Webster on the Web - 2012

Previous Year

A column by Gary Webster

 

December 2012

I don’t want to hear it!

I never thought the day would come that I’d be doing the Ebenezer Scrooge bit. Nobody loved Christmas more than I did as a child. Okay, I didn’t get wrapped up in what Christmas is really about, although I did enjoy the Christmas Eve service at our church. But I enjoyed it because as soon as it was over, we went home and waited impatiently for the fun stuff to start. I used to spend the day after Thanksgiving decorating my bedroom with tinsel and garland and ornaments and just about anything that was red and green. My bedroom looked more like Santa’s workshop than Santa’s workshop. I even played the role of Jacob Marley in the Willoughby Fine Arts Association’s production of A Christmas Carol in 1996. I spent a dozen performances putting that old skinflint Scrooge in his place and loved every minute of it. So I can’t believe that I’m going to write what I’m about to write.

It’s a mild, sunny Sunday afternoon on the north coast of America as I compose this essay. Unusual conditions for the 18th day of November. Not that I’m complaining, because I know what’s right around the corner. Well, maybe not right around the corner, since the extended forecast has no mention of snow for the next 10 days. We should be so fortunate. We got away with the mildest winter since 1871 last year, and I highly doubt that we’ll be so lucky this year. This isn’t the kind of weather than makes one think of the upcoming holiday season. The key word here being “upcoming.” The holidays aren’t here yet. Unless, of course, you’re a retailer, in which case Christmas season begins the day after Labor Day, or so it seems.

In my book, the Christmas season doesn’t begin until Thanksgiving is over, and Thanksgiving is four days away. When I was a kid, Christmas began at noon on Thanksgiving, when the CBS television network’s cavalcade of parades concluded with the Santa Claus parade in Toronto. Bringing up the rear of the Santa Claus parade was the jolly old elf himself, and when I saw him smiling and waving to the assembled multitude on whatever street in Toronto the parade ambled down, it was officially Christmas season. Since I don’t watch parades on Thanksgiving morning anymore, Christmas now begins at 12:01AM on the day after turkey day, otherwise known as Black Friday.

Speaking of turkeys, however, the turkeys who program some of Cleveland’s radio stations have jumped the gun on the Christmas season. This morning, as I left a local park after reading the Sunday sports section of the newspaper, I clicked on my car radio, expecting to hear Casey Kasem with a vintage broadcast of American Top 40 playing the hits from some year in the 1970’s and bringing back happy memories thereof. Instead, I heard Bruce Springsteen singing some song about Christmas I’d never heard before. That was followed by Elvis Presley warbling Blue Christmas. That was followed by me clicking off my radio. It had happened. Thirty-seven days before Christmas, the local oldies station had already switched to its 24/7 Christmas music format. Nothing but Christmas music for the next 912 hours, including all day Christmas day.

I’m not ready for this! A Christmas tune or two each hour, mixed in with the rock `n roll, is fine. But I’m not ready for a wall-to-wall holiday tune-a-thon four days before Thanksgiving. I must be in the minority, however, because several stations are doing it, and the turkeys who program them wouldn’t be in holiday mode unless lots of people were tuned in. I won’t be one of them. This is why God invented CD players.

I have to go now. I’m getting a call from the Grinch.

 

November 2012

This is going to cost me.

In case you’ve been wondering, I receive no compensation for the essays I compose for this website. I write them because I’m an opinionated cuss with a lot to say, and because I enjoy writing, and because Linda Rome, the wonderful lady who began the website and was one of my writing mentors, would want me to. I know Linda would want me to because she encouraged all of her students to “keep writing,” hence the name of this website.

Although I don’t mind not being paid to express my opinions on this website, I never intended for one of my essays to wind up costing me money, but I’m afraid that’s what October’s essay is going to do. I was so proud of myself for dedicating my October essay to my alma mater, Kent State University, and its football team, which, after decades of being the dregs of college sports, is finally winning some games and generating some positive publicity for the university. As a distinguished and proud alum (well, a proud alum), I was happy to donate 45 lines to singing the praises of the football team. Well, not all 45 lines, but most of them.

Imagine my chagrin when, while looking through an alumni publication after posting the essay, I noted that the name Kent State was followed by the symbol for registered trademark. In other words, I saw this: Kent State™. I didn’t think my computer word processing software had an icon for “trademark.” Pretty impressive, huh?

