Tuesday, May 19, 2015

Mad Men: The Final Episode

Well, I wasn't going to write about Mad Men because I've written about it a lot before, but it seems like everyone else is, so why not?

Note: Spoilers ahead

Mad Men is a fairly solid part of our cultural zeitgeist at this point, but it's possible there are plenty of those who aren't familiar with the program. Mad Men just ended its run of seven seasons, stretched out unnecessarily over eight years, garnering all sorts of well-deserved awards in the process.

Mad Men is a show about advertising executives, initially set in the 1960's, eventually landing us in 1970. The show was really about three things: it was about advertising, it was about characters, and it was about history. The show managed to meld all three of them more or less seamlessly, while we watched a core group of people evolve in the turbulent 60's all under the backdrop of a relatively familiar industry.

Specifically, the show centers on Don Draper, a good-looking and highly successful creative director at the middle-range firm of Sterling Cooper. Draper is, to mangle a metaphor that probably doesn't fit, the executive all companies want and other executives want to be. It's established early on that Don is a legend in the industry, and every so many episodes someone makes an inquiry if he's willing to jump ship. He's a hot commodity in more than one way--he easily beds many women in many different stations, from the beatnik artist to the rich daughter of a high-end department store owner. He is, of course, married, to poor, unassuming Betty. 

It's easy to think of Mad Men as simply The Don Draper Story, but that would be a mistake--the show is definitely an ensemble production, with a core group of highly interesting characters supported by a ring of other highly interesting side characters. You have Pete, the young, ambitious blue-blood who resents Don's success and, early on, has difficulty balancing the cache his name has with earning a reputation on his own. There's Roger, a partner and head of accounts trying to fill his father's shoes (and act as an enabler to Don's drinking and womanizing), the epitome of second-generation wealth. There's Peggy, the fresh, young face in the secretarial pool who manages to transition to creative (a woman! In creative!). And you have Joan, the office manager who tries to balance using her sexuality to advance her prospects and trying to establish her needs in spite of it.

There is, of course, more to it: there's Don's kids, Sally, Bobby, and (eventually) Gene. There are other workers, such as Harry, the head of media, Ken, an account manager, and Bert, the eccentric but practical senior manager. Some early characters, such as progressive Paul and art director Sal, also get an early exit, while other, new characters (like Megan, Don's new wife, new artist Stan, and Lane, the new financial manager) are slowly introduced. Mad Men excels in weaving all of these characters into believable story arcs that are told in 13-episode-season efficiency.

Of course, it's not long in the series when we discover some new things. Don has a deep, dark secret that no one knows about, not even his wife. Everybody in the cast effectively leads two lives, which is portrayed as being standard for the time; the show, however, does show a spectrum of reactions. Don shamelessly sleeps with pretty much any woman he can find, while Harry has a drunken one-night stand and feels incredibly guilty about it.

Mad Men spends a few seasons reveling in scotch-soaked assignations and history porn, but eventually settles into a few comfortable arcs. The ever-evolving nature of the corporation (mergers, acquisitions, firings, and restructurings happen frequently) as well as using advertising to highlight the changing social landscape start to take focus. Of particular note is the story arc of Peggy, who begins as a mere secretary with little knowledge of the real world and ends up one of the more successful and happy characters. It's a fascinating journey that is not only believable but also does an excellent job of showing the progression of the women's movement in the 60's without pounding it in your face with a frying pan. It's extraordinary subtle.An honorable mention goes out to the character of Lane Pryce, a tragic figure in a show with plenty to choose from. And let's not forget Roger, who just seems to be having a blast the entire run of the series.

Let's be honest here: Mad Men can be a hard sell. It's not a particularly engaging idea (ad execs?) and boardroom antics are famously difficult to make interesting on the screen. And there's no violence or explosion or all that much steamy sex, either. This isn't Breaking Bad or The Sopranos, both similar character-driven shows that still had the benefit of pulling out a gunfight when necessary. Still, somehow, they were able to not only make it interesting but engaging.  

Of course, the series isn't perfect. The biggest issue I had was that there are a few story lines that never really seem to go anywhere. They don't advance the plot, they don't develop the characters, and often seem to be simple time-fillers. The plot involving Conrad Hilton, for example, never really went anywhere, and some of Don's affairs were particularly cringe-worthy in their uselessness. Who cares about Sylvia, or the waitress, or that teacher whose name no one cares to remember?

Anyway, on to the final episode. I enjoyed it, more or less; the final few episodes kind of wrapped up a lot of the story arcs. Betty getting cancer was certainly a downer, but to see Sally mature was satisfying. Roger is Roger; nothing less could be expected. It was very nice to see Peggy actually be so happy being with Stan; the sexual tension was never palpable and it could have gone either way, but I'm glad it went the way it did.

