June 29, 2007

The End of an Era (Well, Sorta)

WELL, THERE WAS SOME SAD but not all that unsurprising news today: the NFL has officially pulled the plug on NFL Europe, its scrappy and lovable development league based on the Old Continent. Apparently the NFL was losing $30 million to $40 million per year on the thing and finally threw in the towel. After all, that money could pay the salaries of -- gosh, five or six top draft picks!

The NFL's stated reason for throwing in the towel was because it wanted to focus on promoting regular season games outside of the United States; for instance, a game between the New York Giants and the Miami Dolphins will be played in London this fall. However, I do wonder if the emergence of a new spring football league here in the U.S. might have had something to do with their decision.

NFL Europe games were worth watching because of the prospects on the teams, and because those prospects often ended up trying for slots on their sponsoring team's NFL squad. As a result, watching a few NFL Europe games made one seem uncannily smart during the NFL preseason. However, the quality of the football was -- well, pretty third-rate, to be honest. With a spring league coming on board next year, that would have undoubtedly diluted the talent pool even further, and spring-league players could easily make the move to the NFL after the season ended. But oh well. Cologne, we hardly knew ye.


IS FOOTBALL A MIRROR FOR FOREIGN RELATIONS? I ask this because I kept half an eye on the Canadian Football League game between the glorious Saskatchewan Roughriders and the Montreal Alouettes tonight.

Now, the good news is that Saskatchewan won, 16-7. But here's the strange thing about the game. There was one touchdown scored in it, and the team that pulled it off was not Montreal. In fact, Montreal didn't even score any field goals during the game. They racked up a total of -- wait for it -- three safeties and scored a rouge (one point) when a field goal try missed but went into the end zone.

But here's the real kicker. Montreal got those safeties because Saskatchewan was so deep in their own territory that they said, "You know what? We're not even going to try to punt the ball. Instead, we'll just give you two points and the ball back on your own 35 yard line. Go ahead! Try and score again! Be our guest!"

I'm sorry, but what the hell? Oh, sure, it worked, but that's not the point. The point is that this is football! There's no giving-up-two-points-because-it's-easy in football! I mean, come on. Such a strategy is almost as weak-willed as the Canadian Government's foreign policy.

PHILLY GETS A WIN: The Philadelphia Soul beat the Orlando Predators 41-26 in the first WIld Card game of the Arena Football League playoffs tonight. It was a good game to watch, particularly in the first half, when Philly and Orlando battled to a 20-20 tie. But although Philly played well, one could say that Orlando lost the game more than Philly won it. Three Predator touchdowns and an interception were erased from the board due to penalty calls -- and had those penalties not been committed, the score would have looked much different.

Posted by Benjamin Kepple at 10:24 PM | Comments (0) | TrackBack

June 28, 2007

Well, Somebody's Really in Trouble Now

SO I WAS WATCHING the Copa America soccer tourney tonight and I fell asleep in the midst of the game between Colombia and Paraguay. It started out great for the Paraguayans, who quickly established a 2-0 lead, and somewhere along the line I drifted off. Then, I awoke to a shout of "GOOOOOOOOOOOOL!" from the television and woke up to discover it was the 80th minute and lo! Paraguay had scored again.

The amazing thing was that Paraguay went on and scored two additional goals in the next eight minutes, which put the final score at 5-0. I can assure readers this was not just a defeat for Colombia, but rather a humiliating project beating of a game in which New Granada was humbled before all the other nations of South America. I mean, Christ, who would have expected Paraguay -- Paraguay, for God's sake -- to not only beat Colombia, but do so in such a stellar fashion?

Well, I certainly didn't. This is based on Kepple's Theory of International Soccer Matches, in which the projected winner of a given match between two nations is calculated based on the value of its currency unit vis-a-vis the U.S. dollar. To work, the theory requires that both nations are outside what used to be called the First World, primarily because the U.S. stinks at soccer, England always manages to screw up and lose, Europe has the euro, and over the decades inflation has crushed the Japanese yen and South Korean won. But for developing and newly-industrialized nations, this scheme actually isn't all bad, as you can see from this clever example:

For the record, the Brazilian real is worth about 50 U.S. cents and the Argentine peso is worth about 33 U.S. cents, which I would suggest bolsters the credibility of my theory significantly.

Anyway, as one might imagine, I was shocked to see Colombia go down to such an ignomious defeat at the hands of the Paraguayans. Besides, look what happened the last time Colombia really screwed up in a game. While one would hope that no one would receive a permanent red card as a result of tonight's game, there's no denying a lot of people are undoubtedly rather upset about Colombia's performance. Let's just hope that if heads roll as a result, they'll only roll figuratively.

Speaking of ass-kickings, could someone kindly explain how the U.S. team managed to give up four goals against Argentina? I mean, I can understand losing the game, because Argentina clearly outplayed the U.S. squad from the moment the game began. But we just fell apart at the end of the game and turned what should have been a 2-1 loss into a 4-1 loss. If there's any consolation to this, we get to play Colombia on July 5.

Posted by Benjamin Kepple at 10:21 PM | Comments (0) | TrackBack

June 26, 2007

So What We Have Here is a Market Inefficiency

THE BASIC LAWS OF ECONOMICS teach us that when supply equals demand, there is a wonderful place called equilibrium, in which all the wants and needs of producers and consumers are satisfied. Suppliers provide their goods and services for a reasonable price, and customers pay said reasonable price for those goods and services. Then, there is much rejoicing.

Sometimes, though, this joyous apple cart is upset and the harvest becomes endangered, particularly if a supplier, (S), holds a monopoly and an intermediary (S1), holds a near-monopoly, on providing a scarce service. Thus, even though demand among end consumers is high, the failure of the supplier and the intermediary to reach their own happy equilibrium creates an artificial shortage among end consumers. Then, there is much wailing and gnashing of teeth, and the people are cast out unto the darkness, and forced to watch ice skating competitions on television instead of a third football game on Thanksgiving.

Sadly, such a situation is apparently taking place between the Comcast cable network and the Big Ten Network television channel.

According to media reports, the BTN wants Comcast to put its channel, which will feature all manner of sporting events and other programming from the storied athletic conference, on the carrier's "basic tier," thus ensuring it will reach all Comcast subscribers. However, the BTN also wants a large sum of money per subscriber. Comcast's proposal has been to put the BTN on one of its expanded sports tiers, for which subscribers pay extra each month.

I for one am hopeful that Comcast and the BTN will come to a fully equitable solution for both sides. While I live outside the BTN's core eight-state market, I am a native of that market and would certainly be willing to pay extra to receive the BTN here in New England. By "pay extra," I mean, "I don't care what it costs." (Well, up to a point, anyway). This is because, to be perfectly blunt, collegiate football broadcasts in New England leave a lot to be desired.

I mean, my God. Loyal Rant Readers, you would not believe the college games broadcast up here. It's like a giant college football desert. I mean, on some of the smaller stations, they broadcast the Ivy League, for Pete's sake. I have nothing against the Ivy League -- after all, Harvard is the Michigan of the East -- but I've seen games broadcast where there are just a few thousand fans in the stadium. I recall one game -- it was Penn playing somebody -- where there were practically NO fans in the stands due to a giant rainstorm.

Fortunately, the marquee Big Ten games get national coverage, but as you can guess, on any given Saturday the regional and local broadcasts can be downright ridiculous. There are few things worse than clicking on the program guide and finding out that you COULD have been watching a great game, but instead must watch some wretched Regional Action featuring crappy teams in the ACC.

