Archive for November, 2008

Questions: The Home Edition …

Since I’m home for the Thanksgiving weekend, I figured I’d compose a bunch of questions relating to childhood and hometowns. Many of these assume you have parents who are still alive and a ‘normal’ upbringing (you know, nuclear family and all), so please accept my apologies if this isn’t the case and feel free to adjust the question if at all possible (by going back in time or thinking about your own children perhaps) to fit your own situation.

1) Last week, I used nothing but my hypnotic good looks and the enchanting sound of my typing to send you back to your teenage years and have you recall some notable pop culture experiences from that time in your life. Now I want to take you back further, to your earlier childhood, when you were still cute and innocent, your mind a relatively blank slate, with only thousands of media impressions filling it instead of the pop culture junkyard it has now become. For the following categories, please choose the one example from your preteen years that first jumps out (my answers in parentheses).

TV show (Family Ties/Electric Company)

Movie: (ET)

Album: (Thriller by The Gloved One)

Toy: (Intellivision Hockey)

Ad/Commercial: Ancient Chinese Secret (I forget what it was for – a detergent??)

Book: (Superfudge)

2.Who was the first crush that you remember? When was it? Was it requited? (Mine: Susan Appel, kindergarten, No, but she was my first French kiss in a 6th (7th?) grade game of spin the bottle)

3. I love when I go back home. I have no responsibilities, and I immediately regress. How much younger do you feel when you visit the parents, and which household chore do you most enjoy not doing while home? (10 years, laundry)

4. My parents still live in the same house from my childhood, and I hope they never leave. Do your parents still live in your childhood home. If so, isn’t it the best? If not, does it still feel like ‘home’ when you visit?

5. Where did you grow up and what percentage of your childhood/high school friends still live in your hometown? (Mine: St. Louis, I’d say about 50%)

6. Assuming you have since moved on from where you spent the majority of your childhood, do you still root for those ‘hometown’ sports teams or have you adopted new ones from the place you now live (or some other place you’ve lived)?

7. Where did you most often hang out as a teenager (Mine: Denny’s)?

8. Do you have any good high school dance stories (I have a couple, which I’ll give when I have more time)?

9. Ethical question: Last night, the fam went to a little play at a shopping center, and ended up eating out afterward at a restaurant that advertised in the program a ‘15% off your bill’ special if you show your ticket stub. The server only briefly looked at and did not take the stubs before giving us the discount. Is it unethical to give those stubs to a family waiting in the restaurant lobby? What about if we gave to a family walking outside which we knew for a fact would not have gone to that restaurant if we hadn’t given them the ticket stubs? Is it unethical for either family to use the stubs?

10. Can you ever really, truly go home again?

Thanksgiving Surprise …

So my girlfriend and I decided a couple of months ago to surprise my parents with a trip home. The folks knew my brother was coming in, but I had told them that the flights were too expensive, especially since we had just seen them in August out in California for a cousin’s wedding. But I changed my mind and bought the tickets soon after, and then continued to tell repeated lies about our plans for the holiday Laughing.

I knew this would be an especially meaningful Thanksgiving given that last year at this time, my dad had a heart attack and underwent major bypass surgery that almost killed him with a lung complication known as Acute Respiratory Distress Syndrome (ARDS). Then, a couple of weeks ago, my dad got laid off from his job. My mom told me several times how excited they were that my brother was coming home so they had something to look forward to. It was not easy to keep silent but I did Sealed

Anyway, we arrived on Tuesday. My brother had come in earlier in the day after almost missing his flight, which ended up being a good thing because his luggage was put on a later plane, conveniently giving him a legitimate excuse to come back to the airport to pick us up when we got in that evening. We decided on the way home that my brother would drop us off a bit up the street from our house, and then go home alone and tell mom and dad that by the time he got to the airport, the luggage was already on route and being delivered to the house by the airline.

