As a semi-professional writer—I get paid to write stuff I don’t care about and can’t make a living writing what I love—I have amassed some solid skills:  a decent ability to bring much needed snark when it’s needed (3/4 of the time it’s needed ALL the time), amazing propensity for listicles (it’s like a list, but its an article), and an absolute love affair with parenthesis (I’ve got nothing).  But I also have a shameful secret.  Something dark and hidden within my very soul—I can’t spell worth a damn.

Recently, I was writing a thank you note to a friend.  It was in pen on personalized stationery—because I’m a classy guy.  I was writing a sentence in which I thanked the recipient for picking where to eat.  After I’d finished, I noticed that something was off.  I had spelled restaurant with only one “a”.  I then had to rewrite the letter, checking each word in the dictionary before I committed it ink.  Later, I was working on an article that was close to being past its deadline, when I noticed a simple typo yet no red squiggly line underneath it.  Somehow the spell check in Word had been turned off and after I activated it, my draft became a lit in red squiggles highlighting each and every mistake.  “Oh man,” I said, “I can’t spell worth a damn.”

Now, whenever something tragic like this comes out, there is always the search for who is responsible.   How could someone make it through grade school, high school, college, and graduate school and not be able to spell the word “restaurant” off the top of his? Who is to blame for this?

You know who’s at fault?  Modern technology.  If there’s was no spell checker in word processing programs and web browsers (including that blessed autocorrect that somehow managed to know by writing  “collegue” I meant “colleague”) I would have learned to do it on my own.  And I’m not the only one.  The Internet is littered with evidence of people who suffer from similar intellectual deficiencies, either posting a Facebook status message or writing a sign.  Could it be that having spell check, like when an overuse of antibiotics creates a stronger drug-resistant bacteria, is too much of a good thing?

It’s not that I don’t appreciate spell check (oh, I do), I just wish that having it around didn’t mean when I write something it looks like it as written by a dyslexic 10-year-old.  But what can I do? Spend my free time reading the dictionary and going through flashcards for SAT vocab words?  I’m twenty-six, I think it may be a little too late to learn how to spell “onomatopoeia” without having to look it up through Google.  I think my only course of action is to double check everything though the computer and just be thankful that I’m not so bad that I use texting abbreviations.  K, Thx.

[Pic via]

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On Sunday, just over 106 million people tuned in to watch the Super Bowl, edging out the final episode of MASH as the most watched televised event U.S. History (Get fucked, Moon Landing).  Now, I’m not a big football fan, but I enjoy the Super Bowl; dare I even say: I love it.  If you think about it, the Super Bowl is actually one of the few cultural traditions that we have in America.  We gather with friends and family for food and shared entertainment.  There are even some theories that it’s part of our tribal nature.  And since it’s one of the few times a year that advertisers can pretty much guarantee that people will be watching their ads (it’s cliché to say it, but most do agree with the “I watch it for the commercials” statement) they reel out their best commercials.  Here are a few things I learned from watching them this year’s Super Bowl Commercials :

All women are harpies that want to dominate and steal your soul, but you can get away…in a Dodge Charger while watching your Flo TV.

Misogyny was in the TV air that night.  While there were plenty of sexist commercials, they’re par for the course with advertising that airs for the biggest game of the year, but Jesus these two take the cake. Depicting whipped men who gain freedom through buying things instead of, you know, telling their girlfriends/wives they don’t want to go clothes shopping with them or carry their lip balm.

Anheuser-Busch has no clue who really drinks their product.

Once again the biggest ad presence of the night was Bud Light.  I counted four for the light beer with three more for other Budweiser brands or general branding.  And as usually, it all proved what I’ve also believed about Anheuser-Busch: they have no idea who really drinks their beers.  In all the Bud Light spots, going back for as long as I can remember, there are these young guys (mid-20’s to 30’s) going nuts over Bud Light.  I’m in that age group and I can tell you bringing a six pack of Bud Light never gets the “YEAH! Bud Light!” reaction, but more an “Awwww, Bud Light?” The only people I ever knew who get excited over Bud Light are high school girls…and I can’t go into how I know that exactly, except in states with of age of consent of seventeen or younger (God Bless the South!).

There are guys still wearing tighty whitey underwear.