While I enjoyed what happened with both Joan (starting her own production company) and Pete (reconciling with his wife and moving to Kansas to work for Learjet), both seemed rather abrupt. Joan had never once indicated any sort of interest in being a producer, and Pete was a smarmy slimeball right up until the final three episodes or so where he became a saint. It would have been nice to see some sort of catalyst of change for both--it's certainly believable--but it just sort of happened. I do wish we had gotten a more solid resolution with Harry and Ted (the latter not showing up at all) but they were secondary characters and it's understandable.

I'm still conflicted on Don. While Don has always been one to go on his own for some soul-searching--he had run off to California earlier in the series--the whole retreat seemed forced. It was very much out of character for Don. At least they led up to it (Don leaving the meeting, him traveling across the country, etc.) so it wasn't as abrupt as Pete and Joan, but still. In the end, the implication that he came up with the Coke ad is perfect (they don't explicitly say it, but it's pretty obvious--the girl who worked at the counter also resembles one of the girls in the commercial); Don, the man who finds enlightenment and then goes and makes a boatload of cash on it.

Mad Men was a rare show, indeed; period dramas are expensive and hard to make without coming across as trite. It will be a long while before we see something like it again, I suspect.

Thursday, May 14, 2015

4 Items Or Less

I swear, I don't just write about food.

Thankfully, this post involves food only as a secondary aspect of the story; the first is my inability to engage in common social interactions.

I went into the local overpriced grocery store chain to look for a specific item--a frozen gluten-free pizza, which my wife enjoys but can be somewhat hard to find. So when we do come across them, we tend to stock up in case they are harder to find in the future.

Anyway, I look in the freezer section and saw that they did, in face, have frozen pizzas in stock. So I grab three of them and throw them in my cart. I browsed the store quickly but realized I didn't want to spend $14 on a small cylinder of artisan Diet Pepsi or $8 for a single vegan GMO-free gourmet chocolate chip cookie, so the only thing in my cart were the pizzas.

The nice clerk checks me out and tells me the total, which seems much higher than it should be.

"Uh..." I say, trying to avoid eye contact. I glance at the screen and see that she had charged me for four pizzas, not three.

"You charged me for four pizzas," I say, trying not to embarrass the poor girl. It's an easy mistake, but not one you can let slide when you're buying specialty pizza at the world's least competitively-priced store.

"Yeah," she replied, in an equally non-direct-confrontation manner.

"So, uh, I only got three."

The clerk--who couldn't have been much more than sixteen, glanced down at the bags she had just made.

"No, there's four."

"No," I repeated a little more forcefully, "I picked up three."

I then realize with horror that there are, in fact, four pizzas in the bags. I somehow must have grabbed one more than I thought.

"Whelp," I said. "Looks like I got four. I swear I got three."

The clerk didn't really respond. I don't blame her; she was wrongfully accused in an open court of random people who just wanted to buy their arugula tea and prepackaged fusion sushi through the system and go home to drink their mid-range wine and watch premium cable.

I swiftly grabbed my bags and left. Looks like I'll have to find a new grocery store to embarrass myself in.

Monday, May 4, 2015

Worldwide Conspiracy, Graham Cracker Style

I'm not sure, but I may have uncovered a conspiracy of monumental proportions.

This very night, my wife and I enjoyed the first smores of the season. I opened a box of graham crackers, which are my favorite snack because they have the audacity to call themselves "crackers" when they are quite clearly cookies, and looked inside. Now, I'm not about giving away free advertising on this site--I don't care how tasty you are, ya still gotta pay--and I also don't want 1) to be sued for libel because of this forthcoming post and 2) I don't want the Illuminati to use keywords to track me down. Let's just say they are a major graham cracker manufacturer whose name rhymes with "Bunny Laid."

Anyway, I pull out the first package--for some reason graham crackers are packaged in three different wrappers because apparently some marketing genius somewhere doesn't think people just eat all three packages in one sitting--and I noticed something peculiar.


 What on earth is this? (One mystery that doesn't need solved is why it looks like someone ate half of the crackers in this pack. It wasn't me. Mystery solved. Let's move on. Ahem.) It's a regular pack of graham crackers, but right in the middle of the package is an "A". So I pulled out the next one.


A "B"? What sort of Brave New World nonsense is this? But there's a third package in the box. What mysteries will it sing for me?

An "A" again. What sort of devilry is this?

No, seriously, I have no idea why this is the case. If there is one thing that the Bunny Laid corporation loves more than making tasty treats for the eagerly hungry public, it's not spending stupid money to stamp a Ariel letter for no reason on their packaging. More importantly, all three packs were the same. Same number of crackers. Same color, flavor, everything.

