Archive for December, 2009

Remembering Loved Ones

Posted in Grinds My Gears with tags on December 30, 2009 by Verge

I think most are stupid and cliche’ and stuck-on crooked and are often outdated political campaign slogans, but in the end, you can put on you bumper whatever kind of sticker you like.  I think if you want to support autism research, you shouldn’t have spent 2 bucks on a stupid magnet but instead make a donation to the charity.  Yes, I’m aware that some of the money goes to the charity, but very little of it.  I’ll admit “fuckin’ gonuts” in the fashion of Dunkin Donuts is kind of clever, but a Grateful Dead sticker is plain moronic.

In fact, it seems to me putting any words on the back of your vehicle is kind of dumb to begin with.  Yes, I do indeed have a single sticker on the back of each of my vehicles.  One is the very simple Sirius Radio dog, and the other is a Masonic square and compasses insignia.  I put these on so I can identify my car in a parking lot a little easier, and I don’t mind a bit of personalization.

However, one kind of bumper sticker really pisses me off.  It’s not on the bumper, but usually on the back or side windows.  It usually goes something like this:

“In loving memory of ‘Pop-Pop’, may he rest in peace, 1942-2006” or “In loving memory of Trish Cambell, beloved daughter, 1987-2002”

Having people read an eulogy on the side of your mini-van is tacky at best, and down-right disrespectful at worst.  First of all, the car is not in memory of anything except the fact that you realized walking to work or soccer practice everyday would be a bitch of a time.  Second, it shows just how god damned cheap you are that you opted for a 100 detail job at the local custom shop instead of a nice, traditional $1500 granite headstone.

Don’t get me wrong, I’m not one for cemeteries either.  I myself will be donated to science and hopefully my organs will go to someone who needs them.  But if I find out someone memorialized me on the side of their Honda Civic (with spinners and the word CIVIC sprawled across the windshield, no less), man will I be pissed.  Wake up people…everyone loses loved ones.  You’re not special just cause your daughter was killed by a drunk driver when she was only 15, you’re just damn unfortunate.  Don’t wear your heart on your sleeve every time you swing out to the store.  And I’ve got news for you…writing it in a fancy script font doesn’t make it more reverential, it makes it harder to read!

And another thing…stop leaving garbage on the side of the road pretending someone cares where your loved one died.  You don’t put flowers in the side of sharp bend in the road, you put them on a gravestone.  The only people who are entitled to have memorials at the exact spot that they died are martyrs and assassinated presidents.  That means your nephew, sister, or any other family member DOES NOT COUNT!

I understand the grieving process and I am sympathetic.  You can leave your flowers and candles and tacky pictures of Jesus on the side of the road…for one month.  Then, come back, clean up your mess, and get a respectable memorial somewhere else.  I cannot stand having to see a heap of rotten flowers on the side of the road week after week after week.  You should be fined for littering, and be ashamed of yourself for being cheapening the life of whomever you lost.  You’re only doing it so when other people that you know drive by, they think of you as a sentimental person for 20 seconds.

Don’t fool yourselves.  Remembering loved ones you’ve lost is something very private, and very special, and is something that should be cherished and shared with the loved ones you still have.  Publicly broadcasting your mourning cheapens the sentiment and shows your shallowness.  Find another, more meaningful way to express your emotional loss.  Donate time or money to a charity that will help others not have to go through what you went though.  Spend time with friends and family that can understand the gravity of your loss and help you cope.  Try to remember the positive memories you still have with that person.

Just… keep it to yourself.


Air Travel Safety

Posted in Grinds My Gears on December 28, 2009 by Verge

I just got back from Philadelphia International to pick up Sam from Ohio, and it reminded me of the pitiful excuse for convenience that the airline industry has become.  Oh, and maybe the fact that some POS almost killed 300 people this past weekend, even after his father told the US embassy in Nigeria that his son was crazy and was planning on killing some people very soon.  Awesome security.

This is the problem I have, and I’m pretty sure most people will agree.  First of all, I always travel with my laptop.  In fact, most people who own a laptop these days travel with it.  Every time I go through security, at every airport within the US (but rarely out of the country), I’m forced to boot the damn thing up and show them it’s a working laptop..  Now excuse me if I’m underestimating our security intelligence, but I’m pretty sure that if a terrorist knows how to build a bomb inside of a laptop, they sure as hell know how to ALSO conceal it within a laptop that can boot windows once or twice to pass security.

And another thing.  I wouldn’t mind so much if they told me about the three laptops a month that the TSA manages to screen that actually do contain laptop bombs.  To date, I’ve heard of no such story.  I’m not saying I’d like to hear them because I really do hope that people are not trying to do such things.  But, if smuggling bombs in laptops is such a high concern, you’d really think that by now we would’ve heard about it by now instead of bombs being smuggled in …shoes?…really?…that’s how high tech they’ve managed to get?

Your also not allowed to bring in more that 2 ounces of liquids in your carry-on luggage.  First of all, I know nothing about explosives, so perhaps I’m ignorant, but what difference does it make whether your tube of toothpaste holds 2 or 3 or 6 ounces of toothpaste.  If you can blow up a plane with four ounces of mouthwash, we’re all completely screwed anyway.  And, this rule only applies to your carry-on luggage??  So, let me get this straight…you can’t bring too much shampoo and conditioner into the cabin of the plane, but pack a 60 pound bag full of C4 and you’re golden?