Said Regional Action often involves the Boston College squad, which is understandable given that I live about an hour away, but there's just one problem: I hate Boston College. And while it is fun to root against the Eagles I would rather have the chance to root against teams in the Big Ten, such as pathetic, whiny Wisconsin, which did I mention always makes sure it has an easy schedule? Plus, there are few things as fun as watching a struggling team (cough *Illinois* cough) knock a mid-tier team (such as, oh, Michigan State) right on its ass.

Simply put, the depth of the conference and the rivalries in the Big Ten -- which actually has eleven teams -- makes it the best conference for football watching television, bar none, and --

SEC FAN: Hey! Shoot, y'all can't say that! Why, Florida --
ME: Not so fast, my friend!
SEC FAN: OUCH! You -- you just hit me with a frying pan! Why, you no good damnyank--

-- right. Where was I? Oh, yes, the best conference to watch on television. You see, the Big Ten is almost always in a state of flux, not only between the top-tier teams but also among the middle tier, and as such those matchups can make for some fascinating games. This is as opposed to the ACC, unless I get to root for Wake Forest, and as opposed to the SEC, where I'm usually rooting for the defense, or some hapless team like Vanderbilt.

So, anyway, I am hopeful and confident Comcast will come to an equitable agreement with the BTN regarding the airing of the Big Ten's games, and that it can end this peculiar and unfortunate market inefficiency. However, if it doesn't work out, I'd love a side agreement ensuring a direct feed to my apartment, particularly for any late afternoon or evening games, after I get out of work.

And if it doesn't work out, well, I guess there's always 2008. Besides, it's not ALL bad -- after all, unlike some poor unfortunates, I do get the NFL Network here in New Hampshire, for which I am very grateful and for which I pay extra money every month. (I also get two soccer channels, a tennis channel, a racing channel, several college sports channels, and, among others, Bloomberg. Why Bloomberg is included in my sports package I don't know, but I guess it has to do with the fact that people who get excited about sports also probably get excited about how the Hang Seng is doing).

Posted by Benjamin Kepple at 10:16 PM | Comments (0) | TrackBack

June 24, 2007

Well, I'm Ready for Some Football

AH, SUMMER. For devotees of baseball and the beach, it is a fabulous and wonderful season. For football fans, not so much. After all, it's been MORE THAN FOUR MONTHS since Super Bowl XLI wrapped up and there are still 74 ENTIRE DAYS until the New Orleans Saints play the Indianapolis Colts in the NFL's season opener on Sept. 6. As you can see, football fans everywhere are in the midst of the Horrible Summer Drought that comes like clockwork every year.

Like many fans, I have sought out what some might call "football methadone" to get me through this trying time. There are the NFL Europe games and the arenaball leagues and -- starting this Thursday! -- broadcasts of the Canadian Football League. (Many will be broadcast on local sports stations, like NESN and the regional Comcast Sports channels -- here's a handy guide. Sadly, there's no word about Ohio, but check your local listings).

These games are a lot of fun to watch, don't get me wrong -- I really do enjoy them. But that said, they're just not the same. You see, they don't -- and they can't -- offer that incredible combination of joy and hurt that the National Football League and college football provide their fans during the fall. Consider that so far this year, my off-season teams haven't done all that well, and yet I remain fully functional and composed.

Sure, the Cologne Centurions (6-4) didn't make it to the World Bowl, and the Grand Rapids Rampage (4-12) are woefully out of playoff contention in the Arena Football League. But that's OK. (The Philadelphia Soul, at 8-8, still have a shot but it doesn't look good). And one can hope that my favorite CFL team, the Saskatchewan Roughriders, will do well this year -- but one wonders how they'll do in a tough West Division. They're 2-0 in the pre-season, but that only means they're potentially setting themselves up for Oakland Raiders Syndrome.

As for my hometown Manchester Wolves, I'm confident they'll make the playoffs in the af2 league. I'm confident because I ran across Blitz, our team's cheerful and friendly mascot, this weekend, and I asked him directly:

ME: Hey, Blitz! Are we going to make the playoffs?
BLITZ: (Ponders for a moment, then pumps fist towards ceiling)
ME: Yes -- we -- are!

Of course, it remains to be seen how the Wolves, now 5-6, will do against playoff opponents who have so far played spectacularly. For instance, our hated division rival, the Wilkes-Barre Scranton Pioneers, is 11-0. 11-0. This team is so good it's scary.

Now, one of the great things about off-season football is that you can watch it without the huge emotional commitment that comes with watching one's absolute favorite teams. I mean, when Pittsburgh gets knocked out of the playoffs, or Michigan loses to anyone, it really throws me for a loss. With my off-season teams, though, they can lose repeatedly and it doesn't have a true gut impact on my psyche.

In part, it's a question of the emotional stakes being so small. For instance, with the Wolves, I don't mind if they lose provided they play hard and play well -- going to the games and watching the guys play their hearts out is fun enough. And in part, it's a question of focus. With the Roughriders, I keep an eye on them throughout the season, but because by fall my attention is focused on the NFL and the college game, their losses aren't all that problematic.

All that said, though, I am quite hopeful that some planned football leagues will help ramp up the excitement level during the off-season -- and even during the fall too. For instance, the All-American Football League is planning to launch next spring with a ten-game season, culminating in a July 3 championship game. My home state of Michigan is slated to have a team, and the league will offer a blend of pro and college excitement. I am so there.

Also slated for a 2008 launch is the United Football League. I am less optimistic about its prospects, because it will play during the fall and "playing during the fall" usually results in "getting stomped by the NFL like a cockroach." But the folks behind it seem pretty darn clever. They'll play their games on Friday nights, when the NFL is forbidden to do so, and they're putting their teams in markets where the NFL presently isn't -- including Mexico City, which will be my team if this thing gets off the ground. I hope they can pull it off -- if only because watching a UFL game would be watching some fourth-rate college game on Friday nights.

Posted by Benjamin Kepple at 05:01 PM | Comments (0) | TrackBack

So ... I've Been Busy ...

IN ROBERT ALTMAN'S "California Split," there is a good scene where one of the main protagonists suddenly shows up following a long and unexplained absence. Wearing a giant sombrero, Charlie appears on scene outside the apartment of his good friend, Bill. Bill, who has been wondering just where exactly his friend has been, greets Charlie with a caring, heartfelt response showing just how much he has missed him:


CHARLIE: Three guesses! I'll give you this much -- my hat is a very big clue!
BILL: Why didn't you tell me you were going?! Maybe I would have liked to have gone with you ... you don't know what it's been like here!


I'd like to think -- vanity of vanities -- that Loyal Rant Readers are reacting similarly to my long and unexplained absence from the blog as of late. Sadly, I have not been in Mexico, which is a shame, because I like Mexico. Also, I had a couple of days this week where I would have given my right arm to be in the Glorious Republic. I've just been incredibly busy with work. But I'm back.

During my absence from the blog, I stumbled across a rather disturbing article which addressed a subject Rant readers know is somewhat near to my heart: the proper naming of one's children. Admittedly, I haven't any children myself, but I still am something of an expert on this topic.

