Saturday, September 22, 2012

The Story of Alien Chili



A few years ago, I worked with someone who claimed to be decended from the infamous Donner Party. According to my co-worker, whereas part of the party turned to cannibalism, another part of the party created a type of bean-less chili to sustain themselves on their travels. My co-worker submitted this long-kept family chili recipe every year in our office chili cook-off.

One year, using a news report that an group of ancient aliens from Africa knew of a distant star in the Sirius star system, I decided to create my own chili legend. My co-worker got the joke, although most others didn't. He laughed, and that's what was important.

Here is the legend behind Dogan Traveler Chili. I don't remember the recipe, so unfortunately this legendary chili will never be made again. Unless the Sirius aliens return.

Dogan Traveler Chili

About a month and a half ago, a group of beings from the Sirius star system visited the Dogan tribe of Mali. These travelers had planned on disguising themselves as members of the tribe, integrating into the culture, and learning about life on Earth.

Unfortunately, the travelers faced numerous difficulties. First of all, they stood nine feet tall, making blending in with a group of humans very difficult. Second, they could not communicate verbally. Because the travelers communicated among themselves via ESP, their vocal abilities had been neglected and were unable of being used. Third, they ate three times the amount of normal human beings, which tragically disrupted the Dogan's delicate food allotment.

After only two days, the Dogans became frustrated with their new guests. Many Dogan people, even those who at first welcomed the beings, began withholding food and treating the travelers with hostility.

Eventually, fights broke out and several alien beings were killed. Knowing their time on Earth was limited and they must make haste of else suffer at the hands of the angry Dogans, the remaining travelers attempted to leave Earth. Their plans failed, however, when they learned their ship had become disabled in the landing. So they did what any self-respecting space traveler would do: they offered to cook for the Dogan tribe.

As could be expected, the culinary skills of the travelers was limited. The only food they know how to make was an intergalactic peace chili traditionally made by the inhabitants of their star system. So the travelers cooked as good a chili as they had ever made before. The Dogan tribe had never had such a good tasting chili. After they were finished, the Dogan tribe invited the travelers to stay for as long as they live. Unbeknownst to the Dogans, inhabitants of the Sirius star system live over 800 Earth years.

The End.

Thursday, September 13, 2012

Confessions of a formerly closeted Star Wars Fan



Those who know me or read this blog regularly know I am a big Star Wars fan. I wouldn't say "huge", but definitely "big". I watch the movies regularly, drop Star Wars quotes when I can, read Star Wars books when the fancy strikes me, and have always kept a Yoda Pizza Hut Magic 8-ball figure by my work computer at different jobs over the last six years.

Born in 1977, I was raised on Star Wars. The phenomenon started being a big part of my life when I was knee-high to a Jawa. According to my folks, Empire Strikes Back was among one of the first movies I ever attended. Then my father took me to see Return of the Jedi opening day.

Somewhere along the way, however, things changed. For years I would barely admit being a fan. I wouldn't admit I read several of the first wave of post-movie books. I wouldn't admit to watching the movies regularly, I wouldn't let anyone know I knew a boatload of useless Star Wars trivia, and I wouldn't be caught dead wearing a Star Wars shirt. Only geeks were big Star Wars fans and although I liked the movies, I wasn't a geek. Girls didn't like geeks and most of the girls I met wouldn't dare admit being big Star Wars fans even if they were.

All through junior high, high school, and my four years in the military I suppressed my Star Wars fandom for what could only be called "the sake of fitting in". Like most people who struggle with social acceptance in junior high and high school, I definitely didn't want to be an outcast. In the military, with it's alpha-male heirarchy, sci-movie geekdom is not looked highly upon - although I did hang with some folks who were fans and we did wait in line for three hours to see Episode 1 the night it opened.

In total, outside of seeing the releases and the sequels and reading Shadows of the Empire, I did very, very little to advance my fandom of Star Wars from the age of 14 to my mid-20s. I passed myself as a "normal" fan and suppressed my affection for something I grew up with. Sports and music were much more acceptable and I liked sports and music, so sports and music it was.

In my late 20s, not long after Episode 3 came out, I started to open up to Star Wars again. That's when I began committing my entire weekend to watching Star Wars marathons on Spike and read Vector Prime, the first book to kill off a major Star Wars character. That's also when when I dove back into the Extended Universe and started spending more and more time on Wookieepedia, filling in the gaps in situations and characters that developed in the 10 or so years I was out of the loop.

About this time I also started reading a lot of blogs and other non-professional, independent internet writing. I realized there were a lot of people like me. People who liked sports and Star Wars and music and let all their interests mutually co-exist in their lives. People who also dropped Star Wars references in their writing as they, like me, had been influenced creatively by the mind of George Lucas. People like Jason Fry, blogger at one of my favorite blogs "Fear and Faith in Flushing", a Mets blog heavy on writing and fan perspective and a huge influence on my work at Rays Index.

(I eventually found out Fry is also the author of several Star Wars books such as Star Wars: The Essential Atlas, The Secret Life of Droids, and Star Wars: The Essential Guide to Warfare (yes, a military book about Star Wars!). Did I mention Fry quickly became one of my favorite writers?)

As I was rediscovering what I loved as a kid, the world was becoming cool with geek culture. While shows such as "Big Bang Theory" showed nerds in a semi-positive light (I think I have seen only two episodes ever), websites and popular internet memes based on geek culture grew in popularity. As did the development of online communities where more and more people started talking about their fandom. By the end of the 2000s, "geek", "nerd", and "dork" lost their negative connotation and were usurped by the very people formerly derogatorily described as such. Maybe it was a coincidence, maybe society's acceptance pushed me along, or maybe both were gaining the confidence to say "This is what I like. If you don't like it, I don't care."

The culmination of my Star Wars revival occurred in 2010 when I went to Star Wars Celebration V in Orlando. Although I was excited to go, I was a little intimidated upon arriving at the Orange County Convention Center. Again, my fear of being lumped in with "the geeks" and the "socially awkward uber-fans" played tricks on my subconscious. I told myself I was going to check out the convention and observe the fans and that was all. I was an observer, an admirer, but not really part of the community. I didn't think I wanted to be.

I was wrong.

As I wrote in my blog post describing the convention, I had a great time, despite my initial preconceptions. The people there weren't geeks. They were people just like me. People of all ages, races, creeds, colors, species, and planetary systems who had an admiration for Star Wars in some way, shape, or form. Although I was still slightly behind in my knowledge of the entire Star Wars timeline, there was no barrier of wisdom for enjoying the convention. As there were probably people there who had read every book and seen every movie and cartoon, there were probably people there who had only seen the movies. Maybe even less than that. I figured I was probably right around average.

I was an average Star Wars fan.

Also I mentioned in my blog post, my day at the convention ended by seeing Empire Strikes Back and Return of the Jedi with hundreds of other fans. The viewing might have been normal for regular convention goers, but for me it was an awakening. There I was, surrounded by other people who knew these movies and watched them just as I had for over 20 years. After the movies were over, I knew there was no doubt I was part of the Star Wars fan community.

These days, my Pizza Hut Magic 8-Ball Yoda still sits by my work computer screen; I have Jason Fry's latest book sitting on my desk, waiting to be opened; I recently had fellow Rays fans send me a Rays commemorative Star Wars Day shirt;  I am sleeping on old school Star Wars sheets; and I couldn't resist buying an incredibly interesting looking Star Wars bootleg DVD set. I've accepted the fact that I am a Star Wars geek/nerd/uber-fan, even it means taking guff from the still-alpha-male dominated, non-nerd military culture I am working with here in Afghanistan.

Meanwhile, for the rest of the world, Star Wars fans are no longer considered geeks and outcasts and nerds and whatever other insults the "in-crowd" used to throw their way. It is acceptable to be a Star Wars fan as Star Wars is more popular than ever. And as new fans enter the fold, I am proud to say I saw most of the movies opening day/night, own several copies of each movie, have a book shelf of full of Star Wars novels, I've been to a Star Wars convention, and I am a Star Wars fan.

Saturday, September 8, 2012

Classic AfroSquad Photoshop Week Day 6



This week I am featuring several humorous photoshops created by the world-famous Snowman of the Afro-Squad. Snowman has been doing these pictures for years and I have been fortunate to be his subject of photoshop on a few occasions. The next few days will feature some of my favorites.

Friday, September 7, 2012

Classic AfroSquad Photoshop Week Day 5



This week I am featuring several humorous photoshops created by the world-famous Snowman of the Afro-Squad. Snowman has been doing these pictures for years and I have been fortunate to be his subject of photoshop on a few occasions. The next few days will feature some of my favorites.