Okay, I know it’s not exactly that bad, but it is pretty ridiculous.  The last time I traveled internationally, I was coming home from Mexico.  At the airport, they managed to to lure us in with scotch and perfume.  Duty free is hard to resist.  Now, in Mexico, to secure your duty-free packages, they seal them in a bag with zip ties.  In Philadelphia, they don’t even let you carry the stuff onto the plane.  The store personally delivers the goods to your plane.

In any case, when you land, like we did, at a connecting flight, you’ve got to check those items.  Somehow, security assumes that, after boarding a flight with completely double-sealed, never-before-opened liquid goods, I somehow miraculously replace scotch with explosives ON THE PLANE MID-FLIGHT.

After all that, some moron manages to sew explosives into his pants and light himself on fire on a plane.  They confiscated my tweezers in Mexico, but you can walk on board in Europe with explosives?  I really hope that the current administration overhauls the security procedures that currently inconvenience obviously benign risks and instead focus attention on meaningless threats.  I have to boot my laptop, but when the US Embassy is told of a potential threat, they think it’s not credible enough to at least look into?  It’s certainly time that our assessment of security in this country needs a good injection of good old common sense.  That’s always the safest bet.

Beginnings and Endings

Posted in Good Times, Reflections with tags on December 23, 2009 by Verge

The snow this past weekend was surreal.  Okay, maybe it was the alcohol, too, but nothing changes the character of moments quite like a blizzard.  Everything is so quiet, and peaceful, even though there is impending doom.  It reminds me of the clips online just before the Christmas 2004 tsunami, when tourists ran out into the sudden low tide on the beaches of Indonesia, not realizing it was the lion’s den.

Monika and I spent the weekend, shut in, with very close friends.  We went to karaoke in Philly on Friday night, and when we left, the snow had just begun to fall.  By Saturday morning, we were practically snowed in at our friends’ apartment, and fled with them to our place.  We had been taking care of my best friend’s house while he was away in Florida visiting his family, and his pets needed our attention.

I had tried to stem the surge of snow with my snowblower, and took care of everyone I was able to on my block.  This repeated until Sunday morning.  I’m still sore from all the shoveling I did, mostly because a lot of my neighbors are single parents.  I’ve lived here for four years and I can’t tell you much more that a handful of my neighbor’s names, but in the face of emergency, names and formalities don’t really matter.  Without asking for anything, my good deeds were rewarded with a case of my favorite beer, Hop Devil, and five loaves of whole wheat bread.

It was an emergency here for several reasons.  In Atco, we got 25″ of snow.  My gazebo collapsed under the weight.  I pushed multiple cars out of their stranded abandon.  When I tried to reach the local supermarket, I was blocked by a fire truck that had run off the road and blocked the entire street.  But, we didn’t lose power, or gas, and though I saw a few wrecks, I didn’t see anyone hurt, or slip on ice, or worse.  I will say that there are more than a few gutters in my neighborhood that need to be replaced, but that ain’t bad for what we were up against.

What is really amazing about something like this is that people come together.  I met people that I’ve never seen before on my block, and we had brotherly bonds for one brief moment, because, in the end, we were equally screwed by Mother Nature.  That just feels right to me.  And, we spent a great deal of time with two friends that really needed a weekend like we had.

One is wrestling with the end of something great in her life, and it’s not going to be easy.  It’s hard to accept that all things come to pass, or change, or evolve for better or worse.  Life is fluid, and closure only comes when we embark upon new horizons.

The other can barely contain herself and is looking to begin a new life, in a new place, with someone she never expected to be with.  That is amazing, and it forces us, ourselves, to swallow the sometimes bitter pill that all things come to an end of sorts.  We hope that it truly means the start of a new relationship that stretches not only far distances, but even further and deeper love.

And in the end, beginnings and endings are not so different after all.  Sometimes the only difference if a change of perspective.  Maybe it comes from someone you know, with encouraging words, or helpful insight.  Sometimes it comes from a simple epiphany when a stranger talks to you on the street one random day.  And sometimes it takes a blizzard of situations, that make us realize we’re all in this together, and we’re better off if we all stick together, in whatever ways we can.

My Top 15 Concerts of the Past Decade

Posted in Good Times, Reflections with tags , on December 22, 2009 by Verge

A top (fill in here) of the (fill in here).  What a great stop-gap solution for a blog that hasn’t a topic tonight.

Well, in agreement with a conversation I had earlier this week, while it is terribly difficult to rank your favorite moments of an entire decade, simply listing an un-ranked version is a cop-out.  So, I will try, as impossible as it is to rank memories. I want to also stress that I choose, and rank, these concerts not on the quality of the show alone, but have taken into account, heavily, their sentimental value to me personally.  That doesn’t mean that “at this show was the first time I kissed so-and-so” will rank highly, but it certainly does account for the fact that there are exactly 3 Radiohead shows on my list.  I like ’em, I won’t deny they have an unfair advantage, and my list doesn’t pretend to be unbiased–on the contrary, my list is heavily biased.

