Tuesday, April 15, 2014

Happy Tax Deadline Day!

Happy tax day! Hopefully, you weren't one of the million citizens of this great nation to put off filing your taxes this year, but if you are, have fun for the next eight hours trying to track down the right form because your stupidhead printer won't print the stupid PDF file because Adobe feels like updated for like the tenth time today and WHY IS MY COMPUTER LOCKED UP AGAIN AND WHY DID THE PRINTER JUST PRINT THAT THING I TRIED TO PRINT TWO MONTHS AGO BUT COULDN'T GET IT TO THAT'S IT I'M MOVING TO CANADA WHERE THEY FILE TAXES VIA MAPLE SYRUP AND STEVEN STAMKOSES.

Taxes can be a frustrating time. Not only is it an inherently cranky behavior--no one likes to be forced to pay anything, let alone under the threat of jail time or, worse, an audit--but it's not like it's easy to do. Oh, sure, they call it the 1040 EZ, but I suspect the "EZ" is like how it's called "Cheez Whiz" even though it is neither Cheese nor whiz.

OK, actually, it's not that bad. If you're a schlub like me, whose deductions and investments are mostly in the form of various generations of Beanie Babies (OBO!) it's not much beyond simple arithmetic with a dash of Choose Your Own Adventure-style chart lookups. Actually, that's not a bad idea.

You encounter a secret passageway! To enter the door, turn to page 56 on Table a13 under "Real Estate Amortization" and cross-reference with your current income range. To pass it by, file an extension by April 15th.

It would make tax time a lot more fun, in any case.

Still, it can be quite bewildering. It's not just taxes, of course; it's the fact that there are state and local and federal taxes and they all tax different things and they all have different instructions--and that's not counting the myriad of property, state, and sales taxes you might have to deal with.

I won't lie; there's a certain level of nostalgia when it comes to doing taxes. Back in the day when I was first filing my taxes (which I was doing while they were fighting the Kaiser and inventing the forward pass) I would sit in a dark room, surrounded by calculators and sharpened pencils. There was a lot of erasing and cursing and chart-looking-upping, but in the end it was an admittedly odd satisfactory experience. Contrast that to today, where you can punch a bunch of numbers into an application on the computer, and within minutes you not only have a disappointing answer as to your refund amount, but a dozen Romanian hackers have bought ski vacations in Zurich with your social security number. If I'm going to get screwed by basic math, I want to work over it, not have some dime-store Turing machine tell me the sad amount of my return.

A discussion about taxes wouldn't be complete without complaining about what our taxes are being spent on. We won't get into it now--if we strung up all the things people objected about what the feds cut checks for, we'd probably cover the entire budget--but, still, even if the government is covering your favorite program they are probably doing it in the least efficient and more obtuse manner possible. It's like trying to pour a jar of spaghetti sauce into a pot by flinging it, one spoonful at a time, from a hundred yards away. Yeah, you're getting some in there, and technically you're doing it in roughly a valid way, but holy hell someone just needs to walk over there and sort it out and make everyone happy except the spoon flinger.

Of course, in the end, we all know we have to do it. You can delay all you want, but on April 15th, you've got to have those forms in the mail. Still, there's a sense of relief over the whole ordeal, because, as we all know, it can be a very taxing ordeal.
You've encountered a painfully obvious pun even fifth graders think is stupid! To pretend you never heard it, turn to page 128-A and enter your current household income less your dignity. To accept it and move on with your life, put this book down and go to the state store.

Monday, April 7, 2014

From The Greatest City In The World

Late last week, David Letterman announced that he is going to retire.
Good on him, of course; he’s in his late sixties, and no doubt he just wants to not go to work every day. But it’s hard to forget the impact he had on modern pop culture.

Letterman was my very first experience with “adult” humor—that is, sophisticated humor that wasn’t related to Disney movies or coyotes lighting sticks of TNT.* I would stay up late during the summer and half-watch Johnny Carson (he was good, but I didn’t appreciate the interviews) and then get ready for Letterman. Back then, The Tonight Show was more or less the only choice; many had tried, and failed, to compete against Carson. Letterman had the next best thing—a show after Carson. The audience was smaller and the budget tinier, but he wasn’t competing against the man who had slain so many before him.

In retrospect, this smaller audience and smaller budget worked in his favor. For one thing, he had much more freedom to be absurd. You would never see Carson getting dunked into a tank of water wearing an Alka-Seltzer suit. He wouldn’t be throwing watermelons off the top of a building. Sure, these were silly, seemingly childish skits, and yet Letterman’s cranky-old-man shtick managed to take the absurdity of the situation and ground it in a misplaced sense of normalcy. Yeah, jumping on a trampoline wearing a Velcro suit is stupid, but if straight man Letterman is in on the gag, it can’t be that bad.

