One Night in Venice Beach...

There certainly won’t be gunshots. That’s ridiculous. This is Venice Beach, not Compton. Though to be fair, I haven’t the slightest clue if Compton is truly scary. Perhaps Compton is a modern-day Pleasantville that’s somehow been misrepresented by the media, the middle-aged, and the past. I don’t know. All I know is that as I settle into the lumpy sea-green couch behind me, I can’t fathom there’ll be gunshots.

A gunshot rings out.

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The Muppets. A Blood-Bath. And Disney Kiosks.

Kurt Edward Larson just published his first book, Finding the Super-Hero Within, which details his journey from a one-time womanizing geek-cliche trying to be an actor into meeting the love of his life and coincidentally realizing his love of writing. At one point in the book, Kurt mentions a stifling irritation involving The Muppets and Disney. He elaborates here, and would like to point out how much he relishes talking in the third person.You can also buy Kurt's Book by CLICKING HERE.

The Muppets are about to hit the big screen this Thanksgiving, and I for one, am excited. Not only are they getting the major motion picture release they deserve, but a heavy advertisement campaign to boot. For once, their cinematic mastery isn't being relegated to C-list status. They're being treated like the innovative characters they are, and Judd Apatow posse member Jason Segel deserves much of the credit, for it was his pitch that got Disney studios onboard.

muppets
muppets

I like Segel, though to be fair I like all of the Apatow crew. He seems to genuinely love the Muppets, which hopefully only endears even more hardcore and casual fans alike to flock to the movie. Because to me, there is no question The Muppets have been systematically abused and treated like throw aways for far too long, an unfortunate side effect between the tenuous relationship between Disney and Jim Henson Studios.

For me, there is no greater example of the absolute abomination of the disrespect The Muppets are shown than at California Adventure Park in Disneyland. It's pathetically atrocious. For those unaware, allow me to explain...

I love Disneyland. I got engaged there. I don't see it as the Corporate Fake Fantasy that some cynical poseurs often claim it is. I have always felt that anyone that doesn't like Disneyland simply doesn't have a soul. I think it's amazing, even when the beauty of it comes from pranks played on it by geniuses like Banksy. Disneyland is just that good.

So for me to attack Disney takes a lot. But there has been a travesty of injustice taking place over there ever since they opened The Muppets 3D ride several years ago.

For those that haven't been, Disneyland has a Muppets Theater which shows an old-school and slightly humorous Muppets 3D movie all day long as one of their attractions. There are some actual animatronics too, like The Swedish Chef. All in all, it's a very fun way to spend 15 minutes, especially in the pre-show lounge. But upon exiting the ride, you're simply dumped back into the monotonous marketing machine of Disney, with little to no Muppet presence.

To be clear, do you know how when you exit a major ride at any other theme park, you're usually hit with a wave of merchandise featuring characters from said ride? For example, departing Buzz Lightyear's AstoBlasters finds you neck-deep in Toy Story merchandise of all manner. You can even buy a replica of the laser gun you just utilized in battle against Emperor Zurg (I did).

Whoever came up with this concept years ago was brilliant, because you're way more likely to buy worthless crap after having had the time of your life than you would around the aisles of Target, where more practical items exist, such as that relaxation waterfall coffee table thing you just have to have.

But what do you get when you exit The Muppet ride?

A fucking kiosk.

Are you kidding me? No store. No big bonanza of Muppet merchandise. Just a kiosk.

Worse, half of it doesn't even have Muppet-related products! Listen Disney, I don't want a Lilo & Stitch pencil sharpener, I want a full size Sam Eagle! You're sitting on a goldmine and letting it wither away. It makes no sense whatsoever!?

My only logical conclusion, despite whatever legalities exist, is that Disney is scared to death of the Muppets. And quite frankly, they should be. Again, I love Disney, but their stable of characters vs The Muppets? It's not even close.

It's a god damn blood bath. Filled with Mickey Mouse felt remnants.

The Muppets are cute AND witty, something Disney characters lack (I'm not including Pixar characters).

In my opinion, matching up The Muppets one on one in some tournament to the death would leave Disney would little to no chance in getting to the second round. Hell, Disney's best character, Donald Duck, is often relegated behind other characters that can't even touch him. Seriously, I've been to Dinseyland over 50 times. I've seen characters on the street that include Mickey, Minnie, Pluto, Goofy, Chip, Dale, Cruelle Deville (what's up with that?), Captain Hook, and so many others. Do you know how many times I've seen Donald? ONCE. Are you kidding me?

It's like Disney takes their coolest characters and hides them, for fear everyone will realize that Mickey isn't such a bad ass.

The Muppets would take any other fraternity or stable of characters and crush the, Hanna-Barbera? Please, did you see Yogi Bear in theaters? Looney Tunes? Christ, Six Flags doesn't even feature them, instead opting for a creepy old man that wears a bow tie and dances like teenager? SIDENOTE: That's a column for another day.

Point is, The Muppets reign supreme. They represent the child in all of us, whether you're a nice guy like Kermit or a party animal like, well, Animal.

The Muppets are criminally underutilized by Disney, and it generally pisses me off.

Kermit. Piggy. Animal. Gonzo. Fozzy. Beaker. Rolph the Dawg. Swedish Chef. Sam Eagle. Lew Zealand. And Pepe the Prawn.

A kiosk.

A fucking kiosk.

Here's hoping Segel and the movie do well. Maybe then I can have more than three lame t-shirt designs to choose from.

SAM EAGLE FOR LIFE BITCHES.

The Dead Body and Me.

HAPPY HALLOWEEN! Here's an incredibly morbid story of something that happened to me one day in the summer of 1997. Enjoy! Or not, as it's fairly graphic. The smell invading my senses is unquestionably a dead human being, even if I'm not entirely sure what a dead human being is supposed to smell like. It is, without question, a rotting corpse that I smell. It's pungent. It's revolting. It's strangely transfixing. And it's only about to get worse.

This is the true story of how it came to be that I was face to face with a decades-old wilting dead body.

zombie
zombie

As I've pointed out to loyal readers of my blogs, death and the business of death has surrounded my family in various ways for most of my childhood adolescence. Without going into a laborious rehashing of how, you can read my blog about THE CATACOMBS OF PARIS. In it, you'll find a more thorough account of those aspects of my upbringing.

Regardless, let's get to the body.

In the late 90's, I worked two summers at my uncle's Memorial Park. To be clear, memorial parks are the cemeteries where no headstones exist. In their place, carefully crafted bronze and marble plaques are utilized to honor the deceased. My uncle was in charge of the grounds crew, and as such, he even lived many years on the actual grounds. He was so close that even Rick Ankiel in his wild later pitching years could hit a plot from his backyard porch.

Like any other ill-advised college kid from the Midwest, I needed a summer job. But not just any summer job would do. I wanted weekends and evenings free, thus allowing me ample time to binge-drink and relentlessly search for girls to possibly make out with. I also played softball. A lot. Because nothing says how cool you are at the age of 21 like playing a lot of beer-league softball. Least to say, I felt entitled to a job that perfectly suited my needs.

Exacerbating my scheduling complications was the arrival of Matt Mclemore, my best friend who had decided to stay that summer at my Mother's home. We both needed jobs, and they obviously had to coincide with each other's social lives. Bros dude. Bros.

Enter my uncle.

He offered us jobs at his cemetery, mostly pulling weeds and planting flowers. It was a large, expensive cemetery with over 10 sections. My Grandfather was buried there, and I imagine one day it's possible more of my relatives will eternally reside there.

Regardless, the job seemed ideal. Five days a week. Done by four o'clock. Little interference by my uncle. And even the slimmest of chances I'd get a tan. We took it.

This seemed quite normal to me, and the idea of driving a Mule (a sorta pseudo mini Jeep Wrangler) over uneven grass on account of the burials didn't exactly deter me. It was just another part of the job. If you took a bump too hard, you often just looked down below and apologized to whomever you happened to disturb. "Sorry Earl Thompkins, I didn't mean to jump that grassy divot so hard, but it's difficult not being able to open these babies up to full throttle all day long. I'm sure you understand." The cemetery was actually quite innocent.

The bulk of our time we spent in the tool shed, where I monotonously adhered memorials to their marble stones. If it sounds boring, it was. You essentially screw in a long thread, attach memorial, then clip the excess off. Mark usually had worse jobs, many of which included digging various ditches. Occasionally we were given odd jobs that thankfully took up long hours, such as the time we painted parking places near the mausoleum cul-de-sac. It was during this time that we infamously busted out laughing at a particular amusing interview on Howard Stern (I believe it was Ringo Star, but I could be wrong). Our infantile and immature sense of humor usually seemed harmless, until we realized on that fateful day that a funeral was commencing only a few hundred feet from where our cackling hyena mouths were in full effect. If you think you know shame, you don't. Laughing while grieving bystanders can barely keep it together brings on a whole new onslaught of humiliation. I'm still not sure they ever heard us, but the threat was enough for me to start listening to all sports talk radio from that day forward.

On to the body.

It was a particularly humid day, that much I remember. Sweat seemed to form the minute you moved in any direction, even in the early morning hours, where the slightest sheen of dew glistened on the grass. My uncle strided up in his golf cart, an unusually odd expression on his face. His presence almost always meant a discussion on fashion dos and don'ts, as my uncle was nothing if not vain. He liked that we could offer him advice, as I'm quite sure it made him feel younger. But on this day, he didn't care about the necessity in matching your belt to your shoes. He needed to tell us what was happening in section eight.

"Look, guys. There's something going on today. It doesn't happen very often, and I wanted you to hear it from me first. If you're curious, it's okay if you watch while it's going on."

Watch what, exactly?

Curiosity peaked, he went on to explain.

Apparently, every so often, a body needs to be exhumed and transported. See, sometimes, loved ones move. When they do, they sometimes want the remains of the past taken with them. It's not terribly common, but it does happen. For example, perhaps you live in Chicago. You live there and your (God forbid) significant other passes away. Years later, you decide to move to North Dakota. In that case, you may want to bring the body of your deceased love with you.

Obviously, this is an expensive process and not done with high regularity. There are also health and logistical issues to deal with. But it is done.

In this exact case, I believe the body was being taken to Florida (as I recall). I'm not sure. What I can say for certain was that the body had been sitting in the moist soil of the Chicagoland suburbs for over twenty years, as I distinctly remember it having a deceased date in the 1970's.

