Archive for August, 2009

Andy’s New America

A few days ago, I was at my local gym, fooling myself into believing that I was really pushing it on the treadmill while watching an episode of “The Verminators” on the little treadmill TV. (The guy who combined TV and exercise should really get a  Nobel Prize.) Anyway, during a commercial break, my paradoxically short attention span caused me to start looking aimlessly around the gym when I noticed a guy working out in a Star Trek shirt. There was no mistaking it – the blue shirt – black collar – the Federation symbol displayed proudly over the heart. Majestic is its own sort of way.

Now, one would not be wrong to argue that the real story here is the fact that I was actually in a gym. Normally I would agree, but this is a special story – a story about how far we have come in America. And it’s a story about America’s redemption and how we have come to finally embrace our past.

You see, not all that long ago, anyone caught wearing a Star Trek uniform within a hundred yards of a gym would find themselves walking home with an Atomic Wedgie.  The irony here is that at one point in time, America itself was the little nerd – at least on a global sense. The British with their powder wigs, ruffle shirts, and big buckle shoes were the cool guys. They got off on pushing us around and making fun of our coonskin caps and silly accents. In fact, most people don’t realize that the movie “Revenge of the Nerds” is actually an allegorical recounting of the American Revolution. The Nerds represent the Americans with the Alpha Betas as the British, the Omega Mu’s as the Hessians and Lamar as the French. And just like in the movie, America stood up to the big bully British and took over the Greek Council. But unlike the movie, we didn’t embrace ourselves as nerds. We were embarrassed and ashamed so we bulked ourselves up, got addicted to processed meats, and became the world’s big man on campus.

But that has started to change. Just as we have made progress in terms of sexism, racism, and a wide range of other hang-ups, we have also made progress in the acceptance of our Nerdism. The evidence of this change can be seen everywhere around us. On television  the SyFy Channel  blares out Dr. Who and Battlestar Galactica 24 hours a day. And even old stodgy CBS has a series called “The Big Bang Theory” that centers on the lives and dreams of a group of nerds. (This show truly is the “Will & Grace” of the nerd revolution.) At the movies we have sequel after sequel of Harry Potter while the new Star Trek movie grossed almost 400 million dollars.  Finally, if you need more proof – William Shatner has become some type of neo-hipster.

So, all of this brings me back to that brave guy at the gym in the Star Trek shirt. There he was, lifting weights and sporting a healthy cardiovascular system, and most importantly, not being judged. As my attention span waned yet again, and I went back to watching “The Verminators” tangle with some angry honeybees, I felt a renewed sense of pride in being an American. Sure, times may be tough now, but it’s going to be alright. Live Long and Prosper America.

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Big Fan Review

Big FanFor those that don’t know, I’m the Producer of the podcast EaglesFanCast – Views on the Philadelphia Eagles.   I started it two years ago as a way to get my geek on in a niche demographic and explore the world of New Media from the inside.  I had already been consuming podcasts for more than a year, and the whole new media world intrigued me a lot.  I worked with my friend Eric, who I have Eagles Season Tickets with, to build the concept and site ideas, then recruited my friend Todd to be a third co-host.  Todd and I had season tickets together back in the Veterans Stadium days, and he has since relocated to Los Angeles where he started his career and family.  We do the show from an Eagles Fan’s perspective with no script or agenda, and definitely with no professional analysis.  Each week during the season we talk about the team’s ups and downs, as it would be talked about by fans in any pub, with plenty of fan emotion thrown in.

A few weeks ago, I was contacted about the upcoming movie, Big Fan, by those behind the marketing.  They wanted to know if we were interested in a screening of the film, as well as an interview with Writer / Director Robert Siegel.  Mr. Siegel is the acclaimed writer behind 2008’s The Wrestler.  Of course I responded positively, I’m not a fool, and within a couple weeks I received a very nondescript DVD in the mail.

With actor / comedian Patton Oswalt as the star of the movie, as well as the vague description of the movie (paraphrasing: Paul is a huge New York Giants fan, who runs into his hero, a superstar Giants linebacker, then things don’t go as planned), I expected this to be a comedy.  The trailer quickly stifled that suspicion as we see Paul get a beatdown from his hero, the fictional player Quantrell Bishop.

As I unfortunately have not seen The Wrestler yet, I was not familiar with Mr. Siegel’s writing, and this was his directorial debut.  I had no expectations going into this movie.

