Tuesday, March 31, 2009

DYK - Who Were Wendy and McDonald?

The origins of some fast food restaurant names are pretty obvious—Burger King wants to be known as the king of burgers. Subway sells submarine sandwiches. Pizza Hut is a hut from which one can acquire pizza. These all are common sense.

But some restaurants appear to have more story behind them than we ever take time to realize. That is why I’m here, helping you Did-You-Know your way through Tuesday.

McDonald’s – Dick and Mac McDonald (both unfortunate names) started their first restaurant in San Bernardino and did pretty well with what would eventually turn into our modern incarnation of fast food. They sold the company in 1955 to Ray Kroc, who made a killing turning McDonald’s into a global brand. Those old McDonald’s should’ve held onto their equity. They can invent fast food but can’t figure out how valuable their invention was. What a Kroc. (Get it?)

Wendy’s – Believe it or not, there actually is a red-headed girl that served as the inspiration for the Wendy’s logo we’ve all grown to know and love. Dave Thomas named the restaurant after his second daughter, Melinda Lou, who was nicknamed “Wendy.” She had been eight at the time and was not a particularly attractive young lady, no matter how cute the cartoon version may be. Must’ve really made daughter number one pissed off to have missed out on that opportunity. Unless she’s dead. Does anyone know if she’s dead?

Culver’s – Started in 1984, this restaurant and its now-famous Butterburgers were started by a guy named George Culver and his family. The original store was a renovated A&W and lost money in the first year, but eventually the food became popular and now there are franchises all over the Midwest.

Arby’s – The Raffel Brothers originally wanted to call their new non-hamburger fast food joint Big Tex, but another business in Arby’s hometown of Akron, Ohio already claimed that name. So instead they spelled out RB’s phonetically, meant to stand as the initials to both “Raffel Brothers” and “Roast Beef.” Clever, eh?

Hardee’s – Wilbur Hardee opened his first store in North Carolina in 1960. A couple of investors helped him open that store, but Hardee was still the controlling partner until he lost his share to them in a poker game. I’m absolutely not making this up. Once he realized what he did, he just sold what little stock in the restaurant he had left, and the rest is history.

So there you have it. Now you can say with confidence that you know much more about the history of fast food than you ever cared to know. And all because you’ve made yourself a regular visitor to my blog. Learning is fundamental. And know you now.

Monday, March 30, 2009

We Went for the Wings

It’s hard to explain how I felt my first night at college, after all the bags and boxes had been unloaded from my parents’ van and they had finally left campus to head back home. My roommate Dale and I stood amidst a mess of unorganized clutter, our plastic mattresses left unmade, rap music thumping out of Dale’s stereo, when we decided it would be best to get a bite to eat before putting any serious effort into getting our home for the next year organized.

Luckily Jesse, our next door neighbor, was a townie that new area. He suggested an excursion to the local Hooters, known mostly for the quality of their hot wings. For some reason my moral compass stuttered at this suggestion. I had never been to a Hooters before and felt the same sort of naughty anxiety one feels stepping into a strip club for the first time. On the one hand, I was a hormonal eighteen-year-old with just as much desire to see women in tight shirts and tiny shorts as the next hormonal eighteen-year-old, but on the other hand I felt there was something inherently sad about women that needed to flaunt their assets just to make ends meet.

Hormones trumped morality, and so the three of us went to Hooters.

This was in the days before Buffalo Wild Wings, so hot wings weren’t as en vogue as they are now, and truth be told that might have been my first experience with that particular food item. I just remember eating wings and Caesar salads as my main sources of sustenance all through college. And truthfully, Hooters does good wings.

But they also do lovely ladies, which as young men carrying around the proverbial oyster shuckers on their first nights alone in the real world, we all were feeling especially flirtatious.

Dale especially poured the compliments onto our bubbly, busty waitress. Like I said, we were feeling confident as burgeoning men, so Dale tried his hand at serious womanizing for the first time as a college student. He pulled out all the tricks in hopes of sparking some sort of romantic dialogue with the filly—flattering remarks, shameless self-promotion, maybe even a sly flex of a bicep—but it became very clear to Jesse and I about halfway through dinner that it wasn’t happening. Despite Dale’s better efforts, this lovely young woman just wasn’t having it. She batted away every advance with the polite grace only a Hooters waitress would have had the experience to do. The woman had only three gifts, and turning down horny guys was the only one of them not resting comfortably in her bra.

And it was those other two gifts that perhaps blinded Dale from seeing what had become so clear to Jesse and me. So at the end of our meal, when the waitress brought over our bill, Dale asked her for her phone number.

“I’m sorry, sweetheart,” she said with a gracious smile. “We’re not allowed to give out our phone numbers to customers.”

Dale translated that to read, “I’d love to give you my phone number and make sweet babies with you, but my stupid boss won’t let me. If only there were some other way this forbidden love could work…”

So, to fight through his entirely fictional roadblock to true love, Dale left the waitress a $20 tip and a napkin with his name and phone number on it. Jesse and I laughed about it, knowing that he’d probably just spent the worst twenty bucks of his life, but Dale left confident.

As we walked out of the store, I remember saying, “Dale, you know she’s never going to call you, right? I can’t believe you just left her such a huge tip.”

“You’ll see,” he said, swaggering back to Jesse’s car. And with his hand on the door handle, we did see. We saw very clearly.

“Excuse me!” it was the waitress, bouncing gloriously toward us, waving at Dale with a smile as she did.

“Told you,” Dale said smugly. Jesse and I looked at each other incredulously. No way, we thought. Absolutely no way.

The waitress slowed to a stop and extended a hand to Dale, and in that hand lay a Styrofoam to-go box filled with my confident new roommate’s leftover hot wings.

“You forgot your food,” she told him, handing it over.

“Thanks,” Dale replied, sheepishly heading into the car to escape the embarrassing moment. Jesse and I quickly followed and of course chuckled for the entire drive back to campus.

That’s pretty much the end of the story, but because it’s important and I know everybody wants to know—no, the waitress never called. But I’m positive she spent every last penny of that twenty dollar tip.

Friday, March 27, 2009

Top 5 Ugliest Uniforms in Pro Sports

I watch a lot of sports, but I generally like my sports to be not only competitive and entertaining, but also aesthetically pleasing. Unfortunately, there are some teams out there that make this basically impossible. These are those teams, and my the Lord banish the ugliest uniforms in sports to clothing hell.

5 – Denver Broncos

The color scheme and logo aren’t what I mind here—it’s more the design itself. The swooping piping down the sides of the pants look like carrots, and the number font looks like something Mickey Mouse would wear. There’s no toughness to these uniforms, but there’s plenty of fugliness.

4 – Colorado Rockies

The Rockies’ home whites and away grays aren’t particularly inspired but they’re not horrible either. What breaks this team free of its generic look are the purple alternates that look, well… extremely purple. Put John Kruk in one of these things and you’ll have a hard time distinguishing him from Grimace or Barney the Dinosaur. God, I hate purple. I hate purple in moderation. In excess its bothers me to nausea.

3 – Golden State Warriors

There’s too many damn colors in this scheme, and orange as a primary hue just doesn’t work for me (sorry, U of I fans). But when you add navy, yellow and white, you’re just piling it on. How about navy and yellow? Or navy and orange? What the hell purpose does the yellow even serve in this situation? Horrible, up and down the color wheel.

2 – Minnesota Wild

Merry Christmas everyone! I get that green and red are complementary colors, but they really only work together between late November and December. Any other time of year it just feels… off. And the logo sucks. Even the throwback-style alternates are lame.

1 – Cincinnati Bengals

When I was a senior in high school, I had a pair of tiger-print pants made up for the Winter Ball just because I wanted to look as ridiculous as possible. That’s who I was back then, but I wasn’t trying to market or sell the style, and I certainly wasn’t trying to put off a manly, football-player vibe by wearing the look. Somehow, the Bengals still just don’t get this. And that’s why they’ve got the ugliest uniforms in professional sports.