Mark and I looked at each other, both unsure if this was something we wanted to witness. We didn't, but we quickly realized we needed to. This was a once in a lifetime moment that was too compelling to turn away. I remember having some apprehensions, especially ones revolving around God and spirits. I might have been a frat boy filled with buffoonery, but I also respected God and the delicate nature of death.

Nonetheless, I went.

We pulled up to section eight, where a flurry of activity was already taking place. Our co-worker, the eccentric and slightly creepy Ronald was halfway through digging the trench needed to reach the casket. Ronald was almost always in charge of the digging tractor that was used to construct perfect channels into the earth, and so being in charge of the reverse action came as no surprise.

Near him were several of our workers, openly staring at what was taking place in front of us. We positioned ourselves approximately twenty to thirty yards away, up on a small high ridge of grass which offered us a bird's eye-view of the proceedings.

Now, it should be noted that in my experience, cemetery workers are weird people. This probably isn't a shock, but it wholeheartedly remains true. They're just a little... off. A regular midday lunch essentially dropped you square in the middle of the Mos Eisley Cantina in Star Wars, you never were sure who was going to lose a Walrus-man arm at any given moment.

I bring this up because the outside contractors hired to transport the body being exhumed were even odder, to say the least.

For one, they showed up in a standard white van. What was most interesting was their casual, consistently comical behavior. If I had any misgivings about how God would look at me for viewing this moment, they were lost the minute these two Statler and Waldorf morons arrived. They cracked jokes at every turn, which made the scene all the more bizarre, as they were doing this in what can only be described as E.T.-like government spacesuits.

Seriously, you remember the costumes the government agency workers wore near the end of E.T.? The ones that were almost metallic in nature, and seemingly designed to protect them from any alien viruses? That's what these guys wore, minus the helmets.

Next to them was a slim, shiny, silver box. It wasn't very large, and it took me more than a minute to decipher what it was.

Unbeknownst to me, when you transport a body, you don't take the actual crypt or casket. That would be insanely expensive.

No, you actually remove the body and place it into a moving box, as if were something easily moved, like a set of Ikea night stands or small collection of comic books.

After being treated like a T-shaped Tetris puzzle piece by Ronald, the casket/crypt was now on level ground. It sat there, covered in dirt. Even before the off-color wood was cracked open, the smell was obvious.

You may have never smelled a dead body before. I certainly hadn't. But make no mistake, you absolutely know what you're smelling. It is immediate. It is instant. And it is atrocious.

The opening of the casket began.

Now, remember, we are twenty yards away. All I can tell you is that the minute that casket opened and gave way to fresh oxygen, my head and nose instinctively swiveled to the side in horror. If the smell was bad before, it now became toxic. In my life, I have had to hold a hand to my face only a few times, but nothing compared to this. I remember almost throwing up.

Letting the melted soft tissue wash over me, I returned to see what lay inside.

To be honest, it looked like one of those dummy corpses you buy for Halloween. It didn't look real. The specifics were entirely interesting, only because it wasn't what I expected. There was no skeleton. Instead, in what can only be seen as a monumental achievement for embalming enthusiasts everywhere, most of the body remained intact. There were no eyes, and the skin wasn't exactly taught. But a body was there, no question. Wisps of hair quickly retreated with the touch of air, and the body had almost no weight to it.

One of the E.T. technicians got behind the body, near the shoulders, and attempted to remove it. Well, despite the deterioration and decidedly lack of weight, the body didn't exactly give.

I've had back problems my whole adult life. The cracking and popping that occurs after a long day playing baseball is plentiful. That was nothing compared to the echoing sound of cracks that emanated from the coffin as the tech tried once again to remove the body.

No dice.

And that's when it happened.

Technician two came over to assist his Crispen Glover-esque buddy in removing the body. He grabbed the legs, while the other now enveloped his arms underneath the armpits and around the shoulders of the man who once roamed this earth.

Each with a side, they went for the removal.

And as they did, a moment that seared its image forever into my mind by sheer force occurred. There had been much I didn't expect to see that day, but nothing prepared my idyllic John Lennon-inspired brain for this.

The body ripped in half.

Right at the torso.

To be specific, it wasn't a complete tear. Probably about two-thirds.

Whatever shred of spine or skeleton remained kept the body somewhat together.

But not enough to shutter my eyes closed for fear of what would come next.

The tear was instant, like wet paper towels finally giving in to the pressure applied to them by mounting water. The one leg had flipped over, making the torn carcass obvious to all those around it.

The E.T. Techs made another poor joke, finally placing what remained of a man into the carrying case.

Ronald chuckled, almost giddy at what his life and profession had given him that day.

The E.T. techs departed, not entirely alone as the silver box resided just behind them in their van. People drove next to them on the highway, having no idea what was just a few feet from them.

Mark and I worked the rest of the day in silence.

Working at the cemetery wasn't so innocent anymore.

Kurt Edward Larson just published his first book, Finding the Super-Hero Within, which contains many chapters similar in tone to this one. Although it doesn't contain many of the stories he accumulated while working at his uncle's cemetery, it does have what many consider the possible death of his acting career.

You can buy Finding the Super-Hero Within in paperback or ebook form by CLICKING HERE.

Dear Theo Epstein.

Dear Theo-

Welcome to Chicago, I trust that you are finding the colorful characters of our city to be more than hospitable. It's a town rich with tradition, rooted in hard-working values that sprout from each successive generation. Take in the sights, eat well, and be merry. But when you've finished that, I want you to take a long look at what's happening.

theo
theo

At this moment, just a stone's throw up the asphalt plank to Missouri, thousands of St. Louis Cardinal fans are celebrating their second World Series Championship in ten years. The Cardinals. Our New York Yankees. Our hated rivals. For a century, we've watched in horror as they've racked up titles in nearly every decade. Even in the steroid era, they stiole the spotlight from us. McGwire vs Sosa? Please, no contest. Their syringe-filled slugger now resides on their bench, a champion once more. Ours isn't even allowed in the building. It would seem St Louis has even beaten us at the game of forgiveness.

This is what you're entering into Theo, a clogged mountain of chaos, awashed with grief at never being good enough. You were a God in Boston, rightfully so. But as much as there are similarities, this aint' Boston my man. Did you ever grow up with a cousin, one that everyone in the family thinks has striking resemblances to you? That was Boston and Chicago, two sports cities filled with immeasurable 'this close' moments. Only problem was, Boston grew up. Now they're the better-looking, better-dressed cousin that everyone admires. We're just the one Grandpa takes pity on.

Anyone with a brain knew Boston was going to get it together at some point. They were just too good, and the Yankees could only thwart them for so long.

Us?

Cardinal fans don't even take us seriously. And they shouldn't. We're pathetic, cursed, or just plain poorly run. Hell, the one thing we had going for us was that we were cute and cuddly. That's now in danger too, as for som God-forsaken reason Cardinal fans have adopted the squirrel as an unofficial mascot.

Theo, you aren't the first to bring high hopes. There was Dallas. Andy. Dusty. And Lou.

They all got the hell out of town as fast as humanly possible, because you just don't understand the insanity until you're in the thick of it. I never said we were reasonable Theo. We're not.

To describe a Cub fan's pain is impossible. We hurt so badly, as it's not just our pain we feel. We feel our Father's pain. Our Grandfather's pain. The weight of a million men, women, and children now rests on your shoulders. Theo, make no mistake... no World Series appearances in over 60 years, coupled with no championships in over 100 is utterly and absolutely fucking pathetic by any statistical measurement.

The Marlins have two. The freaking Florida Marlins?!

Worst of all, our most hated of all rivals, The Chicago White-Sox, have one. For years, White Sox and Cub fans have enjoyed a nasty debate about each other's franchises and our collective futility. Do you know what trumps that debate Theo? THEY WON A WORLD SERIES.

Theo, I'm not telling you anything you don't know. All I'm telling you is that perhaps you need to clean house. Players. Personnel. Coaches. Even secretaries.

Do something. Take Carlos Zambrano's anger and ship it to Philadelphia. Aramis Ramirez wants a committment to winning? See how he likes it in Washington instead. Soriano? Eat his contract, just find us a left-fielder that can catch a routine fly ball. I think my five year old nephew might be available, at least he can hit the cut-off man.

You can keep Castro, Marmol, and the only Cub in the last fifteen years to deserve permanent enshrinement into our hearts, Kerry Wood.

While we're at it, hire Sandberg as your manager. Give him Andre Dawson, Jody Davis, and Greg Maddux as his bench coaches. Put Sutcliffe in the color commentary booth, and bring back Budweiser Bleacher Days.

Wait- what am I saying? See, this is the problem.

Don't listen to me. In fact, that's the answer Theo. Don't listen to me. Or them. Or any fans.

Go watch Moneyball and get inspired. Walk around, soak the atmosphere in, and implement a plan.

Bottom line- do what YOU think is best. Do anything, just please end our suffering, even if you need to tear down Wrigley to get us there.

Just for once, we'd like to walk around as champions.

Please Theo. Save us. Save us from another lifetime of embarrassment and shame. Save us Theo. Don't let us die complete losers.

Is that so much to ask?

Welcome to Chicago.

Sincerely-

Cubs fans worldwide. Kurt Edward Larson just published his first book, Finding the Super-Hero Within. In it, he openly lambasts his Father for not raising him a Yankee fan, instead passing along the gift of constant misery at the hands of the Chicago Cubs.

You can buy the book, in either print or electronic form, by CLICKING HERE.

Reconsidering Jury Duty.

Being in a room, surrounded by people who are at least as irritated as you, can be uncomfortable. Black. White. Male. Female. Wealthy. Poor. Star Trek fan. Star Wars fan. Republicans. Democrats. We were all one and the same on this day. We were all here because we had received one of those cream-colored folded pieces of papers which beckoned our presence in this room. Those papers which instilled a sense of disease within us upon receiving them.

Jury Duty.

jury
jury

And after opening that revolting notice, we all thought the same thing almost immediately... how do I get out of this?

Of course, it's not that easy. At least not in California, where they've adopted a one day, one-trial law which makes avoiding jury duty altogether impossible. Essentially, they send you a summons, then ask if the time they've requested is conducive to your schedule. If not, you can reschedule. But upon rescheduling, you must provide an alternative week which suits your needs. You can continue to reschedule for up to a year, but then you must serve. This doesn't mean you'll actually BE on a jury, only that you'll be in the available pool of jurors for that day. Even then, you have to get picked, put on the stand, and agreed upon by both sets of lawyers. The chances are slim to say the least. (NOTE: Those who are caretakers, including single parents of minors, can be dismissed right away)

No matter what, you'll have to be there for one day, and then your jury duty will be completed for one year. If you're lucky, you won't be summoned for many years after. It's all chance.

