Tuesday, October 25, 2011

Halloween Costumes: Pittsburgh Edition

It is that time of year, when normal human beings who have regular-person problems like mortgages and cable television think that it is a good idea to dress up in something ridiculous that is probably a mixture of topical, slutty, and easily thrown together five minutes before you leave for a party.

Of course, it's always embarrassing to show up at a party and have the same costume as a dozen other people. I can't tell you how many times I've slapped together my Federal Reserve Chairman Ben Bernanke costume just to show up with five other guys like it's a board meeting to set interest rates. Man, is my face always red.

Here in Pittsburgh, it's always a blast to see people who embrace the nature of the character of our fair metropolis. Residents go the extra mile to make sure their disguise is Steel City specific, and I am talking about going even above paying money to have a custom-made "Rapistberger" jersey.

So for those of you who are going to a Halloween party this coming week in the wonderful city of Pittsburgh, here are some good suggestions for what you can wear and how you can act at a party:

Pennsylvania Turnpike Worker: Come dressed as the relative on the Turnpike Commission that got you your job.
The Civic Arena: Just pick out the ugliest thing from the 60's in your closet. Warning: if you try to take your costume off after the party, people will show up at your house to prevent you from doing so.
High Octane Offense: Tell everyone about your awesome costume before the party; just make sure whatever it is you do end up wearing is not only a huge disappointment but also doesn't really work.
Pittsburgh Pirate: Technically, there may be a prize for best costume, but deep in your heart you know you don't have a shot.
Route 28: Wear an orange cone on your head, and keep it there about eighteen months longer than you should.
Batman: Wear the standard cape and mask. Make sure you somehow convince everybody that depicting your city as a crime-ridden shithole filled with mental asylum escapees is somehow a boon to tourism and the local economy.
The Clarks: Well, there's going to be more than five people in a room in Pittsburgh, so they're probably already booked.
CMU Graduate: Just construct a robot to design a costume for you.
The Zanesville Lion: We're still making Zanesville jokes, right?
Obnoxious Tailgating Steelers Fan: Show up drunk, throw trash at any jersey not colored white or black, declare formally that any season that finished worse than 10-6 is a miserable failure, and spend half your time pissing in a mason jar. Also: no purchase of disguise required. 
Marcellus Shale: Show up uninvited and piss in the punch bowl.
Evgeni Malkin: Help set up the party, but when it's time to arrive, don't show up.
Occupy Pittsburgh Protester: Tweet a picture from your iPhone of you eating a Primanti's sandwich to show solidarity with those poor one-handed steelworkers.
PAT Bus Driver: It is optional whether you show up.

Monday, October 17, 2011

Pop Tarts for Dinner

0. If you haven't yet, you should pop over to the Crazy Scary fundraiser at the ScareHouse in Pittsburgh. It's fun, cheap, and for a good cause. My wife and I went last year and we're glad we did, so by default that means that you should, too. Seriously.

1. Pumpkin Pie Pop Tarts are back! Yay! As you can see in my review here and the awesome aftermath here, it appears that they are going to make this a normal, seasonal thing. This is probably for the best; I ended up having to throw away many of the boxes I picked up simply because, apparently, you can only eat so many Pop Tarts.

2. POP QUIZ: The world would be a better place with:
1) More gourmet candy apples
2) Less people who use the phrase "first world problems"
3) Another P.J. O'Rourke book
4) A proper sitcom vehicle for Felicia Day 
5) ALL OF THE ABOVE, YOU SON OF A BITCH

3. Some guy has managed to make a side living with his web site, I Want To Draw A Cat For You. Apparently there is a market for absurdly-drawn cartoons. (No, seriously, this guy had gotten over a thousand people to pay him ten bucks to draw pictures of cats.) As the popularity* of my Shark Week posts displayed, I am well-suited to capitalize on this endeavor. Why am I not making money in this manner? Feel free to contact me for a ridiculously-derived yet generous quote.

4. This was my mid-morning snack the other day at work:

Don't judge me. It's healthier than a Mexican Breakfast.

5. This article at New York Magazine makes me believe that I could take a huge, steaming shit on a piece of paper and be considered a legitimate journalist. Why am I not getting paid to write, again?