Before we get started, here’s some brief stats:

77 Total concerts attended in the last decade

13 Radiohead shows attended

7 Shows containing at least one member of the Grateful Dead

4 Smashing Pumpkins, Roger Waters and Mojave 3/Neil Halstead Shows attended

3 Spiritualized, Beth Orton, Bob Dylan, Ozric tentacles, and Ravi Shankar shows attended

13 Shows at E-Center/Tweeter Center/Susquehanna Bank Arts Center

9 Shows at The Electric Factory and The Theatre of Living Arts

5 Shows at The Tower Theater

4 Number of different girlfriends I’ve had over the same time period.  I married the last one.

# 15  Saturday, June 21, 2003     Peter Gabriel     Tweeter Center     Camden, New Jersey (Not the first time I ever saw Peter Gabriel, but he always puts on a damn fine show, and seeing him perform some of the Ovo songs live was pretty amazing)

# 14  Saturday, April 08, 2006     Death Cab For Cutie     Tweeter Center     Camden, New Jersey (Great seats for this one.  Franz Ferdinand opened up.)

# 13  Friday, June 02, 2006     Radiohead     Tower Theater     Upper Darby, Pennsylvania (Tons of new material in such a small venue.  Tickets were damn near impossible to get)

# 12  Thursday, March 19, 2009     The Ting Tings     The Starlight Ballroom     Philadelphia, Pennsylvania (Small venue to see a band I still believe is going to blow up.  We sat maybe 20 feet from them as they performed.  This show was originally supposed to be at the First Unitarian Church, which would have been great, but the Starlight has 2 dollar Pabst shooters, and you can’t go wrong with that.  Was amazing to see how the two of them alone can pull their music  live.)

# 11  Friday, September 25, 2009     MuteMath     Theater of Living Arts     Philadelphia, Pennsylvania (First and only time I’ve seen these guys.  They pulled off some pretty neat tricks themselves, and the sound was spot on.  I love seeing shows at the TLA and always have, but the new and improved TLA is an absolute pleasure.)

# 10  Thursday, April 15, 2004     Damien Rice     Tower Theater     Upper Darby, Pennsylvania (Didn’t think this was going to be one of the besgt shows I’d even seen.  Perhaps it was my low expectations or the 2nd row seats–Damien Rice absolutely rocked, which took me by complete surprise.)

# 9  Friday, August 10, 2007     Muse     Festival Pier at Penn’s Landing     Philadelphia, Pennsylvania (Outdoor shows are a bitch for sound.  The week before this show it was dreadfully hot, but all of the sudden, the heat broke and it was cool down by the water.  Cold War Kids opened up, but Muse blew them away.  These guys are amazing.)

# 8  Sunday, August 13, 2000     Summersault 2000     Rideau Carleton Raceway     Ottawa, Canada (I saw two of these shows up in Canada.  The lineup was amazing:  Smashing Pumpkins, Catherine Wheel, who I met, A Perfect Circle, Foo Fighters.  Beautiful Canadian summer festival weather.)

# 7  Sunday, August 05, 2001     Radiohead     Parc Jean Drapeau     Montreal, Canada (Technically not the most amazing Radiohead show ever, but that damn little island, with Montreal as the background, and the hill to relax on..this venue is hard to beat.   If you ever have a chance to see a show here, do it.)

# 6  Monday, June 07, 2004     Les Paul and his Trio     Iridium Night Club     Manhattan, New York City (Seeing Les Paul at all was amazing, but this was his 89th birthday and he definitely was having a celebration.  Afterward, I helped him to his seat to sign autographs, and I now have a Les Paul pick guard that says “To Ryan, keep rockin.”  Perhaps someday I’ll have the guitar to put it on.)

# 5  March 25th, 2009     Neil Halstead     Talking Heads Club     Baltimore, Maryland (This is perhaps the smallest venue I’ve ever seen a concert in.  It wasn’t at the club so much as it was in the basement of the club.  I love Neil Halstead and I really don’t understand why he would fly from England to play a show to 30 people if not for the love of music.  We got him to sign a bunch of Slowdive stuff for us, which he thought was pretty funny.)

# 4  Monday, October 30, 2006     Massive Attack     Tower Theater     Upper Darby, Pennsylvania (These guys, like Portishead, were a band I just figured I was never going to get to see live.)

# 3  Tuesday, June 20, 2000      Ravi Shankar with Anoushka Shankar     Barbican Theater     London, England (I had been in London for three weeks and I really wanted to catch the Ravi Shankar show.  I had checked for tickets and the ones that I could afford were the second balcony at hall which is an opera hall.  Didn’t want to be that far away.  That morning I called and got a pair in the second row!!  Second row to this show was hundreds of dollars, but they let them go for the balcony price as last minute tickets.  It was amazing.  My clothes made it so obvious that I didn’t belong that close to the stage!)

# 2  Saturday, October 08, 2005     Dead Can Dance     Radio City Music Hall     Manhattan, New York City (I saw these guys once before, and then they split up.  Ten years later, they reformed only for this series of concerts and I was thrilled to get to see them again.  And I finally got to see a show at Radio City.)

# 1  Friday, October 10, 2003     Radiohead     Madison Square Garden    Manhattan, New York City (This is a fairly odd choice as it’s the only show I saw alone.  No one wanted to go to NYC with me to see them, again.  I’ve seen them 14 times now, and this is they only time I’ve ever seen them play Creep.  The crowd was so into it, you could barely hear Thom.)

