Thursday, May 29, 2008

Take a little of the top and shave back the conversation

Is there a better, more gratifying feeling than walking out of the barber shop with a freshly trimmed head of hair? Sure there is, but for the purpose of the blog post, we'll leave it rhetorical.

I dislike haircuts quite a bit. While I appreciate the end result, I dislike the process. The barber shop nearest the house has three barbers, and I have the same problem with all three. I hate the conversation.

When I lived in Plainfield, I did not have this problem. The barbers could contently trim the head without but a few words of pleasantry, not afraid of silence. Better yet was when they got a TV and they spent more attention to the news than on pointless, in-person talk. For five years, I did not appreciate the glorious-ness of that simple, main street barber shop.

No, in Blaine we just have to have a conversation. I'm not much of a socialist to start, but I do have a pretty decent knowledge of current events. I follow sports more than the normal patron, which in a barber shop you would think would be more than enough to get me by for the 20 or so minutes it takes to give me the same haircut I've had. But no, it's never enough. For there are four types of barber shop conversations that I inevitably fall into.

Conversation #1: Where do you work? I'm notoriously bad at discussing this topic. It's not that I hate work, I simply don't like rehashing it with a perfect stranger. Furthermore, just because I work at a pharmacy does not mean I'm a pharmacist.

Conversation #2: Various weather comments. The most neutral and meaningless of topics is that of the weather. If we could just let it go at "it's cold" or "lots of rain" we'd be ok, but there's always carrying on and some type of historical analysis. Furthermore, this is the conversation I have fifty times a day with the customers of Walgreens, and I'm tired of it.

Conversation #3: The great outdoors. By far the most popular of the barber shop conversations, I frequently get asked about hunting, fishing, camping or whatever else these people do in the wilderness. I don't do any of the above, and despite Minnesota having an unofficial holiday whenever the fishing or hunting season begins, I could care less about whatever wild game these men brought home last weekend.

Conversation #4: Barber shop jokes. Usually crude, not that funny, and poorly told. I don't get this one very often, but when I do it's the worst of the four.

And so the other day when I walked into the barber shop, I dreaded the conversation. I figured we'd end up going with #2 as Coon Rapids (next town over) and Hugo (the town over the other direction) were hit with tornadoes this past weekend. Having an account of the storm to share, I figured I was in good shape. I can talk for a little while about my side of the storm, the barber talks about his side, we exchange cash, and I walk out of there unscathed.

Additionally in my favor was a "new" barber in the shop. This guy isn't new, in fact he's the oldest of the bunch who I've seen a couple times filling in whenever one of the regulars is either sick or on vacation. It just so happened that he was the one available, and I was up next.

Since he did not even recognize me as the others in the shop do, we immediately went for conversation #1. Right away, I was asked if I was a pharmacist. He then promptly told me in a roundabout way he doesn't like Walgreens and doesn't go there. He's the second of the barbers who has told me that. Nothing creates an awkward silence like a man with scissors telling you why he doesn't like your place of work.

With all of 60 seconds eaten up with conversation #1, we glided into conversation #2. Sure enough the recent tornadoes came up. I was already to go with my story when he shared that he commutes in thirty minutes to fill in and not only was nowhere near the storm but hadn't seen any of the footage. Damn! Foiled in my attempt to get by with #2.

That naturally slid into #3 as he was not in town because he was at his cabin over the Memorial Day weekend. I then suffered through another fishing account while trying feebly to feign interest and grunt approvals and disgusts at the right moments in the story.

In a surprising twist, he wrapped up the story and began yet another topic. An unforeseen change! A life preserver! The topic? Sports!

Having seen me wear my Valpo t-shirt in, he quickly ascertained that I was an Indiana fan in all things. I told him that despite the shirt, my allegiances were actually for Cleveland. That presented a problem.