I could understand maybe lettering them "A", "B", and "C", but they didn't do that. They went back to "A". Why? It doesn't made any sense from a packaging standpoint, or an inventory standpoint, or really any sense of logic whatsoever.

Anyway, I have some theories:

1. There are people being held hostage in the Nabisco Rabbitsco bakery but they think that there is a two-thirds chance that the only person who can rescue them is the Fonz.
2. Graham crackers have gained sentience and are working their way through Richard Scarry's alphabet books.*
3. Big Cracker is trying to send out a coded message with the laziest cryptographer ever.

In any case, it may take a while to solve this mystery. Maybe the cinnamon crackers have different letters. I hope so, because now I'm hungry again. This is going to be the tastiest Da Vinci Code-style mystery-solving shit ever. 

*I'm not sure if Richard Scarry Alphabet Books are a thing, but that seems to be the sort of thing graham crackers would be up for. Weirdos.

Sunday, May 3, 2015

Dollar Store Fever

Dollar stores are one of modern America's enigmas. I don't know why they haven't been a standard presence in most of the history of free market capitalism, but they've certainly fed into a need almost anywhere. Their sudden boom over the past decade or two is evidence of that.

But they certainly are far from perfect. Sure, they're great when all you are looking for are some generic cleaning supplies, remainder books, and holiday-themed kitsch, but they aren't going to get you what you need to furnish your new store. (Although, oddly, I find their soft drinks to be fresher-tasting than what you normally find at convenience stores, which makes no sense whatsoever.)

Anyway, I do have a cautionary tale. Never go there on an empty stomach and a weak sense of willpower.

It's not a secret that the food you find at dollar stores fall into one of two categories: they are either 1) mere minutes away from forming mold, or 2) they are hopelessly generic. You won't find many Hershey Bars at the dollar store, but you'll find plenty of Herschman's Chocolate-Style Rectangle-Shaped Snack Foods.  Still, they'll do in a pinch.

Or not.

I had the misfortune of having to run to get dog food hurriedly last week. "Misfortune" in quotes because the only reason I had to do this is because I was lazy and didn't get any until we were all out. Of course, the place I usually get it from is drenched in traffic roughly 100% of the time, so running there and back is always a bit dicey.

So after I get the dog food (and resisting buying every single dog toy in the place) I realize that I am hungry. Not just hungry, but stomach-growlingly hungry. So I decided to run into the dollar store to grab something quick and easy to pad down my hunger.

Learn from my mistake.

I knew I wasn't getting top-quality, here, but I figured I could just grab something small. I didn't just want candy, I was hungry for something crunchy--nuts or chips or something. But I was shopping while hungry, which is always a bad idea, and I ended up getting quite a few things.

Spicy nuts are good, right? And peanut butter is healthy, correct? And as  dessert, how can you go wrong with fudge AND chocolate?

In retrospect, I have instituted a new rule, and that is never trust anything with a logo that has a sombrero unless you see an actual Mexican prepare you some Mexican food. (Are spicy peanuts even supposed to be a Mexican thing?) Not only were these peanuts not very good, they actively made me simultaneously hungrier and lose my appetite. I'm not even sure how that is possible, but somehow this little packet of nightmare kernels did it.

"Well," I thought to myself, "I can take the taste out of my mouth with some sweet peanut butter." NOPE. Not only were these cookies not good, they didn't even taste like peanut butter. They weren't even shaped like peanuts! They were vaguely oval-shaped, which means it could just as easily have been a cucumber as a peanut. And the paste they used to stick those two tasteless biscuits together was also tasteless. About the only thing this had in common with the Nutter Butters they were trying so shamelessly to copy was that the color is roughly the color of what one thinks of when they think of peanuts. Hell, I actually checked the ingredients to make sure there was peanut butter in there and not "peanut-inspired soy dippin's." (Shockingly, there is PB in those cookies, though for the life of me I couldn't find it.)

At this point, I was suspect of the fudge grahams, and rightfully so. Oddly, it wasn't that bad--which the chocolate tasted nothing like chocolate and everything like brown-painted wax, the graham crackers were at least decent. It's hard to screw up graham cracker, although I'm sure someone in the dollar store biz has tried.

Anyway, learn from me this simple life lesson: don't go to a dollar store hungry and expect any sort of satisfaction. And if you do, stick with the name brand Mike and Ike's. Those things never go stale.

Sunday, April 26, 2015

For Shame

I just finished Jon Ronson's So You've Been Publicly Shamed, a book detailing how public shaming works in today's social media landscape.

The book itself, I believe, is both interesting and important; he goes through several people's lives as they go through the aftermath of having the entire world publicly call them out for some sort of behavior, whether it be getting caught in a prostitution ring or a single tasteless tweet. The book itself is fascinating as it goes into this detail and seeing how people live through something rather unique in history--a world where one word or sentence is now available for (literally) the entire world to react and judge.