The pacing of the movie is slow, pretty much matching the life of the main character Paul Aufiero (Patton Oswalt).  Paul lives with his mother (Marcia Jean Kurtz), works as a fee-taker at a parking garage, has one friend, Sal (played by Kevin Corrigan), and doesn’t enjoy the company of the rest of his family.  Paul’s only passion, at least what we see, is his love of the New York Giants.  His small bedroom is a shrine to the Giants, complete with NFL-branded sheets, and he religiously watches every game.  He is a regular caller, “Paul from Staten Island”, to the local sports talk radio station, and he scripts what he wants to say in those 20 or so on-air seconds for hours in his notepad.  Those calls are robust and filled with fandom, and the radio show loves it.  He and Sal go to each Giants home game, tailgate with the masses, but with no tickets, don’t go in, instead spending the time in the parking lot.  They watch the game on a TV rigged to the car battery, just to be close to where it’s happening and be with other fans.
Paul’s relationships are only superficial.  His mother irritates him, and she is obviously not amused by his “lack of a life,” but he lives with her, so he’s stuck.  His brother Jeff is one of the ambulance-chaser lawyers ready to sue everyone.  We are even treated to the debut of a badly-acted, badly-scripted TV commercial Jeff had made that you and I have all seen on our small screens during the day, or late at night.  From what we are shown, Paul’s friendship with Sal consists of only one thing, the Giants.  They don’t seem to do anything else, and if they do, the conversation only revolves around the Giants.  Sal idolizes Paul’s drive to call in to the nighttime Sports Dogg show (voiced by Scott Ferrall), and praises Paul for hearing him on the radio and his insight.

There are two catalyst players in Paul’s life.  The first is Giants linebacker Quantrell Bishop (played by newcomer Jonathan Hamm) and the other is Sports Dogg caller, and Paul’s on-air nemesis, “Philadelphia Phil”, played by Michael Rappaport.  Philadelphia Phil is a Philly-based Eagles fan, and Giants-hater.  Phil enjoys talking smack and even venturing into the New York airwaves by calling in to the Sports Dogg and making fun of the Giants team and fans, predicting the inevitable Giants downfall, and proclaiming Eagles dominance.  Phil is a believable character, and I know fans that taunt other teams’ fans by joining in on their online forums and sports talk shows.  Phil can be any hardcore sports fan.

Paul’s life changes forever when he and Sal are out grabbing a couple of slices of pizza one night and they see Bishop getting gas in his SUV right there in Staten Island.  Seeing their hero in the flesh, they don’t think twice about following his truck just to see what he’s up to.  Eventually the truck stops in a seedy neighborhood, yet Paul and Sal are naive enough to not realize that one of Bishop’s entourage is involved in buying drugs.  The innocent stalking eventually winds up at a gentleman’s club.  Paul and Sal also go in, and are so awestruck to see Bishop across the room, and trying to figure out how to introduce themselves, they both refuse a dance from one of the performers, with Sal even saying, “I’m on a job” before dismissing her.  No spoilers here, because it can be seen in the trailer, but they eventually work up their courage to approach Bishop, where they let it be known that they followed him from Staten Island.  A coked-up Bishop then beats Paul badly, putting him in the hospital where he wakes up three days later.

The rest of the movie deals with Paul’s misguided idolization of Bishop, who nearly killed him, and the affect on the Giants team, as they lose game after game because of Bishop’s suspension and the distraction to the team.  We see Paul blame almost everyone around him, including himself, for what is happening to the team, yet not the person truly responsible for what has happened, Bishop.  Paul remains an anonymous victim to the fans, and he feigns amnesia so he cannot give testimony to the investigating detective on the case.  Paul’s whole life has collapsed, as the police detective doesn’t believe him, his family is irritated with him, his hero knocked falls from his pedestal, and his team is losing it’s Division lead.   After weeks, and several Giants losses, the case is dropped against Bishop.  Paul’s hell seems to be coming to an end, until he discovers that his brother files a multi-million dollar lawsuit against Bishop, on Paul’s behalf.  Philadelphia Phil, through some simple online forum checking, discovers Paul’s last name, and outs him on the Sports Dogg.  Paul’s anonymous, almost lethargic, life has now gone.