As proof of my expertise, I would simply note that my commentary on this subject has been linked by no less an authority than the Dutch edition of Wikipedia. What's that? Well, so what if the page isn't in English? Everyone in Holland can read English, so it still works. Plus, my inclusion in the page's reference materials clearly shows the Dutch are God-fearing, right-thinking people who address this subject with the respect and careful thought it deserves. This stands in sharp contrast to the New Zealand couple whom I am about to castigate with furious justice and righteous anger.

According to media reports from all over the world, the Government of New Zealand has blocked -- at least temporarily -- a couple from naming their child '4real.' Yes, with the number -- '4real.' The Government's action was based on a rule forbidding parents to start children's names with a number, undoubtedly because it would screw up the Government's computer systems and lead to a real-life Catch-22-type incident in which the computers would make the little tyke eligible for benefits regardless of his other circumstances.

But the Government's action has not gone over well with Wellington residents Pat and Sheena Wheaton, the boy's parents. The Wheatons claim they chose the name once they were presented with ultrasound images of the scamp, and the boy's impending arrival hit them like a ton of bricks. Either that or they were both recovering from a downright amazing party the night before, I don't know which.

In any event, Mr Wheaton is not thrilled with the Government's actions. "For most of us," Mr Wheaton told the press, "when we try to figure out what our names mean, we have to look it up in a babies book and... there's no direct link between the meaning and the name. With this name, everyone knows what it means."

Well, there's no denying that, although I doubt Mr Wheaton has considered the meaning that would be instantly conveyed to any and all who met his son: that the boy's parents were not only cruel, but idiots besides. Hell, the boy might as well wear a giant neon sign proclaiming this state of affairs. One also doubts that Mr Wheaton has considered the boy's classmates, particularly in New Zealand's equivalent of junior high school, would be attuned to this and mock the child mercilessly throughout his formative years, leading to endless bouts of therapy and disillusionment as an adult.

If Mr and Mrs Wheaton were so truly concerned about their boy's name being meaningful, they could have made things a lot easier through giving the boy the name of an older male relative. Thus, the parents could simply tell the boy he was named after one of his grandfathers, or some great-uncle, or what not. It seems unlikely that course of action would result in a name that would be as embarrassing as '4real,' and both the boy and his parents would have had an acceptable rationale for the child's naming -- even if the boy's name was somewhat outlandish, like "Wayne" or "Harvey."

Now, it is worth noting the Government of New Zealand has not officially put the kibosh on the Wheatons' plans, but rather is "discussing" things over with the parents. This is the type of milquetoast response one would expect from New Zealand, which is so loathe to taking decisive action that it effectively scrapped its air force some time ago and won't allow nuclear power anywhere within its domain. Thus, there is the very real possibility that this ridiculous name will be accepted. Should that actually happen, I believe the following courses of action would be in order:


1. All the Kiwis who have attacked the United States for its supposed lack of culture should officially STFU.
2. New Zealand should allow our nuclear-powered ships and submarines access to its ports, provided we paint our reactors with pretty flowers and rename the power sources "eco-friendly and sustainable engines."
3. New Zealand should provide the United States with tribute for wimping out on its ANZUS treaty obligations, with said tribute to be payable in yummy, succulent lamb meat. Annual payments of 100,000 lambs seems a fair initial estimate for said tribute.


On a related note, The Rant notes disapprovingly that an Englishwoman has given her daughter a full 25 middle names -- all of which are the surnames of famous boxers. The only saving grace for such wretchedness is that the boxers' names in question are middle names, and as such can be somewhat concealed. That said, I still think it's ridiculous. Choosing a proper middle name is almost as important as choosing a proper Christian name, and it is poor form for parents to waste this on a wretched vanity.

Posted by Benjamin Kepple at 09:10 AM | Comments (0) | TrackBack

June 17, 2007

Are You Ready, Weaver?

OK, SO LAST NIGHT I went out and saw the New Hampshire Fisher Cats, Manchester's very own AA baseball team, play against the Erie Somethings-or-Other. I never did find out what Erie's nickname was, but it was Erie. For someone with Pennsylvanian roots, that's kind of all you needed to know.

Anyway, we won 5-1 after a killer 8th inning, but that's not really why I'm writing. Oh, no. The real reason I'm writing about the game is because it reached a new high (or low) in terms of meeting Kepple's Minor League Sports Promotion Yardstick, in which various in-game promotions are compared to the fake television shows in "UHF," Weird Al Yankovic's comedic masterpiece from 1989. The Yardstick's Gold Standard is none other than the infamous "Wheel of Fish" segment, viz.:

So you can imagine my shock when, during the first inning's intermission, some poor teenager was dragged out onto the field to play -- wait for it -- "Wheel of Groceries." Friends, I shit you not. There was a wheel, and they spun it, and said teenager won one of those pound-sized plastic containers filled with cookies. Yes, cookies. At this point, I was expecting Hiro-san to walk down the aisle of Section 101 carrying a box -- but instead, that was the end of the promotion, which I think all can agree was incredibly lame.

Switching gears, I may as well recap recent developments for the Manchester Wolves, Manchester's very own minor-league arena football team for which I have season tickets. I haven't blogged about this lately, due to scheduling reasons, but the long and short of it is that we're now 5-6. We won our last home game against Albany 47-35, but got beaten like a drum in last night's game against Florida. It was so bad that we got shut out in the second half. That's bad enough for regular football, but it's a special type of low for arena football.

Speaking of arenaball, I had the good fortune on my recent vacation to take in a big-league Arena Football League game. It was perhaps the best arenaball game I've ever seen. The Grand Rapids Rampage (Mich.) scored a last-second field goal to beat the Colorado Crush, 58-56. Not only was the game exciting the whole way through -- several kickoffs off the crossbar, a kickoff return for a touchdown, and so on -- I had a fourth-row seat and it was right at mid-field.

The quality of play in the AFL is noticeably better than in the af2, the development league in which the Wolves play. There were virtually no dropped passes, the kickers were more on-target and the players were more in tune with their routes and coverage. However, in terms of the experience of attending a game, the af2 is able to hang in with the teams in the senior league. Perhaps the best example of this may be found in comparing mascots.

As it happens, both Grand Rapids and Manchester have mascots named "Blitz." But as you can see, Manchester's Blitz is notably more friendly and pleasant than Grand Rapids' Blitz, a sadistic and demented-looking rhinoceros who looks as if he suffered a traumatic brain injury:

Plus, Manchester's dance team is better-looking and more accomplished than Grand Rapids' dance team, even though Grand Rapids' dancing squad wears naughtier outfits. (What's that? Yes, I know I should feel guilty for blogging that on a Sunday morning. I don't care).

However, Grand Rapids' involvement in the AFL does give it more resources. At the Rampage's next home game, according to the stadium announcer, the team was going to give away a new Ford Fusion sedan to one lucky fan. Now that's a promotion. Interestingly, that didn't have too much of an impact on the next game's attendance -- only about 5,000 fans showed up, compared to the 4,900 or so that were at the game I attended -- but I have to think that type of incentive would cause a lot of folks to show up if really marketed well. I mean, crikey, it's a new car.

One thing I wasn't too impressed with at the Rampage's game was the heavy use of indoor pyrotechnics at the beginning. As the home team took the field, each player was introduced with blasts of fire so fierce that I could feel the heat -- and I was more than 30 yards away! The home team crowd responded with plenty of cheers, but all I could think about was The Station nightclub fire and where exactly the nearest exits were. Perhaps my reaction was due to me living in New England, but I've long had the mindset that fire's not something to screw around with, even if controlled.