Sadly, the book doesn't do two things I wish it would have: one is to delve more into the history of public shaming (he does devote some time to it, but not nearly enough to provide a lot of context). Second is dealing less with the individual examples and more navel-gazing introspection as to what that means for our society at large.

Megan McArdle's take on this roughly corresponds with my own thoughts, but I read her article before the book. Now that I've had the time to read the book I can sort of reconcile my opinions.

We're really talking about a few different things, which I believe is the core of people who might disagree. There was the old-school public shaming, which literally meant dragging souls out to the town square, placed in stocks, and judged by the community. This sort of thing was (rightly) removed from modern society, although it does exist in some forms; it's not unheard of for a judge to incorporate shaming as part of a sentence. (Ronson is surprisingly sympathetic to this; a lot of the people he spoke with that went through such a shaming felt that this was by far the only way they could change their behavior.)  If done judiciously and not via malice, I am also sympathetic to this, although my big fear is that there is a thin line between genuine, behavior-changing shaming to outright hostility and revenge.

The second is more intimate: one may not care how the community feels about them, but they may be concerned about how their close friends and family feel about them. This is most likely the shaming that has the greatest effect, but pretty much by definition is impossible to "officially" endorse. A judge can't make your dad be disappointed in you. The only way to making this sort of shaming effective is via a shift in the culture, and it's difficult to steer that in any effective manner by choice. It was popular in the 80's (and espoused by social scientists like Charles Murray) that many of the social ills we suffer in modern society is due to a lack of this intimate shame. When our families, churches, schools, and other institutions lose influence, there's less of a reason to care if you are ashamed of what you've done--we didn't need a government program to force people to do X when a disapproving look from our parents worked just as well. This is tricky, since it's difficult to separate these relationships into discrete patterns, but it's a compelling, if imperfect, theory.

The third is new, and that is the public shaming of the world via the internet. One tweet, or Facebook status, or blog post can literally be shared to everyone on the planet, and they can immediately respond within seconds. This is unprecedented and, one has to admit, a little scary.

The previous two forms of shaming involved people and institutions who were invested in the target. Judges want people to reform and family members want you to succeed, so shaming had a perfectly legitimate application as a deterrent to bad behavior. For institutional shaming, a solid list of rules and laws existed so--if one was found guilty--most are comfortable with the shame because it's been through a legitimate process to determine this. After all, some people do deserve to feel ashamed of what they have done, and the social pressure and institutions had evolved where there was a back-and-forth between the shamers and shamees, as it were. It was constructive because there were incentives on both parties to assist.

Not so with this new form of shaming. People who get publicly shamed have thousands, if not millions, of people who actively put forth an effort to judge someone else, often with little by way of context or justice. There are no rules; once the judgement of the public has been determined, there is literally no way to stop it. And there are no consequences for the shamers--a brief, ten-second email with which a person has no stake still causes immense grief to the target. The constructive portion of the act of shaming is destroyed; it's a million anonymous fingers, pointed accusingly at a person whose transgression are often mild and certainly haven't been vetted through any sort of vehicle for review or justice. 

It's frustrating, to say the least. I've seen companies and politicians make extraordinarily minor missteps only to see their entire future crumble. Regardless of whether it is fair or not, the verdict is enacted and there's very little anyone can do about it. Books like Ronson's trigger a small amount of self-reflection regarding the act of public shaming, but one suspects that it's a difficult trend to counter.

Friday, April 3, 2015

Mad Men Predictions

This Sunday starts the final season of Mad Men, the critically-acclaimed drama that looks at the advertising industry in the 1960s, following the requisite changes in morals, politics, and sideburns.

The show is well-known for its sharp writing and thoughtful, cryptic symbolism, leading many to speculate on how the series will end. Nearly all of the theories center around the fate of Don Draper and whether he lives or dies or if his secrets are revealed or if he just turned into an old, jaded man. Well, jadier.