6. One of my dogs, Chloe, has decided that she will not eat her dinner unless I sing an original composition I created one idle evening called "Dog Food for Dinner." The lyrics are as such:

Dog food/Dog food for dinner!
Dog food/Dog food for dinner!
Dog food/Dog food for dinner!
Dog food for dinner! Every day!

Reprise Ending: What's for dinner? Dog food for dinner!

I expect my Tony in the mail any day now.

7. There have been quite a few news stories about how the population is going to hit 10 billion and all . Has any of these reporters even heard of the name Malthus? So help me, I think magazines and newspapers have a department called "I can't believe we're still in business, so go ahead and write whatever the hell you want. We'll print your term paper, for crying out loud, just don't let 'em shut us down."

8. I have yet to find a new fall TV series that has captured my attention. I have had some people recommend some shows, but I haven't taken the bait yet. (2 Broke Girls just seems bad, but more than one person has given the OK, so we'll see And The New Girl was enjoyable but I'm not sure if it's sustainable.) Any advice?

9. It is getting close to the midpoint of the NFL season, at which point I normally look around and see what is going on. Quite frankly--even though most seasons turn on one or two games, since there are only 16--seeing a team that is 2-2 vs. a team that is 3-1 means practically nothing. But at the halfway point, you can at least get a sense of who are playoff-bound, who suck, and you can pluck out a lucky few that are at the make-or-break point in their season. I am fascinated by how the NFL sets up their divisions, and it's only a few rungs lower on my Scale of Creepy Things I Obsess Over than the electoral college. Speaking of, it's possible I will have bested my record of most wins in a Fantasy Football League season ever (4!) as long as the Jets don't completely pimp out their passing game tonight.

10. Speaking of sports, MLB is playing its World Series, and I still couldn't give two shits.

*And by popularity, I mean the exact opposite of that.

Sunday, October 16, 2011

The Lives Of Other, More Ordinary People

I am a huge fan of The Atlantic magazine, and I encourage people to read it. It's just the right balance of politics, culture, and current events. They redesigned it about two years ago and they took away a lot of stuff I enjoyed--mostly the crossword/wordplay at the end of the magazine, and the unusual infographics they used to champion--so I am still a little disappointed, but it's still an extremely informative source of information. And--thankfully--the politics is also well-balanced, with few extremists on the payroll, yet not afraid to examine unusual or extreme positions on issues that fall off the radar of the current parties. (I am also a fan of senior editor Megan McArdle--who, if you've noticed, I link to about every other post--and have been following her ever since her Live from the World Trade Center days.)

That said, this latest issue is awful. The cover story--cover story!--is about some nearing-40 woman who hasn't gotten married after refusing to settle for her extraordinarily unrealistic standards and, gosh, after plenty of wine dates and brooding in parked cards she's convinced herself that that's OK.

The author, Kate Bolik, somehow also manages to get the editors to stuff her mug on the cover and be the only two photos in the article itself. While the sentiment of the article, I suppose, is legitimate, the article itself is full of exactly the sort of self-absorbed, East Coast shallowness that flyover country makes fun of (or actively hates, depending). This would all be forgivable if it were benched in the back of the magazine under "Life" or "Culture"--where they keep the suffering quasi-feminist musings of a collection of "not my fault" columnists--but this, someone decided, was going to be the flagship leader. Apparently, they need to shore up their readership of self-loathing, perpetually unsatisfied shrews.

That's not the only editorial blunder in the magazine. There is another feature that presents a collection of "Brave Thinkers." Usually these are pretty good; they often also have a "Big Ideas" feature every so often, along with other similar notions. These are usually pretty good, because they present people and ideas that may not get a lot of attention yet deserve to. However, in the latest issue, along with an assortment of legitimate thinkers, they throw in Steve Jobs and Barack Obama. Really? Given the forum that they were presented, they decided to go with Dude Who Sells Overpriced Toys and Yet Another Politician? (There's nothing outstandingly "brave" when you run an entire country or control a billion-dollar corporation.) They are both certainly successes in their field, but if I wanted to read an article about Jobs or Obama I would read, you know, every other periodical in existence.

For a magazine that strives on being remarkably interesting, their missteps in the November Issue place them squarely in the "average" camp. Hopefully this is just an outlier.