Maybe it was the double whammy of the Career Builder and Dockers spots, but I was shocked (Shocked! I say) to witness so many men in white jockey underwear (though they were more a beige, which is really gross).  Haven’t we as a gender moved past this yet? Come on!  I get it if your mom is still buying your underwear for you, but not when you’re older than thirteen.  You move onto boxers or boxer briefs, just like how you upgrade to soft-core pornography from the Sport Illustrated swimsuit issue.  It’s evolution!

VolksWagen loves bullies .

Remember that “game” when you were a kid where the biggest jerk on the school bus would punch you every time he saw a VW Beetle? Well, with this ad the carmaker is setting the precedent for said child douchebags to hit for punch-buggies for ALL its models.  My arm is already numb in sympathy for grade school nerds everywhere.  But what do you expect with a company that was started by the Nazis?

Tim Tebow hits his mother.

After all the fuss made about the Focus on the Family spot staring Tim Tebow, I was surprised just how tame it was…Aside from the fact that over a third of America saw the 2007 Heisman Winner assault his mother.

[Okay, I admit it: I’m copping out with a cheap “listicle” for this post. Give me a break, it’s Monday and I had a rough weekend. So, enjoy…]

I’m a man of many talents. I can pontificate on the symbolism found in 80’s action movies, hold my own in drinking a surprising large amount of whiskey in one sitting, and make a fairly decent omelet. But alas, there are some skills which I simply do not possess though wish I did. With the New Year coming up soon, it could be my chance to finally pick these seemingly effortless abilities. Unfortunately, I suspect they will remain gaping holes in my repertoire. Without further ado:

  • Carrying an umbrella
    I don’t know what the hell I’m doing wrong here, but I can’t properly carry an umbrella. I’m either getting soaked down my back or its getting caught in the wind and turning inside out. Then, I’m sure to pass to some suave impeccably dressed ass holding his umbrella perfectly balanced over his well entrenched area of dry space. And he’s always sure to give me a pitying look. Motherfucker.
  • Closing roller window shades
    I recently got a new apartment. And the windows to my new bedroom feature those rather inexpensive vinyl shades, I immediately wanted to move again. Here’s how these things work: you pull them down to cover the window and block out light (or hide your hideously pale nude body from your neighbors when changing) then have to tug them to activate some apparatus that rolls the shades back up. For some reason, I can’t do this and it takes more than a dozen attempts to get the thing to retract EVERY SINGLE TIME. But there’s the rub, those who can get the damn thing to pull up in one try cannot comprehend not being able to use such a simple mechanism and thus are unable to describe how to do it. It’s like one of those test that kung fu monks give children they suspect of being the reincarnated soul of their master—they either intuitively know how to do it or they don’t.
  • Remember to brush my teeth
    This one isn’t entirely my fault. I think my parents should share part of the blame. For some reason, they used to let me slide on going to bed without brushing my teeth and then totally left to my own devices in regards to my oral hygiene. So I never got into the habit of doing it twice a day, everyday. But I’m sure as hell going to make my kids do it. And when I’m pointing a shotgun at them from the bathroom doorway and they’re shaking with fear as they squeeze Crest onto their toothbrushes, I’ll say, “You’ll thank me when you’re in your twenties.”
  • Fly a kite It’s ironic that in describing the first skill on my list I admitted that whenever I’m holding an umbrella it gets caught in the wind, because I can’t do that with a kite.  Flying a kite looks like one of the most satisfying and fulfilling experiences one can have in this world. But when I try, it simply crashes to the ground and lays there… much like my soul.

sopranosComing out of Yom Kippur and a little over a month after Ramadan with Thanksgiving and Christmas on the horizon, I’ve decided it was time for an annual observance of my own—I’m re-watching the Sopranos, all 86 episodes over six seasons.  Whether you’re religious or not, I think everyone has that one thing they do every year just for them: whether it’s a trip, reading a book, or going to a game between the home team and their bitter rivals.   For me, it’s watching 86 hours of Tony Soprano say “fuck,” screw, and murder.

I could go on and regurgitate everything that’s already been written about the show and how it opened the floodgates for quality television.  Its premise allows for an exploration of a variety of themes from the psychological and family to the nature of violence and the balance between good and evil.  But that’s not what I want to write about.  It just seems that I keep coming back to this show that I’ve seen a million times.  Every time I watch an episode I see something different or catch something in a scene I never noticed before.  I think that’s how you can tell good storytelling—it’s never stale.