But what will happen? Here are a few predictions:

  • Don Draper, tired of his reckless drinking, meaningless sex, and barely-concealed disgust at his coworkers, decides to straighten up his act by only drinking after noon and only having six girls on the side.
  • Peggy has a successful string of successes, landing nine of the top ten corporations in America and locks each of them into at least a four-year commitment. For her efforts, she is given a forty dollar raise and a new desk.
  • Lou dies and nobody cares.
  • Ironically, though, Stan takes up Scout's Honor in his memory and it becomes a lucrative Sunday comic strip. He spends the rest of his life worried someone will find out he stole it, until he realizes that no one cares because it's Lou.
  • Megan wins the Kentucky Derby.
  • For some strange reason, Bob Benson decides he doesn't want to visit a client in Indiana.
  • Sally gets drafted and moves to Canada, where she becomes an astronomer-lifeguard.
  • Pete eats a Snickers Bar and subsequently breaks down in tears telling a story about his childhood and when he was ostracized for only being immensely rich and not incredibly rich. Mars is not impressed.
  • Roger, high on mescalin and crystal THC, votes for Humphrey sixteen times. In 1970.
  • 9 Bobbys in 7 episodes!
  • In a moment of weakness for both of them, Don and Joan have sex and everybody in a five mile radius has their head explode and perfect babies fly everywhere and I think a new religion gets started and Roger finds a way to put it all in a pill and becomes fantastically wealthy. 
  • Roger's daughter ends up joining the cast of Rowan and Martin's Laugh-In, where she is fired after being impregnated by a clearly intoxicated Ruth Buzzi. Roger disowns her, since, in his words, "She didn't even have the class to get knocked up on the set of The Smothers Brothers."
  • In an angry letter found after his death, Lou is outraged that he doesn't get to do an elaborate song-and-dance routine after he dies, because that's the sort of stupid shit that Lou does.
  • Betty's fluency in Italian turns out to be a pivotal skill in acquiring a new client for the firm. LOL just kidding, she's still a useless cold heartless shrew. 
  • Paul Kinsey moves to Jonestown. Everybody sees this as a positive move.
  • In a dramatic twist, Harry finally reveals that he has been stealing Pete's hair and attaching it to his sideburns. Strangely, Pete is OK with this.
  • Glen does a bunch of weird shit.
  • Peggy is traumatized as various bits of Ginsburg are sent to her in a package every week from the institution, from toes and earlobes to small squares of tongue. When she complains they threaten to throw her in the cell next to his for being "hysterical". 
  • Ken Cosgrove, after years of hard work, finally finds success as a sci-fi author. He then reveals to the world that he is, in fact, an actual robot, which surprises no one.
  • Seriously, Lou is the worst.
  • Sal and Chauncey come back and both make partner.
  • Don Draper doesn't die, or grow old, or kill someone. He just ends the series, sitting despondently at his desk, and wishing that he had been the one who cemented himself in history as the person who came up with the WE BUY ANY CAR commercials.

Thursday, April 2, 2015

Candy Review: New Peeps Flavors

It's that time of year again: it's time when every store had a boatload of Easter candy. This year, we have some new things to try, so might as well crack them open just in time for the Easter Bunny to figure out what he's going to do this year. Lazy rabbit.

We've got three on tap this time: Blue Raspberry, Party Cake, and MYSTERY CHICKS.

I'm a sucker for Blue Raspberries. (Well, blue raspberry flavored things. I don't think I've ever had an actual blue raspberry.) So while I'm not a fan of Peeps, I figured this would at least balance things out. Thankfully, it did--this is one of the first flavors of Peeps I've ever had and not immediately regretted it afterwards. I actually voluntarily ate a second one! So, thumbs up for me.

Next up was the Party Cake. I'm lukewarm on cake-flavored things; they're almost always too sweet and it's almost always better to just have a cake. But in this case, I thought maybe things were different. Sadly, not so much. While I appreciate the effort to put little sprinkles on the Peeps (well, coloring, anyway), the smell was actually not very good. Not bad, but just so strong and so overpowering it wasn't appetizing. And while it tasted OK (not great, but not overpowering like most are) the smell was a bit too much for me. Pass, but if you like this sort of thing (and probably don't mind the smell as much as I did) it's probably worth a try.

Okay, let's get to the showstopper here: the MYSTERY CHICKS. The label says it all: who knows what flavor is inside of the package? The wrapper helpfully gives you some clues (Savory? Sweet? Fruity? Salty? Tangy?) and they are snow white and relatively odorless, so you have no idea what you're getting into. Oddly, I ate two of them, and it truly is a mystery: aside from a vague fruity taste, they were actually pretty weak and I have no idea what it was supposed to be. Zero idea. So the MYSTERY CHICKS will remain a mystery, at least to me.

Now, I have no idea if different packages are different flavors--I don't think so, because you're supposed to submit what you think the flavor is to their web site. I'm not gonna cause I have no clue, and I'm not buying another package to test if they are different flavors or not. If y'all want to give it  try, be my guest.

Wednesday, April 1, 2015

Guest Post: Burgh Man

Today’s post comes from Michael Pellas of Downtown Pittsburgh Living, and is part of a special day of shenanigans from other Pittsburgh bloggers. You can see my post over on Sean's Ramblings, where I talk about introducing a new Pittsburgh currency. It makes sense when you read it. Sort of.

