Monday, December 26, 2005

Don't Get: Guns as Toys

Us WASPs had a big week this week. We celebrated the birth of our savior by giving lots of gifts to each other. We don't have enough electrons here to discuss the commercialism of Christmas (Christmercialism?) so I won't get into that whole scene but it was through this transaction of gift-giving that my five year-old son ended up with his first gun - two guns actually. Yep, five years old and the proud owner of two guns. Along with his remote controlled Jeep Grand Cherokee, some Lego stuff (how rich is THAT guy?) and a nifty telescope, Jack received a dart gun and some other plastic contraption with all kind of sounds and noises and a laser sight! Yes, these guns have orange tips on them so the cops don't think they're real, but it just doesn't taste right for a kid to receive a gun as a toy.

I live in the beautiful state of Michigan where hunting is pretty serious business. Every year on November 15, all kinds of folks head out into the woods to shoot deer. The preparation for this day begins immediately following the last day of the previous year's season and involves lots of camo, pick-up trucks and guns. I have no problem at all with this activity but, in case you hadn't guessed by now, I'm more into blogs than guns. I'm not into it but, if you are, by all means enjoy your time sitting in the woods. As a matter of fact, I'll be glad to eat some of the venison that you bring into work or family gatherings.

I have plenty of friends and family who participate in the whole November 15 ritual. I've shared my feelings about guns with a few of them and they assure me that they teach their kids to treat guns with the utmost respect. Always assume the gun is loaded, they say. You're darned right, you better be afraid/respectful of a gun! Gun as hunting implement, I get.

And as much as I know that I would totally curl up in the fetal position if I was ever sent off to fight in a war someplace, I also get the idea of gun as diplomat. My brother-in-law did more than his share of time in Iraq and I really respect him for doing his thing over there. I haven't quizzed him too much about what went on but I don't think he was in the fetal position. It's hard to spread democracy with your head between your knees. Crap goes on in the world that requires the diplomacy that only an M-16 can bring and I'm cool with OTHER people taking care of business. I think that George has a hard time admitting he was wrong or even adjusting the game plan but now that we're messing around over there, I'm behind the guys 100%. George didn't get my vote in either election, but whatever...

But hunting and war are different than toys under the Christmas tree. Jack now jumps out from behind the recliner and shoots. He crawls on his 5 year-old stomach under the kitchen table and shoots. He sneaks up on stuff and shoots it. I guess my concern is that if would ever somehow get a real gun in his hands, he wouldn't be able to separate the pretend shooting from the real thing. Believe me, he gets an earful from me if he points the gun at a person and I'm happy to say that he's learned that lesson mighty quick! Suffice to say that Jack isn't copying this behavior from me and believe it or not, I'm not dumb enough to think that I can shelter him from all this stuff. For that matter, I didn't just throw the guns in the garbage either. I think the jury is still out on whether completely hiding guns from a kid is better than having them around the house, so I guess the best thing I can do is to not promote it but also not treat guns like they're completely forbidden. This is really testing my parenting skills!

Don't worry, this is NOT the place where I get on my soapbox and prattle on about violence on TV or XBox games and try to blame society for somehow teaching my kid how to "cover" his buddy. All of that is true, but this isn't the place where I will be doing that. (How is it that so many of us aren't active gun users but we "know" so much about guns?) I'm not necessarily a big fan of Michael Moore, but I AM necessarily not a big fan of Charlton Heston.

So you see, I don't really have a problem with guns, per se. I have a problem with a gun as a toy. It just doesn't make sense! In what way is a gun a toy? Toy = Legos. Toy = Skateboard. Toy = Train Set. Toy does not = Gun. How is shooting a gun something that I would want my little kid to think is fun? Guns are very powerful and demand the respect that my hunter friends say they have. Legos only hurt when you step on them.

Monday, December 19, 2005

Hate: Bad Service

Perhaps you've been able to tell by now, but I'm an impatient sort. I don't want you in my way at the grocery store and it bugs me when my wife digs around in her purse/steamer trunk for the car keys. I don't have enough time in the day to do all the things that I want, so waiting for other people isn't something that I enjoy. I've become especially impatient and intolerant of bad service because, in the end, it means that you are just sucking more time right out of my watch and that just takes away from being able to do the important stuff in my life like, you know, sitting around.

This topic was prompted by a trip to the mall with my lovely bride last weekend. I know what you are thinking. Yes, I went to the mall a week before Christmas. Yes, I should have been more patient and tolerant in light of the whole Jesus thing. Yes, I should have known that everyone in the entire world would be at the very same mall bothering me. Anyway, I experienced some pretty crappy service and I just had to share my feelings with you . Can't a brother just expect the lackies earning their $6.50 per hour (plus a 10% discount from the store!) to do their jobs?!

We were looking for a gift for her dad. Some kind of goofy things that you strap on your shoes to prevent you from slipping while you walk. We could debate whether this gift was going to be any good or not (Amy has the very same thing and has yet to use them but she wants to get a pair for her dad?) but that would take time away from talking about the Employee of the Month at Dick's Sporting Goods.