I remember when I got into the Sopranos—my parents had just gotten their first DVD player and my dad was searching for stuff to watch on it.  It seemed every other day he was bringing home some classic old movie, just released title, or TV show.  We didn’t have HBO, but we’d still heard the inescapable buzz about the show.  Then one day he brought home the complete first season.  “I’ve seen it a couple times on the road,” he said.  “It’s really good.”

I was in the midst of finals for my Junior year of high school and I almost failed because I kept sneaking down in the middle of the night to watch the next episode.  But I wasn’t the only one hooked, both my parents got into it.  I’m pretty sure the Sopranos is the only show that features a constant stream of nudity, violence, and cursing that you can watch with your mother right next to you on the couch.  Still, I was always the bigger fan in the family.  I absconded with the DVD’s when I went off to college.  Made friends with people who lived off campus and had HBO so I could keep up with new episodes.  And when I couldn’t swing that, I had my parents tape and mail them to me.  Each season DVD box set became a defacto Christmas and birthday gifts for me.

But my annual Sopranos marathon isn’t just about watching my favorite show all over again, it’s sort of a reboot.  It resets my mindset to take a deeper look at the world, not for mobsters and FBI agents, but for the the undercurrent of themes that run through my own  life.  It makes me reflect on what drives me and the people in my life.

retail-worker-gI recently discovered the web site Not Always Right—it’s basically a place where people who work in retail post their encounters with horrible customers and I’ve gotten hooked on trolling through each recounted conversation.  It’s probably why I haven’t written a blog post in a while…that and fact that I’m really lazy.  The format of each entry is pretty standard: the customer says something stupid, asinine, or crazy and the working stiff tries to politely help them and then it quickly devolves into the customer screaming and storming out.

The whole thing reminds of all those years I worked in retail (I’ve survived two tours of duty at two different Barnes and Noble branches) and my own horror stories from dealing awful customers (I used to quote that line from Clerks: “This job would be great if it wasn’t for the customers.”) I think my experiences have shaped my own behavior when dealing with people in customer service and I’m proud to say that I’m never one of those people who go off on retail workers—even if the service is lousy. There’s an old adage that you can learn lot about a person by how they treat people they don’t have to treat well.  And what’s a better example of a person that you don’t have to treat well then someone making minimum wage and who you’ll probably never interact with again?  It’s a modern morality litmus test.  Scream at some kid working at Best Buy about how they’re stupid and incompetent because they can’t find the printer ink cartridge you need fast enough and more than likely you’re an egotistical asshole who I can guarantee has never worked a low paying retail sales or service job.

But I’m stuck wondering if I’m really a nice guy or if the reason I don’t act like a complete ass is because I know what it’s like to be on the other side.  If I hadn’t worked retail, would I still act respectful to these people?  I’m sure there are perfectly pleasant and cheery people who have excellent manners and been blessed never to have worn a nametag and punch a time clock (somewhere out there).  I’m also sure that there people who have worked under those same conditions and are still rude customers.

Maybe the whole point isn’t that someone has to have worked at the very bottom of the totem pole—we’ve all been in situations in life where we were the people that don’t have to be treated well.  Maybe it’s that you’re able to step back, imagine what it’s like in the other person’s position, and treat them how you’d like to be treated.

[Pic via VirginMedia.com]

new-york-cityYesterday, my friend Chris saw a homeless woman taking a dump on 32nd street—she was doing it next to a parked car, in full view of everyone on the street, at 8:30 in the morning.  That’s a true story.  I’ve got another friend, Jess, who once found a guy masturbating on a subway platform at nine o’clock at night.  He was wearing a suit and tie.  That really happened.  Years ago a buddy of mine was walking down the street on his way to a bar (this was downtown), when a guy jumped off the roof of a nearby building and landed right in front of him (like that scene in the Departed).  That actually happened.  An acquaintance of mine, Streeter, saw a guy dressed as a cowboy on a real life horse….in the middle of the Bronx.  That’s a fact.

