Tuesday, February 27, 2007

Are You Feeling Randy, Baby? (Cuz I'm Not...)

Note: Though Javen routinely shuns me for it, and likely moves me several pegs down on the respect scale, I do love American Idol and I do watch every episode every week. So here are some quick-hit thoughts about the "Final 20."

  • I am totally gay for that version of "Sewing the Seeds of Love" that the Final 24 did last week.
  • That Phil Stacey guy had my vote when he did the "Eccentric" dance in the Final 24 montage. I feel like I could pal around with him and Chris Sligh.
  • Brandon Rogers is one handsome black man. Nice smile. To answer your next question, no, I'm straight.
  • I thought A.J. Tabaldo was surprisingly good (although The Hoff didn't think so).
  • I think that Beat-Boxin' Blake Lewis guy is a one-trick pony. He looked like a joke tonight.
  • Jared Cotter is far too impressed with his own looks, and sang a boring version of the most contrived "lets-you-and-me-go-have-sex-with-each-other" song of all time ("Let's Get it On"). Nicholas Pedro is a meat-head; he and his girlfriend will be broken up in three weeks.
  • I thought Chris Richardson was not impressive. He always bobs around like Michael J. Fox holding a runaway paint-mixer. He is a good-looking guy, but I thought that Jason Mraz song he sung was crap.
  • I hate looking at Sundance Head. He is especially meaty. Besides, how can I root for someone whose dad raised him to hate the Beatles?! Sanjaya needs to grow a pair of testicles.
  • I was impressed with the song selections of half of the male Idols, even if only due to the fact that they weren't the same Stevie Wonder/Josh Groban/R.Kelly bullshit we're used to. (I am NOT saying that Stevie Wonder is bullshit, by the by, I'm only saying that they always pick him, and usually pick his worst songs.)

[I will update this post tomorrow for the girls.]
But that's not the real reason I'm here tonight...

The real reason I asked you to come here tonight is to reveal my long-simmering hatred for Randy Jackson. I used to find him harmless, like a kind of Al Roker with street cred. (Granted, that street cred came from playing keyboard for Journey, but that's still more than most people have.) He always seemed to be the balance between Paula Abdul's smiling/clapping obsequiousness and Simon's mean-spirited, soul-crushing insults.

So it naturally took me a while (maybe three full seasons) to realize that Randy is completely worthless, utterly without merit and 100% irreplaceable. In fact, I would say that I (aka me) should be Randy's replacement, heaven forbid anything happen to him, or in the event that someone at Idol catches wind of this blog and is convinced I am right. And I'm pretty convincing, let's face it.

Let us break down what it is about Mr. Jackson that is so -- not hateful, what's the word? -- insipid.

  1. He is ugly as shit. Seriously, look at this guy. The stupid, round, bald head. The thick as a coke-bottle glasses. The blank-stare. His big, stupid hands with his big stupid gold ring. His stupid solid gold earrings. His big gaudy watch. The way he has been covering his head in disgust lately when he sees something he doesn't like. The stupid, wishy-washy look on his face when he says, "It wasn't good, duuude...." He's like the black version of Jared from the Subway ads, minus the huge gums or the sibilant "S." Can someone from wardrobe just put a bag over his stupid head? (That applies to Randy OR Jared, take your pick.)

  2. His forced humor and gregariousness. This is always an awkward moment: Paula and Simon get into one of their patented fights, Paula is fuming, Simon is smiling. And then Randy jumps in with his, "Oh yo! Did you hear that Ryan? It sounds like Paula thinks Simon got it wrong! What do you think audience?!" And then of course the audience gets up and cheers like the Third Reich, no matter how horrible the performance was. Randy always wants to be the good guy, and plays on the crowd's pseudo-hatred for Simon, as if anyone has ever NOT supported one of the performers at any time in the history of the show. They gave a freaking standing ovation to Nikki McKibbon for chrissakes. Randy might as well stand up and say, "Yo, how many people in the house support the heroic passengers of Flight 93? Yeeah-yeeah!"

    It's even worse when he tries to make an original joke or be funny in any way. I can't even give an example because they are all too horrifying.

    ...and last but not least...

  3. He is a professional musician, yet he is too inarticulate to explain anything about music. This is the one that really chaps my ass, and this is why I should replace him. Other than popularizing the term "pitchy," he has never had one piece of useful feedback to any contestant. All his input amounts to "I liked it" or "I didn't like it."

    He will spew the phrases "worked it out" or "did your thing" or "you gotta bring it EVERY NIGHT" or other such meaningless hot air that add up to jack squat in terms of constructive musical instruction. (Note: A fun game is the "A.I. Drinking Game" where you drink every time Randy says "Yo," "Pitchy," "Hot," "Dawg," or any phrases of your choosing. Make sure you are doing this at home because you are not driving anywhere until tomorrow.

    Here is some sample feedback from Randy tonight:

    • To Phil: He done put it on blast boys, that was hot, Phil, man.
    • To Jared: So yo Jared man, I don't know if you took chances, but yo, I kinda liked it.
    • To AJ: So check it out, you know what's good about this? It was so much better than last week. At least it proves you definitely got skills. It was kinda nice though!
    • To Sanjaya: So listen man, uh ... God ... y'know, look...
    • To Chris S.: You were actually pretty good last week, but this was even better. You got that big voice man, and you got skills too, so always rely on that and use that. You know what I'm sayin'?
    • To Blake: Alright so yo, baby, that's what I'm talkin' bout.
    • To Brandon: Every time you guys get up here -- for me? -- you gotta show what you got, man. I mean and it just -- [tsk] -- it was just kinda boring for me actually.
    • To Chris R.: I think that was hotter than the original, dawg. That was hot right there!
    • To Sundance: See man, you gotta show people that you got all o'dat.... You dropped a bomb on 'em tonight!

    All that advice is gold, young singers. GOLD!