Honorable Mention – Oklahoma City Thunder, Buffalo Bills

When Oklahoma City got the Seattle Supersonics and changed their image to the whole “Thunder” thing, I thought they’d put some effort into it. Instead, they somehow ended up with the most vanilla bean uniforms in the modern history of the NBA.

As for Buffalo, it just bothers me that they needed to use two shades of blue. The red and royal worked for them for years; why add the navy blue? On the home whites it looks especially silly.

Runaway College Winner – University of Oregon Football

I’m speechless.

Thursday, March 26, 2009

Nice to Meet You #8 - Zach "Chuck" Levi

Meeting Donald Faison (a.k.a. Turk from “Scrubs”) at a party during All-Star weekend last month was pretty awesome, but what took my experience there to the next level was bumping into Zach Levi of “Chuck” fame. At the same party. While we were watching a private Katy Perry concert. Have I said enough times how awesome that weekend was for me?

I watched the performance with my two bosses, trying so hard to play things cool at a party that was clearly way beyond my cool level. Several lovely ladies scattered themselves about the courtyard—and by “lovely” I guess I mean horribly fake women with pounds of makeup on their face and breasts that are probably only about 12% genuine—each of which with some douchebag plastered to their “loveliness,” baseball hats cocked the side, dark jeans, blindingly white tennis shoes, popped collars. Has the picture been painted well enough?

We accidentally ended up in the front row for the Perry show because that was where we’d been congregating obliviously before it started. Once things got going we just drank up the ambience—celebs, free drinks, music—and had ourselves a lovely time. While the lovely Girl-Kisser was up there wearing practically nothing, singing “Hot and Cold” and all those other delightfully bubblegum hits in her repertoire, I turned around to peep the scene and noticed “Chuck” a few rows behind me.

Turk had been so cool, and I was having such a great time and feeling so good, that I thought I’d introduce myself and strike up a conversation. Turns out Chuck was even cooler than Chocolate Bear.

After introducing myself—“Hi, Zach? Joel Brigham, nice to meet you, man”—I immediately found out he was a huge fan of the site. Writing for HOOPSWORLD.com, I’ve bumped into several players who love what we do, but to know that other famous people are out there reading our stuff was really flattering. This guy’s a huge NBA fan and had played in the celebrity All-Star game earlier that day, so having a few ice breakers to talk with the dude ended up being a piece of cake.

To be honest, I had just hoped to hit him up, let him know I was a big fan, and maybe get a picture with the dude. But we ended up talking for about ten minutes. Levi’s an extremely down-to-earth dude, punctuated by the fact that he was wearing a cheap polo over a long-underwear shirt with a ratty ball cap turned backwards, and he explained to me how amazing his journey has been going from a virtual nobody to a bit part on “Less Than Perfect” to rising stardom as “Chuck.”

And, pretty amazingly, it turns out he and Katy Perry have been really good friends for a number of years. He was there to support her at the concert and catch up a little bit afterwards. Said what made them even closer friends was experiencing their biggest success at right around the same time.

I’ll say this—I never expected anybody with that level of fame to so ridiculously nice. I’ve met people from all walks of celebrity, and Zach Levi is probably the kindest one I’ve ever had the opportunity to chat with (“Saved by the Bell’s” Screech was probably the worst, but that’s another story for another day). When the discussion wrapped up he agreed to a picture, and I said goodbye to return to my bosses and catch the rest of the concert.

In that front row, I swear to God Katy Perry winked at me. And as cool as Chuck was, that had to have been the highlight of the night.

Wednesday, March 25, 2009

Choose Your Own Adventure

Remember those "Choose Your Own Adventure" books from when we were kids? This is a YouTube version. REALLY cool idea by these guys (same dudes who did the "Alien Prank Gone Wrong"), and a fantastic time-waster. Enjoy!

Tuesday, March 24, 2009

DYK - Old Wives' Tales

We’ve all heard these old wives’ tales growing up, but most of them end up being untrue. Here’s a list of some of the most common, including whether or not they hold any merit. I’m like Mythbusters Light this week.

Chewing gum does NOT take seven years to digest. While it’s true that gum is indigestible, it’s still waste and just flows through your system like anything else you eat that your body can’t use.

Hair does NOT grow back darker and thicker after it’s been shaved. Sure, hair creates the illusion of being thicker once cut, but that’s actually not the case. Hair is thicker at its base and more flexible when it’s long. So instead of seeing soft, flowing, thin tips of hair, a shaved surface is short, stubby, and sturdy. Think of it like a bamboo shoot; when long, it can blow in the wind, but when it’s short its less likely to move. It’s just an illusion, folks.

Hats do NOT cause baldness. If a man loses his hair, it’s because he was genetically predisposed to do so, not because he wore a hat. This is like saying, “Wearing orange scarves causes Downs Syndrome.” There’s just no connection.

You do NOT have to wait an hour after eating to go swimming. The belief is that if you don’t wait it out, you’ll get crazy cramps and drown, but there’s absolutely no truth to it. If you get any cramps it’s most likely from overexertion—the same sorts of cramps you’d get playing tennis or basketball. So eat, then swim, then eat again. You’ll be fine.

So there you go. Don’t waste your time on gobbledygook like what’s above. Swim, wear hats, shave. Life is meant for living, not waiting an hour before living. You know what I mean?

Monday, March 23, 2009

Guns Don't Kill People

Of the eight of us who lived together my sophomore year of college, six owned just about every type of gun you could possibly own. Well, except for the ones that shoot actual bullets. They didn’t have any of those, but there was pretty much everything else.

It all started at the end of our freshman year, when a lot of the guys shared a day trip to the local Toys R Us to purchase military-grade water guns. My roommate Dale just sort of came home one day with what appeared to be a neon-colored rocket launcher. If I’m remembering properly the thing set him back between $60 and $90 and was the approximate size and weight of a slightly overweight toddler. It probably held two or three gallons of water.

“Check this out,” Dale said, holding the monstrosity to his chest with the pride of an Army of One. Dangling from a flimsy shoulder strap, he had to support with his hands just to keep all that weight from cutting into his shoulder and drawing blood. “I’m ‘bout to go soak these fools.”

The only problem was that “these fools” had also spent between $60 and $90 for equally ostentatious squirt guns, which seemed to grow increasingly ridiculous. One of my buddies had a backpack that held extra water. Another one—and this is too fantastic to make up—had a little kickstand on his gun to transform it into some sort of sniper rifle. Knowing that sniper rifles are constructed to shoot long distances, this gun also was built to allow for more air pressure in the gun’s barrel.

On a beautiful spring day towards the end of the school year, the guys took the water bazookas out for a test run and had a really fun, innocent time. They ran around campus like idiots, drenched each other, and giggled like flirtatious little school girls.

But then something happened. My friends started to think they literally were soldiers wielding powerful weapons, and the future safety of Illinois Wesleyan University depended on them drowning each other in ammunition. They started spraying each other at times when they’d least expect it, and this includes indoor environments.

The real trouble started when my friend Solomon, soundly asleep atop his rock-hard IWU mattress, stupidly left his door unlocked one Saturday night. So at 2:00am a few aqua assassins crept into his dorm room, pumped up their Super Soakers to full pressure, and unloaded on the poor kid. In his bed. Sound asleep.

Solo awoke screaming, probably thinking he’d either been shot with real bullets or that he’d wet the bed—or maybe some combination of the two—while his attackers fled the scene.

Working under the assumption that the culprits were Dale and our other buddy Jabari, Solo emerged from his damp cave the following morning with the spirit of vengeance in the air. He returned the favor over the course of the day (including a thorough soaking of our dorm room, which I remember seriously pissing me off at the time), and from there it was just this ongoing back-and-forth for the rest of the semester. Seriously, this is how gangs operate. My friends had turned into water gangs.

And I thought it would be a good idea to agree to living with these people sophomore year. Silly, silly me.

I moved into an eight-man suite that August as the only white dude in the room—the rest were either black or mixed—and honestly had the best college year of my career. But there were moments when I thought I’d explode and murder these young men. This, for example, won’t be the last story about our sophomore year exploits and how I almost killed some of my closest friends. But since we’re talking about their obsession with guns, that’s where I’ll start.

