Friday, July 10, 2009

Back From Europe: McDonald's Vlog

As a spin off from our first trip to Paris when we sought out the illustrious Royal with Cheese, we made a similar journey in Milan. Consider this the survival of the fittest, fast food style. Here's our VLOG on location in Northern Italy:

Thursday, June 18, 2009

What Grinds My Gears: The Wal-Mart Shopping 'Experience'

You want to know what really grinds my gears?  The Wal-Mart shopping experience, a pastime of blood-boiling proportions that's bound to rankle more than it does to satisfy one's attempt at an in-and-out shopping excursion (you try spending less than $50 bucks at Wally World the next time you shop.  I dare you!).  For as much as we like to avoid the wretched place, it's rife with goods and products we need at wholesale prices, but venturing the aisles of this corporate swinehouse leads us to believe it's rife with something else:  cluttered walkways, a Where's Waldo-esque search for associate help, encounters with nasty customers, and oodles of frustration worthy of a five-point rant that analyzes what makes shopping at Wal-Mart so damn exasperating.        

5. The Purchase of Powdered Baby Formula
Gerber products.  Apple juice.  Clothing, sizes 18 to 24 months.  Wipes.  Diapers.  Lotion. Wait...where's the Similac?  Ought to be around here somewhere...let me look.  It's right near the...cigarettes?!?!  That's right, folks:  if you're looking to purchase baby formula, you'll have to first inquire at the longest checkout line near the exits---the tobacco product queue.  And if, perchance, you happen to find a Wal-Mart that features Enfamil where it belongs, with the other baby products, you'll see that it's under closer watch than Jared Fogle at a chili bake-off.  It's no wonder more and more women are nursing long past the time those baby molars come in.  

4. The Clientele
As a former Wal-Mart employee (in my high school years), I, like many before me, have fallen victim to the old Sam Walton belief that "the customer is always right."  You wouldn't believe the amount of people that abuse said policy.  I once dealt with a murderous consumer that flung an Offspring CD at me because its lyrical content was too risque for his daughter's ears.  Or the old man who saw our sale on cat food in our flier and demanded he purchase cases of it at a time despite there being a 10-item per customer limit (I'm convinced old people claim they have cats as guise toward eating the liver and salmon Friskies variety themselves).  Then, there's the in-over-her-head mother who insists on grocery shopping with 7 kids in tow.  The 78 year old man who's convinced they still sell VCR cassettes in the Electronics Department.  The disgruntled yokel purchasing a fishing license, getting a key made, and walking away infuriated with neither when he discovers his local Wal-Mart no longer sells guns.  The droves of kids "staying after school" to play Guitar Hero.  The "do you need to get by" -minded customers who guard the card display and magazine case with utter disregard for your desire to browse the selection.  This is the Wal-Mart clientele:  human behavior at its "finest."            

3. Carts, Carts, Everywhere!
My first job at Wal-Mart was that of a "stocker."  No, I didn't stock the shelves (as the job title would suggest):  I pushed carts.  You know that phrase that applies to postal workers, "...neither sleet, nor rain, nor snow...?"  That very mantra applies to the cart pushers at Wal-Mart.  We pushed carts in every condition imaginable (especially in the sweltering heat).  Of all the jobs the corporation could thrust upon its employees, this is by far the most back-breaking position available, seeing as there are more customers coming in than carts coming out.  From the stocker's perspective, there's not a damn person that puts his or her cart away.  From the customer's perspective, there's not a damn person willing to get his or her cart away from other cars in the lot, just as there are those damn cart pushers that couldn't care less to remove their 50-cart line away from your backing the car up.  It's a mad, mad, mad world and there are too many carts out there to clutter it.         

