty obvious benefits to our shared society. The idea of using our collective effort, energy and a portion of our money in the form of taxes to enhance our infrastructure and communities is a powerful thing and something that shows the best of how we can work together to create equal opportunity. It's an example of how we can be good.

Our emphasis as a country should be more toward working together and showing what we can accomplish. In a way it's like baseball.

Last night was a thrilling night in a game that has too many non-thrilling moments. Four teams were fighting for their lives. Four others were jockeying for position to help their causes down the road.

Baseball has long been a great metaphor for some of the values we cherish. The literature and history of the game is uniquely American. Part of this is because the game has remained fairly intact throughout its history, a history that ran side by side with the blossoming of the U.S. on the global stage. It's a link to our past that remains true to itself.

Baseball has been used to make us think about country, family, honor, duty... it's also shown us mirror images of our dark side with its scandals concerning greed, lust (for power), drugs... baseball has pitted rich against poor, with (predictably) the poor getting screwed more often than not. Baseball has exhibited racism and discrimination, sexism, class warfare. It's so American.

Pro football's my game of choice. But I'm a sports nut, so I follow a lot of the athletic world. For a lot of people today, baseball's charm is heavily tied to its familiarity and history. But also for a lot of people today, we've mostly left baseball behind. The unquestioned king of sports until about 1960 (not surprisingly, about the time pro football made its quantum leap), baseball has seen an erosion of its fan base.

Why? Because it's slow and deliberate, and requires a big investment from its fans. In another way that's very American, baseball means getting up and going to work every single day. That grind is a realism that a lot of us aren't comfortable with any more... going to work isn't an "event" the way a weekly buildup to a single game is. For the modern generation, the attention span is too short to see the nuance and delicacy of a season that emerges in February and finishes within a few weeks of the holiday season. We need our attention-deficit brains to be stimulated more than baseball provides.

I'm as guilty as anyone on this. Where I grew up, we didn't have a nearby team to root for until 1972. And for most of the next 30 years, that team was inept. As a result, baseball was something you paid attention to until football started. You never expected your team to be involved in the playoffs.

So now, even though my team is strong, I haven't fully given in to it until late in the baseball season. It's kind of like being interested in the political fates of the country but only voting in presidential election years. That's going to yield iffy results.

But the fantastic drama from the games last night and in the last month, and the imminent drama when the playoffs start tomorrow, reminds me of the greatness we can achieve as a nation. Yes, there are winners and losers, and for those who fall short the pain can be a lingering heartache of lost opportunity and broken dreams.

BUT even in that sadness is a positive: they had a chance. The rules were known, the teams were built, and over the long months of striving, the possibility for greatness was there. Even though the Evil Empire -- the team with the biggest payroll -- is in, another deep-pocketed bunch crumbled in the clutch. Small-market/small-revenue teams in Tampa, Milwaukee and Arizona made the cut. Baseball-proud Detroit is also in, a boon to a city that I love but a city that has been devastated by an economic calamity much like Katrina ravaged New Orleans.

Everyone had a shot. That's the American way. That's really what baseball is all about. And to win, you've got to slog it out every day, just like you do at YOUR job.

Wednesday, September 28, 2011

Day 133: Voting with your wallet

Hello strangers. Did you miss me? I have missed you.

I've had a crisis of enthusiasm lately. This is one of the most dangerous aspects of unemployment dragging on for a while: motivation. I promise to do better.

Today I have a dilemma I'd love some feedback on.

Fortunately the household has some income. None from me, sadly... unless you're counting the dwindling amount the State of Gawd's Country has so generously provided each week.

Now, we aren't on food stamps. Wait, that's not P.C. -- they're not called food stamps any more, they are the "Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program." Oh, SNAP! So we still get to do restaurant food from time to time. We've seriously cut back on the pricey options, but still avoid "fast" food for the most part so we try and make smart choices.