With a summer to stew over how they up the ante, six of my seven suitemates returned with pellet guns that genuinely looked real but instead of bullets shot tiny yellow plastic balls, which hurt a hell of a lot more than water.

For the record, the one suitemate who joined me in amnesty was Kwabena, a Ghanaian with one of the most peaceful, humble demeanors I’ve ever known. He’s a great guy, and so am I, but as much as tried to say out of it we’d still inevitably get caught in the crossfire.

A pervading pall of anxiety shrouded what should’ve been “home” for me, because my buddies didn’t all just decide it was pellet gun day and organize a war. These things just kicked up out of nowhere. Everybody slept with their “guns” under their pillows, and there were pre-set teams should anyone start something. These guys were ready to shoot the crap out of each other at the drop of the hat, and they dropped a whole bunch of hats that year.

At the first shot, everybody would come peeling out of their rooms, guns drawn, looking for cover. Our coffee table would get flipped over to act as a shield and guys would be turning and firing around corners like they were trainees in the local police academy.

Kwabena, oblivious to the altercation, would drift out of his room lazily and ask in his proper British accent, “What’s up, fellas? What’s going… OW!”

Both teams would temporarily gang up on the poor kid while he raced back into his room with his figurative tail between his legs. Once the door slammed and locked shut, the resumed blasting each other.

One of my suitemates, Lew, once got sprayed with pellets while he was in the shower. I still can’t block out those screams. The same way Solomon can’t sleep in the same house as those guys without having Vietnam War flashbacks about midnight water assaults, I’m pretty sure Lew won’t ever take a shower the rest of his life without seeing a barrage of sunshine-colored BBs flashing before his eyes.

For the most part I survived college without too many welts (and believe me, these pellet guns did some damage), but I got my comeuppance a few years ago when I went to Dale’s place to watch a Bears playoff game. This was a couple years after graduation, and we were supposed to be grown me, so it didn’t even cross my mind that I would have something to worry about.

I knocked on the door, but after a few moments nobody had let me in. I wondered what was going on, so I reached back to knock again but the door flew open before my knuckles could rap the door, and the next thing I knew my legs felt like they were being stung by dozens of bees that had been genetically enhanced, replacing their stingers with tiny chainsaws.

They were on all sides of me, and I had nowhere to hide. Once they’d had their fill (in other words, once their chambers were emptied of pellets) we all had a good laugh looking at my pock-marked legs. When I say “we” all had a good a laugh, what I mean is “they” all had a good laugh while “I verbally berated them and reminded them they were supposed to grown people and why were they still playing with toy guns?”

Plenty of time has elapsed since then and I’d like to think that these guys took my little tirade seriously, but I’m 100% positive they still own the pellet guns and still get giddy at the idea of using them on each other. Oh well. They’ve grown up in their own ways. I suppose one can only expect so much growth at a time.

Despite everything, I love those guys. Those first two years of college were, if nothing else, extremely entertaining. I also learned a very important lesson from them: Guns don’t kill people, but those little yellow pellets hurt like the dickens.

Life lessons from my friends. What would I do without them?

Friday, March 20, 2009

Top Five Villains

We all love a good hero but let’s face it—no hero is a hero with a great villain. The following is my top five villains of all-time, whether that be from film, screen, or literature. Make sure you let me know who I’ve forgotten!

5 – Biff Tannen – Okay, so he’s not the scariest villain in the history of the world, mostly because we get to see him earn his comeuppance at the end of the first “Back to the Future” movie. But at the heart of the character is a serious prick. Maybe I’ve just got a thing for bullies, but the way he treated the McFly clan was downright dastardly.

Nastiest Deed – Future Biff from “Back to the Future II” was just about as bad as a dude can get. He made his money gambling (cheating with a results book from the future), then started a toxic waste company. He married Lorraine, Marty’s mom, and was extremely abusive to her and her kids, left behind when Biff shot their father, George. The guy was a butthead, through and through.

Did You Know – Daniel Stern, of “Sticky Bandits” fame, was originally offered the roel as Biff, but he turned it down.

4 – The Joker – What makes this guy so scary is the fact that he’s absolutely insane. Jack Nicholson did a damn fine Joker, and Heath Ledger’s was probably even better. But the heart of the character from the Batman comic books is even loonier. He’s killed literally thousands of people—not just adults, but children too—and always escapes jail because the juries find him insane. The guy can’t escape out of jail, but nuthouses are a little easier. Get a clue, American justice system!

Nastiest Deed – Some combination of paralyzing Batgirl or killing Robin. Or, of course, it could be one of his many sociopathic mass murders.

Did You Know – The Joker was created in the 1930s when the artist saw actor Conrad Veidt wearing makeup for the silent film, “The Man Who Laughs,” which was based on a Victor Hugo novel.

3 – Eric Cartman – Everything about this kid is wrong. He’s always trying to manipulate people to take their money or get in a good joke. His goal in life is to be rich and powerful and have everybody worship the ground he walks on. The means he takes towards these end are almost always invariably evil.

Nastiest Deed – Getting so pissed off at Scott Tenorman for stealing his $16.12 (there’s a more graphic and inappropriate story that goes along with that) that he gets his favorite band Radiohead to humiliate him publicly—all the precursor to Cartman feeding Scott Tenorman his ground up parents in a bowl of chili.

Did You Know – Carman is based largely on Archie Bunker. The co-creators of South Park had fun creating a fat, angry little version of Archie to toss into their show. He’s also partially based on the creators’ real-life friend, Matt Karpman, who I guess not only has a similar name but was a similar kid. Minus the murderous chili, obviously.

2 – Wicked Witch of the West – If she wasn’t scary enough in the movies, the depth of her evil became a lot more clear in the novel—NOT the musical—“Wicked.” Her reasons for being the sort of horrible person she is become much more clear there, because in order to be a great villain you’ve got to have a believable origin. Why is this person doing the things she does? Read the book—NOT the musical—and find out for yourself!

Nastiest Deed – She never actually kills anyone in the movie or the musical, but she sort of does in “Wicked” the novel. She goes to her old school to kill a nasty professor there named Madame Morrible, but when she arrives Morrible has literally just passed away of natural causes. Out of frustration, the Witch destroys the corpse by bashing it with a heavy trophy and takes credit for her murder.

Did You Know – In the original L. Frank Baum “Oz” books, the Witch is described as having three pigtails and wears an eyepatch. She’s also afraid of the dark.

1 – Hannibal Lecter – There is no fictional villainous character in the history of fictional villainous characters quite as awful and complex as Hannibal Lecter, made famous in “Silence of the Lambs.” Not only is among the world’s most intelligent and cultured individuals, but he’s also among the world’s most ruthless. He’s eaten people after brutally murdering them, walking away humming some classical tune. The guy is creepy, and so badass. There’s no better villain in the business.

Nastiest Deed – Trying to think of something worse than killing somebody and eating them…

Did You Know – Lecter is not based off of any real-life serial killer and actually was created NOT to fit a profile, which is part of what makes him so unique. But Buffalo Bill from “Silence of the Lambs” is based off of serial killer Ed Gein, who did some similarly nasty things human skin.


Norman Bates – “Pyscho” is a classic, and Bates will always be nuts.

Darth Vader – Never scared me personally, but there are too many “Star Wars” fans out there that have my head if I didn’t at least mention him.

Cruella DeVil – Between her and The Queen from “Snow White,” it’s hard to decide which is Disney’s worst all-time bad-gal.

Freddy Kruger – The guy can infiltrate your dreams, so you literally can’t go to sleep. Horrible for kids watching that stuff right before bed.

The Chick from “Misery” – This movie made my jaw drop the first time I saw it. That chick (Annie, is it?) is on par with the craziest of them.