Anyway, I was distressed by this development because I’m well aware of the implications. Businesses trademark product names and phrases so they’ll be compensated each time someone uses them. For example, back in the late 1980’s, after the Los Angeles Lakers™ had won consecutive National Basketball Association™ championships, the city held a victory parade to honor them, as cities whose teams win sports championships do, which is why we haven’t had one in Cleveland recently. I don’t recall if Cleveland held a victory parade for the Browns™ after they won the 1964 National Football League™ championship. I don’t think so. Championship or no, it’s just too doggone cold to hold parades in Cleveland in late December! By the time it was warm enough, all the players had gone home and the fans were busy booing the heck out of the Cleveland Indians™.

At the party following the parade (we’re back in Los Angeles now), Lakers coach Pat Riley promised the assembled multitude that the team would win a third straight championship the following season, which he termed a “three-peat.” Being not only a great basketball coach but a smart businessman, Riley immediately trademarked the term three-peat™, meaning that anyone using the term henceforth and on into ad infinitum would have to pay him a royalty for doing so. Note to self: write check to Riley.

This means that my attempt to pay tribute to my beloved alma mater’s football team is going to cost me big bucks (which I don’t have) because I owe them a royalty payment for each and every time I referred to the school since Kent State™ is a registered trademark. How the heck was I supposed to know that? Here I was, trying to be a loyal graduate of Kent State™, and now I find out that I’m going to have to pay them for each time I referred to Kent State™ in an essay about Kent State™. Not to mention all the royalties I’ll have to pay Kent State™ for all the references I’ve made to Kent State™ in this month’s essay about last month’s essay about Kent State™.

Maybe I’ll have to be like Woody Hayes and call it “that school in Kent.”

 

October 2012

Yay, we won!

I mean, boo, we won!

No I don't.

I'm sure I've mentioned on many occasions in past essays that I'm a proud Golden Flash, meaning I'm a graduate of Kent State University. If you know anything about college sports, you should've known that without an explanation. It's different than saying I'm a proud Bulldog or Tiger or Lion or something like that. Many colleges have such pedestrian nicknames. But only one university in America has the nickname Golden Flashes. It's unique. Not quite as unique as the University of California at Santa Barbara, whose sports teams are called the Banana Slugs. Now that's what I call a unique nickname. A little too unique for my taste. I wouldn't want to graduate from UCSB, which I'm sure is a fine institution, and tell people for the rest of my life that I'm a Banana Slug. It's difficult enough telling people I'm a Golden Flash, and then having to explain precisely what a Golden Flash is, since I don't know. Our football helmets used to feature a lightning bolt on them, so I guess that's as good an explanation as any. What else could a Golden Flash be. . .a streaker with a scurvy?

Speaking of football, it's hard to be a proud Golden Flash when it comes to football. We haven't had a decent football team since Ronald Reagan was in the second to last year of his presidency. . .that would be 1987 for the historically challenged, when we won seven games and lost four. Only three times since then. . .that would be 25 seasons for the mathematically challenged. . .have we won as many as six games in a season, and in the entire decade of the 1990's, we won as many games total as Ohio State's football team wins in a year. . .and an off year at that. Kent State won all of nine football games between 1990 and 1999. Like many frustrated sports fans, Kent State fans took to wearing paper bags over their heads at games during that miserable decade. Unlike other fans, however, we didn't cut out holes for our eyes so as to see what was happening on the field. It was too gruesome to behold!

That's why the 2012 season has been so much fun. . .at least so far. As I write this essay, my Golden Flashes have won five of six games and four in a row. The latest victory was achieved this very afternoon at a place called Michie Stadium on the banks of the Hudson River in the scenic Adirondack Mountains, where we spoiled homecoming at West Point by defeating Army, 31-17. Last week, we spoiled homecoming in Ypsilanti, Michigan, by pounding Eastern Michigan, 41-14. My guys are becoming regular road warriors. But are we traitors? Is it un-American to defeat one of the service academies on the football field? Are we Benedict Arnolds in cleats?

A few years ago, Ohio State opened its football season by hosting the Naval Academy. A crowd of about 105,000 packed Ohio Stadium to watch the Buckeyes win big (actually, they barely held on to win by a measly four points.) Prior to the game, Ohio State's athletic department urged the crowd to cheer not only for their beloved Buckeyes, but for the visitors as well. The fans were reminded that this wasn't your average, ordinary first game patsy schools like Ohio State schedule so as to pummel into submission and get the season off to a flying start. This was the United States Naval Academy, whose players would be spending the six years after they graduate serving our country and protecting our borders from threats by sea, not getting drafted by the NFL and making big bucks pursuing a Super Bowl championship. There were a few scattered boos for the Midshipmen, but the crowd treated the visitors with the proper respect. At least until they unexpectedly made the game uncomfortably close in the fourth quarter. After all, this was still football. Didn't those guys know they were supposed to be no match for Ohio State?