As big fans of the chicken wing, this is a decent option for those on a budget, like us. But being somewhat picky, we have given the places around here a try over the years, then stuck with what we like best. A quick review of the leading locals, in alphabetical order:

* Buffalo Wild Wings: B-dubs has a big fan base, but so do piles of poop. You can just taste the processing every time. Not a big fan.
* Foghorn's: A local favorite but I've found the wings too soggy. I like 'em crispy. Soggy wings gross me out. I suppose I could request them crispy if we go back here. We've been several times and my experience has always been the same.
* Hooters: OK, I understand the argument against this place. As a guy, I'm willing to overlook the chief objections. And actually, I have always liked the wings here. But saying that tends to put you in the class of those dudes who say they "read" Playboy for the articles. Plus, they overcharge for stuff. Sodas are $2.79, and they refill you as much as you want but that's not exactly healthy. And still, $2.79? I know they aren't putting that profit into the uniform budget.
* Wingstop: My favorite. Crispy, consistent, great fries. And not super-expensive.
* Zaxby's: Always clean and the wings are pretty good. However, in this household, positive feelings about Zaxby's are not unanimous.

The wings at JJ's were recommended. We've tried them and they were pretty good, actually. In fact, for bar food, JJ's pretty much nails it across the board. However, they have live bands every night and they're too overmodulated. You can't carry on a conversation without yelling. Plus, you have to tip. I've worked food service before and that's no easy job, so I tend to tip a minimum of 20 percent unless the service is just awful. On a budget, that means places where I have to tip get sidelined.

I've also heard the wings at Grub's are decent. I've never actually been there, but again... bar food. Drunken d-bags. Tips. Maybe some day, but now's not the time for experimentation.

That's the preamble. Now the problem. We're a Wingstop family. I've been going there for years. It's a Dallas-area company, and that's home. So I've been a fan a long time. They make them the way I like, and generally you can go into their stores and your expectations will be met. That's not unimportant.

There are two franchises here in NW Gawd's Country. One is too far away. The other is nearer, and convenient. We've been going there steadily since we got here.

How steadily? Too steadily, probably. I ran the numbers. Since starting to keep track of this stuff in mid-2007, we've gone to this Wingstop a minimum of 112 times. I don't track cash expenditures, just the ones using my bank card. We've averaged almost $19 on the dot every time we've walked into that store. More than $2,100. We're on a first-name basis with the owner and his top staffer. It's not uncommon to phone in an order and they're able to complete the order without asking.

We ordered last night. M went to pick it up, and while waiting there, she got thirsty and asked for a cup of water.

A new kid was there. M reports he was not unpleasant or rude in any way, but told her that there would be a charge for a cup of water. She was stunned. She didn't get the water. But she did get irritated.

I called the owner this morning and said "Is this true? You charge for water?" He reported that he did. 50 cents. The water is served in beer cups that he said costs him $45 a week to keep stocked. He said a lot of the college kids come in and order waters with their meals, apparently so many that it was starting to cut into his bottom line.

He also said that had the new kid known we were steady customers, he probably would have provided the water gratis.

The owner has a background working for the world's largest retailer. So being cheap is kind of a way of life for those folks. We've never gotten a single freebie from this guy. I have obviously been able to live with that, although I think when you have a loyal following, it's OK to throw in a damn order of fries once a year or two! Never happened, though. And we've kept coming back because he's generally a nice guy, the store is clean and friendly, and we think the food is good and the price is reasonable.

Except for a cup of water.

Now, I'm a proponent of voting with your wallet. If you don't like the way you're treated someplace, you don't have to go. This is the essence of the free market! If you seek a service and you like that service, you are willing to pay for it. If not, you don't. There have been a number of places here where we've given them a chance to win our business, and when they fail repeatedly, we get the message: Not for us. And we just don't go.

Ti Amo's, we went once, great experience. Second time, even though it wasn't crowded, 10 minutes, 12 minutes, no server after initially getting drink orders. Amazingly we stayed that long. Then we gave up. They charged us $5 for two teas. Kind of irritating, but whatevs. We didn't get a chance to make a third visit as the business failed.

Powerhouse, rave reviews. We've been three times and every time something was awful about it. Once mostly the food. Once mostly the service. Once the place was sickeningly overheated. Every time we left feeling overcharged and underserved. Out.

So what do we do about the Wingstop problem? I'm leaning toward never going back. Or perhaps going back once with my data and asking, "Was 50 cents for a damn cup of water worth losing a steady revenue source?"

Friday, September 23, 2011

Day 128: My terrorists

Saw "Waiting for Superman" last night.

The road we're traveling leads off a cliff. The apathy about public education in this country is shameful. As Dub said: "Is our children learning?"

Yep. But what they are learning isn't how to build the world, but rather that a lot of people just don't care about anything except money. We're so short-sighted.