Thursday, March 19, 2009

Nice to Meet You #7 - Derrick Rose

This is my favorite Derrick Rose story:

Just as the new NBA season was starting—Derrick’s rookie season—I had a conversation with a boy at the high school that’s got Downs Syndrome. Knowing that I cover Bulls games, he asked me if I was going to the preseason game at the University of Illinois. That drive taking about a third of the time the drive to Chicago usually takes, I naturally answered in the affirmative.

This young man, in the energetic, loveable way that only he could do it, asked if I would tell Derrick Rose that he said hello, because Derrick Rose was his new favorite player. I said that I would. That should be easy enough.

But he wasn’t done, of course, and asked of me one more favor—“Would you give him a hug for me, too?”

He wasn’t kidding. After abruptly cutting off my chortle as he sustained a straight face, I said that I’d try, even though I wasn’t sure hugging was an activity professional athletes often shared with the media.

It was a fun story, and I thought it would be a cool story to share with the young man. At that point I knew very little about Derrick, but I thought he’d get a kick.

So that night in Champaign I had the opportunity to pull Derrick aside and share the story with him. There were no hugs, but he loved the story. We laughed a little as I explained to him what a sweet kid this student was, and without thinking he offered to sign an autograph for him, completely unprovoked.

It’s actually a policy that we not get autographs from the athletes. Sure, they’d be cool to have, but it’s a lot cooler to have professionalism and the respect of the players. If I want keepsakes I’ve got a couple hundred audio files of me interviewing all kinds of people. I didn’t need the autograph, and told Mr. Rose that it wasn’t my policy to take that sort of thing from him.

But he absolutely insisted, signed the piece of paper as I graciously tried to turn him down.

“What’s his name?” he asked, and I told him. He personalized it and everything.

When I gave the autograph to the student, he held it high in the air with both hands, like it was a thirty-pound championship trophy, and blurted, “YESSSS!” Every other kid in the class looked back at him casually, more or less accustomed to his enthusiastic outbursts, and soon were given private showings of the signature. That was one happy kid that day.

So the next game I told Derrick how much the kid loved the autograph, and he assured me it was nothing. I wondered if maybe this humble demeanor of his was a show—if maybe he just assimilating into the Big League and was keeping things quiet early in his career so as not to rock the boat. But every time I’ve talked to him since that point he’s been equally great. This kid was the #1 pick, probably the Rookie of the Year, and making more money than anyone in his draft class, and he’s managed to stay as modest as he is.

At All-Star Weekend I caught up with him and asked I’d see him out and about at any of the after-parties. He was pretty exhausted from taking a late charter from a game the night before, so when he said “Probably not,” I wasn’t particularly surprised. It was what he said next that blew my mind: “I’m pretty tired, but my mom probably wouldn’t let me anyway.”

We both laughed because he knew how silly that sounded the minute it came out of his mouth. With so much family in town to see him win the Playstation Skills Challenge, his mother wanted him to spend time with all his guests, not out with idiots like me until the wee hours.

In general, he’s just been a really nice, respectful young man. Not only is he a fantastic talent, but he’s a great kid as well. Thankfully, he’ll probably be in Chicago for the next 15 years.

Wednesday, March 18, 2009

Just Kick the Ball Already

All this poor kid wants to do is kick the damn ball, and he just can't seem to get it done. His pain shouldn't stop you from laughing, though.

Tuesday, March 17, 2009

DYK - Of Pyramids and Slaves

We've got this idea that the staggeringly monumental pyramids in Egypt were built entirely by slaves, but this is not necessarily true. The fact of the matter is that regular unskilled laborers like Egyptian farmers and craftsmen helped, too. And not because some shirtless prick with a whip forced them. They actually were given food and other accomodations, and in some instances were paid.

In the months of summer and early autumn, the Nile flooded a lot of these farmers' fields, so helping with the pyramids was the way these men supported their family until crops were workable again. Not only did they get food and minimal wages, but helping with the pyramids counted as brownie points for the gods, and anything they could do to get ahead with Amun-Ra and the gang, they were going to do.

All in all, historians estimate that about 10,000 of these lower class workers helped out--without having to be whipped into it.
While we're talking about Egypt, there was a long time when Egyptian kings were not called pharoahs. Not until the 14th Century BC did that word start going into circulation, and even then it was used to describe the royal palace, the capitol, and the king himself. The derivation of pharoah, Par-o, actually translates to "Great House." It was the Israelites (i.e. "slaves") who gave the title to the king in their scriptures, and around 950 BC "pharoah" became the official title for Egyptian kings.

Monday, March 16, 2009

Deck the Deck with Boughs of Ice Cream

It’s a sad thing when important parts of your past disappear off the face of the earth. For example, in the last few years the house where I met my wife was torn down to make way for a Walgreen’s. We’ll never be able to go back to that place and relive our first night together. Okay, so the place was a dump and sort of felt like a run-down version of the Clue estate where Professor Plumb and Colonel Mustard killed people with candlesticks. Does that make it any less special? Yes. But does that make it any less special to me?

Another little bit of spilled milk I’d like to cry over is the absence of what was once called “The Deck” in my hometown of Chebanse (pronounced Shuh-BANTS for you non-natives). What used to be a cozy, wood-paneled ice creamery in between the community center and the convenient store now is just a tiny lot of unmowed grass. But in a village of only 1200 citizens, how many people are going to want ice cream on any given night? How does a small business like that stay alive? It was inevitable that the place would eventually close, but a series of unfortunate events sent the entire structure to its grave.

My connection to The Deck was that I worked there one summer. It happened to be the same summer that I worked at the new Dairy Queen just a few miles north of us, so I was sort of an ice cream entrepreneur that year. I called myself The Dairy King. I wish that was a joke.

While DQ was a well-run franchise with rules and product consistency and income, The Deck was more of a mom-and-pop situation run by the parents of a high school friend. Parents I don’t recall seeing. Ever. And that’s sort of where the problems—and the fun—started.

Our little sweet shop was set up as—you guessed it—a deck, with benches lining all sides of the little lot and a tiny wood-paneled “store area” at the back end. Inside, one Taylor ice cream machine churned up vanilla, chocolate, and twist (always a crowd-pleaser) flavors of America’s favorite frozen treat, and up against the back wall of the tiny room—which was about the same size of the interior of a sedan—ran an assortment of candies, fruits, and other unhealthy toppings.

There was also a Flurry machine, which mixed up our Blizzard knock-offs to the delight and discount of all our customers. This actually was in the time before McDonalds “invented” the McFlurry, which of course is now a household name. Back then I could find nothing but humor in the clear theft of a product name. Sort of like how Wal-Mart has suspiciously familiar-tasting sodas called Dr. Thunder and Mountain Lightning, which also are funny.

Our shifts were short—four hours at a time, and then our replacement would step in and take over. In a way, it sort of felt like jail for those four hours. We’d get maybe five or six customers in an afternoon shift, twenty on a good night. If it was raining, forget about it. Nobody’s braving a downpour for an orange slushie. So to while away the hours, we’d read magazines. Except for the fact that I was the only male who worked at The Deck, so all the magazines were Seventeen and Cosmo and crap like that. I really got in touch with my feminine side during the hot, long summer days of ’98.

We also had a little tape player, which I remember using to play the soundtrack to the hit movie, “Godzilla.” Mostly there was that Puff Daddy song that sampled “Kasmir” and a catchy Jamiroquoi jam that would get stuck in my head all the time. If not that, it was the radio. Horrible, horrible music that summer. Remember Brandi and Monica’s “The Boy is Mine?” Shania Twain, “From this Moment?” Natalie Imbruglia, “Torn”? I had nightmares about those songs. Just me, women’s periodicals, and bad pop music.

But there were perks, right? There had to be perks.

Yeah, there were perks. I’ll hire Forrest Gump to explain to you what, exactly, those perks were: “All the ice cream you could EAT.” We technically weren’t supposed to eat the inventory without paying, but I was told by some of the veteran Deck employees that it was not only okay, but sort of expected. I was sixteen years old, five-foot-eleven, and about 125 pounds. I was so skinny that if I turned sideways it was like I disappeared. Could hula-hoop with a Cheerio. Mountains of free ice cream weren’t going to hurt me. I needed to fatten up a little bit.