Posted by Benjamin Kepple at 08:37 AM | Comments (0) | TrackBack

June 14, 2007

Seen But Not Heard

WRITING IN The Telegraph of London, Janine di Giovanni has penned a sharp essay on the peculiar way in which the French raise their children -- it is, one learns, rather heavy on the rod -- and how this rather despotic parenting surprisingly pays off in the form of well-mannered children. The result, Mrs di Giovanni writes, is that French children are far more agreeable than their English and especially American counterparts, the latter group being spoiled and rotten.

While one is loathe to embrace the crueler aspects of French parenting Mrs di Giovanni recounts, I do think there's something to be said for the old adage that in public company, children are to be seen but not heard. This is made especially clear when Mrs di Giovanni recounts how a dinner party she threw was ruined when two of her guests brought along their wretched nine-year-old son, who had manners almost as appalling as his parents. Bringing a child to a dinner party uninvited -- there surely must be a special place in hell for such people! (And indeed there is! 8th circle, ninth chasm: instigators of scandal and schism).

As one might expect with such an essay, the general wretchedness of American children is accepted as if one were to state the sky is blue. I would note, however, that I myself have known several children who act contrary to that stereotype, and would like to reassure Mrs di Giovanni that proper manners are still instilled among some minors in the Colossus.

For instance, when I recently visited some dear friends of mine in California, we attended Mass at their local parish. I was stunned to see that, although their children were still but toddlers, the kids behaved impeccably throughout the entire service. They were attentive, respectful, and did not raise so much as a peep during the entire service, which lasted more than an hour.

As readers might imagine, I was -- to use the English phrase -- utterly gobsmacked at this turn of events. After all, think of all the adults who don't even try to conceal their rush to get out of Mass after receiving Communion. Plus, religion, being an adult matter at its core, can often prove incredibly dull to children. So I inquired of my friends how exactly they got their children, particularly the younger one, to behave so well. As it turned out, the boy's father had noticed that his son had been a bit restless during Sunday Mass. So he took him to morning Mass every single day until his son was trained to attend service quietly and respectfully.

There's something to be said for such discipline. Looking back on my own life, I like to think -- like to think -- that I was a reasonably well-behaved boy growing up, and I don't recall any instances where I was severely punished for misbehaving. But I do know this -- the two times when I did embarrass my parents out in public, justice was swift, relentless, and comparatively harsh. Mr and Mrs Kepple were willing to forgive minor offenses, and even quietly support me on those occasions when the stupid and clumsy hand of grade-school discipline was unfairly applied. But if I committed the ultimate sin of causing them embarrassment, I was -- to use the technical phrase -- shit out of luck. (Lesson learned: do NOT talk back to your piano teacher, because you'll be grounded for what, to a sixth-grader, seems like forever).

I can assure readers, though, that Mr and Mrs Kepple Most Certainly Did Not take me along to adult dinner parties, and on the few occasions when they entertained at home, I was generally confined to my quarters upstairs, except for that one time when I was assigned the task of operating the VCR.

I daresay that, if (when? if?) I do have children of my own, I shall endeavor to instill the same sense of discipline in them. Children, after all, are children. There are yet still places in this world where they do not belong and myriad matters about which their ears ought not hear. Plus, even in this day and age, they must still learn proper manners; it will serve them well down the road. Far better for them to learn about the adult world as time goes on than to be thrust out upon a stage where they are neither welcome nor ready.

Posted by Benjamin Kepple at 10:04 PM | Comments (0) | TrackBack

June 13, 2007

Isn't She Lovely? Isn't She Wonderful?

Oh No!
It's Time for Yet Another Edition of ...

An occasional Rant feature

AH, SUMMER. A time for romance, a time for lovers, and a time for people who really don't have a goddamn clue to perform silly searches on the Internet. Most of these people, one suspects, are men -- men lost in the wilderness of the modern American dating scene, men stumbling and fumbling for the right thing to say, men who truly and desperately want to believe that their woman truly wants and needs a set of power tools for her birthday.

Unfortunately, they've turned to The Rant for advice, which we shall designate Mistake Number One. After all, I am not exactly Casanova, and my views on these types of things are so traditional that I am useless as a dispenser of advice in this modern age. However, I am feeling a bit wistful tonight about an old relationship (it's my own damn fault) and I'm listening to Stevie Wonder, so I'm feeling -- rather rare for me -- a bit romantic tonight. Thus, I'll endeavor to impart what wisdom I can to my questioners -- the wretched, pathetic downtrodden souls who seem even more incompetent in this field than I am. Should be fun!

QUERY: my milkshake brings all the boys...what is a milkshake

ANSWER: Son, The Rant is intended for readers over 21 years of age. When you attain majority, and are able to do cool things like rent a car and buy stock, kindly return then. In the meantime, you could ask your father about this.

QUERY: i had a romantic birthday dinner

ANSWER: I spent my birthday drinking tequila. This was also fun, although I think I've had preferred the romantic birthday dinner bit, as the romantic dinner undoubtedly included, um, dessert.

QUERY: if you take the red pill pickup line ...

ANSWER: ... the girl you're trying to ask out will spend the rest of the night ignoring you. If you pursue the matter, she will give you a fake name, and eventually give you a number that, upon your call the next day, will connect you with a bad Chinese restaurant. Mentioning a "pill" in a pick-up line, you see, will undoubtedly send a signal that you're planning to slip her a Mickey Finn.

QUERY: you ll discover soon enough that karma is a bitch

ANSWER: No, I won't. Behold -- I stand like Capaneus against karma and all its works! Neither fate nor joss nor Murphy's Law will derail me from my position. (The Franchise Tax Board, maybe. Damn you, Sacramento! Damn you to hell!).

QUERY: cute people doing nothing

ANSWER: Well, I guess that sums up this fall's television lineup! Looks like I'll be watching football yet again.

QUERY: attraction of subordinate women for overachieving men

ANSWER: I can only assume this state of affairs results from the early days of evolutionary biology, when it made sense. If one assumes that women are looking for stable and successful mates who will do well in terms of providing for them and their offspring, then it stands to reason that overachieving men will have an advantage over their competition. However, I would argue the Overachievement Factor is often outweighed by more recently-developed considerations, such as the Boy, This Guy's Really a Douchebag Factor.

QUERY: usa dating relating to eharmony

ANSWER: I am skeptical of the whole "eharmony" business, primarily because I can't believe that any dating site with such annoying commercials can really be all that splendiferous.

QUERY: dating bullshit from women

ANSWER: Yeah, women can be so difficult, what with all that, "When are you going to get a job? When are you going to clean the garage? When are you going to get off your broke ass and do something with yourself?" stuff they've been sending your direction. Now get back to work!

QUERY: men who cut women down

ANSWER: This has ALWAYS aggravated me to no end, if only because it is so cruel and churlish and wretched. A real man does not cut down his woman. This is because a real man possesses minor character traits such as "self-confidence" and "ambition" and "a healthy sense of perspective." A real man does not cut down his wife or his girlfriend if he is annoyed. Instead, he does the traditional, tried-and-true thing: he works harder.

QUERY: warning signs of a unhealthy relationship when your mate doesn t accept your children

ANSWER: Well, that's a warning sign right there, isn't it? Maybe counseling would work.