I always wonder where we let the terrorists win. Terrorists aren't always guys who fly planes into buildings. Sometimes they are people who bilk the system, or bribe the government to relax regulations so they can pollute our land, or make campaign pledges they don't keep.

But it doesn't even have to be that grand. My terrorists are all around me. They are you. Sometimes they are also me.

My terrorists aren't even grand enough to do something bold. Bill Maher was right about 9/11: those guys weren't cowards. Most terrorists are.

They are slowly killing us all. And doing so with the slightest, almost imperceptible moves. They are so stealth they do these things in plain sight and we shrug it off.

Ever seen someone throw a cigarette butt out of a car window? Sometimes those cause brushfires. Always they contribute to the despoiling of the air, soil and water. This is the only planet we've got. But everytime someone uses this place as an ashtray, they contribute to our ultimate demise.

How they get away with it -- like the banksters and the corporatists -- is by assuming that by the time anyone organizes and mobilizes to stop them, it will be long down the line and they'll be beyond it. It's a gamble, but one they know they are likely to win. Because we just sit and take it.

Let someone drive you down any major thoroughfare in this country. Make a point to look for the roadside trash dumped from passing vehicles. Now multiply that by every road in this country. Now think of the rest of the world, where it's very likely they don't even have the sort of cleanup crews we have here.

Think of the trash your casually create each week that magically gets hauled away. Where does it go?

Now think of the really obvious polluters: car emissions. Businesses. Think of the poison being dumped into the aquifers and soil by mineral rapists and profiteers. All so you can have more crap.

This circles back a bit to my minimalist interests. Consumerism's ugly partner is trash. Because ultimately these things you have to have become things you don't want or need any more, and since we are not efficient recyclers this becomes garbage.

My terrorists do all sorts of anti-social things that contribute to the inexorable breakdown of civilization. They cut in line. They carry on loud cell phone conversations. They clatter around next door, late at night, careless of their neighbors. They update their facebook status during movies. Or worse, talk. They let their dogs menace passerby, or roam untethered. They don't spay and neuter their pets. Which means feral cats, wild dogs and higher costs as cities are forced to spend more on animal control. Which not only raises our collective expenses but creates public health degradation.

They make decisions that are helpful to them, and don't care about you, and thus the idea of society and community are foreign. So they don't want to do their fair share, and they don't want to pay taxes, and they don't care if they already make more in a year than most people will make in a lifetime. They have millions. They want more. And they don't want to give back any of it, because they are selfish. These are my terrorists.

My terrorists believe in rights: THEIR rights. But if you are gay, or brown-skinned, or unable to afford medical insurance, they don't believe you should fight for the same rights they can afford. My terrorists are feudalists.

My terrorists may believe deep down that climate change exists, that they are being selfish for wanting to drive a 9-mpg SUV, but they deserve to be given leeway because they are so damn special. Let someone else pay for it. Let the poor people pay for it.

My terrorists talk a lot about God, but their God is money. Because God's a nice idea, but money actually provides tangible things. God didn't build that big house, that awesome HD TV, or those fake tits.

My terrorists. My kind of people.

Monday, September 19, 2011

Day 124: What's It All About?


Sorry, couldn't resist. And, most of you won't get the reference anyway. But (naturally) I digress...

An old friend... yes, he's old, and I have known him a long time... asked me an interesting question this weekend: "If you were going to write everyday, what would it be about?"

I hedged with my response, saying "I'm kind of all over the map." Which is true. I find most things are interesting and try and learn a little about as much as I can. This makes me a terrific trivia player; you don't want any part of me.

But it also makes me, in some ways, that proverbial "jack of all trades/master of none." Is that a good thing?

So what is this little endeavour all about? Why do I do this? And what do YOU, beloved reader(s), find worthy of a few moments from time to time?


I've been uninspired to write. Apologies. This week has shown a lot of the ugly side of our time. The state of Georgia apparently executed an innocent man. The Supreme Court punted its humanity and said that questions of innocence or guilt weren't important -- just the cold interpretation of the "law."

A lot of people try and maintain that America is a "Christian" nation. Do they even know what that means? Don't proclaim your good works: live them.

My aunt Nancy had a good line this week, saying that going to church doesn't make you holy any more than going into a garage makes you a car.

Thursday, September 15, 2011

Day 120: Dead Ends

Sometimes you feel so isolated by this. It hasn't been four months without work yet, but today it feels like it's been four years.