(Now, of course, I’d like to send some of my superfluous pounds back in time to sixteen-year-old me and tell him he’s welcome.)

So I’d experiment. By mixing together two flavors that had no business going together, I discovered a few culinary delights that actually could’ve been marketed had anybody listened to me. It was like Iron Chef and ice cream was the secret ingredient. That’s how good I was. A couple of my favorites: Chocolate ice cream with bananas and brownies, and blue raspberry slushie flavoring blended into vanilla ice cream with the Flurry machine. So stinking good. My cheffing is extremely iron, folks.

I didn’t work particularly hard at that place, but the Dairy Queen and another job painting houses took a lot of energy out of me. This was an easy way to make a few bucks doing not a whole lot. Plus, ya know, the free ice cream.

You’re wondering what ever happened to The Deck. Not why it closed—it’s probably fairly obvious why it closed—by what it had to be completely ripped up and destroyed. Well, the story goes that the owner of a pizza restaurant in the neighboring village bought The Deck and wanted to move it next to his restaurant. So they lifted up the store portion of the business and carted it to Clifton. It sat out there next to the pizza restaurant for months—years, maybe—but never did reopen. Eventually I came home from college one holiday and it was gone.

Back in Chebanse there’s this pointless deck sitting right in the middle of the “downtown” area. That’s prime real estate I guess, so they tore the rest of it down. Now, as I mentioned, it’s a grassy lot. Maybe someday they’ll put a Home Depot there or something.

Losing this place where I used to work isn’t as sad as losing the building where I met my wife, but it was still part of my history and I wish it was still there, if for no other reason but to visit and reminisce. Does the fact that it was a sad, cramped, money-sucking ice creamy failure make it any less special? Yes. But does that make it any less special to me?

Friday, March 13, 2009

Top 5 X-Men Plot Twists You Probably Didn't Know About

If you’ve watched any of the three X-Men movies, you probably have a pretty basic idea of how that brotherhood of mutants works. But in doing some whimsical reading this week about the X-Men, just for the sake of rekindling fond memories, I realized how hard it must be to adapt such a complex, forty-year storyline for film.

Even as a huge X-Men fan growing up, I found that were quite a few things I knew nothing about. Or at least something about, but the details were foggy. This week’s top five centers around things you probably didn’t know about the X-Men. Have fun with this one… I did!

Cyclops has mutant brothers. The Summers family apparently had three boys—the oldest was Cyclops (the guy who shoots read beams out of his eyeballs), followed by Havok and then Vulcan. Havok shoots plasma bursts out of his hands and dislikes his older brother’s authoritative attitude about everything, but Vulcan’s deal is a little more confusing.

It goes like this: Cyclops and Havok escaped kidnapping as children, but Vulcan was just a fetus in his mother’s womb while aliens abducted her. She gave birth, the aliens aged him to adolescence in some machine, then sent him to earth to be a slave for Erik the Red. He then does a bunch of crazy stuff in space and becomes emperor of some planet. Before this week I’d never heard of this character, and it turns out he’s got one of the craziest stories ever. This is exactly why I love comic books.

Jean Grey and Magneto have clones. For Magneto it was an exact clone named Joseph that was apparently engineered to be an amnesiac version of the uber-villain the X-Men could use in their favor against him. But after a short love affair with Rogue, the real Magneto killed him. That’s just how it goes in the comics world.

Jean Grey’s clone, a woman named Madelyne Pryor, actually had it worse, if you can believe it. It’s extremely confusing getting there, but Cyclops married her not knowing she was anything other than a hottie who looked a lot like his dead wife (Grey). Later it turned out that Jean Grey was NOT dead, so Cyclops left Pryor and their baby to return to life as an X-Man and hook back up with the original love of his life. It’s later revealed that Pryor was a clone designed by Mr. Sinister just to create a child with Cyclops he could use to his advantage. More on that kid later. Pryor ended up really pissed off having been spurned and turned into a bad guy. Women are crazy.

The children of Cyclops, Jean Grey, and Magneto. I had to actually look at family trees to figure all this crap out, but it ended up being pretty interesting. We’ll start with Magneto, whose first daughter came before he freaked out and started making metal move. Her name was Anya, and she died in a fire as a child. Later, when he freaked out and accidentally killed a bunch of people, his wife ran away, pregnant, later giving birth to Quicksilver and Scarlet Witch, who were twins.

He then had another daughter illegitimately, named Polaris. She’s got a really intricate storyline that I honestly just don’t have the energy to relay, but just know she has a long tenure as a good guy, even though there were times when she was controlled or transformed to do a bad guy’s bidding. Her and Iceman sort of had a brief thing. And her hair is green, for whatever that’s worth.

The stuff with Cyclops, Jean Grey, and Madelyne Pryor gets a little more intricate. ‘Clops and Pryor give birth to Cable (that’s the baby he abandoned to get back with Grey), who went through a whole lotta hell in his early life, getting kidnapped, possessed, and infected before eventually getting sent to the future to avoid dying of some virus and also to save the world in 200 years from Apocalypse. No wonder the guy had a chip on his shoulder. Cable’s story is a lot more detailed and tragic than that, but there’s really no point getting to it. You barely care about the basics, let alone the specifics.

In an alternate dimension where Cable is never born, Grey and Cyclops give birth to a boy named Nathan, who is essentially the equivalent of Cable in that particular dimension. He goes by X-Man and is basically the most powerful mutant in the world. Because Cable got infected by that virus in his dimension, he never got to reach his potential, but Nathan apparently is pretty extreme. I don’t recall hearing anything about this storyline when I was reading comics as a kid, but I think I would’ve dug it.

The last kid, living in an alternate dystopian future, is Rachel, who at some point takes on the name Marvel Girl. She apparently is just really angry her mother died and cries a lot about her dad dating Emma Frost. Not as interesting as Cable, is she?

Mystique is the mother of Nightcrawler and Rogue. Mystique is about as hot as a blue chick can be (think Rebecca Romijn if you’ve seen the movies), so it only makes sense that she’d be the mother of the other blue character in the series, Nightcrawler. Turns out that our teleporting little blue buddy was the result of marital infidelity on Mystique’s behalf, sleeping around on her husband—a rich count—with some demonic Satan mutant. When he was born blue with pointy ears and a bifurcated tail, the locals naturally tried to kill him. So she had to leave him behind, and he was raised by gypsies.

Before Nightcrawler, though, Mystique had a kid with Sabretooth—Graydon Creed. He ended up being a huge prick, fighting against mutant rights via terrorism and getting into cahoots with Magneto. That gets you nowhere in life, folks, fraternizing with the enemy.

As for Rogue, well, she’s not Mystique’s actual daughter. Foster daughter is technically the relationship between those two X-Men icons. Rogue was sort of raised to help with evil stuff, but once she sucked up the powers of an early incarnation of Miss Marvel, she sort of gave up on her foster ma and moved on with life. The two still sort of have this love-hate thing going on.

Wolverine’s real name isn’t Logan. It’s James Howlett. That’s changed since I was reading the comics, because last I checked (mid-to-late ‘90s), he just went by “Logan.” Apparently that was just a nickname. Now he’s James. Eh.

Any of you comic book nerds out there know anything interesting I’m failing to mention? As always, feel free to weigh in. I love this stuff!

Thursday, March 12, 2009

Nice to Meet You #6 - Chuck D

Usually Denny’s sucks—greasy food almost guaranteed to speed up the digestive process in a most uncomfortable way—but one evening my sophomore year of college Denny’s was about the coolest restaurant in the history of restaurants, made possible by a hip-hop legend.

The IWU Student Senate uses allotted funds for brining in interesting and reputable speakers for students and faculty to attend free of charge, mostly for the furthering of our liberal arts educations. These range from authors to experts to celebrities, and on this particular night it just so happened to be Chuck D, front man for renowned rap titans Public Enemy, who wanted to talk about digital music.