Saturday, October 15, 2011

Static and Noise: Violence and Capital Gains

Occupied: I haven't written much about the Occupy Wall Street movement, and that is for a variety of reasons. It should be obvious at this point that, as a rapid and heartless free-marketeer, I probably agree with only a small minority of what the protestors stand for. (There's a certain level of "crony capitalism" that does seem to be creeping back into vogue that I heartily dislike, so there's that.) But pretty much everything else seems like a field guide for the naive miseducation of the general class of protest scientists our nation has. On the other hand, I'm fine with nearly every form of protest--hell, it's what makes America different than others, so if waving stupid placards and dressing up like sea turtles lets the masses blow off steam, have at it. (Just keep the traffic disruption at a minimum, please, and don't bitch when you are on someone else's private property.)  That said, I think it's ultimately a waste of time at this point. Many comparisons have been made to the Tea Party, and rightly so, but so far there appears to be a major difference. Occupy Wall Street seems more concerned about protesting, whereas the Tea Party protested, then went to work electing candidates. Perhaps the 99% will change and start to do that, but so far it seems like they are targeting the converted.

The Price Is Right: My wife and I watched a well-known B movie starring Vincent Price called The House on Haunted Hill. By modern standards it's pretty tame--as most old horror movies are--and it had its share of weird, nonsensical plot lines. (This movie supposedly inspired Alfred Hitchcock to attempt to make a low-budget horror, which ended up becoming Psycho.) It has all the trappings of the old-school horror-mystery: false walls, self-playing pianos, falling chandeliers, candles that blow out on their own. Watching this did two things: one, it made me appreciate Vincent Price a little more; I had only ever really seen him in awful movies where bad camera angles and props were more important than the actors. And, secondly, it reinvigorated my desire to read some old mystery books I've accumulated.

Scrum! I need you, the Internet, and all five of my readers, to convince me to love rugby. Every time I read about it or catch a snippet of it it seems like it would be immeasurably cool, but without a major league to support it it's going to be difficult to really get in to. Plus I am very hazy on the rules and feel like a woman watching football begrudgingly with her husband. So why is rugby as great as it appears? Convince me!

Tuesday, October 11, 2011

Occupy [Insert Name Here]!

In cities across the nation, protesters calling themsleves Occupy Wall Street have gathered large groups to bring attention to a variety of causes: the increasing income gap in our society, the reckless behavior of our banking community, and who was supposed to chip in for this sweet sack of prime bud but hasn't yet becuase I'm not paying for everyone else to get high.

Whether you are in sympathy with the protestors or not, there is always some notion in the back of your mind glad that our country has embedded in its fabric the right to free speech and to air social and political grievances. And in that spirit, I have decided to start my own protest group right in my hometown: Occupy Market Street! (I was going to choose a more logical place, Occupy Water Street, but that is already occupied by drivers who apparently don't know that you still use turn signals even when you are going right.)

Here is a list of current demands for Occupy Market Street!

  • Require, by law, that anyone getting money out of the ATM machine have to shiftily wait their turn by squaring themselves exactly parallel with the current user about eight feet away from the machine while focusing on the garbage can or the light fixture so as not to make anyone else uncomfortable.
  • Have most stores at least make an effort to look like they are something more than just a front for diet pill pyramid schemes
  • Re-post all parking meters to mean "52 minutes" instead of "one hour" so that the fascist meter maid with her rigged timers goosesteps over to my car with her ticket pad at the appropriately designated time, not some time frame cooked up in the laboratory stationed in Fantasyland. Not that I'm bitter.
  • Create a regulatory environment that protects ordinary citizens at the expense of unscrupulous financiers. Just kidding! We need a Tim Hortons.
  • Instead of offering withered, flaccid corn and half-rotted pears that look like they spent the night at Chris Brown's house, farmer's markets should offer higher-quality items, like alar-laced apples and cake.
  • Bring back the shop that sold counterfeit sports jerseys was raided a few years ago. Sure, it was illegal, but it was dirt cheap to strut around town in my brand new Rathlistburger throwback.
  • Take up a fund to send the Creepy Guy Who Rides Around Town On A Bike All Day Long to a Creepy Guy Who Rides Around Town On A Bike All Day Long Convention so he can be a better and more effective Creepy Guy Who Rides Around Town On A Bike All Day Long.
  • Tell the guy with the "One Big Ass Mistake America" sign taking up half of his window that it really wasn't that clever two years ago and and it certainly isn't now, so it's time to rip off a different bumper sticker for the new year.
  • Adopt a resolution that someone's level of patriotism is directly correlated with the number of American flags attached to lightposts and storefronts. Also: ORCHARD STREET IS A BUNCH OF GODLESS COMMIES
  • Confirm that we have moved past the "Old men playing checkers while sitting on a barrel" phase to "Old men reading newspapers and under the sad impression that the jobs at the mill are coming back some day."
  • Form a regular patrol that, along with a sack of doorknobs and a fistful of quarters, will visit those establishments who inexplicably still do not accept credit cards and see if they can "change some minds".
  • More small business owners should be willing to give out free ice cream and pepperoni rolls to third-rate local bloggers