Steve Nash, I think, said about playoff basketball that when you win a game you feel like you can never lose, and when you lose you feel like you can never win. I get that.

You can get so caught up in your own worry that you became like a distant dark star, imploding upon yourself. Before you know it you're way out there in the distant galaxy, cold and alone.

I'm not gonna lie, today I feel like everything is hopeless.

If only I was the person my dogs act like I am.

I'm exhausted. I can't sleep. When I sleep it's uncomfortable. It hurts to sleep. How screwed up is that?

Then I feel guilty about sleeping. I should get at least six, hopefully eight hours of sleep. But it doesn't happen when it should, so if I can't feel sleepy until 3, then sleep until 10, I feel like a bum. Which is what I am, Charlie.

Where do people find the will to keep getting up? I've been a proponent of rolling with it all my life... take the shot, get back up and try again. I've never been closer to feeling like that's a big lie.

I see shitty, underqualified people who've never done a damn thing of note with their lives, but they kissed the right asses and had perfect school attendance and look, success. It's so frustrating. I have to admit that it's particularly bad here in Gawd's Country. The Good 'Ol Boy existence is alive and well.

It's weird, but my life was a lot easier when I was a more accomplished liar. I think in the past decade or so I've become a better person, more honest, more willing to step on toes in the pursuit of what was "right" and fair and true. Has it been worth it? This is what really bothers me. Sometimes the price feels pretty expensive.

It's comforting to know that I've lived more honestly, but troubling to know that society doesn't seem to place a lot of value on that. As Michael Moore said, these are fictional times.

I've always preferred non-fiction. Funny.

Freedom should mean plenty of options. But it seems like there are few. And the ones that remain are not all that great.

Wednesday, September 14, 2011

CP 2-3: Barr vs. Youngman

In our second bracket, it's No. 5 seed Roseanne Barr vs. No. 12 Henny Youngman. Talk about old school.

This is Roseanne's first Carson appearance, in 1985. Before the interwebs and Comedy Central gave us 24-7 access to comedians, unless you lived in a city with a comedy club your best shot was on Carson. Johnny stepped down in 1991 and the show's never been what it once was. If you appeared on Carson, you had arrived.

Actually his show was called the Tonight Show, but that was before Jay Leno turned it into crap.

Anyway, being network television, this appearance is pretty tame. If she advances, we'll be looking at some of her blue stuff. She was pretty great as a standup... there were a lot fewer women in the biz at the time. Here's the clip:

In the other corner we have the legendary Henny Youngman. His career began in the 30s, and consisted for the next 70+ years of a rapid-fire one-liners. Not a lot of set-up: Just rip it. Times being what they are, just about anyone under the age of 40 has no clue who he is. If they do, it's likely as "Hey, wasn't that the guy in 'Goodfellas'?"

Monday, September 12, 2011

CP 2-2: Sykes vs. Rickles

I hate that one of these hilarious people won't make it to the second round.

No. 8 Wanda Sykes and No. 9 Don Rickles have made careers out of ripping people. A lot of the best humor is based on the ugly truths of existence: that we all kind of suck.

In this bit, Wanda has a great take on the gay marriage issue. Like a lot of us, she wonders: Why do you care?

Rickles -- "Mr Warmth" -- has based his career on giving people a hard time. This clip is interspersed with comments from other comedians who appreciate his art. Rickles will say anything. Watch here:

Day 117, Pt. II: Job Update

And, stay tuned for more of our Comedian Playoffs, coming up next...

Busy day. Cranked out three job applications. One for a tasty position here. One in D.C. One in Colorado.

The most intriguing is actually the Colorado one, because it'd be a stone-ass adventure. I think that's part of the appeal, because it'd be such a far cry from what could be considered my "comfort zone." Put it this way: when one of the company benefits listed is a seasonal ski pass, you know you're not in Kansas anymore.

It's been a while since I've been on skis... however, I would like to learn how to board.

Anyway. Knocked two of those down, and have a long list of prospects for this week. Can't believe it's been this long. And still can't believe that experience and know-how finished second to a dress-selling babysitter. Alas. This is life in Gawd's Country, where you've still got a fuckton of stupidity running loose.

Day 117: Letting Go

First, thanks to everyone who comes to visit here. I check the traffic data and I get some views, and it is extremely gratifying. You provide a lot of psychic energy and it is appreciated.

About that psychic energy...