Is it unpatriotic to march onto the home field of the Army Cadets and beat the snot out of them. . .and ruin homecoming? Army's players will be deployed all over the world defending our precious way of life upon graduation. Imagine being sent to Afghanistan and having to explain to your fellow Cadets. . .and, worse yet, to the Marines. . .how you lost to Kent State. And on homecoming!

Yay, team!

I mean, shame on you, team! (No, I don't.)

 

September 2012

You're not the boss of me!

We're deep into the political season, and I, for one, am getting fed up with advertisements telling me what to do. And I don't mean advertisements telling me which candidate to vote for, although I'm getting fed up with them, too. If I followed the commands of those advertisements, I'd have to vote for everybody on the ballot, and I don't think that's legal.

I get aggravated by the advertisements that assume they know what I want and what I'm thinking. They don't, of course, and the creators of these ads are aware of that, but the purpose of the ads is to make me think the way they do, and part of the process of (hopefully) achieving that goal is the phrasing of the advertisements. In order to accomplish their objective, they hire a highly-paid and authoritative-sounding announcer who proceeds to address me as if I'm back in third grade and at the mercy of my teacher, who can give me a detention or load me with homework if I don't do what I'm told.

Here in Ohio, we have a senator named Sherrod Brown who has ruffled a lot of conservative feathers. Those conservatives are particularly honked off at Brown for voting in favor of the controversial Democratic health care plan that passed a couple of years ago with exactly zero (0) support from Republicans. These ads claim Brown cast the deciding vote in favor of the Affordable Care Act of 2010 (or Obamacare, as the media calls it) and they want him to change his mind. The Republicans have brought the measure up for a vote numerous times since it passed, knowing, with the Democrats in control of the Senate (which they may not be when you read this) that it doesn't have the proverbial snowball's chance in Hades of being repealed. Nonetheless, the highly-paid authoritative-sounding announcer on television, sounding a lot like a Marine drill sergeant, practically orders me to CALL SENATOR BROWN AND TELL HIM YOU WANT HIM TO VOTE TO REPEAL OBAMACARE!

What I want to know is, how does this highly-paid, authoritative-sounding pseudo-Marine drill sergeant know that I want Senator Brown to vote to repeal Obamacare the next time the Republicans bring it up? Maybe I don't want him to vote against it. Maybe I'm glad he cast the deciding vote for it. And maybe I don't like some voice on the television telling me what to do.

On second thought, there's no maybe about that. I don't like voices on the television (or radio) telling me what to do. But that doesn't stop them from trying.

Such as the advertisement promoting the candidacy of Mitt Romney, after whose health care package he guided through the Massachusetts legislature when he was governor earlier in this century the Obama plan was patterned. Romney has vowed to repeal Obamacare if he's elected (and enough of his Republican cronies are elected to the Senate to shove the Democrats aside) and he's currently airing a radio advertisement in which not one but two highly-paid, authoritative-sounding announcers tell me that WE DON'T WANT OBAMA'S HEALTH CARE PLAN!

Excuse me, but, as a famous Republican president, Ronald Reagan, once said to the man he tossed out of office, Jimmy Carter, "there you go again!" There are over 300 million people in the United States, who constitute "we." As I am one of those 300 million, I am, therefore, part of "we." When Romney's commercial says "we don't want Obama's health care plan," it means "I, as the Republican nominee, don't want Obama's health care plan." And that's his prerogative. But don't tell me that "we don't want Obama's health care plan," because I'm part of "we," and he can't speak for me. And he can't tell me what to do.

At least not unless he's elected president.

 

August 2012

Hey! I wrote a book!

With apologies to John Madden, the Hall of Fame professional football coach who was so startled when he wrote a book that he titled it Hey, I Wrote a Book! (which I someday may actually read), I can now say that I did, too. Write a book, that is. The trick, however, isn't writing a book. I've written several. The trick is getting that book published. And I finally have!

It's been a long and bumpy road to publication, as it is for most authors. I wrote my first book when I was in fifth grade. More accurately, I started my first book when I was in fifth grade. I don't remember how many pages I'd written before my short attention span caused me to lose interest and move on to other less time consuming pursuits. I remember what the book was about. Or, at least, what it would've been about had I finished it. My very first effort at book writing was the tale of a young boy and girl in an old western wagon train whose parents were fatally trampled by a herd of wild bison (are the any other kind of bison?) and who decide to bravely press on toward their destination, wherever that may have been. Probably California. Weren't all old western wagon trains headed for California? Having never been interested in the old west, I have no idea why I chose such a scenario for my first attempt at writing a book. Maybe that was why I didn't get very far. Along about page three or so, I probably dropped my pencil and asked "what the heck am I writing about an old western wagon train for? What do I know about old western wagon trains?" Inasmuch as I was only in fifth grade, I didn't know much of anything about anything. Certainly not enough to write a book about.