QUERY: what keynes mean by in the long run we are all dead

ANSWER: (Sigh). Well, it's a bit self-explanatory, isn't it? Of course, it also refers to Keynes' argument for state intervention in the economy and the use of short-term stimuli to artificially boost an economy as opposed to long-term measures which may take too long to satisfactorily resolve a present problem.

QUERY: ex wife revenge stolen pension

ANSWER: A QDRO is not prima facie evidence of revenge, but rather an indication of your ex-spouse's contributions to family life when you were married. As such, she gets a cut of your pension. Deal with it.

QUERY: is the girl all the bad guys want qed


QUERY: per the maryland state law does an engagement ring need to be returned if the engagement is broken

ANSWER: Never mind the law, it's just proper decency to give back the ring if an engagement is broken. Keeping the ring is gauche, honorless, and wretched. It is also a sign the one-time groom may have really dodged a bullet, but that's small consolation when a man is out several thousand bucks.

QUERY: why do guys disappear and reappear?

ANSWER: As Woody Allen put it, "We need the eggs."

QUERY: the answer is yes but what i mean is no. what was the question?

ANSWER: Do you like this pastel blue leisure suit I'm going to wear to the Johnsons' dinner party, dear?

QUERY: i m going to tell you a secret madonna location

ANSWER: Oh, please don't. She bores me.

QUERY: i don t want to be your valentine

ANSWER: Well, you wouldn't be the first. But se la vie.

QUERY: stesichorus homer

ANSWER: Ah, Stesichorus! A pity more of his work hasn't survived. But you've got to love a guy who, more than two thousand years ago, wrote angry and cynical poems like this:

The story is not true.
You never sailed in the benched ships.
You never went to Troy.

QUERY: its called love sweet love its the only thing that theres just to little of

ANSWER: Well, that all depends on your point of view, doesn't it? If you ask me, there are plenty of other things of which there are too little, such as "refining capacity" and "ready cash" and "those canteen trucks with a skilled cooking staff who serve cheap Mexican food."

QUERY: men hardwired to not do the dishes

ANSWER: That's what we want you to believe.

QUERY: cleveland browns

ANSWER: Being a fan of this team definitely involves true love. Given the way they play, how could it not?

QUERY: women love assholes

ANSWER: This statement should be rendered, "Women don't love men with inferiority complexes and enough issues to clog the Hoover Dam." Get over it already.

QUERY: lauriol plaza vegetable fajita recipe

ANSWER: Aphrodisiac.

QUERY: song love sweet love is the answer in a world that is greedy

ANSWER: Actually, the answer in a world that is greedy would really be "speculation on the Hang Seng Index."

QUERY: bitter poem


Oh! The Spurs rolled on
to win against The LeBrons;
could the brooms be next?

How sad for Cleveland
suffering in its malaise;
could they win just one?

QUERY: why so many celebrities are dangerously thin?

ANSWER: They're not like normal people. No, really, they're not like normal people -- they're manufactured in a Van Nuys warehouse and programmed to only take in calories through drink and narcotics. At least, that's how I figure it.

QUERY: what does the term cherry vanilla mean?

ANSWER: "Cherry vanilla" is a marketing term which means, "The marketing people decided they had to screw up a soda which already had a distinctive flavor of its own, and instead of focusing on the core competentcy of their brand, throw out something entirely new for no apparent reason."

QUERY: kate winslet weighs

ANSWER: One hundred-and-I-don't-care. Oh, God! Kate Winslet.

QUERY: engagement ring two months salary reasonable

ANSWER: As I understand it from knowledgeable sources, the standard these days for an engagement ring is a one carat diamond; less is seen as cheap and more is seen as gaudy. Still, I don't think you could go wrong if you spent two months' salary, provided you held to that tenet. You could undoubtedly have a very nice ring designed.

QUERY: unlucky date

ANSWER: Having an unlucky date isn't as bad as one might think; after all, it means that unlucky happenstances will almost certainly overshadow your own mistakes.

QUERY: plan hippie wedding

ANSWER: You have so come to the wrong site.

QUERY: reasons to date a journalist

ANSWER: We're fun at house parties! Also, we know where the good bars are.

QUERY: she said shed like to score some reefer and a forty shell never know that im the best that shell never have

ANSWER: If you listen carefully you can hear the world's smallest violin playing JUST FOR YOU right now!

QUERY: casa carino weddings san miguel de allende

ANSWER: This is a great idea, particularly if you're not the one paying for it. After all, the place runs ten grand a week. But I've seen pictures and it definitely seems like a great place for a wedding.

QUERY: college students and young people tend to use the tu form

ANSWER: Yes, and it's appalling. Never, ever, ever use the tu form unless you're absolutely sure you may do so. About the only people I would use the tu form with are my brother and my close friends -- certainly not my parents and certainly not anyone I had just met.

QUERY: is beauty manufactured?

ANSWER: To the tune of billions upon billions of dollars each year, my friend.

QUERY: reduce man breasts

ANSWER: It's called the gym. You might want to consider this.

QUERY: statistic on money involved on plastic surgery on adolscents

ANSWER: Why any doctor would perform plastic surgery on an adolescent is beyond me. After all, they're adolescents. It stands to reason that they're not fully grown and as such the surgery carries far more risk than with an adult.

QUERY: call me later

ANSWER: I approve! You can call me in New Hampshire at HAmilton 530 ^#^@%^ -- ah, stupid keyboard!

QUERY: i hate peyton manning

ANSWER: You'll make an excellent spouse and parent someday.

QUERY: she tells him she must to go out for the evening he knows where shes going shes heading for the cheating side of town

ANSWER: I've written about this before, but I must again ask: what exactly defines the "cheating side of town?" Anyone? I mean, last time I checked, marital perfidy was not restricted to a particular social class or geographic area within a municipality.

QUERY: popular rappers seventies

ANSWER: Hotel! Motel! Hol-i-day Inn!

QUERY: women love brooding men

ANSWER: Uh, not in my experience. I mean, last time I checked the whole down-on-the-world, angry and embittered, suffering from terminal ennui bit didn't make for a fun date. My God, just imagine it:

WOMAN: Gee, this Thai place really looks good, don't you think?
MAN: Oh, what's the use! Everything is transitory and fleeting! And where's my goddamn vodka?

QUERY: puritan kill the spider

ANSWER: The proper and well-bred man must be prepared to kill the spider, even at three in the morning.

QUERY: do clothes make the man or woman

ANSWER: Not generally. If you're like me, the right woman looks sexy in anything she's wearing. But that said, it's important to look good if you're going out on a nice date.

QUERY: ways to impress a female friend

ANSWER: Oh, just be yourself. If she's your friend you don't have to go out of your way to be flashy and impressive.

QUERY: britney spears a good role model?


QUERY: why do men loosen their ties

ANSWER: Say, it's getting hot in here, isn't it? Yes, yes it is. Very hot indeed.

QUERY: what type of woman is a biker attracted to

ANSWER: How the hell should I know? Not only am I not a biker -- as if one couldn't tell -- I've never even ridden a motorcycle, machines which I consider dangerous and annoying. Trust me, when you're in a hospital intensive care unit, and the guy next to you has road rash and is screaming because asphalt has burned into his legs, this impression tends to stick.

QUERY: pecunia non olet means

ANSWER: "Money doesn't stink." Which it doesn't, even if the person with it happens to give off a foul stench.

QUERY: the moneychanger and his wife is located

ANSWER: I have no idea, but God! Quentin Metsys was a fabulous painter, wasn't he?

