Friday, September 02, 2011

book




SONOFSAF 
odd, oh biography


Dedicated to the men, women and children who lost their lives in the artificially generated stampede. 

And also dedicated to my mother.  She always wanted me to write a book.  She just never figured I'd write something like this.



Table of Contents:

1. Art
2. Labor
3. Leisure
4. Music
5. People
6. Politics
7. Religion
8. Sports
9. The Artificially Generated Stampede
10. The Jewish Ski Lodge


90% nonfiction
10% hypothetical nonfiction

self-published on 9-2-11
never for sale
 
GATE (d community)
SEC (tion 8)
BOX (of rain)
ROW (dy Roddy Piper)
(hold onto your) SEAT

(this is not a) GAME
(absolute) LOCATION (s)
(a moment in) TIME
(save the) DATE

NO WEAPONS
NO RE-ENTRY

Illustrations by my ROMAN (tic) girlfriend

 
Prologue


If you're reading this book, there's an overwhelming possibility that something horrific just occurred.  I seriously doubt you had an aching interest in the trials and tribulations of some 41 year old atheist Jew from the foothills of Wheeling, West Virginia.  Nonetheless, for better or worse, you will become intimately acquainted with how I perceive the world.

I conceptualized of the artificially generated stampede in March of 2011.  After much deliberation about how to proceed, I finally decided it was morally acceptable to write a book about it.  I'm still struggling with that choice.  But make no mistake about it, writing this book was my civic duty.  I consider it an act of patriotism and a moral obligation.  The failure of the United States government to address this matter represents an unacceptable breach of national security.

I've always been a writer of sorts.  I once wrote a haiku that won some kind of grammar ribbon.

Snow
Gently falling
On the ground
In the winter (time)
Frosty

The decision to employ parentheses probably helped seal the deal in the minds of the judges.  Years later I discovered the format was structurally incorrect.  Somehow I managed to summon the courage and move on.  That haiku accounted for roughly 2% of my inspiration to become a writer.

2% huh?  You might inquire, where was the other 98% of inspiration derived from?  The answer is studio wrestling, plain and simple.  At the impressionable age of eleven, I developed a fascination with pro wrestling.  Professional wrestling was vastly different than it is nowadays.  The characters usually reflected good versus evil along geopolitical lines.  So you had these ethnic, cold war villains from Iran and the Soviet Union.  And the heroes were more pleasant and subdued.  To claim there were far less antics and chicanery is a major understatement.

But as a pre-teenager, I had difficulty grasping the age old question - was it real or was it fake?  My friend Crybaby and I would bounce back and forth with our assessments.  Crybaby's family had one of the first Betamax video recorders in the neighborhood.  We'd tape the live events from Madison Square Garden and study them.  And we'd occasionally reenact heroic grappling maneuvers on a defenseless stuffed bear on his parent's bed.

My family had mixed reactions to this new found obsession.  My father claimed he couldn't discern whether it was legit.  "It's really hard to say.  They must get along to some degree because wouldn't they be endlessly fighting all the time, especially backstage?"  My brother Tie Guy was far more blunt.  "You're an idiot.  It's fake.  Are you really that stupid?"  My other brother Tolkien was more interested in messing with my head.  He'd inquire about the ebbs and flows of each match.  I'd counter, "Well, so and so just got his second wind.  See, he's not going down without a fight."  My mother would just try to pry me away from the boob tube by any means necessary.  "Rick, can you come in and set the table.  Rick, can you please dice this celery or peel this carrot."  Her objective was to disrupt my incessant television viewing with a myriad of trivial tasks.  In her mind, I would never be able to get comfortable in front of the tv.  I still think her main goal was to badger me to the brink of insanity.  Frustration would inevitably set in and I'd steer clear of the den.

Still though, I had trouble discerning whether it was real or fake.  The final straw came when my mother claimed that the blood was actually from ketchup packets.  You see, I may have been only eleven, but I knew it was real blood.  I'd clamor black, "Then where are the discarded ketchup packets?"  For me it was all about the blood.  I knew for a fact it wasn't ketchup.  I could tell by the consistency.  It just had to be real.  Everything depended on it.  In retrospect, it was almost like a religious awakening of sorts.  A "flood of blood" if you will.  It's odd how ketchup has played a pivotal role in my existence.  I used to refer to it as the "condiment of the damned."  Still, for the past decade I've found myself inextricably drawn to Heinz Field.

A year later and a year wiser, I began to realize that indeed it was fixed.  Nonetheless, pro wrestling still captivated my existence.  At age 12, I received a subscription to not one, but two pro wrestling magazines (Inside Wrestling and The Wrestler).  It was a Bar Mitzvah gift from our friendly neighbors across the street, The Cat People.  This one gift outshone all the others, including a massive $500 U.S. savings bond from my godparents (an incomprehensible sum of money for a 12 year old in 1982).  Fortunately my mom and dad insisted on a separate bank account for my future education.  But nothing else could compare with the pro wrestling magazines.

In 1982 I attended an epic night of WTBS Superstation wrestling at the Wheeling Civic Center.  I was so moved by the evening's festivities, I submitted a review of the matches to one of the wrestling periodicals.  The following month my magazines came in the mail.  They would arrive in the mailbox a week before they hit the newsstands.  I hastily ripped open the manila envelope.  Lo and behold, there it was.




My review in print for the entire world to see.  I was suddenly transformed into a famous writer on a national scale.  The bloody and brutal Texas Strap Match would be recorded in the annals of history.  I had made a difference.  As you might infer, this accounts for the additional 98% of inspiration regarding my writing career.

After the wrestling article, I didn't write much in the way of historical significance.  Just the usual book reports in grade school and some customary essays in high school and college.  Technically speaking, I am a relatively proud 1988 graduate of Wheeling Park High School (summer school).  I didn't have enough credits to graduate with the rest of my class.  And apparently the academic requirement was something called Basic English.  This struck me as contradictory because I had just earned an "A" grade in advanced honors senior English.  Nevertheless, the administration had spoken.  I was thrust into this class where the majority of students would struggle with diagramming sentences.  I'd say about half the class could neither read nor write, and that's being generous.  Many seemed drugged out of their minds (and this is from 8 a.m. - 12 p.m.).  Whenever the teacher asked us to jot down a short story, I would write these lengthy dissertations about the injustices of being forced to attend her class.  After two weeks, she tired of my routine and approached the principal.  He reluctantly agreed and gave me a pass, sparing me the additional few weeks.  I suspect he just grew exhausted hearing about my tales of indignity and persecution.  I remember him specifically asking, "If I give you this diploma, will you just go away?"  He methodically placed an equal emphasis on the words "just... go... away."

Fast forward to 2005.  My friend Rocker suggested I start a blog.  So I began writing a few restaurant reviews.  Then I focused on concerts and sporting events.  Often agitated by news in the political landscape and perpetually disturbed by the overwhelming presence of organized religion, I'd be inclined to share a thought or three.

Writing this book was a quite a challenge.  Although I employ specifics and vivid imagery, I'm not predisposed to notions of structure and format.  And I'm a little concerned about having such a limited time frame to write a book that could prove historically significant.  After all, we're really talking about predicting one of the most dire, bizarre events in the history of the planet.  The artificially generated stampede will probably be remembered much like 9/11 as an event that will shape history.

But here is the dilemma.  The problem with the artificially generated stampede (from here on, I'll usually refer to it as the A.G.S.) is that the whole damn thing can be summed up in about 10 pages or so.  So I'll throw in a bunch of filler comprising this odd, oh biography.  I am not well versed in communications technology or mechanical engineering.  However, I do have substantial anecdotal evidence and an exceeding amount of observational experience as will be clearly referenced.

As I wind through the implications and ramifications of the A.G.S., it's probably a wise move to throw in a ton of personal information.  As I alluded to earlier, the purpose of this will be twofold. First, the filler angle.  Second, I need to humanize myself a little.  This way history will have a record that I was not a participant in any way, shape or form.  Unless I perish during an A.G.S.  Unlikely, but you never know.  I often attend the games as do some of my close friends.  If I were to fall victim, it would represent an unparalleled irony of legendary proportions.  Let's hope it doesn't come to that.  Although I will certainly be attending the WVU vs. Marshall home opener on 9-4-11.  Oddly enough, the game falls on a Sunday so any prediction of a stampede would appear doubtful.  And to be frank, the looming threat of death by crush asphyxiation isn't sufficient to scare me away from watching the Mountaineers dismantle a team coincidentally named the Thundering Herd.

Constitutionally protected speech often incites peoples emotions.  The greater the controversy, the more emphatic the response.  Sometimes human beings are proven incapable of exhibiting emotional restraint which leads to violence.  And occasionally the courts must weigh in and offer guidance. Historically, our Supreme Court has wisely been supportive of protecting dangerous and offensive speech.

But what if it was just the words that resulted in violence?  What if you stripped out the emotional angle?  What if there was a discernible means of measuring speech in terms of "life or death" instead of "love and hate?"  Remember the old adage "sticks and stones may break my bones, but words will never hurt me."  During the past decade, this phrase has been rendered obsolete.  Simply stated, at some point in time, words will be used to maim and kill.  And it will not require an emotional response, only a response. 

This book will test the boundaries of freedom of speech.  This is real freedom in the year 2011.  This is unlike the notions of freedom you hear invoked by politicians of the day.  This is about forging new boundaries and testing, not succumbing to, fatigued notions of the first amendment.  This is real freedom.

Since my book contains hypothetical real time, real world situations, I must expound on the timeline for copyright and publication.  People generally seek copyrights to protect their intellectual property and secure monetary gain.  It has been pretty well established that in this new day and age, with the electronic transmission of the written word, copyrights are trending less meaningful.  And any attempt to profit from this book would be patently immoral.  My desire to seek copyright from the United States government is more about being as forthcoming and transparent as humanly possible.  I have absolutely nothing to hide.  In many ways, every chapter of my book reflects this notion.

Considering the United States government will be heightening general security in the wake of the ten year anniversary of 9/11, the release of my book might be construed as a bit sketchy.  I'd like to assure the reader that it's entirely coincidental.  On September 2, 2011, I will publish my book on the internet as a sole blog entry.  I anticipate it will have no meaningful impact.  Shortly thereafter, I will electronically submit my manuscript to the United States Copyright Office. 

Think of this book as a resume of sorts.  Let it be a guide to better determine my level of credibility.  I know what I know and I've seen what I've seen.  I must confess, the organizational structure of this autobiography has a degree of annularity.  The documentation might seem a tad excessive, but I wouldn't have it any other way.  My life is littered with unusual twists, some accidental, some intentional.  Let's delve into them.  As for the book itself, we'll keep it simple.  Ten chapters with the titles in alphabetical order. 

As I embark on this journey, I'm reminded of Teddy Roosevelt's "man in the arena" speech.  As I enter the arena you may call me anything you wish (with the exception of agoraphobic).  I've always had a penchant for large crowds.  A fondness for arenas and stadiums.  So this book seems like a good fit.

"It is not the critic who counts: not the man who points out how the strong man stumbles or where the doer of deeds could have done better. The credit belongs to the man who is actually in the arena, whose face is marred by dust and sweat and blood, who strives valiantly, who errs and comes up short again and again, because there is no effort without error or shortcoming, but who knows the great enthusiasms, the great devotions, who spends himself for a worthy cause; who, at the best, knows, in the end, the triumph of high achievement, and who, at the worst, if he fails, at least he fails while daring greatly, so that his place shall never be with those cold and timid souls who knew neither victory nor defeat."

"Citizenship in a Republic,"
Speech at the Sorbonne, Paris, April 23, 1910

Time will tell if my concerns were trivial and meaningless... or if my cause was sound and just.  Time will be the determining factor.  And just one final thought.  If Sarah Palin can write a book... if her daughter Bristol is capable of penning her memoirs... and now I just heard that Levi Johnston seeks literary acclaim.  Well, I'm sure I can piece together a few of my thoughts, though I doubt I'll possess the combined eloquence of those three baked Alaskans.  As a matter of fact, the discrepancies are noteworthy.  They utilized (holy) ghost writers.  My words are my own.  Their books were properly edited.  Mine wasn't.  Their books were published for monetary gain.  My book is free.  Their books were written for the purpose of self-aggrandizement.  Mine was written as an act of selflessness.  Simply put, their books are all about them.  While my book is an autobiography, it honestly has nothing to do with me.



1.  Art



"Democratic societies are unfit for the publication of such thunderous revelations as I am in the habit of making." -  Salvador Dali

"A collection of great art should not be valued in dollars but measured in sense." - sonofsaf


What constitutes good art?  Apparently I have no idea.  The finest works that pique the interest of others have seemingly no effect on me.  I have little interest in the varying shades of turquoise or a multidimensional rhombus.  Of greater importance, I think it's crucial to convey accurate information.  Why leave the door open for misinterpretation?  And why would people brag about acquiring an expensive piece of art?  I've always envisioned this secret cadre of artists who mock their biggest customers.  "Yeah, I just sold that oil painting for 8 grand.  It must have really touched that health insurance executive.  Eight thousand?  How about we crunch that number on the actuarial table?"    

Why do people absorb so much pride in the works of others?  Here's a thought.  If you find art so compelling, why not make your own?  Wouldn't that be more fulfilling than just purchasing some shit?  Let's dismiss that hackneyed statement, "This piece of art really spoke to me."  Remember that caricature you purchased at Cedar Point.  It's a delightful representation of you galloping on a miniaturized horse.  At least that hastily sketched image speaks to your equestrian nature.



Garage license plates









I have the perfect garage wall to showcase all 50 state license plates.  Flawless symmetry with 5 rows, 10 columns.  In keeping with my desire to communicate information, it becomes a learning experience. 

Missouri is the "Show Me State."  See, it's educational.  As in show me the pussy pillow.  Although technically, I prefer the term "gunt" which is a combination of gut and cunt.  Of course I would never use the politically correct/urban slang term "muffin top."  For reference purposes, the male equivalent is "gock," a combination of gut and cock.  I'd like to see a new era ushered in.  One where the term gunt, and to a lesser extent gock, are accepted in the game of Scrabble.  Not huge point getters, it's purely a matter of principle.  Everyone seems to assign adjectives when describing their sexual organs.  I propose the word "quivering" be the gerund of choice in routinely described, future gunting endeavors.  I recall a woman who once casually stated, "Saffy, he parked his hot rod in my steaming garage."  Now that's what I'm talkin' about.  It's the same guiding principle.

New Hampshire has the best motto - Live Free or Die.  It pretty much describes the contents of this book.  You will become intimately familiar with some of the most extreme elements of free speech.  If I'm allowed to say it, I should be allowed to write it.  We'll see.  I have so much contempt for politicians who relentlessly embrace notions of freedom and exceptionalism.  Isn't this the weakest form of political discourse?  As if one would prefer tyranny and fatalism.

Disclaimer: I took the easy way out and purchased all 50 plates in a packaged assortment off ebay.  It would have taken forever to find all 50 in a legitimate fashion.  I will readily acknowledge that it cost me about $150.00.  With the admission that my procural method was pathetic, I consider this case closed.


Wal Art




The prospect of purchasing art from Walmart is an intriguing one.  After overhearing a spirited conversation about which 5 dollar print would best accentuate this girl's dorm room, I became a believer.  There's just not a whole lot of imagination in the mainstream world of art.  Aunt Harriet has a critical decision.  Which sweatshirt should she buy?  The one that says, "Grandma's My Name and Spoiling's My Game" or the other one that reads "BINGOHOLIC 24/7?" 

Even better are the customers who felt inclined to leave comments on the official website.  They took such pride in buying that "God Loves You" welcome mat I used to wipe my shoes.  They felt obliged to document their purchase for the world to witness in perpetuity.  Just as perplexing are pictures of Mount Everest or the Eiffel Tower proudly displayed in a rural Kentucky bathroom.  Hey, I found it in the super-saver bin.  Marked down 50%.  Now that's too good a deal to pass up.  It's indicative of what our country has become.  There's this overwhelming lack of inspiration that rules American consumerism.  Money and mass production rule the day. 

Though for me, it's all about that little kid throwing a tantrum in the Walmart check-out line.  In his days as a toddler, he hauntingly resembled one of those Maury Povich overweight babies.  He longingly cries out for the chocolate goo goo cluster.  Eventually the screams become nonstop and his mother must succumb, "Alright, just calm down.  Here's the Chokky Wokky."  These are the shining moments.

My Wal Art logo is a tribute to those who manifest their creativity by spending money on worthless trinkets and uninspired Super Eight motel decor.  Imagine a different scenario.  You walk into any home.  The walls are covered with artwork constructed by the individuals who reside there.  It would provide a window into the souls of the family.  Wouldn't that better reflect your journey on this planet?


Tasmania vs. Wheeling




Knowing my penchant for license plates, my friend Slaid Boone who briefly relocated to Tasmania asked if I had any use for an authentic Tasmania plate.  I responded affirmatively, but needed a unique theme if I was going to display it.  Then it came to me.  Assuming this book sees the light of day, many people will seek to distance themselves from me.  Here we have the farthest location (land, not water) from Wheeling, WV on the planet earth.  Other than being launched into orbit, it's as far away from me as you can git.  If you select the maximum distance option, you'll need to prepare yourself for the transition.  Because Wheeling ain't Tasmania. 

Diners in Tasmania enjoy crayfish, salmon and orange roughy
In Wheeling, there's Coleman's, Long John's and Filet-o-Fish

Rafting the Franklin River will challenge even the most experienced adventurer
Goin' down Big Wheeling Crick could fuck you up

Tasmania boasts 17 exquisite, pristine beaches
We got Barkcamp

Charles Darwin visited Tasmania in 1839
If Darwin were still alive today, he would have voted for Obama

The Cataract Gorge is an impressive site near Launceston
The Anwar Eye Center is located in Moundsville

Tasmania's motto is "Ubertas et Fidelitas" meaning "Fertility and Faithfulness"
Wheeling's motto originated at the 19th Ho... "Ranch or Bleu"

A cool anagram for Tasmania is "I AM SATAN"
A weak anagram for Wheeling is "WHEEL GIN"

In Tasmania, popular beer brands include Boags & Cascade
In Wheeling, popular beer brands include Bud & Bud Light

The national mascot of Tasmania is the Tasmanian Devil
The local mascot of Wheeling is Moondog

The annual food and wine festival is called the "Taste of Tasmania"
We have the annual Wheeling Chili Cook Off

You can travel by water on the "Spirit of Tasmania"
Until it sunk, you could get drunk at Captain Ed's Floating Lounge


W




There's a scary symmetry to the letter "W" or if you prefer, "Dubya."  The course of humanity turned on the Bush-Gore 2000 election.  For me, the Bush legacy can be summed up with one word... Iraq.  Bush's razor thin electoral victory altered history.  If Gore had won, we would not have invaded and occupied.  9/11 gave the Bush administration cart blanche to engage on a permanent war footing and this pervasive 1950s style McCarthyism.  This phony nationalism swept the country and our foreign relations have been irrevocably worsened.  The deck of Iraqi playing cards serves as a microcosm for the most colossal failure in the history of the United States foreign policy, certainly the worst in my lifetime.  Check out these definitions of a card game called "War."

War is a card game typically involving two players.  It uses a standard French playing card deck.  Due to its simplicity, it is played most often by children.  Typically two players?  Two jokers (Bush and Hussein) and a coalition of the willing.  A French deck?  And a super-sized version of freedom fries.  It is played most often by children?  How prophetic.

End of the game:
In one version the loser is the player who is left with all the cards at the end.  This is the drunkard ("had all the booze").  In the other version, whoever loses all their cards first loses and is the drunkard ("spent all the money").  War relies entirely on the luck of the draw and involves no strategic elements at all.  However, these rules include an original variant which introduces thought into an otherwise mindless game.  Sound familiar?


Obama




In 2008, I jumped on the Obama bandwagon.  Yes, I was fully aware that both parties generally have the same approach to big government, with the major exception of social issues.  But after 8 miserable years of W, the idea of electing an intellectual seemed promising.  An analytical thinker, a tremendous inspiring presence.  Yeah, I admit.  I was swept away with the grandiose promise of "change."  My deep-seeded animosity for Sarah Palin didn't help matters either. 

So I designed this tribute to Obama.  I used actual change.  Pennies to be exact.  Mostly because it was the least expensive and made for good contrast with the omnipresent sea foam green paint throughout the house.  The previous residents of my home opted for a major emphasis on this lighter shade of green.  All the walls and every square inch of carpet.  They'd be turning over in their graves if they could see what I've done to their home.

I also liked the parallel with Illinois, Abraham Lincoln and Obama's home state.  The visionary aspect of Lincoln's presidency reminded me of the the forward thinking Obama.  All in all, it just seemed to make cents.  For those who care, I used a glue gun to attach the coins and the retail value is a whopping $2.11.  Perhaps someone from the current crop of Republican presidential candidates could make a similar design with Kenyan currency.  Even though the birther issue has been put to rest, the idea might still appeal to Newt Gingrich.  I could envision him carrying around one of those little rubber change purses resembling a vaginal orifice.


Bedroom Walls


My friend Slosh's reaction when viewing my bedroom for the first time, "Wow, nice work Saf.  What is this?  Some kind of tribute to abstinence?"  Perhaps. 






Seriously though.  It's more of an attempt to vicariously relive my youth.  A tribute to the late 1980s where the musicians seemed larger than life.  Although I reflect back and the images seem comical, at the time it was transforming.  Music meant more to me back then.  Kind of surprising when I see the blur of makeup, loud costumes and silly lyrics.  Perhaps it was a gradual extension from the lure of studio wrestling.

All logo reproductions were done freestyle.  Tracing a projected image would have been tantamount to an admission of failure.  Although visually and technically superior, I just couldn't go through with it.  Also, I don't own a handheld projector.


WV Dead skull




I designed this during the 2008 Obama vs. McCain campaign.  A tribute to the great state of West Virginia.  Remember when Abercrombie and Fitch designed a t-shirt with our state outline?  Below it read, "West Virginia - It's All Relative."  Our former Governor Bob Wise lambasted the company.  Kind of puzzling since Wise had a slightly disheveled, inbred look about him.  But my purpose was to exhibit the unusual terrain that is West Virginia.  Our state is old and white.  And we boast a 2:1 ratio of registered Democrats to Republicans.  Still, I knew WV was solidly McCain.  In fact, the night of the election I was at the Alpha (a local watering hole where political discussion is not uncommon) and was having a conversation with an older man.  He was notably distraught and asked me whom I voted for.  I responded, "I voted for the guy who's gonna win this thing."  He looked at me and said, "I just don't see this going McCain's way.  It's gonna be a sad day in the history of our country."  I consoled him, "Oh, don't worry.  McCain's gonna win... (long pause) West Virginia!"  He slammed his bottle of beer and flashed me a look of disgust.  His rage was palpable as he fumed off in the distance.

West Virginians cling to their guns and bibles.  By and large, it's a distinction they carry with great pride.  A state where social issues take an alarming precedence.  It is indeed the state of Gods (well, only JC), guns (well, one is never enough) and gays (well, extreme homophobia is the norm).  I don't see this changing anytime soon.  So when people tell me I don't sound or act like I'm from West Virginia... trust me, I take it as a compliment.  But I do appreciate the outline of our state.  It makes for a good focal point.  Kansas would not.


LTGTR




Considering my fascination with license plates, would I ever succumb to the societal pressure and get my own personalized plate?  Would my Jew ass spend the extra 50 bucks and accompanying yearly renewal fees?  Hell to the no.  But if I did, it would say LTGTR.  It's the Grateful Dead's opener from my first show.  Let The Good Times Roll - a harbinger of many things to come.

There's something miserably pitiable about a person who would choose to put their initials on a vanity plate.  Pompous men often need that extra level of clarity and will opt for the Roman numerals.  Think about it objectively.  Either you're a complete egomaniac or you have absolutely no creativity whatsoever.  So of course it's the most popular choice at the DMV.  These initials specifically define who I am.  I am special because this is my name.  I am special because this is my car.


Corks










The corks are a deliberate jab at a pet peeve of mine.  I've always been put off by the frat boys who triumphantly display their empty bottles of Jack Daniels on the window sill alongside a towering wall of Budweiser cans.  As if alcoholism is a source of great pride.  And after two decades of varying degrees of drunkenness, I still have no idea what Jagermeister is.  They should sell this licorice infused cold medication with miniaturized Dime-a-tap-like plastic shot glasses. 

The corks get rave reviews.  Mother of Hot Daughters even wrote an article about them for the Life section of the local paper.  The cork wall is an all encompassing source of libation documentation.  Each cork representing a moment of consumption, consumed during a moment in time.  Plus, it just looks cool.  And no I didn't drink all those bottles of wine.  Most were from friends and local bartenders.  Thanks everyone.  You know who you are.  It took me about 2 years and roughly 6,000 corks.  I absolutely refuse to do a hard count.



2.  Labor



"The end of labor is to gain leisure." - Aristotle

"When people tell me I live a life of leisure, I take great offense.  I work very hard at it." - sonofsaf


My father often spoke of his desire to see me shovel shit.  He didn't really curse that often but this was a tireless refrain.  Truth be told, my work ethic is admittedly poor.  I can accept this.  Even writing this book has been a challenge.  I enjoy the process but prefer a less structured and non-time sensitive approach. 

I've always found it curious that people tie their self-worth to their employment.  And what's crazier, the shittier the job, the more they seem to revel in it.  Perhaps it's something you can wrap your identity around.  I do not know.  Since so many people in the world require a resume, I'll offer up my checkered employment history.  Although let me be blunt, there is absolutely no correlation between the diverse jobs I've held and how it relates to the A.G.S.  It's not as if any of these jobs helped foment the comprehension of an asymmetric terrorist attack.  It was more likely derived from observations while attending concerts and sporting events.  Notwithstanding, people will invariably ask the question, "What makes this guy such an expert?"  A fair question I reckon.  Even though I'm skeptical of the learning curve, I do recognize the fact that others have a more conventional approach to judging one's work history or lack thereof.  So be it.


Caddy Camp


My earliest job was as a caddy at Oglebay Park.  For most of my 6th grade summer, I hauled golf clubs around the Jones and Crispin courses.  I'd be curious to find out if some of the bags outweighed me.  At the time it certainly seemed plausible.  Caddy camp was an unusual mix of kids.  They fed and housed us in what seemed like a rustic orphanage of sorts.  The food was unusually bad, even by public school standards.  And the urine-stained, lumpy mattresses were a far cry from the Bellagio.

Nonetheless, I enjoyed the work.  Occasionally, you'd be on the receiving end of a pittance.  There was always some old geezer who would only cough up 5 or 10 bucks at the end of an 18 hole round.  Usually, you'd get a standard $20 per 18 holes, which in 1982 wasn't that bad.  A couple rounds would net you $40 or $50 per day.  But I quickly found a way to out-earn my fellow caddies.  I would target the expensive cars as they pulled into the lot.  I'd pleasantly ask, "Would you guys like me to take your bags up to the clubhouse?"  Most would respond affirmatively and tip you a few bucks.  If you spent the majority of the morning doing this, you'd make significantly more money.  This process would eventually be referred to as "shagging clubs."  And not only was it a hell of a lot easier, I had more leisure time to sit in the clubhouse drinking cherry pop while everyone else busted their asses.  Eventually the caddy camp administrator had to set limits on how many bags we could each shag per day.  


Wheeling Park


The next year, I'd take a job with the Wheeling Park Commission.  They employed teenagers and would pay them accordingly, somehow in accordance with loose West Virginia labor laws.  One year, I got $1.40 per hour and the following year they generously upped it to $1.60/hour.  For the most part, this was a form of slave labor.  Every 2 weeks we'd receive a whopping $60 paycheck.  The worst mission was setting up and tearing down the ice skating rink.  Try unfolding 100 tables and 800 chairs.  It makes for a back-breaking afternoon.  These days, teenagers still work for the park, but I'm virtually positive they make minimum wage. 

In my second year at the park, things got a little more interesting.  I would co-deejay the under-18 dances at the White Palace.  The local WOMP FM radio station guy would spin records in the larger hall upstairs.  I felt as though I could summon the energy of the crowd.  Certain songs like Bananarama's "Venus" and just about anything from Prince would illicit shrieks of ecstasy from the crowd.  I had them in the palm of my hand.  Sensing my abilities, Guilty of Sexual Harassment gave me the job of selecting and purchasing specific records through the Wheeling Park Commission.  I would call this my first legitimate expense account.  It was a huge responsibility that I took very seriously.  Yeah, right.  I bought tons of heavy metal records and would just abscond with them.  Well, they eventually got wind of my transgressions and demoted me back to the traditional janitorial duties.  Months later, I decided to quit.

Having lost my ability to acquire free records from Wheeling Park, I needed a new source.  A few years later, my friend Metal Male and I would spend the entire Saturday afternoon outside Listening Booth, a national music chain store at the Ohio Valley Mall.  Depending upon how much money you spent, you'd be rewarded with a commensurate number of yellow coupons.  Once you accumulated about 20 coupons, you could redeem them for a free album or cassette.  So the millisecond anyone exited the store, we'd swing into action, pestering them for their "golden tickets."  About half would give up their stickers without a second thought.  It was about as easy as it gets.  Free cassettes of Nuclear Assault (why don't you think for yourself), Overkill (simply stated shred, or perhaps if you're reciting the bharucha, simply stated bread) and King Diamond (I still have fond memories of listening to the song "Tea" on the ride home.  It's always time for tea).  

Everything was going smoothly until we got ratted out by this cunt saleswoman at the adjacent retail clothing store called Merry Go Round.  This fashion shrew took it upon herself to inform Listening Booth management of our high stakes scam.  We were completely pissed off.  Shortly thereafter, the store ended its marketing promotion.  I can only hope that Metal Male and I were the reason.  During the final stages of "Operation Heavy Metal" we stood outside her shop and discouraged people from entering.  We'd just confront random shoppers and warn them of the "evil retail bitch" who worked inside.  It seemed like a precursor to the movie Mallrats released seven years later.  I wish I had more vivid recollections of those appeals discouraging patronage of the Merry Go Round.  


Riesbeck's


During my latter years in high school and early college, I worked at a local grocery store called Riesbeck's.  Bagging groceries and carry-out was the main job description.  But I'd also stock shelves, empty the trash and clean the restrooms.  One time an old lady clutching to her cart knocked over multiple rows of tomato sauce.  She seemed oblivious as jars shattered everywhere.  Despite the repeated cries over the intercom of "clean up in aisle 3" she seemed unapologetic and relatively indifferent.  I gave her a distasteful glance and muttered, "It's in there." 

But I took pride in my bagging abilities.  Efficient and jovial was an apt description.  But things would suddenly take a turn for the worse.  One day I spotted an elderly man getting a newspaper out of the machine.  Since I was just about to go on break, I thought to myself I could use some reading material.  As he lowered the swinging door, I casually reached inside while saying, "Would it be okay if I snag one of these?"  His response was brutally effective, "Oh no you don't!" as he mercilessly slammed the machine on my wrist with my hand still inside.  I lashed out and called him a "fucking asshole."  Sure enough, he went inside and complained to my boss.  I was never fired though.  They basically just demoted me from 35-40 hours per week to a measly 5 hour shift once per week.  I saw the writing on the wall and eventually quit.


Scalping


During my 2 years at the University of Dayton, I became enamored with the process of scalping concert tickets.  I'd do my research and find out which tours would sell out and buy as many tickets as I could get my hands on.  I took tremendous pride in the process and still do.  I was often referred to as "Damone," the ticket scalper from the movie "Fast Times at Ridgemont High."  For me, this was a like a red ticket of courage.  And it's still a badge of honor to be affiliated with this scalping legend.

Back in the day, if we wanted to go to a major concert, we'd purchase these Ticketron tickets for some kind of waltzing contest.  They were only 3 bucks a piece.  We'd seek out the oldest man or woman ripping the tickets and presto bingo... they would rip the ticket.  My theory that the ticket takers become visually zombified was right on the money.  Try tearing a thousand tickets and see how easy it is to discern the fine print.  It's not.  Nowadays, all tickets are scanned and preserved with perfect austerity.  I suppose it's a good thing considering this new found fascination with hoarders.  These people have earned their 15 minutes of fame amidst the piles of trash and squalor of rodent droppings.

Of course one of the biggest concerts as it related to my existence was the Grateful Dead at Riverfront Coliseum in Cincinnati on April 8, 1989.  So I snagged about 20 tickets and resold them on campus netting around $500.  Sensing the anticipation in the air, I needed to hit this show and see what all the hoopla was about.  My friend Tan Wrestler and I hit up the concert with our waltzing tickets.  The scene outside the coliseum literally blew me away.  I had anticipated a "big tailgating party" but nothing like this.  Vendors as far as the eye can see selling anything imaginable.  Tye dye shirts, FDA non-compliant veggie burritos, bongs and pipes used for tobacco, etc.  But it was the drug scene that was completely off the hook, particularly anything dealing with hallucinogenics.  I was mentally unprepared for the reckless barrage of solicitors.  The band came on stage and opened with "Let the Good Times Roll."  As I surveyed the crowd, I knew one thing for sure.  I needed to learn more.  Hence the phrase long strange trip...