(above image courtesy of Burghman.com)
While thinking about this guest post, I kept trying to think of something different to do. I'm not very good at writing "general lifestyle" posts so I tried to think of something about Pittsburgh that needed some love.
We've all seen Burghman during the warmer months in town...
He appears at Pirate games or festivals in downtown. He's dressed in a cape and is always juggling something or making people laugh and smile. I've always wanted to have more of a direct conversation with him and this guest post gave me the opportunity...I hope this is ok!
A HUGE thank you to Alex, Steve (from this blog) and Burghman for the opportunity to talk about something and someone that is an inspiration to me...even my ripe old age of 40!
(above image courtesy of Burghman.com)
How did Burgh Man evolve into the Burgh Family?
My career has been spent involved in the Social Services. I have a Master’s Degree from Duquesne University in Counseling. Somehow, I have always had the ability to help hurting people. Subsequently, I used my gifts and talents to try and reach people who needed encouragement and to believe in themselves. Additionally, I grieved for families that have lost loved ones too many types of tragedies. Somehow, consoling people has always given me purpose in life and made me feel good about myself.
I’ve worked in numerous capacities over the years from Therapist, Youth and Family Specialist, Director of a Psychiatric inpatient clinic, Director of 130 bed homeless inpatient shelter, therapist in the Western Penitentiary and numerous other positions over the years.
Burgh Man started with an emphasis on promoting healthy lifestyles and telling the world about the Great City of Pittsburgh and the many firsts accomplished here. I have enjoyed showcasing the amazing personalities that have made Pittsburgh what it is today. It has been my goal t to be the best I can be physically, emotionally and mentally and to carry these positive messages to others. Burgh Man believes that everyone is a Super Hero and that some people just have not discovered it yet. J
The Burgh Man family has evolved due to my intense desire to help people whatever age they may be. Lady Burgh was my second creation and Baby Burgh followed. JIt is important for me to carry healthy messages to children so that they can grow up to be productive citizens and to contribute in positive ways to humanity. All people deserve to be the best they can be and to appreciate the beauty within themselves and all around them. Subsequently, the Burgh Family keeps evolving. Maybe one day I will create Grandma and Grand Pa Burgh. J Somehow love keeps me hoping for the best for myself and others.
Did super heroes play an important role for you in your youth?
That is a great question. I guess I grew up on Super Man, Batman, Westerns and all the shows that portrayed that good does conquer evil in the end. It seems that I have always been for the underdog and it makes me feel good to see people overcome seemingly insurmountable odds. Super Heroes have had a major impact on my life. Most of my life I have been a dreamer. I’m always dreaming of creating new things and seeking ways to live a more meaningful life. I think everyone should have a cape and a mask and use their own creativity to see what good they can develop. A cape and mask somehow perpetuate a fun fantasy world where good always triumphs. I’ve found that money has its place in life, but it’s a purpose in life that resonates with me more than anything else.
How awesome is it to see the reaction you get?
You cannot imagine the way I have felt over the years watching young and old, men and women, Americans and Cultures from all over the world interact with Burgh Man. I have taken more photos with people from around the world than I can even recollect. To watch the awe and wonder of and infant or a toddler is magical. To watch people laugh and smile and get a kick out of Burgh Man gives me the positive energy and desire to keep doing what I do. Burgh Man and Family will always hope to bring smiles and laughter wherever they go.
Burgh Man was on America’s Got Talent twice and was voted off both times. It was truly a great experience to have been asked to appear on that show. The memories that I have obtained from those experiences are beyond priceless.
If you could talk to all the children of Pittsburgh at once, what would you say?
I would tell every child to seek people who would encourage them and that treat them with dignity and respect. To always learn as much as they can and to be the very best that they can be. Once that have become successful in life to pass it on and help others to gain the awareness and enlightenment that allows people to reach their maximum potential. Finally, I would tell them that if they practice and teach Love that they will find a life of meaning far beyond what they could have ever imagined.
How awesome is it to see the message of Burgh Man spread throughout the city?  
Please look on BurghMan.com/About and you will see a Proclamation that the City of Pittsburgh gave Burgh Man honoring his work in 2002. This might be the greatest gift I have ever received!
I have wept in silence many times over the years to think that other people have found my work worthy of notice. Contemplative moments always bring me peace and a hope that something profound is still waiting for my discovery. I wish I could compare these feeling to something tangible, but unless you experience them words cannot adequately describe them. To even think that Burgh Man’s message would be part of my legacy brings enormous gratitude to me. What greater honor could there be than to know you left the world a little better than where you found it. It is certainty my greatest wish that people will extract all of the positivity that Burgh Man tries to disseminate.
Where are your favorite places in Pittsburgh to spread positivity?
The entire greater Pittsburgh area is my playground. I’m at home in every neighborhood that I visit. Pittsburgh is truly the home of Burgh Man. I grew up in The Burgh and it takes everyone to make us what we are and what we are to become. I’m excited about the way Pittsburgh is moving with technology, education, medicine, the arts, sports and every other area.
I suspect I will always have a soft spot for the North Shore. I love entertaining on the streets and interacting with the people. Skating down by the river and watching the responses of the people when Burgh Man comes skating by in his lighted costume, juggling lighted Clubs is a high all of its own. Burgh Man keeps me high on life. Burgh Man really got his start in Market Square and the North Shore nearly 15 years ago. I’m Burgh Man and the Burgh is my home J
Thank you for thinking about Burgh Man and allowing me this wonderful opportunity.
A Hero is someone who brings out the best in others ~~ Burgh man
I think someone like Burghman is very important in today's society - with what we see in the news every day. Being able to take your family out knowing your children will be able to see someone real and true like Burghman  adds some extra awesomeness to events around town. When I saw him in front of the Toonseum last year, people would stop what they were doing and stop to chat or take a picture. They always walk away with a smile.