There were a ton of other, very memorable shows in there.  But, then again, the original name of this post was supposed to be Top 10 Concerts…it’s just too damned hard to choose.

If you went to any of these with me, leave me a comment and tell me how the show ranks on your lists.

More Scams and Ripoffs

Posted in Grinds My Gears, Reflections on December 15, 2009 by Verge

This one is kind of tricky in that this scam really seems like it’s okay.

Back in college I worked for for a “non-profit” organization called NJPIRG.  There’s a so-called PIRG in almost every state, and some are part of a national organization, and some are only state wide.  They bill themselves as “public interest research groups,” and claim to be grassroots organizations to be a public watchdog for the best interests of the common citizens.

And, in fact, they have a pretty good PR face, and manage to make it into the news pretty often.  Most times, they manage to find a product that’s dangerous, or a stream that’s polluted, or a business that rips customers off.  When they actually do find a golden egg, they don’t hesitate to contact the local media ready to claim that they are the heroes of the innocent public, ever defending the regular good-guy, and helping to destroy the evil corporations, polluters, and exploiters.

That’s very cute and all, but let me school you.  I truly am sorry if you’ve supported these groups in the past.  I don’t mean to demean your good intentions, or make you the fool.  In the end, these organization do indeed accomplish a marginal amount of good, but they are not the all-benevolent organizations they make themselves out to be.  While occasionally they actually do accomplish something that is indeed good for the public, most of the time, these are PR stunts to legitimize their full time bullshit ring.

So, this is how this one works.  Pick a hot topic.  Let’s say, global warming.  That sounds good.  People are a little sensitive to that subject right now, right?  Okay, in a PIRGs eyes, that’s opportunity.  People want to do good, and if we can convince them that they are helping the environment by giving us a few bucks in the name of progress instead of actually helping the environment, then we’re in business.

This is where door-to-door canvassing comes in.  Canvassing is the bullshitter’s name for door-to-door harassment in the form of first, begging, then arguing, then guilting, then demanding money from you.  The skill of canvassing is like the 101 class for Con Men.  Unfortunately for me, my ongoing degree in Philosophy at the time (read: the art or argument) made me all too apt at this lowly act.

So, to make it short and sweet, this is how this works.  PIRGs print up some facts about actual global warning.  They hire college kids, or hippies, or some combination of the two, and give them said flyers.  They then grab quick, legal permits to canvass in a certain town under the guise of public awareness.  A couple of idealistic kids knock on the doors of unsuspecting housewives who are told about the problems of global warming.  But, the problem can be helped, if only enough people know how to fight it by buying the correct light bulbs, installing programmable thermostats, and carpooling, to start.

Now, if enough people in the state are “properly informed” by having college kids give them fliers, then all humanity may just be saved in the nick of time.  But who will pay for all the fliers, the gas, and the time of the “informers?”  You guessed it:  the unsuspecting housewife.  But, the scam is this.  The more money canvassers collect, the more money they personally earn, and the bigger bonuses their bosses earn (the ones that actually graduated to printing the fliers instead of begging for money).

Now, do a lot of people actually get fliers telling them about global warming?  Yes.  But if anyone actually cared about global warming, they are already well aware of how to help the cause.  And everyone else is just being hassled.  Hassled to the point that most of the time it’s easier to give some college kid 10 bucks than to argue with some idealistic asshole with a stack of fliers.

The money that is donated pays people to go to another neighborhood, another day, and harass those people.  That money doesn’t clean up waterways, or install solar panels on the roof of the local library, or find corrupt politicians, or test toys for lead content.  It pays hard-up college kids to learn how to annoy homeowners to the point of giving up their money.

Like I said, once in a while, they actually do stumble upon something that actually does help the “public interest,” but I assure you, that is not their goal.  Fliers don’t clean up the environment or clean up waterways!  In fact, driving all over the state to distribute what will essentially be trash in a landfill, with toxic ink to boot, is quite the opposite of helping the cause of greening our planet.

As I said in my last post, for the most part, with very few exception, donating money is a scam.  Most organizations become so full of bureaucracy that they cannot possibly fulfill the goals that they once hoped to fulfill.  Donating clothes to Goodwill is direct.  Giving a sandwich to a homeless person on your way home from work one day is direct.  Spilling a pint of blood for a kid with leukemia is direct.  Volunteering for a local soup kitchen is direct.  Our friend Danielle even suggested helping out no-kill animal shelters for the Holidays (I suggest calling them and asking what they need most).  Dropping a check in the mail just because some crap organization says that 100% of donations go to a good cause IS NOT DIRECT.

There’s a lot of email chains that go around this time of year.  They ask that you send a gift to an orphan, or send a card to a serviceman, or forward an email to every0ne you know for a free donations to some fly-by-night organization.  These emails are fairly obviously scams.  I just wanted to point out that they’re not always so easily spotted.  Some of these organizations have been around a long time, and their occasional good deeds gives them some staying power.

In the end, time, more than money, is what people in need really, really can use.  Time to give blood, or serve soup, or clean out your closet.  Time to visit the sick in hospitals, or give some stray, unwanted dogs some exercise, or time to spread the sentiment that I’m trying to convey rather that hitting the forward button on some bullshit email.  I’ve done most of these things, at one time or another, and I assure you, the former is far more rewarding than the latter.