The first jury notice I received was scheduled for an inconvenient time. I rescheduled.

Then several months ago, my new designated week came up, the one I had told the state of California would be best for me. I sighed and stewed with anger. First off, it was all the way downtown, which for you non-Los Angelenos means a simple 15 minute drive could take well over an hour. Furthermore, at the time of my new week, I had been feeling incredibly overwhelmed with work. Granted, they're self-inflicted projects which keep burying me, but still... it's jury duty! Did I really have to go?

Several people I encountered before I went told me how they just rip up their notices and pretend like they've never gotten any. Let me make this emphatically clear, the people who did this were mostly affluent people. Rich people. Retired people. I'm not joking. Let me tell you, if you ever needed evidence that supported the stereotype that wealthy people think they're better than others and the rules don't apply to them? Bring up jury duty. (More on this later).

I finally succumbed to the process and figured I'd occupy the musky, dated rooms of the California law system for a few hours and be on my way. I brought a book, a journal, and my laptop for writing. How hard could it be?

Within the first ten minutes, my name was called for a panel. I've been in this position before, and it certainly doesn't mean you're going to serve on a jury. It simply means you could be called to the stand, then asked various questions to discern your prospective ability to serve. No problem.

I walked up to the court room with four or five dozen other people and waited for my obvious dismissal.

They started calling juror numbers. I stared at the wood-paneled walls and started to daydream. I think I was wondering what compelled George Lucas to add that god-awful "NOOOOOOOOO" to Darth Vader's movement towards the end of Return of the Jedi in the new blu-ray releases.

The judge called a few numbers, than repeated one particular number three times. Seriously, it was like Bueller, Bueller, Bueller in real life. Only difference was, Bueller was there. He was me, and my number was being called.

Sigh.

I had made it through the first three rounds of jury duty and had yet to be released back into the sea of jurors no doubt going home for the day, never to return until years later. What was going on here? For once, I was winning a game I wanted no part of.

After sixteen of us took the stand, we took our oath and awaited the lawyer's questioning. Still, I've been here before. They usually dismiss well over half of us based on our answers. I was golden.

I especially thought I was off the hook when they inquired about past crimes committed against me or loved ones I knew. Without going into details, I did have some experience with the type of crime allegedly committed. Based on my answers, I again thought my day would be coming to an end.

Except that it didn't.

That's right, I was put on an actual trial. One that was predicted to last over a week.

I couldn't believe it. My face contorted into one with anger and disbelief, the kind of face Mark Wahlberg earns a living out of making. You know the one. Pissed off at the world and ready to explode at any minute. I thought they had made a mistake and someone, ANYONE, would stop and say... wait a minute your honor, we forgot about that guy over there. No way do we want THAT guy.

Alas, that wasn't the case.

I was going to serve on a jury, whether I liked it or not.

I don't wish to go into details on the case, for this blog isn't about that (and quite frankly, they're pretty mundane as the case was pedestrian at best). It's about the experience of jury duty and how I've changed my mind regarding said duty.

The fact of the matter is, our country asks very little of us in terms of civic duty. You're asked to abide by the laws. You're asked to pay taxes. And you're asked to serve on a jury from time to time.

That's it.

You don't even have to vote if you don't want to.

And yet, millions of Americans complain incessantly when they're asked to appear in court for a jury summons. To be frank about it, we've become a nation that bitches and moans about everything, including an idea that supports the very basis of our dwelling in a democratic nation.

How dare they interrupt your day, you know the one where you can go about your life in any way you see fit for the entire 24 hours? How dare they ask you to actually perform a very important civic duty?

Let me be more clear, without jurors and a system where there are 12 opinions that must be unanimous, there'd be complete anarchy. In the face of a democratic nation, jury duty is essential for order.

And if the soapbox approach doesn't work, how about this... God forbid you were on trial for something. I assure you, you'd definitely want a jury of agreed upon, seemingly intelligent Americans deciding your fate. Or conversely, what if you were the victim of a crime? Wouldn't you want to see justice? How can that happen if no one serves jury duty?

Being on a jury is fascinating. It gives you a more concise picture of how our legal system works. It's certainly not perfect, but it is to be respected.

You learn very quickly where your personality lies in a group of twelve jurors. Some people are ambivalent. Some are quiet. Some are instantly respected more than others. And some are, 'ahem', louder than most.

Most cases last 5-7 days, and really, that's not too much to ask.

When the case came to a close, I left with my head held high and a new appreciation for our system.

Moreover, I left with a new disgust for those that rip up their jury summons. I don't inject a lot of criticism towards individuals in these blogs, and I'm not real found of insults in this venue. But from where I stand, those of you that discard your jury summons into the garbage are fairly revolting individuals.

I loathe elitists, and those that think they're above basic tenets of citizenship.

Bottom line, serve your duty. Chances are, you won't be assigned to an actual jury. And if you are, you'll attain a better understanding of our system.

It's not that hard people. It really isn't.

Dear Ladies: Let Your Dude Play Video Games. Here's Why...

In some ways, this blog is brought to you by The Angel, as she believes in it more than I do. Video games and boys. Why some of us need them, and ladies should support that.

s_MsPacMan_1
s_MsPacMan_1

My fiance works incredibly hard. I'm not saying that because I'm biased; it's a fact. She works well over 60 hours a week trying to build her wedding planner business. If she's not working with a bride, she's meeting with vendors or branding her website. In fact, her dedicated passion remains one of her most attractive personality traits. I simply couldn't be with someone who wasn't passionate about life, mostly on account of my own never-ending need to work on projects.

I read a recent article about John McEnroe where his wife said something to the effect of, "John is a guy that needs to get shit done. He can't really sit on a beach."

To say I understood this sentiment would be an understatement. As you get older, you start to realize certain truths about yourself that you never fully comprehended when you were younger. For me, accepting that I love both pressure and the overwhelming feelings it can bring, took time. It didn't matter if it was sports, work, or recreation; I love being in way over my head. Some people thrive in those spots, others don't. My pal ZZ and I played baseball for nearly a decade together, and I have no problems admitting that in later years, he surely surpassed me in skill level. He was a monster, and I was happy to play sidekick for a while. That all being said, even he'd tell you there's pretty much no one else on the planet he'd rather have up at bat than me with the game on the line.

So how does this relate to video games...

Most men/boys/guys/dudes like video games of some sort. Whether they feast on Madden or wander the darkened streets of Call of Duty is a personal opinion. Point is, we like to play. Some people enjoy the communal aspect that video games bring, and others salivate at the prospect of competition. I fall into this second category, sometimes even hustling fellow dudes into a game of Ms. Pac-Man for money.

Most men my age grew up on Nintendo and Sega Genesis. And while Super Tecmo Bowl remains the gold standard of any sports video game, I must admit times have changed. Nowadays, you don't just hand off the ball to Bo Jackson and watch him rack up yards, you ARE Bo Jackson. Technology is incredible, and it's only a matter of time before simulation becomes reality. Whatever the case, the gap from my teenage years to today has always seemed insurmountable in regards to video games. I was used to mashing two buttons in a patterned frenzy, now you had like 12 dozen buttons you had to time just right in order to see The Ultimate Warrior kick someone.

I'm not sure how this happened, but I was archaic in gaming terms. Sure, I might have messed around a bit in college with video games, but girls and classes took up most of my time. In later years it was girls, bars, and movies that exhausted the hours of the day.

But now I'm 33, and the only girl I care about sleeps next to me every night. As for bars? Well, they don't seem so tantalizing now that I'm with her. As I've pointed out before, I've become Heathcliffe Huxtable. But even in doing so, I work non-stop on various projects. Just as an example, right now I'm working on the following: a pilot for Fall season, a feature script that I'd like to shoot next year, a short film that has an action sequence in it, the release of my book in November, and all the while trying to learn everything I can about DSLR cameras. I also blog. Obviously. And help other colleagues out. All while helping my lady plan our wedding. Basically, I consume myself with creativity in all forms. I do not sit around.

This can cause problems, as no relaxation eventually drives my self-induced pressure to a boiling point. I can become irritable.

So how do I relieve stress? I suppose I could drink more, but that seems dicey at best. I loathe the gym. Sports are difficult to organize. And I'm woefully ill-equipped to build anything.

Enter Video Games.

Video games became the bright beacon of light for my anxiety. Sometime 3-4 years ago, I bought a Wii. It was fun, if pedestrian. And while I enjoyed it for some time, the gaming itch started to grow more intense until I caved and got a Playstation 3. This decision wasn't easy.

My conscious started to eat away at me. How could you buy a video gaming system at the age of 33? What the hell is wrong with you? Aren't you a man?

I reasoned with myself that it also doubled as a Blue-Ray player, and a damn good one at that. I also figured it might come in handy for parties, even though I knew that the Wii would always win out in that area.

Nonetheless, I had it.

And since then, here's what I've discovered. Playstation 3 is a beautiful stress-reducing mechanism that might as well be a potent painkiller. Really. I think it's amazing.

There are few things that can snap me out of my work-mode, but the PS3 is one of them. When you work 10-12 hours a day, every day, you need something.

And that's why The Angel loves it as much as I do. She even encourages me to play more. To be fair, I only play a few hours a week (at best), but she sees me actually letting my mind go for a few hours and the results that creates. It's not healthy to have anything gobble up all your time, whether work or personal. Obviously, gaming should be done in moderation. People who spend hours at a time staring at screens, virtual zombies in a gaming world, need help. Real help.

But all I'm saying is that in moderation, gaming can be a wonderful escape from the barrage of obstacles in life. Believe me, I still very much believe in getting out. Dancing. Meeting interesting people. Having fun.

But if your dude plays a video game a few hours a week, I recommend you encourage him. Whether he's 25, 35, 45, or older. Gaming is competitive. Fun. And enjoyable. As long as he isn't ignoring you, it can be a fantastic stress reliever.

And just think, if he wasn't doing that... he might be out in a bar.

Typical Guy Ignorance: Wedding Guest Lists.

I think it's best I start a new category of reoccurring blogs. I'd imagine you women out there will enjoy the title... Typical Guy Ignorance.

Sad Man
Sad Man

Yes, I'm speaking about the all-too-common bravado and know-it-all attitude that permeates out of every guy on this planet and others. I'm also speaking from personal experience. I am a dude. My brother hates that terminology, but he only hates it in that he is a dude as well. At times. We all are. Acting like a dude is primarily done when men momentarily drop their maturity and become the Neanderthal predecessors of their past youth. To be fair, being a dude at times is totally appropriate. After all, being a man all day, every day, can be... boring.