QUERY: bathing in custard

ANSWER: Barry and LeVon, where did you get two hundred and forty dollars?

QUERY: spendthrift engagement ring can t make girlfriend happy

ANSWER: Well, that's not a good thing, and it suggests your girlfriend has issues that run deeper than those related to the ring in question. I wish you the best of luck in dealing with those in your relationship.

QUERY: wedding registry and upper middle class

ANSWER: You'll want to choose places that put an emphasis on words like "premium" and "hand-crafted" and "imported from Europe." I suggest Pier One, Restoration Hardware, and Williams-Sonoma. Make sure you include all sorts of upper-middle-class items on the registry, too -- things like a bread machine and a special coffee maker and a cookery set doomed to infrequent use. After all, you want to send a message to your guests: that you're upper-middle-class and you've arrived, dammit. So don't ask for a functional cookery set -- ask for things like a clay tagine dish that will be used all of three times and later consigned to a moving box labeled "SUPPLIES" that stays forever in the basement.

Well, that's it for this edition of Your Search Engine Queries Answered! Tune in next time when we deal with various Mysteries of Life, such as why it's apparently impossible to hire decent customer service help these days and why otherwise intelligent people keep buying gold in outrageous proportion to their overall portfolio. Until then, take it easy!

Posted by Benjamin Kepple at 11:31 PM | Comments (0) | TrackBack

June 11, 2007

Quote of the Day

"I WAS REALLY expecting the series to conclude with Tony waking up next to Bob Newhart."

-- commenter YL Hollander
"Solving the Sopranos"
The New York Times

UPDATE: Mr Hollander wasn't alone!

"I still think it will end with Tony waking up next to Susanne Pleshette. And then he goes into his real job, which is psychiatry."

-- James Lileks

Now that was a finale.

Posted by Benjamin Kepple at 09:47 PM | Comments (0) | TrackBack

"What the Hell is an Aluminum Falcon?!"

VIA ROBOT CHICKEN -- here's what REALLY happened after the Rebels destroyed the Death Star in "Star Wars" ...

Posted by Benjamin Kepple at 04:15 PM | Comments (0) | TrackBack

You Stay Classy, Tyler, Texas!

FOR THE COMMITTED CRITIC, examples of wretchedness in local television news broadcasts are legion. There's the relentless hook-and-hold format that hypes stories that inevitably fail to live up to their billing, the blatant promotion of shows affiliated with the station's network, and the awful cutesy soft-news stories that wrap up with cute banter between the news presenters. Yet one television station in Tyler, Texas, is really pushing the envelope. According to The Hollywood Reporter, CBS affiliated KTYX-TV will have a swimsuit model anchor their daily 5 p.m. news broadcast, and the model will star in a reality television show focused on her experiences working for the station. This reality show, as one might well expect, will be broadcast on the Fox network.

There's plenty of outrage to express here. But before that, let's examine the Web site of the swimsuit model in question, Ms Lauren Jones. Go ahead and click on the link -- there are racy pictures! Hooray racy pictures! OK, now that my blatant attempt to drive up my Web traffic is over, let's get back to the whole outrage part.

It would be one thing if Ms Jones was brought in solely as a presenter. After all, a presenter simply reads the news, and when one gets down to brass tacks there is really no difference as to who does the reading. Others generally write the copy and report the stories and so on, so it really doesn't matter who does the presenting as long as they have a bit of gravitas. But to bring Ms Jones in as a reporter is another matter entirely.

After all, the simple fact that Ms Jones is playing as a reporter will likely prompt at least some sources out there to question whether they should take part in interviews with her, or others at the station. After all, people generally take the news seriously, and sources might well think twice about doing interviews if they feel like they're bait for some cheap reality television program. Broadcast reporters have it tough enough already without having their work turned into blatant infotainment -- and Fox has claimed KTYX-TV's newsroom believes taking part in the show was a giant mistake.

It will be interesting to see how Ms Jones is received at KTYX-TV and among her journalist peers in Tyler. Generally speaking, reporters don't like it when outsiders intrude on their territory for a lark. I should make clear I'm not talking about bloggers, whom any journalist will (or should) freely admit are useful, but rather celebrity-types. Look at what happened to Drew Barrymore when she interviewed Wesley Clark a while back on Clark's campaign bus. All the pool reporters on the bus, who were actually trying to do real work, were infuriated that an actress was soaking up their interview time, goddammit.

Plus, there's also the concern that broadcast news is already in enough trouble and this show won't help matters among a skeptical public. As the Hollywood Reporter reported:

Barbara Cochran, executive director of the Radio-TV News Directors Assn., said that among her concerns is viewers will get a distorted picture of what goes on in a newsroom.

"At a time when journalists are getting a lot of criticism, it's going to present a picture that doesn't show the hard work and deep thought that goes on in every newsroom," Cochran said.

Deep thought? In local broadcast? Oh, I shouldn't kid, I know -- but it's hard to imagine a lot of deep thought goes into all those human-interest stories about three-legged dogs named Lucky and minor health scares and the Continuing Exploits of the Consumer Affairs Team. It will, though, be interesting to see how this all works out -- even if it makes one pine for the good old days of broadcast news:

Posted by Benjamin Kepple at 02:37 PM | Comments (0) | TrackBack

June 07, 2007

They're All Going to Jail! (Perhaps, Anyway)

WELL NOW. This is interesting. Clearly Los Angeles County Superior Court Judge Michael T. Sauer, as I have said before, should be considered for higher judicial office and held up as a shining example of what the judiciary does right.

Posted by Benjamin Kepple at 09:31 PM | Comments (0) | TrackBack

Crocodiles and Lions and Buffalo, Oh My

THIS VIDEO IS SOMEWHAT DISTURBING. It's about eight minutes long, but worth watching in its entirety. Quite frankly, the reaction of the buffalo in this nature film somewhat disturbs me. If they were able to coordinate such actions so quickly, what else might they be up to?

Posted by Benjamin Kepple at 09:09 PM | Comments (0) | TrackBack

An Open Letter to the Authorities in Los Angeles

DEAR SIRS: It has recently come to my attention that the Los Angeles County Sheriff's Department, which operates the Century Regional Detention Center, has released drink-driving convict Paris Hilton from jail and ordered her to instead serve 40-some days of house arrest. This was, for all intents and purposes, a roughly 90 percent decrease in the severity of her sentence, which had originally called for 45 days incarceration.

As I understand it, this decision was made on medical grounds, even though the Department surely has adequate resources at hand for treating physical and psychological ailments in its jail infirmaries. To me, this effective commutation of Ms Hilton's sentence represents an unseemly miscarriage of justice. After all, when the authorities in Los Angeles issued me several speeding tickets and other moving violations, I did not get a 90 percent reduction in my sentences, but was forced to pay the fines in full on pain of really nasty penalties.

As such, I am writing to see if I can get a refund on the roughly 90 percent of the estimated $1,000 I paid over the years for various moving violations, including but not limited to: throwing a cigarette out of my car window ($300), speeding along the San Bernardino Freeway (roughly $200), speeding along the I-15 (ditto), making an illegal right turn during rush hour, when such turn was forbidden (a whole bunch of money), and not having my front license plate properly displayed ($10). I believe that given the treatment merited to Ms Hilton, this request is perfectly reasonable and just.