PS, I’m not saying we do more than everyone else, because that is FAR from the truth, but what I’m saying is that, if we all do just a little, then that will make a big difference.

Christmas Trees

Posted in Reflections with tags , on December 11, 2009 by Verge

When I finally lived on my own, years ago, I inherited all the furniture, dishes and silverware, and knick knacks from my family.  Sure, my parents bought things they couldn’t kick down, but most of it, destined to be abused by a college-age kid anyway, was second hand items from my parents younger days, or the college wares of my older brother and sister.

I still have most of those things.  In fact, our current house is a pretty stylistically disastrous mish mash of furniture and decorations from vastly different genres and eras.

When I was finally out on my own, I got to start making decisions for myself.   When it came to food, I started to realize I really didn’t like supporting the meat industry.  And when it came to Religion, I started to realize that I didn’t really like supporting the Catholic Church.  I didn’t give up on faith, but organized religion rubbed me the wrong way.

But, I’m certainly completely guilty of celebrating the season of Christmas.  I love it because it has so many great memories and moments I will never forget.  So, I still decorate and set up a Christmas Tree because that is what my family has always done.  Back when I was in college, my older brother had moved into his first place, and upgraded his tree.  I inherited his little 6 foot artificial tree.  I’ve been decorating that tree with the ornaments my parents had bought me every year since my first Christmas.

I did a pretty good job making that little abomination look good.  And, it’s always the thought that counts.  Now that Monika and I have our own place, I finally decided that we should upgrade to a better tree, especially since we have way more room and ceiling clearance in our house.  Now, when I was young, my parent always had a real tree, not the perfectly manured, straight-out-of-Macy’s tree they have now (which, no doubt, is beautiful and picture perfect).

Real trees are not as easy as the fake ones.  You have to water them.  You have to pick up damn needles for four weeks.  You’ve gotta throw it away at the proper time so that they actually pick it up.  And, you have to make sure the damn things doesn’t catch on fire and burn your house down.  When it came to buying a new tree for our new home, there was no decision to be made–we HAD to get a real tree!

So, now it’s the third year we’ve had to set up a tree at this house.  I think it’s partially awful that so many people buy cut trees for Christmas and then just throw them out in January.  Only partially, because tree farms grow trees specifically for Christmas, the same way sod farms grow grass for front lawns and plant farms grow annuals for our flower beds each year.  It’s not as if some lumberjack is going out into the great forest of Blue Spruce and clear cutting Christmas trees each year, evicting countless numbers of animals and destroying the ecosystem.

Nevertheless, it still rubs me the wrong way and I always thought it was a much better idea to buy a live tree with a root ball instead of a freshly chopped tree.  I’m not much of a romantic, but it did seem quite quaint to enjoy a tree through Christmas and then, in January, plant it in my yard while my wife stood by in her hat and mittens, looking forward to the day when we could point and say, “that one was from Christmas 2009.”

It’s not as easy as it should be to find a balled tree.  But, I did find a place that’s close, and usually pretty cheap, and also a local enough business that I feel good supporting.  I dropped by on my way home to scope out the prices for the plantable trees, just so I knew what I was getting into.

Now, of course I knew that it was going to be more money that a regular tree.  After all, the time it take someone to chop a tree is exactly 5 seconds, and the time it takes someone to ball a tree, even with a machine, is considerably more.  And then, there is the materials, and labor.  So, I can certainly understand why they would me more expensive.

They last two years we got our chopped trees form a local market.  They have a huge selection, are family owned, are nice people, and they only charge $25 per tree.  That’s for any damn one in the whole place.  That includes them trimming it to size, and bagging and loading the damn thing.  The prices on the live trees were way more than I expected.  The Charlie Brown size tree (I’m not kidding) was $115 and the kind of tree that I wanted, to match the size and fullness of what we’re accustomed to, was $165-$185.

Decision made.  Definitely not a real, live, plantable, environmentally ideal tree.  We just can’t afford that, future nostalgia or not.   So, this year, like the last two, we’ll be back in that parking lot, under the pale glow of an overhead spotlight, under the crisp cold of the onset of Winter, choosing our 30 day housemate.  In the end, that’s pretty romantic, too.  I’ll still remember that moment just as well as any other.  Sometimes we can’t “buy” everything we’d like for the Holidays, but, it’s never been about that.  Memories don’t have a price tag.

Holiday Scams and Fundraisers

Posted in Grinds My Gears on December 10, 2009 by Verge

I know many of our hearts are huge during the holidays, and end of the year donations not only feel good, but are tax deductible.   Well, over the years, I’ve been employed by some pretty dirty businesses that specialize in basically ripping people off under the guise of good will, and I’d like to warn you about those scams.  Hopefully, in the wake of my tirade, you’ll think twice about forking over money to anyone who asks for it, no matter how harmless they seem, or how good the cause they claim to represent actually is.

First, I want to address the issue of telemarketers.  Now, I know that at least some of you still own a phone, but I’ll admit, we don’t even have one anymore.  Just cell phones these days.  But, this scam, it seems to me, will inevitably bleed into our emails and mobile phones as well, not to mention the already infiltrated Postal Service.