Anyway, today's topic of typical ignorance comes from my fat ego-stuffed mouth in regards to wedding guest lists.

It seems just a few months ago, I was sitting in some neon-lit bar listening to my pal Baron Nightwing discuss the anxiety he was having over making his wedding guest list. He chugged Jack & Coke with feverish necessity. It was that type of frustration.

Baron said that there were all types of factors which made deciphering who and who wasn't invited to the wedding a puzzling dilemma that had the potential to turn into a nightmare.

I responded the only way I saw fit: I mocked him endlessly. I believe I may have called him a 'poor, sackless son of a bitch.'

How could deciding who gets invited to your wedding be such a difficult task? Just decide.

Baron said it wasn't that easy. For starters, there was a set number based on budget. This made sense, even to a monkey like me. You simply can't afford to invite every single person you've ever conversed with, as budget alone would make it impossible. You have to decide on a number, then stick with it at all costs. Baron continued...

"There are family. Friends. Co-workers. Past friends you haven't spoken to in years. Friends of parents.."

Did he say 'friends of parents'? Please.

Baron stepped outside to smoke, a pool of sweat slowly enveloping his upper neck. When he came back in, I dropped the guy facade and calmly stated my case.

"Look man, it's your wedding. You guys should decide who and who isn't invited. You dictate who you want there, and fuck anyone else that thinks otherwise."

I was a few drinks in, and cursing seemed to emphatically state what I thought was my maverick point of view. I figured I'd long been a guy that does what I want, why should that alter based on a guest list? Baron was a man. Invite who you want. Bottom Line.

What an idiot I was.

As I sit here, now six months into my own engagement, I realize how stupid I really am.

First off, the budget plays a far larger part in the guest list than I ever imagined, and in ways I really never grasped until now. Most importantly, you want to respect both sets of parents. This respect comes from both the financial contributions they made and the years of love they showcased in getting you to this point. When Mom wants someone specifically invited, you listen. Same goes for Dad. And certainly your future in-laws. Their opinion matters most.

Suddenly, your personal guest list shrinks. You start pitting friends against each other in a fictional gladiator battle that MUST have a winner. You feel empty inside from doing this. This isn't a WWE tournament to determine a new champion, these are friends with real feelings. People are bound to be upset.

Of course, Baron warned you. Somewhere between his fourth or fifth Jack & Coke, he smirked in a knowing manner. He knew I was an idiot when I said something like, "I'm not inviting such and such family member and not inviting the guy I once punched in the face in college after a long night of drinking bro. We bled together man. What do I even know about that family member?"

That was just the beginning. Already, I heard the chatter from friends regarding their own excitement over attending our wedding. "It's going to be so great!" they said. Yeah, it was. Only we hadn't planned on inviting them, so there's that...

And Baron's cryptic comment about 'friends from the past' whizzed right by me until I had my own wedding guest list to concoct. He said getting married was a journey filled with emotional turbulence you may or may not be prepared for. I thought he was a moron. A wuss. He was even more artsy than me, so surely I could withstand whatever came my way. What could possibly occur to stir up emotio-

Wait. Shit. What about that one guy I hadn't talked to in years but at one time had held his head while he threw up all manner of jager shots into the nearest alley? And there's the other old ally I spent nearly every weekend with for well over three years? And some of my college buddies that I revere, even if I hadn't spoken to them directly in some time. How can they not be there broooo? They helped get me to this point!

Jesus, this was not easy.

You start looking at the list, marginalizing relationships. "Okay. We're definitely inviting Snarf. But if we take away his date option and Dudley Do Rights as well, we can squeeze Super Mario in. And I definitely want Super Mario in!"

But even that creates problems. Because if you invite Super Mario, you definitely need to invite Luigi. And Luigi is married. And suddenly that's four more people towards your precious 100. It's like trying to navigate the Screen Actor's Guild, finding an agent, and getting actual auditions all over again. Which is to say, it's a never-ending web of confusion that begats more and more problems.

You think about how Master Splinter has been pissing you off lately, maybe you can cut him. But that's being foolish, as you love Master Splinter and only recently are mildly annoyed with his actions.

This must be what it was like to make decisions on the Varsity Football Team. There are only so many spots.

In the end, I didn't do anything I said I would. I simply deferred, resigned to whatever happens.

I already had to tell two friends that they wouldn't be invited, an action that had to be done before they felt sand-bagged. One took it well. One hasn't said much.

And as these issues continue to arise... I can only think of how preposterously stupid and ignorant I was when Baron was going through similar trials and tribulations.

I was a dude, my words came from being a dude, and I'm now paying for it now with karmic substance. That, and a barrage of well-earned laughter from Baron. His wedding is done. It worked out fantastic for him.

And that's what I keep reminding myself, it'll all work out. The list will happen as it should, and I'll be able to relax and enjoy the reason I'm there in the first place.

That is, until we start assigning table and seat assignments...

Sigh...

The Worst Examples of the Greatest Baseball Cards Ever Made.

Two days from now, my town will be filled with senior citizens decked out in all manner of American flag apparel. I know this, not because it's the 4th of July, but because it's a Monday. Utilizing rational deduction of possibilities, it'll either be an American-flag inspired button-down or a Hawaiian short-sleeved monstrosity. Seriously, you have no idea how many people in my town wear Hawaiian shirts on a daily basis. It's obscene. You would have thought Tommy Bahama was born in my town with all the quilted jungle patterns and pineapples floating around people's backs out here.

Regardless, this 4th of July I'll be spending a quiet night at home with The Angel, probably watching some marathon on The Food Network.

But in doing so, I wanted to honor something truly American. Something from my youth that summed up everything good, great, and slightly horrific about the country that I love so much. There were many possibilities, and above all else, I wanted to explore something complex. Something that wasn't particularly easy to discuss because of the mixed feelings it may bring out. Something controversial.

War? Religion? Racism? Politics? All exciting possibilities, but I needed something even more polarizing. Something sure to cause people to experience an emotional and visceral experience that they'd be left thinking about for days.

I chose Donruss Diamond Kings of the 1980's.

Donruss was the upstart bad boy of the 80's baseball cards. They were my card of choice. Topps was the traditional powerhouse that you could count on, but their quality and design mechanics seemed to wane around 1985. It wasn't just the gum that was stale, it was Topps as a whole. As for Fleer? The guys making Fleer baseball cards probably snacked on Pop Rocks and skipped around the office listening to REO Speedwagon. Fleer was way too bright and glossy for the dark underworld of baseball card trading. I'd just as soon collect My Little Ponies than call myself a Fleer guy.

Enter Donruss. Donruss walked into the baseball card coliseum and immediately kicked ass. They were fresh, with dark and gloomy colors that exuded something straight out of Star Wars and the Imperial Empire. No better year exemplified the bad ass attitude of Donruss than 1985, a year when the ultimate man's man pitcher Roger Clemens spat out a rookie card emblazoned with the Donruss logo.

rocket
rocket

Donruss might as well have been the guy that walked into the bar with nothing more than a pissed off demeanor and ten bucks in cash, only to leave with a slight buzz and your first girlfriend's purity. Donruss flipped you off while busting your head in. And somehow, you respected them more afterward. Donruss was Dos Equis before there was a Dos Equis.

And despite all of its Michael Bay-esque bravado, Donruss was most remembered for it's soft side. All good bad boys have one aspect of their personality that makes them irresistible to men and women alike. It's usually a sensitive side rarely seen. In the case of Donruss, it was their Diamond Kings. A sorta subset within their yearly offerings that showcased the artsy side of Donruss. Using beautiful, hand crafted paintings by the talented Dick Perez, Donruss Diamond Kings were everything cool about Donruss, and they only further showed why Topps had lost it's edge.

Fuck a Golden Glove or Silver Slugger, receiving a Donruss Diamond King was the ultimate distinction for a player. They were supposed to represent the best of the best, even if at times, that best was inexplicable in its application.

The Diamond King was a hallowed treasure for my friends and I, as every year brought out a new round of hypotheses as to who the Chicago Cubs would have featured as their Diamond King that year.

What Dick Perez did with the artwork on Diamond Kings is nothing short of extraordinary. And although Diamond Kings lasted for a longer time than the 80's, it is that decade that solidified the power of Donruss. It is that period of work that brought out the classic Diamond King imagery that every young boy is familiar with.

So it is with that preface that I present to you, in one man's opinion, the year by year account of the worst examples of the best cards in the history of baseball cards. To make sure there is no confusion, I am honoring these fantastic cards. Dick Perez will forever be a part of my youth, and his work will continue to live on in not only museums, but more importantly the minds of little kids everywhere. I may be making fun of some of these images, but I am definitely not making fun of Diamond Kings or Dick Perez.

Diamond Kings were made for each team in baseball, with the theory being that the best player from the previous year would be represented. Shockingly, or maybe not so, there was an abundance of mustaches from this golden era, and I have counted them dutifully here.

Diamond Kings ruled, but celebrating the best ones isn't nearly as much much as looking at the embarassing ones. I'm talking about the irrefutable bad stares and bad players that somehow got through the cracks.

Join me as I take a look back at the worst Diamond Kings ever. Here are my picks for the most awesomely awful Diamond Kings of the 80's, and why...

1982.

Mustache Count: 12 mustaches total.

WORST DIAMOND KING: TIE (Carlton Fisk & Ozzie Smith)

Lets' start with Fisk.

psd_dk_FiskCarlton
psd_dk_FiskCarlton

First off, the look on his face. Look at that guy's face. Tell me that guy isn't the same guy slipping you a date rape drug in your third vodka-tonic at the local T.G.I. Fridays. His face says it all. He sits there with that shit-eating grin, all the while knowing he's fucking you over in some way you can't put your finger on. That look... man, Fisk is the guy you split the bill with, only to find out he stiffed the waiter on a tip. And do I need to point out the obnoxious collar he sports on that sad-sack excuse of a uniform? Come. On.

Fisk wearing that collar with that ass-clown smile is artistic napalm. They should have foregone Fisk's face and inserted Randy Quaids instead, circa 1987.

Then there's Ozzie Smith.

osmith
osmith

Jesus, where do I start? First off, I know Ozzie started on the Padres and there's no conceivable way that Perez would have known he'd forever be linked with the Cardinals, but it's still strange to see Smith sporting the shit-stained colors the Padres sported in the early 80's. And speaking of, I'm not really a toilet humor kind of guy, but is it just me or is Smith's stance less likely to be one awaiting a ground ball and more like a guy peering over to check out a really bad pile of horse manure?