Thursday, September 6, 2012

Classic AfroSquad Photoshop Week Day 4



This week I am going to feature several humorous photoshops created by the world-famous Snowman of the Afro-Squad. Snowman has been doing these pictures for years and I have been fortunate to be his subject of photoshop on a few occasions. The next few days will feature some of my favorites.

Wednesday, September 5, 2012

Classic AfroSquad Photoshop Week Day 3



This week I am featuring several humorous photoshops created by the world-famous Snowman of the Afro-Squad. Snowman has been doing these pictures for years and I have been fortunate to be his subject of photoshop on a few occasions. The next few days will feature some of my favorites.

Tuesday, September 4, 2012

Classic AfroSquad Photoshop Week Day 2



This week I am featuring several humorous photoshops created by the world-famous Snowman of the Afro-Squad. Snowman has been doing these pictures for years and I have been fortunate to be his subject of photoshop on a few occasions. The next few days will feature some of my favorites.

Monday, September 3, 2012

Classic AfroSquad Photoshop Week



This week I am featuring several humorous photoshops created by the world-famous Snowman of the Afro-Squad. Snowman has been doing these pictures for years and I have been fortunate to be his subject of photoshop on a few occasions. The next few days will feature some of my favorites.

Monday, August 20, 2012

When Victory Tastes Like Wendy’s



Although humans have boasted about their ability to cook since man first learned to barbeque a brontosaurus, the “foodie” phenomenon that has erupted in the last few years has taken culinary narcissism to a completely new and annoying level. Few things make a meal worse than getting full on the food of a foodie as they meticulously fill you in with the details of their newest delectable delight.

On the other hand, nothing is better than beating the foodies at their own game. Especially with food their pretentious palates would never consider acceptable.

For several years, I worked with a group who took great pride in their culinary abilities. They brought in desserts, breakfasts, and even the occasional stew. They put a lot of time and effort into their food and everyone knew it. While it wasn't a competition, they had an amicable admiration of talent and tried to top each other with every creation.

On the first Friday of every May, these foodie friendships were put to the side for my company’s annual Cinco de Mayo Chili Cook-Off. With a small but significant prize and year-long bragging rights on the line, it was showtime for those who thought they could command a kitchen.

In my third year in the workplace, I decided to throw my hat in the ring and enter the chili cook-off. I wasn't much of a cook, but I had recently purchased a crockpot and was excited to try my hand at my first chili.

In mid-April, the announcement went out for chili cook-off contestants. Besides all the usual suspects, the cook-off also brought out several people who, like the culinary version of Christmas Catholics, only got involved for the big annual event. And then there was me.

Throughout the next few weeks, the upcoming cook-off was the talk of the office. Many of the prospective participants discussed strategies, ingredients, and how they thought they were going to do. Since my name was new to the list, a few even asked me what how my preparations were going. As their enthusiasm grew however, mine waned. Their increasing chatter made me dread the contest. It was all they talked about. I quickly regretted entering the contest. I wasn’t a cook, and if it meant being like them, I didn’t want to be. Despite my negativity, however, I still needed to submit an entry or face horrible workplace embarrassment.

At 10 pm the night before the chili cook-off, while all the other chilis in all the other kitchens of all the other workers were probably simmering in anticipation of the big day, I did what any enterprising person who had lost interest in a chili cook-off would do: I visited my local Wendy's and bought eight 99-cent chilis.

To my surprise, my order took only a few minutes. I wondered how long the chili I purchased had been simmering in the restaurant. Was it there since dinner or did they make a new pot for the late-night crowd?

Regardless, I had my chili. There was no rule that says I had to eat my own submission.

I drove back to my apartment and immediately poured each container of chili into my crock pot, added an unhealthy serving of hot sauce, and set the crock pot on “simmer”.

The next morning, I unplugged my submission, taped the lid to the crock pot, and drove to work. Seeing me with my concoction, several curious co-workers asked the ingredients.

“Something I threw together,” I replied.

That answer thankfully garnered a few laughs, in part I believe because of my rookie naivety. They didn’t consider me a threat, and I didn’t care. To be honest, besides the hot sauce, I really had no idea what was in Wendy’s chili.

Hours before the cook-off, I gave my creation a creative moniker that could tease but still hide its origin: “South of the Border Meets D.T.’s Daughter”. The name openly advertised the hot sauce I used (“S.O.B.: Sauces of the Border”) while slyly hinting the Wendy’s connection (“Dave Thomas = D.T.”). As lunch time approached, I wondered if the name was too revealing.

Ten minutes before noon, the chefs were told to bring their chilis to the outside picnic area. Carefully I carried my creation to the tables, placed the pot next to the other submissions, and taped on the name placard.

At noon, my co-workers poured out of the building, eager to taste the wide array of chilis. Before they could dig in however, a group of judges, including the head of my department, made themselves small bowls of each submission. Once the judges had their samples, the rush was on.

I personally sampled a few of my competitors’ chilis. They were quite good. With each spoonful, I could taste the care and quality of their work. Some chilis were full of flavor, others heavy on heat.

As the majority finished their lunch, the department head stood before the crowd.

“We would like to announce the winners of this year’s contest,” he exclaimed.

He then announced the third place runner-up, a newcomer. Everyone cheered, as someone had broken in the elite circle of chefs. Second place went the regular who had won the year before. Good for them, I thought as I kept eating.

“And the winner of the Chili Cook-Off is ‘South of the Border Meets D.T.’s Daughter’.”

I nearly spit out my mouthful of chili.

While my co-workers clapped, I got out of my seat and accepted my prize – a year membership to the local Costco. As I walked to the front, I was sure someone was going to out me, call me a fraud, and make me give up the gig. I half-contemplated outing myself, admitting my ruse, and handing the prize to the runner-up. That would have be the moral thing to do. But there was no rule against commercial entries and I submitted a pot of chili same as the next guy, even if I didn’t slave over a hot stove to create it.

After the contest, I returned to my office, carrying a nearly empty crock pot, and growing increasingly smug with victory.

I thought about giving the Costco membership to the local Wendy’s, as they played as big a part in my upset as I did. But I didn’t.

Like victory over the annoying foodies, it was mine. All mine.


(Picture from World's Recipe List)

Wednesday, August 15, 2012

A Perfect Wedding



(This was originally published in the FSView and Florida Flambeau in 2002, but since they don't have my old articles online at all, I decided to post it here.)

According to the unwritten rules of society, marriage is an expected step for most people in their 20s. Following tradition, people should be on the lookout for that lifelong soulmate after their college graduation. Once this mutual discovery of partners is complete and two people decide they want to spend the rest of their lives together, marriage planning becomes horribly one-sided.

For example, every trip to the local magazine rack presents women with plenty of advice on the perfect wedding. These publications give tips such as what to wear, and most importantly, what the groom-to-be should be doing. Apparently, guys have no say in what should be one of the biggest days of their lives. This lack of input may either be the cause or the effect of a predominant male indifference towards the matrimony ceremony.

However, like the minute percentage of women who don't consider their wedding an event of epic proportion, there are some guys who have ideas on what they want to happen on their big day. I am of this small minority. Mine are trivial considerations and in no way alter the grand expectations of my bride-to-be.

My first request is during the planning stages of the wedding. Being somewhat unknowledgeable to the wedding gift procedure, I was recently introduced to gift registration. This is a fairly resourceful idea in which well-wishers buy specific gifts from specific stores. It makes the process very neat and orderly. I have noticed, however, that the usual suggested stores are entirely off-track. Most people want their gifts from Tiffany's, Dillard's, JCPenny's, or even Home Depot for those practical minded folks. Not me. I want my gift-bearers to shop at the Dollar Store. Why ask for one cup for 35 dollars when you can get 35 cups for one dollar? Imagine how many more gifts can be expected. As an added bonus, even the poorest relatives will feel like an integral part of the wedding present parade.

Request number two is slightly more involved. I want a midget, a clown, and an Elvis impersonator to not only be present at the ceremony, but also at the reception. (They must be three different people. I will not accept a midget with clown makeup and sideburns.) Their main purpose is to be in all official wedding photos. Attendees can be photographed with all, two, or only one of these esteemed guests. Who wouldn't smile for the camera knowing they are in the presence of comic and rock'n'roll greatness? I can only imagine how perfect a picture of Elvis, a midget, a clown, and my bride and I will look hanging on the wall of my future home.

My third and final request is that no eating utensils be used or supplied during the reception dinner. I have always been a big fan of the barbaric style of eating featured at Medieval Times and I want my friends and family to share in the joys of finger food. Although peas and spaghetti would be eliminated, entrees such as chicken wings, french fries, or even asparagus are still options. Plenty of napkins are a must of course, as it would appear uncultured if I wiped the barbeque sauce from a plate of ribs on my rented sky-blue polyester tux.