Whenever my friends tell these stories, there’s always someone who mutters the obligatory “Only in New York.”  In a city with this many people, packed so tightly together, it’s no wonder that these things happen.  And bearing witness to them has become a rite of passage for living here.  Of course the best part of it all is sharing the experience with others.   Whenever someone sees a part of that “crazy New York” they have to regale their family and friends with the freshly seen insanity, and then everybody around him or her begins telling their own anecdotes.  It then soon evolves into everyone going around the table recalling the wildest/most disgusting thing they’ve ever seen another human being do in public (this usual involves a normally private bodily function) in an effort  to top one another.

“You saw a guy peeing in the park? That’s nothing, I saw a guy jerking off.”

“Yeah? I saw a dude jerking ANOTHER DUDE, at the library.”

“Pshhhhhhh, I saw a tranny hooker stab her pimp with a coat hanger.”

“Oh please, I once watched a guy dressed in a clown costume making out with someone wearing a Nixon mask on the A-train.  Oh, and it wasn’t Halloween.”

Then it’s my turn to share and I’ve got nothing.  I have no stories like that.  For some reason, I don’t have any crazy New York moments. I’ll have been living here eight years next month and I’ve never seen anything that bizarre.   I have to wonder: Do I not go out enough? Or is this craziness happening around me and I’m just not noticing?

What the hell New York? Where’s my pooping homeless lady?  Where’s my masturbating businessman?  Throw me a bone, here.

[Pic via Tripadvisor.com]

stamos1

So last week I wrote a post in which I called John Stamos out on his bullshit “Full House prequel project” and let slip that I had an ongoing feud with the former Mr. Rebecca Romijn.  A couple of you left comments saying you wanted to hear the story behind the grudge and some even sent me e-mails demanding that I write about it.  Now, I’m not usually one to air my personal disputes, but here it goes.

About a year ago, I was going through a rough time. I was drinking a lot and had gotten really into gambling—you know you’ve got a problem when you’ve moved past horse racing and craps to betting on knife fights between chimpanzees.  Anyway, I met Stamos one night at no-holds-bar gambling bizarre that specialized in blind wagering on inter-species gladiatorial events.

Now you may ask where in New York City does one go to bet on a fight between a chicken with a switchblade taped to its beak and a mongoose.  The back of a Chinese restaurant on the Upper West Side?  The suite of a posh Tribeca hotel?  The Bronx? Brooklyn?  Nope, you’ve got to go to a warehouse in Hoboken, New Jersey.

Anyway, there I was one Thursday night—a glass of whiskey in one hand and a crisp twenty in the other, pushing against a pack of Egyptian businessmen who’d been throwing cash around all night, trying to lay a bet down on a match between a fighting robot and an orangutan (for a pretty sure thing, always bet on the monkey) when guess who walks in with Jaleel White (Urkel)?  That’s right, Uncle Jesse. They were later joined by Sasha Mitchel, the actor who played Cody on Step by Step. Turns out, all the actors on those old TGIF shows still hang out together.  Well, most of them.  When I asked if Dave Coulier would be by later, they got really quiet and Jaleel was like, “Fuck that guy!”  So…

We hung out most of the night and I have to say that Stamos was actually pretty cool.  We had a great conversation about what the other Rippers were up to while watching an obese teenager square off against a kangaroo.  I told him about my passion for writing, he told me about his passion for singing “Kokomo” by the Beach Boys. When the proprietors announced that they were moving on to the night’s final event, a game of Russian Roulette á la the movie Deer Hunter.  Stamos turned to me and whispered, “I’m tapped out from that fight between the Komodo Dragon and the Weasel, can you spot me?”

So I covered Stamos’ bet and he won.  To celebrate, we all went out to Denny’s for breakfast. The place was packed and as soon as we walk in the door, Stamos shouts, “Everybody’s Grand Slams are on me!!”  When the bill came, Stamos paid with all his winnings (including the share that he still owed me). “John,” I said, “what the hell?”  Stamos promised to pay me back with “a bit part in ER including one or two lines.”  At the time, I thought “Wow, that’s pretty cool,” but I never got a call. And only after several phone calls was I  able to get in touch with one of his assistants who said, “Mr. Stamos does not recall such an evening.”  And then ER got canceled.

Later, I was hanging out with Jaleel White at a strip club and he explained such broken promises are a habit with Stamos. “He promised me a supporting role on Jake in Progress after I loaned him some cash to pay a hooker, that never happened,” explained Jaleel, who then slapped a stripper’s ass and said, “Did I do that?” in the Urkel voice.

[Pic via biggun.vox.com]