Most Associations do not have the resources, time or volunteers to raise their own funds.  This includes benevolent associations like the local Police, Fireman and Rescue Squads.  It also may include state agencies that benefit any of the aforementioned groups, or agencies that support the homeless, poor, or orphaned.

The police are in the business of protecting and serving the public.  The fireman of your state are in the business of protecting businesses and homes from complete destruction, not to mention, along with EMT’s, saving lives.  They are not in the business of fund raising.

Now, from time to time, you will see that the local associations will hold a “beef ‘n’ beer” or even a coin toss on the local roads.  This, my friends, are the only times that you are truly giving to the local organizations.  If you want to help them out in ways other than financially, bake some cookies on Christmas Eve or New Years Eve and drop them off at the local fire station of Rescue Squad.  Volunteer your time for some of their local efforts.  But, whatever you do, don’t get caught up in this scam.

Here’s how things really go down.  For profit companies approach these organizations.  They are telemarketers, or mail marketing, or even nowadays, email marketing companies.  They offer these benevolent organizations offers that are very hard to refuse.  They say, “We will give you $100,000 in donations, provided that you sign a contract that allows us to raise money for your organization for 12 months.”  There are no strings attached to this offer.  And, volunteers who already give their time fighting fires don’t have to take weekends away from time with their families to stand in the middle of the road like panhandlers begging for money.

Here’s the catch, if you haven’t already figured it out.  For 3 months, every person on the staff follows a well manicured, very cunning script to call people in that jurisdiction to raise money for the “local heroes.”  They raise said $100,000 and really do donate it to the cause.  But, since they are under/have a contract, they are “allowed” to raise money for that organization for a full year.  They KEEP the profits.  Where do they go??  They pay the people who call you and harass you to donate to the “local cause” under the pretense that you’ll get special treatment for having a sticker on your back windshield if pulled over, or a special sticker on your front door when the firefighters arrive.

So, maybe it takes them 6 months, or 9 months to raise the 100k they promised.  They still get three months of pure profit to prey upon you and your wallet.  They call it Black Friday, in the retail world, because most retail businesses are said to not actually turn a profit, fiscal year wise, until after that day.  Until then, they are paying overhead for space, personnel, and product.  Well, there is not product in telemarketing, only 100% bullshit!  Sure, they do technically contribute to a good cause, but they do so under the veil of benevolence, when in reality, they do so as a pretense to put money in their own pockets.

I want people to realize that I’m not a conspiracy theorist on this subject.  I worked this job, and, if I risk being humble, I was damn good at it, because I can manipulate people into believing that not donating is tantamount to not supporting.  It’s an easy argument to make, for me.  But I didn’t feel good about it, once I figured out the scam I was perpetuating, and I quit after two weeks.

If you want to help out the local volunteers, then volunteer.  Or call them, and ask what you can do for them.  Tell them that you would rather help them directly than risk having a third party skim from your donation.

I’m not nearly done with the subject of this blog, but I’ve got to go play a show now, so part 2 will come soon.


Michael Vick and Animal Abuse

Posted in Vegan and Vegetarian Lifestyle with tags , , , , on December 8, 2009 by Verge

This weekend, Michael Vick scored some touchdowns in Atlanta to mixed reviews.  Some cheer for his present performance  and some continue to jeer at Vick for his actions several years ago that involved despicable acts of animal abuse.  Now, everyone must expect this blog to be an angry tirade against Vick for his actions, but, in fact, it may come across as something completely different.

Now, just so I dispel the ambiguity of this blog straight away, Micheal Vick’s actions were downright unconscionable.  I certainly have a problem with his actions, but as far as I’m concerned, he served his time for the crimes he was found accountable for and is now free to live his life with the shame of what he was convicted of.  I can’t imagine the soullessness that one must have to torture until death any animal, much less a domesticated “best friend” and companion.

However, I try to not be preachy with the whole vegetarian thing, I really do.  But I had a whole hell of a lot of a hard time biting my tongue over the last few years whenever the whole Vick subject came up.  And, it came up a lot seeing as I work for the NFL.

This isn’t a evaluation of Michael Vick, or what the NFL did to him, or what the law did to him, or what PETA did to him, or, especially, what he did to those dogs.  Those things are all records of fact and my opinion has little effect on them now that they are history.

I just don’t see how rational meat-eaters couldn’t at least see that their condemnation of Vick was at least a tad bit groundless, if not shamelessly hypocritical.  It’s not as if these people, and by these people, I mean almost everyone, don’t know that meat comes from the slaughter of defenseless animals raised in deplorable conditions.  Okay, some of them choose to not know the details, and I find that even more conveniently ignorant.

Now, Peta-types usually pitch in here with the fact that Einstein was a vegetarian, and carnivores counter with the fact that Hitler was too.  None of these arguments make any empirical sense.  I’m not making that argument, nor any other argument based on health, effects on global warming, or compassion to animals that feed our endless gluttony.

I shared in the condemnation of Michael Vick.  But as millions of Americans race off to work or school, and grab a $1 Double Cheese burger, or a Bacon Classic, or a couple of Hard Tacos…  When night after night, families enjoy their small side salad with a chunk of beef, or pork, or chicken (somehow called “poultry” as if that makes it not an animal)…when poorly paid immigrants lose a limb and have no recourse to their employer…WE can only blame ourselves for the same level of cruelty that we accused Vick of having.  WE should have all been pointing our fingers of shame at ourselves.