Secondly, a smaller budget forced him to be more creative. When you don’t have money, you’re reduced to throwing junk off of buildings—and that’s okay, because Letterman’s gift was to take these silly premises and turn them into comedy gold. You add to that a healthy dose of “standardized” jokes (the Top Ten list would predate “list journalism” by a few decades) and you had just a perfect mix of surrealism, solid-base comedy, and a cranky personality turned pleasantly engaging.

During the 80’s, Letterman’s only real misstep was his interviewing (and, by extension, his personality). Being the crank worked to blunt the ridiculousness of the show, but when chatting one on one with celebrities he often came across as a jerk.  Most celebrities understood it and went along with it, and some called him out on it—most notably Cher, but others as well.
 
Still, when Carson retired, many thought it was a travesty that Jay Leno was picked over Letterman. By this time, over ten years on, Letterman had proved that there was a market for his style of comedy. Nothing wrong with Carson or Leno, of course, but their style was safe and plodding, with comedy aimed squarely at the older demographics that stayed home. Letterman, by contrast, could state, quite fairly, that younger people would stay home if they were given a reason to.

You all know the rest of the story: Letterman jumped to CBS and Leno stayed at NBC. They both could claim victory; for nearly the entire run that they competed with one another, Leno had the larger audience but Letterman had the younger, more lucrative audience. Letterman had his ups and downs—he garnered a huge amount of goodwill during his heart surgery; not so much when details of an intern affair were released. The jump an hour earlier (and a larger budget) did little to change him; by that time, the experimentation he could get away with at 12:30 was now the norm. But in the end his contributions to not only late night but to comedy in generally should not be overlooked.
                                                                      
*Not that coyotes lighting sticks of TNT is bad comedy, mind you. It's just nice to have some variety.

Tuesday, April 1, 2014

Guest Post: Don’t Ask Me About Tofu



Today’s post comes from Erin of Oh, Honestly Erin, and is part of a special day of shenanigans from other Pittsburgh Bloggers. You can see my post over on Ngewo's World, where I talk about spring. 

When people ask me about why I became a vegetarian, I'm sure they're braced for some PETA-scripted canned response about choosing not to eat anything with a face, or some granola manifesto about health benefits. But my vegetarianism story was born from sheer stubbornness.

My mom wasn't a bad cook, but I hated her pork chops. Naturally, this was the meal she seemed to make the most when I was growing up. They were just so dry and worthless, and always laying on my plate in some hideous, mocking, splayed-out fashion; all the apple sauce in the world couldn't make them go down any easier.

Finally, at age 16, I snapped. Maybe a regular kid would have faked a pork chop allergy, but I chose a different route to get out of choking down those hunks of dry rot: I just wasn't going to eat meat at all. Ever. Not even Slim Jims or bacon bits.

My parents saw this as a huge joke, something new to heckle me about, to place bets upon. “Oh look, Erin wants attention from us again!” They were used to this behavior from me. Once, I vowed to eat nothing but Welch's grape popsicles because I was trying to get a hospital admittance to avoid going on vacation with my Aunt Sharon (who is crazier than me).  But I stopped after a few days because no one was paying attention, and I ran out of Welch's grape popsicles.

My vegetarianism was basically just another Welch's Grape Popsicle episode as far as my parents were concerned, and they egged me on in all of the worst possible ways. They gave me three days tops before I succumbed to meatloaf. (My mom really did make a fantastic meatloaf. So moist. So meaty. So topped with Ketchup.)

This is why, 18 years later, when people ask me how I became a vegetarian, my answer is a simple “I hated my mom's pork chops."

***

In 1996, getting into a vegetarian lifestyle was pretty rough. I lived in Pittsburgh, not Los Angeles. Denny's didn't have Gardenburgers on their menus yet, Giant Eagle's frozen food aisle wasn't exactly a Garden of Eden, and my mom refused to make separate dinners for me. So while my family gnawed on BBQ ribs in front of me, I would eat cheese sandwiches and cereal and act like it was a meal fit for Valhalla, because: STUBBORN. At school, I would pair a peanut butter cookie with a carton of iced tea and call that lunch. I was terrible at this, but determined.  

 
Finally, I started buying Vegetarian Times magazine from the bookstore and kind of started learning about what it was I was doing exactly. I began collecting recipes but my mom was like, "Tofu? What the hell is that? Fuck you." So one weekend when my family was out of town, I hosted my own vegetarian dinner for some friends, which was no small feat because there was no Internet, no Whole Foods that I had ever heard of way over here in my South Hills suburban wonderland. I had to use the YELLOW PAGES to find some weird health food store in Mt. Lebanon that sold kelp and tempeh and a package of tofu that I would wind up having a staring contest with later because what the hell do you do with tofu? I had to beg my friend Lisa to begrudgingly drive me out there so I could buy ingredients for a dinner that no one but me was going to enjoy. Because "Sea"sar salad doesn't sound appetizing to meat-eaters, I guess.