We are the future. We will change the world. We are Occupy Market Street! At least until Glee comes on tonight.

Monday, October 10, 2011

Deuces Wild! My Wife And I Start A Gang

Driving across the Mothman Bridge* today in my hometown, my wife pointed out that some local hoodlums had spray-painted a message.

"Deuces Wild," she read.

"What does that mean?" I asked.

And so brought forth some wild assumptions. We were discarding the obvious, since people rarely play poker under bridges, and those that do are probably playing for a tin of beans and do not have the time or resources to go about slathering cryptic messages about in battleship gray on overpasses. It seems like it could be some form of graffiti tag or something, but that doesn't seem particularly symbolic enough for the spray-paint-can artists of the world, unless "Deuces Wild" secretly means "feed the homeless" or "amnesty on art school debt". It's possible it could be some sort of degrading act defined in the Urban Dictionary, a thought we did not relish the thought of investigating, but once we did, it turns out that it is certainly not something one would normally want to advertising by writing on public works projects for the entire world to see.** So it couldn't be that.

That left only one realistic option: a gang.

Granted, my hometown isn't exactly a hotbed of violent gang activity. The last time a gang was spotted around these parts was when generic peaches were on sale at the dollar store on Social Security check day. So I can only assume this was a gang-in-transit across the county, perhaps on their way to seek out a turkey dinner at the VFW or clay pigeon shooting at the rifle range. Having not adopted residence nor registering with the local authorities, the only logical thing to do is for my wife and I to adopt "Deuces Wild" as our own gang.

Of course, this presents many problems. First, my wife and I have very little idea what exactly it is that a gang does. Hopefully it involves mostly watching Big Love on Netflix, because that would require only a minimal change in our daily routine.  So there may be some logistics to figure out, but that's what accountants are for, really.

Second, at first I thought "Deuces Wild" was pretty bad-ass of a name, but the more I think about it the less impressed I am. First off, while at one point in time poker was a pretty hard-core activity to engage in, all those stupid Texas Hold'em tournaments on TV have more or less legitimized the thing. Instead of swilling whiskey or bathtub gin and settling disputes with six-shooters or tommy guns, it now mostly involves the contractual obligations of promoting www.onlineoffshorepokermadness.com on your personal blog while simultaneously selling off-brand energy shots. These days, playing poker is about as intimidating as buying the upscale lunchmeat at the deli. Plus, there is no particularly menacing meaning about the number number two, unless it is the number of caps that is about to be shot into your ass.***

About the only good thing going for us is the word "Wild," which is still particularly bad-ass. Anyone described as "wild" is either about to chop you in half with an ax or about to take their shirt off for a free T-shirt, either of which will get you blackballed from the Rotary Club.

Anyway, I figured the best thing to do would be to mock up a logo for our gang for use with our online T-Shirt shop and, optionally, tattoos across our backs.**** I tried to think of everything that is kickass about gangs, so I settled on motorcycles, firearms, skulls, and fire. Not bad, eh?

Can't Segways be badass too? That would make my life easier.

Now, I could have taken the cheap way and spelled it "Deucez Wyld," but 1) that would compromise my artistic and creative instincts in the establishment of our gang, and 2) I am not eight years old.

I also could have added a playing card, but I thought that it would be best to de-emphasize the "card-playing" aspect and increase the "shotgun and skulls" aspect of it. Also, I forgot.

We also cooked up a "gang gesture" so that any two members of our gang will be able to identify each other--and, conversely, to "mark" our "territory" against rival gangs. (This is our Dollar Tree, bitch!) I won't reveal the exact nature of our gesture, but let's just say it involves crossing our forearms in front of our faces and holding up two fingers on each hand. Shit! Forget you read that.