The movie’s climax leads down the NJ Turnpike to Philadelphia, and we see Philadelphia Phil for the first time at the bar where he told Paul on the Sports Dogg where he would be for the big Giants-Eagles game, if Paul wanted to “leave the dark side, and join up with Eagles Nation.”

We see in this movie how the misguided uber-fan places aside the life of ambition and family, and migrates to anything having to do with his one passion.  His life is happy, as the director himself points out in our interview on EaglesFanCast, but that happiness rests solely on the success of his team.  The beatdown does nothing to shake that devotion, and instead forces Paul to lose sight of what really matters in his life.

Big Fan is definitely a movie to see if you are any sports fan, let alone a football fan.  Just about any fan can say they know of someone that takes the success of their team just a little too seriously. This is a window into the person that piles everything on their team, all of their love, their adoration, their respect… unfailingly.  Robert Siegel has penned another great movie, and I definitely recommend people seek it out.

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Ebay’s Mistaken Treasures

The old saying goes that one man’s garbage is another man’s treasure. The best marketplace for treasurable garbage is Ebay. And who isn’t looking for the best deal when it comes to said treasure? I have an old saying of my own: it’s great to learn from your mistakes but it’s even better if you can learn from someone else’s. Or in this case, profit from someone else’s.

I used to own a sports memorabilia store, and I purchased authenticated, signed merchandise on Ebay for resale in the store. I had a good idea what things wholesaled for and knew a good deal when I saw one. One time, I saw a deal on an Emmitt Smith signed mini helmet that was too good to be true. The auction was ending in less than 30 minutes and the item was going for well below what others of the same quality and authentication were. What was wrong with this one that turned people off? What was I missing? I was missing my mistake and more importantly, the mistake of the person who listed the item.

When I searched for the item I typed in “Emmit” and not the proper spelling of his name, “Emmitt.” This misspelling is what kept everyone who knew how to spell his name correctly or didn’t commit a typo while searching from seeing this auction, hence, the good deal. I won the auction and paid $75 less than what I was willing to pay for the item. Good deal. Not bad for a so-called mistake on my part. Did I learn from it? You’re damn right I did.

I went on to pay significantly less for: a Squire Stratocaster guitar (proper spelling: Squier) and a Derek Jeeter signed baseball (Jeter). I got a very nice deal on a Wayne Gretzkee (Gretzky) signed 8×10. All because I took advantage of others’ mistakes.

So, the next time you’re hunting for your next treasure, type in what might be a common misspelling and see if you can get a good deal. They are to be had. If you are listing an item, use the flipside of this tip. In the listing, put common misspellings in so that everyone finds the listing and not just those who spell the name correctly. Don’t list: an Emmitt Smith signed mini helmet. List instead: an Emmitt Emmit Smith signed mini helmet.

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What Would it Take For You?

I come from the metro-Philly area and a dilemma has befallen our area – Ron Mexico, I mean, Michael Vick.  He has split the fan base with a  little more than a 50% margin against his signing.  Those who call in to sports radio talk shows and claim to “bleed true green” are on board, and call those not on the Vick train “not true fans” and “bandwagon jumpers.”

So as I sit here, the proud owner of several dogs (most have been rescues) over the course of my life, what am I to do?  I got my first dog at age 3 so I’ve been a dog fan longer than an Eagle fan, but I do love football an awful lot…

I’m not against Vick playing for another NFL team – let the Cowgirls have him, it’ll give me that much more reason to hate them.  Let Vick play, just not here,  just not for my team.

Based on these factors, I made a rash decision last week to renounce my fanhood until Mike Vick is no longer on the team.
I admit, I’ve wavered,  I kinda still want to see them do well.   I like #5, DeSean, B-West and most of the Birds and I will miss them this year (next?).  But as someone pointed out on EaglesFanCast, in the comments of the latest post, it’s the name on the front of the jersey we should root for not those on the back.

Thanks for solidifying my resolve – the name on the front of the jersey consistently puts enough talent out there to win, just not win it all.  The name on the front of the jersey let all-time Eagle Brian Dawkins walk away.  The name on the front of the jersey was supposed to stand for character, not the gutter.

I cannot root for an organization that claims to be the gold standard of Professional Football yet owes the city it plays in millions of dollars while libraries are closing, where the coach offers fans no explanations even after we know the truth because he has control issues, where they let a future Hall Of Famer walk away without even a real shot at re-signing, where the blowhard President Joe Banner proclaims to have the most talented roster in football then goes and signs the most notorious player available to add more talent.