04-08-89, Riverfront Coliseum, Cincinnati, OH
10-22-89, Charlotte Coliseum, Charlotte, NC
07-08-90, Three Rivers Stadium, Pittsburgh, PA
09-07-90, Richfield Coliseum, Cleveland, OH
09-08-90, Richfield Coliseum, Cleveland, OH
03-18-91, Capital Centre, Landover, MD
03-20-91, Capital Centre, Landover, MD
03-21-91, Capital Centre, Landover, MD
06-09-91, Buckeye Lake Music Center, Hebron, OH
06-14-91, RFK Stadium, Washington, D.C.
06-24-91, Sandstone Amphitheatre, Bonner Springs, KS
09-04-91, Richfield Coliseum, Cleveland, OH
09-05-91, Richfield Coliseum, Cleveland, OH
09-06-91, Richfield Coliseum, Cleveland, OH
06-06-92, Rich Stadium, Orchard Park, NY
06-08-92, Richfield Coliseum, Cleveland, OH
06-09-92, Richifeld Coliseum, Cleveland, OH
06-11-92, Knickerbocker Arena, Albany, NY
06-12-92, Knickerbocker Arena, Albany, NY
06-14-92, Giants Stadium, East Rutherford, NJ
06-15-92, Giants Stadium, East Rutherford, NJ
06-17-92, Charlotte Coliseum, Charlotte, NC
06-18-92, Charlotte Coliseum, Charlotte, NC
06-20-92, RFK Stadium, Washington, D.C.
06-22-92, Star Lake Amphiteatre, Burgettstown, PA
06-23-92, Star Lake Amphiteatre, Burgettstown, PA
06-25-92, Soldier Field, Chicago, IL
06-26-92, Soldier Field, Chicago, IL
07-01-92, Buckeye Lake Music Center, Hebron, OH
03-14-93, Richfield Coliseum, Cleveland, OH
03-17-93, Capital Centre, Landover, MD
03-18-93, Capital Centre, Landover, MD
06-11-93, Buckeye Lake Music Center, Hebron, OH
06-18-93, Richfield Coliseum, Cleveland, OH
06-21-93, Deer Creek Music Center, Noblesville, IN
06-22-93, Deer Creek Music Center, Noblesville, IN
09-09-93, Richfield Coliseum, Cleveland, OH
09-10-93, Richfield Coliseum, Cleveland, OH
03-20-94, Richfield Coliseum, Cleveland, OH
03-21-94, Richfield Coliseum, Cleveland, OH
07-29-94, Buckeye Lake Music Center, Hebron, OH
03-17-95, The Spectrum, Philadelphia, PA
06-30-95, Three Rivers Stadium, Pittsburgh, PA
07-02-95, Deer Creek Music Center, Noblesville, IN*

* - no ticket, crashed the gate

My new found fascination with the Dead did little to help me stay grounded.  My grades started slipping and I even failed my first class.  Granted it was Quantitative Business Analysis, kind of a watered down version of calculus.  I should have received a "D" but the female instructor had it in for me.  Plus, I never went to that class even though attendance was optional.  Historically my grades have usually been decent, but if I don't enjoy the subject matter I tend not to overexert myself. 

My time at the University of Dayton reached a crescendo when I got busted for possession of about an 1/8 of marijuana.  It wasn't even the good stuff.  These days I'd refer to it as low-end schwag or Mexican dirt weed.  Incidentally, I have a fantastic name for a strain of marijuana - "Pol Pot."  Feel free to steal it.  Pol Pot was the leader of Cambodia who slaughtered about 3 million of his own citizens as a means of maintaining leadership.  He would purposely target the elite members of society.  Lawyers, doctors, engineers, etc.  The theory being, if you can wipe out the most educated members of society, it will be far easier to maintain control over the peasant population.  Interesting concept.  I think a similar methodology is being employed in the United States these days.  Not from our leaders, but from corporations.  Reality shows and Walmart based consumerism seem to be exponentially dumbing down the population at large.


Anthony Wayne Oil Corporation


Anyhoo, humiliated and defiant, yet somehow obstinately indifferent, I returned to 6 Patricia Drive.  Mired in family turbulence, this didn't last too long.  So I went to stay with a close family friend for a few weeks.   A wonderful woman with a heart of gold, I honestly regret exposing her to my late night antics.  And I've also done my best to square things away with my parents.  The hell I put them through... it defies explanation.

Eventually, I snagged a job with the city parking lots and saved up some cash to buy my first car.  The original Saf-mobile, a red Dodge Omni 024.  This car held up pretty well over the years, despite my lack of concern for changing the oil.  And I found an apartment as well.  The roach infested Gruber Apartments in the center of Wheeling Island.  My friend Long Red Hair affectionately referred to our complex as "Goober Apartments."  A woman and her daughter lived directly above me.  The woman, a sloppy, cartoon-like character with an absurd amount of rouge, worked as a prostitute.  But it was her daughter, an obnoxious 12 year old girl named Tina who stole the show.  She would sit on the stoop directly outside my ground floor window.  Her mission was to vilify anyone and everyone who drove up to the stop sign.  It was insane.  Anyone who had their car window rolled down was a target.  "What are you lookin' at?  You fucking cunt.  You want some of this?  You fucking bitch!"  Sometimes I'd have people over and we'd open the window.  For me, it was a turbo-charged, profanity laden comedy skit.  For others, it was beyond explanation.  And Tina knew no limits.  The duration was endless.  To this day, I've never seen such a display of relentless, misdirected verbal hostility.  10 years later, I had an encounter with another wild teen.  But she just looked at me and ranted, "Talk to the fist, because the wrist is pissed!"  There was no comparison though.  And yes, I'm well versed in the social expression of wild teens on Maury Povich.  As far as I'm concerned, Island Tina set the standard.  A great man (Mike Tomlin) once said, "The standard is the standard."

So I had an apartment, a vehicle and landed a job with the city parking lots.  Anthony Wayne Oil Corporation was a loose collection of privately and publicly owned facilities.  I embraced the experience.  But what amazed me was the blatant thievery.  Management's best option was to hire teenage girls from nearby Wheeling Central Catholic High School.  Employ as many good young Catholic girls as possible.  They viewed this as the best way to deter theft.  And I think they were correct.  Because it was the guys who would rob the place blind.  Most would wait for a large event at the Capitol Music Hall or Wheeling Civic Center.  Just turn off the ticket machine and pocket the cash.  Sometimes, I'd fill up my lot and go down the street to an unmanned lot.  It was only 2 bucks per car but if you could get a line of cars, the money would quickly add up.  I recall one incident where I was out in the middle of Main Street waving in cars and collecting money for a Hall & Oates concert. 

Me: "It's two dollars."
Driver: "We really didn't want to park."
Me: "Then why did you come on the lot?"
Driver: "Dude, you didn't give us a choice.  You were standing in the middle of the road waving us in.  It was either follow your lead or run you over."
Me: "Uh yeah, sorry about that.  Just turn around over there."

15 years later, a semi-relevant t-shirt would follow.





The parking attendant job kept me afloat for a couple years.  I even enrolled back in school (West Virginia Northern Community College) and took a few classes.  I figured if I demonstrated even a minimal commitment to higher education, my parents might ease up a bit.  At the time, tensions were high and I was entirely to blame.  

In 1992, I found a one bedroom apartment in Oglebay Village.  This complex was a quasi-government funded project called Colonial National Housing Development based out of Columbus, Ohio.  The place bears an unusual distinction.  It borders a spectacular 5 star Arnold Palmer golf course.  Ranked as one of the top public courses in the state, it envelops its way around this HUD development like a fearless anaconda wrapping itself around a baby with no diapers, no wipes. 


Bears Against Drugs


So the time seemed right to re-enroll in school (West Liberty State College) and finish my degree.  But I still needed a job.  Enter the famed West Virginia Troopers Association and their notorious Bears Against Drugs program.  This was nothing more than a glorified telemarketing organization which sold "holiday inspired gift assortments" manufactured by a company called Smoky Mountain Secrets based out of Knoxville, Tennessee.  When selecting which gift box, the options were plentiful.  The jellies and preserves were the most common choice.  Not a fan of gelatinous substances or even speaking the word "jelly," I would normally push the steak sauces and seasonings.  This seemed more conducive to the overall sales pitch.  Other options included overpriced mustard, costly salad dressings and the much heralded fruit syrups.  Despite all the exquisite culinary choices, the entire operation was barely legitimate.  I wouldn't call it a complete scam though.  At least you got some jars of jam.  I spent over 3 years calling residents throughout northern West Virginia and Eastern Ohio.  Between carrying a full class load, working about 30 hours a week and partying my ass off, it was a rough ride.  But observing employee behavior helped see me through.

Most of the employees had the ability to speak extemporaneously, but from time to time they'd hire someone who could neither read nor write.  Our boss had a simple hiring policy.  Keep all the phones manned and push the shit out.  One memorable employee was this guy Neck Tattoo.  Neck Tattoo was very passionate but incapable of reading the fallback script.  And his communicative abilities were noticeably subpar.  Occasionally customers would pose the question, "Where does the money go?"  This was an edgy question because the entire operation was always under legal scrutiny.  When confronted with "what do you do with the money" here was the preferred response... "Some of the proceeds are used to purchase small teddy bears.  We place them in all the troopers' cruisers so if they come upon a child who has been traumatized in an accident, we can give them a teddy bear.  Ma'am, just clutching that teddy bear helps calm and reassure the child until a professional can tend to their emotional needs."  Keep in mind, this response was for people with minimal communication skills.

Well, during his brief time with Bears Against Drugs, Neck Tattoo was on the receiving end of the infamous "where does the money go" question.  I was seated nearby.  Let me do my best to recreate the conversation.

Elderly Woman:  "I'm just curious.  What do you do with the proceeds?"

Neck Tattoo:  "Yes ma'am, the money goes to the troopers."

Elderly Woman:  "Could you please be more specific?"

Neck Tattoo starts to lightly perspire:  "Troopers give 'em Teddy Hug-A-Bear."

Elderly Woman (speaking in a frail tone): "I don't know what you mean."

An agitated but confident Neck Tattoo: "Yes ma'am, they give 'em Hug-A-Bear.  It makes 'em understand."

Elderly Woman: "Excuse me?"

Neck Tattoo (lurching into the phone):  "Hug-A-Bear!  They get Hug-a-Bear!"

Elderly Woman: "Huh?"

A suddenly irate and exasperated Neck Tattoo jumps to his feet.  He places the phone directly perpendicular to his mouth and screams at the top of his lungs, "Hug-A-Bear!  I said Hug-A-Bear!  It makes 'em understand ma'am.  Trooper give 'em Hug-A-Bear!  Makes 'em understand!" 

At this moment and utterly clueless, the frightened elderly woman chose to hang up.  A flabbergasted Neck Tattoo turns to me and says, "The bitch didn't want no jellies."

Another employee was the reclusive Whiskey Thermos.  Whiskey Thermos was an ill-tempered man.  He had an unusual demeanor.  Calm and reserved yet prone to excessive and disconnected cursing. 

For example, as he strolled to the restroom he'd mutter, "I can't believe it's already fucking god damn dark outside.  Daylight savings shit."  Or when pouring a cup of coffee, he would say, "We're outta creamer again.  What the fuck am I supposed to do?  Cum in it?"  

But one shining moment really stood apart from the rest.  His daughter had come to pick him up at the end of the night.  "He looked at her and casually inquired, "Why you late you daughter clit bitch?"  Was the genitalia reference necessary?  Yes, for him, I believe it was.

The Bears Against Drugs operation folded the following year.  I got the impression that similar programs elsewhere came under attack from the attorneys general of neighboring states.  So I took all this acquired wisdom and experience and set out on my own.  


Swingin' Shirts


Throughout the mid and late '90s, I sold many a t-shirt on a college campus.  There is one immutable fact regarding college freshman girls.  They all have unlimited spending money when they first arrive on campus.  Their parents have generously stocked their checking accounts.  The other distinction is their susceptibility to impulse spending.  If you offer them anything, they will buy it.  If not for themselves, for their brother or boyfriend.  Hence, the infamous Top 50 t-shirts.  I'd make a ton of these and go to any college campus within a 3 hour radius.  But the lynch pin of the operation was always WVU.  Simply knock on every door in the freshman towers.  Of course, I had to sneak around a little and dodge a few resident assistants.  As I approached 30, I began to realize it was harder to blend in as I went traipsing through the dorms.  But this was a fantastic and amusing way to make an impressive amount of nontaxable money.  And it was more honorable and risk averse than selling narcotics.  Perhaps I sold you a t-shirt at one of these venerable institutions during the 1990s. 




It was me who came up with the concept of the Top 50 list.  But I did snag the underlying premise from High Times magazine which promotes the reform of marijuana laws.  They always had a list of humorous euphemisms regarding sex, drugs and rock'n'roll.  I'd steal some of their sayings and conjure up a few of my own.  The whole idea was centered around being bored out of your mind in accounting class.  All of a sudden, you notice this unusual t-shirt.  The bevy of information gives you a strong 5-10 minutes of diversion.  Far superior to those uninspired "Absolut (Vodka) University" or any of those stale fraternity/sorority logo shirts.  I'd try to remain current and change up the Top 50 every year.  Hell, I'd even change the logo on the front.  Here's some free advice.  If you're a college kid and want to make some quick cash, sell t-shirts at the beginning of both semesters.  Hit up every freshman in sight.  It's a great way to meet everyone and establish that you're on the cutting edge.  Plus, the shirts make for a great conversation ice-breaker and a strong tactical ploy for getting laid. 












Psychic Mail


In the earliest days of the internet (1998), my friend Quark and I came up with the concept of spam email.  Keep in mind, this was way before the barrage of Viagra pills, vacation deals and mortgage refinance offers.  Two words... Psychic Mail!  This was the name of our company.  The concept was mine.  The execution was his.  It was the first ever business to offer internet psychic readings delivered via the U.S. postal service.  Miss Cleo, eat your heart out. 

Basically, we stripped bulk email addresses from internet user groups.  Do you post on a sports board for the Boston Red Sox?  Do you have an affinity for candied yams?  Maybe you received one of these simplistic messages in your inbox.

If you're a Boston Red Sox fan, here's our pitch... Psychic Mail
Do you love candied yams?  Taste some of this... Psychic Mail
Slutty girls want you to cum... to Psychic Mail

Hopefully, you get the gist.  For the most part, Psychic Mail was a failure.  Much time was spent fine tuning all this crap.  Soon thereafter, someone must have complained because our local internet service provider shut us down.  And like I said, this was in a pre-spam world.  But, and it's a big butt (larger than the ass of a 3-time divorcee in a Krispy Kreme Doughnut Shop), we did get some moron to send us a check.  He wanted readings from all of the female psychics.  This was the man who popped Psychic Mail's cherry.





So technically speaking, we finished in the black.  Quark was honestly surprised but I knew it was just a matter of playing the numbers game.  You've got to figure the real number of complete idiots is around 5 out of every 100.  Half of those 5 are willing pay for the magic beans. 


Hemp Key Chains


With our internet venture temporarily suspended and my 10 year age discrepancy discouraging campus shirt sales, I needed something new.  I went to Brown Dog Owner and he taught me the tricks of his trade.  B.D.O. was a hemp craftsman.  He designed all kinds of jewelery for peddling on the hippie circuit.  It was my goal to mass produce key chains. 

I'd sell them at Steelers games despite the lack of a vendors license.  And I sold them on ebay for a few years with some degree of success.  But certain bands and artists complained about copyright infringement.  Apparently, their management thought I was greedily trying to profit off the names of such fine acts as Phish, Goo Goo Dolls, Creed, Barenaked Ladies and Weezer.  And don't forget performers like Dave Matthews, Marc Anthony and the indomitable Enrique Iglesias.  After repeated temporary suspensions, ebay decided to finally suspend my account.  At the time it was pretty disturbing.  I opened a new account but ran into similar infringement obstacles with complaints from Metallica and Ani DiFranco.  Now with the Metallica corporate empire I get it.  But c'mon, why the harsh treatment from a lesbianic militant?  The lesson here is don't try to sell anything even remotely unusual.  Stick with mass produced shit.  The posters, the concert t-shirts, the beanie babies, etc.  Any hint of creativity or originality and you'll get fucked... in the ass (South Park).  For the record, I'll still make you one if:

You are female and it's your birthday.
You are between the ages of 4-10 and I have deemed you an acceptable child.

For $10 + $2.00 s/h, I'd even make you a personalized key chain.  Over the years, my 2 favorite sales were the following.  "BIG RED RETARD" and "THIS KEY CHAIN IS FUCKING GAY."  Yep, these were actual legitimate sales.  As you might suspect, I enclosed a personal note of praise accompanying the latter key chain.  And yes, it exceeded the designated baker's dozen letter limit, but I let it slide.


Papa John's


One failed effort was a Papa John's commercial radio spot I submitted to their Kentucky corporate headquarters.  Based on Chaka Khan's "I Feel For You" with frenzied, hungry lyrics.  The rest of the material submitted was kind of rough. 




This entrepreneurial endeavor met with no success.  If this company ever wants to steal my idea and not compensate me accordingly, then that's fine.  I will voluntarily agree to never profit from it.  A proud company like Papa John's deserves as much.  Perhaps it could be used for a Celebrity Apprentice episode.  Presided over by the most arrogant, self-inflated windbag I have ever witnessed aka The Donald.  How could anyone take this carnival barker seriously?  But I digress.  Maybe some day Papa John's will impose random turgidity testing.  Until then, all the goodies will slide off into my lap/gockal zone.

Even still, the corporate office was kind enough to send me a timely response. 




At least they acted professionally and furnished me with a rejection letter.  This was far more than I'd receive from Stoney Hollow Tire and their subsidiary First Class Limousine located across the river in Martins Ferry, Ohio. 


First Class Limousine/Stoney Hollow Tire


Let me start from the beginning.  For 6 years (2004-2010), I was an obedient servant, hauling the owner of a wholesale tire company (Thriller - a self-proclaimed wild man with a Newt Gingrichbread ideology, physique and appearance) and his girlfriend (Teen Wolf - a woman 3+ decades his junior defined by her insatiable appetite for pop country music, foot-long menthol cigarettes and lemon infused vodka).  I would transport those two and their assorted cronies on endless trips to bars, concerts and sporting events.  Considering my personal history, this was a dream job.  Although I found his penchant for being hauled around Belmont County, Ohio in a limousine to be peculiar, I was unfazed.  It's not like we were chummy.  Rest assured, they would both revel in the use of that electronic partition.  Up, down.  Up, down.  Although kind of demeaning, it would have been far worse if they chose to keep it down. 

But it was this unabashed desire for a glorified presence that took precedence.  It always seemed to "trump" the necessity of getting from Point A to Point B.  And his personal, "not for hire" contraption was always breaking down.  During those years, I drove a wide variety of stretch limos.  There was one overriding, common denominator.  They were all pieces of shit.  The stretch limos paralleled my personal history with ulcerative colitis.  These obnoxious monster vehicles always seemed to experience mechanical constipation and automotive diarrhea. 

In high school biology, I learned of the different symbiotic relationships.  Thriller and I somehow managed to encompass all three of them (mutualistic, parasitic and even commensalistic).  But on one fateful day, Thriller swiftly decided he would just never speak to me again.  My employment was placed in this awkward sense of limbo.  Rumor has it, some of his bar "buddies" were teasing him.  It was speculated that his driver (me) was actually wealthier than he was.  Apparently, Thriller could not live with the stigma and humiliation thrust upon him.  Possibly the worst case of faulty reverse discrimination in the history of mankind.  Of course the whole situation was blatantly untrue, but I guess the damage to his fragile ego was too great a burden to bare.  And I thought Trump was bad.  After 6 years of diligent service, Thriller really raised the bar, both literally and figuratively.  So I went back to the general limo service.  But the First Class Limo boss, G-MILF, had found a new job.  Thriller's daughter temporarily took over the limo side.  Embarrassed by her father's behavior, she chose to follow in his footsteps... pretending I just didn't exist.  I was placed in this bizarro world of employment purgatory.  To this day, nobody has ever fired me.  They won't even ask for all their keys back.  Time to get a new job I suppose.  Or better yet, write a book.

There's still a couple money making ideas I've left on the shelf.  Of course they could only involve my two great passions, corks and license plates.


Wine Bottle Designs


As a sommelier of low-end wine, I developed a couple strong ideas regarding wine promotion.  We all know about the crazy wine brands.  Some of the names are really far out, dude!  Pinot Evil, Marilyn Merlot, Cardinal Zin, etc.

Here's my idea.  Name your wine bottle "4:20" or "Four Twenty."  This is cheap knock-off wine.  Depending on the state sales tax, your total ideally comes to $4.20.  Here's the somewhat lame inside joke.  Some will snicker when the cashier says, "That will be $4.20."  Since you're already high as fuck, this has a sophisticated Beavis and Buttheaded wit about it.  But here's the clincher.  Give the bottle a shrink-wrapped tie dye design and alter it periodically.  This bottle design would completely stand out on the shelves of any retail store.  Product differentiation is the key.  And kids would use them as candle holders and background dorm-shelf clutter.  Finally, utilize a synthetic tie dyed cork.  Great for yuletide wreaths or other artisan hippified projects.

As if that wasn't strong, how about this one?  Two types of wine - red table wine and white table wine.  The bottles are completely fire engine red or milk white.  On them is simply a black outline of a coffee table, or credenza of some sort.  Red... Table... Wine.  White... Table... Wine.  The packaging appears bold but with a generic resonance.  When attending a soiree, you can tell the host, "Here's a bottle of red and a bottle of white" as you place them on the dining room table.  If you feel inclined, sing a blip rendition of the Billy Joel classic (a bottle of red, a bottle of white).  Either way, it's a fantastic conversation piece (preferably without the song and dance).  And the generic appeal affords you the opportunity to treat it as a novelty item and charge an exorbitant price. 

Feel free to steal either of these ideas.  I don't own a vineyard or personally know any mass wine distributors.  Just please don't sully the concept and use it for white zinfandel or any of those disgusting blush/rose wines.  I refuse to embolden the college freshman girls who never drink beer because they "don't like the taste."



Framed Plates (United Plates of America)


In 2008, my friend Quark and I conceived of another business venture. 







We called it Framed Plates although in retrospect I prefer the name "United Plates of America."  I created the content and he set up the website.  In a nutshell, we'd sell 8.5" by 11" prints of personalized license plates, professionally matted and framed.  Considering their universal presence and my abnormal obsession, it seemed like a good fit.  They make fantastic, inexpensive gifts during recessionary times.  Our hook was the first plate for $19.95.  Additional ones for $9.95.  Mostly in the form of testimonials, here's a spattering of content from the main page.   




I got this for a buddy of mine that collects Seinfeld memorabilia.  He loved it. - Art Core




I needed a classier license plate.  My old one "DP4ME" was a bit too extreme. - porn star Tits McGee




I ordered this for my ex-girlfriend's mom.  She's a Jehovah's Witness. - Eric





My husband bought me this framed vanity plate for my office.  Everyone at the firm loves it.  I ended up buying him one, too.  It says CU N QRT.  He's an attorney as well.  Then, our neighbor Barb got in the act and bought one for her husband's office (B4DKCME).  He's a dentist.  Framed Plates, you rock my world. - Rita Crentist





We got this for our daughter Hannah.  Her screams of delight lasted for 2 days until she lost her voice (thank god).  We live in Orlando but couldn't resist the Montana plate.  All her friends want one.  I'm sure you'll sell a ton of these. - Vegetable Lasagna





We always blare Korn when tailgating at Nebraska college football games. - Otis





It's a pain in the ass being a stockbroker in Honolulu.  Our time zone doesn't help matters. - T. Bone Pickens  

I concocted 100 testimonials, but I'm feeling merciful as I close out this chapter.  Ten of them should suffice.

(NC) NTIMID8R
I'm a huge Nascar fan.  It's no wonder Earnhardt won all those races.  He wasn't sittin' on the pole.  He was damn near standin' on it. - Barley

(MD) CHOPSTIX
I purchased it for our mobile Chinese takeout business.  We do many street fairs, carnivals and such. - Wang

(WV) BAAAD SX
We bought this for our neighbor who's facing a felony count of animal cruelty.  The fucker had sex with a sheep.  He's a sheepaholic or a sheepaphile or something.  Not really sure what they call that. - Josh Adamo

(TN) CORE VET
I hung it in the garage next to my husband's '72 Corvette.  He loves that car.  I can't wait to see the look on his face when he gets back from Afghanistan.  Pray for the troops. - Carla

(AZ) GIANTS
The kids got this for nana and pap-pap when they retired and moved to Scottsdale.  All their New York friends are so jealous.  What a fantastic, cheap gift! - Brook Lynn

(VA) TECH
A tribute to those who die from random acts of violence. - former Senator George Allen (R-VA)

(PA) BLK & AU
Steelers lead the way.  All the way. - Merl

(NH) LUKE
My name is Luke and I live on the 2nd floor. - Luke

(ID) YD STANZ
Wide stance, baby!  Just paying tribute to my good friend Larry Craig, the infamous bathroom senator.  That's how we roll in Idaho. - Tater Toss

(KS) BURN N L
Hell is hot.  That's never been disputed by anyone. - Father Arthur "Paulie" Preacher

This particular concept was unusually strong, but it never reached fruition.  If you want to run with this one, drop me a line.  It merits some degree of compensation.



3.  Leisure



"I'd rather play tennis.  With golf, nobody hits the ball back to you." - my father


"I don't play drinking games.  When I drink, it's not a game." - sonofsaf


Foosball




I developed a passion for foosball back in college.  In the summer of 1990, my friend Quark bought a mediocre Dynamo table and threw it in his parent's basement.  We would gather together and guzzle cheap beer (Mickey's Big Mouth) and smoke crappy weed.  We began to lay a rudimentary foundation.  Our skills were primitive at best.  Anyone who has ever played foosball knows one immutable fact.  You come up with names for various shots.  Over time, you develop war stories and tales of heroics.  Each person finds their niche.  Offense or defense.  Push or pull (I've always thought the two terms were interchangeable).

In 1993, I took the plunge and purchased my first table, the industry standard - a Tornado Cyclone II.  My apartment in Oglebay Village became the new "place to be" (Frank Costanza).  We slowly configured a system of house rules and general protocol.  Obviously, universal rules like "no spinning" were easily established.  Then, we argued about the ethics of the 5-man shot for months.  Eventually we'd decide it's anything goes.

Fun and games are meaningless without strict adherence to rules and regulations.  Under no circumstances would it be acceptable to rest a beer on the foosball table.  Even though it had cup holders.  This became a source of great contention but it was imperative that I hold my ground.  The same rule applied for ash trays.  A straight no-tolerance policy would go into effect.  Speaking of cigarettes, many have difficulty overcoming nicotine addiction.  I smoked for roughly 10 years (1990-2000), usually less than a pack a day.  I've always wondered how anyone can physically smoke 2-3 packs a day.  It's beyond absurd.  How can the law of diminishing marginal satisfaction not enter into the equation?  How can one incessantly jump start cigarette after cigarette?  Disgusting.  But let me be clear.  I do have the utmost respect for the Indonesian chain smoking baby who achieved notoriety in 2010. 

Here's the secret to quitting.  First off, show some guts.  Quit cold turkey.  All those patches and pills are a facade designed to appeal to feeble-minded individuals.  You must blankly stare into the face of the addiction.  Examine those around you that smoke.  Make a list of names.  Are you mentally weaker than these people?  Next, choose an exact date to quit.  I chose the day after the Ravens defeated the New York Giants in the Superbowl (2000).  Basically because nothing happens in this area during the month of February.  And when I say nothing, I mean it.  No births, no deaths, nothing.  This region becomes devoid of entertainment.  Third, make a bet.  I wagered a hundred bucks with an acquaintance.  The thought of handing him any sum of money was so revolting, so preposterous... it greatly empowered my mental victory over the cancer sticks.  The physical withdrawal pangs would emerge as a matter of lesser concern.  Just for reference purposes, he never paid up.  But that's okay.  He probably saved me 10 years and 10 grand+.  And I could always use it as future ammunition, preferably as a priest delivers my last rites.  I'll spring back to life and demand the Benjamin.   

The house rules we developed really call for global implementation.  First and foremost was "the catch" and the ensuing "penalty shot."  The ball would fly off the table from time to time.  To prove our merit and self-worth, we'd try to catch it in mid-flight.  After a few months, I decided this type of heroism should be rewarded.  So we established the penalty shot.  Basically, if you catch the ball you place it at the offensive 3-man.  The opposition can only operate the lone goalie.  The other 2-man defender must remain upright and untouched.  Once the ball is placed, you get 10 seconds to take your shot.  You can move it around the 3-man all you want.  If the shot fails, the game continues unabated.  It makes the game vastly more entertaining.

And a few special rules apply to the catch.  For example, if the ball lands on a couch or recliner, this is considered mid-air.  It also applies to landing in shoes, beverages and any other receptacle.  The first person to physically retrieve the foosball is rewarded with a penalty shot.  This would lead to some minor brutality and an occasional pro wrestling move.  Our table was located next to the staircase.  So if the ball went bouncing down the steps, you could retrieve it before it reached the bottom.  The floor was considered a dead zone, or re-foos.  But the steps were fair game.

Of greatest significance was "the hack."  If you somehow managed to legitimately hack the foosball, then catch it... it was recorded as an automatic victory.  This has happened about a dozen or so times in the past 2 decades.  Oh, the celebrations following a hack.  Picture Chief Jay Strongbow on the warpath.  If my legacy could include just one thing, other than accurately predicting the A.G.S., I hope it's the universal application of the "the catch", "the penalty shot" and "the hack."  It just adds a new dimension to the game.

In 2004, Grassy Knoll and I went to a professional foosball tournament at the Holiday Inn North in Lexington, KY.  At the time, this was billed as the 3rd biggest tournament in the U.S.  We arrived to witness a fleet of Tornado Cyclone II tables in a giant conference room.  I'd estimate there were about 30 or so.  The entire room was filled with a cacophony of slamming noises, grunts and screams.  Pure organized mayhem.  We thought we would have a chance to advance.  After all, we usually obliterated the competition back home.  But these people were of a different breed.  They ate, lived and breathed foosball.  They had training techniques and unusual meditation rituals.  It was here we learned of "the snake."  A vicious shot from the 3-man for which there is virtually no defense.  I'd never seen anyone use their forearm to increase the speed and power of a shot.  If the hack is Pol Pot, the snake is Janjaweed. 

So in the preliminary rounds, we won a few and lost a few.  Then, like 95% of the registered players, we would be annihilated.  The top guys played at an entirely different level.  No alcohol, no drugs, no smoke breaks, no house rules... no nonsense.  Simply put, just straight up foosball aggression.  All in all, a good experience.  We thought we were hot shit.  Turns out we were chilled excrement.  Very humbling.

All foosball characters loosely resemble one famous person.  Who is this person?  Answer: the late Senator Edward Kennedy (D-MA).  I would encourage all serious players to define their own foosball terms.  Teach... your children well.  And know we love you.






We used to have a dry erase board from the classic foosball era.  But I prefer a stricter form of documentation.  Everything must be written and adequately preserved for historical purposes.  A red asterisk denotes a shut-out.  Each game is represented by a mark.  2 out of 3 games is a set (gets circled).  2 out of 3 sets is a match.  These victories must be properly recorded on the wall.  At my other 3 residences from (1992-2004), this was not an option.  But at my new house, it would prove the only option.














Compile your own list of terms for posterity's sake.  And keep accurate scoring records.  It will alter your perspective and serve to enhance the overall foosball experience.

But in 2001, things would change.  Foosball is a fine game.  But much like billiards, there's always someone out there, looming in the distance, that will kick your ass.  I required a new table game in order to stave off Penn-sodomization.

Darts?  Not for me.  Just too uninspired and low pace.

Air hockey?  I thought about it but concluded the table wouldn't fit in the apartment.  Plus, your shoulder gets ripped out of its socket.  There's good and there's not good.  This is not good. - Hesh (Sopranos) 

How about a pinball machine or some stand-up video game?  Too expensive and I wouldn't know how to fix them.


Dome hockey




I'll never forget the purchase of my bubble hockey table.  I placed the order the week before 9/11.  On Monday, the U.S. fell under attack.  Tuesday, no dome hockey table delivery.  Wednesday, still no delivery.  I'm beginning to wonder if it's conceivable that Islamic militants somehow sabotaged the shipment.  After all, these people hate our way of life.  Could their deep-rooted animosity extend this far down the line?  So I called the company. 

Me (in a reserved tone): "Hello.  Um, I ordered a bubble hockey table from you guys and it hasn't arrived yet." 

Woman (boldly accusatory): "Uh sir, are you aware that our country was attacked on Monday?"