That was my first and last attempt at "cooking," by the way. Sorry to all of the boyfriends who came later, expecting a home cooked meal. Not on my watch.

***

As a kid constantly struggling with thunder thighs, weight loss was a perk I thought would go hand-in-hand cutting meat out of my life. Newsflash: replacing chicken and beef with cheese in 87 different forms is not conducive to losing weight. When I'd go out with friends in high school, I'd eat the shit out of grilled cheeses, dressing-drenched Caesar salads capped with veritable parmesan hats, fettuccine Alfredo, just give me all of the cheese. My friends and I would always go to this diner called Home Cookin’ and I went through a good long phase where all I would order was cole slaw and pie. One of the waitresses laughed as she scribbled down my order late one night and asked, “You pregnant?”

“No, I’m a vegetarian,” I replied somberly.

Once I moved out at 18, it got even worse. I had friends over constantly, so we would order out all of the time. Cheese pizza, cheese sticks, cheese-covered eggplant parmesan hoagies, cheese hoagies with extra cheese to replace the meat. It’s a wonder I didn’t spend most of my 20s in a state of perma-constipation.

The only vegetables I ever ate were breaded, fried and delivered to my house by a bored teenager driving an Omni. Not to mention all of the alcohol that was consumed. I was far from that "anemic vegetarian" that my grandma worried I was going to turn into.

But at least being a vegetarian would render fast food impossible, right? Four words: Taco Bell's 7-layer burritos.

One time, a security guard at one of my jobs said he was surprised I was a vegetarian.

“Why?” I asked, wondering if my natural stench was eau de osso bucco and I just didn’t know it.

“You know,” he said, cutting an hour glass shape into the air with his hands.

Suffice it to say, I had gained some weight those first few years. 

***

An important thing to know about me is that I am helpless; basically just a flailing flesh-sack in a scary meat-filled world.

When I started dating my current boyfriend Henry in 2001, he was horrified when he opened my refrigerator and found it full of alcohol, condiments and film. (Because photography was more important than nutrition.)

"Why don't you have any food?" he asked incredulously.

So I showed him the box of rice and cans of Spaghetti O's on the shelf, the only things that I could purchase from the gas station down the street that I actually could kind of cook OK on those off-nights when I wasn’t being fed by chain restaurants.
“How are you getting your protein?” he asked, and I swear this isn’t going in the sleazy direction you might have in mind.

I had no answer for him. I barely knew the food pyramid, and he was asking me about protein?

After that conversation, Henry started cooking real meals for me, dishes loaded with vegetables, chick peas and tofu, because he was man enough to not give a shit about cooking with tofu, and I slowly started learning things I had never known, like what a "root vegetable" was. 

Henry was appalled that I was a vegetarian who didn't eat vegetables. Or fruit, for that matter. He made me things like mock mashed potatoes (I never knew I liked cauliflower!) and rice-and-fake-meat stuffed peppers, taught me that I really liked melons, and even added COOKBOOKS to my library of horror novels and Alternative Press issues.

By this time, a lot of the chain restaurants in Pittsburgh started offering veggie burgers on their menus, but Henry took me to a lot of ethnic restaurants, where vegetable-laden dishes and meat-substitutions were prevalent; it was starting to feel like maybe I stood a chance at survival. I still didn’t understand tofu, but I sure liked to eat it. I was starting to see vegetarianism as something more than a bet with my parents. It had become a lifestyle, and I began to realize that somewhere along the way, I stopped missing meat. Now I was eating things that I never knew existed, like seitan and tempeh, and I loved it. 

I guess my point here is, if you want to be a vegetarian but lack a lot of basic life skills such as “how to grocery shop”, “how to read a recipe” and “how to operate kitchen machinery”, get yourself a good girlfriend/boyfriend/butler. It could open up a whole new world that normal, self-sufficient people already know about.

I can only imagine how high my cholesterol was before Henry the Nutrionist came in and pumped me full of vegetables. (Not a sex analogy, unless you want it to be.)

***

A few months after I swore off meat, my friend Melissa was over and we were both hungry. Do you remember what it was like to be a hungry, hungry teenager? The rest of my family had gone out without me as usual, and my mom had left out a pan of the Hamburger Helper she made all the "normals" for dinner that night. 

It was right there. Already cooked. So convenient and lukewarm. 

Teenaged starvation + peer pressure = me basically lying in a pan of Hamburger Helper like some pathetic human-Garfield.  It was all so wrong and perverted, but it tasted so damn good. 

I cried in my bed that night like I had just had shameful hobo sex, my flesh smelling like it had been rubbed down with raw meat.