2. Attempting to Access the Game Case
You can long for that copy of Gears of War all you want.  Stare at it; fawn over it.  Make your intentions known that you want that game in your possession.  'Cause not an associate out there cares to get that copy for you, unless you reluctantly ask yourself.  The sad thing is, there are likely 5 or 6 associates apportioned in the Electronics Department to "help out" customers.  And only one is keeper of the keys.  And that guy is likely out to lunch.  Seriously, is there a privilege to having those keys?  Is it a matter of rank?  Seniority?  Do employees row sham bow for them prior to each shift?  Or do they battle it out in the Thunderdome, "two men enter, only one man leaves" style for the right to carry them?  It's a wonder anything in that game case gets sold in a timely fashion.          

1. The Self Check-Out Innovation
In theory, the self-check out was developed to diminish the lines and push customers out of the store more quickly.  In theory.  When you need the self check-out most, say, at 9 PM, when the store isn't so busy, the option is not available to you, as each self check-out lane is closed.  Makes logical sense.  

Look at the typical exchange a customer at the self-check out endures:  customer scans a bottle of Dr. Pepper; *Please place the item in the bagging area*; customer does what's asked of him; *Unexpected item in bagging area*; befuddled, customer removes the item from the bagging station; *Please place the item in the bagging area*; irritated, customer repeats the request; customer scans a 96-ounce bottle of Tide (clearly, too bulky for the bagging area); customer hits the key "Item Not Bagged;"  note:  if customer does this more than three times, the associate has to enter a code to allow him to continue checking out; customer scans a DVD of the R-rated Pineapple Express; customer is prompted on the screen, "Are you 17 years or older?" ; only thing is, he can't answer this question...the associate, giving him the up-and-down, has to enter a code in order to do that for him, too; customer scans a package of Krazy Glue; customer is prompted on the screen, "Are you 16 years or older?" ; associate must come over to approve his age by entering a code...again; customer thinks to himself, "I picked the wrong day to stop sniffing glue;" customer, finished with his scanning, clicks "Finish to Pay;" in a bellowing voice (because that's what the woman through the computer has been doing with each request) asks, "Do you have any coupons?" ; customer clicks "No;" the booming voice asks, "Please check your cart for unscanned items;" customer touches screen to advance; *Please touch screen for payment options* ; customer, suddenly realizing his wallet is in his car, wishes to pay by check; associate must come over again to approve the purchase; customer, feeling the sensation of darting glares in the back of his neck from a line of other customers behind him, takes receipt and bagged items and leaves, realizing it would have made more sense to have his items checked out by a flesh-and-blood employee rather than a flawed machine that can barely function without the aid of an associate; customer heads for the exit, just as the security alarm lights up and beckons his presence; door greeter is either too old or too lazy to even care; customer realizes he could have walked off with far more valuables...maybe next time.            

That, in a nutshell, made me realize that I need to pick up toiletries before my Outer Banks trip on Saturday.  Where else to go but Wal-Mart?  Wish me luck...

Wednesday, June 17, 2009

Fred Savage: Beyond the Wonder Years

You can have your Michael J. Fox, your Neil Patrick Harris, and your Mark Paul Gosselaar:  this post is dedicated to one of the more underrated early 90's stars of his time.  Ladies and gentleman, I present to you Mr. Fred Savage.  He might not have been a baller with retractable claws, a teenage doctoral prodigy, or the most popular kid at Bayside High, but Fred Savage, who ably played the role of a young adolescent that warmed our hearts (Kevin Arnold in the Wonder Years), had a rather solid film career.  Presented to you here are five iconic Fred Savage roles that will thrust you down Nostalgia Lane. 

5. The Princess Bride
While minor, Savage's role as "The Grandson" (I kid you not: it's listed that way on is the backdrop of a timeless classic that featured the likes of Andre the Giant as Fezzik ("I am the brute squad!") and Billy Crystal as Miracle Max ("Have fun storming the castle!").  "The Grandfather" (played by Peter Falk) reads a bedtime story to his grandson, who is sick in bed and, at first, is none too grateful to hear some silly fairy tale.  But, like many of us, Savage is soon taken by an inviting story that is high on wit and romance, a narrative filled with countless quotable lines that still stands up some 22 years after its release.  