    Rather than actually tell the singers what was wrong with them (like -- perfect example -- telling Sanjaya he should have just belted one out), he chooses to speak in trite platitudes and ostensibly "hip" words.

    My good friend Doug Gorman made a key observation as well. Randy always starts off a sentence intending to make a point, says the word "but" and then continues the sentence following his original thought. For example, he would say, "I was a little worried that you weren't gonna be good when you came out here, Tamika ... BUT ... it wasn't good."

    Also, his collection of annoying catch-phrases ("We got a hot ONE!", "You're in the Dawg Pound!", "Yeeeah Yeeeah Yeeeah!", "You gotta bring it EVERY NIGHT") are so lame and contrived that he makes Stuart Scott look like Vince Vaughn in Swingers. (Boy that last sentence was very Bill Simmons-esque, wasn't it? Still, I stand by it. At least I can sort of write. Sometimes.)

Yes, I would like to replace Randy. I'm funnier (and that's not saying I'm funnier, because Sophie's Choice is funnier than Randy is), I'm just as fat, I have an equal grasp of musical terminology, I'm blacker, and I could actually hold my own with Simon in terms of being an arrogant asshole. Plus, mine and Simon's vitriol toward each other would hold much more weight since Irish and English don't get along. America would wait every week for one of our seven-second staredowns, ending in a headshake and sneer of disgust by each before kicking it back to Seacrest for commercial.

So let's get that letter-writing campaign going! Send me through to Hollywood, baby, YEEAH YEEAH!

Sunday, February 25, 2007

And The Awards Go To ...

For the better part of two decades, the Academy Awards have been my favorite television event of the year. Next to the NFL Draft and the Super Bowl, it's one of the few TV events for which I actually carve out time. But to me, the Oscars aren't great because of the Red Carpet, or to see many celebrities dressed up in their finest attire. I appreciate the celebration of movies and think that the Oscars do the best job of rewarding the best movies of the year (although they usually throw one "What the *$&%" nominee in each category).

Another reason I love the awards is that I enjoy making picks and predicting who will win what. Ever since I won a $20 gift card in my work competition when I worked at Blockbuster Video, I have taken it very seriously. I track trends, I look for patterns, and I do my research. Sure, over the last nine or ten years it has garnered me very little income (a $20 gift card) but I enjoy the challenge nevertheless.

I have yet to actually be beaten in my Oscar picks. I don't say this to brag, because let's face it, I'm a huge geek. It's simply fact. But if ever there was a year to dethrone the king, this is it. The reason is that I have been rather remiss in my moviegoing over the last year. Even my rentals have gone way down. I don't know if it's an attention span thing, but for some reason I just feel like I am way behind. If it weren't for my occasional "man-dates" with Toastie, I probably wouldn't have seen a movie in six months or maybe more.

Still, I have rallied in the last couple of months to get up to speed to defend my crown. So here they are, my predictions and opinions of this year's Academy Awards, on the record, only a few hours before the ceremonies begin.

Here are the major categories:

    Best Performance by an Actor in a Supporting Role
  • Alan Arkin for Little Miss Sunshine
  • Jackie Earle Haley for Little Children
  • Djimon Hounsou for Blood Diamond
  • Eddie Murphy for Dreamgirls (Will win)
  • Mark Wahlberg for The Departed (Should win)

    This is actually a strong category this year. Jackie Earle Haley (who you may remember as Kelly Leak in the original Bad News Bears movies) is the comeback kid; he's been down on his luck lately and this nomination is a great story. But he has no shot at winning.

    Alan Arkin is one of my favorite actors ever. He has been great in everything from Glengarry Glen Ross, to Catch-22, to Edward Scissorhands, and in my opinion, he carried Little Miss Sunshine. But he's a long-shot; comedic performances don't usually win this award.

    Djimon Honsou has quietly created an excellent acting career, from Amistad to In America, he is quiet power personafied. I know very little about Blood Diamond, but he could be a dark horse.

    Mark(y Mark) Wahlberg stole every scene he was in in The Departed, like someone throwing a molotav cocktail into the room. It would be too weird, though, to have the guy who performed "Good Vibrations" have an Academy Award, though. I just don't see it.

    I think it's gonna be Eddie Murphy, which is just as weird, given the amount of crap he has put out in his career. I have not seen Dreamgirls, but this is exactly the kind of performance that the Academy loves. It will legitimize his career to some extent, but probably make him even more insufferable in person. Still, he is my pick.

    Best Performance by an Actress in a Supporting Role
  • Adriana Barraza for Babel
  • Cate Blanchett for Notes on a Scandal
  • Abigail Breslin for Little Miss Sunshine
  • Jennifer Hudson for Dreamgirls (Should/Will win)
  • Rinko Kikuchi for Babel

    Barraza and Kikuchi will probably split the votes on Babel, but the fact that both are foreign actresses and both got nominated bodes well for the performances in that film. Blanchett is becoming the new Meryl Streep, getting nominated almost as a knee-jerk reaction. It isn't to say she's not good, but from what I've heard, Judi Dench was the real star in Notes on a Scandal.

    The race, as I see it, comes down to Breslin and Hudson. The Academy likes to give nominations to little kids, and Breslin was adorable in Little Miss Sunshine. The part where she starts crying because she doesn't think she's beautiful enough to win the pageant is as good a scene as you'll see by any actor this year. But it seems like a gimmick vote for a slightly lean movie.

    Looks like Jennifer Hudson, the former American Idol contestant, who by all counts steals Dreamgirls with her version of "And I'm Telling You I'm Not Going" (which, ironically, is the same song that brought down the house on American Idol last Wednesday). It's the kind of star-making moment the Academy loves, the same kind that won Catherine Zeta-Jones her Oscar for Chicago a few years ago. It's amazing how many people who started as non-actors (Will Smith, Mark Wahlberg, Hudson) are nominated this year.