Up until pretty much right now, Melissa was the only one who knew meat had touched my PETA-anointed tongue but she vowed to keep quiet. I felt terrible about it, like I was such a fraud.  But slip-ups happen and I suspect it's more normal than the staunchest vegetarians will admit, like it's some dirty, bloody cow carcass of a secret. I still wonder if there’s some sort of code I should be following.

Should self-flagellation happen the next time I accidentally eat chicken disguised as a biscuit at a Chinese buffet? What is my penance? Sneaking meat is the dark underbelly of vegetarianism, like nuns fapping to pictures of Justin Bieber. No one talks about it. But sometimes, meat happens, folks.

In 2006, I would occasionally eat fish while I was pregnant, but I was trying to grow a healthy baby then so it made me feel like I wasn't really cheating. (Don't worry, Henry and my doctor knew what kinds of fish were OK for preggos to eat; I wasn’t sitting around eating bonbons and mercury sandwiches.) I vowed to stop after the baby was born, and I was doing so well until a few months later on vacation and some "friends" tempted me with sushi. You guys. It was so amazing! 

"Don't worry, I won't tell anyone!" one of them said when I started crying at the table about feeling guilty. But that girl was such a snake, she probably went home and made a filtered LiveJournal post about it. (We are no longer friends, FYI.)

That was pretty much the gateway food for me. I resisted the urge for quite some time, but then I gave up and openly became a fish-eater and stopped calling myself a vegetarian because I ain’t no fraud.

Sushi, you guys. It is so good

As of last week, I am back to eating "nothing that has a face." I couldn’t take the guilt anymore, and the constant reminder that my mom would think she had won the war if she ever found out I was casually chewing sashimi like bubble gum. However, if you ask my son, he will tell you that Mommy eats meat when no one is home. Which could be true if I knew how to cook that shit. But I don't. So, nice try, son.

***

I was a vegetarian for three years before someone asked me, "So are you ovo-lacto?"

"Ok," I answered. Because I didn't know there were different kinds of vegetarians! My three years of barely-passing Latin classes in high school at least helped me figure out that it meant I was a vegetarian who also ate dairy.

I was a vegetarian for six years before I found out that I wasn’t supposed to be eating food made from gelatin because it contains animal by-products. Two vegetarians actually had a shouting match about this at one of my game nights and I quietly shirked away because I didn’t want to get involved. 

I was a vegetarian for ten years before I was finally able to accept that “vegetarianism” is not synonymous with “skinny.” We can still eat cake and cookies. And potato chips. And milk shakes . And Kit-Kats.

I’ve been a vegetarian for eighteen years and I still don’t know what to do with tofu. It just sits there in the package, looking all slimy and wet. And the “firm” and “extra firm” versions are just as jiggly, so whaddup, tofu? Explain yourself. 

My friend Amber recently told me she wanted to add tofu to her diet and started asking me questions about it. Questions make me nervous because my response is usually "I don't know." Or just a shrug if I'm feeling like three words are just too much to muster. I’m conversationally ambivalent.

I had to text Henry and ask him what kind of tofu Amber should buy, because while I've come a long way in that I can now name more vegetables than peas and carrots, don't ask me about tofu.

***

I worked in a butcher shop for 4 years. What kind of a vegetarian even looks at a butcher shop for a minute, let alone works inside one for 4 years?! Luckily, my office was upstairs from where all the disgusting shit was happening, but sometimes my boss thought it would be hilarious to send me downstairs to get the meat cutters' lunch orders. I’d have to wear a USDA-approved hardhat, even.

Four years working in a butcher shop actually made it A LOT easier for me to stay true to my meatless lifestyle.

But then the Great American Bacon Explosion happened. Bacon sundaes. Bacon milkshakes. Maple bacon donuts. Maple bacon cupcakes. Chocolate-covered bacon. Candied bacon. Bacon-flavored condoms. Bacon breath mints. Bacon wigs. Bacon 4 President. Kitchen utensils to aid with the fashioning of bacon bowls to be filled with more bacon. I had no idea I even missed bacon that much until I was being tempted with bacon-wrapped apples in every garden. When I was a carnivore, bacon was just bacon. I mean, it was great, I loved it; but when did it become OMG BACON?

My tattoo guy is vegan. The last time I was at the shop, his consultation appointment brought him donuts, one of which was maple bacon. He quickly offered it to one of the other guys there. “Seriously, I might eat that if no one takes it. I think about bacon like, all of the time.”

“Me too!” I cried. And then I felt less alone in this small, meat-free community. 

If I ever fall off the wagon for good, it will be because of bacon. Goddamn you, bacon.