"Oh damn, is that a giant pile of horse crap over there?"

The other thing that chaps my ass about this particular Diamond King is the expression on Ozzie. Look, I'm a Cubs fan, so naturally I loathe all Cardinals. But even I have to acquiesce and admit Ozzie Smith came across as pretty much the nicest guy to ever play the game. The backflips. The smile. The nickname the Wizard of Oz. Hell, I still laugh at Ozzie Smith falling endless into a black hole on The Simpsons. Smith is so unfailingly kind and appealing, he's still featured on national baseball commercials. He's become the mascot for all that's fun about the game of baseball.

Do you see that in this portrait here?

I don't see the kid-like excitement of Smith, instead I see a guy barely holding it together. That's not a pensive stare, it's a "I'm going to kill someone if they so much as say hello to me right now." He looks more like Samuel Jackson in Pulp Fiction than he does Ozzie Smith. Everything about this Diamond King is wrong.

1983.

Mustache Count: 12 mustaches total.

WORST DIAMOND KING: JIM SUNDBERG

SUNDBERG
SUNDBERG

For starters, Sundberg has roughly 47 chins in this picture. He looks like your fat uncle, not a Diamond King. Which actually might explain why they gave Sundberg a Diamond King. It certainly couldn't have been his blistering statistics from the year before. He hit 10 home runs with 47 RBI and a batting average of .251. Now granted, the Rangers were woeful the year prior (64-98), but someone could have been chosen other than Sundberg. Hell, even a repeat of Buddy Bell would have made more sense. Sundberg looked as surprised as we collectively were at his appearance in this portrait. And believe me, I can't believe I'm going there AGAIN, but tell me Sundberg doesn't look like he just smelled a bad fart? Think that over, then look at the picture.

Am I right? No Jim, that isnt the silent-but-violent release of ace pitcher Frank Tanana's ass, it's your 1982 statistics that somehow got you immortalized in Diamond King lore.

1984.

Mustache Count: 8 mustaches total.

WORST DIAMOND KING: BOB HORNER

horner
horner

To be honest, this year's Diamond Kings were virtually flawless in my estimation. The background showcases the epic scale of Perez's work, and the players selected seem almost universally worthy. Horner was a tough call, but here's why I chose him.

His pale skin tone and subsequent blonde Hulk Hogan-like locks make it difficult to discern where his face stops and head starts. Instead of a fitting portrayal of one of the greatest beer-league softball players to ever actually play MLB, we're left with something that looks like a wrinkled, 6 days past its prime, grapefruit. Horner should use this Diamond King as a headshot and get it over to Peter Jackson's office ASAP. Surely this guy could play a background Hobbit or Orc with that mug. Seriously, he looks like Lenny from Of Mice and Men. He's confused. No, he's stupid? He's confused and stupid. I don't know.

1985.

Mustache Count: 14 mustaches total.

WORST DIAMOND KING: TIE (CARNEY LANSFORD & MIKE MARSHALL)

lansford
lansford

Fuck Carney Lansford.

There's really no need for him to be on this blog. His Diamond King is quite nice actually, and his athletic stance only enhances its magic. But I don't like Carney Lansford, so fuck em'.

I have no reason to dislike Carney Lansford. By all accounts, he had a fine career and seems to be an affable fellow. You kind of have to be with that mustache. It's the mustache that says, "hey, I'm not a porn star or pedophile, I'm just a goofy guy." Lansford played for the Athletics, which only exacerbates the confusion of my disgust for Lansford. They certainly aren't a rival of my beloved Chicago Cubs, but with Lansford I learned a valuable lesson at a very young age.

Sometimes, for no reason whatsoever, you're going to dislike a person strictly based on face. For me, that person was Carney Lansford. His stupid, happy-go lucky, puppy-dog face can go fuck itself. He sucks.

As for this guy...

marshall
marshall

This entire Mike Marshall visage completely defines his career. Marshall was a prominent home run slugger that hit balls 500 feet. He also struck out. A lot. And when he wasn't doing that, he was popping up Bruce Sutter splitters ten feet down the third base line and in foul territory. Which if you look closely, is what he seems to be doing here.

"Shit. Looks like I got under that one. I can't believe I stranded another runner at third with less than two outs. Lasorda is gonna be pissed."

Moreover, this Diamond King really does get the worst tag because of the size of Marshall's melon in said portrait. Calling Marshall's head a bucket-head doesn't do it justice. You need TWO Diamond Kings to fully encompass that thing. He's like a human bobble-head with Sesame Street Burt's eyebrows to boot.

1986.

Mustache Count: 14 mustaches total.

WORST DIAMOND KING: JERRY KOOSMAN

koosman
koosman

Once again, Perez was fairly perfect this year. The selection of Koosman has virtually nothing to do with the artwork, but rather, the absolute abomination that occurred when Koosman was selected as a Diamond King. Kossman must have been sleeping around with some high-up Donruss execs to get this beautiful painting commissioned.

Koosman was 6-4 the year before, with a 4.62 ERA. Hardly mind-boggling statistics for a starting pitcher, and certainly not Diamond King worthy. Remember, the King selection was supposed to go to the previous year's best player, or at the least its most influential. Koosman? I'm pretty certain the Phillies' ball boys had more to do with their sub-.500 record than Koosman did.

Look, I understand that you don't want to put the billowing hair of Mike Schmidt on every year of the Phillies' Diamond Kings, there just aren't enough shades of brown and light brown in the painting palette. But come on. Even Ozzie Virgil had more of an impact than Koosman did that year. And what if you're Kevin Gross? That guy must be sitting in the suburbs of Philly plotting unheard of revenge on Koosman. Gross was also a starting pitcher on that staff, only he went 15-13 with a 3.41 ERA. You know, he ACTUALLY MADE A DIFFERENCE. Koosman couldn't hold Kevin Gross's jock, yet he gets immortalized and Gross doesn't. Just a horrible stain on the legacy of Diamond Kings everywhere...

1987.

Mustache Count: 8 mustaches total.

WORST DIAMOND KING: KEVIN MCREYNOLDS

KMcreynolds
KMcreynolds

McReynolds. Or as I like to call him, Zoolander. The arched eyebrow. The perfectly coiffed hair. The widow's peak that suggests just a hint of Count Chocula. Even his hat looks like an accessory here. McReynolds was spray tan before spray tan, and this image exemplifies that. If his parents saw this Diamond King first, they would have named him Blair or Hayden. Certainly not Kevin. Kevin is far too rugged for the crystal blue eyes and smoldering stare of Kevin McReynolds. Honestly, the artwork looks like it was airbrushed and photoshopped... even though it's... you know, art. McReynolds was the athlete's version of James Spader.

Kevin McReynolds. You're probably a nice guy, but if this Diamond King has anything to say about you, it's this... You're an asshole.

1988.

Mustache Count: 8 mustaches total.

WORST DIAMOND KING: TIE (KAL DANIELS AND IVAN CALDERON)

I'm going to put these two back to back first before explaining why they're hilarious.

KDaniels
KDaniels
ICalderon
ICalderon

Shockingly, Daniels totally deserved the Diamond King selection as he had a helluva year. Look at this stat line...

In just 430 plate appearances, Daniels hit .334 with 26 HR and 64 RBI. He also stole 26 bases. In today's day and age, with those numbers, he'd have a huge multi-year contract to look forward to. Instead, he flipped a coin with Reds' owner Marge Schott over a $25,000 pay raise and won (true story). So what makes this and Calderon's inclusion so bad?

They look totally and utterly confused, as if they have no idea what the fuck they're looking at. Making matters worse, both of their backgrounds serve to enhance the state of madness going on in their head.

"Me? A Diamond King? What is that? And what are these lightning bolts coming out of my head. Are they my thoughts? Damn."

Daniels looks lost, while Calderon just looks scared.

I can't speak for Daniels, but Calderon might still be recovering from the shock that he hit 28 home runs the year before. He'd never get that close again, having successive years of 14, 14,14, and 19.

The confusion twins are two of my favorite paintings from this era.

1989.

Mustache Count: 15 mustaches total.

WORST DIAMOND KING: CHRIS SABO

CSabo
CSabo

It's fitting that Sabo wins the worst Diamond King of 1989 just as the decade was coming to an end. It's also ironic that Sabo made it onto my list, especially in the year which featured the most mustachioed ball players bearing Diamond Kings.

Sabo was a gimmick before he even stepped onto the field. That doesn't mean he wasn't good or deserving. It only means that he was the harbinger for what was to come.

Sabo and his flashy rec-specs were a brand before there was branding. Sabo could have hit .244 (he did years later), and he still would have been a star. The glasses alone guaranteed it, which is why it makes his diamond king the worst of 1989. It signaled a new era.

The mustache count would drop, as would the innocence of what the Diamond King would represent.

Just one year later, in 1990, we'd get this...

JDeshaies
JDeshaies

Look at that. Look at what Diamond Kings had become. The 90's signaled a new era of Donruss Diamond Kings, and Jim Deshaies might as well have been the poster boy.

Never in the existence of modern-day baseball has there been a more boring face than Jim Deshaies'. He not only looks like a high school science teacher, but he throws like one. That form is pathetic. Yes, he had solid statistics the year before. But this Diamond King epitomizes what was happening at the time.

With it's Heathcliffe Huxtable Cosby Show sweater background and red-version of David Robinson pump Nike shoes bordering that, we became a society of flash and arrogance. It's things like this that led to The Decision by Lebron James.

Whoever thought these wild and wacky patterns would be aesthetically pleasing must have also thought Limp Bizkit was a good idea.

Before there was Ed Hardy, there was the 1990 Donruss Diamond Kings.

A few years later, Donruss would effectively destroy the warmth of Dick Perez Diamond Kings by going to tasteless watercolors that made it difficult to discern between BJ Surhoff and Cal Ripken.

The edgy originality of Donruss was now extracted. Diamond Kings, once rich with darkness and light, had ceased to exist. Where once Diamond Kings had seemed like The Empire Strikes Back, they now had become The Phantom Menace.

I looked in the mirror.

I had grown up.

For a complete gallery of ALL DICK PEREZ DIAMOND KINGS, go here. They're magnificent, and I hope this blog brought back the fond memories of collecting baseball cards for you as much as it did for me.

Happy fourth of July

How one act made me completely rethink Barry Bonds.

We often place public figures of note into categories of hero and villain, even if we're unaware of it.