This was back when Napster was still free and pissing off the recording industry the way sinners piss of an unforgiving god, and Chuck D was there to actually encourage us to download the music for free anyway, copyright be damned. His argument was that people think they’re robbing the artists, but their not. Artists don’t make money off of record sales; labels do. And Chuck D’s opinion of labels was not an especially high one, ripping into them for ripping off young artists and skimming every dime off the top that they possibly can. So the guy who wrote “Fight the Power” wanted us to steal music. Big surprise.

Sadly, most of the younger generation’s connection to Public Enemy comes strictly from Flavor Flav, the other half of Public Enemy that never really rapped, just hopped around with his wall clock bling hollering, “Yeaaaaah, Boiiiiiiiiiy.” So the audience was relatively thin—maybe 150 people. It’s also important to keep mind that my particular university was largely white (to put that into perspective, that same year of school I lived with seven black guys, and we did the math—that put 17% of Wesleyan’s black population in our eight-man suite), so few people on campus had even heard of Chuck D.

Whatever. My roommate Dale and I had heard of him, so after he spoke we stuck around with about 25-30 other people hoping to get an autograph. We totally did, which was awesome for me because Chuck D was one of the first celebrities I’d ever really been in contact with. A friend of ours had been in charge of bringing the rapper to campus and they were going out to eat afterwards. Somehow—I’m still not exactly sure how—Dale and I became two of about 12 people that escorted Mr. D to what was probably the only sit-down restaurant in town still open at 10:00 at night: Denny’s.

This is not to say that joining in on this once-in-a-lifetime excursion was a no-brainer for me. At the time I was in a relationship that required I call my long-distance girlfriend every night when she got home from work. At 10:00. You see the conflict. Considering I was an immature 19-year-old in his first serious relationship, I wasn’t sure I wanted to risk getting dumped for a short stack and a few greasy strips of lukewarm bacon. Previous to this I had had no testicular fortitude in the relationship, and truth be told there were few times I showed testicular fortitude in the many months that followed, but happily I made the right choice that night, despite the silly, stupid, immature fight my decision caused.

At Denny’s I was star-struck. Here we are having a late dinner with one of the founding fathers of rap. I mean, if there was a Mount Rushmore for early hip-hop, Chuck D’s face would definitely be chiseled into the stone. He was probably just about 40 years old at the time, but still cooler than hell. One of those guys that walks like there’s no hurry, and everybody else around him wants to walk equally slow to emanate his laid-back style but ends up looking awkward and silly, especially in comparison. He wore black jeans, black t-shirt, black baseball hat—you know, the essential Chuck D getup—and slid into the booth like… well, like a rap star.

It was his stories that made the night so memorable. While he ordered a slam and the rest of us ordered the exact same slam pretending we were going to order that anyway, he delved into some of rap’s more interesting stories—things we never knew, but would never forget.

Take, for example, Vanilla Ice. Chuck D talked about how badly he wanted to sign the guy when he was blowing up. He asked us, “Now be honest—how many of you guys had a Vanilla Ice tape growing up?” and, embarrassed, none of us raised our hands. He replied, “You know Ice was the first rapper to ever sell a million copies of a record? Everybody bought his album, but nobody seems to have it. Funny how that works, isn’t it?” We laughed and started to admit sheepishly that yes, we did in fact own the Vanilla Ice album. But I hadn’t known that. The first rapper to sell a million copies of an album was a white dude. Just goes to show you who music labels should be (and are) marketing to…

Then there was the story of Eminem. “You know I met Eminem at a concert when he was probably fourteen years old, “Chuck D explained. “He had a demo he wanted to pass on and even tried freestyling, but I’m telling you, that kid was horrible at the time.” At such a young age, Mr. Marshall Mathers hadn’t yet honed his skill. Knew what he wanted to do—even had the flattop haircut and everything—but wasn’t there yet. “If I knew then what I know now,” D continued, “I would’ve signed him anyway, because he really got good. Man, that kid’s amazing. But at the time he just wasn’t ready, so I passed on him.”

And finally, he talked about Will “The Fresh Prince” Smith, who we all assume is this cheeseball cartoon character from what we see of him on TV and in the movies, but apparently he’s sort of a tough guy. Chuck explained, “You will never see a harder dude than Will Smith, man… I’ve seen him get hit with something at a concert, back before he was doing the television show, and jump into the crowd to stomp the dude. And he would. You have no idea how tough that guy could be.” I knew he was muscular, but I also knew he grew up in a middle-class home with both parents, both really intelligent, kind people. His neighborhood wasn’t especially rough, but I guess coming from Philly and all shootin’ some b-ball outside of the school, you’ve gotta be tough one way or another.

At the end of the night we shook the guy’s hand, said what a pleasure it was having gotten to know him, and was really kind and enthusiastic about having had our company all night. It was a great time, and I went home with this feeling of incredulity. I couldn’t believe what had just happened. It was one of the best nights of my college life up to that point.

Until I got home and let Denny’s run its digestive course halfway through an unfriendly phone conversation with an angry girlfriend.

I’d just have to Fight the Power. Word to your mother. Yeaaaaah, Boiiiiiiiiiy.

Wednesday, March 11, 2009

CSI Telemarketer

Tom Mabe is a comic who puts a really interesting twist on prank calls--instead of calling them, he lets them call him. That's right--he screws with telemarketers...

Tuesday, March 10, 2009

DYK - Actors Make Bad Choices

It’s amazing how often actors take the wrong roles in Hollywood. The following list includes a number of these actors who either chose one bad role over a good one, or just passed on something incredible altogether:

Will Smith could have been Neo in “The Matrix” instead of Keanu Reeves. I loved the first movie, but the two sequels were garbage. Not sure if the Fresh Prince could’ve saved them anyway.

Tom Hanks was offered the roles of Ray Kinsella in “Field of Dreams” and Andy Dufresne in “Shawshank Redemption.” Those are two of my favorite all-time movies, so I’m not sure I want to mess with that, but Kevin Costner definitely sucks as an actor. Shawshank I don’t mess with. Ever.

Speaking of Hanks, John Travolta turned down “Forrest Gump.” He would’ve had no problem playing a simple guy.

Sean Connery was originally offered the role of Gandalf in “The Lord of the Rings,” but turned it down because he’d never read the books and said he didn’t understand the script. I guess those celebrity Jeopardy skits on SNL didn’t misrepresent this guy, eh?

Julia Roberts turned down the leg-crossing role from “Basic Instinct” that made Sharon Stone famous. She also could’ve had Gwyneth Paltrow’s role in “Shakespeare in Love.” Roberts, by the way, just doesn’t do it for me. Not attractive. Strange lips not unlike that of a fish.

Molly Ringwald (the red-headed chick from “Breakfast Club” and “Sixteen Candles”) turned down not one but two roles that could’ve made her a star—the hooker from “Pretty Woman,” and Demi Moore’s role in “Ghost.” If you’re going to turn down two big roles like that, you deserve to be un-famous.

Mel Gibson could’ve been “Maximus” in Gladiator and Robin Hood in “Prince of Thieves.” Repeat: Costner sucks and Melly Mel can actually do an English accent. But “Gladiator” won best picture as it is. Gibson can’t touch everything, right?

And last but not least, I turned down DiCaprio’s role in “Titanic,” but didn’t think I could take the pressure of being a sex symbol. I’m regretting it now, of course. We can’t all be winners.

Monday, March 09, 2009

Essay. About. My. Favorite. Teacher.

I had a very strange dream last night involving my sixth grade teacher and basketball coach, Mr. Phelan. He passed away quite a few years ago sometime after I left the private junior high where he taught, but his influence on me as a teacher has never really gone away. In my dream I discovered he was still alive, running a taxicab service in Chicago. He and I (and my wife) had the chance to sit down and I got to thank him for how much he’d done for me over the years. And what he’d done for me over the years was actually quite a lot.