***


There's a stereotype for my kind: that obnoxious preachy person who sits across from you at dinner and judges you for ordering a steak. I was never that person. I don't give a shit what you eat as long as you're not dripping its blood on my plate. However, one time in 2003, I opened the refrigerator to see half of a Cryovac'd cow taking up an entire shelf. That might have been one of the most brutal fights Henry and I have ever had. He never brought shit like that into my house again.

It always bothered me though that I let people have their meat and eat it too, yet there were always those ones who just couldn't wait to make fun of me for eating faux chicken nuggets and black bean burgers. Like the time my whole family erupted in exaggerated dry-heaves when Henry was nice enough to cook me a Tofurkey for Thanksgiving in 2004. I had to sit there while everyone pointed out how gross and disgusting I was, like I was hand-shoveling dog feces into my mouth. And then my mom would swear that she substituted cream of mushroom soup in her side dishes that called for cream of chicken, but then she would snicker, so God only knows what they were feeding me. I couldn’t eat anything my grandma made me because I was 95% convinced that she was pureeing beef into everything from soup to muffins so that I wouldn’t “catch anemia.” 

Then there are the people who treat vegetarianism as a joke, refusing to order a plain pizza because they have zero respect for my dietary requirements. I got really good at picking pepperoni off pizza.

We can totally have a conversation without me thrusting a PETA petition at you (although I will sign the shit out of those at every single Warped Tour while Henry stands to the side, rolling his eyes up to the meat-filled heavens). I’m not going to tell you that you’re ruining your life by feasting on poor, defenseless animal flesh or hand you a pamphlet that illustrates what exactly is in that food court hot dog, because I don’t care what you do. 

Moral: don’t judge me and my tofishy tacos and I won’t judge you and your KFC Double Down.

And don’t ask me about tofu. 

***

Be sure to visit all of the blogs participating in the second annual April Fool's Day Pittsburgh Guest Blogger Event, as listed below.  Follow all our fun tweets under the Twitter hashtag #PghGBE

A Librarian's Lists and Letters
Beezus Kiddo
Crank Crank Revolution 
D&T In the Burgh
Don't Forget to Eat 
Downtown Living 
Emily Levenson
everybody loves you… 
jelly jars
'lil Burgers
Ngewo's World 
Oh Honestly, Erin
Orange Chair Blog
PGH Happy Hour 
Radio Chumps
Red Pen Mama
Sean’s Ramblings 
Small Town Dad 
Sole for the Soul 
Syntaxxerrorrr 
Tall Tales from a Small Town
The Firecracker Blog
The Pittsburgh Mommy Blog 
The Steel Trap
West of Mars 
Ya Jagoff
Yinz R Readin
Yinzster
Yum Yum PGH

Monday, March 31, 2014

Stephen and Tiffany and The Case Of The Overturned Car

It's springtime, which means it's time for rain, and flowers, and love, and overturned cars in the middle of nowhere.

This may be hard to believe, but this is ME in the picture, NOT Evgeni Malkin.

This past weekend my wife and I went geocaching which, as you know, can take you to some...unusual places. Of course, we're complete wusses, so we usually don't go anywhere too exotic, leaving those five-stars to the restaurant critics. (Some day we will rise to the challenge, and prevail, by which I mean we'll get lucky.)

Anyway, we decided to try and find one just off the main road. Despite the picture above, we weren't all that far from civilization; just a county road and a turn or two. But we were near 1) a coal mine, 2) a railroad track, and 3) a poorly-drained swamp. So, you know, the setting for the next American Horror Story: Pennsyltucky.

So I ask, dear reader, that you pass no judgement on me, because we pulled off to the side of the road, saw the railroad tracks, saw the empty cans of Keystone Light, saw this overturned car, and legitimately thought "Yup, this seems exactly like the sort of place where there would--nay, should--be an overturned car, so it's not really that big of a deal." And then we went looking for the geocache.

It was only after another vehicle had pulled up that we thought that perhaps this wasn't just a standard, routine, run-of-the-mill overturned car. A gentleman got out and asked us if that was our car; we answered that it was not.

"The dome light is still on," he said.

Now listen. I realize that at one point in my life I had harbored a pipe dream of becoming a private detective. I like to think that I have all the deductive capacity of Sherlock Holmes with all of his charms, and I'm just as pasty white as Data from Star Trek with the fashion sense of Nancy Drew and maybe just a dash of the Great Mouse Detective. So I will admit to a tiny piece of embarrassment when I realized that this is the exact sort of thing I should have noticed if I ever want to achieve my dream of starring as a quirky investigator on the USA Network.

Well, as you can see above, I was brave enough to check to make sure there weren't any injured bodies in the car (there weren't) or if there were anything to note (lots of paperwork strewn about). I also looked to see if there were any other signs of evidence (there was: my wife found tire tracks, proving that someone drove straight into the ditch above without even stopping, proof positive that she would probably get top billing on our comedic-based mystery-solving show. Now, now, FX, don't get in a bidding war with NBCUniversal!)