4. Little Monsters
As one of two leading roles from the list, Little Monsters is driven by the fear many of us had growing up:  monsters lurking beneath the bed.  Savage's character, Brian Stevenson, interacts with Maurice (played by Howie Mandel), a horned "beast" who grants Brian access to his world and allows him to tag along on some of his nocturnal activities (namely, scaring the snot out of punk kids that deserve their nightly torture).  As Maurice shows him the ropes of bed-snatching, Brian shows him how to be a good-natured monster (as in, avoiding the incessant need to frighten unsuspecting infants and not raiding people's refrigerators).  The film features some otherwise overlooked cameos (Ben Savage, Fred's real-life sibling, plays Brian's little brother Eric and Daniel Stern, the voice of an older Kevin Arnold in the Wonder Years, plays Brian's father Glen).  While not highly regarded on (it garnered a measly 5.3 rating out of 10), Little Monsters stands up as a fun kids' film that teaches a lesson and is worth a second glance in the rare instance it's featured on HBO.         

3. Austin Powers in Goldmember
It is through Savage's character The Mole that Mini-Me is able to infiltrate Austin Powers's spy agency and act as a do-gooder aiming to thwart Dr. Evil, who no longer has a place in his heart for his adoring clone.  Because of The Mole, audiences who raved over Goldmember's hilarity were given some cracks that centered largely around a facial imperfection that would make Enrique Iglesias jealous.  At the mere sight of his mole, Austin Powers remains aghast at the sheer size of it, doing whatever he can to avoid glimpsing at the mole or poking fun at it (luckily, to our pleasure, his attempts were highly unsuccessful).  Let the play on words commence.  Ah-moley, mole!   

2. The Rules of Attraction
In a film driven by an ensemble of late '90's stars (some of whom were WB whores, including James Van Der Beek from Dawson's Creek, Jessica Biel from 7th Heaven, Thomas Ian Nicholas from American Pie, Kate Bosworth from Blue Crush, and Ian Somerhalder from LOST and Life as a House), Fred Savage had a memorable cameo appearance in a dark, college-age cult classic from the bizarre mind of novelist Bret Easton Ellis (author and screenplay writer of American Psycho).  Savage played "A Junkie Named Marc," Sean Bateman's (Van Der Beek) drug dealer who owes him money.  Quite frankly, I don't think words do justice to the three-minutes of hilarious (albeit, disturbing) movie magic that Savage provided; essentially, you see Fred's scene and say to yourself, "Oh my God, is that...FRED SAVAGE?!?!" 

Take a gander:       

1. The Wizard
HBO Family has been playing this film non-stop, and we are all the better for it.  Christian Slater as the "too cool to care" older sibling.  The illustrious Beau Bridges as the clueless single father.  Luke Edwards as the autistic gaming "wizard" (hence, the film's title).  Jimmy Woods (The Wizard) toting his NES Power Glove in a steel toolbox.  Our first taste of Super Mario Brothers 3 (to our chagrin, it was some time--several months away, in fact--from being released in stores).  Simply put, The Wizard was a sight to behold for the young gaming community of the 1980's.  Corey Woods (Savage) could no longer stand his father's neglect, so he takes it upon himself to run away with Jimmy and enter him in a video game tournament called Armageddon (in which "The Wizard" faces off against Lucas, who has a crony that follows him around in the form of Tobey Maguire, listed in the credits as "Lucas's goon at Video Armageddon").  What ensues is a bond between siblings made stronger by an affinity for video games...and the end of a run of some magical late '80's family flicks from Savage, who now directs (Greek, Ugly Betty, and My Boys) and produces (It's Always Sunny in Philadelphia) some quality television programs.

Tuesday, June 16, 2009

Kobe Bryant, An All-Time Great?