He wanted to discuss hockey and Cleveland doesn't have a hockey team. I tried to meet him halfway and say that I had loosely followed the Minnesota Wild this season even going so far as to knowledgeably know that the Wild lost in 6 games in the first round of the playoffs. He shot that down saying he only really liked high school and collegiate hockey. To which we sat in silence for the final three minutes.

At least I was spared conversation#4. And I look good.

Photo from

Tuesday, May 27, 2008

Summer Vacation

Memorial Day marks the unofficial start to the summer with many school children soon leaving the confines of a school building for the baseball diamond, which will culminate in many zany adventures leading to a major motion picture called The Sandlot. Others will take luxurious vacations to places with beaches and and blue skies. And yet others will keep the local pharmacy open.

But alas, after beginning my trek toward an MBA last summer, I have been kept busy fending off stupid opinions and poor proofreading. Vacations and time off have been rare and when present have always had that "you should be doing school work" guilty feeling ruining what fun may have been had. For the next six weeks, though, things are going to change.

Having just completed my seventh of ten classes toward the degree, I have taken a class period off. Instead of spending the next six weeks mastering some business topic, I will instead merely commute to Walgreens daily. Odd that while still working full time it'll feel like such a break.

Before I left the comfy confines of the University of Phoenix learning forum, I had one last spirited debate that went right up until the end of the class. You'd think that in a class full of emerging business leaders some good ideas might exist on how to solve the economic funk that this country finds itself in. I present to you a new poster, never before featured on Wolfden V. I'll call her Pocahontas.

I do not think that the stimulus payments are an answer to the economic problems facing our country.

Ok, I can start with Pocahontas' premise. The stimulus payments are a hot topic, especially with many checks just now finding their way into tax payers' accounts. So far so good.

Giving the average working american just between $300 - $1,200 extra dollars in a one-time sum just isn't the answer.

I'm normally a stickler for basic writing skills such as capitalization but given the informal message board post, I'll give "american" a pass, even though this was written on Memorial Day.

I am sure the original tax returns received by the majority of tax payers was more than the stimulus payments.

Citing such key data and reports such as "I am sure" the basis for this statement is shady at best. A better start might have been "my skewed, biased, unresearched opinion suggests..." We don't know this statement to be true at all and is quickly soaring to become the basis for a wild argument.

If the government truly wanted to help out the economy & taxpayers why not give taxpayers an additional payment that is equal to their 2007 tax return.

And here it is. The answer to all of the United States' financial woes! Because Pocahontas received a tax refund exceeding her rebate check, the government should employ this solution to save the world. Never mind that this solution is absolutely asinine.

A tax refund is repaying your own money that you over estimated over the course of a year. It is not free money. The government is giving you back what is yours that you shouldn't have paid in the first place. Pocahontas also is failing to take into consideration all of those who have to pay taxes on April 15th and not receive a refund. I'm sure that her plan would involve them paying back into the government twice over, which as economists all know is a brilliant solution to increasing discretionary spending.

Mercifully, it's vacation time.

Photo from

Thursday, May 22, 2008

American Idol 2008

Here during the morning after come down, I shall make my one American Idol post for the season. A season in which a rocker finally broke through and a season in which the show is revealing signs of fatigue with declining ratings.

We shall start with the conclusion that aired last evening. The thought of a 2 hour results show usually warrants a sigh and a groan from yours truly as these lengthy programs that could air in 10 seconds are typically painful and slow. Last night, however, I didn't look at my watch every thirty seconds. The producers have done well in making the finale a carnival of variety - in essence the Super Bowl of singing. This night is an event, less about the overall winner and first runner up and more about patting the music industry on its back with new talent mixed in with old favorites being exposed to a whole new audience. The program remembers that in the last five minutes it has to announce a winner, but as we've seen from the commercial successes of fourth place finishers, the victory is the exposure the final contestants have received and the chance to market not just their music but a personality and a face to accompany it.