When we like a musician, sports star, or political figure; we tend to look the other way when they do something that rubs us the wrong way. Conversely, we bellow out about their greatness when they do something good. For an example, no one better describes this internal dilemma within me than Michael Jordan. Being from the suburbs of Chicago, Michael was God. And yet, as I get older, I find myself ruffled by who Michael Jordan is a person. Quite frankly, I don't like him very much. Now, obviously, I don't know him. But I do know that I thought his Hall of Fame induction speech was disgusting. It made me question whether I loved Michael simply because he was incredible at shooting a small ball through a cylindrical hoop. If that was the case, who cares. It's just a game.

The point is, it's much easier to love someone blindly or loathe them unreasonably than it is to look deeper into the makeup of someone and accept all the flaws and beauty that person has. We are drawn to conclusions because it represents our opinion and where we stand on certain issues of importance. But like ourselves, it's never that easy with any human being, including superstars.

Barry Bonds has been called every name in the book. To say he is maligned is an understatement. There are so many stories out there about Bonds that it's difficult to grasp where the truth begins. However, one thing is abundantly clear: Bonds isn't particularly liked. It's not just the 'ahem' alleged steroid use, it's often Bonds himself. He's been called grumpy, misanthropic, and surly. And those are the nice adjectives.

He is hated by many baseball fans and sportwriters across the country.

Personally, I've always had an indifference to Bonds. I certainly do not hate the man. But I don't exactly like him either. He's just always kind of been there. Sometimes I'd read about the behavior of Bonds toward his teammates and I'd roll my eyes. I didn't get too worked up over it because in Chicago, we had our own egomaniac slugger to deal with (Sammy Sosa). Certainly, Bonds' had some personal issues I bristled at. That being said, there were times I thought Bonds had a candor that was unique. When he did speak to the press, his emotions brimmed to the surface without the usual baseball Bull Durham-esque double-talk. I found those times, when Barry was most human, to be most intriguing of all. Sometimes he acted like a baby, pointing fingers at everyone but himself. Other times he seemed right on point with his assessment of the media and how their opinion controls so much of one's public perception. When Barry was vulnerable, he seemed human. For a man who hit an insane amount of home runs, acting anything but super-human was a revelation.

Despite this, at the end of the day, I didn't think much of Barry Bonds. Put it this way, I certainly wasn't cheering for the guy.

But yesterday I read a story that absolutely baffled me. It totally and utterly made me once again re-think my natural tendencies to 'like' or 'unlike' an athlete with such black and white opposing lines.

By now, you've heard the tragic story of the beating of Bryan Stow. A Giants fan that attended opening day at Dodger stadium this season, Stow was viciously attacked outside the stadium by two Dodger fans. Stow remains in a coma to this day. It was a senseless beating that leaves you pondering questions of who we are as a society that this happens over a silly baseball game.

Because, as much as I love baseball, it is a game. It's meant to be fun. A distraction to those of us plugging away in the real world. Time spent at a ball field can erase all the problems in our minds, if only for a few hours.

Which brings me back to Bonds. Barry Bonds, the man many said had no heart, has decided to send Bryan Stow's two children to college. Barry Bonds, the linchpin for an entire steroid-infested generation, is doing so out of the kindness of his heart. Still cynical? If I've read the story correctly, Bonds made this pledge several weeks ago. He did it quietly and privately to the Stow family. So if you're thinking Bonds did it for image-building, think again. The story came out through the Stow's lawyers. Not Barry's.

Even if you still thought Bonds had some ulterior motive, it doesn't matter.

Bryan Stow's kids are going to college. And that wouldn't happen without the generosity of Barry Bonds.

I was genuinely moved upon hearing of Bonds' gift. In a sports world littered with scandal, including his own, Bonds somehow managed to show everyone who he was cannot be measured in a simple sentence. These are real people, not facebook status updates we can give a thumbs up or thumbs down to at will. It's far more complicated than that.

Bonds isn't alone. Just this week, the hero-to-many Lace Armstrong was hit with another round of steroid allegations. The amount of people claiming Armstrong used is now at least as deep as Barry's. And if it came out that Armstrong did use something, would that make what he did for cancer any less relevant? Would it diminish who he was in your eyes? You want to like Lance Armstrong. You want to not like Barry Bonds and Roger Clemens. Is it that easy to compartmentalize their actions and deem them a hero or villain?

I don't know. All I know is, it's not an easy answer.

Barry Bonds hit 762 home runs.

In my opinion, not one of those home runs mattered compared to helping Bryan Stow's kids.

Yes, it's just one single act of kindness. It certainly doesn't erase any damage Bonds did to others through his personal actions. But it does make me think that maybe there's a lot more to Barry Bonds then we know.

Either way, if he strolled up to the plate right now, I'd cheer him.

Well done Barry. Well done.

What a Dude Goes Through When His Lady Leaves For a Week...

NOTE: This really only applies to dudes who are actually IN happy and fufilling relationships. Those that are not have a whole different set of feelings. I'm thankful that's not me. The Angel recently went away for a week.

This was good. Or so I thought. I’m a bit of a paradox, as most of us our in some manner. I genuinely adore crowds and the communal happenstance of close friends. I always have. Yet, in quite the quizzical manner, I often prefer to be totally alone with nothing but the hum of refridgerated silence. You might assume I have a problem with intimacy, as if my emotions are closed off from all those around me. But that couldn’t be farther from the truth, as I often go to great lengths to opening myself up to the depths of another person.

Perhaps my yearning for solitary is derived from the years spent writing words on blank pages that no one will ever see. If nothing else, a writer’s life is conducive to loneliness. There has been numerous occasions where I crack the code of some difficult storytelling element, only to turn and share it with no one but an empty room… unless of course you count the various action figures lining my walls.

Wow, that sounded far weirder than I thought. Regardless, below is a brief account of some of the things dudes do when their significant other goes away…

First and foremost, you relish that first day in a quiet house. The Angel, I, and her sister all work primarily from home. There is no quiet. There is no ‘alone time’. We have to announce when we need the bathroom for an extended period of time. It can be awkward.

The first day The Angel was gone was met with unadulterated excitement. You clap your hands, rub them greedily like a fly, and make buffoonish comments about ‘cats being away and mice playing’.

Immediately, you send texts to fellow male friends that are the opposite of subtle. You want to drink, and there is no polite or adult way of putting it. It’s not a question; it’s a call to arms. Yes, I’m aware of how this totally opposes this previous written blog.

An hour later, the idea of watching Sportscenter with a bottle of wine is far more appealing than actually getting up and going out. Believe it or not, you relish watching Pirates/Astros highlights, even though you could not care less about either the Astros or the Pirates.

Over the next few days, your demeanor changes and you realize how lost you are without the one person you spent virtually every day with for six years.

You notice sounds in the house you don’t completely understand. They’re totally foreign, strange, and leave you wondering if someone is lurking outside. You think about aliens.

You eat Roman noodles for the first time since college. Surprisingly, they still hold up. Especially those with chicken in the title…

You feel this odd wave of emotion that can only be described as slightly melancholy. You are alone, and you realize you miss your lady. You have never missed a lady like this. It is uncomfortable.

You get angry at feeling this way, and immediately vow that tonight you will go out with the boys and drink stupid amounts of alcohol just to prove you are a man.

You realize that this is a silly idea and instead watch more Sportscenter. You now know more useless facts about LeBron and the Bulls that you start forming opinions on ‘rotations’ and whether or not the afternoon Sportscenter team is stronger than their evening counterparts. For the first time, you realize Kyle Korver looks like a young Tom Cruise with a Bieber haircut and a nasty long-range jumper.

You start using shampoo as bodywash.

You liked Mumford & Sons before. Now you can’t stop listening to them. You think their words were meant specifically for you in this moment.

You buy a bottle of vodka after work, only to have one drink and pass out reading Grant Morrison’s Batman and Robin: Batman Reborn. You still don’t get the Grant Morrison appeal, and you think you’re dumber for not.

One late night surfing session on the internet and it becomes crystal clear that kids are seeing things you didn’t even know existed at their age. You start to worry about your brother’s kids. The kids of your friends. The kids of your boss. The kids you don’t have.

Watching Waiting for Superman doesn’t help.

You practically say a prayer to God when the Playstation Network comes back up. You wonder if he’s online as well and whether he has acquired tier 2 armor in DCU Online or if it’s just you that sucks.

You go to collectible shows and buy nothing. There’s no explanation for this other than that your lady is not there to sheepishly nod her head when you want to buy the 12-inch Heath Ledger doll with Gotham PD prison diorama for roughly $250.

joker
joker

Too much fast food.

You have man-dates, which is what your lady calls it when you go to the movies or have lunch with a friend. The first time she said this, it was funny. Now, you want to take a lightsaber and slice off her arm if she uses that word again.

You realize you’re far more like Meatloaf than you’d like to admit.

The worse part of that revelation is that you can’t share in your Celebrity Apprentice anecdotes and opinions because no one is there to share it with.

The cat throws up a black sludge and you realize you’ll never be a good father.

Contrary to popular belief, the house isn’t messier because of her absence. In fact, it’s cleaner than usual; mostly on account of both your boredom and the need to make sure you don’t screw this up.

You have a two minute conversation with the mailman about the local town election. You do not know who won, who lost, or who the candidates were. When he leaves, you ponder looking up some information to extend the conversation the next day.

You hate Pirates/Astros highlights.

You write a blog being open and honest about your feelings in this time, and while doing so you think unknown readers are going to get the wrong idea about you. They’re going to think you’re weak. Emotional. Pathetic.

You contemplate taking jiu-jitso classes. You snap at a bigger male dude that cuts you off on the freeway and you promise to “rip their fucking head off.” When he leaves, you wish your readers saw that moment so they’d know these words off loneliness are far more surprising than they realize.

You think you’re an idiot. And not just because of your inability to grasp Grant Morrison’s appeal.

You make plans to drink tomorrow night after softball.

You curse the Angel and her secret powers.

You re-read your blog and can’t fathom why you would ever use the word ‘adore’.

You can’t wait for softball. Or the post-game drinking. By the time your hangover wears off late Wednesday evening, the Angel will be there and you’ll feel whole again.

You realize that's best of all, and so you throw your arms up and around your old friend melancholy, for you know he is here for all the right reasons. And he's only staying a little while...

munch
munch

Becoming Heathcliffe Huxtable.

“Larson. I’ll be in town next week. Maybe we can get some dinner.” This was the message I received late last week. It was a friend from another time in my life, not someone particularly close, but someone whose company I enjoy nonetheless. And although I knew I wouldn’t be able to get together with said friend, I must say that a pleasant dinner sounded fun and inviting. Then the second message came.