Listen. It's not often a player comes along and wins 4 NBA titles. Amasses 2 scoring titles (4, if you're counting points scored, not averages). Wins the triumvirate of MVP's (All-Star, regular season, and NBA Finals). Gets named to 7 All-NBA first teams, 7 All-Defensive first teams. Averages 30 points per game in a season (Kobe did it thrice, with as much as 35 per in 2006). Scores 81 points in one game. Starts in an All-Star Game by age 19. Earns a $70 million contract by age 20. Wins 3 titles (all in a three-peat) by age 23. What's been described to you is Kobe Bryant's sterling resume. He has likely garnered top-10 all-time status with his most recent NBA title. Quite frankly, though, it's difficult to WANT to put him in that class.

5. His desire to not make players around him better pushed Phil Jackson out of town.
Jackson strung together three-peats on THREE separate occasions ('91 to '93, '96 to '98, '00 to '02), but in order to win his 10th title (the most in NBA history), he had to stomach an LA tenure with Kobe running the show. This, after he had already left the Lakers in 2004 finding little to no reason to continue his celebrated coaching stint with Kobe thinking he could do it all. Coincidentally or not, Jackson made Jordan a better team player, but could never quite pull it off with Kobe. Case in point: in Game 2 of this year's Finals, Kobe went one-on-four against the Magic for the game winning shot, had the ball stripped by Hedu Turkoglu, and watched as a Courtney Lee alley-oop fell short of tying the series up at one game a piece. Great champions don't put their teams in position to lose like that. And that's the difference between Jordan and Kobe: MJ would have deferred to one of his four open teammates in that situation; after all, how many game-winning shots did Steve Kerr and John Paxson have throughout Jordan's title runs? Lest we forget that, in Jordan's return from his first retirement (when he dropped 55 points on the Knicks at the Garden), he passed the ball to Bill Wennington for the game-winning bucket. At age 30 (and not getting any younger), Kobe has yet to learn that lesson.

4. His selfishness drove Shaq out of town.

Watch that video several times and ask yourself: how many MORE times could a hook-up like that have happened to will the Lakers to another title? Two more times? Three more times? Listen, if the Knicks can go over the salary cap with the garbage roster they put together, the Lakers could bite the bullet and sign Kobe and Shaq to maximum contracts and fill out the roster with role players. When the Lakers won their third title in as many years, Kobe was 23. Shaq was 29. It's not often you have a duo playing together in their primes like Kobe and Shaq had. They could have been Magic/Kareem 2.0. But their egos (moreso Kobe's) got the best of their relationship. After their last title in '02, the pairing would play two more seasons together, with zero titles to show for it. Why? Because Kobe wanted the Lakers to be his team, just as much as Shaq wanted the same. If Kobe had deferred to Shaq, arguably one of the most dominant forces in NBA history, perhaps Kobe is fitting his finger for a sixth ring rather than a fourth on Sunday night. But Kobe wanted to lead a different legacy. He wanted to be The Man in LA. He wanted the scoring titles, the MVP's, and the titles without having to spread the offense and share the ball. Hell, even Jordan had his Pippen. In fact, there's a sure-fire formula that works in the NBA: put two superstars together, surround them with serviceable role players, and ride them to a championship. It worked for the Showtime Lakers (Magic and Kareem). It worked for the 1980's Celtics (Bird and McHale). It worked for the Bad Boy Pistons (Thomas and Dumars). It worked for Pat Riley's Heat (Shaq and Wade). Not following this formula is why Lebron couldn't win a title in 2007 and a prime reason why Kobe could never do it by himself either (honestly, he doesn't win this most recent championship without having pilfered Pau Gasol from Memphis or having watched Trevor Ariza ascend at the rate he did). Think about this: Kobe didn't become unselfish and lead the Lakers to the title this year. They were a product of changed circumstances. Why couldn't they win last year? KG (absent to defend a title this year due to a knee injury) aligned Boston to play team defense. But why did they win it this year? The Spurs are aging (and without an injured Manu), the Rockets saw two superstars go down (McGrady and Yao), KG had a balky knee, and another piece was never delivered to help Lebron. Did the Lakers deserve to win? Of course they did...but only because they were the best team left and the likes of Gasol, Ariza, Odom, Bynum, and Fisher sacrificed minutes, shots, and roles in order to appease Kobe. Would you ever see Bryant do that for his squadmates? Not in a million years.