A few years ago I developed a friendship with a co-worker. This was a guy who was clever, smart, had a wry sense of humor... guy had a nice home, nice girlfriend. It was all good.

I'm not going into the details of what happened later, but let's just say that the guy got into a bit of a scrape revolving "corporate espionage" and decided to make me the fall guy. I was able to demonstrate conclusively that it wasn't me, and things settled. But I was stunned that a so-called "friend" would try and hurt me like that. I could have been fired. That's heinous.

Last week the guy surfaced on Facebook and sent me a friend request. Audacious! In addition to the thumbs-up "like" button I wish FB had a button where you could raise a middle finger. I responded by recapping why this was my choice and the guy said he was sorry for any "blowback" that might have arisen from the incident.


Yeah, possibly getting fired is more than blowback. Some people don't get it. And those are the people you have to just let go.

It's taken me a long time to come to that realization. And it's why I treasure anyone who shows interest in reading what I write here (which includes, apparently, Blowback Boy... hi Ron!), because my circle of friends is purposely small. I know hundreds. maybe thousands of people, but I don't call them all friends. Because friendship has to be meaningful. There has to be a real investment. If I consider you a friend, it's a substantial thing to me. I'm invested.

I had a huge graduating class in high school, but only keep up with a couple of people still. My friends Dale and Ken and I talk maybe twice a year. But they are dear friends to me because our bonds go deep. Like trees. The roots are strong.

For years I was hurt by the lack of a strong relationship with my father. My parents split by the time I was 6. The memories I have of my family being intact are distant, historic and few. For years my father sought... something. But it wasn't me. And it wasn't what I could understand for the longest time. I didn't comprehend how he didn't see how much I wanted to be close to him. It took decades, literally, for me to understand the pain of his childhood and his life, and how he had never allowed himself to let himself trust another human with his love. I finally understood that his distance from me was not because he didn't love me, but because his pain was so great that it was terrifying to love someone. Loving someone means trusting them, and trusting them means they can damage you. For my dad, that damage was too painful to risk. So he kept people at arm's length. I thought it was about me, but it was about him.

He finally found someone he could trust. And she eventually healed my dad and in turn, me. I had written him off. I was sure that we'd just never connect, and hard as it was, I finally got over it. His wife Jo wouldn't let it happen. After my dad recovered from some pretty severe health problems, she ensured that we had some face time to work on our relationship. I will always be grateful for that because we finally found a place where we could acknowledge what we meant to each other.

It was way too late to have our "Field of Dreams" moment but the wall came down. Flawed as it may be, we now talk often and I'm at peace. I hope my dad is, too. Our relationship is the best it has ever been, and that means a lot.

Another story: when M and I were dating, a family conflict came up. Long story short, I was told I was invited to a family event, but she was not. This was long ago and I've been told why that decision was made. I understand their rationale but I don't buy it and think it was wrong. If they really believed what they told me, then I shouldn't have been invited.

That day I made a decision to stand by M and not be bullied by a family member. And today, M and I have been married six years.

One more: Someone very important to me got their feelings hurt and turned the slightest of slights into armageddon. Instead of addressing the issue, or better yet, just getting over it, the incident became an excuse for them to cut ties with me. Seriously, this was an issue that didn't deserve to live past its sell-by date, but instead it became apocryphal. The person simply pulled the plug on our previously major relationship. He's made no effort to heal it. So I've had to move on.

The thread linking these stories may not be obvious. The point is that relationships are fragile and you have to sometimes make some difficult decisions. Sometimes you have to let people go, sometimes you have to try again, and sometimes you have to work really hard. If you have expectations of someone, and they aren't met, then you may have to either compromise yourself or even walk away from it.

It's self-preservation, really.

Friday, September 9, 2011

Comedian Playoffs: Bracket 2

Polls are still open from Bracket 1...

Now, our first matchup on bracket 2. We're starting with a 1 seed, the great Sam Kinison. He's up against 16 Jeff Foxworthy. Foxworthy makes you laugh. Kinison makes you cry. He was taken way too soon.

I was lucky enough to see this guy perform... a few months after he was supposed to. Apparently he had gotten too wasted in Houston the night before he was to be in Dallas and postponed the show. It was worth the wait. This was in late 1987. Amazing.

The clips are: Kinison on his first HBO appearance ( ) and a Foxworthy "You might be a redneck" bit:


Day 114: Shalt Thou Kill?