Many citizens have complained that Ms Hilton's treatment is indicative of a double standard that exists between the prosperous, well-connected elite and the hoi polloi. Sadly, I must agree with these complaints. It's not fair that a hardworking, taxpaying citizen such as myself should be forced to pay my speeding fines in full, while this classless, indolent, wretched parvenu is allowed to run amok despite having committed far more serious offenses. True justice may only be served when these idle miscreants are forced to serve the same tough sentences as their counterparts in the professional realm.

Knowing your commitment to equal justice for all men, I would thus beseech you to speedily cut me a check as soon as you may possibly do so. You may send it to the following address:

Benjamin Kepple
Chief Executive
Benjamin Kepple's Daily Rant Inc.
Attn: Executive Accounts Receivable
952-B Front St.
Hamilton, BERMUDA HM 12

I thank you for your time and attention in this matter.


Benjamin Kepple
(formerly of Los Angeles, Calif.)

Posted by Benjamin Kepple at 07:59 PM | Comments (0) | TrackBack

June 06, 2007

It's Sonic Good

WHITEVILLE, N.C., June 1 -- Well, for the first time, I was able to stop in at a Sonic drive-through restaurant on my trip through the South. I have to say I was impressed with the service, the food, and pretty much everything else about the place. For a fast-food restaurant, it wasn't bad. My only complaint is that I was alone when I ate there. It would have been a lot more fun if, say, Simon From Jersey had been along for the ride:

ME: It's so filling it's like a feast for breakfast. A break-feast!
ME: Yeah! A break-FEAST!

As it turns out, some of the commercials are on-line -- but for some reason one can't embed them in one's blog, which is weird. Plus, they don't have some of the best ones up, like the "break-feast" commercial. But still, here are several of them for your viewing pleasure.

Posted by Benjamin Kepple at 08:45 PM | Comments (0) | TrackBack

Britain is Lost

IN 1912, THE SUN NEVER SET on the British Empire, which had achieved such economic and military power that even the least of its citizens could go abroad and potentially make their fortunes. In 2012, London will host the Olympic Games, which have the potential to spotlight the modern nation's significant cultural charms. Clearly the best way to do so was with this logo:

What's that? No, I didn't try my hand at the Windows paint program. That's the real, honest-to-God logo. The organizers paid £400,000 to have it created. What's that? Yes, I know I could have done better for roughly £40, which by my calculations would have secured my skills for roughly three hours of work in front of a computer screen. But there you have it: the official logo for the 2012 Olympic Games in London. The organizers say it's bold! It's edgy! It's flexible!

It's so bold and edgy and flexible, in fact, that a film version caused seizures in epileptics. This might have troubled the average man on the street but the organizers, despite having been warned about the matter, apparently took Walter Duranty's view that one can't make an omelette without breaking a few eggs.

How these Olympic organizers, and their consultants, ever got in charge of anything is downright incredible. Any rational adult can plainly see the logo is godawfully wretched and hideous, the type of decoration that human-rights experts would scream about were it displayed in Guantanamo Bay. That £400,000 was spent on designing the pathetic thing only adds insult to injury. True, it was paid for with private donations, but can you imagine if you had thrown in a few quid for the project and found out this was the result? You'd be furious, and rightfully so. Here you have the potential for a glorious, traditional symbol showcasing all that is good about London, and you get a logo that reminds visitors of the "artwork" drunken yobs spray-paint on private property in the wee small hours of the morning.

If there is any good news about this, it is that the complaints have come fast and furious. Many people have complained the logo looks like a swastika. Others have said it looks like collapsing buildings. Others have taken a more light-hearted view of the matter, remarking that it looks like a collapsing house of cards -- or, in an assessment I must unfortunately agree with, that it looks like ... uh ... well, that is to say ... er ... like the performance of a particular indecent act.

You know, I don't know what type of message London is hoping to send regarding the 2012 Olympics, but I have a feeling this wasn't the one organizers had hoped to get across.

Posted by Benjamin Kepple at 07:50 PM | Comments (1) | TrackBack


MY GREAT-GRANDFATHER was issued this draft card on April 27, 1942, as part of the fourth wave of draft registrations during World War II. While he was not liable for military service -- that was restricted to those under 45 years of age -- the Government required all men aged between 18 and 65 to register for the draft.

These days, of course, there is no draft. In the unlikely event conscription would resume, only those men under the age of 27 would even be considered for military service. So one can deduce, therefore, that things were looking rather bleak in April of 1942 -- when Nazi Germany and Imperial Japan were at the height of their cruel power. I do wonder whether people living during those dark days could have imagined that, just a couple of years later -- and 63 years ago today -- the Allies would launch the greatest military operation of all time.

Posted by Benjamin Kepple at 06:48 PM | Comments (0) | TrackBack

June 05, 2007

Elvis Has Left the Building

MEMPHIS, Tenn., May 28 -- As Loyal Rant Readers know, The Last of the Petty Cash Tour ran through a good portion of the Southland, an area of the country which I had never before visited. As I had already made it to the Midwest on my trip, it only made sense the first stop of my southern leg would be Memphis -- home to blues music and Beale Street and most impressive of all, Graceland Mansion -- the one-time home of none other than Elvis! Presley. Well, Memphis also has this giant weird pyramid building down near the riverfront, and that was damned impressive too. But I wanted to visit Graceland for a few key reasons.

For one thing, I wanted to see who all these people were who made pilgrimages to Memphis, and thus made Graceland a huge tourist attraction. For another, I knew that Graceland had been largely preserved as it was in the mid-Seventies, when the King died on his Throne. As such, I knew Graceland could be a key link in my Grand Theory of Modern American Power, in which I argue the Seventies were a low point in modern American history, with the low point coming on July 12, 1979, the day of the Disco Sucks Riot at Comiskey Park in Chicago.

Plus, to be honest, I didn't know all that much about Elvis!

You see, in my family, the life and music of Elvis! was entirely skipped over due to generational factors. I never heard my grandparents mention Elvis!, and my parents were fans of the Beatles and the Stones. As a result, Elvis! basically got no play in the Kepple household growing up. As a result, I've never understood the rapt fascination people have with the King -- even decades after his demise.

After visiting Graceland, I still don't get it.

Oh, sure, he was a great musician and entertainer, and he made an alarming number of really bad movies. But he was just a man after all. Not that I mentioned this to the German tourist in front of me in line, who was sporting a giant Elvis! tattoo on her arm and carrying a rose to lay on Elvis!'s grave. Nor did I say anything to any of the other Elvis! fans present, who flocked to Graceland in the hundreds on this cloudless, hot day. Many of these fans -- who, in the aggregate, made New Hampshire's demography seem like the United Nations in comparison -- seemed really quite into the King and undoubtedly better appreciated the whole Elvis! experience better than me.

Graceland, you see, is all about the Elvis! experience. Not only can one tour the mansion itself, one can also experience tours of Elvis!'s classic car collection, private airplanes, and myriad other exhibits. One can also experience the myriad gift stores and souveneir shops located in the Grand Graceland Tourist Bottling Complex. In this complex, one can also experience getting nickled and dimed at every turn.

But wait, you say. Surely, Kepple, you must have expected something like that would be de rigeur at Graceland, which is after all a tourist trap of epic proportions. And indeed I did. What really got my inner cynic going, though, was the fact that at the pseudo-Fifties eatery in the Grand Graceland Waiting Area/Tourist-Dollar-Harvesting Scheme, there was a sign proclaiming NO FREE REFILLS on the soda fountain. After paying $6 to park and $9.49 for a bacon cheeseburger meal that would have appalled even the most well-dispositioned elementary schooler, this just rubbed me the wrong way.

Thus, I resolved not to buy any of the overpriced souveneirs -- did $7.99 get a visitor one or two Elvis!-themed salt-and-pepper shakers? -- available at the Graceland plaza's gift stores. After all, I had already spent $45.49 -- the ticket itself was $30 -- and I hadn't even made it into the shuttle line for the Graceland tour.

Oh, the tour. Dear. God. In. Heaven.

I should preface my remarks by saying that words cannot do justice to a tour of Graceland and its grounds. Trust me on this. There are some things that must be seen to be believed. Nevertheless, I shall endeavor to do so as best I can.

First off, Graceland is a small mansion by modern standards, or even those of the late 19th century. It was originally built as a home for a well-to-do professional and it still has that feel even now. The entryway into the home might even be considered stately and elegant in this day and age, and had a well-designed feel about it. Once one steps inside, one can see the main living room and dining room of Graceland. These rooms were actually pretty nice. The decor was certainly dated, with a late-Fifties/early-Sixties feel to it, but if one scrapped some of the awful light fixtures and the more gaudy drapes, the rooms would arguably still work well today. That says something about the power of nice neutral tones, I think.

Then, there's the rest of the house.

One of the amazing things about the Graceland tour was that, generally speaking, each room in the house got progressively more hideous as one went on. Behold the horrible kitchen, with its awful dark paneling and grim above-the-waist oven. Behold the awful Seventies-era light fixtures and wretched carpeting. Behold Elvis!'s TV room, which was reportedly done up by a professional decorator in 1974. Bedecked in yellow and blue, the TV room had an atmosphere which reminded me of the multi-purpose rooms at the YMCA when I was growing up. The dated equipment also showed that no matter how cool technology may seem at the time, something far better will supplant it a matter of years.

Then, there was the pool room.

Good God.

At least that was my reaction upon entering this foul, campy, wretched testament to Seventies-era excess. Even the other tourists remarked on how gaudy the room was. It was -- well, let's describe it like this. Let's say you took seven or eight of those Wagner power painter things, filled them up with different colors of paint, set them into the middle of the room, and then contrived things so they exploded simultaneously. The result might approximate the appalling riot of color in the decorations. But it would only be a pale imitation of the King's pool room. For just as true genius inspires great works of art, staggering badness also has the hand of man behind it.

How I wish I could explain the impact that room had on me. After that, I kind of stumbled around in a daze, mumbling, through the rest of the tour. I mean, in the room itself, the decorating overpowered everything else in it -- including the pool table. The audio recording I had with me -- recorded in a cheerfully sedate Southern voice -- told me to focus on a corner of the pool table, where a trick shot gone bad had gouged a chunk out of the felt. "Pool table?" I thought to myself. "Where the hell's a pool table in this whole mess? Oh, there it is!"

As for the famed Jungle Room -- well, as it turns out, it's not an Animal House-style love den but rather a sort of especially hideous living room. Complete with shag carpeting on the floors. And on the ceilings. Pea green shag carpeting. Plus, there's a whole bunch of godawful animal-themed furniture that Elvis! apparently picked out himself. I'd have suggested the King use a professional decorator, but look how the TV Room turned out. My God.

Generally speaking, that's about all there is to the tour of the house. Oh, there's an office room and several other rooms one tours, but for the most part, the rest of the manse is given over to Elvis! hagiography. Look, kids! Here's Elvis!'s army uniform! Here's his gold records! Here's all the checks he wrote to charity! Here's a half-eaten BLT the King ate when he played at Saugatuck in 1963! OK, well, so I made that last one up. But you get the idea.

Sadly, one does not get to see any of the upstairs on the tour. Supposedly, this is out of respect for the King's family, although I have my suspicions about this stated reason. After all, they're fine with people charging at least $25 per head to see the rest of the house. After touring Graceland, I think they can't show the upstairs because the public health authorities warned the decorations would cause blindness and insanity among the general public.

For in another exhibit at Graceland, the grand bed which Elvis! slept in during the mid-Seventies is shown off for display. It's covered in some sort of awful beige fur, while inside its Clockwork Orange-type canopy are mirrors and a dated stereo system. While staring at this, it hit me where I thought I had seen something like this before -- inside the pages of James Lileks' Interior Descecrations.

There are some sleeping hound dogs, I suspect, which are better left to lie.

Posted by Benjamin Kepple at 07:29 PM | Comments (0) | TrackBack

I'm the Guy with the Weird Voice

THERE'S NO BETTER WAY to reminisce about one's great vacation than by watching mildly embarrassing video footage of oneself. At least that's what I think, anyway. If you visit my friend Matt's site, you can see the full 27 minute video of our dinner at Lauriol Plaza, one of Washington's best Mexican restaurants. You can also see the 13 minute video of 2006's dinner at Lauriol Plaza, which was conducted along similar lines. The '06 dinner was the genesis for many of the jokes in this year's get-together.

Posted by Benjamin Kepple at 07:10 PM | Comments (0) | TrackBack

June 04, 2007

You're in Steelers Country Now, Baby! Steelers Country!

BREEZEWOOD, Pa., May 22 -- ON THE DRIVE from Washington, D.C. to Cleveland, motorists will come across Breezewood -- for decades, a sort-of tourist oasis promised land -- about halfway through their journey. Just prior to getting on the Pennsylvania Turnpike, drivers will find all the necessities they might require -- food, gasoline, perhaps a place to spend the night. Also, there's a gift store selling a huge array of Pittsburgh Steelers merchandise.

It was good to be among friends.

After a disappointing lunch in which several teenagers clad in Ohio State garb ran amok around the quick-service restaurant, the gift shop across the way stood gleaming in the midday sun as a beacon of hope. Inside, there were myriad Steelers-themed souveniers, ranging from bumper stickers (bought one) to bobblehead dolls (took a pass) to mugs (already had a set). Plus, they had those giant "You're in Steelers Country!" banners on sale for $49.95.

Suddenly, I had an idea.

After all, I live and work not in Steelers Country but in Patriots Nation, home to the New England Patriots, with their demented-looking Pat Patriot decals and their hapless division opponents and their coach who dresses like a tornado victim. As such, most of the people I know are Patriots fans. Oh, sure, there are some outliers -- like the one guy at the office who, God help him, roots for Green Bay -- but generally speaking, I'm surrounded by Patriots fans.

As it so happens, the New England Patriots will host the glorious Steelers in Foxboro on Sunday, Dec. 9, for what promises to be a stellar matchup. So, for several minutes, I seriously contemplated buying this giant banner -- six or eight feet wide -- and draping my desk with it when I left the office for that weekend. After all, what better way to loudly trumpet my Steelers loyalty? What better way to remind my colleagues that Pittsburgh is coming to town for a good, cold-weather football game and would surely stomp over their beloved Pats?

Then I realized that roughly three minutes after I left for the weekend, my Steelers banner would probably suffer some sort of accident that required its washing in the nearest men's toilet, or being burned out in the parking lot. My bright idea suddenly became a bit less bright. However, I did splurge on a minor surprise that should do the trick without causing too many issues. Unless, of course, the unthinkable happens and Pittsburgh loses in December. Then I'm in for about a month of teasing.

Posted by Benjamin Kepple at 03:32 PM | Comments (2) | TrackBack