My next attempt at becoming a rich and famous author came in 1974, when I was 18 and knew a few things about a few things, at least enough to write a book about. The one thing I knew more about than anything else was baseball, which was why I was convinced people would beat a path to their local bookstore to buy a book about the 1974 Cleveland Indians. That explains why I felt compelled to write one, which I did. Unfortunately, I was busy banging away on my typewriter in the basement of my parents house when I should've been tending to my studies at Cleveland State University. But who needed a college degree when I was about to achieve fame and fortune as an author? Why I thought anyone would want to read about the `74 Indians, who finished in fourth place, 14 games out of first, is beyond me. It was also beyond the publisher I submitted the manuscript to, Prentice-Hall of Englewood Cliffs, New Jersey. Prentice-Hall had published a book about the Cleveland Browns, so I couldn't see why they wouldn't want to publish my manuscript. The editor found many reasons, the main one being the book stunk. I still have the manuscript and have tried to read it a few times. I keep falling asleep. I wonder if Prentice-Hall's editor did, too.

Next came attempts at humor. I wrote a book taking a humorous look at how a single person survives the Christmas holiday season (the hardest time of the year, other than Valentine's Day, to be unattached and without prospects.) Chronicle Books of San Francisco didn't find the manuscript nearly as funny as I did. Then I wrote a book about bad decisions made by people, such as the record company executive who didn't sign the Beatles to a recording contract because he didn't think they were a marketable commodity. I have 26 such stories of stupid decisions. A real thigh-slapping premise, right? No publisher has rejected that manuscript, possibly because no publisher has seen it. Then I wrote the memoir of my experiences as a broadcaster, which a publisher has seen. . .and rejected. But only one. Most manuscripts get rejected at least 20 times before a publisher buys them. At least, that's what my many writing instructors have told me. That means my memoir has only 19 rejections to go.

But the folks at a publishing house in North Carolina liked my book about the 1920 Cleveland Indians. The 1920 Indians were a much better team than the 1974 Indians (they won the world championship) and I'm a much better writer than I was in 1974. Also much older.

Now, I only have to get one more book published to catch up to Madden.

 

July 2012

Get off the guy's back, okay?

On the day after this essay is written, a 66-year old man named Peter Madoff will plead guilty in a New York courtroom to involvement in his brother Bernie's Fonzie scheme. Bernie is currently serving a prison sentence in the neighborhood of 150 years for masterminding the scheme, meaning he'll be the oldest man in the world when he's released from the slammer, far too old to be impersonating Fonzie. I doubt that anyone will sell a 225 year old man motorcycle insurance.

For those not old enough to remember the 1970's, Fonzie was the nickname of Arthur Fonzarelli, a character on one of the most popular American television programs of all time, Happy Days. Fonzie, played by Henry Winkler, wasn't supposed to be the star of Happy Days, but viewers, particularly female viewers, gravitated toward him and made him the focus of the program. Happy Days came along in 1974, shortly before Dick Nixon became the first and only president to resign the office, and at a time when our great nation's nerves were still on edge over Watergate, Vietnam, and all the trials and tribulations of the free-wheeling 1960's. Happy Days took us back to the 1950's, during which I was introduced to this world, and which was known, according to a textbook I studied at Cuyahoga Community College in a social sciences course (which I aced, if you're interested) as "the age of conformity." Dwight Eisenhower was president, rock-n-roll was born, and we were all scared to death that nuclear war with the Soviet Union, which doesn't even exist anymore, would break out at any minute. And guys like Fonzie, who wore leather jackets and slicked back their hair with Brylcreem and rode motorcycles and dated a different chick (as women were called in the 50's) every night, were all the rage, to say nothing of being the envy of all the guys who didn't do all the aforementioned stuff because they weren't cool enough. Had I been old enough in the 50's (I was just three when the decade ended) to be in high school, I would've been one of the guys who envied guys like Fonzie. That's why he was my hero.

Every Tuesday night found me plopped in front of our living room TV watching Happy Days and wishing I could be like the Fonz. Every guy in America who was severely lacking in cool wanted to be like the Fonz, although I confess to having no desire, either then or now, to ride a motorcycle. But I wanted to wear a leather jacket and smear Brylcreem (if they still make the stuff, they'll get a bill for this free plug) on my hair and be able to summon the chick(s) of my choice with a simple snap of my fingers, as Fonzie did. Man, were the chicks crazy nuts for Fonzie! Yet, as cool as he was, Fonzie was still a nice guy (because people don't laugh at nasty characters and Happy Days was a situation comedy.) I used to walk around in a T-shirt bearing Fonzie's likeness and his trademark saying: AAAAAYYYYY! That's pronounced AAAAAAYYYYY, by the way. Of course I wanted to be like the Fonz.