I know the hardest part of achieving these aspirations will be finding someone willing to accept my ideas. I would hate to invest months or years into a relationship only to see the girl of my dreams walk out when she fails to compromise on our wedding plans.

I am flexible, however. Skipping the ceremony, traveling to Vegas, and having a drive-thru wedding is okay as well.

As long as Elvis is there.

Thursday, August 9, 2012

The Legend of Uncle Kev



(After posting this, I searched online for Kevin Harbst a.k.a. "Uncle Kev". I eventually found and contacted his stepson on Facebook who replied and informed me that Kevin Harbst died of a heart attack in 2007. He was 44. According to his stepson, I "captured the essence of the man and his life damn near perfectly".)

Here is another one from the binders from an Article and Essay class I took in Spring of 2002. Interesting to read where my mind was at when I was 24. (Note: Some slight grammatical edits made based on the professor's comments.)

I’ve never had many long-term friends.  Most of my good friends last about three years before we go our separate ways.  That was the case while I was in the military, and it will soon be the case again next year when I graduate college.  All I am usually left with is many home addresses, email addresses, phone numbers, and hopes of hanging out with my friends again one day.

These hopes have become reality on several occasions.  I have traveled long hours to visit friends in Savannah, Miami, and even Chicago.  Many of my friends will also tell me when they are in the Tallahassee area, as several did during this year’s spring break.  One of the more interesting trips I have taken was to Hattiesburg, Mississippi to visit an old army sergeant I call “Uncle Kev.”

The trip to Hattiesburg was not exactly easy.  My truck began to overheat and I had to stop in a small Alabama town to let it cool.  I also got lost trying to find Highway 98 in Mississippi.  These problems added about an hour and a half to my expected four-hour drive.

“Hey Mike I didn’t think you were going to show,” Uncle Kev says as I exit the truck.  It seems weird having him call me “Mike,” in the Army I was only known by my last name.

“Sorry I’m late.  I had car trouble,” I reply.  Uncle Kev’s place is a shabby little trailer on a Hattiesburg side road about five miles from Camp Shelby, where he is stationed now.  If any more than one person lived in the trailer, it would be too small.

This was the first time I was able to hang out with Uncle Kev.  Army fraternization rules stated sergeants and lower enlisted soldiers weren’t able to get together off duty.  We always joked around while on duty, however.  I knew finding him was a must when I was discharged.

“So Uncle Kev, how’s the hoggin’ here?” I ask as I entered the trailer.

“Hoggin’,” or picking up extraordinarily large women (450 lbs or larger) with the intent for sexual pleasure, was a favorite subject of Uncle Kev’s.  He had supposedly written books on the subject.

“It’s not bad.  These southern boys know how to feed their women.  But I am having a problem getting them though that tiny doorway,” he replied.

Looking around, I could tell Uncle Kev was hurting financially.  He slept on a mattress in the left corner of the trailer.  Most of his possessions were in boxes filling up the entire right side of the residence.

For the rest of the night, as we caught up on lost time, Uncle Kev told me how he had gotten the shaft from his ex-wife in his recent divorce.  She received their two kids and two of their three cars.  He was left one car and a debt of over 40,000 dollars with no way to pay it off (nearly half of his army salary went to child support).

Uncle Kev also told me I was only the second person to visit him.  His son had spent a weekend with him a year earlier.  As the night continued, we drank some really cheap beer and listened to some songs from his extensive music collection (he had drawers full of tapes and boxes of records and CDs).  “We better get some sleep, tomorrow we are going to the casino,” Uncle Kev warned me.

The next morning at 8:30 am, after Uncle Kev returned from his mandatory hour of physical training, we got ready and drove to Biloxi, about an hour from Hattiesburg.  “I’m a regular there,” Uncle Kev told me, “we can eat and drink for free.”  I wondered why someone so far in debt would frequent a casino.

We arrived at the Biloxi casino by 10:30.  The situation was eerily Rain Man-esque, but unfortunately for Uncle Kev, I had no Dustin Hoffman-like abilities.  He gave me half of his spending money, 150 dollars, to play the slot machines.  I lost it all.  He didn’t do much better.  We totaled 300 dollars for six Heinekens and two lunches.

By about 3:00 we were on our way back to Hattiesburg.  I fell asleep for most the trip.  When I awoke, I asked Uncle Kev how long I had been out.  “I don’t know, I was asleep too,” he joked.  It may have not been a joke.

After shooting the breeze, listening to music, and drinking more cheap beer for yet another night, we went to sleep.  The next morning, I packed my things and prepared for my drive home.  Uncle Kev thanked me for visiting and wished me luck finding some good hogs in Tallahassee.

On my drive back I thought about Uncle Kev, feeling bad for him because of his financial situation and feeling even worse because he had very few people in his life.  At the same time I was glad I was included in his small circle of friends.  I only wish I could have helped.

Monday, August 6, 2012

Return of the Decigram and Decagram



In 4th grade, my teacher, Mr. Tomani, told my class story to help us remember our metric system. In the final line of the tale, a woman named "Milli Kilo" sent a deck of graham crackers to a gentleman named "Hector". When said by the Italian character in the story, the line "Milli Kilo centa Hecta deci deca gram crackers." listed the measures of the metric system. I don't know if Mr. Tomani invented it, or if the mnemonic device was passed down for generations before reaching me, but it worked: this simple way of remembering the metric system is still ingrained in my head.

Milli Kilo and Hector recently came to mind when I read a box of prescription medicine. Whatever happened to hecta (100x), deca (10x), deci (.1 x), and centa (.01 x)? I've never used them in my life. I've never even heard them used outside of the classroom. All I've heard is milli or kilo. My prescription, for example, was 500 mg. Shouldn't that be 5 decigrams? Why not drop the zeroes and use the measurements we all learn?

What would happen if society started using the lesser know measurements again? What if my prescription wasn't working as well as I though it should and I asked to be bumped to a 6 decigram refill or something even stronger? Would my doctor understand my request?

I bet the cost of his eight years of medical school he wouldn't understand something I learned in 4th grade.

Imagine if food labels advertised in more obscure measurements. Suddenly that Big Mac with its 62 grams of fat only has 6.2 decagrams. Sounds healthier, doesn't it? 6.2 is a lot less than 62.

If I ran a restaurant my nutritional chart would purposefully use deca and hecta. I'm sure I could pull the wool over the eyes of quite a few customers. I'd sell a four patty, triple cheese, double bacon burger and advertise only 11 decagrams of fat. I'd call it "The Double Deca".

Of course, the riches and the customers would come to a halt when Mr. Tomani walks in.

Milli Kilo and Hecta would not be happy.

Sunday, July 29, 2012

Unemployed vets, liberal arts majors, and understanding the economy



A few months ago, I read an article on the increasing unemployment numbers for military veterans, especially those returning from Iraq and Afghanistan. According to David Lerman of Bloomberg News, these veterans, especially those ages 18 to 24, have faced an increasing unemployment rate, “even as the national jobless rate declines”.

Lerman writes about several young military vets in the combat arms who fail to find gainful employment because their job skills don’t transfer to the civilian economy or they fail to communicate what skills they have to civilian employers.

Although I feel bad for anyone who wants to work but can’t find a job, here is the problem: too many recruiters are pushing kids to military jobs that have no bearing on the civilian economy. Jobs such as infantry, artillery, or even military intelligence are not jobs that translate well in the private sector. Without attractive private sector skills, young vets are forced to lean on leadership, discipline, and other intangible factors of their time in the military.  Their rationale is that those skills are so important, people would rather hire them and train them for a specific skill than hire someone with the skill who needs to be groomed to be a leader.

From my private sector experience, that’s not exactly true. Not all companies are looking for a military-style manager. And depending on what type of position needs to be managed, military management might not fit. Even as a manager, you still need to speak the language and understand the culture of the civilian job. Those are things people expect new managers to understand, otherwise you start at the bottom, where basic skills and not leadership experience are more important.

The ill fit of recently discharged young vets is not unlike those who graduate with Art History degree who wonder why the private sector doesn’t want to hire them. It’s because their skills are not marketable or they are not looking in the right places for their skills. Both of these groups, the young vets and the arts & sciences majors, need to understand what the economy needs. It needs computer programmers. It needs engineers. It needs scientists and mathematicians. It is also hiring financial experts, doctors, and web designers.

One should not aspire to be a middle manager without a niche.

In both cases, I blame the recruiters or the counselors. These are the people who should guide young people towards a career they will enjoy, yet one that fits the outlook of the nation. Too many of them are guiding people towards dead end jobs or degrees that are nearly impossible to fit the private sector.