We still have a lot of work to do. We need to get the dogs on board, and neither of them seem impressed. I am also debating whether we need to get leather jackets or just stick with jeans jackets; either one is going to be caked with the massive amounts of blood that is sure to be spilled. You know, once we start our exciting new online T-Shirt sale extravaganza. Now, that's gangsta.

*Not its real name
**Don't. Just...don't.
***Please research and verify. --ed.
*****Approval from and participation of wife pending.

Wednesday, October 5, 2011

Steve Jobs

Steve Jobs was a young man, and then he died.


Most people know Steve Jobs as the main personality of Apple; his contribution to the pre-Apple early days of computing should not be overlooked. Yet he will always be known as the man with the trademark black turtleneck showcasing a new high-end product likely to sell enormous quantities.

I was never a particular fan of his products; while the Apple operating system and its assorted branch products were very good at many things, they also had some serious drawbacks. I never quite understood the near-cultish devotion to his products many customers had, especially when a vast majority of its users would not even touch most of the stuff that differentiated itself from Microsoft and other competitors. Partly it was simply brand awareness--it's much classier to own an Apple than some cheaper off-brand that still manages to do 97% of the same stuff.  But a lot of people bought into the corporate culture itself, much like people do with, say, Ikea or Keurig. There is a certain allure to that that I simply didn't get.

Of course, that culture only goes so far. The tight hold that Apple (at this point, you should realize that "Apple" and "Jobs" are interchangeable) retains on pretty much all development stifled creativity; thankfully, he was able to attract creative people to make up the difference. It's also worth noting that while others imitated his style and products, he did quite a bit of imitating on his own. Not that this is a negative thing, mind you; the proper competition of the marketplace is designed to do just that, and he contributed and took advantage of both sides.

In some ways, it's easy to dismiss Jobs. I mean, sure, he sold one of the most iconic brands in modern corporate, technical, and popular culture--it's a rare person of any demographic that doesn't own an i-something. But often, when it came down to it, detractors saw his products as simply a more streamlined concept of something that's been done before. Often, he was an innovator, but just as much he was an improver. The former makes you a visionary, while the latter makes you money.

Steve Jobs was one of the few who excelled at both.

Monday, October 3, 2011

Chair-Worthy

So, this just happened:

 10/3/11: Never Forget

There are few things in life more embarrassing than having a chair crumble beneath you. It is also quite alarming and is not recommended for the young, elderly, or pregnant. Thankfully, I came out unscathed, although my pride fell down like a dead sack of potatoes.

I was simply sitting peacefully at my computer typing out a new post for my blog* when suddenly--and foolishly--I was on the floor. After a moment of shock, I checked to make sure I didn't perform what is known in lesser circles as a Self-Shiv, and, having come up clean, stood up to survey exactly what happened.

After what I shall refer to as The Incident occurred, I immediately set to work. Countless lives have been lost and tears have been shed once the scene of an accident has been compromised, as unanswered questions and unsolvable mysteries lay forever in file cabinets held by those in charge of retaining our most embarrasing moments in our lives in perpetuity.** And so I got my CSI kit ready and started taking down the appropriate relevant information.

I deliberately choose to ignore Exhibit 1, which is the fact that I am fat, because that clearly isn't the reason. I felt a little better when I realized two things: one, the chair is quite old and was worn before I was in possession of it, and, second, I found a small mechanical bit that I am assuming is called the Small Metal Thing That Holds Everything Else In Place So People Sitting In The Chair Don't Embarrassingly Crumble Like A Sack Of Dead Potatoes had clearly been worn from decades of use. So it all (sort of) makes sense, though I would perhaps prefer a small fire-alarm style chirp to warn me of an impending collapse rather than the actual impending collapse itself to let me know it was time to start replacing the parts.

However, there is still one mystery to solve. When the mailman tiptoes to the door and discretely slides a Netflix envelope through your mailbox every single day, our dogs bark madly like Fat Boy is about to touch down. And yet when I rocketed to the ground causing a house-trembling thump that is sure to raise my homeowner's insurance premium if he ever reads this--I got not one peep, not one suspicious squeak.

I suspect some sort of Tom and Jerry-style sabotage in the works. My crooked finger of accusation points directly at them.



*This is a blatant lie. I haven't written lately because I can't think of anything to write about.
**You know full well such an organization exists.