So, apparently, did the Madoff brothers, Bernie and Pete. Why else would Bernie have started his Fonzie scheme and allowed his brother to participate? All these guys wanted to do was be like the Fonz, and what happens? They get arrested, put on trial, and tossed in the clink, not to mention being ordered to forfeit all their worldly possessions. Just for wanting to be cool like the Fonz? There are a lot of worse guys they could've emulated.

What's that? Madoff was operating a PONZI scheme, not a FONZIE scheme? Oops. Never mind.

 

June 2012

As baseball legend Yogi Berra allegedly said, "I didn't say all the things I said." Or something like that.

I confess to writing this essay nearly three weeks before it will be posted on the website you're currently visiting, which a columnist who specializes in timeliness should never do. By the time you read this essay, the fellow who inspired it, Scott Thompson, may no longer be the chief executive officer of Yahoo! I think the company name includes the exclamation point on the end. There's a controversy swirling over Thompson's resume, which claims he earned an advanced degree in computer science which Thompson admits to not earning. That certainly wouldn't make Thompson the first person to embellish his or her resume in search of a better paying job. . .and we all know how much CEO's make these days. Thompson, however, says he didn't embellish his resume. Rather, it was embellished by someone at the job placement firm of Heidrick and Struggles as it (successfully) attempted to place him in an important position with eBay/PayPal back in 2005. The employee of H & S placed a document in Thompson's file (he never submitted a resume to eBay/PayPal) claiming he had an advanced degree in computer science. Thompson didn't read the resume H & S created, so he didn't know it claimed he'd earned a degree that he hadn't earned. When Thompson was hired as Yahoo! CEO, he was apparently hired on the strength of the embellished resume that he never read. A major stockholder in Yahoo! is none too pleased with this revelation and wants Thompson fired. By the time you read this essay, he may have been. Or not.

In an effort to get a better job (and it wouldn't take much for any job to be better than the one I've got) I've hired the prestigious job placement firm of Baloney & Malarkey to make my dull resume sound more impressive to prospective employers. In order to avoid Thompson's dilemma, I decided to take a look at the document B & M has produced, and it's fortunate I did. I have no idea who did all the things this bunch of con artists has listed on my resume, but it sure wasn't me.

For example, according to my official B & M resume, I graduated Summa Cum Laude from Yale with a bachelor's degree in horticulture. I think that has something to do with plants. I don't even have a garden. I live in an apartment. I continued my education at Harvard, where I earned a master's degree in quantum physics. Anyone knows no self-respecting Yale graduate would seek a master's degree from arch-rival Harvard! Then I spent two years in England on my Rhodes Scholarship, studying engineering (so I could build roads with my Rhodes Scholarship, get it?)

According to the folks at B & M, I parlayed all this knowledge into a job as the chief of cranial surgery at the Mayo Clinic. What do I know about cranial surgery? Or the Mayo Clinic? I thought they made mayonnaise there! I didn't know they performed brain transplants. From there, wherever the Mayo Clinic is, I moved on to the position of CEO of a company that manufactures rubber bands in the Philippines. Then, my crowning achievement: I was president of the United States from 1997-2005! That's certainly going to come as a shock to both Bill Clinton and G.W. Bush. It sure surprised me!

It's a good thing I read the resume this so-called job placement agency created for me, before a potential employer saw it. What if someone had investigated and discovered I really hadn't been CEO of a rubber band manufacturer? It could have cost me a good paying new job with perks.

Next time I want a resume written, I think I'll hire David Letterman's writers.

 

May 2012

Let's define our terms.

Inasmuch as 2012 is a presidential election year, and any essayist worth his word processor (which I hope I am) gleans reams and reams of material from politicians, I confess to being remiss to waiting until the fifth month of the year to dedicate a commentary to the topic of selecting the next occupant of the White House. Sorry about that!

As this essay is composed, it appears that we have narrowed down the candidates for the presidency to two. The incumbent, Barack Obama, since announcing his candidacy for re-election, has been able to spend his time attempting to solve the problems he hasn't been able to solve up to this point, and raising the money he'll need to win a second term, to afford him time to solve the problems he hasn't been able to solve until now and will soon be far too busy campaigning to solve in the months before November. As is usually the case (though not always, just ask former president Jimmy Carter), the sitting president, when eligible for another term, doesn't face any opposition from within his party, and, although there may be a lot of Democrats who want Obama's job, they're willing to wait until 2016 to seek it. Although, to have a legitimate shot at the nomination, they'll have to start campaigning on November 7th, the day Obama is either basking in the glow of his re-election or analyzing how he lost to a guy named "Mitt."