With that said, for the first time in nearly two years, I gave a damn about the outcome. When Daughtry was erroneously booted to become a fourth place finisher in 2006, I quit caring. I still watched the show, but the hollow feeling following a season that saw soon to be appearing on the "where are they now" segment on Entertainment Tonight winner Taylor Hicks was too much to overcome knowing that the best talent didn't even medal. Last year was fine, but I wasn't crazy about any of the contestants. Even this year with a rocker back in the mix of things, I still preferred Daughtry, but hey, that David Cook guy is pretty good, too.

American Idol has three phases a contestant must master in order to win the show, and David Cook won deservedly having conquered all three. The first phase is the audition round in which a singer must persevere through long lines, weary producers, and attention-needy losers. Simply, you must have some level of singing talent. The second phase is the Hollywood round in which a singer must stand out against a slew of other capable singers. Whereas phase one is sifting creme from crap, phase two is trickier as now you must graduate in the top 10% of the lawyer class at Harvard.

David Cook had no trouble with either of these first two phases. Clearly he can sing, though he did have to overcome not even wanting to tryout as his brother was the one who wanted to go to the audition. The second phase wasn't overly grueling either as rockers tend to be in short supply on the show, and a guy singing anything other than Stevie Wonder is bound to sound different. Through two rounds, though, Cook was not a dominant force or a favorite. He was cruising without screwing up as so many do in these early stages. Cool and consistent.

Phase three catapulted Cook from guy in the background to the 2008 American Idol. This phase is the top-12 round. This phase is the most intensive and well rounded of three. No longer can artists get by on simply singing. Instead, they must have a likable personality, songwriting ability, and this season an ability to play a music instrument. The contestant's overall well roundedness propels him/her forward. In this phase, a charming chap like Taylor Hicks can make it further than he probably should, a musical instrument can hide vocal shortcomings such as the crutch the piano and guitar provided for Brooke White and Jason Castro, or reworking songs to sound original like Blake Lewis. Combining all three into a single person creates the 2008 American Idol.

David Cook has the "everyman" likeability factor. He's got the common man rises to fame and fortune story surging strongly for him. His cool demeanor and self confidence stood out against a befuddled David Archuleta, apathetic Castro, or constantly crying White. Cook could play the guitar which made it easy to picture him as the lead singer of tomorrow's hot rock band, but he didn't need the guitar to excel. The area in which Cook most definitely stood out was his songwriting ability. Whereas many of these contestant love to sing and can very well, American Idol has become a show in which originality lacks and those artists who have the ability to cover a song stand out. Cook had lots of help covering covers, which may or may not be as original as the audience may take it for, but when Idol fans remember stand out performances for originality, "Hello" and "Billy Jean" are at the top of that list. In short, Cook had a personality, played an instrument, and could cover a song like no other singer. No one would have said at the end of round one or two that Cook was the guy to beat, but the dominating way in which he handled phase three is the reason why his face graces the top of this blog post and countless other less prestigious media outlets this morning.

With that said, first runner up David Archuleta was probably the better singer. The kid had an uncanny ability to turn it on when he took the stage. When not singing he was a pip squeak of a kid awkwardly standing in the front of the class, but with a band and a microphone, he was damn good. He outperformed Cook in the finale and had the backing of the judges to win it all. He's a prodigy of a talent, and I fully believe that if he were on the show last year, he would have left Lewis and Jordin Sparks in his wake. It's been replayed quite a bit, but "Imagine" was one helluva performance.

The rest of the field also returned for the final show, which was a nice reminder of what was a very strong top 12. David Hernandez busted out a few moves that made us remember his origins. Amanda Overmyer being forced to dance in line with the top 6 females was a reminder of her very non-traditional techniques. Kristy Lee Cook who actually improved as she went on before ultimately being exposed as being over her head got in her few lines, sounding and looking great in the process. Syesha Mercado who just missed out on making the finale as an active contestant had a self-confidence about her that made her a capable partner for Seal and Donna Summer.