Although they are only 18 to 21, individuals who sign up for the military or who are in college need to consider the economy when making decisions that will affect their future job potential. Especially if they think they will be moving on to other positions eventually. If a soldier loves being infantry and wants to be infantry for 20 years, God bless ‘em, that’s a career move. But if they are only considering being infantry for three or four years, and have no plan beyond that, like the art major who only takes classes because they are fun, that’s a problem.

Now before anyone criticizes me for being anti-military or anti-liberal arts, I am exhibit A on what I am talking about. I did four years in the military then received a degree in English/Creative Writing. Both of which are completely not useful in the civilian sector. I have only worked outside of the Department of Defense or affiliates for my time in college and four months. If I wanted a job in the private sector, I know I would need additional training. And that’s what the money from my trip to Afghanistan will probably go towards.

Thursday, July 19, 2012

DJing, Wrestling, and the Art of Illusion



A few years ago, I saw DJ-entertainer RJD2 in concert in Ybor City in Tampa. I was not impressed. In my YouTube review, I said it was boring and all he was doing was pushing buttons. I didn't see the point.

A few weeks ago, highly famous DJ-producer-entertainer Deadmau5 dropped a bombshell on the Electronic Dance Music community when he claimed too many big-name DJs are only on stage pushing buttons. At first, I'll admit I was happy to read someone in the industry agree with me.

However, I am not so sure. Since writing an article on dubstep for the local newspaper and getting to know some DJs, I've grown to appreciate their art. In the last year, I've been to old school hip-hop shows where I could watch old school DJs spin vinyl and big dance/rave/EDM shows where I can't even see the DJ amidst the light flashes and masses of dancing bodies.

Right now, dance music is in. And that's ok. People want to go to a club to forget the outside world. A majority don't care what the DJ is doing. It's just like a wedding DJ in that regard. You don't see wedding DJs trying to steal the show from the bride and groom. The people want to party and that's what the DJ is there for. To put on a good show.

Some fans however, like to know how the trick is done. These are the fans who really don't care about the people, the crowd, or the lights. Those are nice, but these fans want to get down to the source. They want to see what buttons are being pushed. They want to penetrate the mass entertainment illusion and see where the magician actually hid the rabbit. For them, it may or may not be about reveling the trick, they just may want to appreciate the art and give the DJ credit where credit is due. Some might call them fan-boys, others hardcore fans, whatever their name, they are a demographic.

The same dilemma exists in pro wrestling. Like the new wave of EDM shows, most people go to see a pro wrestling show to be entertained. They want good guys and bad guys, storylines and surprises. Give them a good show and they are happy, whether the show is in a backyard or a major civic center or stadium. It's all wrestling to them.

However, like in EDM, there exists a demographic of wrestling fans who want to know how the soup is made. They don't just want to be entertained, they want to discuss storylines and characters, and analyze movements in the ring. They are the fans who chant "you fucked up" when they see a possible flub in motion. They look at wrestlers for their technical ability in the ring, not just how many people like or dislike them. As a matter of fact, more often than not, these fans look down on fans who don't view wrestling as they do. They project elitist attitudes to those who want only to be entertained. Sort of like what Deadma5 did for the EDM scene.

However, it's one thing for DJs to call out other DJs, just like it's ok for wrestlers to call out other wrestlers. It is a bit of hating, and probably shouldn't be done in Rolling Stone or other public venues, but it's inter-business talk among the profession. Especially where illusion is involved.

The public airing of dirty laundry in an entertainment field only feeds to the masses of fans who enjoy dissecting performances. Once that demographic becomes the majority, and the masses see the emperor has no clothes, then the party is over of the entertainment field. Those in the field, especially those who have made it while others are still trying to get theirs, shouldn't try to tear the house down from the inside.

And I don't think it is ok for fans to use the comments of performers to question another performer's ability. Especially if they have never been of the status of the original commenter. If a wrestler says John Cena can't wrestle or a DJ says Skrillex is performing by rote then that is their opinion based on being in the industry. Knowledge adds perspective and credibility.

I might not have liked RJD2, but I am just some guy with a blog. My opinion does mean squat compared to the opinions of one of his peers.

Monday, April 16, 2012

Q&A: Best-selling author Jonah Keri




(This post originally appeared on Bus Leagues Baseball.com)

When we brainstormed about who we would like to interview this year, one name kept coming up: Jonah Keri. Jonah is the author of the New York Times Bestseller "The Extra 2%" and writer and podcast host at Grantland.com. Besides "The Extra 2%" and his work at Grantland, Jonah has also written for ESPN.com, the Wall Street Journal, Salon.com, New York Magazine, and Baseball Prospectus, where he contributed to numerous published volumes and edited "Baseball Between The Numbers". He is currently working on the definitive history book on the Montreal Expos.

Needless to say, Jonah is one of our favorite authors.

Having met Jonah before at a book signing event at Tropicana Field prior to the 2011 season, I jumped at the opportunity to contact him this year and ask him a few questions.

Bus Leagues Baseball: How’s the new book coming along?

Jonah Keri: Going well. Mostly in the interviews stage right now, tracking down old players, managers, execs, as well as fans and other people on the periphery. Interviewing is always my favorite part of the process, so it's exciting.

BLB: Is writing about the Expos a dream come true? Was it your idea – maybe something you have had for years?

JK: Not at all my idea. My editor on my previous book, The Extra 2%, was a guy named Paul Taunton. American, went to McGill in the late 90s, fell in love with Montreal and with the Expos. We used to post on the same Expos message board many moons ago, before I wrote about baseball for a living. He remembered my random Internet rants. Years later, I get an email from this guy saying he's an editor at Random House now, would I like to write a book for them. I assume this was one of my buddies punking me, but turned out to be for real. That conversation led to The Extra 2%.

Took a lot out of me to work on that book for 2 years so I was ready for a break. But then one day over beers Paul suggests an Expos book. I actually argued against it for a while, because I wasn't sure people would read a book about a defunct baseball team that had somewhat limited appeal even when they existed. Paul convinced me otherwise, and here we are.

BLB: As a writer, do you get a lot of ideas that you don’t write or fully develop? What do you do with them?

JK: Sure. Sometimes I'll do a search and find that others have already done a great job with it so there's no need to cover the same ground again. Or I'll get an idea, do a couple interviews and/or some research, and find there's less there than I thought. This was more annoying when I was a full-time freelancer. Now that I have a steady gig at Grantland, I just chalk it up to a good try that didn't work out, and look for another interesting project to tackle.

BLB: I was wondering if you could tell us when you knew you could make it as a writer.

JK: I'm not what "making it" means, really. It's the only profession I've really had -- journalism school, had a full-time gig while still in college finishing my degree, etc. The sportswriting part of it is new, really. I was a stock market writer for more than a decade before really getting into sportswriting more seriously. Actually Grantland is the first full-time sportswriting job I've ever had.

But I look at all the amazing work being done by...hell, everyone. High-profile writers, younger bloggers, everyone. To me "making it" means doing fantastic work, regardless of how much you're paid or who's paying you. By that standard, I still have a long, long, long way to go.

BLB: What was your inspiration for becoming a writer?

JK: I wanted to play in the NBA. By age 12 I realized that was beyond impossible. So I started getting interested in writing, especially sportswriting. That's pretty much it. That and my dad buying me my first Bill James Abstract when I was 8, plus me reading the great Michael Farber in the Montreal Gazette for many years.

BLB: What is your daily process on days you commit to writing? Do you write from home? Do you keep a game on when you write? Engage in social media when writing?

JK: "Days I commit to writing..." that's funny! I (have to) write every day, some days just more than others. I do write from home, though living in a beautiful (and temperate) city like Denver, I should probably take my laptop out more often. The process varies. Generally speaking when I'm writing your basic Grantland piece, I do have a game on and Twitter up while writing. But as I get closer to deadline or need to really to bear down on something, I'll shut everything else down.

Book-writing is a different species altogether. No social media, no family interaction, no game-watching. So much goes in to making a book perfect, from strong research to smart writing to making sure the story flows well from page to page. And I'm REALLY far from even approaching that level of perfection. So it requires extreme concentration (and an assist from Paul, as well as the great Rob Neyer, who did first read on The Extra 2% and will again on the Expos book) to create something that people might want to read.

BLB: You wrote a book on the Rays and are well versed in their business methodology. What do you think of the Matt Moore signing? Do you think all teams should do more contracts that buy out a player’s early years, or do you think it should be an option for only small market teams such as the Rays? In what case is it smart, and in what case you would think it is too much of a risk? How sure do you think a team has to be before they do a deal like that, especially with a pitcher?