All indications are that former Massachusetts governor Willard "Mitt" Romney will be the Republican nominee. Romney has more than half of the 1,144 delegates he needs to secure the nomination, and his last serious challenger, former senator from the commonwealth of Pennsylvania, Rick Santorum, dropped out of the race a week ago. Romney's remaining challengers are former House Speaker Newt Gingrich and Texas congressman Ron Paul. Gingrich has won one primary (in his home state of Georgia) and has only a handful of delegates. Paul has won zero primaries and has as many delegates as I have. Both Gingrich and Paul have, as of the date this essay is being written, vowed to remain in the race to the bitter end, which is what the end will be for both of them. How is it that the party of Lincoln has reached the point where its members have a choice between a guy named "Mitt" and a guy named "Newt" for the presidential nomination? And wouldn't Paul have been better off going by his formal name of Ronald? It worked for Reagan.

Technically (and it's about time I got to the real topic of this essay), Santorum "suspended" his campaign for president. So did Texas governor Rick Perry and businessman Herman Cain. "Suspending" one's campaign has become the trendy thing to do. It creates the illusion that the candidate is taking a moment to catch his breath and re-assess his situation, leaving the door open to jumping back into the race at a later date. At least, that's what a "suspension" means in the real world. When an athlete is suspended, it means he or she is being punished for some transgression, and once the suspension has been served, the transgressor will be allowed to resume competition.

That's the way a suspension works in any field of endeavor. Except, apparently, politics.

Santorum isn't going to resume his quest for the presidency this year. Neither is Perry nor Cain. There seems to be a stigma attached to admitting "Romney's kicking my butt, I can't win the nomination, I quit." Then again, maybe I've mis-read their intentions. Maybe they have "suspended" their campaigns. Until 2016. Or November 7, 2012.

 

April 2012

Who was responsible for this?

I'm writing this essay on the 28th day of March, with my bedroom window open to allow a southerly breeze to distribute fresh air, and wearing a T-shirt. Though these conditions aren't unprecedented for the date in question, neither are they normal. Last week at this time, beautiful northeastern Ohio was basking in 80-plus degree warmth. It has been an incredible March. In fact, it has been an incredible winter, about which no complaints will be issued from this corner. I didn't think I'd be able to make such a statement several months ago.

The denizens of northeastern Ohio were warned during the latter stages of autumn to expect a winter the likes of which few, if any, of us had ever experienced. The prognosticators were correct, although they were 180 degrees off in their prediction. Since I have a 44-mile round trip work, in the heart of the area known (with good reason) as the "snow belt," and I must make said drive to work at 5:15 in the morning (in other words, when its pitch dark), my nerves were more than slightly jangled when I read a headline in a local newspaper in late October which posed the question "will this be the worst winter ever?" I didn't bother reading the article below the headline because, if the answer was yes (and, despite not reading the article, I'm 99% certain it was) I didn't want to know. Maybe it's true that ignorance is bliss. Having lived through some of the worst winters northeastern Ohio has ever suffered, I cringed at the thought that during the next five months (November through March) the worst winter ever would descend upon us.

Allow me to put my trepidation into perspective, especially for those of you who may be reading this column from a laptop on a lanai in Hawaii or south Florida. In my time on this planet, I have survived the legendary white hurricane of January 1978, so called because it roared through Ohio with all the characteristics of a hurricane except it buried us under snow rather than rain. I was in college at Kent State at the time and my roommate's car was trapped beneath a six-foot snowdrift for days afterward! I have survived the bitter month of January 1977, when the official National Weather Service northeastern Ohio reporting station recorded 0% of possible sunshine, and the average high temperature was a frosty 11 degrees. I have survived every 100+ inch winter snowfall Cleveland has ever recorded, including the landmark lake effect blizzard of November 1996, which dropped 70 inches of snow on Chardon, Ohio's snow capitol, in ten days. So, when someone who should know about such things predicts that northeastern Ohio had better brace for the "worst winter ever," I would've paid attention, had I not been busy hiding under the bed.

Instead, northeastern Ohio enjoyed the seventh warmest winter on record, with only one significant lake effect snowfall and no major snowstorms. Every snowfall melted within three days as temperatures continually climbed a dozen or more degrees above normal. . .unlike some years when the first snow falls in November and we don't see the ground again until Easter. Some "worst winter ever." I inhaled all those dust bunnies for nothing.

The reason for our extremely mild winter was La Nina, a weather phenomenon that involves the warming of Pacific Ocean water and its effect on wind currents that keeps the bitterly cold air in Canada where it belongs and away from us. The jughead who didn't notice La Nina and predicted the "worst winter ever" better have a good lawyer, because I think I'm entitled to compensation for a winter of frayed nerves!