3. Even his most recent accolades doesn't bring him closer to Jordan (or Magic, for that matter).
Prior to winning his fourth title, Kobe was barely mentioned amongst all-time Laker greats. In fact, most NBA fans and experts would suggest that Elgin Baylor (who never won a title) and Jerry West (who only won once) contributed more to the overall NBA landscape than Kobe had. And yet, people find reason to compare Kobe to Jordan. ESPN "expert" Jon Barry quipped, "Kobe is the closest thing to Jordan we're ever going to see." Yes, he said ever in summing up Kobe's latest championship run. Bluntly speaking, nobody carries himself with the passion, aura, charisma, and dedication Jordan has. Sure, Kobe lives and breathes the game and works harder than any athlete out there, but is he a good teammate? Is he a good ambassador for the game? Is he the type of player to say, "I won my fourth title!" or "We won our fourth title!" I'm thinking the former. And that sets him apart from Magic (whom Coach Pat Riley said "is the epitome of greatness" in his book The Winner Within) and Jordan (who still commands a Beatles-like following wherever he goes). And not in a good way.

2. The NBA prefers Lebron to Kobe.

The 2009 NBA Finals was supposed to be the Kobe/Lebron match-up, the series that would put an end to the "greatest current player in the NBA" debate. The Nike and Life Water promotional agencies wanted it that way, and so did NBA commissioner David Stern. Only Dwight Howard was a huge obstacle standing in Lebron's way (not to mention the fact that Mo Williams is not the supplementary piece to take Lebron to the promised land). When Kobe won his MVP in 2008, he held a press conference (to which about 20 members of the press showed up...his teammates, on the other hand, did not). When Lebron won this year's MVP, he too held a press conference, but his teammates (who stuck up for him when he stormed off court after losing the Magic series) were there in full force; quite fitting, when you consider that Lebron bought each of his teammates an expensive gift as a token of his gratitude. These are the same teammates that carry on with Lebron (albeit, rather sophomorically) on the sidelines when they win. Do you see that same kind of stuff with Kobe? Hardly. He needed a Spike Lee documentary (Kobe Doin' Work) to show how "great" of a teammate and leader he was. Only we weren't buying it. When and if Lebron wins his first title, all of this talk about Kobe's greatness will fizzle. Because that's what the league wants you to believe. Can you blame them?

1. He is the most polarizing superstar of his era (perhaps moreso than Barry Bonds).
As a Kobe fan, the 2004-05 season must have been painful to watch. Excruciatingly painful. Here was Jordan's heir apparent gallivanting with another woman in a Colorado hotel room. And this wasn't just Kobe being unfaithful with his beautiful wife. This was Kobe allegedly assaulting a woman sexually (whispers of rape surrounded his case). He had to play in LA one night, fly to Colorado for the arraignment or indictment the next. This was Kobe having to buy his wife a million dollar ring to make it all better. But it didn't (and, in this sports fan's eyes, it hasn't). Kobe, despite his modest upbringing, sophistication, business-like appeal, and ability to speak several languages, will always be the alleged rapist that was the brunt of jokes in a Dave Chappelle skit. Sure, Barry Bonds cheated the fans of a genuine home run champ by dabbling in performance-enhancing drug abuse. He is a jerk to the media. He likely lied to cover up his steroid use. But he never cheated on his wife. Was never known to have spoken a cuss word. He is a family man first (his kids followed him every step of the way no matter how controversial his father had become). Unfortunately, Kobe is the Omega Man, a man alone in his thoughts and convictions, no stranger to isolation. And he'd like to keep it that way, it seems.