Phelan, a heavy-set history teacher who mostly wore ties and sweater vests with white short-sleeved dress shirts, had a really fun way of handling his classroom. Most interesting to me was his unique style of disciplining students. There was one instance when my friend Blake did something purposefully immature, like use the word “orgasm” instead of the word “organism” in a classroom discussion or something like that. We were eleven years old. It happens.

For punishment, instead of writing a “demerit,” which was the sixth grade equivalent of a death sentence, Mr. P. had this young man write a five-page essay about the importance of choosing his words carefully.

It didn’t end there, though. The next day Blake, ever the smartass, turned in five pieces of paper with one or two words on each sheet: “This. Is my. Five. Page. Essay.”

An amused Mr. Phelan gave an understanding grin and told the young man, “This is really impressive. I’m giving you five points extra credit for creativity.” The kid laughed, incredulous. “But,” Phelan continued, “I’m also giving you a ten page essay about the importance of choosing your words correctly. And I want more than one word per page this time.”

There were multitudes of stupid things we did at that age, and as a high school teacher dealing with young people who are, at the very least, mature-ish, I can’t imagine working with the middle school kids. They’re overly-rambunctious, hormonal, and constantly smell like unwashed hair that just came in from outside. We would do things in his history class like throw erasers at each other, draw crude sketches in our notebooks and giggle about them overtly, and one time a classmate of mine kept sneaking pure red Kool-Ade sugar from a plastic bag into his gullet, the results of which were a crimson-stained mouth and a seriously confused teacher.

Each offense was dealt with relative patience and good humor. Well, I shouldn’t say each offense. Once in a while he would lose it, and he was the type of yeller that barked like a 100-pound dog, little flecks of spittle spraying from his mouth and leaving residual droplets on his bottom lip. Fear of one of these outbursts was enough to keep us in check for the most part. We knew we could have fun in Phelan’s class, but not at the expense of order.

The other thing about Mr. Phelan I found so enjoyable—and this is something I’ve incorporated into my own teaching style—was that he’d share his life with us. Seemingly every story in American history could be explained by comparing it something that happened to Mr. P. as a kid. He grew up on the south side of Chicago and grew up a big White Sox fan (another bonus), so hilarious stories about him and his brother sprinkled our history lessons on a daily basis. Those little urban fables helped us remember what we were studying, and now I do the same thing.

But perhaps my fondest memories of Mr. Phelan are as my basketball coach. Since all of our parents were paying good money for us to attend this private school, none of the sports teams had tryouts. Everyone had a chance to make the team, which meant that my sixth grade basketball experience included me and 20 other kids vying for playing time. To put this into perspective, NBA teams can only have 12 active players in uniform on any given night. We, a ragtag batch of sixth and seventh graders weighing a combined total 700 pounds, had 21 players in uniform on any given night.

Here’s the amazing thing: Phelan vowed to get every player in the game every single time. If you were tiny and horrible at basketball, as I was, you may only see 90 seconds of floor time, but that was cool with me. I had a sinking sensation that in any other situation I’d be in street clothes clapping and cheering, and nobody would be able to tell the difference between me and the water boy.

I scored two points that season. It came off a quick steal at St. George; I swiped an inbounds pass after one of my team’s baskets and immediately launched the ball in the general direction of the rim, more out of sheer terror of dribbling it and having them steal it back than anything else. I had a clear lane for a lay-up, but my fifteen foot jumpshot banked in anyway and I had my moment of glory.

Phelan made sure to make a big deal about it in the locker room after the game, and he got all the other players to clap and pat me on the back. He genuinely looked proud of me, so I was able to feel especially proud of myself.

Every Saturday at 10:00 in the morning he’d host an open gym for all of us kids so we could get better. I loved basketball—I still love basketball—so I was there every week to hoop with kids who were way better than me and usually way older than me. Mr. Phelan, despite not being in particularly good shape, would lace up his New Balance shoes (years before they actually became popular) would hoist up threes in a motion not unlike a trebuchet catapulting a stone into an enemy fortress.

Whenever there was a foul he’d raise his hand and say, “I got ‘im,” even if he wasn’t even in the same zip code as where the foul was committed. It was quirky, but it was a Phelan thing. Truth be told, I’ve assumed that in my own pick-up games of basketball to this day, just to sort of keep the dream alive. My teammates don’t get the joke any more than we did when Mr. P. would do it. I wonder if he picked that up from somebody else, and I’m continuing a streak of calling other people’s fouls dating back to James Naismith and peach baskets. Probably. I’m really traditional like that.

In that dream last night I told the guy thank you for influencing me so much. There are three or four people I sort of base myself off of as a teacher, and he’s one of them. I told him that. I also told him how much he fostered my love for basketball by playing me even though I sucked so badly. I told him about how I’m writing for HOOPSWORLD and covering Bulls games and all that, and he seemed legitimately impressed. Proud in an unwavering, authentic sort of way. It’s not as good as sitting down at a pizza place in real life and having the actual discussion, but I’ll take it.

Is this essay ten pages yet?

Friday, March 06, 2009

Top 5 Funniest Comic Strips

For various reasons this week I was brought up close and personal with two of my favorite comic strips of all time, and I found myself wondering which of the two was genuinely funnier. So, in this first Friday Top Five, I’m going to list the Top Five Funniest Comic Strips in descending order.

5. Cul de Sac – If you’re unfamiliar, it follows the antics of a little girl named Alice Otterloop through her life at home and at school. It’s hilarious stuff. Several genuine laugh-out-loud moments.

4. Get Fuzzy – Satchel and Bucky are awesome. If you’ve ever had a cat and a dog you can appreciate how goofy these two characters are. Sort of a similar team as Stewie and Brian from “Family Guy,” except for the comic is actually, consistently funny.

3. Pearls Before Swine – I’m relatively new to this one, but it’s always just outrageous enough to get me shaking my head and chortling out, “What the hell?” The main characters are Rat, Pig, Zebra, and Goat, but Rat’s the best. He’s sort of the guy you love to hate. One of those characters you just can’t get enough of. Kinda like House.

2. The Far Side – I once heard you had to be a genius to laugh at every single Far Side comic ever made. I don’t know about that, but I do know it’s some of the smartest humor I’ve ever enjoyed. Fantastic stuff.

1. Calvin & Hobbes – Here’s my argument for why this is a better strip than “Far Side”: Individually, Gary Larsen’s comics are better, but when it comes to an ongoing story Bill Wattersen just the upper hand. The inside jokes that build over the course of the strip just make everything that much funnier, and nothing is more hilarious to me than when Calvin builds deranged snow-people. Just the best. I love it…

That’s it. That’s my Top Five Funniest Comic Strips in descending order. What have I left out? Are there any LOL strips I left out?

Thursday, March 05, 2009

Nice to Meet You #5 - Donald Faison

Turk from “Scrubs” is one of those characters you just wish you could really know. Who doesn’t want a Chocolate Bear in their life? Considering the fact that I’ve always said I’d probably cast Zach Braff as Joel Brigham in the movie of my life (though since I’ve gained some weight I’ve been giving strong consideration to Kevin James), meeting Donald Faison was just that much cooler.

I bumped into him at a T-Mobile party during All-Star Weekend in Phoenix a few weeks ago, and it was sort of a haphazard introduction on my behalf. I had seen him mingling with some attractive young ladies and a handful of his guy buddies that were approximately 40% cooler than me on just about every level, and in my head I wondered if there was any possible way I could nonchalantly introduce myself into the conversation and immediately earn his respect. Nothing came to mind.

So, I gave up on that plan and just enjoyed the party. Meeting celebrities can be really fun, but if you force the issue you end up looking like a douchebag, and if Turk and I were ever going to be best friends, I needed him not to see me as a big bag of “d” from the very beginning. So I steered clear, played it cool.

Until I met up with him at the bar. I was getting drink refills for me and a friend, and as I pulled away from the counter with a beverage in each fist, I realized that Mr. Faison was to my immediate left. So, I pinched one plastic cup in between my forearm in stomach so I could shake the guy’s hand. I introduced myself and gave him a good solid handshake while feeling a little something wet and cold hit my chest.