So we're kind of wandering around looking for these things. We have that look about us that just screams "I hate everyone here and if you could just point me in the right direction, I'll be happy to spend my greenbacks on your overpriced crap so I can then stand in line with the rest of the sheep". Finally, I make eye contact with Skippy and ask him if they carry these stupid things. I knew I was in trouble when he kind of scrunched up his face like he had bitten into a bug and repeated what I asked him. I could hear the little gears turning in his little melon and then grind to a halt as if someone had poured a bucket of sand in there. With great confidence, he announced that, despite the enormous catalog of inventory that Dick's carries, they do not have such an item. While unfortunate that I would have to traipse off to another store, it was even more unfortunate that I saw an entire rack of these goofy things not 50 feet from where Junior had just told me that they weren't! (If that didn't make sense, it means that Dick's really does carry these things and the high school punk had no clue but lulled me into a false sense of security by speaking "confidently".) So off I went to buy the boot traction things and Sporto no doubt went off spreading more bad information. I know that I shouldn't expect much from a chump making $6.50 an hour but come on! If that's what you signed up for, at least do your friggin' job! Maybe Dick's is a little overwhelming for him. Perhaps a place like Hot Topic would be more his speed where the junior high girls aren't as demanding as impatient bastards like me .

Here's another example - and much shorter! I was at Starbuck's (imagine that!) in Meijer's the other day. As we all know, my VentiNonfatNoWhipMocha costs $3.76. Because I didn't want to get a whole bunch of change back, I gave the chick a fiver and a penny. The problem was that I gave her the penny AFTER she had already rung up my mocha goodness. Good God, you'd think I asked her to perform some sort of calculus right on the spot! See, normally her nifty little cash register would have told her to give me $1.24 but now I had given her the extra penny and she froze up like she had stepped on a rusty nail when she was a little kid and the lockjaw had just now set in. She kind of made that bug-biting face and let me know that she "isn't very good in math" and looked pleadingly at me to take back my penny. Standing my ground, I gave her the penny and let her know that the change should be a buck and a quarter. "Not very good at math", she said. She should have said "I'm pretty stupid and I can't think for myself so please don't mess me up by giving me money after the cash register tells me what to do." Again, this transaction took valuable seconds away from watching another video of a guy getting hit in the nuts by the fat kid on his little league team and who wants to miss that?

OK, last example. Most of my monthly bills are automatically deducted from my vast fortune every month insteading of mailing them in. One of those bills is from the evil cable company. Don't get me started on these guys but one month they screwed up and didn't get their grubby mitts on my money. So what do you think they did? They took twice the usual amount the next month. So I got on the horn to the idiots at Charter Communications and asked them what the deal was. It seems that they had a software upgrade that went awry and they weren't able to take their money in the first month so they just helped themselves to my loot in the second month. Huh? What? Does that seem fair to you? You snooze, you lose, man! Let me just say here that you don't want to screw me in the money department. I don't have that much in the first place so I get pretty protective of it. I proceeded to chew on the ear of the Charter person until I thought I was going to have a grabber - all for about $100 that they were entitled to in the first place. Yes, I fully acknowledge that it was no big deal for them to delay their debit a month and the mortgage company wasn't going to change the locks on my house, but that's not the point. The point is that all this crap is done electronically and there is no reason why my little life should be affected by your electrons going haywire. If you have a software "upgrade" (now they can play solitaire and minesweeper online!) have a backup plan, you dolts! People do this stuff all the time. That's what IT nerds are for.

For those of you who think I'm just a whining pain in the ass, allow myself to explain.... myself. This country is becoming more and more service orientated (love that "word" almost as much as irregardless!) and yet I get crappy service! What's up with that? I work in the automotive industry so I see plenty of manufacturing jobs moving to our amigos in Mexico and our (whatever the Chinese word is for "friends") in China. This is done usually because the labor is cheaper and, if those folks can make the same widget with the same quality, then more power to the capitalists who want to reduce their costs. If the punk at Dick's was smart (of course, by definition, he isn't) he would strive to be the best darn flunkie he could be or we might ship his service sector job over to India like Microsoft has done.

Please stop before you try to explain global economics to me. I don't care about the globe. I'm mostly interested in me. Please improve your math skills. Please improve your knowledge of the company for which you work. Please program your software so that it does what it's supposed to do. And, for the love of Pete, quit sucking the time out of my watch!

Thursday, December 08, 2005

Dig: America's Funniest Videos

What a concept: Put out the word out to the American public that you want to make an entire TV show out of their home videos. Genius! Everybody wants their 15 minutes of fame, right? Even better if I'm the producer of my own little film! After collecting countless hours of video from countless family gatherings, and stupid pet/human tricks, I'd be glad to send it straight to your living room so you can share in my glee! I'm sure you'll enjoy movies of my grandma's bridge tournament as much as I do!