“Nothing crazy!!!!”

There might have been three exclamation marks. Or perhaps five. I can’t say for sure. I suppose the amount of exclamation marks is irrelevant, only that they were there.

This friend wasn’t the first to write something along these lines over the last decade. It doesn’t bother me, not in the way you’d expect at least. It only bothers me because I feel like such a letdown if we actually do hang out because I am most certainly not crazy. This is just another example of how guys like me are idiots when it comes to these types of things. That is to say, we're idiots for thinking we need to live up to an image someone has.

When it comes to hanging out, I am not crazy. I have never thought I was crazy. I don’t think that’s how people would describe me. Put it this way, I wasn’t the guy staying up until four in the morning in college. I wasn’t known for stealing mascots, getting my stomach pumped, or streaking naked.

That isn’t to say I didn’t and don’t like to have fun. I think whatever craziness I possessed was regulated to the openness of an adventure. I wasn’t doing something moronic like chugging a bottle of Rumplemintz. However, if you wanted to go to Wal-Mart in the middle of the night dressed as a gorilla just because? I was up for that. I was definitely up for that. If I could steal a line from the musician Mike Doughty, I “like to let the sunshine in.” I’m definitely game for anything involving new people and new places, and all the more better if there’s some sort of costume involved.

I find this to be nerdy, not crazy.

But these days I’m far from an adventurous guy, and so when incoming friends visit, I feel the need to morph into who I once was simply as a way of not disappointing them. It’s almost like an athlete psyching himself up to play in a big game. My motivation just isn’t there anymore.

When my pals Kendrick and Buddha came in years ago, somehow we ended up running full-speed down a seedy alley as an overweight strip-club bouncer chased us, unable to catch us due to his constant need to avoid empty plastic water bottles hurled at him like some sort of weird real-life Donkey Kong game. In hindsight, empty plastic water bottles don't seem to be much of a defense, but he never did catch us. This might be attributed to his weight. Hmmm.

If only Kendrick and Buddha knew that at that point I hadn't been to a strip club more than twice in my entire tenure in Hollywood. In fact, to this day, I've never been to Jumbo's Clown Room. NOTE: If you don't know what that is, it's an LA thing that I've been told is best seen rather than told.

I’ve become Heathcliffe Huxtable, filled with a child-like innocence that never totally goes away. If it were a question between a night boozing in Hollywood at random bars or one filled with board games and just a smidge too much wine? There’s no contest. Pass the Pinot.

cosby
cosby

I’m utterly lame. But I’m not sure how to convey this to my past friends. Their zest to go out probably has far more to do with my environment than me. Los Angeles is a tantalizing destination for those in the Midwest. I know. It seduced me like an alluring exotic woman just out of my league, but one I was still willing to talk to. I definitely had my fun when I first got here. It's impossible not to.

Now? Hollywood looks like a shiny girl that tanned too long and has far too many self-serve yogurt shops. I see the wrinkles and the incessant need to look fit and healthy, even if that couldn’t be farther from the truth.

At this age, any adventures need to be meticulously planned, especially around the prospect of a hangover. Speaking of, why didn’t any of you older dudes tell me the hangovers get longer and harder? I mean, no one spoke of this when passing along the dude Bible. I knew about the injuries and the belly fat and the graying hair… but none of you ass clowns could have mentioned the hangovers? Was this some sort of secret prank you like to play on new dudes in the not-exactly-young-anymore-dudes-club? Listen, if you’re younger than 30 and reading this, they get worse. They get bad. The stretch into the week, usually in direct correlation with the amount of drinks you had over the limit. One drink over the limit = one day of sluggishness. 2 = pain. 3 = you’re screwed for the week.

When I was younger, random spur of the moment Vegas trips happened every year. Nowadays, they need to be planned, preferably around the sleep arrangements. The bedding options become way more important than you’d have ever thought, whereas in the past a simple floor would have been adequate.

And the mention of Vegas brings me to my impending bachelor party. There are serious expectations for what is to go down, and I have to be fair that I’m just as much a part of that as anyone. I certainly like to hype it up to my friends. I did make a dossier after all, one filled with ball-busting insults about those most likely to be in bed by midnight. I did this mostly on account of my desire to make sure everyone has a fantastic time. It’s because of this that I am at fault for perpetuating the notion that getting together with me might lead to “something crazy.”

Truth is, I’m not sure I’ll be able to keep up come October. I’m old. Not old in the sense that I can’t go decently strong anymore, just old in the sense that I find myself yawning while trying to get through a simple movie on TBS.

Still, I’ll probably find a way to extract the old persona. I want the weekend to be remembered for some time, though I’m not completely sure why.

I think it’s a dude thing. We can be so moronic and absurd at times, never more so than when we’re trying to be ‘crazy’ or do ‘insane’ things. It’s like we’re trying to top other dudes and their level of craziness, as if that somehow makes us better.

Let me tell you, I’ve seen dudes in Hollywood do genuinely terrifying crazy and stupid things. I didn’t think they were cool or bad-ass. I thought they were idiots.

I am not crazy. My friends are not crazy. Pulling up to a drive-thru while wearing stormtrooper helmets is not crazy. It’s mildly amusing. At best.

It’s something Heathcliffe Huxtable would do.

And I’m content with that. Now I just need to convince the idiot dude inside me that it’s okay to be like that at all times. I don’t need to play up to anyone’s expectations. I can just be me.

Sigh… that feels best of all.

NOTE: The author would like his bachelor party companions reading this to know that they should make sure they pack a passport, some sort of mask/helmet (preferably Star Wars related), a reptile no longer than a an average human male leg, a Chinese throwing star, painkillers, one copy of the film Beastmaster, a working pager, a stuffed monkey, a pair of mesh shorts, a Sam Donaldson autograph, a shirt that you aren’t sure you can pull off, and a cool pair of shades.

You have to be prepared fellas.

Are we morphing into the Aliens from Signs?

NOTE: Not every word I say or write is meant to be taken completely seriously. Most of the time, I'm just having fun, yet still trying to retain some semblance of truth behind my ludicrous statements. With that... I love the movie Signs.

signs full
signs full

I know of many people who loathe Signs, but just as many feel the way I do. It seems to be one of those films that very clearly divides people.

One of the reasons it polarized people were the actual aliens that eventually descend upon Earth in a bid to wipe us out. And while I agree there are flaws in much of the reasoning behind their actions, I personally find them entertaining. It's a monster movie. Yes, it stars big actors in big set pieces, but at the end of the day... it's still a monster movie.

I'm a sucker for monster movies, and one of the main reasons I liked this monster movie is that I happen to love the way the aliens communicate. It's been done before, and often imitated since, but it's still awesome. The rapid clicks, clacks, and other noises make for an intriguing concept. It's fairly preposterous, but certainly plausible that these advanced life-forms speak in this manner on a regular basis. I'd love to hear their Presidential debates. Click-clack. Buzz. Nerf-spoogle. Bzzzxtl.

Signs was released in 2002, nearly a decade ago. Yes, I couldn't believe that either. It feels like yesterday. Nonetheless, it's 2011. Mel Gibson isn't exactly America's favorite edgy actor anymore. Joaquin Phoenix's last film was an interesting Andy Kauffman experiment that was daring, but not particularly well-received (though I suspect in time that may change). And M. Night Shyamalan is no longer being hailed as "the Spielberg of his generation." Though in time, I'm hopeful he will have carved out his own unique career... and eventually he'll get back into his stride.

But for me, most noticeable of all when looking at that film in comparison to today?

We, the human race, might be turning into the actual aliens from that film.

Let me explain...

A few days ago, I asked a visiting friend if he wanted something to drink. He said a soda. I asked, "would you like diet, regular, or coke zero?"

"I'll take a reg."

I'm sorry, what did he say?

"A reg. Make it two. Two regs."

It certainly was a peculiar way of ordering his drink, but nevertheless, I fetched his regular Coca-Cola Classic and went about my business.

But it stuck with me, mostly because he had said it so casually. As if this was normal. Suddenly, signs of this abbreviated language started blipping in my head everywhere. I realized that this is how we will eventually communicate. Not just a couple of words, but all of them. We won't speak in sentences. Instead, you'll ask where the bathroom is through blips, grunts, clicks, and other strange noises.

The English Language is slowly dying, destined to be a doomed relic from another time.

Think about it.

We don't call couples by their individual names. It started with 'Bennifer', but now stretches into all sorts of celebrity couples. Brangelina. TomKat.

It's individuals as well. Their last names have become irrelevant. ScarJo. Miley. Posh and Becks. Mimi. Sports stars too. ARod. CP3.

No one wants to be known by a full name, that's disgusting after all. A full name is meant for those who aren't special. Everyone wants to be a one word brand that fully encapsulates who they are (or think they are).

And while celebrity monikers like these are seemingly harmless, it's what's happening in the real world that proves this fad isn't just limited to them.

Anyone who works with twitter (including this author) knows the importance of condensing words into shorthand terms everyone universally understands. If you think LOL is the only word used to compact several words, then you probably don't spend much time on the internet.

But it's not just twitter and social networking sites like it. I'm noticing this type of communication everywhere. My friend Schnarf abbreviates at least one word for every sentence he uses. It actually became a fun inside joke at one time, as each of us would cut words down as much as possible to see if we could still comprehend one another. Ten years later, he still uses this type of communication often, and he's not alone.

I once saw a girl's headshot that listed her first name as Jeni4. No joke. That was the name on the headshot. I'm not talking about her AIM screen name. Her actual name. She claimed she was born with that name, and maybe she was, but I wasn't buying it. Even if she was, it seemed at the very least strange and slightly off-putting on a headshot. I might have called her an idiot. Turns out, I was the idiot! She was just ahead of the rest of us.

Slowly, we're moving into a place where words will be obsolete.

We are becoming the aliens from Signs.

The irony of course is that long-lost civilizations used similar short codes and signs to communicate. We thought we were progressing by elaborating on the spectrum of words you could use to describe people, places, things. What morons we were! We wasted so much time on developing an intricate system of language that now seems obsolete. The joke is on us!

And so I just want to stay ahead of the pack. From now on, I will not be Kurt Edward Larson.

Instead, I'd like to be known as Ku (double mouth click) (cat purr).

Look, a guy in this business has got to try and stay on top of trends. I can see the headlines now... Ku click click purr sells mov 2 Para. Pics 4 record $.

I'm embracing this new movement, rather than fight a losing battle.