JK: Love the Matt Moore signing, of course. It's funny to me how people make fun of Moore (and especially Evan Longoria) for giving away potential riches. If either guy broke his leg tomorrow and didn't have the long-term security of a big, early contract, then what? It's win-win, and the Rays have found the right mix of taking an early risk with shooting for a potential bargain. From the player's standpoint, he's set for life by...what, age 22, 23, 24? It's riskier with a pitcher, certainly. But Moore in particular is blessed with both ability and durability. No deal can ever be completely risk-free for either side. The Rays' ability to smartly handle risk-assessment is one of their biggest strengths.

BLB: You are of course a huge Montreal fan. I am surprised no Minor League team has moved to Montreal since the Expos left. Why do you think that is? Is the city no longer supportive of baseball?

JK: "The city" is sort of a nebulous term. I suspect a small, downtown minor league stadium would draw very well in Montreal. But to get one built, you need politicians on board, you need deep-pocketed local businessmen willing to commit. There are plenty of baseball fans in Montreal. But if you want people to come eat at your restaurant, it better be nice to look at and offer great food -- same as anywhere else. Montreal doesn't have that great potential restaurateur right now.

BLB: How important are the Montreal Royals to Montreal baseball history? I was surprised to see they played from 1897 to 1960. Most fans I think only know them as Jackie Robinson’s first team. Do people in Montreal think of them differently?

JK: Hugely important. The only statue outside Olympic Stadium is of Jackie Robinson. That's the stadium where Hall of Famers Gary Carter and Andre Dawson played, Tim Raines, Larry Walker, Pedro Martinez, Vladimir Guerrero ... and Jackie's the only one. It was a long time ago, but talking to people from that era and reading about the history, two things become clear: 1) People in Montreal loved baseball and loved the Royals, and 2) Jackie Robinson playing professional baseball in Montreal did great things for the city's reputation as a worldly place. It's always been a diverse, cosmopolitan city in which to live and work. But Jackie being there underscored that point to the rest of the world. Or at least the rest of North America.

We definitely want to thank Jonah Keri for taking the time to fill our Q&A and providing such great answers.

Tuesday, April 10, 2012

Ghost Stadiums - Cocoa Expo Sports Complex, Cocoa, Florida



(This post originally appeared on Bus Leagues Baseball.com)

Before I left for Afghanistan in mid-March, I drove across Florida from my home in Tampa to my parents’ home in Melbourne. Along the way, on Florida State Road 520, just outside of Cocoa, Florida, I saw the remains of what was once the home of the Florida State League’s Cocoa Astros, the spring home of the Houston Astros, and for a season, the spring home of the then-Florida Marlins. Sadly, even at 55 mph, it was apparent the Cocoa Expo Sports Complex had seen better days.

Built in 1964, the Cocoa Expo Sports Complex was designed to host baseball, soccer, and other sports on its outdoor fields; basketball, volleyball, and other indoor sports in its indoor complex; and events such as the Florida State Fair in its exhibition hall. The 40-acre complex was supposed to be the premier multi-use event center in Brevard County.

And for many years it was. Shortly after the facility opened, the Houston Astros moved from Apache Junction, Arizona to the Cocoa Expo Sports Complex for spring training and made it the new home of their Florida State League affiliate, the Cocoa Astros. In 1972, the Cocoa Astros moved to Dubuque, Iowa, then to Cedar Rapids, then came back to Cocoa in 1977, before moving throughout Florida from 1982 to 2000 and then finding their current home in the Carolina League as the Lancaster Jethawks.

In 1985, the big league Astros joined their minor league affiliate in departing the Cocoa Expo Sports Complex when they claimed the facility was “rundown” and told the City of Cocoa to pay for the renovations. After the city balked, claiming renovation had to be paid for by the Astros organization, the City of Kissimmee swooped in and lured the Astros and their minor league team an hour west.

After the Astros moved, a private ownership group bought the Cocoa Expo, put their own money into fixing it, and hosted various professional baseball-related events such as the Joe Brinkman Umpire School (1985-1998) and and an academy run by former Brevard County standout and current Major League manager Clint Hurdle. The facility also continued to host many amateur events.

On a personal note, I had a chance to play in one of the many amateur events during my final year of Little League in 1992. A few weeks after our season was over, my then-coach called to ask me if I wanted to participate in an exhibition against a team of traveling Brazilian teens. Never one to turn down the ability to play, I accepted. Although I don’t remember the final score, I remember the Brazilian team being very good and their pitcher throwing very fast, faster than most American kids my age. If I remember correctly, I went 0 for 2 with a strikeout and ground out.

A year after I played there, the Cocoa Expo Sports Complex hosted to its final professional baseball team. In 1993, the then-Florida Marlins played their first season in the Grapefruit League at the Cocoa Expo as they awaited the completion of Space Coast Stadium. Unlike the Astros however, the Marlins only used the complex for its stadium as they practiced and worked out in neighboring Viera adjacent to Space Coast Stadium on the fields of the Carl Barger Complex. Following the Marlins temporary residence, the complex still hosted amateur baseball, basketball, volleyball, and soccer tournaments, gun shows, and the state fair.

Unfortunately, time and the poor economy caught up to the Cocoa Expo Sports Complex. According to recent reports, in June 2011 the complex was foreclosed and seized by its main lender. After months of vacancy, with chains and locks and a sign announcing the foreclosure on the gates, new owners bought the complex and began $40 million dollars in repairs with the intent of making the complex a destination for amateur baseball, basketball, and volleyball teams from around the country. The new ownership attempted to open parts of the complex in March 2012 for a baseball tournament, but faced a wide array of complaints that the fields and facilities were unsafe and that the venue was “an open construction site”.

Will there ever be professional baseball at the Cocoa Expo Sports Complex again? Highly doubtful for three reasons. First and foremost, that doesn’t seem to be the intent of the new ownership. Second, while the complex might one day be suitable for college and amateur training and showcases, the main stadium needs far too many improvements to be considered a viable Florida State League destination. And third, and with Space Coast Stadium, home of the Brevard County Manatees since 1994, only 15 minutes south on I-95, I doubt there is any interest from a Minor League Baseball to place another team in the area.

Professional baseball history is also not on the side of the Cocoa Expo Sports Complex. Only once since 1941 has more than one team called Brevard County home. In 1972 the Cocoa Astros were joined by the four teams of the Florida East Coast Rookie League teams, the also-named Cocoa Astros, the Cocoa Expos, and the Melbourne Twins and Melbourne Reds. After one season, the Florida East Coast Rookie League folded and was never heard from again.

With their recent black eye and bad press, the new ownership of the Cocoa Expo Sports Complex might want to wait until the renovations are completely finished before opening the facility to the public. Until then, however, the Cocoa Expo Sports Complex will be devoid of all baseball and sit as a sad decrepit reminder of Cocoa, Florida’s minor league past.

Image acquired from ballparkreviews.com.

Friday, April 6, 2012

The Death of Media Browsing at the Mall


A few months ago, Jay Cridlin of the Tampa Bay Times Soundcheck blog wrote about the last of the mall-based chain music stores to close in the Tampa Bay area. Jay, like me, will kinda miss these once staples of mall culture. But with MP3s the format du jour, mall music stores were not sustainable. Their closure was inevitable.

However, the closure of mall music stores and their media brethren, the mall book store, is more than just a reflection of our media consumption habits. It means a massive change in how many of us experience the mall. It means the end of mall media browsing as we know it.

When I go to a mall, I don't browse for clothes, I browse for media. For years, every mall trip has meant perusing the racks and shelves of B. Daltons, FYE, Specs, Sam Goode, Walden Books, or any other of dozens of mall music and book stores. For music and book nerds like myself, they were the nirvana of impulse buys.

Where can I browse these days? No book stores, no CD stores. I guess the Apple Store is the best "browsing" spot. But who browses for electronics? I have never impulsively bought a computer or any other electronic component. So even if I were to walk into the Apple Store, I doubt I am walking out of there with anything unless I needed it.

The art of media browsing is dying. Do people really browse on Amazon or iTunes? Is Pandora the new "browsing"? Although I have never used it, my problem with Pandora is that discovery seemingly stays in niches. If I was listening to Metallica, it might take me forever to get the genre to morph into something classical. And that's if they include the Metallica S&M album in their playlist. At the music store, I could go from known metal to unknown classical in the time it took to walk down a different aisle.

Over at his blog on anthropology and economics, anthropologist Grant McCracken gives the outline for an essay (book?) on the death of "the mall" as we know it. Perhaps for some people, the mall is still a cultural destination, a place where they can browse the displays of style or hang out in the food court.

But for me, when the media stores left the mall, so did I.

Unfortunately, I still don't have a place to browse for new stuff.

And I won't even get into the fact that no one buys music for great cover art anymore.

(Disclaimer: I have written for the TBT and my articles have appeared on the TBT Soundcheck blog.)