 

March 2012

Talk about your smoking guns!

Eighteen years after the man went to his reward, people are still digging up dirt about Richard Nixon, the 37th president of the United States. And since this nugget concerns football, and this essay is being written on the first Sunday sans football since August, I've chosen to make it the topic of February's essay rather than moaning and groaning about the fact that I have no Valentine to lavish gifts and affection upon. Which may be just as well since I have no money to pay for gifts to lavish upon my non-existent Valentine. But, as a recently popular song noted, "love don't cost a thing," and I've got plenty of that. But you're as sick of reading about that as I am of writing about it, so let's get back to this month's topic.

According to ESPN's website, recently de-classified tape recordings (those doggone tape recordings got Nixon into more trouble) indicate that in December of 1972, with the NFL playoffs drawing near, and with Nixon's favorite team, the Washington Redskins, having qualified for those playoffs, Nixon told his attorney general, Richard Kleindienst, to get in touch with Pete Rozelle. Rozelle, as the commissioner of the NFL, was probably the second most powerful man in American, next only to Nixon. The NFL, then as now, is probably the second most powerful entity in American, next only to Congress. And people like the NFL a heck of a lot more than they like Congress, although they might not if Rozelle had accepted the offer Nixon told Kleindienst to make back in 1972. In that bygone era, all home games were blacked out on local TV. That meant the Redskins playoff game wouldn't be available to the team's rabid fans even though Robert F. Kennedy Stadium would be packed to the rafters. It would be SRO. Nonetheless, the NFL forbade the televising of home games, which meant even Nixon wouldn't be able to watch the game in the White House. Nixon, however, would be spending the weekend with his pals (Bebe Rebozo and that bunch, I assume) in Florida, where he'd be able to watch the game, but it was the principal of the thing. And that's what startles me today.

You'd think Rozelle would've bent over backwards and sideways to pacify the president of the United States. You'd think Rozelle would've installed, right next to the red phone that connected the White House to the Kremlin in case of dire emergency, a special cable hook-up that would've allowed the president of the United States to watch any game he wanted to watch, including the Redskins, even if they were playing just a few blocks away. We're talking about the president of the United States! But a blackout was a blackout, and nobody, but nobody, but nobody was allowed to watch a team's home games on TV. Not even THE PRESIDENT OF THE UNITED STATES! Who'd ever have suspected the NFL was so egalitarian?

Nixon told Kleindienst to tell Rozelle that if he'd let the folks in Washington (where Nixon wouldn't even be) watch the Redskins playoff game on local TV, he'd veto a bill Congress was debating that would require the NFL to televise a team's home games if all tickets to said game were sold 72 hours before the kickoff. Rozelle politely declined. Or maybe not so politely. Nixon didn't like anyone saying "no" to him, so when Congress passed the bill Nixon promised to veto if Rozelle had said "yes" he politely signed it into law, and the NFL has been required to televise sold-out home games ever since.

It astounds me that the White House lacked the technology to pick up the Redskins' home games from somewhere and beam them into the Oval Office. They could break into Democratic national headquarters but couldn't install a satellite dish?

 

February 2012

Hey, Miller, card this!

We live, unfortunately, in an age of attitude, particularly when it comes to advertising products, the sale of which merely constitutes the life's blood of a capitalistic society. We are a nation of consumers, although, thanks to the lousy economy, we can't consume as much as we'd like. . .at least I can't. Maybe that explains the overabundance of attitude in commercials today. There just isn't as much consuming going on as there once was (say, back in the halcyon days of the Clinton administration which now seem so far away) and advertisers must feel they have to resort to getting in consumers' faces in an effort to make those consumers consume their products and not someone else's. Gone is a simpler era when Brand Y insisted that it was better than Brand X and then left it up to the consumer to compare and decide. Now, Brand Y feels it's necessary to demean and threaten consumers who dare to spend their money on a competing product.

For example, during a recent sporting event I watched on TV, a commercial for a certain brand of light beer which I won't mention (but whose name appears in the first sentence of this essay) featured two guys sitting at a bar enjoying the sponsor's brew when an acquaintance bellied up to the bar and ordered a different brand of suds. After a disapproving look and then a mild rebuke failed to convince the fellow to order the same brand of beer his pals were quaffing, they informed him that if he didn't change his mind immediately "we'll have to take your man card." Just what is a "man card" and where can I get one? I don't have one. Maybe it's because I don't drink beer at all which, in the eyes of some, would disqualify me from applying for a "man card" in the first place, even if I knew where to find an application and where to submit it after I found it and filled it out. I know I'm getting bent out of shape over a stupid, totally tongue-in-cheek advertisement meant to be taken in the spirit of fun, but I'm getting a little tired of sponsors telling us that if we don't use their product, we're not a "real man" or a "real woman."