Just found out today that a high school classmate died in 1995 and that there were enough awful details that it resulted in a huge wrongful death lawsuit against the Scientologists.

My high school had 4,400 students my senior year. Our graduation ceremony was endless. I didn't know this person very well and haven't kept up with most of the goings-on of my HS friends since. I've never attended a reunion, although I was tempted once. One of my best friends from HS and I were going to go. We even went to the location the day before to scout it for escape exits. On the way there, we bailed.

I was involved in some activities in high school... football, newspaper mainly... that were enough to have provided me with access to the "cool kids" but I don't like labels and I don't like cliques. Didn't then, don't know. Before I was involved in those groups, I was on the "outside" and then when I was a part of them I didn't feel like that alone made me cool enough to be "inside." I was the same person all along.

As those of you who read my Mormon piece must have surmised, I have major questions about religion. Honestly, I think it's done a lot more harm than good. If a deity exists and that deity cares about us, then He/She It would probably be pretty pissed about the way we treat each other. We're a violent little creature. We kill way too much to be holy beings.

I think of the sacred "10 Commandments" and remember that one of the biggies there is "Thou Shalt Not Kill." Yet the same people who make such a show of their religion are eager to support our going to war and killing countless people, or cheer when a politician brags about administering the death penalty.

If God says "Thou Shalt Not Kill" there aren't loopholes. So, war or killing another human is out unless it's done for self-defense/protection. Thou Shalt Not Kill. It's only four words. There isn't a lot of wiggle room there.

And so it goes for the death penalty as well. A friend of mine is working on a thesis involving the death penalty. She's trying to gain access to some of the condemned inmates. It's been proven beyond a doubt that people have suffered state-sanctioned murders for crimes they did not commit.

There are plenty of irredeemable people in our prisons (and out). Use as an extreme example someone like Timothy McVeigh. His actions led directly to the deaths of 168 people. Clearly a bad person. An evil person. Someone who should never be allowed to be free.

But should he have been executed? No. In fact, executing him made him a martyr to the kooks who think like he did.

It took me years to appreciate the genius of what John Donne related here (emphasis added):

"No man is an island entire of itself; every man
is a piece of the continent, a part of the main;
if a clod be washed away by the sea, Europe
is the less, as well as if a promontory were, as
well as any manner of thy friends or of thine
own were; any man's death diminishes me,
because I am involved in mankind
And therefore never send to know for whom
the bell tolls; it tolls for thee."

Tuesday, September 6, 2011

Day 111, Pt. II: WTF

Kinda of an inside joke, there...

So I just found out that the person who was hired instead of me has exactly ZERO experience in the business that ... well, basically, that I have been in longer than they have been alive. Not only is this person nowhere as qualified, but she actually listed babysitting as experience on her LinkedIn profile. Which means, as M noted, that every girl at the local high school is probably equally qualified for the gig.

I'm not that happy about this. Unfortunately it plays to my very worst paranoia, too.

Day 111. I'm closing in on four months out here now. The good news is that I've weathered longer layoffs. More good news is that I have a core group of people who are always in my corner. This isn't a large group but it doesn't have to be. I prefer having a handful of people who I know I can count on rather than a bunch of acquaintances who are nowhere to be found when the chips are down. If there isn't already a term for these types of people, I propose something like "Facebook friends."

I'm not going to lie: I'm depressed and discouraged. It's become a kind of cliche to talk about using hard times as a "learning opportunity" -- but precisely what is it I am supposed to learn here?

The first time I had a real unemployment was after I came back from Cali. I rushed into an ill-fitting job and didn't last long. Not long after, everything went to shit in this country. The 9/11 anniversary is impossible to not hear about right now, so I'll make my personal anecdote brief. I heard about the attacks while driving to a job interview. The radio announcers were describing the chaos when the second plane hit. We knew instantly it meant that the past 18 minutes of thinking it was a terrible accident were replaced by the first-ever feeling for most of us that we were under attack.

My jaw dropped as I realized what was happening. I was at a stoplight and looked to see reaction in the cars around me. A woman to my left was applying makeup. She obviously didn't know the whole world had changed in an instant.

I drove on to the interview, and the two people at reception also did not know what was happening. I asked them to turn on a TV and that's how they found out.

I didn't get that job, although I thought I interviewed well.