Monday, March 30, 2015

Book Review: 101 Hamburger Jokes

Today, we're going to review a book: 101 Hamburger Jokes, by Phil Hirsch.

At first glance, thing are looking up. The gag on the cover is pretty solid: a medium burger! Ha! The tag line ("meaty jokes to be devoured with relish!") is corny enough but at least gives us an idea of what we're in for.

Sadly, it all goes downhill from there.

First, off, it's notable that this was written by one person. This was back before the internet, so there wasn't someone who was scraping internet sites looking for jokes about hamburgers. There was literally one guy who sat down one day at the typewriter and pounded out exactly 101 jokes about hamburgers. What can we say? It was the late 70s. That sort of shit happened.

To be fair, the illustrations were done by Don Orehek, so that meant that ol' Phil could concentrate on burger jokes and didn't have to dither around with ink and paper.

Things start off strong:

What is the hamburgers' most familiar song? "Home on the Range"!

Not bad. Next one is about the same:

When do hamburgers most enjoy watching TV? During prime time!

OK. A little awkward--that's a punchline looking for a joke--and I could do without that condescending underlining, as if only slack-jawed morons would be enjoying a hambuger joke book. Yeah, "prime" is a word used to grade meat, we get it. You don't have to be a slaughterhouse jockey to understand jargon like that. But otherwise it's not a bad joke.

But check out the third joke:

How do you make a hamburger green? Find a yellow cheeseburger and mix it with a blue one!

Now, stop the train, here. What? That joke doesn't even make sense. Why would 1) anyone ever want to make a hamburger green, and 2) is there really such a thing as a blue hamburger? They made a saving throw with the yellow cheese on the burger, but...what sort of setup is that? It's not even a hamburger joke, that's a "what happens when you mix primary colors" joke. Why would you ask how to make something that doesn't exist, and the punchline be something that also doesn't exist? Madness!

It just gets worse. I'm not going to run through all 101 jokes, but let's take a random sample:

Can you use the word "tenderloin" in a sentence? Burgers "tenderloin" faster than pizzas or hot dogs!

Why do burgers laugh when you surround them with pickles? Who knows--maybe they're picklish!

Who is a hamburger's favorite comedian? Milton Broil! (Berle)

THANKS FOR EXPLAINING THAT, PHIL! I thought there was an actual comedian out there named Milton Broil. Also, is there a pun with "tenderloin" that I'm missing? I mean, I get that they're trying to say "Burgers tend to do [something] faster than pizzas or hot dogs." But what is the something? Lie around? Loiter? Lean? I don't know, and all of the answers are equally unfunny.

Most of the jokes (I'm not going to be an asshole and put that in quotes) rely on puns, and that's OK--I'm appreciative of a good session of wordplay. But there's only about a half dozen terms he uses, and just re-uses them in different ways. It can be quite tiring. There's only so many ways you can re-word "Well done," "hot dog," "bun," "meat," and "loin."

There's also a lot of jokes that aren't really jokes at all, even in the lame-pun category. Take a look at this classic:

Why does Farrah Fawcett-Majors love hamburgers? Who knows--but we just wanted to mention her name!

Just remember, folks: there was a time in America in which it was culturally acceptable that simply name-dropping Farrah Fawcett was the minimum threshold required to quality as a joke. This is why ISIS exists.

There's also a section called "Rare Vampire Jokes" (get it?) which include these gems:

Which singer's records do they play at hamburger joints in Transylvania? Fang Sinatra's!

What did the Big Mac say when the Vampire attacked him? "You're a pain in the neck!"

How many burgers do you feed a ferocious, 14-foot-tall vampire? All it wants!