A few minutes later, my girlfriend and I arrived at the door with my brother’s luggage and we captured the moment on my Flip video camera. (The one mistake I made was not telling my brother to go to the bathroom so that one of my folks would be forced to open the door!!). Here’s what happened …

MOFT: Episode 1

Welcome to the first installment of My One Favorite Thing. This will be a regular (maybe weekly) post on the one thing I’m really digging at the moment. It could be a game or activity, an album or song, a movie or TV show, a person, a food, or just about anything at all.

MOFT (pronounced Mahf-tee) this week is Geo Challenge, a geography game on Facebook. The game is actually three minigames in one: You have to match the flag to the country in round 1, name the country just by looking at its shape in round 2, and then place cities in their correct place on the world map in round 3.

Like all Facebook games created by Playfish, Geo Challenge is incredibly addictive and made more so by the fact that you can see the high scores of all of your friends (as well as the top 104 scores by everyone on Facebook, though in my opinion it’s full of cheating foreigners). I am now in a silent but obvious battle for supremacy with someone I went to college with and haven’t talked to since graduation. It’s quite clear neither one of us wants to relinquish the top spot as for the last several mornings I’ve awoken only to discover that the bastard has outscored me again, forcing me to delay all normal life activities until I have regained my rightful position as His Royal Geo Challenge Grand Poobah Master Bigness.

I will warn you: there is a downside to Geo Challenge. Every time I close my eyes to go to sleep, I now see various flags floating around in my head. Oh look there’s the Netherlands, or is it France turned 90 degrees? And look, there’s Antarctica and Cyprus, countries so devoid of creativity that its flag is a picture of its country (and yet I heartily appreciate the approach of Libya – its plain green flag is minimalistic, eco-friendly, and best of all, insanely easy to identify when it comes up in the game)

And just in case you don’t think there’s not any practical value with Geo Challenge, well, ok, there’s not, but it was kind of cool today that I was in a cab today and passed a building with two flags hanging outside and immediately identified them as Bulgaria and the European Union flag.

Ah, my life is sad …

I am thankful for bloodless inquisitions …

More Questions: Thanksgiving Edition … Remember, a more robust answer/comment section on this post appears over at!

1) Close your eyes. Take a deep breath. Focus on the sound of my typing. OK, now we’re going to go back, way back in time, all the way to your teenage years. That’s right. Relax. Don’t be scared. They can’t hurt you now. OK, now that we’re a teenager again, I’m going to give you a pop culture medium and I want you to tell me the first thing that pops into your mind, perhaps the example that best defines that period in your life or perhaps just something you remember vividly for whatever reason. OK, ready? (Please, just ignore the acne for a moment)

(My choices in parentheses)

TV show? (Seinfeld) …

Movie? (Field of Dreams) …

Album? (Rattle and Hum) …

Video game? (Super Mario Bros.) …

Book? (The Great Gatsby) …

Ok, great. Next week, we’ll go back even further.

2) Wait, before we bring you back to the present, one more question: What homemade dish did your mom or dad make that you remember the best??

3) Speaking of childhood pleasures, do you still play with bubble wrap and are you as pissed as I am that most packages now come with this way un-fun air-filled bag wrapping or even worse, imposter bubble wrap whose bubbles you can’t pop?? What the Ef is that?

4) Crossword puzzles or Sudoku? Assuming you’re cool like me and say crosswords, what day for NYT puzzles can you normally complete without Googling? Despite years of practice, I’m sadly just a Wed. guy myself, tho I can usually do 80-plus percent of Thursday’s and actually usually get close on the Sunday magazine one, which is easily my favorite …

5) As you can tell from my pic, I don’t like shaving and avoid it whenever possible. I also find the razor blade arms race to be annoying; I believe the innovation worked for a while, but then it just became overkill. I stopped at the battery-powered three-blade gizmo. What do you use: b) two-blades c) three blades d) four blades e) five blades f) electric razor g) cheap disposable razor h) other (please describe)?