You don’t have to stop eating meat, but I’m asking you to stop burying your head in the sand.

Lady Gaga

Posted in Good Times with tags , , on December 7, 2009 by Verge

There was a time when I never, ever missed a single show that I wanted to see.  I would see at least a handful of shows each month, and sometimes, several each week.  That was well before I had a mortgage, two cars, and…well, you know, things other than concerts that need to be paid for.

These days, even though I still browse Pollstar and Ticketmaster, among others,  and make extensive lists of the shows I would like to see, it’s a rarity that Monika and I actually get to attend any of them.  We get to see a good deal of them because of the graciousness of our good friend Jim, who has the occasion to score free tickets and kick them down to us because he is awesome (and has two young children, and is a good husband).

On Thursday we attended the Lady Gaga concert together with 6 of our friends who were lucky enough to have a pre-sale password and score not great, but not horrible seats at the Susquehanna Bank Center, nee the E-Center, in Camden.  Thursday’s show had the back walls on the venue, so it was a relatively smallish to medium sized show for my standards.

So, perhaps one day I’ll also devise a rating system for concerts, since it seems that in my mad compulsions, it is inevitable.  But for now, we are going to get right to the point.  These are my impressions of the concert, which overall I would rate an entertaining show with some great highlights, but much to be desired.


  1. Lady Gaga unequivocally sings all her songs live  (no lip synching), while dancing, in costume, and performing stage stunts.  This takes a lot of professionalism as far as being a true “entertainer” goes, not to mention she occasionally plays the piano at the same time.
  2. As a true showman (PC advocates, deal with it), she made many costume changes.  This was nice for several reasons.  First, it created an additional level of entertainment.  Next, it gave a minute or two to sit down between small sets of songs to rest while she got changed, which was actually pretty nice.
  3. She had pretty creative stage projections during her costume changes.  They were filmed like short movies, and were projected on a huge, stage wide scrim that they lowered when she exited for a break.  They kept us entertained in a multimedia kind of way, giving us something of substance to watch instead of smoke machines and circular drum machine loops.
  4. Lady Gaga’s show was concise.  To a long time concert goer, this is actually pretty important to me.  Concision is based on several things.  She didn’t waste very much time between songs, and when she had to for a costume change, there was other entertainment.  Furthermore, she did like to tell a short anecdote occasionally, but when she chose to, she kept it pretty short and to the point.  There was no endless rambling, which I can’ stand, nor was there zero crowd interaction whatsoever, which can be equally detached and, frankly, rude.  There was one long, nearly two hour set without an intermission.  Then, for the encore, we only had to wait 5 minutes or so for her to return to play her final two songs, and that was that.
  5. I had no problem with the crowd.  Sure, there was the one really tall girl (must have been 5’10”) that occasionally blocked all of our views, but overall, it was a perfect crowd.  To start, my crowd of 8 people alone was made up of all individuals that I’ve known and liked for some time, thereby avoiding any uncomfortableness.  Plus, really, how upset can a man be in a crowd of 90% women, cheering, singing along, swooning at the male dancers, and generally being perfectly elated?  There was no vying for seat space, fending off drunken douche bags, or having to tell someone to stop yelling because you would actually like to hear the artist you paid to see perform.
  6. The sound was fantastic.  There was a bit too much reverb on her vocals, but that is the only thing I can point out.  The bass bins were powerful enough to shake our insides, the mixes were clear and uncluttered, her vocals, whether on hand-held or headset, sat in the correct place in the mix for a pop diva, and I was happy with the overall dynamics of the show.

Okay, the CONS:

  1. My biggest disappointment of the night, quite frankly, was the shocking lack of musicians!  Okay, so you may not like Lady Gaga’s music, but these are facts:  She began playing piano at age 4;  she was playing open mic nights by 13, playing original compositions a year later; by age 17, she was accepted into the Tisch School of Arts at NYU; at 19, she was signed to Def Jam Records; she performed as a musician for the next few years in NYC clubs; at 21, she was writing original songs for major label acts;  shortly thereafter, her vocal talents convinced major label reps that she should be a performer, rather than a mere composer, for her compositions. Unfortunately, even with those obvious credentials, her show included very little actual musicianship.  It was mostly her background tracks being played over the PA with her singing the lead vocals.  Absent was any actual performance of the songs.  There was no guitar, bass or drum players, no backup singers, and no synth players or programmers.  She sung leads over her own, album-recorded backup vocals.  The lone exceptions were live drums, with a little guitar, on the two lonely songs that she played on a real piano.  Those few songs sounded great, and I truly wished that that setup would have been the majority of the performance, rather than the gimmick it was portrayed as.
  2. She kept bringing this whole “I despise money” thing.  Now, I know that she thinks about money a lot as she has more than one song dedicated to it, but to bring it up over and over during your show is tiresome.  And, let me point out, she was saying how she HATED money, that she absolutely despises it, that it’s what she “hates in the world most.”  C’mon Gaga, I know there were a lot of young teenagers at the show, but they’re not stupid.  She absolutely loves money, and fame, and crazy ass costumes, and record royalties, and Hollywood glamor, and all that shit.  To say that you don’t positively have a love affair with money is hypocritical at best and at worst, shows you have a truly distorted self-image.
  3. Okay, this isn’t really a con so much as an observation.  When I told my boss that I was going to see Lady Gaga, he mentioned that his daughter had really wanted to go to the show.   She’s 8.  This was not a show for an 8 year old.  Of course I expected there to be plenty of “sexual” dances going on, but she was downright vulgar at times.  Like I said, it doesn’t bother me and it didn’t detract from the show.  It’s just odd for a performer to ask the entire crown to “fuck me.”