This jobless period stretched into a 7th month. I had tried hard to deal with the problem; I moved into a smaller apartment. I cut all expenses (which is why on 9/11 I went to a friend's house to watch the news, since my cable subscription had been dropped). I cashed in my retirement savings to pay my bills. A friend knew somebody who could get me a job working at a small pizzeria. I took it.

I made $8.50 an hour, plus tips. And, I got to eat a lot of pizza. It was a strange experience, but at the same time, it felt good to be able to pay my bills. I had a paycheck, albeit a tiny one. My delivery area covered a fairly well-off area in Dallas. On one hand it was pretty hard to see that my pay had decreased by more than $50,000 annually in less than a year. On the other hand I saw people who had money but not much else to be proud of.

My best experience was one Friday night when I made a delivery and a crying girl answered the door. A man appeared immediately and she explained that he had just proposed, and she had accepted, and I was the first person to know about it. That was pretty damn neat.

I'm rambling here. Bear with... I think the point I was getting to was that when I had a long empty stretch then, I finally swallowed my pride and realized that I needed to work, even if it was a job as plain as working at a pizza joint.

The convenience store down the street has a help wanted sign in its window. I'm considering it. Although I really hate the idea of getting shot in an armed robbery at 4 a.m. Or 3 a.m, for that matter. I am officially on the record as being anti-murdered.

So back to the question: what's the lesson life is giving me right now? I am mystified. I've done my share of eating shit. I've suffered the slings and arrows.

It's hard, man. Listen, all of us, all of YOU, have your troubles to deal with. I am not special with my problems. But they're MY problems, and they're kind of kicking my ass right now. I'm definitely pissed, so that becomes fuel to get out of this mess.

But I'm also frustrated and fretful. And that weighs on me like a backpack full of iron. I think of the job-cutting executive director with his $100,000+ salary, or the one who has risen to a top position based on longevity (never working for another company in 30 years) or the babysitter with no experience who has the job I would have gladly taken crap pay to be excellent at... I think of these people and I wonder if they know how scary it is to be me right now.

But then I realize that they couldn't know. Because to know and still be so apathetic would be cruelty, wouldn't it?

Day 111: Reboot

At some point today I'll add more entries in my little competition, but right now I am trying to reset a bit and be productive.

The top effort here, obviously, is finding and getting a job. One of the job sites I use recently gave me some statistics about a particular job I was going for and said that the site alone had 396 applicants for this one position. Now obviously that won't include applicants from other sites, or internally, or word-of-mouth. Add it all up and people get confirmation of what we already suspected: the competition is significant.

I'm also trying to establish a little more order here at World Headquarters. Changing your physical perspective can be a positive. It refreshes your environment without destroying any "continuity" and helps you evaluate things in a new light.

Things need to change, and this is a low-impact way of doing that.

It was a strange weekend. A friend scored tickets to the season opener, and then sponsored post-game snacks. Then I came home and was inflicted with the Great Moth Incident of 2011. Cool temperatures arrived yesterday and I think the only negative is I feel I may be getting a cold.

Today the yard is being excavated as Stage 2 of the water saga takes place.

Clearly a lot of disarray. It's an unsettled time.

Saturday, September 3, 2011

CP game 8: Wright vs. Fallon

Sixth-seed Stephen Wright is a favorite; he's pretty unique in that he doesn't really do drawn-out jokes, he just fires off one-liners that score again and again. Kind of an Allen Iverson, I guess... he only does one thing exceptionally well, but it works.

Here's 5 awesome minutes he did on Letterman in 1988:

Jimmy Fallon's standup is difficult to find, but then again, he performs every night on his show, and starred on SNL, especially as a WU anchor with Tina Fey. Here's a great bit he did with Justin Timberlake on the History of Rap & Hip-Hop:

The bracket's now complete. Next week we'll have eight more matchups for you.

The full bracket:

1. George Carlin vs. 16. Jay Mohr / 8. Jim Carrey vs. 9. Sarah Silverman
4. Bill Hicks vs. 13. Craig Ferguson / 5. Billy Connolly vs. 12. Albert Brooks
3. Louis C.K. vs. 14. Bill Cosby / 6. Stephen Wright vs. 11. Jimmy Fallon
2. Woody Allen vs. 15. Mitch Hedberg / 7. Eddie Izzard vs. 10. Andy Kaufman

Friday, September 2, 2011

CP game 7: Connolly vs. Einstein

Our second Scot in the bracket, Billy Connolly, was voted the UK's best comedian a few years ago. High praise and pretty right on. Connolly has had a hella interesting life: he not only has had a strong acting career, but he once played in a rock band with Gerry Rafferty ("Stuck in the Middle With You," "Baker Street").