Monday, June 15, 2009

Its Wiitarded!

For anyone who follows the E3 gaming conference, they will tell you that Project Natal (Microsoft) and PS3 are trying desperately to cash in on the "motion capture" controller scheme being used by the Wii. Instead of using a joystick or gamepad, this new technology uses your body as the controller. Now you can flail around the living room as Godzilla, or skateboard just like Tony Hawk. If Rock Band and Guitar Hero helped us channel our inner rock star, then its a no-brainer that innovative control schemes are the way of the future. After all, its this simple control scheme that has moms, dads, and senior citizens breaking into the gaming community. While Microsoft and Playstation are sure to follow suit, I'm less optimistic about the Wii. Call me old school, but I'm a fan of using a joystick or controller, rather than making lewd hand gestures repeatedly to play a game. While this is my biggest aversion to the "revolutionary" system, I could name more, five more to be exact. But before I spew venom, here's a word from my sponsor, the "Wii Boys" of SNL. Very funny!

5. Where are the games?

Aside from the major titles like Zelda, Metroid, and Mario where are the new original intellectual properties? The Wii is basically geared towards a plethora of mini-games packaged together for 49.99. Within a few weeks, why isn't it surprising that almost all of these titles end up on the bargain bin rack at Wal-Mart. I would say that 95% of the titles for this system are pure garbage. Many of them can't even garner a rating over 6 in Game Informer magazine, and that's difficult since the give almost every game an automatic 7 of 10. While Nintendo is moving tons of hardware for the system, a breakdown of software sales reveals a darker side to the system.

4. If I wanted to play Tennis, Baseball, Golf, I would just play THEM!

Again, call me old fashioned, but aside from a rainy day, what self-respecting athlete would prefer to stand in their living room?  Dude, get out of your house, get some fresh air and get some real exercise. Which brings me to my next point...

3. The Wii is NOT a fitness substitute!

As much as it tries to be, you are NOT burning serious calories by running in place on a "fake" track. I think its a nice strategy to get people to be active, but this is in no way a substitute for a gym membership. If you are really concerned about your health and well being, go on a diet and hit the gym. Buying Wii Fit will not cut it, and judging from the size of your Mii, it looks like you could need a little more physical activity.

2. It's technologically worse than the system that came before it!

For all its flaws, the GameCube had more impressive graphics than this piece of garbage. Perhaps if they could combine jaw dropping graphics with a tight motion control scheme, I would be more of a fan. Honestly, most of the games look like they were created by the Disney Channel, or worse Nickelodeon. Why do all the damn games look like an episode of the Telletubies! Let's hope that the next generation console from Nintendo is a bit beefier for hardcore gamers.

1. LCD Televisions are paying the price!

Remember when you were little and you wanted to play ball in the house? What did you parents say to you? Go outside so you don't break something! Sure the Wii uses simulated motions, but when every single game comes with a disclaimer so you don't break shit, this could be a problem. Here is a website devoted to several household items which became casualties of the Wii.

Summer Concert Series Follow-Up

What summer concert review would be complete without featuring what these bands are capable of live? Listed below is each band live that was featured in the Summer Tour review. Enjoy!

O.A.R. - Hey Girl, Live at PNC Bank Arts Center in Holmdel, NJ (7.22.05).

Earth, Wind, and Fire with Chicago - September, Live at the Greek Theater in LA (2004)

Rascal Flatts - Too Good to Be True, Live at Daytona Beach

U2 - Sunday Bloody Sunday, Live at Slane Castle in Dublin, Ireland (Sept. 2001)

Dave Matthews Band - Two Step, Live at Woodstock (7.24.99)