One more wierd thing that I noticed.  On her website, and online, and at the concert, the name Philadelphia was never mentioned.  Now, we all know that technically the venue IS in Camden, but the show was a Philadelphia show.  It was clear that the promoter, Live Nation, made it absolutely clear to Lady Gaga that she was not to mention the name Philly at all and that she had to, instead, call it Camden every time.  This girl is from NY.  She definitely know that it was her Philadelphia stop on her tour and to have to refer to it over and over as Camden was off-puting.  Not her fault, of course, but strange.

Overall, I enjoyed myself and we all had a good time.  It was a solid 2 hour show that was basically all hits.  She kind of ruined Poker Face by letting that hack Kid Cudi rap over part of it, so that sorta sucked, but I would definitely go again.  That is, if her aversion to money sticks around and tickets don’t double in price as she gains more and more fame.


On Being a Masonic Officer

Posted in Masonic Insights, Reflections on December 3, 2009 by Verge

Tonight, I was installed as the Junior Master of Ceremonies in my Masonic Lodge.  My wife was there with me, which is a rarity in any Masonic Lodge, as they are usually closed to non-masons.  Once a year, at the discretion of our Master, we hold our annual installation of officers in a “public” fashion, thereby allowing our friends and loved ones to share in our pride and honor of being a part of this fraternal organization.

It’s not a secret to my friends or family that I’m a mason.  And, I will freely talk about it when I’m asked.  I can answer most questions, and when a specific question arises that I cannot directly answer, it’s regretful that it piques curiosity because it is usually such a mundane little idiosyncrasy that it hardly deserves inquiry.

The most often pondered question that arises with my wife, my best friend, and my family, is “why do you do it?”  I’ll admit, sometimes I bitch about having to attend a masonic obligation.  Sometimes I legitimately cannot attend.  Sometimes, I don’t attend because I don’t feel like the fun I will have with my brethren will outweigh the fun I will have with my wife and friends.  Sometimes I’d rather sleep, or do a shot, or watch a movie, or clean my house and fold laundry.

But, this year, I could have easily walked away from my responsibilities with my Lodge.  I’m newly married.  I’m working hard to advance in my career.  I’m in a working cover band that is learning new songs all the time, and playing several shows a week at this point (and hopefully continuing in the new year).  Another responsibility, one that requires at least one night a week, could easily have been denied with no shame.  I did not turn away from the challenge, but instead, chose to take on a higher responsibility in my Lodge than was required of me.

My best friend has asked, as have I, “what do I get out of the effort and time I put in?”  What he wants to hear is that I can speed and never get a ticket, or break the law and never worry, or get discounts where others cannot, or have access that others do not.  Well, it’s not exactly that way at all.  Is it possible?  Well, I can’t deny that it is.  It’s no different than any other “perks” someone might receive from knowing a police officer, or a restaurant owner, or a lawyer.

The perks are never what you expect.  I have taken on a responsibility of helping new masons learn.  That, to me, is extremely satisfying.  I have always enjoyed teaching in general;  in all its forms, it is a great satisfaction to help another individual in need to finally learn, to understand and to grasp knowledge that you have imparted to them.  My bonus is this:  I’ve got a unique, often unusual, skeptical and alternative view of what so-called “normal” people believe is universal.  This, to my delight, is a viewpoint that I take a particular pleasure in sharing with my brethren.

I think they appreciate it, as well.  That is the perk for me.  In masonry, you cannot challenge someone politically or religiously, and you always respect your brother, no matter the differences.  The opportunities in the loopholes for me to inject some of my own weird impression of our world gets me off…it really does, especially when I see someone walk away nodding their head like “shit, that makes a whole lot more sense than what I believed was reality.”

That perk alone doesn’t keep me going to meetings, or rituals or communications, though.  So, what is it?  Well, I’m still in my infancy of masonry, but I have my theories.  It’s the ritual.  The masonic degrees, for those of you unschooled, are basically plays, performed live in front of an audience.   I love to do that already.  It involves memorization to a great degree.  That is what I have to do every time I learn a new song for my cover band.  It involves acting out, and I have no problem being a showman when it’s appropriate.  It involves impressing great gravity, and I think my seriousness lends itself to that task.

Most of all, it involves brotherhood.  I may not be the best of friends with my Lodge brothers.  I may not attend Lodge functions as often as they do.  I may not agree with them on any number of subjects.  But one thing remains that masonry undeniably can teach us.   That the one thing we all share undeniably is our bare humanness.  We all make mistakes, none of us can be perfect to all people all of the time, and that, in the end, we will all ultimately answer to our fate, whatever that may be.

What keeps me going is that undeniable awareness that we are all nothing, and that sharing in that nothingness turns it into, at the very least, something we can share with awe and reverence.


%d bloggers like this: