Archive for July, 2008

31
Jul
08

The Mag Crapper

The door to the break room at the Barnes & Noble where I work is diagonally across from the door to the men’s restroom, which means that occasionally awkward encounters occur between people entering and exiting each respective door.  The other day I was walking out of the break room when I ran into Jack, a friend and fellow employee of mine coming out of the men’s restroom.

“Don’t go in there, man,” he said to me.  “It smells like barf.  I had to hold my breath the whole time I was in there.”

This, unbeknownst to Jack, piqued my interest, as I had recently begun to develop a rather outlandish theory about our men’s room.  “Really?” I said inquisitively.  “Tell me this– did you see a dirty yellow backpack underneath one of the stalls?”

Jack became confused.  “Well, I don’t know.  I don’t really remember.”

“Check this out: I think there’s a homeless guy that comes in during the day and lives in the bathroom.  I’m not kidding.  I’ve been in there three days in a row, and I always see the same dirty yellow backpack underneath the handicap stall.  You think that’s just a coincidence?”

“Seriously?”

“No joke.  And there’s always some plastic grocery bag under there with him.  And I can always smell him.  Although I wouldn’t necessarily call it a barf smell, it’s more like B.O. and old meat.”

At that exact moment, the door to the men’s room opened, and out backed James, the youngest of the store’s managers.  He was holding his nose with one hand, and in the other, he was liberally spraying air freshener out of a short aerosol can with a picture of some purple flowers on it.

“Dude, tell him,” said Jack.

“Okay.  James, when you were in there, did you see a dirty yellow backpack underneath the handicap stall?  Because I think there’s a homeless guy in there– that lives in there.  And he always has a plastic grocery bag with him, too.”

“Are you sure it wasn’t an orange backpack?” James asked.

This took me back.  “Well, yellowish orange, I guess, what difference does it make?”

“Dude, that’s just the mag crapper.”

“The what?!” both Jack and I asked.

“The mag crapper.  I named him that.  The dude comes in all the time, reads a couple of graphic novels or a few magazines, then comes back here and shits his brains out.  Does it all the time.”

“But three days in a row he’s been in there whenever I go in,” I said.

James didn’t seem at all surprised by my unfortunate bathroom timing.  He merely placed the cap back on top of the can of air freshener he was holding, shrugged his shoulders nonchalantly and said, “What can I say?  The dude takes his time,” and walked away.

Now, leave it to someone like me to ponder the existence of a man who poops in a bookstore on a semi-regular basis, but I started to do just that.  I started thinking that if I were to run into this guy on the street, or get in line behind him at the grocery store, or sit across from him in the waiting room at the dentist’s office, the last thing I would be thinking is “you know, I bet this guy doesn’t like to crap at home.”

I get these sort of thoughts all the time.  Not specifically about excrement, but just about people in general.  Where does this guy live?  What does he go home to at night? And why is his toilet so clearly unacceptable?

We go through our days walking past faces on the street we’ll forget in three seconds, not taking time to think that these faces are people who have lives and relationships just like us.  Everyone in the world, no matter where they choose to poop, makes decisions and struggles through hardships in their own lives, lives that are of no particular concern to us.  Working in a bookstore, and especially in a café setting, there’s plenty of opportunity to witness examples of this.

Every weekday evening, there is an old retired couple that comes into the café, orders two cups of tea, grabs a stack of books and sits in the big fluffy chairs between the comic books and the Spanish dictionaries.  As far as I can tell, they don’t say a word to each other, they just sit, read, and sip tea, and they usually stay for about four hours until they get up, without a word, and walk hand in hand out of the store.

Another guy comes in sporadically throughout the week, usually a half hour before we close, and orders a chocolate chip cookie and a Doubleshot on Ice, which is another way of saying “a lot of caffeine.”  He’s about 6’3″ and round, and looks like he knows the rules to Dungeons and Dragons.  He’s told me he has a job where he works from midnight until nine in the morning and sleeps through the day.

Saturday night is Bible study night in the café.  Two separate groups of thirty-somethings pull a couple tables together on opposite sides of the café and talk about what’s going on in their lives and the book that they’re reading as a group, the whole time sipping lattes and cappuccinos.

And then there’s this other guy, probably mid-forties with slightly graying hair, who wears dingy black tennis shoes and a New York Giants cap.  He looks gritty, like he works in construction– the kind of guy you’d stop on the street to help you change your tire because you know he knows how.  From what he reads, you can tell he likes good stories and he plays fantasy football.  He sits in those same fluffy chairs that the old retired couple do, quietly reading, all by himself. Every once in a while though, usually once a night, he’ll silently set down whatever magazine he’s working on and stride back to the corner of the store, tattered orange backpack in hand, off to take care of some important business.

16
Jul
08

tha tymz, they r a’ chngn

Seven in ten teens have a cell phone these days, and you can bet your bottom dollar that they’re all using them to text each other.  Yes, this is new.  I didn’t have a cell phone until three months into my freshman year of college, and didn’t have a texting plan until probably late sophomore year, which I only got because I was being texted so often at ten or fifteen cents a pop that it was a more financially sound decision for me to just pay the five bucks a month.  Still though, I rarely text message, and when I do, I am in the minority of texters that prefers using proper punctuation, grammar, and capitalization.  No LOLs, no TTYLs, not even a measly JK.  Occassionally I’ll let something slip, but I never feel good about it.  Never.

So my interest was perked when I heard about the Pew Research Group’s study on whether or not texting and internet communication is affecting the writing of American teenagers.  And the answer to that question that they determined after months of thorough and detailed research was a resounding “uh… maybe?”

The confusion likely stems from the fact that the report determined that a majority of teens don’t consider texting or communication over the internet as actual ‘writing,’ and therefore they allow themselves the privilege of abbreviations.  But despite that, the lax attitude with which teens approach texting and using MySpace has in fact seeped into what they do consider ‘writing’– their schoolwork.  Perhaps the most astonishing statistic they found is that 50% of teens admit to using informal electronic writing styles (lack of capitalization, improper punctuation, etc.) in their academic papers.  And since the question was asked of the students and not the teachers, the result assumedly does not count the students who don’t even realize that they’re doing it.  Abbreviations like LOL and JK have been used by 38% of students in their schoolwork, and 25% use emoticons like this horrendous little symbol: ;)

Still, 86% of teens think good writing is important to a successful life, with one teen girl even going so far as to say, and I quote, “Cause like if you want to go and get a job and people see like you can’t write or you can’t like read stuff then they won’t hire you.  You have to have good writing skills to get a good job.”

Point taken.

So is the teenage perception of writing actually changing?  Pew is hesitant on this as well.  For some teens, yes, but the study still finds that there are teens out there that understand the boundaries of texting.

“I text sometimes but not a lot,” reports a midwestern teen girl.  “It’s not like it affects me.  But I realize that, like my friend Ally, she texts a lot – a lot.  Like when she wants to say something to her friends she cannot like, she’ll just sit there and text and like when she writes a report you’ll see it in her report.  And then like when she goes to print off, she’ll be like ‘dang, I used that instead of that.’  She’ll have to go and rewrite her report and sometimes she’ll ask me to type her report for her.  And I’ll be like ‘no, I can’t type your report.’”

This girl apparently gets it, but for every girl like this, I’d be willing to bet a hefty chunk of change that there’s at least six ‘friend Allys.’  The fact is, this sort of informal communication is becoming so widespread that it becomes second nature to teens.  Another recent study shows that once kids reach their teenage years, they excersize a third of what they did before those years, primarily because of increased ‘electronic activity.’

So thanks to MySpace and texting, teens are becoming fantastic communicators, but not so fantastic writers, independent of the quality of education they receive.  So what can we expect in the future?  The Boston Globe, in a clever little editorial (that you should read here) says that we may be on a path towards text language, or Textlish, taking over for English, and in the next few decades, we can say goodbye to capital letters, punctuation marks, and the sentence in general.

So what’s the big deal?  Well, maybe there isn’t one.  Maybe it’s just something that’s changing that we can’t help and that isn’t that big of a problem to begin with.  Maybe we should replace our English classes with classes in T9.  As long as we can still understand each other, punctuation and all those silly grammar rules should be considered just a luxury, right?  Plus, with so many people to send messages to each day, who has the time to punctuate or capitalize anymore?  It boils down to ease and efficiency doing battle against style and tradition, and in most cases these days, the easy route is the favored route for Americans.

so it seems as tho tha future uv riting iz rite thr on ur cellfone. and what kud b gr8er then that! :-D

11
Jul
08

An Open Letter to the Packers Brass

Dear Mr. Thompson, Mr. Murphy, and Mr. McCarthy,

First, my apologies to you as I’m sure you have much on your plate at the moment, but you need to hear this lound and clear: you have done a horrible, horrible thing for your franchise.  What you are doing right now will quite likely go down in history as the worst management move by the Packers organization in its storied history.  No matter what happens, Mr. Favre will remain the face of your franchise for decades, and you will be a member of the brain trust who turned him away.

I most certainly understand your difficult circumstances, and watched the retirement press conference with the rest of the nation and believed it just as sincerely as you did.  I was on board with Mr. Rodgers, and will continue to be a fan of your franchise despite your actions.  I can understand how you can now feel vilified by Mr. Favre, forcing you into a corner from which you cannot escape.  But I must remind you, it is a corner you constructed yourself when you first told him a month ago you didn’t want him back despite his desire to play.

It seems to me that you don’t understand that sometimes we all have to swallow our pride and take one on the chin simply because it’s the right thing to do.  Perhaps taking back Mr. Favre for another year would not have been the wisest “business decision.”  But you must remember that your industry is an entertainment industry, and therefore your successes are subject to those you claim to entertain.  Unfortunately for you (and yet rightly so), your fan base approves of Mr. Favre more than it approves of you, and it would’ve served you well to align yourself with his camp against your better judgment for the long term.

But now it’s too late, and you’ll likely have to take some heat.  The way I see it, there are three scenarios you should currently be praying for: first, that Mr. Favre sticks to his word and stays retired.  Secondly, that he signs with another team that you do not play this season, and that team ends the 2008 season with a far worse record than yours.  The third and perhaps most unlikely scenario is that you win the Super Bowl with Mr. Rodgers as your quarterback.  Any one of these three options might lighten the sentence you will carry against the most loyal sports fan base in the nation.

Just don’t count on it.

Sincerely,

A Disappointed Packer Fan

08
Jul
08

Maybe Jack Nicholson Was Right…

…maybe we really can’t handle the truth.

In order to set up the topic on which I’m about to write, I must first make a confession to the general internet public, and it’s a confession that, honestly, I’m not too comfortable making.  Even as I type these very words, I am thinking to myself that I don’t have to write about this, that I can just skip it, or write something about something else completely, and avoid having to expose what I’m about to say.  But in many ways this will be a post that centers around honesty, and if I’m to live up to that trait, I must confess my own personal truth, so here we go: since I have moved into my own place, where I am working and living my own independent life, I have started to partake in a certain activity that is, in many ways, questionable at best as far as its value to my well being.  It’s mindless, it’s uncreative, it’s… oh heck, I’ll just come out and say it: I’ve started… occasionally… watching… television.

There.  Not so bad, I guess.  It’s just that during college, unless there was a sporting event of some kind, my TV mainly stayed off, and I kind of liked it that way.  I had my own conversations, I lived my own storylines, existed within my own life independent of the visual entertainment that today is shamelessly and flawlessly intertwined with so many people’s lives.  But living alone has slowly had its way with me, and has aided in my occasional viewing of… said visual entertainment.  And, in watching, I came across a program that I feel demands some sort of discussion.

I’d seen advertisements for this program before, as it was hyped to death on FOX during last year’s football season, and now after watching it, I can say without any level of exaggeration that even without any graphic sexual content, without extreme violence, without severe profane language, this is easily the most offensive and terrible program I’ve ever seen on television.  And it’s a game show.

It’s called “The Moment of Truth,” and it’s awful.  The premise is this: real, live, flawed people submit themselves to a private lie detector test during which they are asked extremely personal questions about their lives, their relationships, their personal flaws, their past sins, anything.  During said lie detector test, they can answer these questions either truthfully or not, but it is assumed that the lie detector will determine what the actual answer is.  After all the questions have been asked, the contestant is then brought on the show, where they are asked the same exact questions they have already been asked, but this time in front of a sea of millions of television viewers, and all they have to do is tell the truth.  The more questions they answer truthfully, the more money they win.  Simple, yes?

Not necessarily so.  As I said, these questions are invasively personal, and there is no shame in asking any of them.  Have you lied to your boss to get a promotion, have you stolen money from your parents, are you having an affair, are you racist, do you think marrying your spouse was the wrong decision…?  No topic is off limits.  And, as it makes for good entertainment, the questions asked are usually the ones which expose the contestant as fraudulent, dishonest, immoral, or unethical.

But that, good viewer, is not all.  Not only does the contestant have to answer these questions on television, but often the people who are the subjects of these questions are present in the room during the show.  Contestants bring close friends and family on the show with them to sit on stage, so when those contestants are asked questions like, “Do you think your wife is still beautiful?” that wife is sitting fifteen feet away as her husband flatly says, “No.”

And the show is shameless in the way it tries to make the average person look villainous.  The host will deliberately set up questions to make people look like a jerk, a la this example:

SMARMY HOST: So, it says here you volunteer at an animal shelter.  That’s very noble of you.  Do you have a love of animals?

CONTESTANT: Yes, I love all God’s creatures, and think they all deserve care and affection no matter how small they are.  I love working at the shelter.

SMARMY HOST: That’s great.  Next question:  HAVE YOU EVER KICKED A PUPPY IN THE THROAT JUST TO HEAR THE NOISE IT WOULD MAKE?

AUDIENCE: Gasp!

CONTESTANT: Well, um… I… uh… Yes, I have.

Perhaps the only thing more shocking than the questions is the apparent nonchalance with which the contestants answer these questions.  People on this show seem unaffected in admitting their deepest, darkest secrets, and I think that says something.  Perhaps we’re victims of our own tabloid infested society.  Are we jealous of those ‘celebrities’ who have no privacy?  Maybe the fact that Britney Spears can’t take a dump without twelve photographers capturing the moment and selling it to a magazine has given us a twisted view of what a completely exposed lifestyle is like.

Or maybe I’m the wrong one, and we should be applauding these people for their honesty.  These are difficult questions, ones that I wouldn’t want to be asked, let alone made to answer on national television, and these people are doing it in stride.  Granted, they are getting money for doing it.  So the question the show truly asks, I guess, is if your pride was for sale, what price would you take for it?

All of the sudden “…one dollar, Bob” seems like kindergarten.  The way I see it, absolutely nothing good comes of this show.  Nobody wins.  Contestants are exposed as the dishonest and disgusting humans they are, and the show is exposed as a voyeuristic tool for ruining people’s lives.  And maybe we knew both of those things already, but we most assuredly don’t need to broadcast it to the whole world, no matter how desperate we are for summer programming.

So I guess the real question remains… in spite of all that, with all that is truly and utterly wrong about it… why couldn’t I turn it off?

Perhaps there’s no shame in any of us these days.

03
Jul
08

Why Brett Favre Needs To Stay Retired

“…the itch”

Two little words that started a frenzy in the sports media yesterday.  It seems as though an unnamed source of ESPN’s Chris Mortensen told him that Brett Favre has “the itch” to play again, despite his announcement that he was retired in early March.  And, it was those two words which then caused the surge of articles, radio shows, and talking heads all to ask the same question: is he really going to come back?  Is he?  Is he???