I seeded Connolly 5th. Here's a few minutes.

Keep in mind that especially for the higher seeds, I plan to add new clips as they go forward.

Another comedian/actor is the great Albert Einstein. Einstein's stage name is Albert Brooks. His dad was a radio comedian known as Parkyakarkus. His brother is better known as "Super Dave Osborne." Or, Funkhauser on "Curb Your Enthusiasm."

That's a lot of comedic DNA.

Brooks is a 12 seed. I love the guy, but some of his comedy is a little meh. His stand-up... alas, he has written some great comic movies, and here's a clip from one of his best, "Mother."

One more matchup and bracket one is complete!

CP game 6: Izzard vs. Kaufman

Kaufman fans, here's your shot.

Tenth seed Andy Kaufman was somewhat of an acquired taste. One of the early (if not the first) practitioners of what might be labeled "alt-comedy" seemed to love confusing his audience. Kaufman was so adroit at this misdirection that people wondered if his terminal illness (he died at age 35) was just another elaborate bit.

Don't think so.

I think Kaufman is important, but not particularly funny. Some of his bits are great, like the sample here, his famous "Mighty Mouse" bit from the first SNL.

Among his legacy bits, Kaufman had the SNL bit ("Foreign Man," which became Latka on the sitcom "Taxi"); his bizarre lounge act satire Tony Clifton; and the running gag that was his pro wrestling career. But the rest of his career is pretty unremarkable.

Kaufman's paired against No. 7 Eddie Izzard. Izzard has also pushed the boundaries, and is arguably the greatest transvestite comedian of all time, just ahead of another Brit, Graham Chapman. (Actually I don't know if Chapman was a transvestite or just someone who didn't mind being in drag from time to time.)

Izzard initially had a lower ranking, until I began to revisit some of his jokes. As time went by it became obvious how good he is. It was difficult to select from numerous great bits, but I settled on this one. Days later I would still remember it and giggle again. That's quality.

OK, so let's use this opportunity to recap the bracket revealed thus far:
1. George Carlin vs. 16. Jay Mohr. Winner meets winner of ...
8. Jim Carrey vs. 9 Sarah Silverman

5. ??? vs. 12. ??? meets the winner of 4. Bill Hicks vs. 13. Craig Ferguson.

The lower half of the bracket has:
2. Woody Allen vs. 15. Mitch Hedberg. The winner there faces off against the Izzard-Kaufman winner.
3. Louis C.K. vs. 14. Bill Cosby will face 6. ??? vs. 11. Jimmy Fallon.

Keep those cards and letters comin'.

Thursday, September 1, 2011

CP game 5: Hicks vs. Ferguson

I gave the late great Bill Hicks a 4 seed, which is probably akin to Gale Sayers being in the Pro Football Hall of Fame. Sayers' career was too short to really be hall-worthy, and the same is likely true for Hicks. The comedians I admire the most all live out on the edge, and this guy certainly did.

Here he riffs on a personal favorite topic, the JFK assassination. I've given up on the linky thing. It didn't used to be this problematic. Anyway:

Holding down a 13 seed is Craig Ferguson, our second Scot in the competition. Because I don't watch a lot of late-night TV anymore, I miss some of the best things he does on his talk show. The guy's really good. Here he performs a little stand-up talking about Tom Cruise.

CP game 4: Carlin vs. Mohr

OK, this one's got blowout written all over it. First we have a classic clip from the master, George Carlin, about the differences between football and baseball. Just in time for the start of football season!

Carlin's a No. 1 seed. That pits him against a 16, Jay Mohr -- a funny guy, but he's no match here. Surely no one can rank him ahead of Carlin, right?

Here's Mohr's bit on ordering at a Chinese restaurant.

I've now completed the selections for this bracket, and had a request to issue the whole bracket. I don't really wanna do that, because I think it will be better if people just go with the individual matchups. The picture will become clear pretty quickly. But I'll give you some clues about the other eight comedians in this quarter of the field:

* Two Scots and one Brit
* Two (more) dead guys. That's three in this bracket. Odd.
* A real Einstein.
* The King of deadpan one-liners
* Jimmy Fallon.

You should be able to pick out at least one of the remainder for sure.