    Best Performance by an Actor in a Leading Role
  • Leonardo DiCaprio for Blood Diamond
  • Ryan Gosling for Half Nelson
  • Peter O'Toole for Venus
  • Will Smith for The Pursuit of Happyness
  • Forest Whitaker for The Last King of Scotland (Should/Will win)

    I can't see Leo getting the win this year, especially since a lot of people think he should have been nominated for The Departed. (Personally, I think Jack Nicholson got robbed by not getting nominated in this category for The Departed.) Ryan Gosling (who girls will remember from playing Noah in The Notebook) apparently is remarkable in Full Nelson, but the movie is far too indie. Hopefully this movie will propel him further.

    It's a three man race. I don't particularly like Will Smith as an actor, but it appears he has removed many of his irritating Fresh Prince-isms for this movie, and he has a shot because he is well liked and the movie (about a homeless man looking for a job) is inspiring.

    Peter O'Toole has never won an Oscar, and this could be the way of the Academy giving him a make-up award. (I have to say, I hate the idea of a make-up award. Get the politics out of the voting and make it about face-value. The Oscars should be a time capsule of great performances of the year, not about righting past wrongs.)

    I would have to say that Forrest Whitaker is the odds-on favorite to win this baby. Not only is he a respected actor who has done a lot of good work in the past, but he is apparently a tour de force playing cannibalistic dictator Idi Amin in The Last King of Scotland. This award has three things going for it: 1) He is black and the Academy has consciously tried to nominate more non-white actors over the last several years, 2) Whitaker is a terrific, underrated actor, and the Academy likes to reward that, and 3) It is apparently simply the best performance of 2006. I really like the guy, so I hope he wins it.

    Best Performance by an Actress in a Leading Role
  • Penélope Cruz for Volver
  • Judi Dench for Notes on a Scandal
  • Helen Mirren for The Queen (Should/Will win)
  • Meryl Streep for The Devil Wears Prada
  • Kate Winslet for Little Children

    This might be the hardest to call of all the races. Four of the five nominees are considered prestigious Oscar contenders, and Penelope Cruz is apparently a much better actor in Spanish than she is in English. She has very little chance against this collection of heavyweights.

    Streep is a knee-jerk pick; she probably won't win for this comedy. She can just add this to her list of nominations. Judi Dench has already won for Shakespeare in Love and many voters will probably attribute much of her performance in this film to the chemistry she has with Cate Blanchett; the two are intertwined. Kate Winslet is another person who seems to get picked for just showing up (not to say she isn't a great actress).

    My pick is Helen Mirren, playing Queen Elizabeth II. She is a prestigious British actress, and she is playing a real person (which Oscar loves, see Forrest Whitaker above). They say her performance is not stuffy and stodgy like you would think the Queen is, and that she humanizes the figure. That alone is probably enough to win her the Oscar.

    Best Animated Film of the Year
  • Cars (Will win)
  • Happy Feet
  • Monster House

    Looks like a weak year in this category, but Cars was the populist favorite. Plus it's Pixar, which has this category locked down year after year.

    Adapted Screenplay
  • Borat: Cultural Learnings of America for Make Benefit Glorious Nation of Kazakhstan
  • Children of Men
  • The Departed (Should/Will win)
  • Little Children
  • Notes on a Scandal

    This is a very strong category, although I'm not sure how you can put Borat in there. Don't get me wrong, Borat made me laugh harder than I have at a movie in years, and I think Sacha Baron Cohen is a genius, and I would love to see his acceptance speech, AND I think he should have gotten a nomination for Best Actor, but it's a documentary, even if it's a manipulated one. The best parts of the movie were those that were unscripted.

    I have heard that both of the "Children" movies are excellent: Little Children is a story of a small community's reaction to a child molester; Children of Men is a futuristic movie about a dystopia where no more children can be born and the human race is about to die out. Both are very heady, and the kind of screenplays that get attention. Notes on a Scandal is the same thing, about a teacher who sleeps with one of her students, but with some soap opera elements thrown in.

    I think that The Departed should win, with its labrynthine plot and exploration of Irish Boston politics, but it's seen as more of a director's movie (the Auteur Theory comes into play here). I think that Notes on a Scandal could be the upset, so this is my least-confident prediction. But I think the Academy really wants to honor The Departed.

    Original Screenplay
  • Babel
  • Letters from Iwo Jima (Will win)
  • Little Miss Sunshine
  • Pan's Labyrinth
  • The Queen (Should win)

    This category is all over the place. My gut tells me Letters from Iwo Jima, but my head tells me Babel. Babel has the same kind of hand-wringing "why can't we just all get along" vibe as Crash did last year. But Letters from Iwo Jima is brave enough to take on the Japanese perspective of WWII. (Little Miss Sunshine and Pan's Labyrinth are just happy to be nominated.) The Queen could pull a major upset, especially since it deals with the death of Princess Diana and therefore touches on a sentimental subject, but doesn't sentimentalize it.

    Best Foreign Language Film of the Year
  • After the Wedding - Denmark (Susanne Bier)
  • Days of Glory (Indigènes) - Algeria (Rachid Bouchareb)
  • The Lives of Others (Das Leben der Anderen) - Germany (Florian Henckel von Donnersmarck)
  • Pan's Labyrinth - Mexico (Guillermo del Toro) (Should/Will Win)
  • Water - Canada (Deepa Mehta)

    Pan's Labyrinth will win. Next.

    Achievement in Directing
  • Clint Eastwood for Letters from Iwo Jima
  • Stephen Frears for The Queen
  • Alejandro González Iñárritu for Babel
  • Paul Greengrass for United 93 (Should win)
  • Martin Scorsese for The Departed (Will win)

    This is going to be an interesting category this year for a couple of reasons. It is a rematch of 2004, when Eastwood (for Million Dollar Baby, the eventual winner) and Scorsese (for The Aviator) squared off in this category. I truly believe this is a two-man race.