Me (sheepish and conciliatory): "Yes ma'am.  Err I know, um, I know we were attacked but I was just wondering if you could verify the shipping information."

Woman (disgusted but responsive):  "Alright, let me see what I can do. (brief pause) Apparently, it got held up in the confusion.  Your order was shipped from an alternate location.  You should be receiving it on Thursday or Friday.  Is that okay?"

Me (trying to placate her): "Yeah, that sounds great.  I just wanted to make sure it was on the way.  Thank you so much."

Woman (still perturbed at my selfishness in the wake of the biggest terrorist attack ever on U.S. soil.  She had this overwhelmingly non-disguised, sarcastic tone):  "Thank you sir.  If there's anything we can ever do to help, just let us know.  We're here to help you any way we can.  We're here for all your gaming needs."   

Much to her credit, it reached my apartment that Friday.  So it was time to unlock the mystery of bubble hockey.  Most refer to it as dome hockey.  You might know it as the game where Russia or Canada play the United States.  The national anthem plays and a puck is ejected at center ice.  The game itself lasts 4 1/2 minutes.  Dome hockey has always fallen under the radar.  I'm under the impression that people play it once or twice at an arcade.  A few goals get scored but the game becomes tiresome because neither player can maintain an acceptable pace.  It's probably why this game has always been more of a novelty and never received widespread acceptance.  Aside from the maintenance dilemma, the truth is that it just takes a while.  About 3 months of play and you will start to develop an understanding.  The shots will come together.  They will come, but it takes time.  Time (the historian who shows up on deck of the Enterprise, claiming to be from the future but was actually from the past).

Of critical importance, maintaining accurate scoring records.  Once again, this is best done on the wall.  Use chalkboard paint.  Not the green stuff.  Paint it black.  If for no other reason just to honor the Rolling Stones.  And most importantly, not one, but two coats.  I'm reminded of Gangs of New York when I tell my opponents I've already defeated the father, the son and the holy ghost.  I'll paint game room B with your blood.  Two coats.  I'll festoon that room of leisure with your guts.  Now let me drink in peace.










A red asterisk is a shut-out.  A carrot denotes 10 or more goals.  A natural carrot denotes 15 or more goals.  And the elusive "carrot top" is 20+ goals.  I've accomplished this only once, defeating a pregnant woman by the name of Canton (21-0).

Despite his recent demise, an Osama Bin Laden is marked as a UBL.  I prefer the "U" spelling instead of the "O."  It represents a puck that is magnetized to the back of the goalie's knee pads.  One flings the goalie in a whisking motion and the puck flies back onto the ice.  Do not confuse this with a Bin Laden Popper (a properly executed Bin Laden resulting in a score against your opponent).  If you follow a strict interpretation of the Old Testament, a "Bin Laden Popper" signifies the end of the universe.  For the doomsday predictions of California based minister Harold Camping were proven woefully inaccurate.  On the true judgment day, we shalt witness the Bin Laden Popper.  Most likely dispatched by my own hand.






Of course, my intention is to destroy and humiliate all those who would challenge me on the dome.  People began to shy away after repetitive pummeling sessions.  I needed something to draw in the pigeons.  So I decided to make a standing offer.  If you can beat me on the dome, you win a free Top 10 Reasons "Saf Sucks at Dome Hockey" t-shirt.  Seems like a reasonable reward.

In the summer of 2006, around the back of a hotel parking lot in Queensbury, New York, I saw a disheveled, old-school hippie riding a bicycle.  Upon taking a closer look, I realized it was Willie Nelson.  I jumped out of the limo and introduced myself.  "This is really an unexpected honor.  I'm a big fan.  Particularly of your role as a Texas Ranger on that Miami Vice episode."  He chuckles.  I offered my impressions from a recent concert I attended.  About 6 months prior while in Phoenix, I needed a break from the family.  So I zipped downtown solo and scored a free ticket to his show at the Dodge Theater.  "Spectacular venue."  Willie agreed.

Normally I don't ask people for autographs.  It's just not my style.  After all, I didn't even have anything worthy of his signature.  But something in my head clicked.  I had one of my infamous Top 10 dome t-shirts.  So I ran to the room and extracted it from my suitcase.

He signed it "On the Dome Again."  Completely bad ass. 






I had no desire to be a pest, but upon further reflection, I called my friend Crickdude.  After all, Crickdude had honorably named one of his cats after Willie Nelson.  When I explained this to the legendary recording artist, he felt obliged to touch base.  I handed him the phone and they briefly exchanged pleasantries.  A week later I would discover the true origin of the cat's name.  Apparently, it was named after a "Willie" character from some kind of USA Network Kung Fu marathon. 

My brief encounter with Willie Nelson left a lasting impression.  Here is a man, so soft-spoken and peaceful, engaging and pleasant.  I noticed his famed ethanol tour bus and rusty bicycle.  Here's a man with genuine concern for humanity and the environment.  Then I glanced at my vehicle... the monstrosity.  A contraption that would continually break down and usually got about 12 miles per gallon.  And the crew I was driving, self-absorbed and arrogant.  Their major concern was gambling on the horse races.  Not for a day or two, but rather an entire week.  There was some great contrast in this brief incident, both comically sad and humbly obnoxious.



4.  Music



"A peaceful place or so it looks from space.  A closer look reveals the human race." - Bob Weir

"I go to all of them and let God sort it out." - sonofsaf (when asked if I'm going to a specific concert)


Live music has always played an instrumental role in my life despite my disinclination to play an actual instrument.  I leave that to my brother Tolkien who turns toilet seats into harpsichords, discarded PVC pipe into piccolos.  Whether it be attending concerts or jogging while listening to live music, there's something captivating about embracing a historic moment in time. 

In high school, I didn't get much in the way of sex and I was much too sheltered to experience drugs.  As far as rebellion goes, this left me with only one viable option - rock 'n' roll.  In particular one band stood above the rest.  Ratt.  On the cusp of their third release, the Invasion of Your Privacy tour came to the Wheeling Civic Center.  I generally regard this as my first rock concert.  By first, I mean there was no parental supervision.  Technically speaking, my first concert was a family affair.  We all went to Hartwood Acres for a free outdoor performance by Arlo Guthrie and Woody Hayes.  Some people sitting near us lit up a doobie during "Alice's Restaurant."  I was only 8 years old or so but I vividly remember my mother badgering my father, "Father of 3, who's burning tires?  It smells like someone's burning tires."  My father tersely countered, "Mother of 3, shush!  They're smoking pot."  I glanced over and my mom had this slightly bewildered look.  In hindsight, this was my first experience with narcotics.  Now with alcohol it was a different story.  I was probably about the same age and our entire family was attending a wedding in Manhattan.  Apparently the bartender thought it would be amusing if he spoon fed me multiple pina coladas.  He kept serving them and I kept drinking them.  I'm not sure if my parents were aware or not.  Eventually we left the reception and somehow missed a turn and ended up in the Bronx late night.  I needed to throw up so my father pulled over.  Sure enough, a gang of black guys are walking right toward us as I'm puking all over the place.  My mother begins to panic, "Rick, get in the car now.  We gotta go!"  Somehow we made it out of there.  These were my earliest recollections of drugs and alcohol. 

But Ratt was my band.  I heard the shrieks of joy when the houselights clicked off.  I saw the stacks of Marshall amps.  I watched in awe as topless women threw their bras onstage.  I even smuggled a Panasonic tape recorder into the concert.  I still have those cassettes.  The quality of the recordings is borderline atrocious, but I believe it was those 2 TDK D90's which set the stage for a lifetime obsession with live music.   I always thought Ratt would reap critical acclaim.  Turns out it was the evening's opening act Bon Jovi which would break out and emerge vastly more successful. 

Question: Do you know Bon Jovi's aunt's name?
Answer: Anchovy.

Incidentally, I've never been a fan of canned humor or one-liners.  I despise those who would disseminate a laborious tale of how a rabbi, a priest and Chewbacca walk into a Benihana.  They always seem to share their memorized comedy in a loud bar.  Lurching forward to hear their inaudible commentary, I begrudgingly smile when I think they hit the punchline.  I've always preferred non-fictional humor based on real stories and actual events.  Anchovy is the sole exception.

Remember attending concerts in the good old days?  Half the fun was the sense of exploration.  Walking over to an obscure corner, you'd spot a table covered with stacks of fliers for the upcoming shows.  Vivid images of hell and damnation, suffering and laser beams.  Oh man, Testament is coming in June.  Death Angel in July.  Nowadays... yep, you guessed it.  Check the website.  All the info's there in an instant.  There's no emotional buildup.  No thrilling moment to be had.  Just search on "Charlie Sheen."  Oh bummer, his tour went to only 4 cities and now he's checking back into court-ordered sex rehab.  How disappointing.

I tired of prerecorded studio music long ago.  Why would anyone want to repeatedly listen to the perfected version?  Isn't it fundamentally more interesting to embrace something that's honest and raw?  Nowadays it's possible to mentally transport yourself back in time to a 1985 Prince concert in Hotlanta or maybe a favorite Dead show from a distant planet.  Over the last couple of years I became immersed in the concert downloading internet subculture.  One word... bootlegs.  That's what it's really about.

I amassed such a collection of live music, I felt it necessary to revisit an ancient tradition... the venerable mix cd.  This is the gift that keeps on giving.  The main distinction with my recordings is that all the tracks are live.  Some would claim the cd format is a little outdated, but I need an effective way to dispense my propaganda.  One word... liner notes (compliments of WJU).  Do kids today even care about this stuff?  I doubt it.  There's no room for self-discovery.  Back in the day, you would hit the record store and sift through the extensive collections.  Eventually something would catch your eye.  Perhaps it was the controversial PMRC advisory sticker or maybe it was the unusually distasteful album cover from a band called Anal Breath.  Nowadays you just stream the music over your computer or dial it up as your ringtone.  Weak.

I briefly considered documenting the entire sonofcd collection, but judging from my previous encounter with the music industry (the merciless persecution of the hippified Jewboy regarding the personalized key chains), I think it's best to just provide an overview.  The thought of hurting the bottom line of record companies, whose business model collapsed years ago, is simply too great a burden.  Meanwhile, I'm offering a blunt description of the A.G.S.  This sounds about right.

If you have a preconceived notion of the sonofcd library resembling a vintage Louis L'Amour novel collection sold on late night public access infomercials, it should exceed your expectations.  Currently, there are over 40 sonofcds.  Each one offers a brief prologue which encapsulates my thought process at the time.  They might read something like this...

Sonofsyphilis:

About 3 years ago I was talking to this girl from Bellaire (aka Bell-Dirty), Ohio.  She was a pale woman of ample girth.  She told me she was pregnant and we discussed potential names if it was a girl.  Cognizant that she had a propensity for dating black men and knowing her desire to name the baby something unusual, I casually suggested the name "Chlamydia."  She just nodded and said, "hmmm."  But it didn't end there.  I recently saw her in Elm Grove and she said, "Eric, you're not as funny as you think you are."  All I could say was, "Hey, I remember you.  You're the girl from the Blue Angel."  Again she snapped, "Well, you're just not that funny."  Apparently, she had taken my advice and mentioned the name "Chlamydia" to her mom and dad.  They revealed that it was probably not prudent to name her unborn child after a venereal disease.  To this day, I don't know her name or the kid's name.  But in keeping with this unusual tale, I give you "sonofsyphilis."  Enjoy!

Sonofsunni & Sonofshia (double cd):

In Wheeling, I'm often asked the following question, "Saf, what's the difference between a Sunni Muslim and a Shia Muslim?"  I quickly respond, "Well, the majority Sunnis make up about 85% of the worldwide Muslim population.  More importantly, Shia Muslims believe that after the death of the prophet Muhammed, the leadership role should have passed directly to his son-in-law Ali.  Sunni Muslims think the new leader should have been elected from among those capable of the job."  When my friends get confused, I explain it's a lot like the ongoing Ford vs. Chevy debate.  That seems to help.


Cum Dumpster


I've always had a mild obsession with concert parking.  Next to the dumpster by the main entrance is my home away from home.  The advantages are significant.  It allows one to effortlessly observe the cavalcade of humans.  It's the best vantage point to witness varying degrees of emotional turmoil and levels of intoxication.  Plus, you get to see familiar faces on their way inside the show.  Every year I scribble the word "CUM" in black marker on the aforementioned dumpster.  It never fails to produce a smile when a concertgoer casually smirks, "Hey look, it's the cum dumpster."  Plus, the scalping territory and benefits come easier near the main gate.  Make a sign and play the law of averages.  Lastly, it makes for great drama with tons of underage drinking citations near the adjacent narc van.


Concert death


On October 28, 1988, I watched a man die right in front of me.  I've witnessed a ton of random violence, but I've never seen anyone die.  On that day, a group of us went to a club called Bogarts on Vine Street near the University of Cincinnati.  Everyone's favorite satanist, King Diamond, was performing.  A small crowd had gathered for the opening act, Armored Saint.  About 3 songs into the show, I was standing on the periphery of the pit and watched a kid get karate kicked in the sternum.  He hit the floor like a bag of wet cement, reminiscent of the WKRP In Cincinnati airborne turkey drop.  The assailant just wandered off and got lost in the crowd.  I'm guessing he made a hasty exit.  It was unusually surreal.  Just one swift kick and the kid went into some kind of cardiac arrest.  To the best of my knowledge, they never caught the other guy.

This has been my only close proximity encounter with random death.  I suppose I've lived a fortunate life in that regard.  Later that evening as the King took the stage, he spoke of the incident, "Whether you worship a god above or a god below, let us all pray for that man."  It seemed like a bizarre statement at the time.  Nowadays, it seems even loonier.  Maybe there were some translation issues.  After all, the King hails from Gothenburg, Sweden.  With endless wars and natural disasters, suffering and misery on an incomprehensible scale, I find it peculiar that my sole encounter with murder was a lackluster one.       

In stark contrast to the King Diamond fiasco, were the Grateful Dead concerts I attended.  Dead shows were unusual affairs.  You'd see it all.  Whether it be a procession of mother Shabooboo's dancing their way through the lot or the mental breakdown of a stranded hippie offering a vivid glimpse into a trip gone awry.  Perhaps if he did enough spare-changing, he could kick down some gas money and find his way home.  And what about the enterprising grilled cheese salesman being hassled by arena security or the camaraderie displayed by business executives and professional freaks?  The Dead offered a little something for everyone.  And here's some free advice for dealing with hippies.  When some girl introduces herself as "Dandelion" or "Saturn," simply ask them what their middle name is.  Taken aback, they'll likely respond with something less inspired like "Ann" or "Lynn."  When addressing them, use their middle name.  It just makes the world a better place.


Golden Deadhead


I remember this Philly Spectrum Dead show in the late '80s.  My friend Scraggly Bobcat Goldthwait (without the voice) and I were tailgating toward the back of the arena lot.  We both needed to piss and wandered toward some mammoth touring rigs.  A misdemeanor charge for urinating in public is not the right way to start the party.  These 18 wheelers were narrowly parked and would provide tight coverage.  So we shimmied alongside the sardine-like-packed rigs and began to relieve ourselves.  All of a sudden, my buddy yells "What the fuck is going on?"  In a scrambling motion, he darts from between the rigs, shuffling from side to side much like vintage MC Hammer.  I hear some bizarre sexual murmurings (Ooooh, ahhhh) emanating from underneath one of the rigs.  I scream, "What the fuck?  Is someone under there?"  A moaning, begging, haunting voice cries out, "Please!  Please don't stop!  It's warm!  It's warm!" 

Technically speaking, this particular sex move is referred to as a "golden shower."  Whether or not, we were active and willing participants is completely irrelevant.  This fetishistic weirdo, this Golden Deadhead if you will, was the recipient of vast urinary delights on that fateful day.  He had chosen that spot with impeccable consideration.  Kudos. 

Twenty years later, that man's behavior laid the foundation for my most controversial creation - The Top 10 Sex Moves in Wheeling, WV t-shirt.  This shirt is a combined tribute to "Golden Deadhead" and Jerry Seinfeld's "Golden Boy" t-shirt.  Even though it has received strong reviews, I'm reluctant to wear it in public.  Feel free to make your own determination.








Cheeseburger in port-a-jon


In keeping with the spirit of Golden Deadhead, I must revisit another event which evoked consternation.  On this occasion it was at a Jimmy Buffett show (weak) at Star Lake (strong).  It was near the turn of the century but I'm unsure as to the exact year.  I have ticket stubs from 1998 and 2001, but I doubt it was either show because I vaguely recall scalping this concert.  If that's the case, I'm pretty sure I left early.  I could seek accuracy through internet weather history but have no such motivation. 

In any event, let us embark on a different voyage of symmetric excretion.  If there doth be urine, there shalt be shit.  The show had begun.  A spirited Buffett was regaling the crowd with a story about some bozo who loves wine coolers.  Women adorned with inflatable shark hats and men wearing festive coconut bras were filtering in.  I was in a heavily tailgated-upon section.  Remember, it was a Buffett show so the crowd started early.  A microburst was whipping through the area as darkness set in.  It was a torrential downpour.  I recall 2 distinct lightning strikes touching down in the parking lot. 

An innocent man was taking a dump in one of the heavily abused port-a-jons.  Some of his friends gathered round and started to rock the thing back and forth.  Inscribed on this particular port-a-jon was a logo that read "Mr. Clean."  Trust me, it was hardly immaculate at this stage of the game.  And this guy is screaming for help from deep within the bowels of the port-a-potty.  Then all of a sudden, the damn thing tips over - DOOR SIDE DOWN.  All the port-ass-ailants scatter in opposite directions, laughing up a storm, like leprechauns frolicking into the distance.  Nobody else is in the vicinity.  So it's just me and this guy pleading for assistance.  Would I step up?  Would I come to his fecal rescue?  Lamentably the answer is no.  I chose the more cowardly option.  I just walked away.  There were battles to be fought that fateful night.  And this was not one of them.     


Dead Plates


In the early '90s, I would walk up and down the aisles of the parking lots searching for personalized Dead license plates.  It was an excellent conversation starter because Deadheads would take tremendous pride in their favorite songs immortalized on their vehicles.  Plus, it was a great way to survey the crowd and scope out the scene.  Someday I'll make a poster out of all these shots.







The Windy City


Grateful Dead - Chicago, Soldier Field 1991 (20 years ago)

This was my favorite dead show, hands down.  I drove up with the infamous Down-Low Brothers and this other guy Onion Man.  A couple years later, I would grow to truly despise two of them.  So much for the peace and love theory.  We spent some time on the south side of Chicago purchasing beer from a distributor.  War And Hate and his brother bought about 16 cases which really weighed the car down.  The suspension was noticeably sagging on the Saf-mobile.  I miss that car which my father referred to as "the fucking jalopy and eyesore to the neighborhood."  We arrived at the parking lot around noon and the place was filling up rapidly.  I parked near these college kids who were dispensing 8 nitrous tanks.  As the day wore on and the lines grew, I got to know them pretty well.  They explained how they were from Cornell University, snagged a bunch of tanks and decided to hit the show.  There were 4 of them - all business majors, go figure.  They had given the security cops $100 a piece with a promise of another $100 each at the end of the night.  Probably a good idea, since the lines were 20 people deep and the incessant swooshing noise from the tanks was quite loud.  At one time, they actually had two lines formed.  This pissed off War And Hate because he was trying to sell imports ($2.00 for a Moosehead, Bass, Heineken or St. Pauli Girl).  Meanwhile, our neighbors are making a mint selling hippie crack ($5.00 per balloon).  He eventually would sell all the beer regardless.  The Cornell foursome probably netted about $16,000.  Not bad for a day's work.  Not sure if they went into the show.  I never even found out if they were Dead fans.

That afternoon, I had an encounter with this Asian kid.  We noticed this one hippie riding his bicycle while simultaneously hitting a nitrous balloon.  I observed, "that doesn't look like such a good idea."  Before I could finish the sentence, the dude slammed into a parked car and hit the pavement.  The balloon went flying and he was pretty skinned up.  Fortunately, he didn't crack his head open.  After a couple of minutes, the banged-up hippie managed to get to his feet and ride off.  James (the Asian kid) and I started walking the lot talking about a variety of topics - where you from, you got a ticket for the show, the usual stuff.  He then said that his band was playing tonight and told me we should go check them out.  "I'm not going into the show tonight.  I've got to play, but I wanted to come down here in the afternoon and check out the scene."  I told him I was going into the concert.  I doubted my traveling companions would be interested in skipping the Dead concert.  Especially since we were heading to Kansas for another Dead show (that's another story).  He mentioned how they were about to embark on a U.S. tour.  They even had a gig in Pittsburgh in a few weeks.  I asked what venue and he said The Metropol.  I was impressed and mentioned that the place holds almost 1,500.  "Are you guys really that big?"  He responded, "Oh yeah, there's about 4,000 people coming to our gig tonight.  Chicago is our home base but we're hitting the road to support our national release."  We ended up hanging out for a couple hours.  Right before we parted ways I asked him, "Hey, what's the name of your band anyway?"  He looked at me and quietly responded, The Smashing Pumpkins.  A year or so later, it dawned on me that it was James Iha, guitarist for The Smashing Pumpkins.

Before the show, there was much speculation about the opener.  Lots of people wanted to hear Shakedown Street which hadn't been played all tour.  I explained that there's no way because it was Bob's night to open.  They'll probably open the second set with it.  On the way in, I noticed 2 great personalized license plates - one said "BUCKET", the other "SHKDWN."  If only I hadn't forgotten my camera.  We walked by this group of crazed hippie/college kids.  They were smashing tons of beer bottles on the asphalt.  Just for the hell of it I guess.  Laughing up a storm and obviously tripping their brains out.  This crew had a giddy zaniness about them.  They would pause for a moment, and then all of a sudden, SMASH!  Followed by a moment of hysterical laughter and then complete calm.  Followed by more egging on and some verbal coercion.  SMASH!  I watched this in complete disbelief for about 5 minutes and a case of bottles.  

We made our way into the stadium right after the atypical opening act (Dwight Yoakam).  The weather was crisp and really windy.  The sky was filled with a ton of colors and constant lightning strikes but it never rained.  They hit the stage and the place went nuts.  Bob opened with Hell in a Bucket and Jerry would follow with Shakedown Street.  Even though Shakedown tends to drag, this would be my all-time favorite dead opener.  I couldn't have written a better set list.  The entire show just had a tremendous vibe.  A one-night stand at Soldier Field.  Now I get it.  They closed out the second set with One More Saturday Night and encored with The Weight.  Quite simply, my favorite dead show out of about 50.  Like I said, now I get it.

Observations (20 years later):

Still my favorite concert, I've listened to the bootleg and it just doesn't seem to capture the level of energy.  Of course I neglected to mention that we all ingested this powerful yin yang paper that evening.  That could have played a factor in the night's prominence.  And just for the record, I've always despised Vince Welnick (the keyboardist they brought in after Brent Mydland overdosed in 1990).  His early days of tinny background musicianship and overconfident screeching really put a hurtin' on the early '90s.  It was sad to see how the Dead went out in 1995.  If only they had taken a hint from Jerry Seinfeld (going out on a high note).  Instead, I think they took their cue from Bill Cosby who overstayed his sitcom welcome.  Nowadays, the loose collection of remaining Dead members have become a parody of themselves.  Much like Tempest Bledsoe (Vanessa) with that brief foray into the talk show circuit, these guys still tour but I wouldn't even want to subject myself to a concert.  Maybe if it was an outdoor show with cooperative weather, I'd head up and do some tailgating.  Then again, maybe not.

I think what fascinated me about the Dead, aside from the bizarre scene, was the ever changing set list.  People have often asked me what my favorite Dead tune is.  Answer: the song I least expect to hear in concert.  There's something intrinsically magical about venturing into the unknown.  Especially these days when humanity seems so artificially pre-programmed.  In keeping with this spirit, I have selected some of my better Dead plates and concocted a fantasy set list from my favorite year (1989).  I rarely listen to stuff outside the realm of 1985-1990.  Other than the ludicrous location and unlikely double encore, I challenge knowledgeable Dead fans to find the error.  It's an easy one.






And here are some other concerts I've attended.  This ain't everything.  My life has been hectic at times.  Some shit just got lost in the fray.  Hopefully, this level of accuracy will be sufficient in validating my awareness and understanding of different arenas and stadiums.  As I said, many tickets were lost over the years.  Many shows I've sneaked into.  Not to mention all the festivals which employ wristbands and all the symphonies my parents dragged me to kicking and screaming in relative defiance.


Favorite concerts




Testament, Vio-lence, 7-15-88, City Limits, Penn Hills, PA
King Diamond, Flotsam & Jetsam, 8-24-88, Bogarts, Cincinnati, OH
Death Angel, Rigor Mortis, 9-23-88, Bogarts, Cincinnati, OH
Paul McCartney, 2-12-90, Riverfront Coliseum, Cincinnati, OH
Jane's Addiction, 5-7-91, A.J. Palumbo Center, Pittsburgh, PA
Grateful Dead, 6-21-91, Soldier Field, Chicago, IL
Phish, 11-12-94, KSU MAC Center, Kent, OH
Live, 9-17-95, Star Lake Amphiteatre, Burgettstown, PA
Rage Against The Machine, 8-24-97, Star Lake Amphitheatre, Burgettstown, PA
Fleetwood Mac, 9-24-97, Star Lake Amphitheatre, Burgettstown, PA
Beastie Boys, 8-14-98, CSU Convocation Center, Cleveland, OH
X-Fest w/ Stone Temple Pilots, 5-29-00, Post-Gazette Pavilion, Burgettstown, PA
Pearl Jam, 9-5-00, Post-Gazette Pavilion, Burgettstown, PA
Farm Aid, 9-21-02, Post-Gazette Pavilion, Burgettstown, PA
Foo Fighters, 7-9-03, Chevrolet Amphitheatre, Pittsburgh, PA
Prince, 4-14-04, Mellon Arena, Pittsburgh, PA
Rolling Stones w/ Pearl Jam, 9-28-05, PNC Park, Pittsburgh, PA


Hippie concerts






Phish:
12-8-95, CSU Convocation Center, Cleveland, OH
6-20-95, Blossom Music Center, Cleveland, OH
11-24-95, Civic Arena, Pittsburgh, PA
10-18-96, Civic Arena, Pittsburgh, PA
8-12-96, Deer Creek Music Center, Noblesville, IN
12-5-97, CSU Convocation Center, Cleveland, OH
8-13-97, Star Lake Amphitheatre, Burgettstown, PA
11-13-98, CSU Convocation Center, Cleveland, OH
7-31-98, Polaris Amphitheater, Columbus, OH
7-29-03, Post Gazette Pavilion, Burgettstown, PA

Dave Matthews Band:
6-3-98, Star Lake Amphitheatre, Burgettstown, PA
8-4-98, Star Lake Amphitheatre, Burgettstown, PA
8-5-98, Polaris Amphitheater, Columbus, OH
6-3-99, Star Lake Amphitheatre, Burgettstown, PA
6-4-99, Star Lake Amphitheatre, Burgettstown, PA
7-6-99, Desert Sky Pavilion, Phoenix, AZ
5-9-99, Civic Center, Charleston, WV
5-12-99, Gund Arena, Cleveland, OH
6-19-00, Polaris Amphitheatre, Columbus, OH
7-3-00, Three Rivers Stadium, Pittsburgh, PA
7-19-00, RFK Stadium, Washington, DC
12-7-00, Gund Arena, Cleveland, OH
4-4-02, MCI Center, Washington, DC
8-2-02, Post Gazette Pavilion, Burgettstown, PA
8-3-02, Post Gazette Pavilion, Burgettstown, PA
12-22-02, MCI Center, Washington, DC
6-26-03, Post Gazette Pavilion, Burgettstown, PA
6-27-03, Post Gazette Pavilion, Burgettstown, PA
6-26-04, Post Gazette Pavilion, Burgettstown, PA
6-27-04, Post Gazette Pavilion, Burgettstown, PA
6-4-05, Post Gazette Pavilion, Burgettstown, PA
6-5-05, Post Gazette Pavilion, Burgettstown, PA
6-10-06, Post Gazette Pavilion, Burgettstown, PA

Allman Brothers:
9-1-95, Star Lake Amphitheatre, Burgettstown, PA
6-25-97, Star Lake Amphitheatre, Burgettstown, PA
8-19-01, Post Gazette Pavilion, Burgettstown, PA
8-16-02, Post Gazette Pavilion, Burgettstown, PA
7-26-03, Post Gazette Pavilion, Burgettstown, PA
9-5-04, Post Gazette Pavilion, Burgettstown, PA
8-15-07, Post Gazette Pavilion, Burgettstown, PA

Dark Star Orchestra:
2-7-05, Mr. Small's Theatre, Millvale, PA
2-9-02, Newport Music Hall, Columbus, OH
1-31-02, Club M, Pittsburgh, PA
1-31-03, Newport Music Hall, Columbus, OH
4-7-05, Neighborhood Theatre, Charlotte, NC

Tom Petty:
8-26-95, Star Lake Amphitheatre, Burgettstown, PA
7-10-01, Post Gazette Pavilion, Burgettstown, PA
7-16-02, Post Gazette Pavilion, Burgettstown, PA

Dave Matthews & Tim Reynolds, 1-23-99, Fisher Auditorium, Indiana, PA
Paul McCartney, 4-29-02, Gund Arena, Cleveland, OH
Bob Weir, 7-19-91, I.C. Light Amphitheatre, Pittsburgh, PA
Bob Weir, 8-31-92, I.C. Light Amphitheatre, Pittsburgh, PA
Bob Dylan, Phil Lesh, 11-5-99, Civic Arena, Pittsburgh, PA
Phil Lesh, 4-25-01, A.J. Palumbo Center, Pittsburgh, PA
Phil Lesh, Ratdog, 7-18-01, Polaris Amphitheater, Columbus, OH
Ratdog, Rusted Root, 8-12-01, Post Gazette Pavilion, Burgettstown, PA
The Other Ones, 11-29-02, Mellon Arena, Pittsburgh, PA
The Dead, Bob Dylan, 8-6-03, Germain Amphitheater, Columbus, OH
Pirates Ball, 7-5-97, I.C. Light Amphitheatre, Pittsburgh, PA
Paul Simon, Bob Dylan, 7-18-99, Star Lake Amphitheatre, Burgettstown, PA
Paul Simon, 7-8-01, Post Gazette Pavilion, Burgettstown, PA
Rusted Root, 5-13-95, Star Lake Amphitheatre, Burgettstown, PA
Simon & Garfunkel, 6-16-04, Mellon Arena, Pittsburgh, PA
Widespread Panic, 8-4-00, I.C. Light Amphitheatre, Pittsburgh, PA
Widespread Panic, 8-3-05, Chevrolet Amphitheatre, Pittsburgh, PA
Willie Nelson, 2-10-06, Dodge Theatre, Phoenix, AZ
Neil Young, 6-16-03, Post Gazette Pavilion, Burgettstown, PA
Ekoostik Hookah, 12-31-04, Promowest Pavilion, Columbus, OH
Ekoostik Hookah, 12-16-04, Mr. Smalls Theatre, Millvale, PA
Leftover Salmon, 4-10-01, 123, Morgantown, WV
Lenny Kravitz, Black Crowes, 5-21-99, Star Lake Amphitheatre, Burgettstown, PA
The Clarks, Rusted Root, 6-30-07, Post Gazette Pavilion, Burgettstown, PA
Santana, Rusted Root, 7-11-97, Star Lake Amphitheatre, Burgettstown, PA
Santana, 6-15-03, Post Gazette Pavilion, Burgettstown, PA
Peter Gabriel, 11-19-02, Gund Arena, Cleveland, OH
HORDE Festival, 7-25-98, Star Lake Amphitheatre, Burgettstown, PA
Jamgrass Festival, 8-4-02, Amphitheatre at Station Square, Pittsburgh, PA
Umphrey's McGee, 5-3-05, Marquee Theatre, Mesa, AZ
John Mellencamp, 7-3-02, Post Gazette Pavilion, Burgettstown, PA
John Mellencamp, John Fogerty, 7-5-05, Post Gazette Pavilion, Burgettstown, PA
Jimmy Page, Black Crowes, 6-28-00, Star Lake Amphitheatre, Burgettstown, PA
Counting Crows & The Wallflowers, 7-12-97, Star Lake Amphitheatre, Burgettstown, PA
Sting, Annie Lenox, 7-10-04, Post Gazette Pavilion, Burgettstown, PA
Sting, 7-9-00, Post Gazette Pavilion, Burgettstown, PA
Steely Dan, 8-30-06, Post Gazette Pavilion, Burgettstown, PA
Steely Dan, 7-2-00, Post Gazette Pavilion, Burgettstown, PA
Newport Folk Festival, 8-23-98, Star Lake Amphitheatre, Burgettstown, PA
Barenaked Ladies, 12-28-98, Civic Arena, Pittsburgh, PA
Barenaked Ladies, 7-24-01, Post Gazette Pavilion, Burgettstown, PA
All Good Music Festival, 5-15-03 > 5-18-03, Marvin's Mountaintop, Masontown, WV
Jazz Mandolin Project, 10-1-99, Beehive Theater, Pittsburgh, PA
Yonder Mountain String Band, 2-23-06, Metropolitan Theatre, Morgantown, WV
Jerry Garcia Band, 4-13-00, The Crossroads, Wheeling, WV
Rusted Root, 12-31-96, Civic Arena, Pittsburgh, PA
Lilith Fair, 8-9-98, Star Lake Amphitheatre, Burgettstown, PA
Styx, 2-19-04, Capitol Music Hall, Wheeling, WV
Stevie Nicks, 7-6-01, Post Gazette Pavilion, Burgettstown, PA
James Taylor, 7-19-05, Post Gazette Pavilion, Burgettstown, PA
Eric Clapton, 5-30-98, MGM Grand, Las Vegas, NV *

* - Did not attend.  Ticket has sentimental value.


Rock concerts












Motley Crue, 7-31-97, Civic Arena, Pittsburgh, PA
Def Leppard, 8-6-88, Buckeye Lake Music Center, Newark, OH
Ratt, 2-7-89, Hara Arena, Dayton, Ohio
Scorpions, 9-21-88, Hara Arena, Dayton, OH
Aerosmith, Guns'n'Roses, 7-20-88, Civic Center, Wheeling, WV
Monsters of Rock, 6-15-88, Three Rivers Stadium, Pitttsburgh, PA
Monsters of Rock, 6-23-88, Rubber Bowl, Akron, OH
Rush, 6-1-97, Star Lake Amphitheatre, Burgettstown, PA
Rush, 8-6-02, Post-Gazette Pavilion, Burgettstown, PA
Rush, 5-31-04, Post-Gazette Pavilion, Burgettstown, PA
Rush, 6-25-07, Post-Gazette Pavilion, Burgettstown, PA
Aerosmith, 8-15-02, Post-Gazette Pavilion, Burgettstown, PA
Aerosmith, Kiss, 8-21-03, Post-Gazette Pavilion, Burgettstown, PA
Aerosmith, 6-18-04, Post-Gazette Pavilion, Burgettstown, PA
Kiss, 5-26-00, Post-Gazette Pavilion, Burgettstown, PA
Kiss, 7-4-04, Post-Gazette Pavilion, Burgettstown, PA
Queensryche, 7-23-97, Star Lake Ampitheatre, Burgettstown, PA
Def Leppard, 8-12-00, Post-Gazette Pavilion, Burgettstown, PA
Deep Purple, Scorpions, 6-15-02, Post-Gazette Pavilion, Burgettstown, PA
Ratt, 1-21-01, The Crossroads, Wheeling, WV
Poison, 6-10-03, Post-Gazette Pavilion, Burgettstown, PA
Lollapalooza, 7-19-03, Post-Gazette Pavilion, Burgettstown, PA
Van Halen, 6-29-04, Post-Gazette Pavilion, Burgettstown, PA
Motley Crue, 8-30-05, Post-Gazette Pavilion, Burgettstown, PA
Bon Jovi, 7-23-06, Heinz Field, Pittsburgh, PA
KC and The Sunshine Band, 6-1-01, I.C. Light Amphitheatre, Pittsburgh, PA
Steve Miller Band, 8-2-97, Star Lake Amphitheatre, Burgettstown, PA
Steve Miller Band, 8-13-05, Post-Gazette Pavilion, Burgettstown, PA
U2, 5-22-97, Three Rivers Stadium, Pittsburgh, PA
Eagles, 8-15-94, Star Lake Amphitheatre, Burgettstown, PA
Whitesnake, 7-15-03, Post-Gazette Pavilion, Burgettstown, PA
Poison, 7-1-00, Post-Gazette Pavilion, Burgettstown, PA
Live, 8-14-97, Blossom Music Center, Cleveland, OH
Live, 7-18-03, Chevrolet Amphitheatre, Pittsburgh, PA
Live, 8-11-97, Star Lake Amphitheatre, Burgettstown, PA
Moody Blues, 1-3-99, Star Lake Amphitheatre, Burgettstown, PA
Moody Blues, 7-10-93, Star Lake Amphitheatre, Burgettstown, PA
Billy Joel, 3-4-99, Civic Arena, Pittsburgh, PA
Fake Fest, 5-11-01, Post-Gazette Pavilion, Burgettstown, PA
Beat Bash, 8-5-01, Post-Gazette Pavilion, Burgettstown, PA
Boston, 6-11-03, Post-Gazette Pavilion, Burgettstown, PA
Elton John, 6-11-99, Star Lake Amphitheatre, Burgettstown, PA
AC/DC, 5-15-88, Civic Arena, Pittsburgh, PA
AC/DC, 10-15-88, Civic Center, Wheeling, WV
The Who, 7-16-89, Three Rivers Stadium, Pittsburgh, PA
The Who, 6-29-00, Post-Gazette Pavilion, Burgettstown, PA
The Who, 12-11-06, Value City Arena, Columbus, OH
Rolling Stones, 9-29-94, Three Rivers Stadium, Pittsburgh, PA
U2, 5-6-01, Mellon Arena, Pittsburgh, PA
Megadeth, 4-28-88, Palace Theatre, Greensburg, PA
Exodus, 1989, Newport Music Hall, Columbus, OH
Metal Church, 4-18-89, Newport Music Hall, Columbus, OH
Testament, 1989, Newport Music Hall, Columbus, OH
Megadeth, 2-14-88, South Hills Theatre, Pittsburgh, PA
Nuclear Assault, 11-30-88, Bogarts, Cincinnati, OH
Iron Maiden, 7-5-88, Civic Arena, Pittsburgh, PA
King Diamond, Armored Saint, 10-28-88, Bogarts, Cincinnati, OH
King Diamond, 11-22-89, South Hills Theatre, Pittsburgh, PA
Metallica, Queensryche, 4-16-89, Hara Arena, Dayton, OH
Metallica, Queensryche, 11-18-88, Cincinnati Gardens, Cincinnati, OH
Metallica, 7-11-89, Civic Arena, Pittsburgh, PA
Surge Festival, 5-24-97, Star Lake Amphitheatre, Burgettstown, PA
The Beat Birthday Bash, 7-29-00, Post-Gazette Pavilion, Burgettstown, PA
Fake Fest 2, 5-11-02, Post-Gazette Pavilion, Burgettstown, PA
Iron Maiden, 8-8-03, Post-Gazette Pavilion, Burgettstown, PA
Iron Maiden, 8-11-00, Post-Gazette Pavilion, Burgettstown, PA
Nine Inch Nails, 11-28-94, Civic Arena, Pittsburgh, PA
Metallica, 3-26-97, Civic Arena, Pittsburgh, PA
Helmet, Rollins Band, 8-17-94, Metropol, Pittsburgh, PA
Kreator, 9-15-89, Bogarts, Cincinnati, OH
Overkill, 2-21-06, Rex Theater, Pittsburgh, PA
Overkill, 6-19-90, City Limits, Penn Hills, PA
Overkill, 8-2-88, City Limits, Penn Hills, PA
Sacred Reich, 8-11-89, venue unknown, Wilkinsburg, PA
Slayer, Motorhead, Overkill, 11-17-88, Hara Arena, Dayton, OH
Exodus, Anthrax, Helloween, 4-24-89, Hara Arena, Dayton, OH
Dark Angel, 4-7-89, Bogarts, Cincinnati, OH
Family Values Tour, 9-21-99, Civic Arena, Pittsburgh, PA
Ozzfest, 8-28-04, Post-Gazette Pavilion, Burgettstown, PA
X-Fest, 5-28-99, Star Lake Amphitheatre, Burgettstown, PA
Marilyn Manson, Slayer, 7-31-07, Time Warner Cable Amphitheatre, Cleveland, OH
Korn, 8-18-00, Post-Gazette Pavilion, Burgettstown, PA
Pantera, 9-14-97, Star Lake Amphitheatre, Burgettstown, PA
David Bowie & Nine Inch Nails, 9-23-95, Star Lake Amphitheatre, Burgettstown, PA
The Artist formerly known as Prince, 9-20-97, Civic Arena, Pittsburgh, PA
Pearl Jam, 8-25-98, Star Lake Amphitheatre, Burgettstown, PA
Duran Duran, 8-13-00, I.C. Light Amphitheatre, Pittsburgh, PA
One World Festival, 8-28-90, I.C Light Amphitheatre, Pittsburgh, PA
Dark Star Orchestra, 2-24-09, Carnegie Library Music Hall, Homestead, PA
Dave Matthews Band, 5-30-08, Post-Gazette Pavilion, Burgettstown, PA
Dave Matthews Band, 5-31-08, Post-Gazette Pavilion, Burgettstown, PA
Australian Pink Floyd, 12-5-07, Benedum Center, Pittsburgh, PA
Dark Star Orchestra, 2-19-08, Metropolitan Theatre, Morgantown, WV
Beck, Ben Folds Five, 6-10-98, Star Lake Amphitheatre, Burgettstown, PA
Smashing Pumpkins, 7-16-96, Civic Arena, Pittsburgh, PA
Coldplay, 8-11-05, Post-Gazette Pavilion, Burgettstown, PA
Radiohead, 8-8-01, Blossom Music Center, Cleveland, OH
Presidents of the United States of America, 3-19-97, Metropol, Pittsburgh, PA
They Might Be Giants, 10-9-92, Wheeling Jesuit College Field House, Wheeling, WV
Duran Duran, 8-2-05, Chevrolet Amphitheatre, Pittsburgh, PA
Poison, 8-10-08, Post-Gazette Pavilion, Burgettstown, PA
AC/DC, 1-7-09, Mellon Arena, Pittsburgh, PA
Fleetwood Mac, 3-1-09, Mellon Arena, Pittsburgh, PA
Crue Fest, 8-31-08, Post-Gazette Pavilion, Burgettstown, PA
G. Love & Special Sauce, 1-21-08, Newport Music Hall, Columbus, OH
Van Halen, 3-21-08, Mellon Arena, Pittsburgh, PA
Foo Fighters, 7-26-08, Peterson Events Center, Pittsburgh, PA
Ray LaMontagne, 4-3-09, Palace Theatre, Greensburg, PA
Coldplay, 5-30-09, Post-Gazette Pavilion, Burgettstown, PA
Mayhem Festival, 8-1-09, Post-Gazette Pavilion, Burgettstown, PA
Black Crowes, 7-14-09, Amp at Station Square, Pittsburgh, PA
The Police, 7-28-08, Post-Gazette Pavilion, Burgettstown, PA
Phish, 6-18-09, Post-Gazette Pavilion, Burgettstown, PA
Def Leppard, Poison, Cheap Trick, 7-10-09, Post-Gazette Pavilion, Burgettstown, PA
Styx, REO Speedwagon, 7-5-09, Wheeling Island Stadium, Wheeling, WV
No Doubt, 6-13-09, Post-Gazette Pavilion, Burgettstown, PA
Crue Fest 2, 8-16-09, Post-Gazette Pavilion, Burgettstown, PA
Elton John, 3-23-11, Consol Energy Center, Pittsburgh, PA
Kiss, 7-29-10, First Niagara Pavilion, Burgettstown, PA
Pearl Jam, 10-27-09, Wachovia Spectrum, Philadelphia, PA
Pearl Jam, 10-28-09, Wachovia Spectrum, Philadelphia, PA
Kiss, 12-13-09, Mellon Arena, Pittsburgh, PA
My Morning Jacket, 5-2-10, Lifestyles Community Pavilion, Columbus, OH
Paul McCartney, 8-18-10, Consol Energy Center, Pittsburgh, PA
My Morning Jacket, 8-27-10, Trib Total Media Amphitheatre, Pittsburgh, PA
Alice Cooper, 9-3-10, Classic Park, Eastlake, OH
Devo, 8-4-10, Celeste Center, Columbus, OH
Bon Jovi, 2-11-11, Consol Energy Center, Pittsburgh, PA
Iron Maiden, 7-14-10, First Niagara Pavilion, Burgettstown, PA
Pearl Jam, 5-9-10, Quicken Loans Arena, Cleveland, OH
Pearl Jam, 5-6-10, Nationwide Arena, Columbus, OH
Widespread Panic, 9-17-10, WVU Coliseum, Morgantown, WV
Trey Anastesio, 2-25-11, Stage AE, Pittsburgh, PA
The Music of Led Zeppelin, 4-8-11, Capitol Music Hall, Wheeling, WV
Weezer, 5-29-11, Stage AE, Pittsburgh, PA
Devo, 6-17-11, Stage AE, Pittsburgh, PA
U2, 7-26-11, Heinz Field, Pittsburgh, PA
My Morning Jacket, 8-10-11, Stage AE, Pittsburgh, PA
Alice Cooper, 8-12-11, Stage AE, Pittsburgh, PA
Journey, Foreigner, Night Ranger, 8-27-11, First Niagara Pavilion, Burgettstown, PA
Greensky Bluegrass, 9-13-11, Rex Theater, Pittsburgh, PA
Foo Fighters, 9-23-11, Consol Energy Center, Pittsburgh, PA
Ray LaMontagne, 9-27-11, Stage AE, Pittsburgh, PA
Anthrax, Testament, Death Angel, 11-17-11, Stage AE, Pittsburgh, PA


Embarrassing concerts/events




Jimmy Buffett, 7-27-98, Star Lake Amphitheatre, Burgettstown, PA
Wheeling Nailers vs. Peoria Rivermen, 3-15-98, Civic Center, Wheeling, WV
WWF Wrestlemania Road Rage, 12-28-99, Civic Center, Wheeling, WV
WCW TBS Thunder, 7-25-00, Civic Center, Wheeling, WV
Wheeling Nailers vs. Richmond Renegades, 1-28-00, Civic Center, Wheeling, WV
WWF Raw is War, 1-31-00, Civic Arena, Pittsburgh, PA
98 Degrees w/ K Ci & Jojo, 6-4-01, Post-Gazette Pavilion, Burgettstown, PA
Backstreet Boys, 6-25-01, Post-Gazette Pavilion, Burgettstown, PA
Jimmy Buffett, 9-4-01, Post-Gazette Pavilion, Burgettstown, PA
Toughman Contest, 3-9-02, Civic Center, Wheeling, WV
WWF Live, 3-25-02, Civic Center, Wheeling, WV
Ohio Valley Greyhounds vs. TBD, 7-13-02, Civic Center, Wheeling, WV
Wheeling Nailers vs. Dayton Bombers, 12-27-03, Civic Center, Wheeling, WV
President George W. Bush, 8-29-04, Wesbanco Arena, Wheeling, WV
Wheeling Nailers vs. San Diego Gulls, 11-4-05, Wesbanco Arena, Wheeling, WV
Wheeling Nailers vs. Toledo Storm, 4-6-06, Wesbanco Arena, Wheeling, WV
Jimmy Buffett, 6-6-06, Post-Gazette Pavilion, Burgettstown, PA
Wheeling Nailers vs. Cincinnati Cyclones, 11-6-10, Wesbanco Arena, Wheeling, WV


Some miscellaneous events




Believe in America Tour (Kerry & Edwards), 7-31-04, Heritage Port, Wheeling, WV
Wild Things vs. Freedom, 7-20-03, Falconi Field, Washington, PA
Fully Committed, 3-29-02, Herberger Theater, Mesa, AZ
Titanic Exhibit, 3-27-02, Arizona Science Center, Phoenix, AZ
Pirates of Penzance, 8-3-01, Randall L. Jones Theatre, Cedar City, UT
Pontiac Excitement 400, 5-4-02, Richmond International Raceway, Richmond, VA
Franklin Templeton Tennis Classic, 3-5-98, The Scottsdale Princess, Scottsdale, AZ
Phoenix Symphony, 4-1-07, Symphony Hall, Phoenix, AZ
Stephen Lynch, 4-12-07, Byham Theater, Pittsburgh, PA
Trans-Siberian Orchestra, 12-3-06, Mellon Arena, Pittsburgh, PA
Symphony on Ice, 12-4-06, Wesbanco Arena, Wheeling, WV
Fright Fest, 10-?-99, I.C. Light Amphitheatre, Pittsburgh, PA
Anything Goes, 4-30-05, Evelyn Smith Music Theatre, Phoenix, AZ
Race for Atlantis, 6-2-00, Caesars Palace, Las Vegas, NV
Chihuly at Phipps: Gardens & Glass, 10-2-07, Phipps Conservatory, Pittsburgh, PA
A Trip to Yesterday, 6-11-08, Narrow Gauge Railroad, Durango, CO > Silverton, CO
Country First (Sarah Palin), 10-12-08, Brush Run Park, St. Clairsville, OH


Cunt-tree concerts




George Strait, 5-20-01, Post-Gazette Pavilion, Burgettstown, PA
Toby Keith, 9-26-03, Post-Gazette Pavilion, Burgettstown, PA
Brooks & Dunn, 9-3-05, Post-Gazette Pavilion, Burgettstown, PA
Toby Keith, 8-25-06, Post-Gazette Pavilion, Burgettstown, PA
Kenny Chesney, 7-30-06, Post-Gazette Pavilion, Burgettstown, PA
Kenny Chesney, 6-9-07, Heinz Field, Pittsburgh, PA
Toby Keith, 8-18-07, Post Gazette Pavilion, Burgettstown, PA



5.  People



"As far as thinking about death and murder and various ways of killing people and how people die... I probably have the most twisted mind in Slayer." - Tom Araya

"Intangible weapons will not bode well for the nation-state." - sonofsaf


Question: What do you get when you cross a dermatologist from Elizabeth, New Jersey with an English teacher from Detroit?
Answer: Probably not a morbidly obese southern Baptist.

I've never had a good understanding of familial relations.  Probably because all my relatives lived out-of-state.  I was about 11 years old when it became apparent that my mother had a sister and a brother.  I'd always refer to them as aunt and uncle, but I never really grasped the concept of exactly how we were all related.

My Aunt Makeup is an intriguing character.  Out of my other brothers, I always got the impression I was her favorite.  We would travel to West Bloomfield, Michigan and meet up with the entire clan.  Her home was immaculate.  The washer and dryer would run 24/7.  Even at 3 a.m., you would hear this incessant hum in the background.  It provided a sense of calm.  My most vivid recollection was Aunt Makeup screeching at the top of her lungs, "Noooo! You're tracking mud on the kitchen floor!"  Honestly, she scared the living hell out of me.  But it was her obsessive, compulsive personality that's etched in my mind.  This was a woman who would scrub the paper plates before throwing them in the trash.

Why is any of this relevant?  Well on this one occasion... I'll use real names otherwise the story will make no sense.  In 2002, I agreed to meet my mother in Detroit.  My Uncle Jack's grandson was having a Bar Mitzvah and my father was not interested in attending.  My father and Uncle Jack never really got along for reasons I won't explore.  So I zipped up to the Detroit International Airport and picked up my mom.  For those unfamiliar with this particular airport in Romulus, Michigan, it's a complete dump.  From what I recall, Romulans have a very strong sense of moral clarity.  This has nothing to do with the story.  I just like the idea of a town called Romulus.

My mother and I drove to meet Uncle Jack.  Keep in mind, I haven't seen this guy in about a decade.  And this was no ordinary event.  Twas a gala affair that would rival the royal wedding of William and Kate.  The night before we all met up for some kind of pseudo-Jewdo rehearsal dinner at a posh restaurant.

I spotted my uncle in the distance.  He approached me with an expression of steely resolve (similar to that of a Romulan).  My uncle was notorious for being a cagey, cynical strategist.  Nonetheless, I smiled and heartily embraced the moment.

"Uncle Dick, hey... how have you been?" I beamed.
He responded with tactical, sullen brilliance, "My name's Jack.  Your father calls me Uncle Dick."

My jaw literally drops to the floor as my dear mother shoots me a look of utter disdain.  Talk about a bone-chilling Freudian slip.  This one seemingly minor incident provides a glimpse into my upbringing.  In a town like Wheeling, where the vast majority of people are born, live and die... they are surrounded by family.  If someone relocates, it's a huge deal.  Columbus, Ohio and Raleigh, North Carolina - these cities seem to be exempt from the standard Northern panhandle rules of migration.  I have no idea why.  But I think the lack of nearby relatives and difficulty discerning my family tree had a direct impact on my youth.  Perhaps, it forced me to think outside the box... as in less provincial.  I was never exposed to Uncle Ray sticking his hands down his pants after a monster Thanksgiving day feast.  Absent were the Brady Bunch burlap sack hopping contests.  Instead, I was the recipient of sly verbal jabs from Uncle Jack and the rare freakish outbursts of Aunt Makeup.

How would Aunt Makeup view my decision to use the walls of my home as a source of information?  Would she embrace the "writing on the wall?"  I doubt it.  Wouldn't the world be a more compelling place if people wrote on their walls?  Think of all you could learn instead of placing the emphasis on the color white as opposed to eggshell white.  But there seems to be a universal campaign of intimidation directed toward all toddlers.  Could be the 13th commandment - "Thou shalt not write on the walls."  A very commanding commandment.  I say break that shit.


PB & J


I realize that peanut butter and jelly sandwiches are a staple of the food pyramid, a slice of lunchtime Americana.  But I quickly grew intolerant when I overheard someone say "peanut butter and jelly is for babies."  In second grade, I informed my mother that I was through with them.  It seemed like she was on board with my decree, until a week later I opened the brown bag.  And there it was, another god damn baby sandwich.  My mom's commitment to this low-end sandwich reminded me of the resolve drivers had when filling up their tanks at the local gas stations during the late '70s gas shortages.  I envisioned those same long lines in the form of endless PB & J sandwiches.

I needed to make a mighty, wondrous-bread statement.  At school that afternoon, I preserved the sandwich for safekeeping.  You'd think I would have thrown it in the trash and just gone hungry.  You would be wrong.  Instead, I took it back home.  My intention was to parade the sandwich around the kitchen in some kind of defiant act of rebellion.   I'm not sure why, but "Operation Sandwich Recall" never happened.  Instead, I took the sandwich and threw it in the back of my bedroom closet.  It remained there for at least a month.  One day my mother discovered the sandwich while cleaning my room.  She seized the sandwich and consulted with my father.  I nervously awaited prosecution.  My father solemnly entered my bedroom and gave me the standard "we don't waste food in this household" lecture.  He held up the sandwich with great care, as if he were hoisting a chalice of liquid nutrition.  We sat on the bed as he methodically unwrapped the plastic baggie.  I began to experience this dreadful feeling of nausea.  The bread looked stale and I could visually detect a hint of mold.  Oh my god, he's going to make me eat it.  What happened next I was totally unprepared for.  He purposely took a bite from the discolored corner.  Then another bite followed.  "There's nothing wrong with this sandwich. In fact, it tastes good."  Additional bites followed, "Lots of kids don't get the privilege of eating lunch.  They go hungry instead." Another methodical pause, "Mmmm, I might get your mother to make me one of these for lunch tomorrow."

Good god, his punishment was to make me watch him eat the whole damn thing.  How twisted was that?  I sat there silently not knowing what to do.  With every bite the sense of trepidation was overwhelming.  It probably took him about a minute to consume the thing.  For me, it seemed like an eternity.  When the sandwich was gone, he gave me a hug and I assured him I would never throw food away.  Perhaps this wasn't Dr. Phil Parenting 101, but it was pretty darn effective.  In retrospect, his good cop/bad cop approach seemed like a national security model for enhanced interrogation techniques during the malaise of the Carter administration.  Albeit a tad bizarre, this whole experience was a good thing.  To this day, I absolutely refuse to waste food under any circumstance.  Although I do have some issues with "spaguashi" (a spaghetti sauce covered shredded squash concoction my mother invented).  Nowadays I'll eat just about anything imaginable, even a sandwich for babies.


Pins and Needles


That same year (1978), there was a Halloween candy scare sweeping the nation.  It coincided with a nationally televised broadcast of "The Revenge of The Pink Panther."  I was mesmerized by my parents hysterical reactions to the behavior of Inspector Jacques Clousseau.  They were captivated by each accented word and stilted mannerism of the bumbling Peter Sellers.  As I studied their reactions, I concocted an idea of my own.  Always with a desire to steal the show, I took a candy bar and surreptitiously inserted a small pin in it.  Later the next day, I'm at school and everyone's eating lunch.  I pull out the Milky Way and take a fake bite into the pin.  I jump to my feet and exclaim, "Oh no, what's this?" I violently begin tearing apart the candy bar.  Holding up the tiny pin, the entire class was aghast.  The teacher comes over and is completely horrified.  Everyone is literally on pins and needles.  Before Mrs. Maroon could extract the candy bar, I quickly devoured the rest of it.  "You see, they wanted to kill me, but I foiled their plot."  Obviously, this line was a rudimentary adaptation from the Pink Panther movie I had seen the night before.  I was seven years old and contemplating a career in comedic espionage.  The truth about the pin never came out.  In its aftermath, I vaguely recall a school assembly where the headmaster preached the importance of candy screening and Halloween safety.


Matches


This type of grandstanding on Halloween would resurface in the late 1990s.   On one occasion I had a Halloween party in my old stomping grounds, the Village.  Half of the 150+ apartment complex, properly referred to as Wheeling Station, was part of a federal Housing and Urban Development program.   Its tenants exhibited a penchant for reckless procreation.  As you can imagine, the entire area was teeming with children.  Halloween in Oglebay Village was a sight to behold.  Something akin to a diaper clad infant migration of the wildebeest along the Masai Mara.

But on this particular occasion I ran out of candy.  If I turned off the porch light, the older kids would soap and/or egg my vehicle.  I needed something to hand out.  Cash wasn't an option and offering them fruit would have resulted in the same negative outcome.  So I hastily poured the entire contents of our condiment drawer into a shopping bag.  Mostly packets of soy sauce, duck sauce, ketchup, tartar, rice wine vinegar, etc.  I figured after a long night of trick or treating, some young child might enjoy the sweet, Puget-Sounding taste of duck sauce.  "Mommy, it's yummy."  Really, who's to say?  So I dispensed it all in discreet handfuls.

About half an hour later, one of Wheeling's finest shows up at my door.  The place wreaks of pot, so I step outside to greet him.

Me: "Officer, what's the problem?" I figured it was noise related.

Pig: He barked, "Are you the idiot handing out matches?"

Me (apologetically): "Oooh, my bad.  We ran out of candy so we started giving out condiment packets.  Some of that stuff must have slipped in there.  We're really sorry."

Pig: "If I have to come back here tonight, you are going to jail!  Do you understand?"

Honestly, this cop wasn't acting.  He was pissed off.


Burglary (Pile of Shit)


Another two events shadowed the Halloween candy incidents.  During my summer between second and third grade, our family took a chartered bus tour through the entire length of Canada.  Upon returning from this exhaustive trip, we were greeted by a mammoth pile of shit in the garage.  Directly in front of the adjoining kitchen door, there was no way around it.  A stack the size of a gallon of milk, the sheer volume of stool left us in disbelief.  It couldn't have possibly been from a human being.  My mother surmised it came from a bear.

As we took a cursory inspection of the house, it became apparent that we had been robbed.  My brother Tie Guy's upstairs bedroom window was open and there was a ladder nearby.  His stash of money was gone.  He had worked as a busboy all summer for that money.  He was irate.  My other brother Tolkien noticed some of his belongings were missing.  Sure enough, my parent's room was hit as well.  I recall my mother commenting, "Well, the joke's on them.  Most of that costume jewelry is worthless!"  Everyone had been impacted.  Well, everyone except me.  Apparently my possessions had been deemed unworthy.  I had no input and felt left out.  So I went upstairs and threw the contents of my underwear drawer all over the place.  I also cleared a few shelves and basically made a mess.  I went downstairs and proclaimed, "Wait until you see what those bastards did to me!"  My father quickly saw through the ruse, "Rick, why don't you do something useful and clean up the shit in the garage!"

By then a detective had arrived to file the police report.  We mentioned the pile of shit because we assumed it was part of some kind of "serial fecal pattern."  Perhaps it was his calling card.  He robs you blind, then shits in your garage.  The policeman explained that it was just a matter of the adrenalin rush and it was actually somewhat common.  Regardless, I was only 8 years old and had been assigned the task of cleaning up the pile of poop.  I recall staring at the shit with this empty, hollow feeling.  In an ideal world, I would claim victory over the shit.  But honestly, I have no idea what transpired.  The more likely scenario is that I broke down in tears and ran off to my room.  To this day, nobody in my family can recall who took responsibility for cleaning it up.  From time to time, I'll reflect back and contemplate, "What the shit?"


Burglary (Cat in the Microwave)


As Bill Clinton was getting reelected, there was another burglary.  On Halloween, a bunch of us went out for an evening of revelry.  I went as Flavor Flav.  Adorned with an alarm clock around my neck and ensconced in some shiny Marlboro gear, I had a pretty good routine.  I'd encourage the ladies to ask me what time it is.  Then, I'd sound the alarm clock and say "it's illin' time" or "it's time to ill."  Come 3 a.m., we returned to the apartment and found ourselves cleaned out.  They took all the stereo equipment, an expensive camera and some cash.  We were incensed.  I knew it was the neighbors that either did it or more likely tipped off those who did.  The cops came and filled out the standard report, but I had little faith in the Wheeling Police Department.  So I devised my own plan.  I posted copies of the following letter on the bulletin boards next to all the mail slots.

To the residents of Oglebay Village:

As many of you are aware, last weekend our apartment was burglarized.  What you may not know is that these heartless bastards threw our cat in a microwave and fried it to death.  If you have any knowledge of who did this, please contact the police department immediately.

Well... of course none of this was true.  Our cat was unscathed.  But I felt it would somehow shake loose the truth.  Seriously, who would cover for someone that nuked a cat?

Well... it had the exact opposite effect.  People would slowly drive by the apartment and stare up at our window.  They'd explain to the kids in the backseat, "Look, that's where the act of satanism took place.  Don't go near there.  Kaylee, do you hear me?"  Or they would walk by our porch and gawk.  None of this helped maintain that long sought after low profile status.  Moral of the story - when attempting to shake loose the truth, avoid fictitious shock value.  Fox News, do you read me?

So from 1992-2001, I lived in that upstairs, handicapped (not an oxymoron) single bedroom apartment.  Sounds quaint, ehh?  Perhaps.  For the first 5 years, it served mostly as a crash pad.  During that time frame, I had a total of 10 different roommates.  At the peak in '96, there were 5 of us cramped into that one bedroom.  I had the bedroom with a door so I was indifferent to the overcrowding.  And it was a rarity if everyone was there at the same time.  Unless we had a keg.  In typical fashion, I saved all the keg plastic tap coverings - a grand total of 19 in five years.  Lame by frat standards I guess, but you gotta realize this is a residential neighborhood.  Come to think of it, all the kegs were from the early years.  These days I cannot fathom purchasing a keg.  Here's a metal barrel filled with beer.  Drink it.

Since the apartments were subsidized by the government, they had the legal authority to conduct 3 inspections per year.  So I probably had about 30 total inspections.  During that span, I failed about 22 of them.  Out of the 22 failed inspections, I probably failed an additional 7 re-inspections.  This is purely an estimate.  We usually made a good faith cleaning effort though.  At the very least, we would vacuum and dump Pine Sol on the kitchen floor but that's about it.  Here's an amusing sample complaint.  The fact that someone felt compelled to put this in writing...




We never had much empathy for the neighbors below.  I say neighbors plural because there were 8 different people who lived beneath me throughout the decade.  Some would sympathize with their plight based solely on the amount of foot traffic above their heads.  Now factor in the paper thin floors and walls made of balsa wood, a massive stereo system, a foosball table, a dome hockey table and a fondness for partying til daylight.  Even the cat would cause his fair share of trouble.  One afternoon, Mr. Kitty was hanging out with me on the recliner.  We're watching television and I hear a knock at the door.  It's the 2 maintenance guys (Big Man and Little Man).  They both have this melancholy look of despair.

Big Man: "Eric, uh I don't know how to tell you this, but someone must have run over your cat, and uh, it's dead."

Me (in a brash reply knowing full well the cat is upstairs): "Listen, my cat's smarter than the two of you combined!  I think you're both full of shit!"

The look of astonishment from these two.  Like nothing I've ever seen.  How could I be such a callous, uncaring asshole?  There was this brief, awkward pause before I came clean.

Me (chuckling to lighten the mood): "Sorry, didn't mean to freak you guys out.  My cat's upstairs."

Saturated in befuddlement, Frick and Frack quickly departed.

But like I said, it was all about the complaints.  And the list was endless.  Half of our neighbors hated us, the other half we partied with.  But everyone despised it when you stole their parking spots.  And the noise was unfathomable.  I once caught a glimpse of my complaint folder.  It rivaled the thickness of Tolstoy's War and Peace.


Cherry Popper


So many tales of epic Village lore, so few worthy of exploration.  The repetitive 911 bluffs from suicide man, a young boy shitting in the communal laundromat washing machine, a large-nippled woman named Fran the Murderer wearing a see-through negligee, drunk on tequila and warped on Xanax, screaming at her neighbors in broad daylight, the list is truly endless.  One of the most memorable is the infamous cherry popping incident.  Our maintenance guy was quite the stud.  Some would call him sexually prolific.  As legend has it, he slept with a young virgin resident named Angel.  One fateful day, Angel and Little Man's live-in girlfriend had a physical encounter.  During this good 'ol fashioned Springer brawl Angel allegedly screamed, "Little Man popped my cherry!"  The cops came and broke things up.  Now that alone doesn't sound so riveting.  Agreed.

But for several weeks in the aftermath of the confrontation, Village residents spoke of the incident.  An oafish man inquired, "Did you hear someone got their cherry popped?"  A teen mother of three beckoned, "Yep, someone's poppin' cherries!"  For an entire month, any attempt to describe losing one's virginity was simply referred to as "cherry popping."  I did my best to encourage this banter, turning every conversation into a comprehensive recanting of the hymen ripping.  It was bliss.



Love Thy Neighbor


If you wish to skip the remainder of this chapter, that's fine with me.  It's a bit tedious.  You know the feeling you get when you're stuck in traffic leaving a Monday Night Football game.  Same feeling.

My street has a total of 14 homes.  I am the last house.  It's a peculiar layout.  I have a right-of-way to use my neighbor's alleged "private" drive.  Oddly enough, the driveway isn't really private.  He just has a sign posted to discourage people from turning around on his property.  And believe it our not, there's a gate as well.  This gate has been a historic source of contention.  I should probably start from the beginning.

Over the past 6 years, I've had approximately 6 encounters with my neighbor, who from here on will be affectionately referred to as Fuckface.  Fuckface is a warped individual in his late fifties.  He never has any personal visitors.  When I say never, I mean nobody whatsoever.  He never leaves his house, except for work and to sunbathe by his pool where he faithfully listens to either the soothing sounds of Sade, the heavenly orchestrations of Enya or some patriotic marching band music (you're a grand old flag, you're a high flying flag).  And every full moon, there's an intermittent splash of reggae.  Other than his 5 day per week housekeeper and a constant flow of groundskeepers, he is a complete xenophobe.  Think in terms of the late Bin Laden in Abbottabad, but more reclusive.

I first met Fuckface a week after I moved in.  He beckoned at me to walk down the hill and make myself known.  Then he proceeded to lecture me about how I showed poor judgment in not introducing myself.

"You see, when you move into an exclusive neighborhood like this, it's important to introduce yourself.  I knew the Rock Quarries (the former inhabitants of my house).  You see... I knew them.  I don't know you.  You understand what I'm saying?"

He sounded bizarre, overtly aggressive and borderline hostile.  I countered, "Hmmm, I thought protocol was that you knock on my door and present me with a bundt cake, welcoming me to the neighborhood."

Fuckface fired back, "No, it doesn't work like that."  Then he proceeded to show me the property boundaries.  "And I'm going to build a fence," he added.  I humbly responded, "A fence?  Did I do something to give you offense?"  "No, I think it's important that we delineate the property so you know what's yours and what's mine.  This is how it should be done, because like I said, I don't know anything about you."

Our brief initial encounter left me kind of in disarray.   I wasn't accustomed to dealing with this type of "Type-A" overload.  Still, it wasn't as if I had to deal with him.  There was plenty of distance between the properties.  Oh well, there won't be any pool parties in the near future.  So be it.  Every once in a blue moon, I'd get a call from his housekeeper Neffs.  She would pleasantly inform me about the intricacies of the gate or the consequences of errant litter.  I would overhear him in the background barking out instructions on specifically what to say.  Quite mesmerizing indeed.

So I would simply maintain a policy of avoidance.  But on one fateful day our informal truce came to an abrupt end.  The following information is a series of letters and occurrences.  Believe it or not, these excerpts have been edited and shortened.  Please cut me a little slack for any issues arising from past or present tense.


Pool


Sunday, April 05, 2009

DUIs
At 12:55 a.m. Saturday, police arrested Old Woman, 74, of Wheeling for driving under the influence at an undisclosed location.

At first glance this probably doesn't seem like headline material.  Think again.  Let us journey back in time to earlier that morning.  I'm at my girlfriend Mason's house in Pittsburgh presumably minding my own business.  All of a sudden, my phone starts ringing incessantly.  Sensing an emergency, I scramble downstairs.  It's my best friend Shrill.

"Eric, around 2 a.m. last night an old woman drove through your lawn and ended up in your neighbor's pool!  Call Race Car Driver.  He has all the details."  I'm stunned, confused, thunderstruck... overcome with a torrent of emotions, I want answers.  How could this happen?  How the hell do you even get a car into my yard, let alone my neighbor's pool?  But Shrill doesn't have any answers.

I get back home mid-afternoon to assess the damage.  What I'm about to see is eerily reminiscent of the Shock and Awe campaign during the early days of the Iraq war.  My lawn has been mercilessly attacked in what appears to be some twisted form of all-terrain road rage.  There are mammoth ruts on the hillside all the way down to the yard.  Highly visible tire marks scar the entire length of the lawn.  Sheer horror.  I'm like WHAT THE FUCK?  Apparently, she was trying to turn around in the 3-point turn near my garage and failed miserably.  She slid down the hill and ended up next to my fire pit.  Dazed and confused, I guess she saw the blue tarp covering Fuckface's pool.  I'm assuming she thought, "Oh, dear Jesus. Heavens to Betsy. Goodness gracious. I can see a wrap around driveway in the distance. Thank goodness. Praise the lord."

Needless to say, she cruises straight onto the tarp and the car starts to sink.  Some speculate the 2000 Cadillac Sedan DeVille was blaring rapper Outkast - "Heeyy Yaaaaaaaa... (Just want you in my Caddy, OHH OH)."  If only I was the designated driver that fateful night, all this unpleasantness could have been avoided.  You see, I've driven a Caddy.  I've been a caddy.  And not to sound catty, but a good caddy offers insightful advice and moral support.  I just think my presence would have been beneficial.  But it wasn't meant to be.

What happened next is a matter of pure speculation.  I'm not sure if she knocked on Fuckface's door or what.  I'm guessing she gathered her wits and called her son.  Later that night, the cops showed up to survey the scene.  Multiple towing companies also arrived, arguing over who had jurisdiction.  And I guess things got a little heated.  I wasn't there but I'm speculating that Meowee was terrified.  She's not used to all this kind of stimulus.  And Meowee still seems traumatized.  Last night, all she could do was sit on the edge of the couch and gaze out the window.  She probably blames herself.  Meowee, it's not your fault.

I notice in the newspaper it reads "undisclosed location."  Undisclosed location?  Undisclosed location my ass!  She undisclosed herself all over my yard and hillside.  Then she undisclosed herself in Fuckface's pool.  Since I'm advocating full disclosure, I must tell you that Old Woman's son was the realtor I bought my house from.  Not my realtor, he represented the previous owners.  Could I be the victim of a wider conspiracy?  For five years, they have been plotting.  They know I couldn't stand the Bush administration.  They know I back Obama.  So the son encourages his mother to do doughnuts in my yard.  All the while, she's thinking "I'll show this burn-out what a real burn-out is!"  The whole incident really leaves a bad taste in my mouth.  Yeah, that's right.  Bad taste in, on and around my mouth.

Like I said, there will be full disclosure.  I'm going down to the police station tomorrow to check the accident report and seek reparations from her insurance carrier.  I'm guessing the length of the damage is about 150 ft.  The hillside has been desecrated as well.  Probably another 50 feet of homoerotic mutilation.  I'm also concerned about the emotional well-being of Meowee.  And what about my pain and suffering?  Honestly, I'm afraid to leave the house.  This could have long lasting ramifications on my limo career.

In the end, I didn't file an insurance claim.  Old Woman's son laid a guilt trip on me and offered me $200.  I semi-jokingly countered with $225 and we shook on it.  Keep in mind, this guy has always hated my guts.  Much to his credit though, the check was promptly in my mailbox by the end of the day.  I got suckered on this one but that's okay.  After he left I stomped out all the ruts. It took me about 20 minutes.

Pole




Thursday, May 21, 2009

Life can't get much stranger.  I just got off the phone with my neighbor Fuckface.  Needless to say, he was in a fit of rage.  For 10 minutes and 46 seconds, he proceeded to call me every derogatory name in the book.  I could hardly get a word in edgewise.  I barely know this guy.  We've spoken only a handful of times in the past five years.  He has always been very confrontational, always needing to establish a position of absolute dominance.  Over the years, we've pretty much had what I'd call a "policy of successful avoidance."  Well, until today...

I'll start from the beginning.  I had my annual Pre-Memorial Day party on Saturday.  Pretty good turnout despite the bad weather.  I'd say about 25 people showed up.  Nothing too crazy.  Just some drinks, foosball, dome - you know the drill.  I had about 8 skids for the fire down below.  So I had Red Man burn them for a nice visual effect from the upper deck.  Next to the fire pit, there sits a useless wooden utility pole about 3 feet within the yard of Fuckface.  I use it for mowing boundaries.  It's an awkward property line, but has never been a problem.  Until today.

Here's what happened on Saturday.  Red Man "leaned" against the pole and it started to fall over.  So he just decided to knock it over and throw it in the fire pit.  At the time, I thought to myself, oh well - it was an eyesore - served no purpose - may have been built by accident - it's about as half as thick as a normal telephone pole - and the bottom was somewhat rotted because it stands in the valley of the lawn where water collects.  The only people who have any remote contact with the thing (until Saturday) were his army of landscaping mercenaries.  Old Woman may have brushed up against it a month ago when she charged recklessly into the pool.  So Red Man rocked it, it fell over and he threw it in the pit.  Case closed, not quite.

So it's five days later and I guess he realized his pole (with no intrinsic value) has disappeared.  Then he sees the remains of half of it sitting near the fire pit along with the scorched earth.  This probably lit the fuse and he went into an uncontrollable rage.  I get the call.  "Fuckface here (he doesn't really call himself that)!"  You and your fucking friends destroyed my pole!  You came on my fucking property and fucked with my pole!  You and your fucking animal friends!  You threw it in your fucking bonfire!  You vandalized my property!  If you don't put up a new pole, I'm going to sue your fucking ass!  I know every politician and banker in this fucking town!  You're fucking with the wrong guy!"

I swear to you, I'm trying to calm him down.  I explain how it was a frail pole and basically just fell over.  So we disposed of it (albeit in a fiery pit of damnation).  But he continued the venomous tirade.  Fuck this, fuck you, fuck that.  It was borderline insane.  I wish I could have taped it, because you can't feign this type of seething acrimony.  I tried to be as conciliatory as possible even though he accused us of using a chainsaw.  I reassured him that it just was leaned on and fell over.  But he was far too enraged to believe anything I said.  Plus, I couldn't get a word in.

So here's the deal.  What do I do?  He's pissed off.  He's demanding a new pole and he also says he's going to build a split rail fence to enforce the property line.  He brought up the fence idea when I first moved in, but backed off because there was really no legitimate reason.  Well, maybe he had the foresight to realize something like this could possibly happen.  An unthinkable, unjustifiable form of animalistic vandalism.

He also repeatedly accused me and my "animal" friends of wanting to come over and burn his house down.  He said he can't fucking sleep at night knowing his life and property are in jeopardy.  He can't go away over Memorial Day because he's "afraid of what might happen."  I'm not making this stuff up.

Well well, what to do?  What to do?  I could ask him if we could plant a tree instead.  It would look nicer and at least serve a purpose.  Trust me, there's no way he'd go for that.  He wants his pole back. Believe me, he'd be willing to spend thousands on litigation just to prove his point.  The problem - I'm afraid to go near the guy.  Well, not afraid per se.  I just don't want to see him have a heart attack.  I'd have to administer mouth-to-mouth before calling 911.  Even more grounds for litigation.  I tried to homophy him or something.  I just don't know.  In the past, I've spoken with him only through his housekeeper.  I'll probably run into her next week and determine if he has cooled off a bit.  Maybe we can reach some rational accommodation.  I doubt it.

You have to understand that this guy is a total hermit.  To the best of my knowledge, he has no friends.  With the exception of the endless maintenance crews, I've never seen a single visitor.  I'm hardly a carpenter or handyman of any kind, but I get the impression he has never even screwed in a light bulb.  His housekeeper comes 5 days a week!  What normal, single man needs a housekeeper 5 days out of the week?

What's even crazier - let's say I find and erect this 20 ft. pole which serves no purpose.  There will be a pole right inside of a newly constructed split rail fence.  Based on the design of the fence, it's going to look really weird.




Even funnier, Hostile Golfer and I talked about chopping down the pole 5 years ago.  He thought it would be cool to split it in half and construct a hammock.  This is before Fuckface had the property surveyed.  For the love of Christ!  Could you imagine his reaction to that one?  I move in and decapitate his pole.  And then he sees me sipping a beer and scotch while dozing off in the hammock.  Good god.  The mental anguish would send him straight to rehab.

If anyone out there has a 20-25 ft. pole, lemme know.  In the meantime, be on the lookout for a utility pole which has no measurable utility (this kind of irony follows me wherever I go).  I'm going to get the dimensions right now.  Stand by.  Alright, my real telephone/utility pole has a 32" circumference.  Fuckface's pole is 19" around.  I still have about half of it.  I'm guessing it was maybe 20 ft. in the air, even though he claims it was 30 or 40 ft.  So I probably need one that's about 25 ft. (5 ft. in the ground).

Maybe I should do nothing.  That stupid stick was a hazard.  Honestly, it could have fallen over and hurt somebody.  Maybe that's why it took him 5 days to accurately configure his rage.  In my defense, there are plenty of "animal eyewitnesses" to back me up.  Back in the day, I would have laughed this off.  Maybe used the story as bar fodder.  After all, it is entertaining.  But to be honest, I think I'd rather put up a new pole, have him install more fencing and just steer clear.  Speaking of steering clear, you'd think the tarp-shredding, old lady in the pool would have angered him.  Apparently not.  Maybe it's the culmination of senseless vandalism that put him over the edge.  First it was the pool.  Then it was the pole.  Pool + Pole = Pissed.

And one last thing... do I have any future liability regarding a new pole?  What if it falls over and squashes a squirrel or a turkey?  Is it my fault?  Maybe it could come back to haunt me. What if he commits suicide by hanging himself from the new pole?  You think I'm kidding?  His estate could sue me.  After all, he does know "every fucking politician and banker in this town!"  I still don't get the banker bit.  Identical Kayak Man, you hear what I'm saying?  You are a fucking eyewitness animal banker.  Help me!  For the love of Christ, help yourselves (William Wallace)!

So following his merciless tirade, I sent him this letter of reassurance.






GATE




I never really thought much about the gate at the bottom of the hill.  Sometimes the motor would malfunction.  But not to worry, his team of electrical engineers would be on the scene faster than the Navy Seal team that killed Bin Laden.  For the first few years, the gate would be regularly closed at 5 p.m.  This really didn't bother me that much considering I had a clicker.  And oddly enough, I could remotely control the gate from a keypad in my laundry room.

But after being lambasted about the demise of his pole, I felt the need to assert myself.  It was time to seek some balance in this one-sided neighborly debacle.  So I sent him this 2 sentence letter.  A pleasant contrast from the other letter, a lengthy dissertation.  I really liked the meaningless notarization. 


And sure enough, there was a response...


I think it's reasonable to conclude that my 2 sentence letter was a major success.  Was I trying to drive him to the brink of insanity?  Possibly.  But was I trying to give him a heart attack?  Am I really that twisted?  An assumption of this nature is not entirely without some degree of merit.

If he acted up again, I had planned to send him a letter suggesting we work on improving our relationship.  Maybe I could convince him to hand craft a toy for Meowee.  But since then, Meowee passed away and he listed the house for sale.  Hopefully he'll be long gone by the time this book is finished.



6.  Politics



“Politics ought to be the part-time profession of every citizen who would protect the rights and privileges of free people and who would preserve what is good and fruitful in our national heritage.” - Dwight D. Eisenhower

"The next time I run for political office, I suspect my constituents will be running." - sonofsaf


Magistrate campaign


In 1996, I became enamored with the idea of being a lower level court judge.  The office of magistrate to be exact.  Magistrates predominantly deal with misdemeanor issues (traffic tickets, shoplifting, domestic altercations, etc.).  The possibility of pronouncing judgment regarding these tragic situations had this indescribable allure. 




These signs make outstanding collector items.  And to this day, they've been spotted in about eight local homes.  Hidden in garages, utility sheds and basement rec rooms.  I'm reminded of my friend Silly Tasty Sandwich.  Concerning my Top 10 Vacation Destinations Near Wheeling t-shirt, she once remarked "Ricky, I'm gonna wear this shirt with great pride!  Preferably underneath a sweatshirt while lounging in the privacy of my own home." 







So the political, jewdicial movement was afoot.  I was young, but determined.  I wrote a passionate letter to the public outlining my campaign.  Regrettably, I could not locate the final letter.  Here's the original draft which could prove even more revealing.




Alright, let us dissect this crock of shit.  Please have some degree of mercy.  I was only 25 years old at the time.  But there was something really disingenuous and smarmy about this letter.  I speak at length concerning my devotion to charity.  Honestly, what the fuck is this?  Other than running a bunch of 5Ks every year, I'm hardly a poster child for acts of philanthropy.  It's unlikely you'll see me doling out ladles of gruel at the soup kitchen.  And what about my desire to embark on a path of cultural enrichment?  I suppose there's a miniscule shred of truth to this IF it included the benevolent consumption of cheap beer.  This portrayal of selflessness was utter nonsense.  Just a weak attempt to ride my parents' coattails.  After all, they did have strong name recognition in our small town.

Remember, this wasn't the final draft.  After printing a few thousand copies, I noticed a dreaded typo.  Fortunately, I was able to rationalize my error - "Hey, hardly anyone is gonna actually read this thing."  So armed with a stack of envelopes, I set out on a mission to knock on every door imaginable throughout the county.  Reactions were mixed.  When I say mixed, I mean some people were downright hostile to the prospect of me obtaining office.  With good reason I suppose.  Aside from my youth, I had no business presiding over a court of law.  Back then, the only thing I presided over was last call.  Perhaps it was 3 a.m. at one of these fine establishments...







I should have spent less time indiscriminately knocking on doors, hiking through every neighborhood introducing myself.  With meager qualifications and a questionable demeanor, my strategy was not a sound one.  Especially when I referenced my deep sense of community.  In retrospect, this was particularly hollow.  To this day, when people pose the question, "Where are you from?" I often respond with, "I live near Pittsburgh."  If they question further, I'll say I'm from Canonsburg.  An outright lie because I've never cared for the hillbilly societal implications when someone says "West, God damn-it stand up and say it like you mean it, Virginia!"

Well, the day of the primary finally arrived.  9 people ran on the Democratic ticket, 5 on the Republican ticket.  The top 4 from each party would advance to the general election.  I ventured down to city hall and watched the election returns filter in.  This was actually kind of exciting as all the hopefuls gathered to slowly witness their fate.  As the evening progressed, I realized I wasn't moving onward.  In the end I finished 6th, a few hundred votes out of 4th place.  Secretly, I was kind of relieved.

So why did I really run for magistrate?  Just the notion of instantly being afforded automatic deference and respect had a certain seductiveness.  And the thought of dispensing my version of justice had tremendous appeal.  I would be in a position to help my friends and vanquish my enemies.  It's doubtful an assertion like this would have played well in the primary, let alone the general, let alone in the history of politics.


My American Idol


During a 1992 campaign swing through the Elm Grove section of Wheeling, Bill Clinton spontaneously jumped off his bus and greeted everyone.  Considering the multitude of hands and depth of the crowd, I'm surprised his hand remained so dry.  Clinton is my ideological hero.  I philosophically agree with him pretty much down the line.  But it's his skill as a consummate politician and master campaigner.  The man is simply brilliant.  We spoke for about 2 seconds...

"I think you've got this."  He fired back, "Thank you" with that Arkansan twang.




This would be a reasonable graphic representation of me in 1992.  Take note of the lightly tinted, over-sized lenses as well as the thinly layered plumage and unintentional mullet-oriented mop with twisted wings.  Shouldn't the Secret Service have demonstrated some degree of concern?  Fortunately they didn't panic and I was able to make physical contact with my hero and wish him well. 


Incompetent


In late March of 2006, George W. Bush made a rare "town hall" stop in the city of Wheeling.  The Capitol Music Hall would provide an intimate setting.  As the event approached, I felt this growing sense of urgency.  I had to do something to express my disgust.  Possibly join the sign-holding, dirty hippies?  Embrace the boos from those filtering into the venue?  That just wouldn't cut it.  But I knew I had to do something.  So I went to my customary dive bar... the 19th Hole.  Or as I prefer to call it, based on historical observation, the 19th Ho.

The 19th Ho borders the Minit Car Wash.  For the past decade, there has been a low standing marquee with interchangeable letters out front facing historic National Road.  If you're unfamiliar with the ethics of sign alteration, allow me to enlighten you.  There is a zero tolerance policy for vandalism of any kind, only alteration.  Under no circumstances can one provide their own lettering.  The ultimate goal is to change the meaning of the sign to convey the exact opposite message.  Considering the degree of difficulty with that task, the more realistic option is to go with a profane message.  Some of the most popular include...

WASH YOUR ASS
PROTECT YOUR CUNT
MINT ASS WASH WITH BAKED CUNT
LABIA DETAILING AVAILABLE
LADIES DAY DOLLAR OFF ALL DILDOS

When altering a sign, empathy is the key.  Picture yourself in the role of a passerby.  Perhaps a couple celebrating their anniversary at Oglebay Park.  They came to see the Festival of Lights.  Cascading candy canes and magnificent menorahs.  Embrace the holiday spirit.  Tis the season.  Who's to say what constitutes a warm holiday greeting?  Who are you to play God?  I've always been fascinated by the prospect of an elderly couple making the trek from Zanesville, Ohio.  Al and Henrietta came to see the celebration of light bulbs and stay at Wilson Lodge.  They came in search of Christmas tree ornaments and discounts on loud holiday sweaters.  Instead, they were accosted with visions of a projectile-vomiting patron outside the 19th Ho.  A crowd of onlookers chants "Vomitous" (the Gladiator equivalent of "Maximus") as he pukes next to a sign that reads "YOU CUNTING WHORE."  

Sign alteration is a proud tradition, and if the U.S. endures a severe double dip recession, I think it's permissible to take it to the next level.  Let us buoy the spirits of a country mired in economic turmoil with free entertainment.  At this time, I call for a national sign alteration day, preferably coinciding with the national day of prayer.  Would this make church marquees more vulnerable?  I suppose there could be that unintended consequence.  

So I went to the 19th Ho.  But this time I was on a mission.  I brought a notebook and pen.  I was going to sit in this bar until I completed a poem detailing my revulsion for George Bush and the current administration.  Then I would make a couple thousand copies at Wheeling Jesuit.  Oddly enough, the words came quickly.  I was in and out faster than a mid-end West coast burger chain.




The big day was upon us.  The savior-in-chief came barreling down route 2 with an entourage of sport utility vehicles, bullet-proof limos and some jet black bomb disposal vehicle with a monster crane attached (which was actually kind of cool).  As expected, the hippies were roadside with their "NO BLOOD FOR OIL" signs.  But I had a different mission. 

I stuck copies of that god-forsaken poem on just about every windshield in all of downtown Wheeling.  Quite a workout.  I worked the scene harder than the hookers on Market and the dealers on Main.  My purpose was to bash the ill-fated Iraq war and Bush's merry band of neo-cons.  I needed to expose the truth.  Not everyone in bible country was a fan of the current administration.  And yes, for those unfamiliar with Wheeling, we are the true heart of the bible belt.  In fact, in the whole scheme of things, we are the aorta.  I'd say Tulsa is the equivalent of a left ventricle.  Corpus Christi is more like a valve or conduit.  But Wheeling represents the core.  Just look around... there are two things on every corner.  A bar and a church.  And to a lesser extent, a law firm.

So yeah, I did my poem distribution stunt.  And the fallout was palpable.  My friend Physical World hosts an AM radio talk show on WKKX which has a pretty vast audience.  Calls poured in.  Listeners were pissed off.  Who distributed this abomination?  This person has no respect for the office of the presidency!  How dare you (Vince McMahon) put a flier on my car!  It was plagiarized!  He stole it off the internet!  Now that last comment actually offended my sensibilities.  Call me any name in the book, but for the love of Allah, not a plagiarist.  Now that's true blasphemy. 

I submitted the poem to our extremely conservative local newspaper.  I was positive they wouldn't publish it.  So Physical World called me out.  He wanted me to read the poem on the air.  I told him I could do better.  I'd come down to the station, read the thing and take questions.  So I went downtown the next day.  I waited patiently in the lobby and noticed a copy of the Wheeling News Register.  Much to my astonishment, they had just printed the poem for the evening edition.  I'll be damned.  The Nuttings had more testicular fortitude than I gave them credit for.  Nuts... Balls...  I briefly recall a 7th grade sex education class when this girl England posed the following question to our teacher, Vintage Car.  "Mr. Vintage Car, how big are the average testes?"  Our teacher paused for a moment and calmly responded, "England, are you familiar with the size of a jumbo black olive?"  A bizarre hush fell over the classroom.  I kept waiting for everyone to collectively snicker but it never happened.

Physical World had affectionately labeled me "the protesting poet."  Although I didn't care for the gay-sounding nom de plume, I didn't make an issue of it.  So we hung out for an hour or two as I responded to mostly softball questions.  I had anticipated incurring the full wrath of the Borg-like Wheeling collective.  Local zombie churchie automatons, "You will become one... with the lord."  But it never happened.  

Reactions weren't completely negative.  I did receive a letter of subdued praise from the Sheriff of Ohio County.





Bush vs. Kerry


Bush made another triumphant visit to Wheeling during the 2004 presidential campaign.  In fact, both candidates would make campaign stops.  At the time, West Virginia was classified as leaning Bush.  And Ohio, or "ground zero" as they labeled it, was the crucial toss-up state.  Considering that our neighboring state would basically call the election, I knew I had to check out both candidates. 

On July 31, 2004, Kerry and Edwards made an outdoor visit to the Heritage Port on the muddy banks of the Ohio River.  One look at the ticket stub (an area of expertise), and I knew the Democrats were in deep shit.  It read "From Sea to Shining Sea."  Who the fuck talks like that?  Well, John Kerry for one.  The entire rally was excruciatingly uninspired.  But there was this one moment when Kerry tried to connect with the hometown audience.  He hauntingly inquired, "Do you know why I came to Wheeling, West Virginia?  Do you know why I always get DiCarlo's Pizza?"  The crowd seemed cautiously enthusiastic.  In this archaic, mummy/Frankensteinesque voice, he bellowed, "Because it's the only place where you can get an extra bag of CHEESE!"  He waved a bag of mozza-mate high in the air to a scattered blathering of lukewarm applause.  For me this was the defining moment of his campaign.  When he uttered that scripted observation about the bag of artificial mozzarella I knew Bush was going to win a second term. 

Now the George Bush campaign stop was a different story.  He had his indoors at the local Wesbanco Arena.  I ran into my friend, Mother of Hot Daughters.  She looked at me, "Oh no, Eric, you had better not cause trouble here."  I assured her that I was just there to observe.  If I deemed it worthwhile, I would have been disruptive.  But the moment never came. 

The organizers did a tremendous job of rallying the crowd.  It was an all Bush affair.  The fearless warmonger charged onto the stage and gave a spirited delivery.  Basically a "cut taxes" and "support the troops" crusade.  Not much room for a thought provoking debate.  Then again it was a campaign rally, not a symposium.  So I had to begrudgingly concede.  Bush's campaign stop was marked by words like... energetic, streamlined, organized and efficient.  Kerry's was characterized by haphazard, exhausting, old and humidifying.  Even though Bush would manhandle Kerry in the popular vote, the electoral count still hinged on one state... our uninspired friends in Ohio.  Even though it all came down to Ohio, everyone knew that Kerry was going to lose.  It just seemed like an inevitable, foregone conclusion.     


Political Signs


Another campaign with a sense of inevitability was the ushering in of Barack Obama in 2008.  I liked this one much better.  Although I've always viewed both parties as beholden to corporate interests, I do take some pride in calling myself a registered Democrat.  Though it's usually centered around social issues.  I'm strongly pro-choice, hardcore pro-gay marriage (note to self... don't use the word "hardcore" when trying to justify your position on gay rights) and I'm virulently anti-religion.  So the mere thought of allying myself with the Republicans on any social issues (with the possible exception of the death penalty) is exceedingly remote.  

Between the 2009 erection of the tea-baggers and the 2010 mid-terms, the country witnessed the awesome power of cheap signs in the news.  Hell, you could condemn a candidate or discredit an entire party.  Someone should design a website whose sole goal is to mock and ridicule any high profile politician.  A place where anyone can upload video footage of themselves holding a sign next to a prominent candidate.  Think about it.  The mainstream press would eat it up.  Standing next to New Gingrich with a sign that says "HYPOCRITE" or how about Mitt Romney with a sign that reads "MORMONATHON."  All that time, money and effort down the drain because CNN beamed footage of a dollar store poster board.








Yes, I made both of these but neither saw the light of day.

In the summer of 2008, I attended a Sarah Palin rally at Brush Run Park in St. Clairsville, Ohio.  In keeping with tradition, I wrote another poem of degradation.  This one targeted the Thrilla from Wasilla but admittedly lacked the inspiration of the 2006 Bush diatribe.  The rally itself was mostly a collection of god-fearing lunatics and anti-abortion fanatics.  The dutifully trained hockey moms exercised their freedom of speech with chants of "Mine Baby Mine."  For a Republican rally in Eastern Ohio, I'll concede that it was a marginally creative outburst. 

As they exited, I distributed my poem (once again, mad props to Wheeling Jesuit's Adult Summer Education Program assuming such a thing exists).  Funny how grabbing an 8.5" by 11" piece of paper comes naturally to so many.  As I alluded to, the poem was rather weak, but I did like the final line.

So why did I come here and why did I write this?  You must think I'm high.
The reason is simple.  For the love of my country and the Steelers had a bye.

Yet again, this resulted in another call-out from Physical World at WKKX.  I was more than happy to oblige him with a return visit.  A noble effort but it just lacked the punch of Incompetent.


McCain comes to the Burgh


I was still immersed with the awesome power of the inexpensive sign.  So I made another.  This one was directed at John McCain.  During the 2008 campaign, the vestigial remains of the Straight Talk Express showed up at the Sewell Auditorium in Coroapolis, PA.  Robert Morris University was the site for this Geritol popping, Depends undergarment-fitting celebration of those who conveniently love freedom and despise tyranny.  An 8 year old kid waved a sign that read "Obama is a Socialist."  Well, I had myself a sign.  And I felt pretty damn proud of it.





So what the fuck was this all about?  My intentions made sense... to me.  My goal was to infiltrate the crowd and just as the cameras rolled, I would hold up my dinosaur sign.  I wanted to give the national media an "accurate" portrayal of exactly who attends these McCain rallies.  They're a bunch of evolutionary naysayers.  And look, the dumbshit even misspelled the word "dinosaur."  What an idiot!  My theory went something like this.  If you were on the fence (most people had made up their minds, but I figured just in case), this would put you squarely in the Obama camp.  How could a rational, registered voter support McCain and his fringe followers?  And yes, I realize that I'd be the one in the video footage.  If the plan worked, I would be portrayed as the bible thumping buffoon on the national stage.  It would be me.  But sometimes it's necessary to step up your game.  Proof that I do indeed love my country.  Willing to do the unthinkable - provide visual evidence that I was an Ezekial worshipping, born again douchebag who just boarded the Noah's Ark Expressway.  All this in an attempt to just make sure there was no possible way that Sarah Palin could ever be second in line to the presidency.  And I don't care for McCain either. 

Well, I surveyed the scene and thought the best course of action was to just get in line.  But the university police saw right through the facade.  I was immediately escorted to the cordoned off section.  I joined the tiny group of about 10 Obama supporters.  But I was determined.  Dag-gummit, the prehistoric pictograph required national exposure.  I walked over to a hillside next to the main entrance.  I raised the sign and of course was immediately accosted by a female campus security guard and then by a male Secret Service agent.  They demanded identification which I reluctantly provided.  But it seemed they had enough of my antics and told me to vacate the campus or face immediate arrest.  I had plans to attend a dinner soiree later that evening, so I complied.  All in all, this one didn't go so well.

After that unfolded, I went to a Dick Morris lecture at my alma mater, West Liberty University.  Although strictly affiliated with Fox News these days, I have the utmost respect for Dick Morris.  Incredibly insightful and always on the mark, out of all the commentators, this guy has the sharpest political instincts.  I asked Morris to sign my sign.  He glanced at it, commented on the misspelling and instantly wrote "and extinct - except in politics."  Reaffirmation that the guy is a complete bad ass.

After the election dust settled, Sarah Palin in conjunction with her cleverly named SarahPac launched the "Going Rogue" book tour.  All the swing states were targeted.  Sure enough, Little Washington was in her sites.  Little Washington is crickspeak for Washington, Pennsylvania (about 25 minutes up the road on I-70).  I remember that day well.

11-2-09

So I went to the Sarah Palin book signing at Sam's Club in Washington, PA yesterday.  I got there at 11:10 a.m.  It was a rock concert atmosphere and I was prepared.  Clutching my sign, I headed into the fray.




What distinguishes my sign from all others?  My sign ain't some ghetto marker bullshit.  I used vinyl lettering and stapled it to wooden posts with a triangular backdrop.  Its stature hellagood.  When heaved above crowd level, viewing isn't optional.  It's mandatory. 

I received some surprisingly positive vibes out front.  Several people wanted pictures and I was more than happy to oblige.  Then, this Associated Press guy told me the line was around the side.  Giddy with excitement, I turned the Sam's Club corner and saw a crowd of probably 1,200.  Witnessing this crowd of Palinites embiggened my soul (Jebediah Springfield).  At this instant, the sole purpose for my existence became refreshingly cromulent.  I was going to piss them off.

As I said, there's a key to a good sign - you have to raise it above eye level.  That way, everyone has to see it.  They don't have a fucking choice.  Anyway, a few scattered boos erupted.  Then, a chant of "Go Home Go Home Go Home!"  This made me feel alive!  My blood was pulsating as I started pumping the sign in the air.  They hated me.

I tried to reason with them, "Hey, I'm just expressing my first amendment rights at this pleasant book signing."  An embittered old man yelled, "Hey, Obama thinks there's 57 states!"  Another whimpered, "Look at the lonely Democrat."  Then, the crowd starts chanting "Sarah Sarah Sarah!"  I just smiled like a 13 year old girl checking her myspace account.  I ♥ this shit!

So a Sam's Club rep comes out and tells me I have to leave.  I tell him I'm not going to budge.  "If you want me gone, you'll have to get the manager.  I don't understand why this guy's allowed to have a sign (some moron had a piece of shit sign that read GO SARAH GO - how inventive) and I'm not allowed to show mine."  Anyway, he gets the real manager and 2 WashPa cops.  The one cop looked at me and smiled while silently mouthing the words "I like your sign."  The other cop was unamused.  He flashed me this look of disgust, but I don't think it was directed at me.  It was more of a "why the fuck am I here on a Saturday morning at a Sarah Palin book signing in Western Pennsylvania" look. 

I tried to get the WTAE camera guy and reporter to take an active interest.  "What's it going to take for me to get this sign on the news?"  The reporter asked me, "Exactly what are you hoping to accomplish?"  I fired back, "I'm trying to piss everyone off.  What do you think I'm trying to do?"  He responded, "If they arrest you, we'd probably put that on the news."  I replied, "Well, I want to go running and hit this party later.  It's called the Feast of Friends but some call it The Annual Fisting of Friends."  I don't think he had a clue where I was coming from.

By this time the manager is begging me to leave.  "Sir, I have a family.  Will you please just leave?  This is private property."  I started hedging a bit, trying to incite the crowd but they weren't united like before.  All of a sudden, this autistic teenage kid charges at me.  He narrowly missed me, his mother chasing after him.  After another 10 minutes of gabbing back and forth with the manager, I relented.  "Alright, I'm outta here."  As I walked away, there was a spattering of applause.  I just nodded.

In any event, I think it was a worthwhile experience.  I fucked with a thousand Palin devotees in a congested setting.  And Notre Dame lost in double OT.  I'd say it was a good day.  Good day.



7.  Religion



"In 2011, I predict that God will make, in that one year, the same number of appearances as he's made over the past 13.8 billion years." - Michael Newdow

"When people ask me if I believe in God, my verbatim response is... which one and/or how many?"
- sonofsaf


I have never been a religious individual.  Technically, I grew up in a reform Jewish household.  My parents weren't particularly devout, but they did follow some of the standard traditions.  We'd occasionally light candles and say blessings.  And we'd partake in the customary holiday rituals.  From time to time, we would attend Friday night services and always hit up the Rosh Hashanah and Yom Kippur ordeals.  But I wouldn't classify our family as terribly observant.


Bar Mitzvah


I have two older brothers.  We all had the obligatory Bar Mitzvah and Confirmation.  Here's a poignant recanting of my Bar Mitvah written in 6th grade.








I like the post-written fugazi rough draft.  Also, I couldn't help but notice the misspelling of the word "definitely."  Apparently I didn't catch it (and neither did my teacher).  She was probably distracted by the overwhelming passion I exhibited when acknowledging the "beatitude I felt as I spoke before the voluminous throng."

I do remember one moment that brought the house down.  This was my "the synagogue roof is on fire" moment.  As I performed the translation of my haftorah portion, there was a line referencing a biblical character (I'll stick with Zeke).  Anyway, Ezekial rode a donkey into the village.  I stammered through the translation in a deliberately fragmented fashion, as if I hadn't memorized the whole damn thing.  Then, it came down to that one fateful line... he rode the ass into the town square.  My sudden emphasis on the word "ASS" unleashed an uproar of laughter from a surely exhausted congregation.  Kind of like my Sinead O'Connor moment when she ripped apart the pope's picture on SNL.

When I was 10 years old, I recall a trip to the synagogue for Friday night services.  On the way home we stopped by Baskin and Robbins for ice cream.  We placed our orders and waited patiently.  Both of my brothers spontaneously burst into laughter.  Then my father began to chuckle.  Eventually my mother chimed in.  Sensing the joy in the air, I started laughing as well.  But for the life of me, I had no idea what was so funny.  It was just one of those infectious moments of silliness.  We left B&R and it was a lighthearted ride home.  But when I exited the backseat, my yarmulke slid off.  Suddenly it became apparent.  For the love of Christ, I was wearing that damn beanie contraption in the ice cream shop.  My family was laughing AT me, not with me.  I had forgotten to remove it when we left the temple.  I looked like one of those overly observant Jew-boys you might see wandering the streets of Squirrel Hill.  The joke was on me, or in this case, on top of me.

In my high school years, my father sensed my contempt for organized religion.  He would occasionally scowl at me when I neglected to join in song or participate in the group readings.  I would counter, "I'm just not big on conformity.  If I don't believe something, why would I speak it aloud?"  His response, "Well, maybe you could participate because it's nice to be educated.  You could at least learn to speak Hebrew and follow the translations rather than just sitting there like a bump on a log.  I don't believe everything I hear, but it's nice to make an effort.  You're sitting here for the duration.  Why not learn something?"  Twenty five years later I wonder if he would offer that same guidance.  Hard to say.

My family never talked much about the absurdity of organized religion until later in life when my parents became very active secular humanists.  In particular, my father has really developed an utter disdain for all of the world's "great" religions.  My brother Tie Guy is marginally observant.  My brother Tolkien married a rabbi and follows her lead.  He even took HER last name.  Just throwing that in there for the purpose of inside familial humor.  Perhaps disparaging humor is a common thread in the religious experience.  Has anyone else ever noticed this?  Every congregant pokes fun at the one family that's the most pious?  That one family's obsession becomes a source of amusement and they often become ostracized from the rest of the group.  This strikes me as wholly ironic.  And it's universal.  I don't care if you're a Muslim from Dearborn, one of the beard-growing/cutting Amish or a snake handling whack job.  The collective needs someone to demonize.  It's a lot like the intellectual nerd syndrome in high school.  You get bullied for being the smartest.  Some things never change.

But what about ethics and values?  Even if I did go to church... would I stop stealing firewood from Oglebay Park?  No.  Would I cease using the computer lab at Wheeling Jesuit University for all my mass printing needs?  Not likely.  Would it bring an end to my long standing practice of going to the Hampton Inn for Sunday breakfast?  Doubtful.  Would my thirst for illegally obtained milk crates ever be quenched?  Never.

When it comes to me, I don't equate religion with faith or belief, but rather embarrassment and disgust.  I evolved beyond the need for ghosts and goblins long ago.  My deepest sympathy if you have not.  Simply stated, organized religion is nothing more than a timeless cruel hoax.  And nothing fails like prayer.


Ernest Angley


But it was during my teenage years when things began to make sense.  I would watch the great televangelists of the 1980s.  I was fascinated by a faith healer named Ernest Angley.  Broadcast from nearby Akron, he would preside over weekly healing services.  He would speak of his triumphant pilgrimages to Africa (he pronounced it Ah-Phi-Cuh).  He had difficulty r-ticulating.  When I was 13, my father took me to Africa on a guided safari/medically inspired tax write-off.  We ventured around South Africa for a week (Johannesburg, Capetown and Suetto) and then headed north to Kenya and did the whole Masai Mara trek for 2 weeks.  Definitely an eye opener, but I was too young to comprehend the abject poverty of rural Kenya or the underpinnings of apartheid which guided the social fabric of South Africa.  Nevertheless, I shared this bond with Ernest Angley.  We had both journeyed to Awefikuh.


Peter Popoff


I became further obsessed with the televangelist circuit, in particular a faith healer named Peter Popoff.  He had these crazed mannerisms and gesticulations.  I quickly bolted from the Angley camp and grew immersed in the ministry of Popoff.  So I wrote him, and rest assured, he wrote me back.  I was in heaven.  Every week I'd get a letter in the mail.  At the time, the vast majority of household mail was addressed to my parents.  So for me, this was a big deal.  I had a pen pal of sorts.  And he'd enclose all kinds of unique trinkets with his correspondence.  One time there was a tiny packet of iodized salt.  "This salt was extracted from the Dead Sea in the holy land of Israel."  Another time, a packet of honey which "symbolized the sweetness" of fruit from the Garden of Eden.  Paper prayer flags, colorful ribbons, rubber bands... it was always a chintzy adventure.  And of course, each letter was accompanied with the standard refrain pleading for "seed" money.  Like I said, I was hooked.

So one day I decided to turn the tables.  I wrote him a lengthy letter describing my need for a kidney transplant.  If he would just be willing to send me the thousand dollars to pay for the operation, I'd be eternally grateful and he would be the one rewarded with a "ten-fold" blessing.  Despite my best effort, Popoff never answered my specific request, but the mail kept coming and I was content.


Morris Cerullo


With a new found fixation for pro wrestling, my enthusiasm for televangelists gradually subsided.  But while attending West Liberty State College in the early 1990s, it resurfaced.  One day I was watching tv and came across a new brand of "shock-jock" faith healers.  This guy was named Morris Cerullo. There was a brief clip of him menacingly wielding an axe threatening to destroy a wheelchair.  He clamored incessantly about god, the sun and the moon.  Pacing the stage with a deranged look, this guy was a fucking lunatic.  Heeeere's Morris!  I needed to learn more.

On came the screen, "Morris Cerullo - One night of redemption - The Benedum Center in downtown Pittsburgh, PA."  Come hell or high water, I was gonna get Morrised in the Cerullo.  So it was me and four friends.  For some reason, I thought it would be a good idea if we all dropped a hit of acid.  We entered and grabbed some seats in the balcony.  Our minds were racing as he howled through a meandering sermon.  Then, the moment of truth.  It was time to get healed.  We zipped down the steps to get in line.

At this moment, worlds collided.  The truth became really ugly.  I witnessed an elderly woman trying to rise up and escape the confines of her wheelchair.  She kept sobbing, "I just can't do it. I'm trying as hard as I can."  A stagehand kept repeating, "Just let Jesus in your heart and he'll assist you."  I secretly observed as they went back and forth for a few minutes.

"I just can't!"
"Yes you can!"
"I can't do it."
"Just let the lord in."

Despite the agitating effects of the paper, I knew the old lady wasn't going anywhere.  She was not a plant.  My friend nudges me.  "When they ask about your affliction, what are you going to say."  It suddenly dawned on me.  I didn't have a clue.  I started to panic but then realized my back was sore (back pain runs in my family).  I gleamed at my buddy, "I'll just tell him my back hurts."  Fortunately, with about 8 people to go, he abruptly ended the healing segment and sent everyone back to their seats.  On the ride home, I asked for forgiveness.  My apologies centered around wasting a good Friday night and the unusual inclination to mix televangelists and hallucinogenics.  A very exhausting evening.  Never again.


Manson


I once read a wedding announcement in the local newspaper, "After a wedding trip to McMechon, the couple will reside in Benwood."  Both of these decaying towns are located on the border of neighboring Marshall county.  And oddly enough, Charles Manson hails from McMechon, West Virginia.  One of the few local celebrities that eclipses Brad Paisley and even outshines Lady Gaga.  But this ain't about Charlie, it's about Marilyn.

In 1996, a youthful, satanic, exuberant, sadistic rock star, Marilyn Manson, made a tour stop in Wheeling.  There was a candlelight vigil outside the Civic Center sponsored by several area churches.  Not a big Manson fan at the time, I still felt inclined to check out this rare culture clash.  I figured I'd head on down, work the scene, maybe make a few bucks.  Sure enough, I get my hands on some cheap tickets.  As I'm trying to unload them, a minister approaches me and offers to buy them.  I was a bit confused.

"You really want to see the concert?" I inquired.
"No sir," he responds. "I just want to make sure you don't go inside and succumb to the demonic influences."
You have got to be kidding me.  But I might as well play along.  "Well, if you really want the ticket, how does 25 bucks sound?"
He responds affirmatively.
As I go to make the exchange, my arm begins to shake violently.  I try to grab the money but my hand is uncooperative.
With a tinge of terror, "The devil has control of my arm.  He won't let my hand release the ticket!"
The minister, confused but still composed, withdraws the cash.
Again, I try to complete the transaction, but my body is overcome by the trappings of satan.  And once again, the minister is taken aback.
We did this routine 4 more times until I grew irritated with the exponentially evolving level of absurdity.  At that point, I turned and sold the tickets to some tattooed, pierced-out Manson follower.  I often wonder why I didn't check out the show.


Benny Hinn


In April of 2003, billionaire televangelist Benny Hinn visited Mellon Arena for one of his famed miracle crusades.  Something had to be done.  Here's the letter that was distributed to all the media outlets.



My premise was simple.  If a corporation purchases the naming rights to a municipal arena or publicly financed stadium, they should be held accountable for what events transpire in that facility.  Makes sense to me.  The overriding objective was to extract an apology from the president of Mellon Bank with an assurance that the venerable pastor would never be allowed to return.  Theoretically, other CEOs whose companies had purchased arena naming rights would fall in line.  "Well, if the President of Mellon Bank objects to him performing at Mellon Arena, maybe we should consider banning him as well."  The Home Depot Center, American Airlines Arena, Verizon Wireless Amphitheater... a new industry precedent would be established.

The big day finally arrived.  I assembled a motley crew of ten of us and we made anti-Hinn signs.  With about a thousand fliers (compliments of WJU) and a case of cheap beer, I procured a rent-a-van and we hit the Burgh.  But the Mellonheads had gotten wind of our protest and assembled some kind of Enron-like quality control goon squad.  They removed all the fliers from car windshields in the main lots.  Then, we were escorted off arena property.  Forced across the street, we were greeted by shouts of contempt and general disapproval.  The prevailing climate had turned hostile.  You'd think nobody ever protested a televangelist before.

And guess what?  It broke as the lead story that night.  Live at eleven, I was interviewed by all the local stations (WTAE, WPXI & KDKA).  Even though I never received the much sought after apology and guarantee of a future Hinn-ban, I think it was a marginally successful protest.  Did I get the apology?  Nope.  But at least I forced the issue and raised awareness.  Move this con artist out of taxpayer funded arenas and back onto the carnival tent circuit.  I ask you, isn't that where he truly belongs?

Fast forward 8 years.  Benny Hinn can't take the hint to steer clear of my stomping grounds.   On Septemeber 2, 2011 he makes his triumphant return to Pittsburgh with a "Fire Crusade."  A fire crusade?  What the fuck is that?  It means if you don't give hinn money, you burn in the fiery pits of hell.  Sounds about right.  Anyway, he's scheduled for Soldiers and Sailors Hall on the University of Pittsburgh campus.

Here's part of the mission statement from the Soldiers and Sailors Hall website...

The Grand Army of the Republic (GAR) conceived Soldiers & Sailors during the 1890s.  It was originally built to recognize the sacrifice, valor and patriotism of Civil War Veterans.  Its mission is to preserve a lasting tribute to those men and women who unselfishly chose to serve their country.

Yep.  Does this sound compatible with welcoming a televangelist?  Brave men and women gave their lives so this charlatan can once again make a mockery of my hometown?  Yeah, I know.  I'm from Wheeling but occasionally I tell people I'm from Pittsburgh.  Canonsburg if they persist.  We call it C-Burg.  Well it's time for a call to action.  It could be a big weekend with the WVU home opener the next day.


Tar and Feathering Proposition


It is my desire to "tar and feather" Benny Hinn.  In the old days, tarring and feathering was quite popular.  It was generally not designed to seriously injure, just to publicly humiliate.  Adulterous women were often the recipient of this unusual style of punishment.  Kind of like wearing a scarlet letter.  Political dissidents would also be routinely tarred, feathered and paraded around the town square.  I say the time has returned for a good 'ol fashioned T&F.

You could smuggle in some maple syrup (compliments of Question Reality from the annual maple sugaring event at Oglebay Park's Schrader Environmental Center).  I would load it in either small Aunt Jemima squeeze bottles or miniature Super Soaker type weapons.  You would have to dilute it with a sufficient amount of water and then add the requisite black dye.  Perhaps you could yell, "I am Tar Man!" (just like Tom Hanks in Castaway - I am fire man, I have created fire, blah).

I will require 2 volunteers.  One needs to spray this tar-like solution on Benny.  Then, while another is filming the fiasco, I come out of nowhere with a garbage bag full of feathers (most likely extracted from Wilson Lodge pillows).  BAM!  That fuckhead gets a modern day tar and feathering.  All the while, the whole thing is immediately posted on YouTube.  Of course there is a downside.  We'll probably get manhandled by his security and have to spend the night in jail.  I recommend bringing mace to defend thyself.  I envision charges of disorderly conduct and destruction of property (his near $5,000 suit).  I doubt he'd have the balls to press charges, but yes, incarceration would be a likely outcome.

The other option is disrupting the fire conference with air horns.  Assemble your teams and spread out.  Just when things start to heat up (it being a fire conference and all), you blast pustule Benny with simultaneous blares.  This is more of a feel-good deal.  It doesn't really accomplish much.  The upside, no jail time.

As I go forward with publication, it came to my attention that Benny Hinn just canceled his multiple Pittsburgh performances.  I have mixed emotions about this.  Could it be that his people got wind of my desire to ambush the show?  Maybe his management decided the risk/reward ratio wasn't adequate?  More likely, Benny chose to defraud his followers at some larger, more profitable venue.  I'm kind of bummed because I was psyched to use the air horns.  One day.  Regardless, it's good to see him off the arena circuit.  Oh how the mighty have fallen.


Welcome Home


In late 2004, I took the plunge and purchased my first home.  A large A-frame which borders a Catholic cemetery, my buddy Slaid Boone christened it "The Jewish Ski Lodge."  It sits directly below a giant mausoleum adorned with an enormous cross.  Basically, the cross hangs over the house.  Personally, I love the peace and quiet as it's the last house situated at the top of a very steep hill.

I bought the house from the estate of a deceased couple.  When I first entered, I couldn't help but notice all the crucifixes.  In fact, the shape of the cross seemed intrinsically embedded into the home's construction.  Every door, every wall, every beam... the crosses were omnipresent (much like the lord).  I'd say I had reached a personal crossroads.  I silently contemplated, "I'm an atheist Jew deeply entrenched in a Catholic cemetery surrounded by crosses."

I quickly realized I ain't gonna win this battle.  Why even try?  The better mode of operation would entail absolute capitulation and submission.  If you can't beat 'em, join 'em.  Think of it like taking a page from the Muslim brotherhood playbook.  Almost like embracing a caliphate in the city of Wheeling.  Except it's more Je-Jew-centric.  So I began to decorate the house with my own crosses.  All of them have a poignant relevance.  Judge for yourself.




The Cross of Purity - The cross which sets the standard.  As has been referenced, "The standard is the standard."  This was the initial cross.  I constructed it from plain Beringer wine corks.  As darkness descends in the Jenn-Air region, the enlightenment takes place in two forms, high and low.  The illuminating brilliance easily surpasses Oglebay's annual Festival of Lights.




The wine closet cap cross - Some homes have a wine cellar.  I have a spirited hillbilly wine closet.  I used the wine caps (not corks) from my favorite cheap cabernet sauvignon (Banrock Station).  As luck would have it, Walmart discontinued stocking this brand.  And yes, I buy most of my wine from Walmart.




The cat litter cross - My cat Meowee passed away on Christmas eve 2010.  Her memory lives on through this cross of cat litter caps.  She would pee and shit in the box below the cross.  Much like I piss and shit underneath the larger cross which hangs over my abode.




The laundry room cross - Designated to invoke a sense of personal cleansing inspired by the purification of our lord and savior.  The diversity of colors signifies religious pluralism.




The cross of broken foosball heroes - Ah, the broken foosball players.  To quote Lieutenant Worf, "they died with honor."  I originally referred to them as the "fallen heroes littering the window sill."  Now they stand on constant watch of the foosball room (aka bedroom A).




The cross of hockey pucks - These pucks were found outside the walls of the Wheeling Park ice rink. I used to scavenge hockey pucks when I'd walk the dog.  At the height of my collection, I had about 40 or so.  Despite the allegations of my father, they were not stolen.  Back in the day, he demanded I return them to WAHA (Wheeling Amateur Hockey Association).  If I failed to comply, he threatened banishment to the basement where I would be fed only bread and water.  At first I was defiant, but eventually gave them up.  Since then, I have found more.  These pucks adorn the grave of Meowee, designed to commemorate the annual Bridgestone NHL Winter Classic at Heinz Field on January 1, 2011.  One of the few events where I was shut out.  Down and out.




The Super Chexx cross - Consisting of glued pieces of Chex mix.  It has seen better days.




The water cap cross - Consisting of plastic caps of bottled water (most likely purchased from Walmart).  While I'm incapable of walking on water or turning water into wine, I am capable of funneling cheap wine into an empty water bottle.  They are not dishwasher safe.  Use each bottle only once.  This makes for an indestructibly elegant and relatively discreet to-go container.  At the wedding in Cana, was it not Christ who uttered the phrase, "Let's git our wine on?"




The cross - My friend Race Car Driver who passed away on Christmas Eve had given me this cross.  Its origin was a family owned storage shed.  I chose to decorate it with a Dallas Cowboys helmet.  Although I am not a Cowboys fan, it is conceivable that Christ might have cheered for them.  Honestly, who's to say?  The rodeo character below, flamboyantly waving his cowboy hat while simultaneously grasping his belt buckle slightly above the crotchetal region with his spread legs bearing a faint resemblance to a Suzanne Somers thigh master commercial, evokes that similar wild-western theme.  Ride 'em Jew-boy.




The matchstick cross - A call to heed the word of god.  Lest ye burn in the fiery pits of hell, or even worse, the eternal damnation of my living room fireplace.




The magnetic dress-up Jesus cross - The only one I purchased.  It's for the refrigerator.  I just couldn't pass it up.  It set me back only $21.99.  Feel free to cut out mugshots from the Northern Regional Jail website and superimpose them on the body of Christ.


Westboro Baptist Church


I wrote a blog on April 1, 2010.  (During the actual process of jotting down my thoughts, I conceived of Soakapalooza.  In retrospect, what a bizarre coincidence that it fell on April Fools' Day).

The Westboro Baptist Church is coming to Wheeling, WV.  This is truly a festivus miracle.  For those unfamiliar with the WBC, these are the mindless freaks from Topeka, Kansas who picket military funerals and stage extremely hateful anti-gay rallies in particularly sensitive locations.  They hold signs that read "GOD HATES FAGS" and "BURN IN HELL."  These morons have no shame whatsoever and don't give a fuck what anyone thinks about them.  Sound familiar?

Well, they've planned 4 separate stops in Wheeltown on Saturday, April 10.

4:00 p.m. - 4:30 p.m. - St. Mike's Church
5:00 p.m. - 5:30 p.m. - St. Alphonsus Church
5:40 p.m. - 6:00 p.m. - St. Joe's Church

And they'll finish off the evening at my old stomping grounds... Wheeling Jesuit!  There is strong potential for some unruly behavior at St. Mike's and WJU.  The other two destinations, not so much.

So I guess it has come down to this.  In potentially the most dubious scenario in the history of the Northern Panhandle, Eric Saferstein will come to the defense of WJU and the Catholic church.  I read the WBC press release on the godhatesfags.com website.  They're coming here to protest the Catholic church sex scandal.  I love the idea of them protesting the church pedophile controversy.  So it'll be the extremist right wing wackos vs. the mainstream right wing wackos.  Wouldn't it be reasonable to infer that counter-protesters actually support the pedophile priests?

The WBC does fascinate me.  They physically test the boundaries of the first amendment.  They've been around for several years and regardless of their agenda, they really know how to stir the shit.  The leader Fred Phelps and his mindless sheep have a disconnected way of promoting the "fags must die" campaign.  They embrace the theory that the U.S. military protects gay Americans; therefore, they are actively complicit in defending condemned gays (who naturally must burn in hell).  I actually used similar logic in the Benny Hinn protest at Mellon Arena.  But I think my progression was more focused and relevant.  Theirs is far more specious.

I'm hitting up all 4 locations and eagerly awaiting the reaction of the WJU kids.  Have you ever felt the wrath of a privileged, collegiate mob?  They're not the most creatively inspired group so I imagine they'll just heckle.  Some girl named Mary might organize a bake sale and donate the proceeds to a "peace and love" foundation.  The best case scenario - an obnoxious lacrosse player dumps a cheap beer on one of them.

I might make signs condemning both sides in an attempt to encourage a three-way systemic disruption.  Theoretically, is it possible to unite both factions and be the focus of their collective rage?  I'd take it like a 6 year old altar boy.  Seriously though, am I allowed to protest both sides?  Screw that.  Sonofsaf welcomes the Westboro Baptist Church to the true bible belt.

I just thought of a funny sign.  The Wheeling Feeling could be a cloaked reference to pedophile priestly fondling.  You could do a "Wheeling Feeling/Fondling" hidden lift up.  Just like the Trent Dilfer #8/Trent Dildo 8" sign from the 2005 Steelers vs. Browns game at Heinz Field.  Sounds about right.  I'm stopping by Jesuit today to see what they've got planned in the realm of counter-protests.  Would the upstanding Jesuit kids have the effrontery to stage a supersoaker attack?  How fucking cool would that be?

And therein lay the inspiration for Soakapalooza.




But in a small town like Wheeltown, Soakaplooza quickly turned into an urban legend of sorts.  Sister of Thriller's ex-wife got her hands on the flier.  She's a writer for The Intelligencer.  Needless to say, she was alarmed to discover that the students and faculty of Wheeling Jesuit were not only condoning, but promoting this counterculture madness.

She researched the situation and promptly wrote an article.  It was even deemed suitable for the front page!  Albeit the front page of the Region section which mostly consists of horoscopes, church bingo advertisements and police reports (i.e. bounced checks, barking dog complaints and speeding tickets).




So the big day came and the Kansidiots showed up in full force.  But instead of protesting at the campus, they chose a busy intersection off I-70.  My crew needed to hustle down to the action.  But our cars were parked elsewhere.  Fortunately, I noticed Mother of Hot Daughters.  As she was getting into her car, we begged her for a ride.  She was more than happy to oblige.

During the 60 second ride, she turned to look at me in the backseat.

Mother of Hot Daughters: "Oh my God... Eric, did you see this whole Soakapalooza thing?  I can't believe someone would do that."

Me: "Oh yeah, isn't that crazy?  What a great idea!"

Mother of Hot Daughters: "But still, I just can't believe it."

Me (calmly): "Oh yeah... the horror, the humanity."

brief pause as the car remained eerily silent

Me (sudden outburst): "I'm Soakapalooza!  For the love of God, it's me!"

Mother of Hot Daughters (while driving down the interstate she fully turns her head and screams): "I knew it!  I knew it was you!  I knew it had to be you!"

She dropped us off just as the WBC was finishing up.  As they hurried alongside the police escort to their van in the Long John Silvers parking lot, I ran after them shouting at the top of my lungs. "You're going to hell!  You all suck!  Go to hell!"  At that moment, it was the best I could muster.


Additional encounter with the WBC


I had another brief run-in with the Westboro Baptist fucks when they returned to Wheeling on October 4, 2010.  This was on the heels of their mammoth Supreme Court case.  With Soakapalooza but a distant memory, I had this darker yearning.  But what could I do?  Maybe slash their tires?  Steal their car keys?  Blare pornographic audio on a boom box?  Spontaneously try to puke on them?  Then it came to me.  I'll steal one of their signs for my house.  Talk about a fucking conversation piece.  Yes, literally fucking.  I had my eye on the sign with two gay stick figures engaging in sodomy.

This is the one I wanted, but I'd settle for any of them.  As a supporter of the most extreme elements of the first amendment, perhaps I could convince them to give me a sign.  Worst case scenario, I'd offer them a maximum of $20.  Now you'd think that giving these morons cold cash would violate my principles, but consider the opportunity to own an original Fred Phelps.  In my mind, that sounds preferable to a Monet.  And if people were to inquire, "Saf, why did you donate money to the Westboro Baptist Church?"  I'd shamefully murmur back, "They tithed me in the butthole."

So here's the verbatim excerpt from my second encounter with the WBC.  As the protest wound down, they headed for their blue Ford Econoline van (different from the old Plymouth Voyager they drove last time).  I approached them on the sidewalk.

"Hey you guys, I know this might sound like an unusual request, but I was wondering if I could have one of your signs... you know, if you have any extras?"

No response

"Uh yeah, I'm just fascinated with freedom of speech issues and if you could find it in your heart.  I'm sure you have an extra in the van.  I'm willing to take anything you got."

Still no response as they walked briskly toward the back of the lot.  They all seemed programmed to automatically ignore my request.

"Hey uh, I know it's a little out of the ordinary but I'd be deeply appreciative.  Seriously, I'd even be willing to pay for your lunch or something.

And still, completely nothing.

Their blatant indifference was starting to get on my nerves.  Just a minute ago, these morons were singing up a storm and telling everyone they're going to hell.  But now they were completely opposed to any other form of discourse, even just simple small talk.

Now I'm disturbed.  I lash out, "What's wrong with you people?  Can't you even speak?  Do you lack the ability to form a verbal response?"

Finally, their leader/driver, a middle-aged male grunts, "NO!  We need the signs for the tour!"

I quip back, "Alright, thanks for nothing you idiots.  Was that so hard?  Like it's a matter of life or death that you can't talk.  You idiots."

They just ignored me and jumped in the van and rolled onto "their next gig on the tour" at Trinity High School in Washington, PA.

I still have issues with the Westboro Baptist Church, but am relieved the Supreme Court correctly ruled in their favor.  An 8-1 decision.  My only concern was the absence of a unanimous verdict.  Most human beings regard freedom of speech issues on an emotional level, not as a matter of life or death.  I suspect that will change.

Because the A.G.S. has no religious preference.  It will inflict random devastation.  It bears a striking resemblance to the 2011 tsunami in Japan but with one major exception.  The tsunami provided better answers.  We traced its origins to seismic shifts in the tectonic plate.  Will there ever be an answer for the A.G.S.?  Don't bet your life on it.  Its path of destruction will be noticeably more senseless.  Its inception, vastly more silent.



8.  Sports



"If that boy billionaire thinks he can shut me up, he should stick his head in a can of paint." - Steelers announcer Myron Cope, after Washington Redskins owner Daniel Snyder sent someone into the broadcast booth during a game to tell Cope to stop referring to his team as the "Wash Redfaces" (2000)

"In the days of the Colosseum, the games were held below.  I fear the moment in time when the games are held above, when the fans become the players, when the spectators become the combatants." - sonofsaf


On August 22, 1998, Question Reality and I went to a Steelers/Falcons game at Mountaineer Field.  He looked at me and said, "It'll be interesting to watch what happens when the two greatest tailgating scenes collide."  I nodded in agreement.  Perhaps as a diehard Steelers and Mountaineers fan, I'm a tad biased.  I know, I know, it was just a preseason game.  But still, it seemed to represent something larger in scope.  Professional vs. college, yinzers vs. hillbillies, a variation of the backyard brawl.  Keep your friends close, your enemies closer I suppose.  It's an apt assessment for Northern West Virginia and Southwestern Pennsylvania.  In our region, sports reigns supreme.  You might be familiar with the five basic needs of man.  Around here it's six.  The pecking order is as follows...  Food/water, shelter, sports, sex, clothing, education. 

Most fans seem to evaluate their enjoyment of stadium sporting events based on wins or losses.  Your team wins, everyone celebrates.  Your team loses, you witness varying degrees of despondency.  But what if a circumstance arises where everyone loses?  Do not casually dismiss this.  It's just another potential outcome.  


Pixburgh Stillers


I went to my first Steelers game when I was 12 years old.  My father scored some tickets and took his three sons.  We stopped at a delicatessen in Squirrel Hill and he picked up 4 monster corned beef sandwiches.  Keep in mind, this was back in the day.  You could bring your own cooler into a professional football game.  Man how things have changed.  You can still smuggle liquor into a game though.  It's pretty simple.  Just pour some whiskey into a ziplock bag (yellow and blue make green).  I suggest doubling it.  Buy an overpriced Coke and spike it relative to your preferred taste.  These days I usually take it easy during the event.  Best to sober up a little for the ride home.

This game against the Indianapolis Colts left a vivid impression.  I recall my brother Tie Guy lurching out of his seat, yelling borderline obscenities regarding a bad call.  To this day, I'm pretty sure it was a personal foul, probably a late hit out of bounds.  And I remember witnessing my father yell too.  This was very unusual.  Although easily agitated, he rarely screamed.  My other brother Tolkein remained customarily quiet.  I really didn't have much of an appreciation for the intricacies of the game.  I mostly concentrated on the fans and the prevailing atmosphere.  And of course, my sandwich and soda.  In West Virginia, we call it pop.  My parents used to buy cases of this vintage Dr. Brown's concoction.  This stuff was unusually bad compared to other carbonated beverages.  They even had a celery infused flavor, perhaps foreshadowing the vegetable juicing craze.   

But it was the roar of the stadium which captivated me.  I had never seen such a crowd.  Yet another voluminous throng.  The cement floor beneath us would tremble from time to time.  I could feel the power of sound whip through my body.  I felt alive.  The Steelers ended up winning that game 21-9.  As we left our seats, I overheard this guy say, "That was one of the worst, sloppiest games I've ever been to."  I was incredulous.  "How could you say that?  That was the greatest game I've ever seen!"  He just chuckled.

Fast forward to 2010.  I was in the shower contemplating my desire for a free ticket to the Baltimore Ravens game.  Historically, I've usually made a sign when there's a need for a ticket.  The native American Indian name bestowed upon me, "Scalping Jew," is one of great significance.  Although "scalping" is an erroneous term because it implies reselling tickets for beyond face value.  I consider myself more of a "buy low and sell just below cost" entrepreneur.  Once again, think in terms of Damone with the Earth, Wind & Fire tickets.

But this Ravens game was going to be a tough ticket.  It's always a tough one when the Purple Browns come to town.  A game of this magnitude would require a new code of conduct.  An outright refusal to pay for entry.  Yes, there are exceptions.  I mean, I'd be willing to fork over 20 bucks if that's what it takes.  But I'd much rather try to score a freebie.  It just makes for a more entertaining build-up.  Not to mention the satisfaction you get from watching all the suckers/sheep pay absurd amounts of money for their season tickets.  Scalping Jew would not succumb.  I refused to betray my heritage.

But I still needed an innovative message for my sign.  All of a sudden it hit me like a ton of bricks. 

IF YOU GIVE ME A FREE TICKET
I PROMISE I WON'T SIT NEXT YOU


Fucking brilliant!  This statement is pure gold.  Think about it.  First and foremost, you establish the goal of a free ticket.  There's no squabbling over cash.  This sends a straightforward message to the gifter.  Many don't like to haggle because they fear even the slightest interaction with security.  And most policeman and outdoor stadium security reps have little understanding of the real laws concerning a valid ticket exchange.  And so many cops act like assholes after dealing with all the idiocy and excessive drunkenness.  In the ticket biz, if you have to deal with the fuzz, you're probably going to lose.

But here's the real gem... the promise to not sit next to you.  There are always people who eat tickets at these games.  They'd rather eat 'em than sell 'em.  And these are often the priciest tickets - the club seats and the luxury boxes.  Their rationale centers around two possibilities.

A.  They might have potential clients nearby and don't want the stigma of being exposed for selling complimentary business related tickets.

B.  They could have family or kids surrounding them and have no tolerance for being associated with some yahoo or expletive-driven redneck.  Everyone has that one experience where they've sat next to some jerkstore who ruined the festivities.  And these days, going to the stadium ain't no cheap proposition.  Why risk it?

In any event, this is a simple message and easily made sign.  Use the cardboard bottom from a case of water and a black Sharpie.  ALL CAPS.  But it all comes down to strategy.  You'll see plenty of scalpers wandering around with an abundance of BUYING AND SELLING TICKETS signs.  The trick is how to differentiate your sign.  It's not about the quality of the sign.  It's not about the slick laminating job or nonstop verbal solicitation.  It's all about maximizing the potential number of views.  This is how we do it (Montell Jorden)!  Find a bench (Scalping Jew use milk crate) near the main entrance and simply step up.  Think in terms of the heroic Sioux Indian warrior, Sitting Bull.  But in this case, it's more like Standing Bull.  When you display the sign, you'll have that additional 2 feet of height.  As the crowd grows near crunch time, people get slowed down in a cattle-like procession.  With their progress grinding to a halt, their eyes will wander the terrain.  Due to the dominant positioning, everyone will read your sign.  Bonus (or Bone-Us, if you prefer): you also get the cooler perspective for people watching, similar to the cum dumpster theory.

On that fateful day, we may have lost a heart breaker (17-13 in the closing seconds) but my sign did yield a free ticket.  In reality, this method works almost every time.  The downside, you might have to sit on the side of the stage or in the standing room area.  But it's usually easy to find a few vacant seats if you take a moment and scan the periphery.  If you're fundamentally a shy person, you might not enjoy being exposed to the potential ridicule.  For example, a man once looked up at me and uttered two words.  Drink piss.  Personally, I embrace the harassment.  It keeps you on your toes.




Cincinnati Bengals, 10-16-94, Three Rivers Stadium
Houston Oilers, 11-06-94, Three Rivers Stadium
Baltimore Ravens, 09-08-96, Three Rivers Stadium
Houston Oilers, 09-20-96, Three Rivers Stadium
Washington Redskins, 09-07-97, Three Rivers Stadium
Houston Oilers, 09-28-97, Three Rivers Stadium
Indianapolis Colts, 10-12-97, Three Rivers Stadium
Atlanta Falcons, 09-22-98, Mountaineer Field
Cincinnati Bengals, 10-15-00, Three Rivers Stadium
Cleveland Browns, 10-22-00, Three Rivers Stadium
Washington Redskins, 12-16-00, Three Rivers Stadium
Detroit Lions, 08-25-01, Heinz Field
Cleveland Browns, 09-16-01, Heinz Field
Cincinnati Bengals, 10-07-01, Heinz Field
Oakland Raiders,09-15-02, Heinz Field
Carolina Panthers, 12-15-02, Heinz Field
Baltimore Ravens, 12-29-02, Heinz Field
Philadelphia Eagles, 08-16-03, Heinz Field
Oakland Raiders, 12-07-03, Heinz Field
New York Jets, 12-12-04, Heinz Field
Miami Dolphins, 09-07-06, Heinz Field
Cincinnati Bengals, 12-24-06, Heinz Field
Kansas City Chiefs, 10-15-06, Heinz Field
Denver Broncos, 11-05-06, Heinz Field
Philadelphia Eagles, 09-26-07, Heinz Field
Buffalo Bills, 09-16-07, Heinz Field
San Fransisco 49ers, 09-23-07, Heinz Field
Seattle Seahawks, 10-07-07, Heinz Field
Baltimore Ravens, 11-05-07, Heinz Field
Cleveland Browns, 11-11-07, Heinz Field
Miami Dolphins, 11-26-07, Heinz Field
Cincinnati Bengals, 12-02-07, Heinz Field
Houston Texans, 09-07-08, Heinz Field
New York Giants, 11-27-08, Heinz Field
Indianapolis Colts, 11-09-08, Heinz Field
San Diego Chargers, 11-16-08, Heinz Field
Tennessee Titans, 09-10-09, Heinz Field
Oakland Raiders, 12-06-09, Heinz Field
Green Bay Packers, 12-20-09, Heinz Field
Baltimore Ravens, 10-03-10, Heinz Field
New England Patriots, 11-14-10, Heinz Field
Oakland Raiders, 11-21-10, Heinz Field
Cincinnati Bengals, 12-12-10, Heinz Field
New York Jets, 12-19-10, Heinz Field
Philadelphia Eagles, 08-18-11, Heinz Field
Seattle Seahawks, 09-18-11, Heinz Field
Tennessee Titans, 10-09-11, Heinz Field
New England Patriots, 10-30-11, Heinz Field

Superbowl Run in 2005-06

Philadelphia Eagles, 08-15-05, Heinz Field
Tennessee Titans, 09-11-05, Heinz Field
Houston Texans, 09-07-05 Heinz Field
Jacksonville Jaguars, 10-16-05, Heinz Field
Baltimore Ravens, 09-29-05, Heinz Field
Cleveland Browns, 11-13-05, Heinz Field
Cincinnati Bengals, 12-4-05, Heinz Field
Chicago Bears, 12-11-05, Heinz Field
Detroit Lions, 01-01-06, Heinz Field

Others:

Cleveland Browns vs. Dallas Cowboys, 08-09-99, Fawcett Stadium, Canton, OH
New England Patriots vs. San Fransisco 49ers, 07-31-00, Fawcett Stadium, Canton, OH


Buccos


I've never really cared much for baseball.  I've often blamed my inability to make decent contact with a pitch on my nearsightedness.  Truth is, perhaps I just suck at the mechanics.  I can handle this because baseball is incredibly boring.  It's difficult to fathom how anyone can watch an entire game on television.  Now if you go to the ballpark and watch it unfold in person, that's a different story.  And we have PNC Park just an hour up the road, one of the finest ballparks in Major League Baseball.  Lamentably, we also possess a team which boasts the longest streak of consecutive losing seasons.  Year in and year out, in arguably the greatest sports city in the country, the Pirates always suck. 

Perceptions of futility began to change when Bob Nutting (heir to the Ogden newspaper empire) bought a controlling interest in the team.  But us locals knew better.  We had that Wheeling feeling.  The Nuttings, although a very nice crew and all, run their business much like Mr. Burns runs the Springfield nuclear plant.  It's all about profitability.  Winning comes a distant second.  And yes, I'm fully aware of the issues associated with small market MLB teams and the revenue sharing dilemma.  But the Nuttings are a different breed.  Trust me, when they launch those hot dogs into the stands, there's a guy in the back of the owner's box with a clipboard.  His job description... monitoring the "dog inventory."

But after watching the small market Tampon Bay Devil Rays go to the World Series in 2009, I realized that any team can go the distance.   Same was true with the Florida Marlins I suppose.  But there's this overwhelming sense of exasperation when it comes to the Buccos.  It's not a matter of whether or not they'll make the playoffs.  It's a matter of how many games they'll lose.  Seriously, this is the benchmark for the local office pool.  By what date will they have lost 82 games?

As I alluded to earlier, I'm not a big baseball fan.  But I am enamored with our world class facility.  I've gone to 50 games or so.  The vast majority were limo gigs (hauling the generous asses of my ex-boss Thriller and his girlfriend Teen Wolf).  I had an unusual method of obtaining tickets.  Just stand outside the box office by the main entrance at home plate.  About 25% of the time, I wouldn't utter a word.  No sign.  No speaking.  I'd just hang out with this lost puppy dog expression.  Usually in about 5 minutes, someone would ask me if I needed a ticket.  Then I'd respond with this automated, "Oh, thank you so much.  How did you know?"  The other 75%, I'd look for people who came in large groups.  Churchies and college kids sometimes had extras, but there was always one group of people with plenty of spare tickets.  They were the legions of mentally challenged and physically handicapped.  I would simply ask the director if he had any extras to spare.  Do I have any qualms about this?  Nope.  I'm always respectful and polite, and they're going to eat the ticket anyway, so what does it matter?

Full disclosure is necessary with this one.  Pirates tickets are just way too easy to obtain.  The ballpark is usually only half full.  The place only sells out a few times a year, and even then, it's easy as fuck to score a freebie.  I pity the fool who stands in line and spends money for Pirates tickets.  In all the games I've attended, I've never paid a single penny. The mere notion of monetarily contributing to the Nutting syndicate is something I've deemed nonkosher.


Take Me Out To The Pirates


Considering the abundance of free tickets, an exquisite ballpark and an indifference to whether the team wins or loses, you would think I'd be delighted with the Pittsburgh Pirates.  You would think wrong.  In late September of 2010, I came up with a plan to express my dissatisfaction with the ownership.  I devised an alternative version of "Take Me Out To The Ball Game" customarily sung during the 7th inning stretch.  It was accompanied by a harsh assessment of management.





I printed out a few thousand fliers over at the local Catholic institution of higher learning.  Me, Red Man and The Professor distributed them before a poorly attended Mets game.  I had unrealistic expectations.  Word would spread like wildfire as the entire ballpark launched into my rendition.  Visions of fans celebrating their mutual disappointment with the Pirates on the Sportscenter highlight reel would be very compelling.  But my dream never came to fruition.  It was a complete waste of time.  We never even went in.  Instead, I bought my assistants pastrami sandwiches at Primanti's and we bolted back home.  I still have hope though.  If enough Yuenglings see this, maybe someday we'll hear a rousing rendition of "Take Me Out To The Pirates."  Feel free to resurrect the flier.  When the computer asks for the number of copies, enter the number 5,000.




Pittsburgh Pirates vs.

Atlanta Braves, 08-05-97, Three Rivers Stadium
Minnesota Twins, 06-06-98, Three Rivers Stadium
Philadelphia Phillies, 06-28-99, Three Rivers Stadium
Cleveland Indians, 07-16-99, Three Rivers Stadium
Florida Marlins, 08-01-99, Three Rivers Stadium
Colorado Rockies, 05-06-01, PNC Park
Philadelphia Phillies, 06-19-01, PNC Park
Chicago Cubs, 04-15-05, PNC Park
Chicago Cubs, 04-16-05, PNC Park
Atlanta Braves, 06-03-05, PNC Park
Houston Astros, 09-20-05, PNC Park
Los Angeles Dodgers, 04-11-06, PNC Park
Philadelphia Phillies, 04-28-06, PNC Park
Florida Marlins, 05-14-06, PNC Park
Minnesota Twins, 06-17-06, PNC Park
Detroit Tigers, 07-02-06, PNC Park
Chicago Cubs, 09-29-06, PNC Park
New York Mets, 09-15-06, PNC Park
St. Louis Cardinals, 04-10-07, PNC Park
Atlanta Braves, 05-11-07, PNC Park
Arizona Diamondbacks, 05-19-07, PNC Park
Houston Astros, 05-26-07, PNC Park
Los Angeles Dodgers, 06-02-07, PNC Park
Los Angeles Dodgers, 06-03-07, PNC Park
Texas Rangers, 06-12-07, PNC Park
Colorado Rockies, 07-17-07, PNC Park
St. Louis Cardinals, 08-02-07, PNC Park
Philadelphia Phillies, 08-17-07, PNC Park
Cincinnati Reds, 08-28-07, PNC Park
Chicago Cubs, 09-08-07, PNC Park
Arizona Diamondbacks, 09-26-07, PNC Park
Florida Marlins, 04-22-08, PNC Park
Atlanta Braves, 05-22-08, PNC Park
Houston Astros, 06-03-08, PNC Park
Toronto Blue Jays, 06-22-08, PNC Park
Colorado Rockies, 07-29-08, PNC Park
New York Mets, 08-18-08, PNC Park
Philadelphia Phillies, 08-28-09, PNC Park
Los Angeles Dodgers, 04-08-10, PNC Park
Colorado Rockies, 08-05-10, PNC Park
St. Louis Cardinals, 09-21-10, PNC Park
Philadelphia Phillies, 06-05-11, PNC Park
Houston Astros, 07-06-11, PNC Park
Chicago Cubs, 08-04-11, PNC Park


Opposition Wave


On June 5, 2011, I came up with a novel idea.  Mason and I were at the Pirates Sunday afternoon game.  Phillies fans, decked out in red jerseys, had flooded the ballpark for a rare sellout.  Yet another flood of blood.  I'd honestly project the number of Philly fans at around 40%.  This happens every so often at PNC Park.  When we play the Chicago Cubs, it's often a sea of blue.  A tribute to our declining fan base and the abundance of available tickets due to the longest perpetual losing streak in pro sports.

During the fifth inning, it dawned on me.  These Philly fans reminded me of my neighbor (he hails from the city of Brotherly Love).  With visions of Fuckface dancing in my head, I surveyed the crowd.  I could see the look in their eyes.  It's this assholic gaze accompanied by a permanently pissed off disposition.  Winning is often insufficient.  They seek to antagonize and demoralize.  Fuck it, these people still have a burning desire to boo Santa Claus (probably the sole trait we have in common).  I wondered.  Could they make a grander statement in the city of their turnpike rival?  Other than obtrusively jeering while standing and grabbing their crotches, could they conjure up something of greater magnitude?  The answer is yes. 

I propose the first ever Opposition Wave.  A wave executed by fans of the AWAY team.  This would be the ultimate "reversal of misfortune."  An act of rebellion perfectly suited for Philly fans. It's a rare occurrence when the opposing fan base rivals the home team's attendance.  With college football, this happens every once in a blue moon.  Hockey and basketball arenas, never.  Since the opposition wave is my idea, I decree a cursory visual estimate of 35% away team fans in attendance.  Otherwise, it will lack the necessary kick (in the balls).

So here's the crux of the proposition.  After any home run by the visitors, as things have settled down and the next hitter enters the batter's box, the away teams' fans would commence a wave starting in the corner of the right outfield.  Imagine the frustration when Pittsburgh fans observe the enemy wave.  Because of the unprecedented nature, it would surely make for a highlight clip.  What's even more comical, is that it was "kids day" at the ballpark.  Children love to do the wave and would surely participate, unknowingly celebrating with the opposition.  This would further exacerbate the anguish of Pirates fans.

There are plenty of huge rivalries, but few where the opposing fans hit the 35% mark.  I can think of one other place this would work.  Oddly enough it's in the same city - the Backyard Brawl (Panthers vs. Mountaineers) at Heinz Field.  Their presence in Morgantown is considerably less significant.  I suppose you could execute the opposition wave after a touchdown, but following a home run works better because of the relative obscurity.  It's just more symbolic.  Touchdowns in football games are too common.  Whereas in 2011, Major League Baseball had an average of .88 home runs per game. In the interest of full disclosure, you could probably pull off an Opposition Wave when the Yanks come marching into Tampa.

Now what if an Opposition Wave was delivered following a grand slam?  I would call it a "Flavor Wave Turbo" in honor of that horrific infomercial featuring Mr. T.  This would be the equivalent of a Bin Laden Popper on the dome hockey table.  Either event surely signifying the demise of mankind. 




Regrettably, I ran out of ticket stubs near the end.  Therefore, the "W" had to be truncated.  It takes on the appearance of a crown, so just think of the Opposition Wave as a crowning achievement.

My fascination with human waves is based on more than anecdotal evidence.  It's grounded in real world experience.  In September of 1993, the Dead was concluding a three night stand at the Richfield Coliseum near Cleveland, Ohio.  During the intermission I mentioned how we should get a wave going.  The usher overheard me.

Usher (in a condescending tone): He chuckled, "Oh, huh ha, good luck with that one.  I've worked here for almost 20 years, since this place opened, and there has never been a wave."

Me: "Well, we're finishing up a 3 night stand by the Dead... and it's a Friday night," I proclaimed.

Usher (still mocking me): "Well yeah, I'd like to see it.  Just how do you think you'll get this wave moving?"

Me: "Well, probably like this."

So I stand up on my chair and start shouting, "Alright, we're gonna do a wave!  On the count of three.  One! Two! Three!"  Everybody just looks at me like I'm crazy.  During the second round of yelling, all of my friends joined in unison.  One! Two! Three!  This time, there's a spattering of movement in the next section over.  On the third try, it pulled in the entire section.  On the fourth attempt, everyone in our quadrant of the arena participated.  And a human wave commenced.  I glance over at the usher who has this look of disbelief.  I'm all gooned up but placated him with a reassuring tone, "Well it is a Friday night."  That wave probably made 10 full rotations until the lights went out.  The band sauntered onto the stage and broke into a strong China > Rider.  Definitely one of their best shows from the '93 fall tour.


Turbans and Burqas


Once again, I'm leaving a few experimental ideas on the table.  This time in the realm of fashion.  I ask you, is it possible to harness the emotional fulfillment derived from the Pittsburgh Steelers franchise?  Could all that enthusiasm be channeled into something of greater significance?  Think big picture.

This season I will embrace the garment industry.  An odd direction for me because I customarily wear a slight variation of the exact same clothing every day.  It's the alter ego of Lady Gaga.  Some describe it as a form of pappy Jew-Jew, or if you will, abba Jew-Jew.  I will attempt what was previously thought impossible.  It is my desire to bring together atheist Jews and fundamentalist Muslims based on one commonality - their shared love of the Pittsburgh Steelers.  This will be achieved through the Terrible Turban and the Black'n'Gold Burqa. 

The Terrible Turban will one day replace the Terrible Towel.  Steeler fans brazenly waving their turbans throughout the stadium.  It would be a sight to witness.  That holy headgear is usually 8 meters in length.  The result... sheer, frenzied madness.  Could anyone grasp the collective whipping motion during a torrential downpour?  I'm reminded of a Wheeling police report from back in the early '90s.  A woman, likely a prostitute, was being assaulted outside the My Club (a defunct strip bar in downtown Wheeling) around 3 a.m.  In an act of self-defense, the woman "picked up a dead raccoon and started flailing it madly" at her alleged attacker.  The assailant quickly dispersed from the scene.  I'd like to see future Heinz Field attendees summon the same grit exhibited by that brazen whore.

Now with the Black'n'Gold Burqa, there's a different agenda.  This has more to do with bridging the gap of cultural acceptance.  In this day and age of political correctness, women wearing the traditional burqa should be exempt from the intrusive pat-down process.  "You can't have 'em liftin' up dat moo moo n'at."  But what lies beneath the burqa?  Instead of strapping on suicide vests covered with nails, ball bearings and rat poison, they could line themselves with Iron City.  Upon entrance, these Muslim missionaries would distribute the free lukewarm cans of cheap beer.  Your average Steelers hoopie would embrace this tradition, particularly in the general admission Steel Pit area.  This is where the disaffected drunks tend to congregate.  I am among them and would eagerly consume their complimentary swill.  And when your average yinzer gets a free brew from a devout Muslim, it would usher in a new era of tolerance.  It's a win-win.

I'll close it out on some miscellaneous sporting events.  I've attended many others but much like the Caylee Anthony murder, I lack the physical evidence (in the form of ticket stubs). 




Pittsburgh Penguins vs.

Montreal Canadiens, 12-07-95, Pittsburgh Civic Arena
Boston Bruins, 12-14-99, Pittsburgh Civic Arena
Vancouver Canucks, 02-14-00, Pittsburgh Civic Arena
Wheeling Nailers, 03-05-03, Wheeling Civic Center
Carolina Hurricanes, 10-14-06, Mellon Arena

Soccer:

U.S.A. vs. Costa Rica, 10-11-00, Columbus Crew Stadium
U.S.A. vs. Ecuador, 06-07-01, Columbus Crew Stadium
Chelsea FC vs. AS Roma, 07-29-04, Heinz Field

West Virginia Mountaineers vs.

Ohio State Buckeyes, 09-05-98, Mountaineer Field
Syracuse, 11-07-98, Mountaineer Field
Rutgers, 10-16-99, Mountaineer Field
Pittsburgh Panthers, 11-15-03, Mountaineer Field
Boston College, 11-13-04, Mountaineer Field
Pittsburgh Panthers, 11-25-04, Heinz Field
East Carolina, 09-24-05, Mountaineer Field
Connecticut Huskies, 11-2-05, Mountaineer Field
Pittsburgh Panthers, 11-24-05, Mountaineer Field
Pittsburgh Panthers, 11-16-06, Heinz Field
Western Michigan, 09-01-07, Mountaineer Field
Rutgers, 10-04-08, Mountaineer Field
Liberty, 09-05-09, Mountaineer Field
Syracuse, 10-23-10, Mountaineer Field
Pittsburgh Panthers, 11-26-10, Heinz Field
Marshall, 09-04-11, Mountaineer Field

Pittsburgh Panthers vs.

Notre Dame, 11-14-09, Heinz Field
Miami Hurricanes, 09-23-10, Heinz Field
Notre Dame, 09-24-11, Heinz Field



9.  The Artificially Generated Stampede



"Technological progress is like an axe in the hands of a pathological criminal."
- Albert Einstein

"I suspect that history will regard the artificially generated stampede as the instant when human beings lost their humanity."
- sonofsaf


This book has been pejoratively littered with moments in time.  They represent a collection of my personal experiences.  Some bizarre, some repugnant, some uplifting.  But they are my own.  Well... except for one.  This one event really did occur.  I just wasn't there.  And I may have embellished it a bit.  If you wish to know which tale was stolen, feel free to ask.  I'll gladly fill you in.  If you wish to be a sleuth, it's conceivable to figure it out based upon the presented body of evidence.  Other than this sole admission, 90% of my autobiography is meaningless nonfiction.  The only section of importance is the chapter you're reading right now.  Rather ironic, because this chapter is entirely based on a future hypothetical scenario.  Some will read this chapter and dismiss my concerns as ludicrous.  Time will tell.   

Whether you like it or not, these stories have made me who I am.  They're probably of no relevance to a farmer in Idaho.  He has his own tales.  And they're likely of little interest to a waitress in Baltimore.  She has her own as well.  I never experienced Pearl Harbor or the landing on the moon.  I never witnessed the assassinations of John F. Kennedy and Martin Luther King.  But I do know one thing.  Each generation of mankind is inextricably bonded by their moments in time.  My generation has its own.  These are our moments in time.


Attempted Assassination of Reagan


I was in 5th grade at Woodsdale Elementary School.  Our class of 200 or so was divided into "pods."  Each pod had a distinctive name (cherry, apple, lemon, and so on).  It was late in the afternoon and we were preparing to board the buses and go home.  Our teacher had abruptly exited and a strange hush had overcome the dual pod zone.  Upon her return she was literally shaking, disturbed and frantic.

"Children, I have horrible news.  The president has just been shot."

For some reason I'll never be able to adequately comprehend, a few kids started to cheer and applaud.  Surprisingly, I was not one of them.  She was horrified by the collective outburst and lashed out in a manner I had never seen her project. 

"What the hell is wrong with you kids?  I cannot believe any of you would behave like this.  I've never been so disappointed in all of you!"  This harsh admonition quickly silenced both pods. 

That afternoon I went home and immediately ventured to the den.  I was enthralled, watching the replay of the shooting again and again.  Engrossed in this historic moment in time, I became glued to the television.  I analyzed every angle of the unfolding drama, seeking more information about the shooter John Hinckley Jr.'s motivation, concentrating on the conditions of the wounded, carefully examining the path of the limo to the hospital, watching the briefings by senior cabinet members and studying the succession of command.  I watched the same information over and over.  My parents let me stay up late that night.  Sometime around 1 a.m. my mother came downstairs, physically unplugged the television and said, "Rick, enough is enough!"


Challenger Explosion


I was a sophomore in high school when the Space Shuttle Challenger exploded.  We all huddled around a miniature television in the school library and witnessed multiple replays of the explosion.  Our female librarian had tears rolling down her cheeks.  She was a nerdish ginger bookworm with extremely frizzy hair.  Her behavior had always been a bit peculiar but this time she literally began to break down.  Sobbing and shaking, "How could this happen?  How could God let this happen?"

To be perfectly frank, for the life of me I couldn't understand why she was so devastated.  From my perspective, it seemed the equivalent of an ordinary plane crash.  As she struggled to regain composure, I was left contemplating why this was such a big deal.  Hell, there was even some discussion of dismissing the entire student body and letting everyone go home early.  My honest reaction... you've got to be kidding me.  They're letting us out early because of this?


Princess Di


In 1997, I was at the now defunct Kangaroo's in the North Hills of Pittsburgh.  My friends had a popular rock band named Sleeping Giants.  They were playing late into the night.  People gathered in the quieter lobby area to witness the breaking news.  I casually observed the information as it scrolled across the screen.  Then they showed pictures of the mangled automobile.  Her condition went from serious... to critical... to grave.  Grave ain't good.  Princess Diana had been pronounced dead.  All of a sudden, Wife of Pompous Lead Singer began to cry hysterically.

I inquired, "Oh my god, you knew her?  I'm so sorry.  This is insane!"

She fired back, "No Eric.  I didn't know her personally, but she was such a beautiful woman.  All the wonderful things she did in her life... and now she's gone."

I was incredulous, "Yeah, but it's not like you two were friends.  I mean, it's unfortunate, but I can't understand why you're so emotional about it."

This left her totally pissed off.  But I still couldn't understand her personal attachment.  At the time, I wasn't exactly sure who Princess Diana was.  My final recollection from that night.  I glanced at everyone and surmised aloud, "Oh, I get it.  She was the one who had that fancy wedding with the long train.  Yeah, now I remember."  Everyone shot me a look of disbelief and contempt.


9/11


The morning of 9/11 I was sitting in my ripped up vinyl recliner watching CNBC.  News of the first plane hitting the first tower came across the screen.  The live feed was showing video of smoke billowing from the Trade Center.  Though the initial information was sketchy, I knew this couldn't be an accident.  Then the next plane hit the second tower.  A terrorist attack had occurred on U.S. home soil.  I ran outside and saw Big Maintenance Man near the community dumpster.  I summoned him into my apartment.  "Holy shit, you're never going to believe what just happened."  He ventured up the steps and we watched the news unfold.  Then he casually shrugged his shoulders, looked me in the eye and solemnly said, "I never cared much for them big city types anyway."

This was the most incomprehensible moment of my life.  I yelled at him, "Jesus Christ, don't you know what's going on here?  Don't you understand what just happened?"  Again he just gives me this blank expression.  Utterly exasperated, I berated him, "Well then go back to your fucking dumpster or whatever the fuck you're doing!"  Honestly, he was a nice guy but just didn't have a clue. 


The Artificially Generated Stampede


If I am correct about the artificially generated stampede, this will be another one of those cataclysmic moments which serve to bond humanity.  But the A.G.S. represents something more adroitly insidious.  It represents engaging a perceived enemy without direct confrontation.  It is killing without conventional weaponry.  And it would define the next generation of warfare.  Advancements in generational warfare are extremely rare but all adhere to one commonality... human beings searching for innovative ways to kill each other.  I realize it's not a topic of routine conversation so please allow for some brief background information.

First generation warfare is best represented by superior manpower.  Armies line up and engage each other in predictable fashion.  They have similar numbers, comparable weaponry and a straightforward objective.  Defeat the opposition.  Civil war battles provide a decent example.  There's a strict adherence to row and column.  Not the most effective form of warfare, this might help explain its demise.

Second generation warfare tends to focus on the amplification of weaponry.  Which side has superior weapons.  Which soldiers are better trained and equipped.  Basically, greater firepower offers a distinct advantage.  This generally holds true to the present day.

The third generation of warfare is exemplified by the characteristic of maneuver.  Think in terms of bombardment or choking off supply lines.  An army without fuel, supplies or sustenance will quickly find itself demoralized and vulnerable.

So exactly what constitutes the fourth generation of warfare?  The jury's still out on this one but most agree that it's defined by several elements.  Asymmetry - as illustrated by the unusual tactics employed on 9/11 featuring unprecedented transaction costs.  The emergence of other battlefields in which warfare takes place on different planes (psychological, political, economic, etc.).  Terrorism becomes a more viable, prominent option.  Superempowerment of individuals is an issue of great concern.  A person or small group of people with a specific agenda and a unique skill set.  Governments and conventional military forces are ill-equipped to neutralize superempowered individuals because the new weapons of the day (time, knowledge, fear, awareness, propaganda, etc.) are more intangible.  An aircraft carrier costs plenty.  Time costs nothing.  Bombs might explode.  But as we've seen, information is far more explosive.  These might sound like metaphorical analogies, but they are all too real.  Like I stated, there is no simplistic definition of exactly what constitutes the fourth generation of warfare.  I would suggest that the elements which comprise this "new" generation have always been there.  Perhaps they just appear more visible in the information age. 

Military theorist John Boyd devised the OODA loop.  Observe, Orient, Decide, Act.  This loop still serves as a fundamental template for devising an effective military or business strategy.  Other than its spectacular asymmetry, one of the reasons 9/11 was so successful is because it dismantled much of the OODA loop.  Amid all the confusion, there was insufficient time to develop a coordinated, defensive response.  Time can be a powerful weapon because it's a universal constant.  Perhaps if the jihadists had spread out their hijackings over a series of days things would have turned out better.  But real world actions have real world consequences.

I believe time, information, superempowerment and asymmetry are the most critical components of the next generation of warfare.  The artificially generated stampede represents all of these elements.  Call it 4th.  Call it 5th.  Does it really matter?  If a person or a group can eviscerate the OODA loop, they will have engaged their enemy on a new level.  It might be a brief victory, but the ramifications will be substantial.  It might be a short-lived period of generational warfare, but it would produce lasting consequences.  Governments will be forced to devise new defensive strategies.  This will usher in a new era with altered implications for society at large.  Considering what's at stake, I felt it would be wise to compose a letter stating my concerns...



I will reference the purpose of this letter at the end of the chapter.


Mechanics of the A.G.S.


Let me first address the obvious question.  How would this unfold?  One of the more common observations I hear regarding the A.G.S is the possibility of large numbers of people receiving the message and collectively dismissing it as a hoax.  Everyone would decide their personal safety was not in jeopardy and there would be no measurable reaction.  I vehemently disagree with this assessment.  First and foremost, it's an entirely new occurrence, a hypothetical scenario which has never been part of the public discourse.  It is a circumstance which no one has ever prepared for and most have never conceived of.  And it has never been the focus of any stadium safety training drill.  Our government has readily made available their concerns regarding every aspect of stadium security, with the sole exception of the most dangerous possibility, the artificially generated stampede. 

Basically, this is how an A.G.S. would unravel.  A mass text conveying "imminent danger and the need to immediately evacuate" is sent to all recipients through the campus text alert system.  Roughly 80% receive the message in a span of 5 seconds.  Many in the stadium would instantly retrieve their phones from their purses or pants pockets.  This entails some people standing up.  Such activity would appear suspicious in itself.  The general level of anxiety is instantly heightened.  In the following seconds, reactions are mixed as people interpret the message.  Then, an initial wave of people scattered throughout the stadium hurriedly move toward the exits.  Some will seek to shield their children or assist the elderly.  As in any stampede, large numbers begin to push and shove as herding instincts kick in.  Almost all will try to establish leverage in an attempt to exit the premises.  Some will trip and fall.  Some will yell and scream.  At this moment, everyone in the stadium has one common goal... they wish to leave.  There is mass panic inevitably resulting in a stampede.

I've heard the following argument that many people would remain seated and simply not move.  You might think differently when deserted by your companions.  You might think differently when individuals begin to scramble aggressively and climb over rows of seats.  Getting kicked in the head has a way of quickly altering preconceived notions.  Despite the denials of evolution by many of our esteemed leaders, human beings share similar genetically ingrained herding instincts with other mammals. 

I believe this type of panic would generate even greater anxiety than a conventional one (panics involving tear gas, explosions or noise associated with gunfire).  People can better evaluate their options if they witness something transpire.  If a bomb is detonated, your reaction is to move away from the explosion.  In the event of the A.G.S., your reaction would be to just move.  The level of absolute confusion and chaos would be impossible to quantify.


Why is using the existing campus text alert system of special concern?


Aside from the obvious issue of reaching a large, captive audience, I have additional concerns.  There's an inherent level of trust placed in the campus text alert system.  Most alerts tend to revolve around the mundane.  Weather related class cancellations are the most common.  Dire warnings involving lone gunmen and serial rapists are rare.  So over time, students develop a relative degree of faith in the text alert system.  They've probably never had reason to question its validity.

But my larger concerns center around how people are affected by this newly introduced technology.  The world has never witnessed this escalating level of technological self-absorption.  Just take a random look around you.  Everywhere it's the same.  People summoning all their mental energy and channeling it into the screens of their cell phones.  Examine the manner in which people stare deeply into their phones.  They seek instant gratification and quite often this euphoric reassurance.  I am 41 years old and I've witnessed how people in my age bracket are beholden to their cell phones.  People half my age appear far more engrossed and their reactions are vastly more impetuous.  SMS technology is far more than a medium for sending and receiving information.  It's fueled by this overwhelming narcissism and these ego-centric tendencies which are so pervasive in today's culture.  And don't discount the public's obsession with abbreviated taglines combined with a seeming disdain for critical thinking skills.  I'd say LOL, but there's nothing funny about it.  The A.G.S. takes advantage of the notion that each person is the center of the universe.  This mindset could have drastic, unforeseen consequences.  Individual ego has always been humanity's achilles heel. 

Which leads to my gravest concern... the inevitability of a domino effect.  What if it's more than an isolated incident?  What if two or more stadiums are simultaneously impacted by an A.G.S.?  The stories would immediately unfold as breaking news updates.  National media outlets, in an attempt to upstage each other, would exponentially escalate the crises.  Panic-laden information would be transmitted to fans in all active stadiums through television, radio and social networking mediums via cellular SMS technology.  The mere transmission of breaking news would unintentionally serve as an expedited weapons delivery system.  This would take place instantaneously and impact every venue.  There would be no time to address the problem.  The OODA loop would be completely nullified.  All stadium attendees would seek to evacuate resulting in widespread panic.  In its aftermath, such a synthetically calamitous event might be assigned the title "Any Given Saturday," the acronym for which has a grim, familiar resonance.  The advent of prevalent, individualized, instant communication presents a danger humanity has previously never had to contend with.


Other concerns


Aside from the campus text alert system used by students and faculty, there are also issues arising from cell phone lists of alumni season ticket holders.  Many football programs have outsourced their customer contacts in an attempt to improve lagging ticket sales.  These marketing campaigns open up a new avenue for potential exploitation.  And every NFL football team has similar text alert notifications.  What percentage of season ticket holders choose to sign up for such fan alerts?  Have they ever been warned of the possibility of an A.G.S.?  But it always comes back to one central issue... the mere existence of cell phone number lists that correlate to individuals in a confined setting.

The prospect of hacking could easily provide material for a book in itself.  Hacking infinitely raises the stakes.  Whether used as a means to acquire lengthy lists of cell phone numbers or manipulate existing text alert systems, if hacking becomes an issue, all bets are off.  All cybersecurity experts will readily agree on one point.  Problems associated with illegally accessing information are escalating across the board, particularly in the corporate sector (finance, news and communication) and the government (politics, defense and infrastructure).  This is part of an upward trend.  In the absence of a general A.G.S. awareness campaign, this represents an unacceptable breach of national security.  Unless we can be assured that every related computer system is 100% impenetrable and all lists of cell phone numbers are recorded and then placed in some kind of magical "cybervault," there is obvious cause for alarm.  A text message is merely a group of letters, numbers and symbols. It cannot discern content, let alone intent.

This begs the question... has there ever been a high profile mass text message that simply got it wrong.  The answer is a definitive yes.  Shortly after Congresswoman Gabby Giffords was shot on January 8, 2011, repeated messages were sent stating she had died.  These were not spread virally.  They were a series of mass text messages.  Yet on August 1, 2011 Gabby Giffords walked into the shallowed walls of Congress.  She was greeted with a standing ovation from all those in attendance.  Human beings write these messages.  While human beings are imperfect, computers tend to be perfectly efficient.

I also have strong reservations regarding PLAN (Personal Localized Alerting Network).  This is an FCC program scheduled for implementation in the year 2012.  It will provide "pop up" warnings to cellular enabled devices.  There will be a total of 3 distinct messages designed to encompass Amber alerts, presidential alerts and dangerous situations related to things like inclement weather (tornadoes, floods, forest fires, etc.).  I don't wish to embrace an Orwellian conspiratorial tone, but in theory, wouldn't it be possible for a tornado advisory to spark a panic at a heavily attended concert or athletic event?  In this scenario, the intentions are honorable but could actually increase the volatility of an existing situation.  I would contend that the government has a moral obligation to acknowledge this possibility.  Perhaps they could parlay this opportunity and divulge a hypothetical scenario in which their systems could be "hijacked" and used for nefarious purposes.  Will they do it?  I doubt it.

The A.G.S. strikes me as similar to a confused flash mob.  People running for their lives despite any substantive danger.  A cruel, sick hoax.  Once again - was it real or was it fake?  In August of 2011, the world witnessed the devastating impact of flash mobs throughout London, England.  Think of the A.G.S. as a logical progression in the evolution of the flash mob... a mob gone horribly awry.  Examine what transpired in the immediate aftermath of the August 23, 2011 East Coast earthquake.  There was a certain degree of unfamiliarity which bred confusion resulting in isolated cases of panic.  With the A.G.S., there is no degree of familiarity which breeds chaos resulting in widespread panic.    


Why won't the government acknowledge the A.G.S.?


This strikes me as a critical question.  Everyone witnessed what happened in the aftermath of 9/11.  People demanded answers.  How could this happen?  Who is to blame?  Later they would inquire, "Now what do we do?" 

I've already addressed the mechanics of the A.G.S., so let's examine it from the perspective of government and private business.  Why hasn't the United States government acknowledged the A.G.S. as a potential national security issue?  The answer is simple.  If an administration acknowledges a potential issue, they own it.  When a department head is formally briefed on a problem, it becomes their problem.  If it's a routine project like repairing a bridge or paving a highway, there is an established road to follow.  But when the crisis is a hypothetical one, the path becomes murky.  There's no established protocol.  Rather than fixing the problem, it becomes a problem for someone else.  The more elusive the solution, the more likely it will be submerged in the quagmire of government bureaucracy.

And never discount the underlying squeamish factor from the standpoint of generational warfare.  The United States government is the largest manufacturer and distributor of military hardware.  Any acknowledgement of the A.G.S. would be in direct conflict with the established business model of the Department of Defense.  Killing scores of people without weapons is not a concept the powers that be would likely embrace.

We witnessed the inertia of government after the attacks of 9/11.  The invasion of Afghanistan, the creation of the Department of Homeland Security and the congressional passage of the USA Patriot Act.  But we also witnessed the by-products.  The reinforcement of cockpit doors, the inclusion of Federal Air Marshals on certain flights and new screening guidelines for passengers.  By predicting the government's reaction to an A.G.S., I think we can better get a handle on how to prevent it.  Here's how I believe the government would generally respond to an A.G.S.

1) First and foremost, there would be a new federal department created within the Department of Homeland Security.  It would likely coordinate with the Federal Communications Commission and institute greater oversight over all private entities which offer SMS services.

2) There would be massive government awareness campaigns.  Think in terms of "Stop, Drop & Roll."  Perhaps this new slogan would be "Think, before you run."  If you receive a suspicious text, please wait for official confirmation through the public address system.  It could be a false alarm designed to induce panic.

3) Although the A.G.S. is likely a one-time scenario, the government would mandate automated warnings over the public address systems in front of all venues.  This official message would be repetitively looped before all events.

4) In lieu of the massive litigation resulting from an A.G.S., I suspect the government would require a waiver to be signed by anyone who purchases a cellular device or enters into a contract that provides cellular services.  I am not an attorney but I imagine it would be very similar to a HIPAA form.  It would be a separate page and probably read something like this...

"By entering into this contract for cell phone services, or using this or any cell phone, the purchaser acknowledges the risk that cell phones can be used to generate dangerous situations, such as mass panics or stampedes, through the use of mass simultaneous text messaging.  The purchaser knowingly and voluntarily assumes all risks, including but not limited to the risk of sustaining serious bodily injury and death, that are in any way related to such cell phone-related dangerous situations."

In the event of multiple stampedes, I suspect the federal government would take unprecedented action and suspend the pursuit of all pertinent litigation.

5) On the back of all Major League Baseball ticket stubs is a disclaimer.  In the fine print it dismisses liability associated with injuries obtained from broken bats and foul balls. The government would require similar warnings on all ticket stubs.  It would call for the holder to assume all risks from danger related to the possibility of an artificially generated stampede.


What's the closest the United States government has come to addressing the A.G.S.?


The only public instances related to government involvement with the A.G.S. center around the Department of Education levying fines for violation of the Clery Act.  The Clery Act was signed in 1990.  One of its components requires institutions to give timely warnings of crimes that represent a threat to the safety of students or employees.  Several schools have been fined since the inception of the Clery Act.  To date, Eastern Michigan University has paid the largest fine ($357,500).  These cases were handled over a lengthy period of time and not related to stadium security.  The Department of Education would appear ill-suited for spearheading preventative initiatives to cope with a problem of this magnitude.


Am I the only one?


I am often asked, "Saf, aren't you worried about putting this out there?  What if you put an idea in someone's head?"  Of course these questions concern me.  They have concerned me since March of 2011.  But the choice to remain silent would be immoral, not to mention cowardly.  With regard to the AGS, I cannot alter the status quo.  That burden must fall to government.  They must make an immediate, moral determination to act.  As I write this, they have done nothing.  Think of it along these lines.  "Only you can prevent forest fires."  This campaign has existed since the 1940s for a reason... because awareness helps prevent catastrophes.  The U.S. government made a long-term decision to transform the issue into a matter of public policy.  Once again, the time has come for another historical precedent.  If the gravity illustrated by the potential for a "stampede cascade affect" isn't sufficient to spark government action, I don't know what is.

The notion that I am the only person to have speculated about an A.G.S. is just not consistent with reality. The prospect of no federal government employee ever having conceived of the A.G.S. is simply not a reasonable one.  And with the role out of PLAN in 2012, it becomes even more blatantly absurd.  Such a straightforward disavowal would represent an unfathomable level of incompetence.

The issue with private companies refusing to acknowledge the A.G.S. is easier to understand.  It constitutes a position of purposeful ignorance.  It's illogical to conclude that not a single employee of any text alert company has ever postulated about an A.G.S.  They all have the same basic mission statement: to provide increased campus safety by transmitting information to the largest number of people as efficiently as possible.  The A.G.S. is in direct conflict with this entire premise.  The obvious choice for a business is to remain silent, and hope that if it does happen, one of the other companies (or even the government) will bear the brunt.  The cost of doing business I suppose.

On March 24, 2004, Richard Clarke testified at the public 9/11 Commission hearings.

"To the loved ones of the victims of 9/11, to them who are here in this room, to those who are watching on television, your government failed you.  Those entrusted with protecting you failed you.  And I failed you.  We tried hard, but that doesn't matter because we failed.  And for that failure, I would ask, once all the facts are out, for your understanding and for your forgiveness."

Clarke was the only member of the Clinton or Bush administrations who provided an apology to the family members of victims along with an acknowledgement of the government's failure.  I suspect the fallout from an A.G.S. would require a far greater number of apologies.  But it is the accusations and finger pointing that would be impossible to comprehend.

George W. Bush and Barack Obama have both stated that above all else, it is their sworn duty to protect the American people.  And while I may question their policies, I have no reason to doubt their sincerity.  However, I would inquire if either of them or any member of their cabinet, past or present, has ever been briefed on the possibility of an A.G.S.?  That is the question.  


The scientific method


In 7th grade, every student had to complete a science project.  Vintage Car was one of my more memorable teachers.  On one occasion, we had to do a report on a famous scientist and draw their picture.  He glanced at my profile of Madame Curie and skeptically remarked, "Saf, this picture of Madame Curie looks a lot like the Elby's Big Boy."  Elby's was a locally owned restaurant with a regional presence.  Did my picture resemble the frail woman who discovered radium?  In all honesty I'd have to say it did not.  I'm pretty sure Vintage Car was the first person to ever address me as "Saf."

Vintage Car encouraged us to go above and beyond.  He wanted his students to embrace the scientific process.  Develop a hypothesis, conduct an experiment and report the results.  Most of his students would end up just rehashing an old science project.  But I decided to embrace his words.  I did my project on the recently introduced sugar substitute Nutrasweet.  

But I still needed an experiment.  So I decided to test the sense of smell on the ability to discern taste.  I got 2 containers of ice cream (chocolate and vanilla), a blindfold and a ton of pink plastic sample spoons from the local ice cream shop.  As you may have surmised, it was the same place where I forgot to remove my yarmulke.  I tested the entire 6th through 8th grade.  I individually blindfolded every student, had them hold their nose and force fed them a spoonful of both flavors.  Of course I would vary the sequence.  I neglected to save the precious data, but roughly 15% of the students got the flavors incorrect.  Based on my mathematical research, the results led me to the conclusion that females were "better tasters" than males.

Vintage Car gave me an "A" and chose my science project to represent our class in the regional science fair at West Liberty State College.  So armed with my cardboard Nutrasweet foldout display (which really didn't have anything to do with the ice cream) and a bad case of acne, I journeyed to my future alma mater.  I couldn't help but notice the other 150 or so science projects looked far superior.  Some had aquariums, some had functioning robotic parts, some had little hamsters running on spinning wheels.  I actually felt embarrassed.  How could I compete with these other entries?  My only props were a sheet of "scientific data" and two containers of ice cream which were rapidly melting.  I did have free ice cream though.  But I ran out of sample spoons and was secretly wiping them off and reusing them.

The judges eventually made their way to my project.  They appeared interested, yet calmly objective.  I gave a reasonably decent presentation.  Considering how crappy my display was, I did the best I could.  I anxiously watched as they scribbled down their rankings.  A few hours later they had the awards ceremony.  They broke down the awards into 1st, 2nd and 3rd place along with 4 honorable mentions.  My expectations were pretty low, but when they called out "Eric Saferstein" (incorrectly pronounced "Safe-er-styn"), I almost had a teen-panic attack.  I had been awarded 2nd place during the honorable mention consolation phase.  I know... I didn't place in the top 3 and bring home a trophy.  But I was quite content with my certificate and the accolades of honorable mention.  And Vintage Car's faith in me was vindicated.

So let's fast forward about 30 years and try another experiment.  This one will have a little more on the line.  But I vow to remain true to the scientific method.  Considering the utter disdain for science emanating from the current crop of Republican presidential candidates, I think a real word experiment like this could be beneficial to the national discourse.

My hypothesis will be as follows... when faced with the prospect of a hypothetical national security threat, the artificially generated stampede, will there be a measurable response from the United States government? 

Considering the scope and magnitude of the artificially generated stampede, I feel morally compelled to act.  So here is what I have done.  I have written this book.  It will never be for sale.  Any attempt to profit from these words would be morally unacceptable.  I will post this book in the form of a sole blog entry on September 2, 2011.  I will submit the book to the United States Copyright Office in the month following Banned Books Week (Sep. 24 – Oct. 1, 2011).  This yearly event celebrates the first amendment right to free speech, which includes the right to read and write books that are considered unorthodox or controversial.  Then, I will wait the estimated period of 3 months for copyright approval.  Regardless of the outcome, I will send copies of the letter via the United States Postal Service to a combination of federal officials representing the Federal Bureau of Investigation, the Federal Communications Commission, the Department of Homeland Security and the Department of Education.  I will also copy the letter to university presidents, chancellors and provosts of NCAA Division 1 schools who oversee sizable stadiums.  In the event of my death, incarceration, incapacitation or a filed missing persons report, the letters will be sent through a third party. If my blog is taken down in violation of my first amendment rights or I experience substantial government interference or harassment, I will send the letters ahead of schedule and will immediately seek a wider audience to air my concerns.  If an A.G.S. occurs during the period from September 2011 > January 2012 , I will not send the letters.  If the United States federal government or multiple state governments demonstrate a willingness to acknowledge the A.G.S. and/or launch "general awareness campaigns" concerning its potential danger, I will consider my mission accomplished.

I will follow my previously stated guidelines to the best of my ability.  And I will use this blog to monitor the experiment and periodically report my findings.  I think it's reasonable to conclude that something will happen.  But what exactly will transpire, I do not know.


In closing


Freedom of speech is not absolute.  Our government has reasonable restrictions.  For example, one cannot knowingly divulge classified information deemed detrimental to national security.  I have absolutely no qualms with this.  But the dilemma I'm faced with is a different one.  My concerns are of a common sense, speculative nature.  And when I see absolutely nothing being done to address them, it becomes a moral issue.  Thus I am inclined to take action.  And I have.

I've spoken at length about the first amendment, but I would be remiss if I didn't mention the second amendment which affords citizens the right to properly defend themselves.  The second amendment to the constitution is so much more than the antiquated notion of simply owning a gun.  It requires choosing the correct ammunition.  It requires learning how to load the gun.  It requires some degree of maintaining and safely storing the weapon.  It requires learning how to effectively discharge the weapon.  It requires a certain amount of practice, skill and training.  Simply stated, it requires knowledge.  When defending oneself, knowledge is the most vital component when invoking the right to bear arms.  This same standard must be applied to the A.G.S.  People need to be aware that the safety they take for granted could instantly be jeopardized.  People have a right to make informed decisions when faced with imminent peril.  Currently, there is zero public awareness regarding the danger presented by an A.G.S.  Until it becomes part of the public domain, the burden of responsibility must fall to the federal government which is sworn to protect its citizens.

This book I have penned has significant ramifications for the collective first amendment rights of our nation.  Freedom of speech with regard to warfare is usually grounded in historical precedent.  Nuclear, biological and chemical attacks are part of the national discourse.  Infrastructure security regarding bridges and subways, airports and dams is part of the public realm.  Stadium security combined with the prospect of an A.G.S. needs to be part of an open dialogue.  An informed discussion of the problems associated with texting "bomb" in a crowded stadium must be on the table.  It's merely the 21st century equivalent of shouting "fire." 

Stopping the A.G.S. before it happens will require a different way of thinking.  And the process runs juxtaposed to everything I know about government and private industry.  I'll try my best, but I predict I'll fail.  All I ask is that this issue be brought to the forefront.  Since it's inevitable, wouldn't it be best to stave off disaster?  At an undetermined point in time, someone will hit a "Send" button, much like I'm hitting this button that says "Publish Post."  It's really just that simple, but I'll make it even easier.  When do we get to hear about the A.G.S.?  When will the United States government decide to divulge this unpleasantness?  Before or after?

The overall content of this book has been filled with nuanced statements and seemingly dubious experiences.  Now let me be unequivocally clear.  I'll state this in the blackest and whitest terms I know how.   Let there be absolutely no room for any misinterpretation whatsoever.  It is my highest priority to stop the artificially generated stampede before it transpires.  It's ironic that in the event of an A.G.S. I would likely be classified by my own government as a "person of interest" or possibly something far worse.  If I fail to prevent it (a likely outcome), I wish to be regarded as a person who did everything humanly possible, someone who went above and beyond, someone history regards as a true patriot... perhaps deserving of a title greater than honorable mention. 



10.  The Jewish Ski Lodge



Sonofsaf's Jewish Ski Lodge*


"Hearts beat faster as visitors examine their primitive understanding of generational warfare and the first amendment."

Witness the collision of technology and freedom of speech without leaving Wheeling.  Now you too can enjoy an afternoon of utter depravity at the Jewish Ski Lodge, "North America's only genuine Jewish Ski Lodge."

Suddenly, around the bend of a phony private driveway, you see yet another driveway.  Your eye is caught by the head of Mr. Quackers and a bungee-corded groundhog strapped to an ill-placed fence.  My head turns as visitors inappropriately park their car in the middle of the 3 pt. turn.  Everyone's heart beats faster.  Yours will too.  This startling sight, already enjoyed by less than a few hundred, is praised by the Wheeling Intelligencer as "a contemporary home located high above National Road, just next to Mount Cavalry Cemetery." It is part of the ageless beauty revealed by Sonofsaf's Jewish Ski Lodge in Wheeling, West Virginia.




Majestic View


Overlooking Ohio Valley Medical Park and Triadelphia Middle School, Sonofsaf's Jewish Ski Lodge is reminiscent of a cauldron of iniquity.  High atop the Marcellus Shale project, unhealthy mountain air carries a fragrance of sulfur emanating from Follansbee.  With the exception of a lilac bush, there are few flowers.  Four semi-clogged gutters gently drip the cares of the world away.  You may even catch a glimpse of my neighbor Fuckface sunning himself beside his pool.


Palatial Splendor


Inside you will bathe in the light offered by 4 sliding glass doors.  You will see hues of reds, blues and yellows reflected in a crystal perched on a beam in the living room.  Walk upon badly stained carpet and view highly informative walls.  Several varieties of wood have been obtained from local sources for this A-Frame structure.  Some of the furniture is from Ikea.

Eight elaborately decorated rooms and eleven closets are displayed.  In the stairwell hangs an unusually large chandelier named Cucumber Melon.  In the living room hangs a disco ball which is almost 10 years old.  Witness the only known high definition wide screen television in the form of a hinged mirror.





Celebrate the season with not one, but two festivus poles.  Results depicting classic battles of table soccer and dome hockey are recorded upon the walls of game rooms A & B keeping in tradition with the foosball gods, Ching-Wa, Tung-Ti and Tung-Twat.  Relax and peruse various archives in the public library which adheres to all proper city zoning ordinances.


Year Round Tours


In spring, summer and fall, special tours await you.  Due to potentially inclement weather, we are closed in the winter.  Whether you are here for the hanging vegetable garden display or the routinely mowed lawn, you will be struck with a sense of wonder.  Constructed in 1994, the home was built by a local labor force.  Currently a living testament to the life and times of Sonofsaf, the Jewish Ski Lodge could be an international tourist destination.

From the gardens to the house, you will be fascinated by the noble works of Sonofsaf whose offerings surpass any single work of art.  CBS 60 Minutes has never commented.


Tour Information


Guided tours of the Jewish Ski Lodge are available 6 months per year from April 1 to October 1 on Tuesdays and Thursdays (1 p.m. to 3 p.m.).

$20 per person.  There are no discounts.  No exceptions.  There is no tax.  And the cost of admission shalt never be subject to inflation.

Length of guided tour is approximately 2 hours and includes the following...

sonofshowandtell - A guided tour through the lodge and the perimeter of the mostly wooded 1.22 acres.  Unleash the intrigue and unravel the historic mysteries of the Jewish Ski Lodge.

sonofsustenance - Lunch is served.  Sonofcaesar salad (RAW EGG WARNING - The American Egg Board states: There have been warnings against consuming raw or lightly cooked eggs on the grounds that the egg may be contaminated with salmonella, a bacteria responsible for a type of foodborne illness.), sonofsaffron rice and sonofshish kabob.  Kosher meal is available upon request (sonofseder).  Yeah right!  Like I give a damn about that nonsense.

sonofcemetery/sonofsafari - A golf cart tour through two completely different cemeteries, one pristine, the other rustic.  Witness an abundance of wildlife in its natural setting.  Deer, groundhogs, rabbits, dogs, cats, fish, squirrels, chickens, turkeys, ducks and a plethora of birds await your viewing pleasure.

"It felt like I was boarding Noah's Ark in a golf cart!" - Shaunya "Shoe-Shoe" Jackson, Chicago, IL

sonofsouvenir - Free Steelers hemp key chain for every visitor.  Officially pseudo-licensed NFL merchandise.  Personalized hemp key chains are also available:
1 for $3.00, 2 for $5.00 (baker's dozen letter maximum).

Time permitting, choose any 1 of the following...

sonofsports - Foosball (I can easily be persuaded into playing for low stakes) and/or dome hockey (defeat me and win a free t-shirt).

sonofsingalong - Sing out loud, sing out strong.  Serenade my neighbor as he lounges poolside.  Join in a rousing rendition of "I Hate Everything About You" by the critically acclaimed band Ugly Kid Joe.  Groggers (token Jewish noise makers) available upon request.

sonofskid - Learn the fundamentals of couch burning.  Proud West Virginians reject expensive firewood (unless acquired from nearby Oglebay Park).  Sonofs'mores will be offered to those 18 and under.

"As I watched it burn, it felt like I was in hell." - Dixie Normus, Kill Devil Hills, NC

sonofscripture - Local hotels have kindly provided me with an array of bibles.  Read along as Father Saffy examines a random passage and offers hedonistic insight and blunt analysis.

sonofsodomy - West Virginia is commonly known for its fire and brimstone preachers, conservative family values and hostile anti-gay rhetoric.  As an ordained minister in the state of West Virginia, Reverend Saffy is fully accredited to preside over your gay wedding and preserve the sanctity of all that is faggalicious.

In the gift shop...

sonofcds - Purchase any of the following mix cds.  All musical selections are from live performances.  Liner notes included.  Of course a percentage of the royalties are distributed to the appropriate musical acts and recording companies.

Single cds - sonofsteelers, sonofsasquatch, sonofpsalms, sonofspliff, sonofsample, sonofsecular, sonofsacrificial, sonofstars (on 45, Key & Hutch, Chinese throwing), sonofSTFU, sonofsap, sonofsweatin, sonofseventy, sonofsaved, sonofpsychotic, sonofsato, sonofsynthetic, sonofsucked, sonofsopranos

Double cds - sonoftsunami/sonofseismic, sonofpsychiatry/sonofpsychology, sonofsucka/sonofshiznit, sonofpsoriasis/sonofsyhpilis, sonofsteppin' (in/out), sonofsizzlin/sonofsanta, sonofspittoon/sonofskoal, sonofsaffron/sonofsassafras, sonofsunni/sonofshia, sonofsilver/sonofspoons, sonofsun/sonofmoon, sonofskoal/sonofspittoon, sonofstampede (artificial/natural), sonofsloth (steak/shake)

sonofspirits - And a cash bar is always available featuring the house beverage, or commonly referred to, "drink of excitement." Other unique selections are available.






Bus tours are not welcome.  Groups exceeding 6 are generally discouraged.  The Jewish Ski Lodge is a designated internet Wi-Fi Hotspot.

* - Adapted from the Hare Krishna's Prabhupada's Palace of Gold brochure located in Marshall County, WV.  You may refer to me as Sonofswami Bhaktipadastein (not to be confused with my retired golf nickname Swami Prop-hupada).



Epilogue



"The ultimate display of superempowerment is the peaceful imposition of one's will upon the most powerful institution from a position of little or no standing." - sonofsaf

"Hey, you don't have to acknowledge knowledge.  That's your god-given right." - sonofsaf


Many people have asked, "Saf, where can I get a copy of your book?"  As I have previously stated, the book is not for sale.  However, there are 8 hard copies of the Sonofsaf odd, oh biography in existence.  It is my sincerest hope that one day they become collector items of immeasurable value.  While it would be morally incorrigible for me to profit from this book, I would have no qualms if others close to me benefited.  So I have constructed these 8 limited edition "Sonofsefer Torahs" and brought them down from high atop the Jewish Ski Lodge.  They have been been signed verifying their authenticity and distributed accordingly.  Assuming my prognostications are accurate, I could envision this A.G.S. memorabilia one day being auctioned off by Christies or Sotheby's. 

Now you're asking the obvious question, "Why only 8?"  Excellent query.  Other than Moses parting the Red Sea, there's one tale of Jewish lore that serves to bond the reform, conservative and orthodox factions.  Listen... when the ancient Maccabees rebelled and reclaimed the Temple in Jerusalem, they rekindled the eternal light.  But alas, there was only enough oil to keep the flame burning for one day.  Miraculously, that meager quantity of oil lasted for 8 days until the supply could be replenished.  Yawn.  Even as a little kid, this Hanukkah tale struck me as really weak.  I'd much rather embrace Mel Gibson's version of the crucifixion.  Now that was some sick shit.     

Top 10 differences between a Sefer Torah and a Sonofsefer Torah:

The Sefer Torah is the most cherished legacy of the Jewish people. 
The Sonofsefer Torahs are my legacy.  They are currently cherished by no one.

The price of a new Sefer Torah varies from as low as $25,000 to as as high as $50,000.
The projected worth of a Sonofsefer Torah has yet to be determined.

It takes approximately one year to construct a complete Sefer Torah.  It's a painstaking process of impeccable craftsmanship. 
The Sonofsefer Torahs took me a few days to finish and were an utter, complete pain in the ass. 

The sofer (scribe) who writes the Sefer Torah must be a pious, God fearing individual of extreme integrity. 
I am an avowed atheist with no tolerance for God fearing individuals.  My integrity varies widely depending upon the situation.

The penmanship, spacing and uniformity of script will differ from sofer to sofer, ranging from minimally acceptable to excellent. 
One of the Sonofsefer Torahs was impacted by low toner. 

Each Sefer Torah is handwritten with a simple turkey or goose quill. 
I used Hewlett Packard printers and ink cartridges.

Etz Chaim Torah Rollers are available in all sizes, equipped with double interlocking mechanisms.
I used discarded Bounty paper towel rollers and Memorex CD-R containers.

Mantels are fashioned by the most gifted and talented craftsmen on select velvets and velours.
Each Sonofsefer Torah is ensconced in a ceremonial Crown Royal covering.

A sterling silver yad, or pointer, helps provide guidance when reading a Sefer Torah.  It is affixed by a metal chain.
Stirling is my favorite battle scene, albeit inaccurately portrayed in the movie Braveheart.  Instead of a costly yad, I use a single chopstick attached by a strand of hemp. 

The parchment, or Klaf as it is called, is made from the hides of an animal of the Kosher species.  The most preferable quality parchment is Shlil, the hide of a newborn calf embryo.
I utilized reams of Georgia-Pacific copy paper.  I am in favor of embryonic cell research. 


As I have stated, there are only 8 precious Sonofsefer Torahs in existence.  They are owned by Mason, Shrill, Crickdude, Quark, Hostile Golfer, Feed Me Clothe Me Bathe Me, Can I Get a Witness and Metalmale.


This page was originally intended to be left blank, but the temptation proved too great...



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