Thursday, March 29, 2012

Humor as the great international connector



In 2002, Richard Wiseman of the University of Hertfordshire conducted a study in an attempt to find a joke that people all over the world find funny. After pitting joke against joke, he found that the following joke and the most international appeal:
Two hunters are out in the woods when one of them collapses. He doesn't seem to be breathing and his eyes are glazed. The other guy whips out his phone and calls the emergency services. He gasps, "My friend is dead! What can I do?" The operator says "Calm down. I can help. First, let's make sure he's dead." There is a silence, then a gun shot is heard. Back on the phone, the guy says "OK, now what?"
I've been thinking a lot about humor since I got to Afghanistan. Not only because I miss doing comedy, but because after two weeks working with people from all over the world, I am learning that humor, laughter, and a cheerful demeanor are among the most powerful tools to bridging communications and cultural gaps. Some of the people I am working with are of English-speaking nations, but most are not. But for whatever reason, we all seem to make each other laugh. In only two weeks, I've laughed with people from Eastern and Western Europe, from down under and the real-life home of Middle Earth, and even from Afghanistan.

One of the funniest things I noticed also was that some bodily odor jokes also translate well. In one of my first days here, one of the personnel from one of our partner nations told a fart joke at dinner that made our whole party laugh. And then a few days later, one of my European co-workers took off his shoes in the office. I counted no fewer than three people from three different country walk by and remark that he needed to put his shoes back on.

So stinky feet jokes are universal. I never would have guessed.

Word has also gotten around that I performed stand-up comedy. I've told several people how did what I did on the stage. When a one of the local Afghans I work with found out, he talked to me about Afghanistan humor, which is definitely far behind American humor in terms of showbiz. But here in Afghanistan they laugh at folk tales of Nasruddin, a poor Don Chixote-like character who reacts to situations with wit, wisdom, and an odd way of looking at things. These tales have been passed on for generations through Afghanistan, Uzbekistan, Russia, Iran, Turkey, and much of the rest of Southeast Asia. Each Nasruddin tale has a twist on the end, some of which I have found funny and some that are definitely lost in translation.

Here is a Nasruddin tale:
MORE USEFUL

ONE DAY MULLAH NASRUDDIN ENTERED HIS FAVORITE TEAHOUSE AND SAID: 'THE MOON IS MORE USEFUL THAN THE SUN'.  AN OLD MAN ASKED 'WHY MULLAH?'  NASRUDDIN REPLIED 'WE NEED THE LIGHT MORE DURING THE NIGHT THAN DURING THE DAY.'
And here is another:
OBLIGATION

NASRUDDIN NEARLY FELL INTO A POOL ONE DAY.  A MAN WHOM HE KNEW SLIGHTLY WAS NEARBY, AND SAVED HIM.  EVERY TIME HE MET NASRUDDIN AFTER THAT HE WOULD REMIND HIM OF THE SERVICE WHICH HE HAD PERFORMED.  WHEN THIS HAD HAPPENED SEVERAL TIMES NASRUDDIN TOOK HIM TO THE WATER, JUMPED IN, STOOD WITH HIS HEAD JUST ABOVE WATER AND SHOUTED: "NOW I AM AS WET AS I WOULD HAVE BEEN IF YOU HAD NOT SAVED ME! LEAVE ME ALONE.
They are definitely interesting little anecdotes.

I'm sure as I continue in my year in Afghanistan, I'll find more pieces of the Afghanistan cultural and comedy scene. But for now, here are a few articles I found on comedy in Afghanistan.

Putting the Laffs in Laffghanistan - Splitsider.com, 17 August 2011

In Afghanistan, comedians joke their way to civic renewal - Christian Science Monitor - 23 Feb 2005

The Ministry Sends Up The Afghan Government - Splitsider.com, 4 Aug 2011

And here are a few on an Afghan-born, Florida-raised comic who returned to Kabul in 2001 and performed pranks and hijinks up until recently, when after realizing social progress was taking too long, finally moved back to the states.

This "Jihadi" is Armed With a Subversive Sense of Humor - Wall Street Journal, 19 April 2011

In Afghanistan, Performance Artist Packs Up His Bling - NPR.com, 7 Oct 2011

Aman Mojadidi - Good-bye Homeland - Slash.fr

Saturday, March 24, 2012

The Joy of Taking a Shit



This poem was given to me by an individual named Richard L. Myers of Monett, Missouri. I went to Basic Training in 1995 with Richard and although I kept this poem that I believe he wrote, I have never heard from him since. So thank you, Richard L. Myers. Thank you for a brilliant poem. Warning: it's a bit NSFW and not for little old ladies.

The Joy of Taking a Shit

There are many joys in life it's said
Though none like squatting on the head
Your pants are down, your cares are gone
You've got a few hours to sit on the john
You lock the door, you smile - so bold
You hope the toilet seat's not cold
All of the cares of the world melt away
As you sit down to take your first shit of the day
The seat has a screw loose, you wobble, you totter
You hear your first turd plop in the water
You grunt and you fart, your piss starts to drain
You push it so hard you rupture your brain
You catch the first whiff of your brown steamy load
You feel like your bowels are about to explode
You drop the rest of your dump in the bowl
You wipe, you flush, the shit goes down the hole
You wipe one more time just to get the last bit
Yes, those are the joys of taking a shit
You hop off the pot and head down the hall
Oh wait, you turn around, you didn't get it all
You yank down your pants, put your ass on the lid
You check out your drawers - thank God there's no skid
A couple more turds come out - plop, plop, plop
You feel like this shit ain't ever going to stop
Your head is now spinning, for you have to choose
Between Time, Playboy, Life, or your own local news
You pick up the Playboy - the reading is better
and that's why the pages are all stuck together
You squeeze out the rest of your shit with a sigh
And reach for your new roll of T.P. - 2-ply
You wipe your ass and you say with a smile,
"Well, that oughta hold me - at least for a while."
You flush, wash your hands, and walk out of the john
Leaving only the smell of your shit lingering on.
As you march off to go to bed for the night
You know that taking a shit is All Right.

Wednesday, March 21, 2012

Jordi Scrubbings Elvis commercial for All-Stars Wrestling of Florida

All-Stars Wrestling of Florida was a wrestling promotion run by friends of mine. It was like we had our own little corner of the pro wrestling universe. Sure, that's not a great way to run a business and ASWFL did in fact close after two years, but it was fun to go to a wrestling show where I knew most of the wrestlers and the fans. After time, I even knew most of the staff at the bar where the shows were held.

Anyway, while ASWFL was doing its thing in 2009 I attended a Florida Championship Wrestling event and cut a short commercial for an ASWFL event. About a month ago, it surfaced on YouTube. It's not my best commercial, but it's here for history.

Wednesday, February 15, 2012

What Happens There Also Happens Here



I found two interesting articles last week on the overreactions of governments to speech on the Internet.

In Morocco, an 18-year old was arrested for posting an unflattering image of the king on Facebook. The government claimed the youth was "defaming Morocco's sacred values".  As a response, several Moroccans set up Facebook group pages and posted as many unflattering pictures of the king as they could find.

Meanwhile, in the land of the free and the home of the brave, two Europeans were denied entry into the United States after one of them tweeted that they were going to "destroy" America. Of course, the two enthusiastic travelers didn't mean they were going to send America back to the Stone Age, they merely meant they were going to party. But the all-knowing Homeland Security booted the pair and sent them back across the Atlantic.

Big Brother and The Man are watching here, there, and everywhere.

Thursday, February 9, 2012

Making Job Fairs Better with Clowns



After being laid off several months ago, I did everything I could to find work. I did lunches with power brokers and went broke at power lunches. I signed up for new job sites and cited new job signs. I looked in nooks and crannies and looked at jobs for cooks and nannies. Nothing panned out short of washing pans and a hand-out.

Yet despite my own personal failures, I’d recommend all the networking, job sites, lunches, and the like to any job searcher. They all have potential, potentially. But there is one recommended job searching method that I don’t believe is effective in the least. One job searching method that is so horrendously ineffective, so overrated, and so flat-out meritless it is better to be unemployed than to get bathed in its embarrassing embrace.

If you haven’t guessed from the title of the post, I am talking about the Job Fair. The modern day sullen spectacle of utterly useless professional pageantry. A voluntary auction where people beg and butt-kiss for a chance to labor hard hours for The Man.

I’ve been to several job fairs since I lost my last job. From industry specific to general, they’ve all gone the same way: thousands of job hunters get dressed up, shake hands, hand out resumes, collect business cards, and go back to being unemployed. At every job fair it’s the same thing. Rinse and repeat and in two weeks, the hopes and dreams of being employed will wash away.

Even worse, half the recruiters or job reps I’ve talked to have told me to go online to apply or email them my resume. Then why did I get dressed up? Why did I struggle for 15 minutes trying to tie a tie when I could have been checking job fair sites at home while eating Cheetos in my underwear?