    Iñárritu is a gifted young director, who has helmed such solid films as 21 Grams and Amores Perros in the past, but this is the proverbial "affirmative action" slot. It could have easily gone to Guillermo Del Toro for Pan's Labyrinth or Pedro Almadovar for Volver or Alfonso Cuaron for Children of Men. This is the Academy's attempt to remain global.

    Stephen Frears is an excellent working director, who has created some great films (The Grifters, High Fidelity, Dangerous Liasons), but this is a slot-filler. I am extremely happy that the Academy recognized Paul Greengrass for United 93, which was probably the best film I saw in 2006. He created a terrifying, kinetic, and ultimately heartbreaking portrait of the heroes of Flight 93 on 9/11. (United 93 should have taken the Little Miss Sunshine slot for Best Picture.) Greengrass is going to be a great director, and rent Bloody Sunday if you don't believe me.

    This leaves the battle between Eastwood and Scorsese. I elaborate on this under the Best Picture category. See below.

    Best Motion Picture of the Year
  • Babel
  • The Departed (Should win)
  • Letters from Iwo Jima (Will win)
  • Little Miss Sunshine
  • The Queen

    So, to be fair, I have only seen two of these movies (The Departed, Little Miss Sunshine), but if I know trends, I will be right on the money. How Little Miss Sunshine got into this category I will never know. It's a cute movie, but it is by no means a great movie, and certainly not Oscar material. If this wins Best Picture, I can guarantee you that I will not watch next year.

    Babel is this year's "conscience/message" movie, where we are meant to think about the shortcomings of our society (Crash was that movie last year, and it won). But Babel will get lost in the rest of the new "third world chic" genre (along with Blood Diamond, The Constant Gardener and other message movies). It's there for prestige. Similarly, The Queen -- which I heard is excellent -- is the requisite British movie that sneaks in with little expectations. Not a chance, regardless of how good it is.

    This leaves the two front-runners, Letters from Iwo Jima and The Departed, and this one will prove to be an epic battle. One one hand you have Iwo Jima, which not only has the cache of being directed by a two-time winner and American acting legend (Clint Eastwood), but is also a World War II movie, and takes place in a foreign country! If ever there were a movie destined for Best Picture, this is it. (Side note: Eastwood has become an outstanding director. If you took his directing career on its own merit, completely disregarding his acting career, few directors have been better for the last 8 or 9 years.)

    The only monkey wrench in the equation is The Departed, which is directed by our gratest living filmmaker, Martin Scorsese. Scorsese has lost the Best Director Oscar several times in the past, and three times to actors-turned-directors (to Robert Redford in 1980, to Kevin Costner in 1990 and to Eastwood in 2004). Oscar voters love to give "make-up" awards (like giving the Oscar to Al Pacino for Scent of a Woman when he got robbed several times in the past). And this is not only the perfect opportunity to reward one of the three greatest American directors of all time, but to reward a phenomenal film. (I think it's Marty's best movie since GoodFellas, which is possibly my favorite movie ever.)

    So here is how I think it's going to shake out: I think that Marty is going to win the Best Director Oscar, and deservedly so. Marty turned what could have been a standard Irish gangster picture into a sweeping, sprawling masterpiece. His stamp is all over this one, and in nearly anyone else's hands it would have just been an average gangster movie.

    Letters from Iwo Jima, by the same token, will win Best Picture. It's about the Japanese perspective in WWII, and if there's one things the Academy loves, it's a war movie, especially a World War II movie! This will also continue the trend of splitting the Best Director/Best Picture awards, as has been happened four out of the last eight years.

What's the lesson? I need to catch up. I have seen hardly any movies this year. For someone who is one of America's premier young film critics, I am a sad sad specimen.


When all was said and done, I didn't do too bad. I missed the following: Eddie Murphy as Best Supporting Actor for Dreamgirls (Alan Arkin won), Pan's Labyrinth for Foreign Film (The Lives of Others from Germany won), Cars for Animated (Happy Feet won), The Queen for Original Screenplay (Little Miss Sunshine won), and the Big Enchilada, Best Picture (I had Letters From Iwo Jima, but Scorsese's The Departed came in with an upset). Okay so maybe 5 out of 10 isn't that great. But it's half.

A couple notes from the Oscars:

  • I thought Ellen Degeneres did a very good job.
  • I'm thrilled that Marty Scorsese finally got the Oscar he should have gotten at least 3 times before. It seems like an injustice corrected, film-wise anyway.
  • Jerry Seinfeld was hilarious too
  • Did you notice that the two Lead Actor/Actress winners were "The...King..." and "The Queen"?
  • The speeches were especially boring, although Forrest Whitaker's intensity was kind of compelling.
  • How awesome was it to have Coppola, Lucas, Spielberg and Scorsese on the same stage?
  • How the hell did Pan's Labyrinth win so many awards and yet NOT win Best Foreign Film. It was a no-brainer.
  • Poor Peter O'Toole. 8 Nominations, no wins.
  • That Melissa Etheridge song was boring as hell. How did no songs from Dreamgirls win?
  • Last but not least. I promised that I would acknowledge this publicly. For the first year ever, I was defeated in Oscar picks. Doug Gorman defeated me, 38-37. The King is dead; Long live the King. (For another 12 months, anyway. Enjoy the crown while you have it, Doogie; I'm comin' hard for you next year. And this time, it's personal.)

Thursday, February 15, 2007

My Open Letter to White Trash

As I mentioned yesterday, my area is getting hit with a monster snowstorm. This naturally creates incredible logistical problems for things even as simple as getting out of one's driveway. Usually, when communities face any kind of crisis (and let's face it, this is more a nuisance than a catastrophe), those communities pull together to work as one cohesive unit, helping each other out to try and make the best of the situation -- at least until April or so.

There are exceptions, however. For every New York after 9/11, there is a New Orleans after Katrina. Every man for himself, let me get mine and get out. Such an example befell me today, and made me further question whether Anne Frank was right when she said people were basically good at heart.

I'll try not to bore you (I know, no success yet on that front). Traffic going home from work today was a crawl. I live 10 minutes from work in perfect conditions, but today everyone was slogging through the snow and the slush and the snowbanks. People were missing green lights, cars were spinning their wheels going up one-lane hills, it was generally irritating. To try and beat the traffic (as well as spare the rest of the driving public the sight of my treadless tires kicking snow behind me like a dog digging for a corpse), I decided to take a shortcut to work. The shortcut involves bypassing two streets by cutting through a small alleyway. It gets me off the road, it gets me to the street I need to a little faster, and no one gets hurt in the process. When it works, it's a pretty sweet deal.

The problem is that there is one street I have to cross that intersects the two alleys, and that street is sometimes bumper to bumper with cars going from my right to my left. This means that there are occasions where someone will be sitting in front of the alley, not knowing it's a road that people actually use for driving. No worries, I usually just wait for that driver's light to turn green and sneak in, or wait until some other good Syracusan realizes they aren't going to move very far and allow me some space. Usually works out fine.

Today was such a day, where when I got to the intersection, the car was already sitting there. I sat patiently, pointing my headlights directly at the car, indicating that he was in my way, but not flashing or honking or yelling. I was calm, I was patient. There was a little space in front of the car, so I had hoped that the car would simply move up a little bit and give me a little space to get through. Their light turned green and nobody moved. (Wouldn't you know their intersection was blocked by someone who tried to beat the light going the perpendicular direction. Hmmm, foreshadowing?) No biggie. I waited a little longer.

I slowly pulled into the intersection just to say to the other cars in the line, "Hey, don't mind me, I just have to sneak in here real quick like." (There were no cars coming the other way, from my left to my right.) Finally, the line started to move, and I planned to slide into the other half of the alleyway, on my journey home. Ahh, I could see the other side of that alleyway already.


The car behind the original car blocked the alleyway again. Here I am, clearly marking my spot, sitting in the middle of the intersection, just looking to pass through the bee-line into the next street. And whaddaya know, some jerkoff pulls right out in front of me.

Now normally, I would chalk this up to ignorance, or a person just wanting to hold their position in line. I threw up my hands in frustration, and looked at the guy in the car. Let me tell you a little about this guy before I continue...

He was your typical white trash. Boilerplate white trash. The poster boy. He drove a shitty sedan that he probably bought third hand. He wore a 25 year old, ratty baseball cap, from which a mane of unclean, ratty hair flowed from out back. He had a dirty, pockmarked face and a ratty, bushy moustache. He was about 40-45 years old. Driving by himself.

I could deduce a few things about him: He was unmarried. In fact I guarantee he hasn't smelled a woman in 6 years to whom he didn't have to give his credit card number. He smelled like either stale cigarettes or armpit; possibly both. He has hands that are always dirty, likely caked in motor oil, with fingernails that are either bitten down to nothing or long and sharp and yellowing. He probably says things like "Over dare" instead of "Over there" and "irregardless" without irony. His teeth are brown.

Okay, so here's what set me off. Like I said, I threw my hands up in frustration. I looked at the guy as if saying "Come on, dude! I just wanted to get through." Exasperated, not angry. So this shit-kicking hick looks right at me and throws his hands in the air mockingly, like he was saying "Oh, I'm soooo sorry.... You ain't gettin' in front o'me, guy." My usually squinty little eyes bugged out of my head. I made a hand gesture to try and let him know I was going straight; the gesture was not unlike one of those guys on the tarmac of an airport directing planes to start taxiing. I was just trying to let the guy know I wasn't going to blow up his spot, I just wanted to get past him. So he starts flailing his hands around, mockingly of course, basically telling me tough shit, deal with it.

I looked to my left and some cars began turning onto the street, which -- do you remember? -- I was blocking. So I had to back up into the alleyway to let the other cars do. (Note: if this douche-hole had been in my position, he would have sat there and blocked the other cars. I have no doubt.) I just shook my head and looked at him, while I put the car in reverse.

I sat for another few seconds before this hick finally inched his car forward. The car sitting behind this human stain -- God bless him or her -- stayed put, allowing me to quickly drive through and get to the other side of the alley. I opened my driver's side window (since the other side of my car was caked in snow) and threw out the biggest, most exaggerated thank-you wave in the history of thank-you waves. I looked like I was flagging down someone who just came back from WWII.

Now in my fantasies, this man -- I'm gonna call him Ed, for lack of a better name -- saw me go straight, saw me wave my grand appreciation to the car behind him, and thought to himself, "Oh, he was trying to go straight. I now realize that I'm a douchebag." (I only wish I had some sort of valuable prize that I could have given to the car who let me through in Ed's plain view.) But I have a feeling that Ed doesn't have the cranial capacity to make such stark self-realizations and went back to thinking about how much he hates blacks or how many more months he can squeeze out of his disability/unemployment benefits without having to take another physical.

So in light of this, I would like to share with Ed this open letter:

Dear Ed,

I'm sorry if you thought I was going to cut in front of you today. I didn't have any intention of doing so. All I wanted was to go by, so I could get home and use the restroom. I forgot to go before I left work and I was uncomfortable in my belly.

I can see why you wouldn't want to let anyone get in front of you. After all, you were moving about 3 feet every eight minutes. I would have impeded your progress, I'm sure. The fact that I sat at that intersection for about 10 minutes and you moved a total of maybe three yards really speaks to that fact. Sorry Ed.

If I had gotten in front of you, I'm sure that I would have delayed what would prove, I'm sure, to be a really fulfilling and rewarding evening for you. Oh the number of your interests you could have pursued!

You could have gone around to the neighborhoods, looking for broken household appliances and scrap metal on people's curbs. You already have all the streets mapped out, and you know whose trash day is tomorrow. Of course, for you, every day is trash day.

Or you could have gone to that townie bar you like and chatted up some disinterested girl or bartender about all the stuff you have going on in your life. Like how you would be qualified to do any number of tasks, if it weren't for that note from your doctor saying you couldn't work. Or you could tell some sob story about how some guy that you were more qualified for leapfrogged you for a better job. (Or should I say, "cut" in front of you? I think I'm beginning to understand now.....)

You could have called up a friend. But isn't it weird how no one ever seems to have their phone on them, because whenever you call them, they don't pick up. It goes right to voicemail. Weirdly coincidental, right? Must be a problem with the network because of the snow. Yeah.

Sorry, Ed. I realize now that I was trying to jockey for a position that wasn't rightfully mine. I know you're sick of people getting the upper hand over you. Like ... if that girl at the convenience store you go to would just give you a few minutes, she might realize what a special guy you are. That's why you go there every day for a coffee, a pack of Marbs and a paper (even though you can't read). Of course, you've used up both of your funny anecdotes, so you might have to start going to the grocery store instead.

But you can count on one thing, Ed: because of today, you will never leave this life unnoticed. Although your death will likely go unmourned, and your achievements underappreciated, you can always count on the fact that today, I recognize you for being the worthless sack of monkey-shit that you are. I'll never forget you.



Wednesday, February 14, 2007

Snowballs in Hell

I have lived on the East Coast -- particularly Upstate New York -- all my life. I have lived through 32 winters, with 32 snowfalls. There have been 32 seasons I've had to wear gloves, wear a heavy jacket, and get into a vehicle that needed to warm up before it could drive. It's never really snuck up on me.

I have noticed recently that the science of meteorology has made great advances. Far are we from the days when the Farmer's Almanac was all we had to go by. We can actually "predict" weather using scientific equipment such as satellites and radar and doppler radar and maybe even something cool I don't even know about. And this information is given to us in advance, hours -- sometimes days -- before it occurs. So in theory, we as a society can make the best preparations possible to account for the weather, factor it into our activities, and plan our busy lives accordingly.

Syracuse, New York, particularly, is a place that is no stranger to snowfall. In fact, the fine citizens of the Salt City (and it's newest resident, Salt City Saul, plug-plug) have been the proud winners of the Golden Snowball Award for four years running, and in competition for a fifth. (Hear those footsteps, Buffalo???) Snow is simply a way of life, and most of the great citizens of this fine quasi-metropolitan area make arrangements to deal with weather, such as purchasing heavy jackets, mittens, toques, boots, shovels, car brushes and the like. We are a resourceful people.

However ...

Despite the preparation of our intrepid citizenry, our government and civic leaders have failed us. In fact, I think I can say without a shred of hyperbole, that whichever city department was responsible for road conditons today, should be categorically fired. They should be thrown out on the street. Or better yet, put in my 2002 Saturn SL1 (aka the "Cranberry Cruiser") in the middle of any one of Eastwood's many side streets, forced to shift quickly between Reverse and Drive and Reverse and Drive, seventy to eighty times before that shimmering metallic vessel begins to finally rock forth and begrudgingly shuttle through the tundra.

(I apologize to my literally thousands and thousands of fans and readers around the country and the world for the "local" flavor of this post, but anyone who has been in this city in the past two days knows what I'm talking about.)

Where the #^$% are the plows???? I was forced to buy a $16 emergency shovel this morning (luckily the convenience store I bought it from is only one block away) to dig my car out of the snow. And I park on the street! Not a plow to be seen. Not any indication of any snow plow having even glanced toward my sidestreet.

The City of Syracuse might not have a ton of spare money lying around, but one would think they would allocate a couple bucks here and there to get every single available truck -- plow to the ground -- to power through all the various side streets in the city. This is just good business. It allows people to get to work closer to on time, to be more productive, to spend more money in the city, and to create more money for the community. For example, I was supposed to go to a movie tonight, and perhaps spend a couple bucks on a birthday present for myself (I haven't been spoiled in a while). But now I'm staying home in my warm, dry house, typing up this crap.

The driving is awful. There is snow higher than the height of my car's seat, and I'm talking about on the road, not a driveway or the plowed side of a street. I had to do so much work to get to work today, that I was already exhausted when I got there.

I know that Mayor Matt Driscoll reads this blog daily, so some advice to you, sir: Starting at about 11PM tonight (since the really bad snowfall is supposed to stop around 10:00), put every available snowplow out on the streets, clearing out all the streets. I don't pretend to know the first thing about plowing, but I know that I should see them all over the place, driving around with their plows DOWN, not up in the air. Pay the money, City of Syracuse. Make it happen.

Oh, and happy Valentine's Day, my loyal and faithful subjects. Love ya, babies.

Tuesday, February 13, 2007

Draftniks Rejoice

I know it's only February, but let's face it, it's never too early about the NFL Draft in April. That's why I want to present to you my buddy John "Jack" Johnson's new Draft blog, Cold Draft 2007. Be sure to make it your hub for the draft.

Johnson has broken it down by position and by player rankings. He gives the most updated information, a breakdown of free agency, and (my favorite) YouTube clips of the highlights of this year's biggest prospects. Give it a look. You'll be glad you did.

Monday, February 12, 2007

Just want to pass along congratulations and best wishes to my little sister -- and erstwhile roommate -- Mary Katherine, who got engaged to her long time boyfriend, and my buddy, Mr. Scott Brown.

Scott and Kate have been together for a couple of years now, and I think they are a perfect match. She's a bitch, and he somehow puts up with it. (Kidding of course. He doesn't put up with it.)

I love both of you guys and I am very excited about adding to already growing family. (And I'm guessing the wedding will be a blast.) Welcome to the family, Scott ... now it's official!

Tuesday, February 06, 2007

Biden Time (or The Knee-Jerk)

I don't think it's much of a secret that I am huge fan of Sen. Joe Biden (D-DE), and now that he is running for president, I have maybe the first candidate of my lifetime that I not only find acceptable, but that I am actually enthusiastic about.

I have always said that on the evening of 9/11, if I could have swapped our current (and then-)President with any other human being on earth, it would have been Joe Biden. He was cool, he was confident, and he looked like he knew what the hell he was talking about. He was a thousand times more presidential that day than Bush has ever come close to being.

Another reason why I like J.B.: I think he is one of the most straight-shooting politicians I have ever seen. It's a very tired and cliched observation to say someone "tells it like it is," but it is very refreshing to have a politician that doesn't engage in safe corporate speak, spouting lazy and trite platitudes. Like, oh, say, our current president.

This absence of a filter, however, gets the guy in trouble every once in a while. The most recent controversy was in an interview where he was heaping praise upon fellow Democratic Senator and presidential candidate Barack Obama. Said Biden:

"I mean, you got the first mainstream African-American who is articulate and bright and clean and a nice-looking guy, ... I mean, that's a storybook, man."

Now, even out of context, that is a pretty iffy quote to get bent out of shape about. What did he say? That Obama is one of the first African-American candidates without significant baggage? (Seeing as how Jesse Jackson has had a child with a woman who was not his wife, Al Sharpton has the Tawana Brawley fiasco, and Alan Keyes is out of his fucking mind.) It's a real stretch to say that Biden was intimating that because Obama is "clean" that he was saying that most blacks are not. A real big stretch.

But to me it really typifies one of the great problems in this country's race-relations: the Knee-Jerk Reaction.

This is another in a long line of (what I consider to be) overreactions in the media to otherwise innocuous, irrelevant or misinterpreted statements about race by prominent whites. The Biden quote is an example, it seems to me, of people looking for something to be offended by. The statement above, at face value, is glowing praise for Obama; it can't really be interpreted any other way. He was basically saying, "This guy is the golden child, and we're all chasing him." But somehow, Rev. Jesse (who has become something of the Black Vito Corleone) had to get involved to sign off on Biden as not being a racist. Why does Jesse get to make this call every time someone's purported racial views come into question? Why can't it be Dave Chappelle or Tony Dungy or Forrest Whitaker?

Jesse eventually said that he considered Biden's comments to be non-racist, yet he -- for some inexplicable reason -- evoked the names of Trent Lott and Strom Thurmond in his comments. Said Jesse:

"In speaking with Senator Biden, he assured me that he regrets that his remarks were misinterpreted. He was serious and contrite. To me, this was a gaffe, not a statement about his philosophy or ideology. The press should not confuse Senator Biden with Trent Lott’s embrace of Strom Thurmond, which celebrated Strom Thurmond's segregationist background and ideology. That was not helpful, but harmful to a nation. "

Why should Biden be contrite when his comments were not racist? Does it serve any purpose to have people apologize for things they didn't do wrong? Is this causing progress? Are we better off microanalyzing a known progressive like Biden over a poor choice of words, or might it be better to go after hate groups and white supremicists? Also, why even put him in the same category as Lott and Thurmond. Thurmond was a well-known segregationalist in the 1950s and to even mention him in the same paragraph as Joe Biden is an insult to Biden.

If someone says something offensive, insensitive, or racist, it should be brought forth and addressed, especially if the person is in a position of power or influence. But with every black leader crying "wolf" we get nothing but (pardon the expression) white noise, and it becomes impossible to distinguish truly hateful or damaging speech from a slip of the tongue. We are starting to lump together actual racism with perceived racism, and that is a very dangerous thing.

In 1999, David Howard, the caucasian aide of a black mayor in Washington, D.C. was talking about about a budget, and used the word "niggardly." The word "niggardly" means stingy or miserly, and has absolutely no connection, similarity or common etymology with that other uber-offensive "N" word. Due to this error in phrasing, Howard was forced to resign his post. But the reason he was forced to resign was because of the ignorance of his audience, particularly the person who raised the stink in the first place. The word he used was not in any way offensive by definition (unless there were a bunch of penny-pinchers in the audience), and those who were offended by it should not have been. They should have maybe opened a dictionary and looked the word up to understand its meaning, before making a knee-jerk reaction to a sound that came into their ears. I don't care what anyone says, whoever was offended by this was an idiot. An idiot who needs to broaden their vocabulary. (The Water Buffalo Incident is another good example of this.)

Let's take anothe recent incident, where Cosmo Kramer started shouting the "N"-word to a bunch of black hecklers. Now, this was about as poor a career move as one could make. Not only was he not that funny, but he really was insensitive and hateful. Nothing good came of it.

However, do we really need to spend our time and energy going after Cosmo Kramer? He looked like an idiot, but do you think there is anyone out there who really thinks he is a racist? He obviously got frustrated with a heckler, and took the lowest and most vile route he could to try and get under the heckler's skin. It's like when someone says something insulting, and you go after their biggest "weakness." (And no I am NOT saying that being black is a weakness, folks, save your postage.) In this case, Cosmo just went after someone's soft-spot, nothing more. It did not require a meeting with Jesse and Al. It should not require him to have to defend himself as a non-racist. Why doesn't the heckler, who called Kramer a "cracker-ass motherfucker" have to apologize? He was just as big an asshole, and did the exact same thing that Kramer did, by going after the racial issue.

The upshot of all of this is that we are actually, in my opinion, further away from racial peace in the U.S. and A. because we are so afraid to speak our minds. White people are scared to death to talk about race in this country, because God forbid something gets misconstrued, we are opened up to a lawsuit, a forced public apology, or a good ol' fashioned ass-kicking. Whites are never going to be open about race -- our suppressed prejudices, our misconceptions or even our appreciations of other ethnic groups -- for fear of saying the wrong thing and being labeled with the dreaded "racist" tag. If even a compliment as laudatory as Biden's for Obama can be used against Biden (a man with a rather stellar record on race-relations, I might add), how can a caucasian like me be expected to openly discuss race in a mixed setting? We are missing out on a lot of valuable dialogue because so many people are just too afraid to speak.