Of the returning group, I am of the opinion that the Michael Johns and Carly Smithson duet and walk down the stage stairs was most memorable. At the start of the process, these two would have been my pick for the finale. Both having had record deals before, they were more polished than the other contestants with distinct voices and strong stage presence. Johns suffered from never finding his niche and probably contributed to Cook winning the whole show when a similar fan base likely flocked from one rocker to another. Smithson was the dominant female voice on the show but had trouble in a variety of categories from wardrobe, to over singing, to caring too much what the judges said, to a rash that appeared to be overtaking her right arm. Overall, these two couldn't quite get it together and instead of a sing-off were instead relegated to a couple lyrics and then the fade into the background.

Despite greatly enjoying this season and the two part finale, I did have a few gripes with the season that I would be unfairly glossing over if I didn't comment on them.

For starters, the quality of judging is deteriorating rapidly. Much has been made of Paula Abdul's snafu in judging a song that has never been song. While the reasons for the boo-boo were later made public (last second changes, dress rehearsal viewing, etc.), it still was baffling that she couldn't tell what was live television and what wasn't. Be that as it may, no one expects anything from her and usually we get nothing in return. Yay for mediocrity. If she didn't follow Randy Jackson and have his comments to gently rework, I don't know if she is capable of an independent, original thought.

And Randy Jackson isn't necessarily a great judge to be echoing. The yo-yo-yo-yo-yo dawg shtick is really tiring on me. Sometimes he has something worthwhile to say which is fine, but the blithering start to his comments is frustratingly irrelevant. Then in the grandest moment of the season, Jackson used the "you could sing the phone book" cliche that if I hear one more time I will claw off my ears. Not only is that cliche stupid, it has been used countless times this season to describe Archuleta. Why not come up with something, ANYTHING different in the way of unique thought or descriptive adjective. Sorry dawg, not feeling it.

Mercifully, producers have said that next season the weekly result show will be scaled back from one hour to two. Those results shows are painfully long. Bring out the contestants, parade them around, remind everyone for the umpteenth time what they sang, take commercials, and have a couple mentors sing. All I need to know is who survived and who is out. Fortunately, we have 30 fewer minutes next year to do just that.

Overall, I loved this season as the diverse talent and optimal outcome contributed to what I thought was the best round of American Idol that I have seen. The minor flaws would appear in any show, especially after seven seasons of a predictable, yet undeniably successful formula. David Cook is a worthy champion who we'll see in a 3 minute performance at next year's finale. I just hope that's not the first or last we see of him in the meantime.

Photo from

Thursday, May 8, 2008

Blow up about the blow ups

I know I am a day or two late on this, but I have the day off, and dammit, I want to write about baseball.

The Chicago White Sox, much like everyone else in the AL Central, aren't very good. Specifically, they can't hit, and so the logical way to deal with this problem was to bring a couple of blow up dolls into the clubhouse in a Major League movie-esque way of ridding the team of the bad voodoo spells plaguing the South Siders.

My question is a question I'm sure that a great many individuals have and that is how does Ozzie Guillen still have a job after this?

The man has shown over the years he is ignorant with the slurs and rants he liberally throws around, and this blow up doll incident shouldn't shock too many that it occurred on his watch. He could apologize and this would be brushed under the rug as "Ozzie doing his thing," but he has instead decided to be combative as usual:

"I'm not going to say I'm sorry. I don't know what to say. I can't come up with the words, because as soon as I say that, that means I'm guilty of something. I'm not. I'm not guilty. ... We just had a plastic thing sitting on a table and, wow, we're bad people."

The situation has been described by those defending it as "boys being boys" and "it's in the locker room." Even my beloved morning radio show applauded Ozzie for giving the finger to the politically correct and overly sensitive.

What era are these people living in?

How is it that a couple blow up dolls represent the best manner in which to express anything? This is an incident just months after Isiah Thomas, the New York Knicks, and Madison Square Garden were found liable for creating a sexually charged sporting situation. While this Chicago incident didn't involve a specific individual against whom the wrong was done, the legal term is "hostile work environment" by which the employer can be held responsible for negligence in matters just such as these. Encouraging, permitting or even turning a blind eye to this type of behavior puts the entire organization at risk for legal liability. This is to say nothing of the stupid moral behavior this exhibits, though, I understand that's a subjective argument that is difficult to argue or defend.