So being the connoisseur of capitalistic carnivals that I am, I’ve come to the conclusion that job fairs need to be more interesting, more useful, and more fun. They should be more than just meet and greets. They should be both practical and entertaining.

They should be more like state fairs. Everyone loves state fairs. Why? Because they are awesome. And job fairs need to steal a bit of that awesomeness.

First of all, job fairs need clowns. Lots and lots of clowns. Not just the step-and-fetch-it corporate clowns that are normally at job fairs, but real red-nose, rainbow wig, smiley makeup clowns. Job seekers need to be optimistic, right? There should be clowns to greet people as they walk in to the job fair. And clowns can walk the aisles smiling, making balloon animals, and shocking unsuspecting recruiters with hand buzzers.

Second, job fairs need cotton candy. They need clowns to give out cotton candy when job seekers walk in and then hand out more cotton candy as job seekers peruse the aisles of employers. Cotton candy is much better than the piddly plastic pieces of crap and grab bag garbage job fair sponsors and booths usually give out these days.

Third, job fairs need games. They need bottle toss. They need ring toss. They need duck shoot. They need the games that make state fairs so fun. The games that award giant stuffed Kung Fu Pandas and goldfish that die in two days. Games at job fairs however would give different prizes and wouldn’t cost the price of a token. Job fair games would cost only a copy of a resume and would award the player first consideration for any job they want to be considered for at any employer at the job fair. I think that’s fair fare.

Games need to be prevalent throughout the fair and held not by the job fair sponsors but also by each individual job stand. These games would be great icebreakers instead of the played out boring song and dance of “Hi, my name is ... and I am looking for a position as a …”. That is not only dull, but tells nothing about the person. State fair-type games would give employers insight into how competitive the person is and whether or not they have an aggressive killer instinct. Some companies might find killer competitiveness important, and some might find it a turn-off.

Another staple of the state fair that I want to see at job fairs is the highly entertaining freak show. Instead of the traditional freaks of the natural world such as the bearded lady or the world’s smallest, tallest, or fattest man, however, I’d like to see the freaks of the corporate world such as the woman who swims in perfume, the ageless man who won’t retire, the middle manager with the permanent brown nose, and the man who eats tuna for lunch every day. Some companies could even donate freakish absurd objects such as the coffee pot that was never cleaned or the fax machine that actually worked.

State fairs are also known for their pageants of pigs and cows and other farm animals. Job fairs should emulate these fair standards as well. They should hold secretary pageants or janitor pageants, for example. Secretary pageants wouldn’t be beauty pageants, of course, because those are sexist. Job fair secretary pageants would showcase real secretarial skills such as typing, dictation, coffee making skills, and the ability to perk up the boss when needed. I’ll let your imagination run with that.

Finally, no state fair would be complete without an elephant ride. And job fairs should also incorporate these amazing staples of mammalian movement. Instead of riding the elephant as visitors would at a state fair however, elephant events at job fairs would instruct prospective job hunters to pick up plodding pachyderm poop as fat cat CEOs ride atop eating grapes served by beautiful buxom blondes in bikinis.

Hey, not all jobs are fair, even at the job fair.

Friday, February 3, 2012

A Letter to Jimmy Kimmel from a Tampa Comic



Dear Jimmy,

May I call you Jimmy? I saw a guest on your show call you Jimmy. But I am not a guest. I am a resident. A resident of Tampa, Florida. And additionally, I am also a comic and writer here in Tampa. I've performed at the Tampa Improv a few times. Sure they were showcase shows and open mics, but you have to start somewhere, right?

And that brings me to why I am writing. I recently read that you had some not so nice things to say about the city I call home. Twenty years ago, you were kinda sorta right where I am now, a nobody in the grand scheme of entertainment trying to claw and scratch your way up at whatever venue or venture would take you. In your case, it was the Q-105 radio show. For me, it is comedy open mics, sports blogging, and freelance music writing.

So what's with the Tampa hate, man?

Sure, you are a big time talk show host and a celebrity with tons of credits and acclaim, but that's no reason to piss on your roots. There are many other comics and entertainers here trying to entertain and make people laugh, some of whom actually like living in Tampa or even claim Tampa in their biographies. Many would love to be in your shoes one day.

What you said about Tampa hurt, Jimmy. It hurt my heart. It hurt my soul. It hurt some places only the strippers in Tampa can make better.

Like you, I've had some bad times here in Tampa. I had my car broke into, I've had friends assaulted, I've lost two jobs. I even got food poisoning. But you know what, I still like it here. And if I ever make it big, I'm not going to bad mouth a city over a few bad experiences.

That said, Jimmy, I would like to extend an invitation to you to come back to Tampa and check out what we have going on and maybe tell us how we can be better. I'd like to see you help, not hurt, Jimmy. Unfortunately, however, I will not be in town for the next year. The economy here is so bad for people with my skill set that after almost a year of being unemployed, I had to find a job in Afghanistan. So I'll be there.

But, in closing, Jimmy, if I could call you Jimmy, I wish you the best with your show and I hope someone else makes it from Tampa, someone who is a little nicer to their humble beginnings. Like my great-granddaddy once said, you can't grow a good mullet if you pull out all your roots.

(Ok, he didn't actually say that. But it sounded cool.)

Thursday, January 26, 2012

Video of Camp Bedrock, Bosnia

Yesterday I posted an article I wrote about my time at Camp Bedrock in Bosnia in 1998-99. While I was posting it I googled "Camp Bedrock" and found this really cool video. While not as cool as "Flash vs The Aliens" (humble brag), it is pretty awesome and brought back some very cool memories.

Saturday, January 21, 2012

Bad orders at Burger King



Here is an essay I wrote 10 years ago for an Article and Essay class.

She stood, her back towards me as I entered.  I saw the others scurrying about, but she was a fixture.  Although I knew better, her hands on the hips posture oozed command.  Her delusions of grandeur were shattered, however, when her manager pointed out my presence.

As she slowly turned towards me I felt the contempt building from behind her black-rimmed glasses.  I was an inconvenience.  She strolled towards her post, staring me down, hoping for my demise.  “Welcome to Burger King, would you like to try a Whopper Value Meal?” she dutifully sung to me.

I tried hard not to reciprocate her hostility.  “Can I have a Double Whopper…”

“Would you like cheese with that?” she interrupted.

“Please. And a large fry and a Coke.”

“For here or to go?” she boringly responded.

“To go.”

“That’ll be $6.03.”  I handed her the only money I had, a twenty-dollar bill.  “You don’t have three cents on you?” she asked as if fully expecting me to.

“No, sorry.”  I shook my head to reaffirm.  She breathed an exasperated sigh as she counts my change.  “I’m sorry, can I get no onions on my Double Whopper if its not already too late?” I ask.

Her return gaze made me shiver.  She turned her head towards the grill and yelled, “Did you make that Double Whopper order yet?”

“Counter or drive-through?” the young, high school age grill person responded.

“I am on counter, why would I ask for drive-through?” she snapped in return.  “Of course I need counter.”

“No, I haven’t made it yet,” the grill person’s tone began to match hers.  I worried for my food, hoping it would get to me safely.

“Well, when you finally get around to the Double Whopper for counter, I need it with no onion,” she commanded of the grill person.

“Whatever,” came a muffled response.

After her exchange with the grill person, she slid a large cup in my direction.  “Coke is over there,” she gestured in the direction of the soda fountain.

I walked over to the fountain, filled my cup, found a lid, and returned to the counter.  “Excuse me, can I get a straw?”

“There aren’t any over there?” she replied, as if questioning my eyesight.

“Nope.”

“Here.”  She whipped out a straw from under the counter and laid it in front of me.

I thanked her as she walked over to the fry station to assemble my large fry.  She nonchalantly tossed the fries into the bag and collected my burger a second after the grill person finished making it.  Carelessly, the burger joined the fries in the bag.

“Thank you.”  I walked out, sipping my coke.

When I got home, there were onions on my Double Whopper.

Wednesday, January 4, 2012

Second Chances and Professional Humility



Last week I started work at the same building I was laid off from nearly a year ago.

I’m not going to lie, it’s a little weird. It’s weird driving the same roads, parking in the same parking lot, walking into the same building, opening the same doors, and sitting at the same type of desk, albeit one a floor above my old position. During my first week, I felt almost detached as I walked down the same halls, saw the same offices, and even smelled the same smells that I was acquainted with for the last few years. They were all the same, yet I was different.

I know not working made me appreciate "being me" more. It made me have a stronger sense of self outside of the workplace. When I tell people I used to work in the building, many have asked what I have been up to. I've told them that I took a year off to pursue my interests. Although that's not 100% true, I like the way it sounds.