Anyway, we didn't see much else of note: no blood, no telltale signs of a meth deal gone bad, no overt evidence that Carlos the Jackal had cut the brake line. The kind gentleman who shamed my investigative prowess said he would notify the police, and then we decided it would be best to leave this to the authorities.

Still, it left a lot of unanswered questions. What this a simple drunken joyride gone wrong? Was this an elaborate plan to commit insurance fraud? Did the people in charge simply run off to avoid detection? And, most importantly, can we get John Hodgman to play our long-suffering boss?

Monday, March 24, 2014

Nothing To See Here...

I just watched The Naked Gun on Netflix today, and I had forgotten how awesome of a movie that is.

Sometimes movies trick you. There have been plenty of movies that I thought were fantastically awesome when I was younger, and then I go back and watch them and I realize how dated and mediocre they were. Sure, some are a product of their times--humor changes, after all--but an alarming number of movies really don't stand the test of time.  Dramas aren't affected quite so much, of course, but a lot of action flicks and comedies are barely watchable anymore. Some survive on nostalgia, some on good acting, and some on clever writing, but a lot of successful movies benefited from the moviegoing landscape at the time.

Anyway, it's sometimes difficult to remember the path that The Naked Gun took. The ZAZ team (David and Jerry Zucker and Jim Abrahams) had a hit with Airplane! and Kentucky Fried Movie, and were given a chance at a TV show (Police Squad!) When the series failed, they somehow managed to convince a movie studio that it would work better as a film--and it did. (Actually, no--the TV show was pretty awesome, too.)

The ZAZ team had a reasonably short era of success. Along with KFM, Airplane! and The Naked Gun, they also teamed up on Top Secret, a highly underrated sister film to the others (parodying spy and Elvis films--just see it). Ruthless People was also done by them but it's a clear departure from the outright parody.

Sadly, the movies they did separately are far less awesome. The Naked Gun 2 1/2 and Hot Shots! were both pretty good, and most of the Scary Movie franchise is decent (except 2, of course) but the rest...not so much. It also ushered in a long, horrible string of poorly-written "parody" movies in the same vein (many of which starred Leslie Nielsen). This slowly, then, degenerated into the string of Date Movie-style films that have neither the wit nor the charm of the original ZAZ movies, even if the jokes and parodies make sense in a logical, non-funny sense.

Anyway, watching The Naked Gun reminded me of how clever it was. It doesn't really look dated--Jane's hairstyle is about the only remnant from 1988 you can really see--and the jokes--even though you already know them--still work. The entire last third of the movie at the baseball game is just about perfection as far as writing is concerned. It has everything: the usual rockbed of farce, the exaggerated parody of baseball cliches, some slapstick thrown in, callbacks to earlier references in the movie, and some good old fashioned solid writing. The movie isn't perfect, and once you see a lot of the gags it loses some of its charm, but I was surprised as to how well it held up.


Thursday, March 20, 2014

Quiz Show

Internet memes come and go in cycles, and just when you thought they were gone forever and they were just about to drip out of your memory to make room for new information, they come back again.

So it is now with online quizzes. You know, the things that get plastered all over Facebook and Buzzfeed about "What State Are You?" and "What Musical Instrument Do You Dream About" and that sort of nonsense? I mean, it's fun, in a back-of-a-restaurant-placemat-when-you-were-a-kid sort of way, but the questions are nonsensical and the outcomes never satisfying. I think I took the states quiz and I ended up with Minnesota. I mean, I'll take the cold and the dairy products, but there are too many insufferable suburbs and quiet serial killers to deal with.

Anyway, I remember a decade ago there was some web site that let you create your own quizzes similar to this (this was in primitive times, when Google was still just a search engine and Facebook wasn't a vast wasteland of your high school's horrible political opinions). I wish I could remember the subject matter of it (knowing me it was either about dinosaurs or Presidents), but all I remember is that you had the ability for there to be 32 different outcomes and all you needed was 256 outputs and I spent way too much of my life actually graphing these 256 outputs. I never ended up finishing the quiz, which is probably for the best.

Anyway, I was wondering what sort of quizzes I'd like to see made today.