For our female daggers, from which body parts do you wax/bleach/trim hair on a regular basis (choose all that apply): a) Arms b) armpits c) legs d) upper lip e) butt f) genital region??

6) Do you think that somebody who has sex or gets involved with someone who they know is in another relationship and having an illicit affair has a right to expect fidelity from their own partners? I believe that even if you aren’t the cheating one, by enabling an affair, you are on some level condoning the behavior.

7) I believe I’ve found the key to spotting market bubbles: Track which industries are suddenly able to afford outrageous rent costs. When I was in San Francisco in the late nineties, every new office space was being gobbled up by dot-coms. In New York, every time a store or restaurant closed in my neighborhood the last couple of years, a bank took its place. By that measure, what do you think the next bubble will come from? (I say either pawn shops or sushi joints.)

8) I love to play a couple of Facebook games, like Who Has the Biggest Brain or Geo Challenge, which keep track of everybody’s scores. Yet while I can beat many if not all of my friends (mostly because i get obsessive), it seems like ALL of the top scores are filled by foreign users (many with Middle Eastern/Israeli-sounding names), and the scores are not even close to the ones I’m getting. Many in the message boards accuse the foreigners of cheating … Are foreigners less honest than Americans or just way smarter?

9) I enjoy wine, but the whole wine fetish crowd tends to annoy me. The seemingly arbitrary pricing, the detailed etiquette of choosing which wine with what food, of using the right glass with the right wine, the elaborate process of tasting the wine and holding the glass correctly, the goofy adjectives they use to describe the wine. Do you believe there’s a real science to wine connoisseurship or it’s just a bunch of pretentious hokum?

10) What are you most thankful for this year?

Terror speaks … and again shows its true colors …

So Al-Qaida’s No. 2 leader (or maybe its no. 1, if rumors of Osama’s demise have any credence) released a taped message today, re-declaring war on America and calling its new President-elect a ‘house negro.’

In the 11-minute audiotape message, Ayman al-Zawahri also used the same term to refer to Condoleeza Rice and Colin Powell, while the accompanying video shows Barack wearing a Jewish yamulke (skullcap) as he met with Jewish leaders. Al-Zawahri further warned that any attempt to send more troops to Afghanistan will be met with failure as the dogs of that country ‘have found the flesh of your soldiers to be delicious.’

Lovely. Just lovely.

My fear of course is that this message was also a call to action. With America’s economy teetering on the edge of collapse and with a lame duck administration running out the clock, it would be a smart tactical strategy on al Qaida’s part to strike again if they are capable of doing so given that we are apparently at our most vulnerable.

But while a successful attack, god forbid, could prove to be devastating in the short-term and cause plenty of havoc, I remain as confident as ever that this country will find a way to presevere.

Excuse me for going all jingoistic here for a moment, but is there any better example of America’s enduring character than what happened earlier this month … that without one drop of blood shed, the people of this country decided to reject the imperious, divisive policies and politics of the past eight years, and elected a black man … with Muslim ancestry … named Barack Hussein Obama … to the highest office of the land.

That one simple action – a democratic vote ushering in a new adminstration and guiding ideology –  provided a vivid display of the progressiveness and flexibility that has kept America strong and vibrant throughout its history. It’s also something that the Islamic fundamentalists, with their tactics of hatred and terror, their racial epithets and talk of flesh-eating dogs, will never understand.

More Questions …

It’s question time again. I’ve been posting these columns first on the site I’ve been working on and contributing to, and it’s been cool to see the rather extensive reader response to them. Check it out and be sure to subscribe to the dagblog RSS feed – we’re adding new, talented bloggers constantly. Here’s the link.

1) The NHL hockey season started a few weeks back. For you this means: A) Absolutely nothing B) Something to watch IF there’s no college football, pro football, pro basketball, Poker, English Premier soccer, Nascar, cricket, Dancing with the Stars, AND I can somehow find the VS. channel on my cable system C) The return of one of the most exciting games in the world, a wonderful symphony of grace, violence, and unbelievable athleticsm that is punctuated by the best postseason period in sports.