I'm reminded of the summer day in 1995 when my friends Rudy and Lisa (not their real names, to protect the author) were having lunch with me in a restaurant on Kelleys Island in beautiful western Lake Erie. I don't remember what any of us ordered to eat, but Rudy, being a "real man" ordered a beer to wash his meal down with. I asked the server for a chocolate milk, and not in a dirty glass, either. Rudy shook his head disapprovingly and said "dude, real men don't drink chocolate milk. At least not in public." I guess I was lucky he didn't demand the immediate surrender of my "man card," which I had clearly forfeited with my serious breach of conduct.

A couple of years later, following the performance of a play in which I'd been cast at the Willoughby Fine Arts Association (Baby With the Bathwater, in which I played the psychiatrist), I mentioned that incident to my fellow cast members as we waited for our dinners at a restaurant named for the sixth day of the week, for which we are all grateful. I don't recall what I ordered to drink that night, but it wasn't chocolate milk. Sitting across the table from me was a burly fellow named Dave, who was married to one of my castmates, a real sweetheart named Sugar (yes, that's her real name, and why are all the real sweathearts already married?). I'll never forget Dave's response.

"A real man drinks whatever he wants, and he doesn't care what anybody thinks." Spoken like a card-carrying member of the Real Man Club, which is undoubtedly way cooler than the Man Club. I've tried to live by Dave's words ever since. I thought of them as I watched those wussies in the commercial threaten to confiscate their friend's "man card."

A real man works up a powerful thirst writing an essay. I think I'll have a glass of chocolate milk. And I don't care who knows it.

 

January 2012

If it's January. . .and, unfortunately, it is. . .then it must be that time again.

No, not time for snow and ice and slush and all the other stuff that accompanies winter here in beautiful northeastern Ohio. It's time for another exciting season of American Idol, which, for the 10th consecutive year, will whittle down a stampede of thousands of singers seeking fame and fortune to two finalists, one of which will receive a recording contract and one of which will not. At least, I don't think the runner-up gets a recording contract. Not from the producers of the program, anyway. But they'll get one, in addition to the fame and fortune the winner receives. Only not quite as much. Or maybe more. It all depends.

Despite my affection for music, and despite the fact American Idol has been the most popular program on TV for the past several years, I never watch the show. In its decade on the Fox network, I have seen exactly five minutes worth of American Idol. That was during the final broadcast of the first season when, for a reason I still can't fully comprehend, I felt compelled to find out who the first American Idol would be, Kelly Clarkson or Justin Guarini. (It was Kelly.) As soon as I found out, I changed the channel. I didn't even stick around to hear Kelly sing her victory song. I don't know why, because Kelly was a babe! But I tuned out and haven't watch one single, solitary second of American Idol since then. Nor do I plan to watch one single, solitary second of American Idol this year.

I do know that NBC, sick and tired of getting its posterior kicked in the ratings year after year, created an American Idol clone called, cleverly, The Voice. I don't know who in NBC's programming department came up with that title, but the genius responsible deserves a raise. Or a pink slip. I'm not sure which. Anyway, even though I've never watched so much as a minute of The Voice, I understand that it's a lot like American Idol. They start with a few thousand singers and keep eliminating people until they have just two left and one of them is proclaimed to be The Voice and gets a prize package similar, if not identical, to the prize package the American Idol gets. Just as American Idol had Paula Abdul and currently has Jennifer Lopez as the celebrity judge who was also a singing star with Grammy awards and hit records to her credit and therefore lent some credibility to the panel of judges (in addition to being nice and compassionate to those who have their hearts broken and dreams shattered by the other judges), The Voice has Christina Aguilera as its celebrity judge. I'm guessing there are myriad other similarities between the two singing competitions, but I can't be sure because I've never watched The Voice and I don't intend to start now, even though the first episode of the new season will be broadcast after the Super Bowl (and despite the presence of the sexy Christina as a judge).

I also know that Simon Cowell (A-K-A the mean judge that everybody hated), who brought American Idol across the Atlantic from Great Britain, got sick of the show and quit, only to return with a brilliant idea of his own: a singing competition called The X Factor, which is not to be confused with The X Files. Or maybe that's the twist: only extraterrestrials are allowed to be contestants on The X Factor. A two-headed singer could sing a duet with him or herself. And Cowell could say nasty things about both of them, and the extraterrestrial could zap him with his or her (their?) laser beam eyes.

That might actually be worth watching.

 

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Copyright © 2012 by Gary Webster

 


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