I know that winning the 2005 World Series and ending centuries of Chicago suffering create a safety net for job security. Since then, however, the White Sox haven't exactly torn it up. 3rd place in 2006, 4th place in 2007, and 2 games under .500 here in 2008. All the while, Guillen throws his weekly temper tantrum, good taste be damned. Even his boss, General Manager Ken Williams knows he's a moron:

"He has a great opportunity to have a voice, not just in baseball but in sports. And I worry sometimes the language he chooses to use sometimes misses the mark on the intent of the message."

But what does it take to fire a man who "misses the mark" so very frequently while continually drawing negative attention to the White Sox team and putting the entire organization in legal jeopardy with the situation screaming "hostile work environment?" The club's performance is deteriorating in such a way since that high in 2005 that Guillen can't rely on that World Series win to save his position. If I were Ken Williams, I'd have taken this most recent blow up doll incident and taken all three of them out to the dumpster.

Photo from the Daily Illini Blog

Monday, May 5, 2008

I'm going to say what I need to say

These are slow times at Wolfden V. With Joe Borowski on the DL, I have no goat to pin the blame for the Cleveland Indians' struggles. With a somewhat competent learning team this class at the University of Phoenix, I have no irritatingly ignorant writings to critique. Oh wait, I sorta do.

In high school, I was music crazy. I was all about lists and rankings and whatnot. While many of the lists put Metallica, Nirvana, and Green Day atop whatever musical category I wished to measure, the high school gang did have one other type of list. That list was worst song out there. Now, I must say that the pool of qualifying songs were only those that my beloved 106.7 The End, New Orleans New Rock station played.

Every time a "worst" list came up for any reason, Tal Bachman's "She's So High" topped the chart. I hated and still hate that song. I think it's absolutely horrible, and why it somehow ended up on a rock station is baffling and likely the reason that 106.7 is no longer with us (a hurricane might also have played a small role, too). But Tal Bachman, that one hit wonder, was always the worst. The Beastie Boys threatened with a slew of crap to dethrone Bachman, but not even "Body Movin'" could supplant Tal's big "Ooohhhhhh yeeeeeahhh."

While my musical horizons have been broadened (not much), I frequently listen to the HOT AC format as the station of compromise when driving around with Becky. A nice slew of Goo Goo Dolls and 3 Doors Down mix in with that Fergie chick and the eighteen artists/bands who sound like John Mayer (pictured above being kneed in the groin). It is the latter who now threatens Tal Bachman's place for worst song ever on my radio.

I've never cared for John Mayer. I think he's whiny and horribly superficial with his puffy pop. That said, I've never had a tremendous distaste for him either, as he has a niche and when the rest of the radio is trying to sound like you, clearly you've done something well. He's always just kinda been there. Perhaps the best word I can use to describe him is "eh."

But now, I have something I need to say. And that is that "Say What You Need to Say" is one of the worst songs of all-time. How a song that urges such critically important dialogue manages to say nothing at all is of great quandary. The gist of the song is that Mayer repeats the title non-stop for a grueling 4 minutes. It became such a joke to me and my radio sharing wife that she decided to count just how many times the phrase is repeated.

37 freaking times.

It's as if Mayer isn't even trying to write lyrics. He's laying around his studio too lazy to come up with anything creative and instead got stuck on a potentially good concept only to repeat it a thousand times while thinking of something else to write. This is a guy who's been linked to Jennifer Anniston and Cameron Diaz who are no doubt swept up with his profound take on life. 37 times!

I'm not sure that I'm quite ready to kick Bachman off the lofty perch of most awfulest terriblest song, but if KS 95 insists on continuing to play this crap every time Becky and I are in the car, I may just have to cave in and listen to Becky's country station.

Hmm, on second thought, that's just not going to happen. Ever.

Photo from USA Today