  • What Obscure Olympic Sport Are You?
  • Which Flight 370 Conspiracy Is Your Uncle Going To Bring Up At Easter?
  • Which Celebrity Do You Take Your Medical Advice From?
  • What Cast Member Of Breaking Bad Are You, And Will You Still Share The Result On Facebook When It Turns Out You're Skyler?
  • What Episode Of Cosmos Are You Going To Claim You Saw When You Were Really Watching Wife Swap?
  • Which Pretentious Instagram Filter Are You?
  • What Candy Flavor Are You (Hint: The Answer Is Going To Be Anise And That's Going To Piss You Off)
  • What Expensive Item That You Will Immediately Regret Purchasing Matches The Personality Of Your Spouse?
  • What Piece Of IKEA Furniture Are You?
  • In What Honorable Way Would You Like To Be Put To Death In The Inevitable Russian Invasion By Vladimir Putin?
  • What Month Of The Year Are You Finally Going To Admit That You Haven't Seen 12 Years A Slave?
  • What Philip K. Dick Character Do You So Desperately Hope You Aren't?
  • Which Current Foreign Entanglement Are You Going To Pretend You Know Exists But Really Just Found Out About It Right Now?
  • What Classic Piece Of Literature That You've Never Read And Won't Understand The Answer Of Are You?
  • What Meaningless Internet Quiz Do You Not Want To Take But Everyone Else Has So You Feel A Social Obligation To Do So?

Monday, March 10, 2014

Ten Items Or Less

So, how was your weekend? Let me tell you how mine started.

Last weekend I spent four hours in a room with about a hundred kids. As should be expected, therefore, I became sick last week.

It didn't happen right away, of course. A mild cough and a minor headache was all it was, and I was hoping my immune system and a barrel of Purell would help stave off any issues. But, sadly, the trajectory of sickness did not look promising, and I knew that both my wife and I were in for a long weekend. So I decided to stop at the closest Wal-Mart after work to stock up on supplies, hopefully so we wouldn't have to leave the house unless absolutely necessary.

So I ran into the department store to purchase, among other things, some two liters of soda pop. We've been trying to save money (while conveniently maintaining my addition to caffeine) so I've been trying to find deals on pop. While I am generally a Pepsi person, Coke somehow manages to do cherry right, so getting Cherry Coke Zero is an occasional treat. Sadly, it's not offered everywhere, so it's not often that I am able to find it.

Well, suffice it to say that not only did Wal Mart have Cherry Coke Zero, but it was on sale for the princely sum of a dollar a bottle. A dollar! Well, this was clearly the functional equivalent of winning the Powerball, so I loaded up my cart with four bottles of the stuff--four being the practical limit for me to carry in one trip, since only cowards and charlatans make more than one trip when carrying in groceries--stocking up for what would no doubt be a long weekend of thrills and excitement hopped up on knockoff Sudafed.

With this newfound purchase, I was King of the Cranberry Township Wal-Mart. I walked up and down the rows of merchandise with a steely reserve, cocky in the knowledge that I had not only found what I was looking for, but had done so at a fraction of the expected cost. My abbreviated shopping list was completed with haste; I looked fellow shoppers dead in the eye with the implicit statement of "Yeah, I'm buying a box of pink Kleenex. What's it to you?" Aisles parted ways as I finished my purchases; stockmen and cashiers became mute with awe as I approached. Never before and never again will they see one such as I.  I am Ozymandias, King of Kings; look upon my discount carbonated beverage purchase, and beware.

I didn't have much in my cart, so I swaggered on up to the speedy checkout line--but both she and I knew I could have had a hundred items in my cart and no one would have to say a thing. I placed my sundries on the counter: a little Alka Seltzer, a box of crackers, the usual mundanes. Some lady was cashing her paycheck in front of me so she didn't have any products, but the cashier had to sacrifice some goats to actually complete the transaction, so it was taking a while. And then, finally, at long last, I started loading my bountiful treasure: one by one, I placed the two liters on the counter.

With the final bottle in my hand, I placed it on the counter. It tipped over.

It didn't hit the floor; I was astute enough to catch it. But, unfortunately, apparently however I caught it caused a small tear to form in the plastic.

Anyone who has done this before knows exactly what happened next.

Two liters are, of course, pressurized, so when that small tear appeared a stream of Cherry Coke Zero started spraying out of it like a loose fire hose, a sort of poetic disaster one could find in the lost lyrics of Big Rock Candy Mountain. And when I say that it sprayed out, I mean a high-pressure spray of sticky, carbonated liquid started to erupt everywhere. EVERYWHERE. On me, on the lady in front of me, on the sign ten feet above us, on the checkout counter two rows over. I managed to divert the spray to the floor, but even the few precious seconds before I had a chance to do so it was able to coat the entire checkout area with alarming efficiency.

I would like to say that people sat there in stunned, sympathetic silence while I stood there helplessly embarrassed, and then some kingly workers helped me clean up. However, that's not what happened.

First off, some younger guy in a wheelchair started shouting "Makin' it rain! Makin' it rain! HAHAHAHAHA." ensuring that he knew--he just knew--that had he not been in a wheelchair before he did that, he would have been afterwards.