2) Have you ever owned a Bobblehead? Who was it of?

3) So a few weeks ago, I wanted to know how I could learn about good music, and one of the most common answers was ‘friends’ … So, dear dagfriends, what must I immediately add to my music collection – popular to obscure, rock to jazz, and everything in between, I’m open to anything.

4) As long as I’m asking for pop culture recommendations, my Tivo viewing schedule has gotten surprisingly small (Daily Show/Colbert Report, Family Guy, Office, 30 Rock, Jeopardy, Heroes (barely, that show is really losing me), and House). Any other shows that i should absolutely be watching, esp. new shows???

5) Why have laundromats/dry cleaners resisted the national chain trend? I understand it’s a business that’s hard to differentiate and where proximity trumps all other considerations, but you would think scale could still matter. Yet they’re still all mom-and-pop shops. What’s with that?

6) How is it possible that some people shop to make themselves feel better?? I just got back from buying stuff, and it made me instantly depressed. The crowds, the lines, the cold, heartless materialism of it all, the knowing that I don’t have room in my apartment for what I’m buying and that I probably don’t need what I’m buying anyway, the walking home past panhandlers while carrying several bags on each arm. This really gives pleasure to people??

7) I plan on sitting my child down (assuming I have one one day) as soon as I think he or she can understand the logic of this statement:

“You are the most important thing in this world to me, and I want to give you everything I can and do everything I can to make you happy. But there will be times where I just will not, for different reasons, which I will try to explain to you as best I can, be able to get you what it is you want. I hope you will understand that and realize that crying and crying about it won’t help, and will only make me upset.”

For all you parents out there, do you think that will work at all to limit outbursts?

8 ) I know corporal punishment is a no-no, and illegal in many countries, but don’t you have to spank a misbehaving kid at least once to show it’s an option, even if it’s the nuclear option you never hope to use again …

9) Now that I have asked the previous two questions, should I be sterilized?

10) For those of you who went to college, do you think your liberal arts education was largely an inefficient waste of time – an enjoyable, inefficient waste of time, but an inefficient waste of time nonetheless? If not, defend it.

Dealing out a bunch of hooey and driving me mad …

It’s bad enough the government will soon be doling out billions and billions of taxpayer dollars to bail out the bloated, mismanaged U.S. auto industry.

But please, please, do not give any of that money to the nation’s car dealers.

According to a Yahoo story, an auto bailout package is likely to pass in large part because of pressure from the American auto dealership lobby. Even worse, a spokesman for the National Automobile Dealers Association says he wants dealers to get some of that money.

“That legislation needs to operate to ensure the presence and the viability of the dealer network. The two go hand-in-hand. You can’t have one without the other,” the spokesman said. Another industry lobbyist said dealers are bringing a ‘lot of heat’ on legislators to get a deal passed.

Ugh. I can’t stand the car dealership lobby. There are thousands of car dealerships in the U.S., in almost every district in the nation. They have a ton of money and yield far too much influence in our political system. The automobile dealer network is an inefficient, outdated business model which has only continued to thrive because of its successful political wrangling.

You want to know why you can’t go on the Internet today and buy a car directly from a manufacturer (or even from a dealer)? Because in most states, the auto dealer lobby has made sure that direct selling of cars is illegal. The best you can do is go to a site and ask for a quote from your local dealer, who will undoubtedly try and upsell you a whole bunch of stuff you don’t need as soon as you get to her lot.

I’ve only had to go through the car purchase process once but I remember it being about as unpleasant as can be, as I was quite sure I was being screwed in a thousand different ways. The Internet has helped level the information playing field somewhat, but it could have done so much more if car dealers hadn’t successfully resisted almost all efforts at innovation.

Unfortunately for the US taxpayer, it’s mostly business as usual … on their lots AND in the hallways of Congress.

November 2008
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