In fact, we shouldn't stop at the written and oral language. This type of editing should be applied to everything, including what I love most... movies.

If you haven't seen Signs, don't worry. Below is the best scene, and pretty much sums up the whole plot. Don't worry about silly little things like characters and motivation... just enjoy the aliens!

Feel free to comment on this post, in regular established language or rolls of the tongue followed by whistles.

Making a Poor Decision: 1 Growing Up: 0

I am four hours away from doing something there is no way I should be doing. This is because I am a man, therefore I am an idiot.

I should rephrase as not to confuse. I love being a man. We are very clearly not always idiots. But when doing things we obviously know are not only foolish, but come with painful consequences, then there is no other term to describe us. We become idiots. The man in us becomes a simple dude, one with the pack of other dudes.

Such is the case today, where I have chosen to be a dude and not a man.

It started with a simple text message from another half-man, half-dude friend of mine named ZZ. I needed to come up with his long-term pseudonym for this blog, and I chose ZZ because my friend has a beard and I always associate beards with ZZ Top. My friend’s beard is not even remotely close to a ZZ Top-esque beard. It’s more of a close-cropped, slightly unkempt beard. Think Steve Carrell in Little Miss Sunshine. That type of beard. Definitely not ZZ Top despite that I’ve decided to call him ZZ.

zz
zz
carrell
carrell

This is just another way in which I demonstrate my ability to be an idiot.

Ahem. ZZ sent me what would seem like a harmless text earlier in the week. “We need a player to fill in for baseball, you available?”

I wasn’t sure if I was, but the prospect of shagging fly balls in the Southern California sun on a lazy Saturday was appealing to say the least. I’ve played baseball all my life, and only recently vowed that I would lose it for an indefinite period of time. This was a painful decision, although not nearly as painful as the elbow and shoulder problems I had developed and left untreated as a result of throwing 80 mph fastballs for well over a decade. Those injuries were minor compared to the lower back problems I have battled since senior year of high school.

There is no doubt these back problems are from a myriad of activities, but nothing causes a bout of excruciating pain like playing baseball. To give you some semblance of understanding, a one hour game of softball leaves me in pain for two days afterward. Softball.

Baseball was a guaranteed week of pain with the added bonus of possibly seeing my Doctor for a vicoden prescription just so I can muster enough energy throughout the day.

But one game and a few throws from the outfield were borderline in terms of should or should not, and of course I wanted to do it.

I knew ZZ didn’t need me to pitch, so I decided to go for it. Hell, I missed it. This wasn’t a terrible decision, more of a ‘not so great one’ that I could argue in favor of. I wasn’t yet a complete idiot.

Then ZZ hit me with the followup text…

“Awesome! I’m going to be gone, so they need you to catch.”

Now, at this point, I would be a moron to say yes. My back, the one that often keeps me from rising out of bed for twenty minutes in the morning, was not going to handle crouching down for inning after inning of awkward movement. Not to mention the throws down to second base. And if that wasn’t worst of all, the backstop at this particular field was a good fifteen feet away from home plate. This meant sprinting out of said crouch position every time our pitcher bounced a curveball in the dirt, with full gear on, in a futile effort to try and stop a runner from getting an extra base. Which, by the way, never happens. They always get the extra base. And yet we continue to sprint and slide, thinking maybe this time will be different.

ctacher
ctacher

I should not be catching. This isn’t a championship game. I’m not even on the team full-time. This game means nothing. I won’t remember it five, four, or even a year from now.

But... I could.

And that’s why the stupid dude portion of my brain said yes, pushing the intelligent and practical man portion of my brain to the side with authority. It’s probably also how I came up with ZZ for my friend’s pseudonym.

Yes, one of the primary reasons me, and other dudes of my ilk are willing to put themselves through immense pain is that it could be a game we remember. Maybe I’ll hit a home run in the clutch, or maybe I’ll throw out six runners trying to steal. I don’t know. There aren’t many scenarios that haven’t happened in my career, but you never know.

I’m not alone in this. Every competitive man I know is capable of becoming a dude when faced with a similar choice. My cousin, the War Machine, does this every week. He plays basketball Monday nights. Not such a big deal, only that he comes to softball on Tuesdays with more patched up parts than Iron Man after battling Ultron all weekend while being slightly intoxicated. My cousin limps (hamstrings), throws rainbows from the outfield (elbow and shoulder), and awkwardly slides (ankles and knees) nearly every week. We beg him to let us give him a courtesy runner and he refuses. Because he’s a dude.

Remember, dudes are idiots.

Dudes need to relive their youthful glory, if only it resides in their mind. They need this, because we are all afraid of growing old as men. We’ll fight to play more games during the week, whether it be golf or pickup basketball. If our girlfriends, wives, or fiancées plead otherwise? We’ll still resort to being a dude.

There will come a time when we can’t physically play the sports we wish. Where it’s not annoying pain we’ll have to deal with, but potential life-threatening injury.

I should not be catching today. It’s ridiculous, unneeded, and stupid. But the dude in me says it has to be done... and so I go.

I’ll probably come home with thoughts of joining the team full-time in the Fall, and The Angel will have to aid me in putting on socks tomorrow morning, a result of not being able to bend down.

But I'm still going. What can I say, growing up can be overrated sometimes.

The Endangered Species Known as the Male Mentor.

As I journey down this new path of life, one filled with personal and professional decisions I’m expected to make, I find myself longing for someone to go to. Specifically, I wish I had a mentor.

lukeobie
lukeobie

Fathers and brothers will always have their place in men’s hearts for guidance, but a mentor is something altogether different. In theory, a mentor shouldn’t be too difficult to find. People love to give advice, especially men. In some ways, we have some strange notion that we’re passing along all of our wisdom. In truth, we probably are and the whole concept isn't so strange after all.

Yet I look around, with much ambition and confusion in my heart, and find no one. It’s an empty feeling, and I wondered if I was alone in this desire.

So I polled roughly a dozen men that I consider thoughtful, intelligent, and introspective. In order to keep some sort of semblance to my completely non-scientific poll, I asked men of differing backgrounds, rather than just the creative circles I usually find myself confined to. These men were all between the ages of 28-45, and I put it to them simply (mostly out of fear of looking lame).

“Do you have a mentor? A simple yes or no will suffice, but if you wish to elaborate on how a mentor has or has not affected your life, please feel free…”

I fully expected to get one word answers. Instead, I got many carefully considered answers from almost all the men. It was quickly obvious that my question had unearthed some serious conflicts within these men of integrity.

One thing was clear, I was not alone. Most of the men didn’t have mentors, and those that did extolled on the virtues of that relationship. It was something they cherished and were incredibly thankful for. This only added to my desire to have a mentor, even though at this age it’s most likely impossible.

This is in some ways, part of the problem. The age. By the age of 30, society expects us to be men. To be A MAN. Whatever that means exactly. And in our never-ending efforts to either prove our Fathers wrong or right about their convictions concerning us, we lose focus on what it means to be a man.

Many men think asking for advice or guidance is a sign of weakness. The fact that it’s probably the absolute opposite doesn’t occur to us. We’re doing busy trying to be A MAN, and do manly things. Part of being A MAN is the ability to make decisions without the aid of others. For reference sake, use driving directions as an example. See my point…

It isn’t to say that the absence of a mentor is all negative. Indeed, I agreed with several men who said that specifically not having a mentor led them to increased knowledge on all matters in life. They were forced to make decisions on their own through an endless trial and error period. I personally have felt this as well. But, like every man that made it on their own, it didn’t dissuade my feelings that I do wish I had a true mentor. Everyone said the same thing.

Without certain baseball coach or acting professors, I would never have become the man I am today. Whether that’s a positive or negative thing is all a matter of perspective. Nonetheless, at some point the teachers disappeared.

Why the abundance of male mentors seems to be non-existent is beyond me. Looking back on the years, it’s so visibly evident to me how useful these relationships are to men. And quite frankly, no matter what your age, every man could use one. My brother is a fairly successful business man with a doting family and a slew of employees that report to him. He’s respected and admired. Yet I have no doubt he wishes there was someone older he could go to when life presents you with two polarizing paths to traverse. Maybe he has one, I don’t know. It’s simply one example.

In my field, it’s near-impossible due to professional envy and paranoia. Believe me, I wish I could ring up a working writer in a similar field and go to them for advice. But I know that’s highly unlikely, if for nothing else than I’ve been down that road before. When I first started writing screenplays, I had a few friendships I might have considered akin to a mentor-student relationship. I had a lot of heart, but structure and format were not my allies in writing. These men had written for years, though with the same results as I had. Namely, still aspiring rather than not. As I worked on my craft, I got better and eventually received some recognition within the industry. When that happened, the dynamic of the relationship changed, much to my chagrin.

I wonder how often this occurs in other avenues of life. I suppose it all comes down to the individuals involved. I have a few younger friends in my life, and I’m always held those friendships close. I don’t know if I’m their mentor, but I sure know that I measure my advice to them with extra consideration. I take personal pride when they achieve professional feats, or simply when they become good people. Don’t misinterpret, I’m not saying that I’m guiding them in any way; only in that I may have helped.

This is another issue with developing mentor relations as you get older- many men don’t take too kindly to receiving advice from the wrong person. I certainly know that someone giving me advice on writing better damn well have a background in it. That might be incredibly narrow-minded, but I think most men feel this way.

But really, having a mentor has just as much to do with life decisions as it does career. Sure, Obi-Wan Kenobi taught Luke the ways of the force and how to become a Jedi, but he also aided Luke in understanding life’s deeper problems. Luke had to face his Father in order to become a man, and so it was that Obi-Wan gently discussed how to do so.

I know there are men of wonderful virtues who read this page, and I would urge you to help your younger cohorts reach their potential, both personally and professionally. I had a really close friend once who didn’t comprehend the few friendships I had with those 4-5 years younger then me. He used to say, “I don’t know why your friends with Junior, there’s nothing you can learn from him.” I found this not only utterly false, but sad. Because despite his statement, this close friend was a perfect example of someone who could have been a wonderful mentor to someone out there struggling to navigate all the obstacles life throws at you. Instead, he chose otherwise.

If you have a similar mindset as to this close friend, I challenge you to reconsider. I hear a lot of people talking about how lousy the world is becoming. How dreadful everyone is to each other. I certainly understand why you’d think this. But something as basic as helping out a like-minded younger individual can go a long way. Think of what you’d say to the 20 year old version of yourself, and how helpful that would have been to hear.

Because if we don’t guide and help those we see in need of it, then mentors won’t be an endangered species.

They’ll be extinct.