What would it take for you to renounce your fanship (or at least put it on hold)?  Michael Vick apparently was my tipping point.  As far I am concerned, while Senor Mexico is in town I will consider myself an Eagles fan in exile.

I don’t expect you to agree, this is a personal choice  about a personal topic, just judge me fairly.  Let me know what you think.

By the way, here is some information on dog fighting on the Humane Society’s site for you to read.

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The Story of Dr. Andy

Most of my family and friends are baffled when they receive a call from me and the caller ID reads “Dr. Andy”. When they answer the phone, they sound almost indignant as they say “Dr.?” and give me the third degree about when I become a doctor, or what kind of doctor I am, and so on. It gets rather tedious at times, but I politely answer all of their questions because, well… usually I’m calling when I need something and they are more apt to say yes if I pretend to be nice. (Little something I learned from Dale Carnegie.)

The indignation felt by most of my friends comes from the mistaken notion that it’s hard to become a doctor. And as they know I am averse to anything that falls into the “hard” category, they can’t comprehend how I could have achieved such an arduous feat. Well, let me say that it’s really not all that hard to become a doctor, as long as you have cable TV – allow me to explain.

A few years ago, I was moving and I had to cancel and restart my cable service. Somewhere in that myriad of phone calls, some customer service person at the cable company clicked on “Dr.” rather than “Mr.” from the prefix dropdown menu. Obviously, this person was highly perceptive and assumed from my witty banter and demeanor that I must have been highly educated, or they just screwed up – some mysteries can never be solved. Anyway, from that moment on, I became “Dr. Andy.” Soon, I began receiving exciting mail such as special “Dr. Only” credit card offers (doctors get really great interest rates), invitations to conferences regarding a whole variety of illnesses (thromboangiitis obliterans seems pretty nasty) and many, many office furniture catalogs (always wondered where that ugly stuff came from). I even began to get the occasional call from someone wanting to schedule an appointment. The interesting thing about this is that nowhere does it say what type of doctor I am. Were these people just blindly calling anyone with a “Dr.” in front of their name for an appointment? Anyway, despite having the thought cross my mind, I never actually scheduled anyone for an appointment. I quickly figured out that just telling them my practice was full and I was no longer accepting any new patients was enough to make them go away.

This brings me to one of the hardest decisions that a faux doctor has to make: choosing exactly what kind of faux doctor to be. I wasn’t provided any career counseling from my cable company, although it seems clear that their marketing department assumed I was a medical doctor. But to me, that seemed kind of boring – the world is full of medical doctors.  So I decided to be a Doctor of Exobiology. Now, to those of you without a faux advanced degree, an exobiologist is someone who studies life beyond the earth’s atmosphere – as on other planets. I chose exobiology because no matter what I say, I’m right. I mean, as far as we know, nobody has ever seen an extraterrestrial or alien life form. So if nobody’s ever seen it, then how can anyone ever say that I’m wrong about it? For example, check out this simulated exchange:

Person sans Faux Doctorate: So, tell me Dr. Andy, is there life on Mars?

Dr. Andy: Sure, without a doubt. Place is covered with it.

Person sans Faux Doctorate: Then explain to me why we can’t see it?

Dr. Andy: Because it’s invisible.

Wow – Now I ask you, who could argue with that? Well, I guess an actual Exobiologist could, but really, what are the chances of me running into an actual Exobiologist? I guess in this economy it’s possible there are a few working part time at the local McDonalds. Still, I think the odds are in my favor.

Now please, don’t get the idea that I am the type of person who would insist upon other people calling me “Doctor.” Far be it for me to be one to put on airs (heck, sometimes I struggle just to put on pants). You will never hear me saying anything like “I didn’t spend 20 minutes on the phone with my cable company to be called Mister, thank you very much.”

So, if you too would like to be a faux Doctor, then call the local utility of your choice and use a few well rehearsed big words or do an impression of Thurston Howell III.  If they don’t get the hint, then just tell them to change your prefix to “Dr.” Then, a whole new world with lots of junk mail will open up for you too.

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WTF Was I Thinking? Service @ The Dealership? Shame on me…

My car’s state safety inspection recently came due.  No Biggie.  My car, a Subaru, is only 6 years old, nothing to fear, right?