So what does it take to produce such a great addition to American culture? As it turns out, not a whole lot. Get a B-List (C-List?) host, a set with lots of "video" related items (monitors, "film" on the wall, old TV sets), an audience of 100 nice folks visiting Hollywood on their summer vacation and a check for $10k and you're good to go. When Friends was on the air, each cast member was getting like a zillion dollars per episode or something like that and there were multiple sets, so each episode cost a good chunk of money to put together. How much can AFV cost? Including the $10,000 for the winner, the budget has to be about $10,005.78 per episode. And most of that comes from the extra garbage cans they had to buy to throw away those big old bulky VHS tapes! The version of the show with Daisy Fuentes might cost slightly more for her outfits but I would argue that getting Daisy into a slinky little number to introduce the next video of Uncle Bob splitting his pants while bowling is worth it.

So while we're comparing this stroke of genius to Friends, I gotta tell you that I laugh out loud a lot more at a little kid hitting his mom in the head with a stick when he misses the birthday pinata than when Joey makes yet another inane comment about his next audition. I've heard actors and writers say that a comedy is much harder to produce than a drama. And certainly, a lot of it depends on the delivery. If you tried to write a script for the little kid to hit the candy-filled donkey twice and on the third time whack his mom in the head, it just wouldn't work. But when Junior is swinging for the fences (or the Jolly Ranchers) and clocks mom in her melon, you can't fake the humor when mom drops like a ton of bricks and Skippy goes back to the pinata for the candy. You just can't write comedy like that! The only thing that Friends has over AFV is the babes - unless the now-unconscious mom happens to be a hottie but that's rarely the case.

Sorry to throw another list at you, but allow me to expand a little on some of my fave types of videos that are presented on the show:

Guy Getting Hit in the Nuts: You can't go wrong with this one, folks! And there are so many variations. You got your basic "dad teaching kid how to hit a baseball and the kid hits one back to dad right in the nuts", the ever-popular "dad wresting kid on the living room floor and kid kicks dad in the nuts" and of course, the "golf/billiards/softball game with ball somehow hitting guy in nuts". The reaction is always the same, though: guy drops everything that he is doing, grabs his nuts and drops to the ground. Every guy in the audience winces and does a sympathy nut-grab but they're all laughing because it ain't them that feels like their stomach is bing pulled out sideways. Now that's rich! If there was an All Guy-Getting-Hit-In-The-Nuts channel, I'd pay $9.95 a month for it! AFV is good at stringing together about 20 of these videos together and setting it to music, often Yakkity-Sax (you know, the theme to Benny Hill). Funny saxophone music and crotch shots? That's pure gold!

Cool Sporting Feats: These have quite a range to them. Anything from buzzer-beating half-court shot to a multiple-lateral kickoff return for a touchdown (a la Cal vs. Stanford) to a dragster bursting into flames as it races down the track. Those things are just sweet and the reason I dig them is because they don't happen all the time. Yet, for some reason, somebody had their nifty little Sony out and captured the whole thing on video for me to enjoy in the comfort of my living room. Ever see the clip of the homerun ball that hits a dude right on his head as he is riding by on his bike? What's up with that?! That's your basic bad luck, people - thanks for sharing!. How about all those nut-jobs doing crazy stunts on their motorcycles a million feet up in the air? That's messed up - yet so cool! Lastly, two more words for you: Joe Theisman. How many times have you seen that nasty clip of his leg getting bent the wrong way? It's so nasty and yet if it were to come on in the middle of whatever TV show you are glued to, you know damn well you'd watch it. Joe would totally have won the ten grand on AFV if he had submitted the tape.

Wedding Videos: I'm not talking about the videos where everything goes right. I'm talking about the ones where the groom passes out at the altar. Or the ones where the mother of the bride leans over to light a candle and her hair catches on fire. And who can resist the bridesmaid who gets all boozed up and gets all out of control on the dance floor and ends up wiping out with her light blue prom/bridesmaid dress over her head! This is quality entertainment at its finest! Sorry that you spent a million dollars at your wedding and the only thing that people remember from it is the divorcee' throwing elbows to catch the bouquet! Even better, it's all on video! On a recent episode of AFV, the bride forgot that she was wearing a microphone and leaned over to the poor sap who was marrying her and announced that she wasn't wearing underwear. Underwear itself is funny. Letting the world know on your wedding day that you're going commando is a riot!

Wipe-Outs of One Type or Another: Guy makes birthday cake. Guy lights all 68 candles on cake. Guy steps on cat. Guy falls face first into cake catching hair on fire. Kid puts out fire with with pitcher of Kool-Aid. How is that NOT funny! Give that man $10,000!

OK, so maybe it ain't Shakespeare. It probably ain't even Aaron Spelling (of Melrose Place fame). And I certainly won't comment on the hosts (except to further stress the hotness of Daisy Fuentes). But you want to make me laugh? Forget about Chandler Bing. Give me a fat guy (fat guys are always funny) doing bellyflops in his above-ground pool causing the sides to collapse flooding his kid's birthday party! Now THAT'S funny!