What I did not anticipate upon my return was that getting laid off would make me appreciate the work environment more. I don’t think I will be so quick to complain about the lack of parking or the traffic on the way to work. I don’t think I’ll even bicker about the time I have to be at work. I think before I was so accustomed to the environment I almost considered being in the workplace a right, and not a privilege.  I know now that the powers that be made my workplace what it was and what it continues to be and there is no way I can change that. That’s the corporate culture of that environment and corporate cultures don’t usually change from the bottom up.

Another thing I have appreciated more in the few days I have been back working in the same building is the outpouring of support from former work acquaintances. So many familiar faces have smiled when they saw me and said things such as “great to see you” and “welcome back”. Those comments definitely made me feel good and appreciated. Although I stayed in touch with a handful of ex-work acquaintances, many of the people I’ve run into while walking the hall in the last week are people I haven’t seen in nearly a year. So to know that they not only remember me, but are honestly glad I have returned is heartwarming.

That said, I am in no way going to march through the building announcing my return. That would be foolish and arrogant. And besides, there may be people who were happy to see me go. Because I was laid off, there were decisions made by people in power who decided that I wasn’t of maximum value at the time of my dismissal, that keeping me around in my former position was not cost-effective for the organization. These people might think I am not cost-effective in my current position either. So with that in mind, I think it is best to stay out of the line of fine and keep my head down. And if I do run into anyone who is critical of my return, I should stay humble, acknowledge any lessons learned or second chances, and move on quickly.

Fortunately for those situations, I won’t have to avoid any negative encounters for too long as I am headed overseas for business for a year in late January or early February. Although it might mean not seeing all my friendly former work acquaintances or being able to say hello to everyone I would want to say hello to, hopefully my short time in my old building will be to my advantage. Hopefully I won’t have time to take anything for granted or get in my own way. Maybe I’ll even be able to accept the corporate climate and culture for what they are and keep my opinions to myself. Maybe I’ll stay humble and show people that I have learned quite a bit since I was last in the building of my new and old job.

One month isn’t too much to ask for. But in this case, in a familiar place with familiar complaints, temptations, and adversaries, staying positive and looking at employment only for its bright sides – the friends, the new challenges, and the income – is a large step for me.

Sunday, January 1, 2012

Going to Afghanistan in 2012



Let me get right to the point first and foremost:

I am going to Afghanistan for a year. I am leaving sometime in late January or early February.

Now that I have the summary out of the way, I want to write about why I am going and a few of the things going through my head in regards to this trip.

First, the financial side. This is easy. I got a job, which is great news. After nearly a year of floating around, working at jobs that didn’t fit, or trying to make ends meet with freelance gigs, I figured it was high time I got a job that would allow me to make some money. With all my experience working with the military, a job in Afghanistan allows me the ability to make up for lost income and save money for when I get back, since who knows what positions will be available and how the defense budget will look when I get back.

That said, I am not going just for the money. There is a scene in Star Wars: A New Hope after Han and Luke rescue Princess Leia when Princess Leia denigrates Han for thinking only about the cash and not for the deeper meaning of his actions.

HAN: It is for me, sister! Look, I ain't in this for your revolution, and I'm not in it for you, Princess. I expect to be well paid. I'm in it for the money!

LEIA: You needn't worry about your reward. If money is all that you love, then that's what you'll receive!

She angrily turns, and as she starts out of the cockpit, passes Luke coming in.





LEIA: Your friend is quite a mercenary. I wonder if he really cares about anything...or anyone.
I’ve been thinking a lot about this scene and how Han Solo went from mercenary rogue in A New Hope to leader of a community and man with a purpose by the end of Return of the Jedi. Although I was never a smuggler living life on the lam, I can see how I had few of the wrong things in common with Han.

(Yes, that was a weird Star Wars tangent, and I apologize, but it was relevant to me.)

While I was not steadily employed I did a lot of thinking about my life and career and whether or not I was happy with its current direction. Looking back, I definitely was not. I wrote about this before, but although I was making money and that made me successfully happy, I never could envision long-term happiness until I found something new. Many of the people I talked to called this “following your heart” and I like that term. Not everyone gets to do that, but because I don’t have anyone currently depending on me for their life essentials, I think it’s time I gave it a try.

(Another quick aside: My friend Andrea has a really good post on her blog about following your dreams. She is also trying to figure it out.)

But there is a big problem with following your heart and making a career change: I have to start at the beginning. I have to work my way up from the bottom and I have to network all over again. That’s not easy, it takes time, and odds are I won’t be making much money while in the nascent stages of a new career. Going to Afghanistan and making a year’s worth of tax-free income will provide a nice economic cushion for whatever route I choose.

Maybe my new career will be in writing. If you are familiar with this site, you might know I’ve done quite a bit of that, whether writing about the Tampa music scene, sports, or other miscellaneous projects. I don’t think it would be too much of a stretch to continue to write in Afghanistan during my time outside of the office. I’m sure I could work on my short stories and maybe even write a book review or two. My writing network might weaken a bit from time being out of the loop, but it won’t disappear. And there are several projects I am sure I’ll be able to step right back into when I get back to the US.

One of the other thoughts I have had upon my return is a tour of various minor league baseball parks. I talked to a few people who did this during the 2011 season and although costly, they found it fun. And it would fall in very well with my work with Bus Leagues Baseball.com.

I could also take the money I make and use it as the backbone of life as a road comic. This would be much more difficult, but I do have some experience on stage. Not much, but some. And I could travel around the US doing open mics and attempting to network and make a name for myself. Maybe I could go to New York City or Los Angeles for a year and submerge myself in their respective comedy scenes and not have to wait tables like many struggling beginning performers do.

I’ve also visited and exchanged emails with the professors of the University of South Florida’s anthropology department in regards to starting PhD work in August 2013. I am especially interested in working in media anthropology, or the study of media-based creative culture to include fan groups, wide-spread social media usage, and being what Professor Henry Jenkins of University of South California calls an “aca-fan”, or academic fan. Some of the writing I have done on this blog has leaned slightly in that direction in an amateur way, and I think further pursuing that would be a great fit for me. Of course, PhD programs are not cheap, and the money made in Afghanistan will help me pay for this venture.

Am I scared about being in one of the worst places in the world, in a place where there are people who likely want to see me dead? Of course. But that fear is tempered by the fact that I know there are people there who are trained to protect civilian workers such as myself and they are very good at their job. I am also reassured by the dozens of people I know who have been over there already and have come back healthy, wealthy, and wise.

Also comforting is the fact that I will not be there alone. There are friends of mine, some from my career and some from college, who are there right now and some who will be showing up during my time there. As of this time, I am not sure exactly where I am going as there are many US bases in Afghanistan, so I don’t know if I will run into anyone I know, but I’m sure they will be going through many of the same experiences I will be going through.

I am also reassured by the fact that I have gotten emails and even Facebook comments from friends while in Afghanistan which leads me to believe that I can stay in touch, albeit not as often as when I am home. It won't be the face-to-face, but at least it's communication, which is a good thing. I'm not sure how my access will affect this blog, my other blogging endeavors, or my ability to post on twitter, but there are strings available to keep me in touch. And I will be sure to share my physical address when I find that out.

Will I miss my family and friends? Definitely. There is no doubt I will miss seeing my parents, my brother, grandparents, aunts, uncles, cousins, and my 4-year old nephew. They are a big part of my life and being away from them for a year is going to suck, point blank. But when I was in the military years ago, I would only come home for Christmas and this is not much different than that, although the me back then was a 19-21 year old me, a less mature me, a more adventurous me, a less-family conscious me, and one that didn’t value the connections as much as I do now. I've also been thinking that various people go away all the time, such as military members of course, and inmates. And I have a leg up on inmates, they go away longer and don't get paid as much if they do at all.

On a sorta related note, like having to start over professionally, I am a little worried about how this trip will affect me socially. Although I have plenty of friends and people to hang out with, I’ve been single for a long time and lived by myself for most of my time in Tampa and am just now realizing how kinda silly that was and is. While I am sure I won’t have my own tent or room or whatever other living arrangements there are in Afghanistan, I am also pretty sure I won’t be doing any dating over there and the odds that I meet a woman over there that becomes a friend stateside that I could hang out with regularly is probably pretty low. So the social life that I want to work on to has to be put on hold for a year. But like any other goal, as long as I keep what I want in mind and remember not to fall into another social rut, I should be ok.

Sorry this is so long, but it is my blog and this is what I am thinking about in regards to going to Afghanistan. It’s going to be a lot of work packing, putting things in storage, and preparing, but I am sure I will be ready when the time comes. I’m planning on putting a few more posts on this blog between now and the end of January, so I will be around for a little while longer, but I wanted to tell everyone what I know now so it’s not too much of a shock when I do take off.