My opinion?  If he knows what’s good for him, no, he’s not.

The first thing I’d want to do is look at the legitimacy of the report itself.  Chris Mortensen is an excellent sports journalist, and his name is regularly attached to dozens of huge breaking news headlines throughout the sports world, but Mortensen knows quite well that we’re in the midst of the slowest time of the football year.  Minicamps are over, training camps don’t start until the end of the month, so what is there to talk about?  Up until Brett got his little itch, it was nothing but too many player arrests and a few minor contract signings.  Mortensen also knows that nobody draws attention to the NFL like Brett Favre does, and if sports journalism is a business, which it most certainly is, then a nice, juicy Favre story right in the middle of the NFL doldrums is going to drum up quite a bit of business for ESPN, which just so happens to sign Mortensen’s paychecks.

Now don’t get me wrong–I’m not at all saying that Mortensen’s report is in any way false.  I’m just saying that perhaps it’s a bit more inflated than the actual circumstance requires.  Mortensen’s article on ESPN.com about Favre’s itch is over 1,000 words long, and only seven of those words are from the mouth of Brett Favre.  “It’s all rumor” are the three that stand out to me. (“no reason for it” are the other four, which is Favre’s response to the media speculation surrounding his return)  Sure, Mortensen’s got quotes galore, from Favre’s brother, his mother, his coach, his agent, whoever.  But I’d venture to say that the person who knows what Brett Favre is thinking most is Favre himself, and as he said, “it’s all rumor.”

And it better be.  Favre would be doing himself, his teammates, and his many, many fans a massive disservice if he decided to come back.  Don’t get me wrong, I’m a huge Favre fan, and will tell my kids and grandkids with great pride that I was lucky enough to see him play his greatest game live.  But in early March, Brett told everyone he was leaving, and so he needs to stick to his word and leave.  Ever since March 5th, the Packers organization and its fans have been preparing for life without Brett Favre, and it wouldn’t be fair to those people for him to come back with what would essentially equate to a big ol’ “gotcha” attitude.

In all honesty, the Packers may have a better shot at winning if Favre came back, and that’s fueling a lot of the fire surrounding his potential return.  But for four months, the Packers have been preparing for the future, a future that revolves heavily around Aaron Rodgers, and to postpone that future after all the preparation that has already been done is unfair to Rodgers, and it’s unfair to the teammates that have already begun to rally around him.  Watch any sports movie, and you’ll find the same moral: the team that functions best off the field functions best on it.  Bring Favre back, and no matter how much your chances of winning improve, you’re looking at a divided locker room and a very unhappy Aaron Rodgers.  To me, that doesn’t spell winning.

The Packers are smart enough to know all that, and my guess is that if Favre actually did reach out to contact them, they probably told him that outright.  Now, Favre needs to take that advice and just stay retired.  An option perhaps worse than coming back to the Packers would be coming back to some other team, which would be Favre’s only option if the Packers did tell him no.  A lot of folks can remember Joe Montana playing the last of his career in Kansas City.  Did that tarnish his legacy in San Francisco?  Depends on who you ask.  But that was Joe Montana, and while he is a legend in his own right (perhaps even a bigger one than Favre), to most football fans, Favre in any uniform other than a green and gold one borders on blasphemy.  And considering two of the most quarterback-needy teams in the league (Minnesota and Chicago) are in the same division as the Packers, Favre would do himself a big favor to leave himself off the market.  Can you imagine seeing Favre play against the Packers for two games next season?  The suicide rate in Wisconsin would skyrocket.

So do us all a favor, Brett, and stay retired.  You told us you were done, so stick to your word.  And just because we may say we don’t want you back doesn’t mean we didn’t love you when you were around, we just want what’s best for the team, and what’s best for you, and that means that the next time you step on that Lambeau turf, we’ll hope to be honoring your legacy as we say goodbye one last time and retire that iconic number four.