“You’re spilling that all over your shirt,” Faison said in a totally Turk-y way. I checked my sweater and shrugged off the three little droplets of drink stain. We had a good laugh together as I set the drinks back on the counter. We laughed a little, cried a little, he touched my knee... (kidding, obviously).

I did my best to play it cool, but what can you do? He had played in the celebrity game earlier in the evening so I asked a few questions about that. He in turn wanted to know about my work, and the whole conversation lasted about three minutes. When I asked if he’d mind snapping a picture, he was really cool about it. Seemed genuinely flattered that I was a fan. The drink stains were pretty easy to Photoshop out.

Definitely a cool guy, and seems a lot like the characters you’ve seen him play on “Scrubs” and “Clueless.” It was a laid-back atmosphere at an exclusive-ish party, so it’s not like he was getting mobbed every two seconds, making me feel quite a bit less annoying for having taken up his time. I’m not a fanboy or anything, but he’s a favorite TV character of mine. How could I not make his acquaintance?

Wednesday, March 04, 2009

Comedy Barn Chuckles

This is just a good, old-fashioned chuckle clip. Give it about a minute and a half until the real giggles start setting in, but from then on it's pure bliss...

Tuesday, March 03, 2009

DYK - Cave Swap

There's a common misconception that Stone Age humans lived in caves. I think we can thank Gary Larsen for perpetuating this delusion, but we've seen it a thousand times in movies, TV shows, even commercials. The fact of the matter is, cavemen never lived in caves.

Early humans did their living in crude tents and huts, while the caves we have today as relics of early art were only used for ritual ceremonies.

The fact that we think Stone Agers actually did live in caves probably comes from the fact that a lot of these early dwellings were built in the shelter of overhanging cliffs at the entrance of caves. Southern slopes were favored because they provided an ideal amount of sunlight.

Not living in caves--so easy, a caveman could do it.

Monday, March 02, 2009

I'm a Hustla', Baby

For a flash, a fleeting moment at the tender age of 18, I saw the possibility of me having success with ladies. One defining moment put me into such a state of euphoric confidence that I was already laying out my life as a hustla’—the rap term for “he who woos many a woman who, in kind, loveth him greatly, fan him with giant palms, and drop succulent peeled grapes into thine gullet.” It was a relatively innocent experience, punctuated by black leather pants, blonde highlights, and—perhaps most relevantly—cherry red lips, but it was enough to introduce me to what I’d later find out was “college romance,” loosely defined. Ahh, memories…

This all happened about midway through my freshmen year of college, shortly after being cheated upon by my first college girlfriend. My understanding of myself at this age was that several women in the world would make ideal mates, but none of them knew it yet. Other than with my wife, I’ve always been the kind of guy who harbors crushes, holds onto them privately for months until the object of my affections either dates someone else, moves to Turkey, or simply dies. It was always one of the three.

It always felt “too soon” to relay my feelings, and I never wanted to hurt the friendships I had with these girls, so rather than take any sort of risks whatsoever I just kept my mouth shut. As you can imagine this was not an effective girl-grabbing technique.

So when some high school friends and I drove about an hour to visit buddies at a different university, I went into it with extremely low confidence. I’d just been cheated on and most of the freshmen couples had found each other by that point of the year, meaning all the good ones were already wrapped up. There were zero expectations of this party being fruitful. This is why what actually happened ended up being one of the more pleasant surprises of my young love life.

Before the evening’s festivities, my friends and I convened at a La Bamba’s nearby and consumed burritos as big as our heads. Actually, most of us consumed regular-sized burritos but my one friend—we’ll call him “Adam,” mostly because that’s his real name—was at a point in his life where he liked taking on food challenges, so he ordered the biggest burrito they had. This would later prove to be a mistake.

But at this dinner I remember sharing with my friends how nice it was to be back together with the old gang (who, by the way, I haven’t seen in much too long and miss dearly) and how nice it was to be away from my own college, which had become depressing. “Let’s have some fun tonight, guys,” I said. Or something like that. I needed an escape. That’s what this night was all about.

So we head to the apartment hosting the gathering. It’s a nice place—white couches, white walls, sparse art, and a little spiral staircase leading up to a loft. Pop music thrummed through an impressive stereo system, sending rattling bass vibrations through my feet, and the crowd was a diverse smattering of people I had never seen before. I was happy about this.

An hour or two into the evening I pointed out a girl to Adam that I thought was cute—this was the young lady with the black leather pants and blonde highlights I mentioned earlier—and he suggested I go over and talk to her.

Now, “going over and talking” was not something I had ever done in my life at that point. While I consider myself a generally amiable guy in social situations, talking to girls I don’t know but would like to is not my strongest suit. My bottom jaw turns into gelatin and my stomach flares up like I’m in trouble. Seriously, the exact same feeling you get when you’ve done something really wrong and just gotten caught. This is the sort of anxiety women instilled in me as a youth.

But I had had a couple of “sodas” at that point and was feeling the effects of the “caffeine,” so I thought, What the hell? And I approached the lovely young lady to ask her to dance.

I know that sounds ridiculous, like I’d be in pantaloons and tails with a ponytail pulled tight and white powder on my face, but other people were dancing and getting pretty into it. She was standing up against the wall talking to a friend, which was the same thing I had been doing just a short moment before, so I figured I had nothing to lose. I was in a town I almost never visited talking to a girl I’d almost certainly never see again, so the risk was low.

Her answer to my query: “No, thank you.”

Ouch. Usually I would’ve been like, “Okie-dokie!” and hummed nervously back to my spot on the wall, but I was feeling oddly assertive this night, causing me to ask the follow up question, “Why not?”

Her reply: “Because I have a boyfriend, and I don’t feel like dancing.”

I see. Here’s what I do when I don’t think I’ve got any chance with a girl—I befriend her. Better that than nothing, I’ve always told myself (though we all know males and females can’t be platonic friends unless they’re married or one of the two is particularly unattractive. Women think this is possible, which is why they let the friendships happen. Men know better, and remain friends in hopes of someday breaking through into boyfriend mode. Or at least make-out and feel-up mode.)

So we chatted for the rest of the evening. I was utterly charming and looked especially so when Adam regurgitated the entire carcass of that big-as-your-head burrito on our friends’ white couch (he recuperated by lifting his body out of his vomit pose and flipping me a double thumbs up—it was awesome). In our conversation I found out that she and her boyfriend had been having a hard time lately, which was why she went out with her friends that night and specifically chose the leather pants, and I also discovered that she was 21—three years older than me, making me even more proud of myself for having approached her.

On the whole, I felt good about the evening because I had been able to talk to a girl, even if I couldn’t even get her on a dance floor, let alone to anything else a strapping young 18-year-old lad might have had in his agenda book (in my case, it wouldn’t have mattered even if I wanted more to happen—I told you, no game). Eventually this lovely girl gathered her purse and informed me it was time for her to go. So I said goodbye, and that was that.

Or so I thought.

A few minutes later, after I thought the girl was out of my life forever, she tapped me on the shoulder, turned me around, and planted a fat one right on the lips. She just said, “Thank you,” and then walked away, for good this time.

I stood there confused, my insides burbling gelatinous heat like a lava lamp, and just smiled. To this day I’m not sure what I did—maybe she just needed someone to listen to?—but that’s how things ended up that night. Up to that point in my life I had never kissed a stranger, let alone a much older one. My confidence boosted from there, and I spent the rest of that year trying to meet girls back at my own college. Those efforts were met with extremely minimal success, but I was out there trying, dagnabbit, and there’s something to be said in that.

It all started with the girl in the leather pants. I suppose I could’ve taken a road to full time hustla’ at that point, but it just wasn’t in the cards. I’ve always valued love and the perks of relationships more than the idea of the one-night-stand, so I make a crappy hustla’. Somehow, I got the gumption to ask out my wife four-and-a-half years ago, and who’s to say that this experience wasn’t the first domino to fall in letting that happen? My wife should be thanking me for kissing random college women. Yes, I’ll have to have a conversation with her about that…