What the hell? These aren't even hamburger jokes! They're lame vampire jokes with an unsubtle hamburger reference thrown in. Did Phil run out of steam around joke 80 and just say "Screw it, the kids won't figure it out?" That's hardly professional. I was promised "101 Hamburger Jokes," not "A Modest Amount Of Hamburger Jokes Plus Some Other Stuff That Ultimately Add Up To 101."

But it's not all bad, of course. Here are some halfway decent jokes that stood the test of time:

Who can you always rely on in Burger Land during an emergency? Hamburger Helpers!

What kind of girl does a hamburger like? Any girl named Patty!

Which burger is famous for his long nose? Cyrano de Burgerac!

That last one was thrown in for all the classy intellectuals browsing the meat-based joke section of the local library. 

But that's not enough to save this book. Everything can be encapsulated by the back cover: there's a drawing of a snooty-looking hamburger, complete with top hat, cane, and monocle, sticking his nose up in the air. The joke?

How does a Burger acquire good taste? With a little seasoning!

That's it? That's the showstopper? That's what you're putting on the back cover of your book to move copies off the shelf? It even just barely makes sense--even back in the 70s, using the phrase "seasoning" for refined upper-class snobbery was already a bit of a stretch. There's some decent jokes in there, but they chose something devoid of sense and humor as the marquee knee-slapper.

Still, I can't be too hard on the book. It was a product of its time, I suppose. I'd like to say I'm not its target audience, but that's an excuse. And yet I still recommend it for one fact and one fact only, and that is due to this joke along with the accompanying illustration:

What do hamburger say on Monday morning? "Well, it's back to the old grind!"

It makes structural sense, it's a decent pun, and it actually has something to do with hamburgers. More importantly, it shows a cheerfully-sketched hamburger willingly trotting off to what will be the certain death of fellow hamburgers, gleefully grinding them to a pulp for a paycheck.  It's a sad commentary of the malaise of the Carter administration, as well as a proper dose of reality subtext in a tome peppered with frankfurter jokes.

Puns, perspective, and pathos? Now, that's a joke we can all laugh at.

Wednesday, March 25, 2015

A Million Little Inconveniences

I had a very rough morning.

Not in like a Michael Douglas Falling Down type of morning, but one that’s just irritating enough as to make the rest of your day obnoxiously bad. You hate to complain about it, because you can look around and see other people in worse situations, but…c’mon.

So my task for the morning was to buy a bottle of Diet Pepsi for breakfast. Yes, I often drink pop for breakfast because nutritionally balanced breakfasts are for suckers.

Well, my place of employment has a few options: a few vending machines scattered about on the first floor, a cafeteria, and then a sort of coffee shop.

Well, since I have no sense of perspective or priority in my life, my preference is to buy from the vending machine. Why? Because the bottle is $1.50 in the vending machine and $1.59 at the cafeteria due to sales tax, and that nine cents is that important.

So I went through my pockets and found two quarters and pulled a greasy bill out of my wallet. I went to the vending machine and slid the dollar into the slot and plunked in my quarters. I press the button and—nothing. Sometimes in the morning the machines are out of stock, and sure enough, the machine blinked back at me with an ominous “OUT…OF…PRODUCT” message in scary blue letters. Of course, in return, I get nothing but quarters, so I get to walk around jingling like a Christmas elf for the rest of the morning.

So I go to the nearby cafeteria instead and grab a bottle. Then I look at the line, which is at least ten people deep, all with hilariously complicated breakfast meals in Styrofoam containers whose cost have to apparently be added up on a broken abacus. While waiting in line, for what was clearly a few hours, I glance over and see that the vending machine guy is talking with the clerk at the coffee shop; clearly, he’s done stocking at least the other machines in the building and working his way down. Huzzah! I’ll go there!

So I hoofed it down to one of the other vending machines. It’s not a long walk, by any means, but it’s about a minute or two. I get there, and I press the button first—it should tell you if it’s in stock or not before you put your money in, and it’s done this correctly 100% of the time that I’ve ever done it in my life. It says it’s in stock. Yay! I put my quarters in, press the button, and…OUT OF PRODUCT! What the hell, technology? I specifically asked you a very specific question and you lied! Are you one of those assholes in those logic puzzles where one vending machine always lies and one vending machine tells the truth, and you can only get your pop by giving money to the right one? And what was the vending machine guy doing? He’s supposed to be the Easter Bunny and Santa Claus rolled into one, and instead he’s just a soda tease!

So I hoof it back down to the coffee shop, where at least the line is only a few people deep, and I finally get my drink. No problems, either, except for that pesky nine cents.

And that’s how I spent my stupid morning taking fifteen minutes to get a stupid bottle of Diet Pepsi.