We all have fears, biases and misconceptions about other races. I have a lot of problems with certain aspects of African-American culture. I also have maybe ten times as many problems with aspects of white culture. The difference is that I am able to openly discuss my problems with white culture -- and open a dialogue -- whereas any observation I might make about my issues with African-American culture might conceviably be interpreted as me being a racist.

Unlike our president, I do care about black people. And I don't wait for Black History Month to acknowledge and appreciate that we would not be as strong or beautiful a country without our black brothers and sisters sharing it. But we need to be able to talk to each other about our problems with each other without having to worry that one comment or viewpoint could label us with a Scarlet "B" for "bigot."

One of the reasons we are not as advanced as we should be racially is that we are reluctant to put all the cards out on the table. It's time to listen to each other and stop turning to Jesse Jackson and Al Sharpton to determine for us whether or not we should be offended by someone's comments.

And I would hate to see Joe Biden -- a man who could do great things for black people in this country -- to be dismissed by the black community because of a simple verbal faux pas. If we elect him, I'll buy him a thesaurus, I promise.

Friday, February 02, 2007

Pulling For Thurman

A quick late-night post...

By the next time I will have a chance to update the ol' weblog, the world will know if Thurman Thomas has made it to the Pro Football Hall of Fame or not. His first year of eligibility was last year, and he didn't get in. I made a big stink about it last year, since I think he is one of the five best running backs of his generation, and one of the 15 best running backs of all time. Anyone who remembers him remembers that he was an elite back, and one of the most dangerous backs in the league for the better part of a decade, and even as his career went into decline, he was still a capable back.

One of the issues I have is this: we live in a knee-jerk society, and when it comes to sports media, it's the most short-sighted, forgetful example of how we lose perspective. We live in a world where the World Wide Leader in Sports -- ESPN -- will try to get "instant" reactions to events that need time to marinate. The media is quick to deify players with recent successes (such as, oh, Tedi Bruschi) as possible Hall of Famers despite short stints of success, and then afraid to allow players with long, distinguished careers (such as Art Monk, Thurman or Ray Guy) to have an entrance into the Hall of Fame.

It is because of this that they created the five-year waiting period in Halls of Fame. And in many ways, if Thurman had just retired after the 1999 season instead of defecting to the hated Miami Dolphins, he might have gotten in, since the media's memory would have had one less forgettable year to have to deal with. But that's a whole 'nother blog.

From what I've heard, Thurman is the most likely person to actually make it to the Hall. Jim Kelly may have been the marquee player on those Buffalo teams, but Thurman was the MVP. He had decent speed, surprising shiftiness, and unparalleled field vision. It's no fluke that Barry Sanders backed him up in college. Thurman is the embodiment of the Bills teams of the 1990s.

I do have a bit of a sentimental affinity for Thurman. The first time I heard his name was Draft Day 1988. It was the first draft I had ever watched (and my mom was pissed that I was wasting my time on such drivel), and I remember Thurman sitting and waiting to get picked. They had a camera crew in his house, and he and his mom were waiting for the phone to ring. When it finally did, it was the Bills, who were thrilled to get him with the 40th (and the Bills' first) pick in the draft. The poor guy who was sitting for hours and hours was saved by the Bills. I remember Thurman saying he was going to have to buy a winter coat.

I remember Thurman's first game in 1988 at home against he Vikings, where he scored his first touchdown and spiked the ball with such force that I thought the ball was going to explode. He had a decent year that year, but was overshadowed by fellow rookies John Stephens of New England and Ickey Woods of Cincinnati. But from 1989 until 1996, Thurman was an elite back. He was the NFL's Offensive Player of the Year in 1991.

He had some missteps. He publicly called out Jim Kelly in 1989 on Paul McGuire's local basic cable talk show (a broadcast I watched live and almost shat myself viewing). He notoriously lost his helmet in Super Bowl XXVI. He went to the arch-nemesis Dolphins after the Bills cut him (something that it truly took me a long time for which to forgive him). But to me he is Mr. Buffalo Bill, the embodiment of everything that was great about those Super Bowl teams of my youth. He wasn't the strongest or fastest, but dammit, you couldn't find many people with more heart. And those early Bills teams played almost exclusively on heart. You don't lost three Big Ones in a row and come back for a fourth without having some heart. And I know it sounds corny, but when life gets me down, I can always look to that team to help remind me that we can always get another chance. In life or anything.

In a way, maybe Thurman making the Hall of Fame will be a validation of those great Bills teams of the early 1990s, and therefore a validation of the formative years of my adolescence. That those hours I "wasted" watching and reading about that team (and remember, this was before the internet) weren't for naught. They actually meant something. I was actually watching history. It's something to like or follow a team, but it's something else altogether to feel like the team is actually playing for you. For you personally.

I guess it's hard to explain unless you've been there.

So if Thurman doesn't make the Hall of Fame tomorrow, I'll be okay. I won't stop watching football. I won't hate Peter King (no more than normal anyway). I won't throw anything or curse anyone.

But I will feel a profound sense of injustice. You can read my post from exactly a year ago this weekend. The facts are all there. Check the numbers: the man was a stud. I still profess that he's the prototype running/receiving back (apologies to Roger Craig and Marshall Faulk). Give the man his ugly yellow jacket. My eyes tell me he deserves it.

[Update: He made it. Thank the lord, cuz I was all ready to start march to Canton, Ohio to protest. I had it all planned out. I'm actually slightly disappointed I have to scrap that plan. Maybe I can hold onto it for Andre Reed. Let's not forget that Reed is #5 all-time for NFL receptions, and he made 6 consecutive Pro Bowls in the lat '80s and early '90s. Oh, how I love a new crusade.]