And then the woman in front of me gave me the stinkeye, like I was sent my her ex-husband to do this on purpose. I mean, I get it, some random stranger just forced a high-pressure shower of Coke on her, but I know what the check-cashing limit is on paychecks at Wal-Mart checkout lanes. Don't even act like this is the first time you've been coated with a sticky film of  gross pop.

So there I was, standing there, covered head to toe in Cherry Coke Zero, almost like a sort of redneck version of Carrie. Not only was this an embarrassment in and of itself, but I then had to go through the indignity of moving all my stuff to another register, wipe down my items as I placed them on the counter, and still check out (one item less, of course). I then had to slowly walk out of the store, head drooped down, minor chord jazz music playing in the background, as I made the walk of shame back to my car.

And that is how my weekend started. How about you? 

Thursday, February 27, 2014

What If Pittsburgh Had Its Own Portlandia?



The newest season of Portlandia is coming up soon. Starring Fred Armisen and Carrie Brownstein, it’s a sketch comedy that plays off of Portland's…quirky reputation. 

Of course, us Pittsburghers are no stranger to Portland.

There have been quite a few comparisons between the once-trendy Oregon metropolis and the Steel City, mostly due to each city's reputation as a place with a growing innovative class and a haven for hipsters. Once considered old with a rusty reputation as a burned-out post-industrial hub, Pittsburgh had transformed and sold itself as a city not on the rise, but reclaiming its earned reputation as a place where important things are happening...and not without merit.

But still, the popularity of Portlandia got me to thinking…what if there were a version of Portlandia, only for Pittsburgh? Kind of like a Yinztopia, if you will. Just to give you an idea of how awesome this coukd be, gere are a few ideas for recurring sketches:

  • Michael Keaton guest stars as an out-of-place industrial manager plopped into a dying steel factory, where through sheer force of his personality and keen diplomacy wins over the workforce and gets the place up and profitably running...as a craft brewery.
  • A forty-part historical documentary on the flooding of the Mon Wharf.
  • A couple who invents time travel and, with the entire recorded history of all mankind at their fingertips and the ability to change the course of history for the better, spend their time going to Hills to buy popcorn, visiting the Civic Arena to call Jaromir Jagr a jagoff, and watching Nick Perry pull the 666 drawing.
  • Instead of a time machine, another couple just goes to Kennywood where they are immediately transported to 1978.
  • A charmingly unrealistic sketch where the mayor of Pittsburgh (Bill Peduto, playing himself) engages in routine administrative city work by using a social media platform like, say, Twitter to help facilitate some boring but essential civic task, like filling potholes.
  • A pretentious couple who critiques the art we have in our parking garages.
  • David Conrad and Joe Manganiello give dating advice to Pittsburgh, which mostly boils down to “Instead of ‘running out of gas,’ just take 28 home so you have plenty of time to get all handsy”; “Don’t use Hunt’s, even if it’s the only option, on your first date, or ever,” and “Try your very hardest to look a lot like us as possible.”
  • A pitched battle between two rival gangs: The Smileys (who eat late at night at Eat ‘N’ Park) and the Frownies (who eat late at night at Kings).
  • A recurring sketch centering on that one person that just now got why Kings calls them Frownies.
  • A professor attempts to explain to tourists why Pittsburgh seems to like mattresses and dinosaurs so much since there is no discernible reason for this to be the case.*
  • A middle-aged couple routinely tries to convince the rest of the world that Pittsburgh isn’t really all that racist by displaying such diverse activities as being concerned for a minute or two after reading that one article about the August Wilson Center closing down, seeing a show at the Rex, pronouncing the starting lineup of the Pirates correctly, and knowing that one guy from that thing you went to a year ago that they think might be from either China or Mexico.
  • A sports enthusiast who subscribes to an increasingly elaborate set of excuses as to why the Steelers are having a losing season, including everything from the clear pecuniary benefits Roger Goodell and the refs are making from Vegas bookmakers to the lasting effects of Ben Roethlisberger’s decades-old motorcycle accident I think everyone kind of forgot about.
  • I’m not sure how the sketch will start, but it will end with Sheetz selling pierogis crammed full of French fries, chipped ham, and haluski and then deep-frying it in Sarris chocolate.**
  • A group of people try to increase their exposure to fine culture here in the city, so they make it a plan to start attending more live performances. Their itinerary involves going to see The Chief, a college production of The Chief, and a Pirates game.
  • Billy Gardell standing next to Frick Park yelling at passing bicyclists that they would get a lot more respect from drivers if their bikes ran on gasoline and called them motorcycles.
  • Two local businesses attempt to outdo each other by making more and more obnoxious radio commercials until they start selling a negative number of cars.
  • A hilarious sketch where people think it’s acceptable to wear Steelers jerseys to church services as formal wear.
Call me crazy, but I think this just might work.


*I would like to know this as well.
**I would probably eat this.