Rather than taking it to my trusty mechanic whom I’ve know since, well forever, I chose to take it to the dealer because I had a COUPON…

Drop the car keys in the night drop box with the coupons, of course, and away I go.  Not a care in the world.  Inspection is free with my COUPON…

10:30 AM – 2 hours after scheduled start time.  “Mr Swain, Your oil’s changed , tires rotated (Another coupon…) but I’m sorry your car did not pass the safety inspection.”  Wha? (Insert your own cartoon sound effect here)

All I heard after that were “brake pads, blah, blah, blah, rotors rusted out, blah, blah, blah, not safe, blah, blah, blah, $980!”

How could this be?  I drive the car daily, Shouldn’t there be some sort of sign that brakes are going bad?  Oh yeah, there is…that squealing sound they make…like 16 months ago when I had them replaced or maybe the awful sound rotors make when there’s nothing left on the pads (I was young and didn’t know better once…no COUPON here…)

So my dilemma begins, trust the mighty auto dealership, or the guy I’ve known my whole life who just inspected my brakes three months ago… Hmmmm… what to do…???

So when I take my car from the dealer (Didn’t have to pay for the failed inspection thanks to my handy-dandy COUPON!), it’s parked in what they call a “drive-thru,” subsequently all I can think of is the Joe Pesci line in Lethal Weapon 2 or 3 about Leo getting F’ed at the Drive Thru!

Fast forward to Day 2 of the stand off between myself and the safety of my family…

Mechanic who checked the brakes in April checks them again… fine, no safety hazard.  Brake pads – almost new, rotors – only slightly rusted… blood boiling.  Damn COUPON!

So they tell me I need new everything on the phone but to skirt the legality of it all they only write “Needs New Rotors” on the inspection form.  (Yes it passed the second inspection with no changes.)

Why did they have to be so stereotypical?  I hate when they do that.

I guess it was their bad luck that I just had my brakes checked and they dupe a lot of people this way.  Get them in the door with a -COUPON- and have them grab their ankles.

So what do I do?  Call the “Better Business Bureau”?  Rat them out in the blogosphere?

Way to go Reedman Toll!

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Andy vs. The Pootomac

Well, my relaxing Saturday was shattered by the sound of my son shouting “Hey Daddy, the toilet is exploding!” I’m sure most parenting experts would agree that this is a bad sign. So I ran upstairs and saw about a ½ inch of water on the bathroom floor with varying sizes of feces floating around. And more was gushing out of the toilet. It looked like the engine room of the Titanic except that instead of seawater it was toilet water and there were turds in place of icebergs. From the manner in which the rest of the family was looking at me, I knew it was one of those nasty jobs that everyone expected Dad to fix. (Sure to be forgotten by the time Fathers Day comes around). So I walked in, gagging from the floaters and the smell and turned off the valve to the toilet.

Now the flow of water was stopped but I needed a mop and bucket to clean up the floor. You would have thought that I had asked for a rod of plutonium. I ask for the mop and bucket and everyone scatters… and never return. I’m waiting… waiting… waiting… all while standing in the middle of this vast Pootomac. Finally my wife comes back and hands me a mop… but not a real mop, mind you. It’s a mop handle with an old towel attached to the bottom. My Mother-in-Law, God bless her,  is one of the few human beings whose cheapness rivals even my own, and this “franken-mop” is one of her cost savers. Let me tell you, it did a great job of just swirling around the poo-water and creating nasty little currents around my feet. But, it didn’t do much in terms of soaking up the water. Without any other option, I kept at it and in about 20 minutes I had the floor generally dry.

But the most formidable task still remained…picking up all of the loose crap from the floor. I asked for gloves, wipes, and bleach…and again I waited…waited…waited… until someone finally brought me what I needed and I started to work on cleaning up my personal “Craptrina”.  While I’m doing this, I start to wonder who the actual Poopetrator might be. My son of course claimed innocence, saying he just took a pee and that the toilet was “already filled” with crap. Hummmmm, do we have a Ghost Pooper? My brother claims to have a Ghost Cat, so I suppose a Ghost Pooper is possible. But I believe a key part to solving this mystery appeared when I lifted up the toilet seat and saw the top of the bowl covered with partially digested corn remnants. There is only one person in the house who has a favorite meal of “Mashed Potatoes, Corn and Ketchup” and that is my son. He still claims innocence but as they say on CSI, “Follow the evidence.”

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