Wednesday, November 23, 2005

Judging the Book by its Cover

Every year, we have a holiday party and through that party, we contribute to a charity. It’s both a time of celebration and giving. In the past, we’ve donated to House of Ruth, collected things for local schools, etc. It always touched the local community.

This year, we are contributing to Books for Africa.

Perhaps you are pausing right now, thinking to yourself of those commercials you see on TV all the time showing African kids. You know the ones where they are 10 years old and weigh the same amount as Karen Carpenter. Their clothes resemble old pillow cases.

Yeah, what I’m thinking is that those kids need is a good book. Seriously, I’m sure there is some validity to the organization, but really… do they need books first and foremost?

On cable networks at 5:00 AM, Sally Struthers is always showing all these malnourished children, in need of parents, vaccinations or just food. (Now let’s point out that if they just put Sally on the BBQ spit; that alone could feed a village for three days.)

But books? These are crucial for survival?

Another thought… do they read English? Perhaps, but I’m thinking that our Americanized books won’t make much sense. Do they have cell phones, TV’s or Minivans. This line was taken from The Best Christmas Pageant Ever, #19 on’s books for middles schoolers. (I was trying to avoid referencing the Harry Potters and Narnia series.) “They were playing with Leroy Herdman’s ‘Young Einstein’ chemistry set, which he stole from the hardware store.”

I don’t think African kids have chemistry sets, let alone hardware stores.

At first I thought it was just me, making a bigger deal about something than I needed to. I have a habit of doing that sometimes. Shocking, I know. But then I read the bottom line on our bulletin board, which mimics the BFA web site:

To end the book famine in Africa

Two million children have been orphaned in Africa due to AIDS. The annual income of an African family is $500.

But on a happy note, their book famine will be solved.

Tuesday, November 22, 2005

My Dream Girl

I'm the happiest man alive. I just found out that Jennifer Hudson from American Idol 3 is playing Effie in the movie version of Dreamgirls.

Unless you're gay or love the Supremes, this will probably mean nothing to you.

Monday, November 21, 2005

The Fountain of Truth

I’m in purge mode again. There are times I walk around the house, look at something and just decide that it’s doing nothing in the house. On these days, you should see how productive Larry is. Even the dogs seem to pick up after themselves.

One of the items I got rid of was this old fountain that sat in my office. I have now been regulated to a cube for the past year. Less room, but definitely a better view. Every holiday season, I watch as the Tyson’s Corner people put up their new holiday decorations. And who says jobs don’t have fringe benefits.

This fountain was way past its prime. I had not filled it with the distilled water it called for, so the rocks and fountain had quite a bit of calcification on it. It still worked mind you, it just needed a good clean up. Because of that, I decided giving it away for free was the smartest thing.

When you list something for free on Craiglist, everyone emails you saying they want the item. 75% of them will never respond again. I usually wait and settle on the folks who are the closest to my house. That way, I can just put the item on my front porch in the morning and it’s gone when I come home.

A guy named Mark had shown interest in the fountain and agreed to take it. He worked up the street and said he’d come by during the day to pick it up. Free items don’t usually bring out the brightest folks, and let me just say that Mark adequately filled that category.

After agreeing to pick it up, I told him that it would be on my front porch. He was worried about the inclement weather that was occurring this week. “I don’t want it to get wet,” he said.

“Mark, it’s a fountain. It supposed to be wet.”

He emailed back. “Oh yeah.”

An hour later, he emails. “It does still work, right?”

I sighed as I typed back. “Yes of course, I wouldn’t do all this work when there’s a trash can in my back yard. It just needs to be cleaned up.”

A few hours later, I got the confirmation of brain trust central.

“One more thing… how does it work?”

I think momentarily that maybe the combination of water and electricity is a not good idea for him.

I struggle to type a response without being insulting. “Well, you add water and plug it in.”

He seemed happy with the response because I never heard back from him. The fountain is on the front porch this morning, in the rain, waiting for it’s new owner.

I marveled at how dim his guy was not to understand how a fountain works. “What man can’t figure out the basics of water through a pump.” Then I noticed where he worked.

National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration.

Seriously, this world is scary sometimes!

Sunday, November 13, 2005

Romeo and Juliet and the Online World, According to Alex Zielske

Some things are just worth sharing even if I can't take credit for them. This was written for an English class essay by the son of one of my friends. I find it particularly brilliant. He got an A on it.


Romeo and Juliet and the Online World
According to Alex Zielske
TAG English, Hour 3

Online Chat: Verona Server- Monday May 5th

Sampson294: Whaz up?
Grego9: Not much.
Sampson294: I want to fight some Capulets!
Grego9: lol. Me 2. What a bunch of pansies.
Sampson294: Yeah, I could take them all on.
Grego9: My ass, you liar.
Sampson294: No, really, I could.

Server: [Abrahamz and BalthZsar have entered the chat]

Grego9: Don't worry, I can kick them out.
Sampson249: No, wait, this could get interesting. Look at me! I'm a Capulet! 9! heheh
Abrahamz: Do you bite your thumb at me sir? I can't really see you soo…
Sampson249: Yes, I do bite my thumb sir, but not necessarily at you sir.
Grego9: Do you play Virtual Fighters Online?
Abrahamz: No…
Sampson249: Well, If you do, I could kick your butt back to Version 1.0!
Abrahamz: Whatever thou sayst, Sammy.

Server: [Benvolio83 has entered the chat]

Benvolio83: What's up, girls?
Abrahamz: That's it, it's on! Bring it, lame-o!
Grego9: It's already brung! Been brung since the Caps and the Monties started pluckin' each others' beards.
Server: [Abrahamz has challenged Team Grego9]
Benvolio83: Cut it out! Geez, can't you 2 go 2 minutes without fighting!
Sampson249: Hah! You're almost out of hit points!

Server: [Benvolio83 has closed the duel program. Game over]

Server: [Tybalt7 has entered the chat]

Tybalt7: Hey, I want in! Time to kick some Montague butt! I got the laser upgrade for my Mech unit!
Benvolio83: For the love of Mary! Cut it out, all of you! I don't care what lasers you've got. You're not going to fight!

Server: [Team Tybalt7 has challenged Team Grego9]

Server: [PrinceCharming15 has entered the room]

PrinceCharming15: Three times you have begun fighting in a public server! That's it! No more chances! If you do this one more time, I would hate to be online when I get to you! I will shut down the Screen Names of anyone who participates in disturbing the chats again!
Tybalt7: Whatever and whatever and whatever. See ya.
Sampson249: Yeah, me too.
Benvolio83: Bout time. Thanks PrinceCharming15.
Grego9:Oh, will you get offline already!
Abrahamz: Ok, I'm out 2. It was fun, guys.
Tybalt7: Oh yeah, we won. Ha ha, losers! And don't call me "fungi."

Server: [The Verona Server Chat has shut down]

(Romeo and the gang have decided to go to the Montagues party)

Online Chat: Montague Server- Monday May 5th

Benvolio83: Yeah! Party!
Romeo24: What?
Benvolio83: Here, let me invite you into the chat.

Server:[Romeo24 has entered the chat]

Romeo24:What's up, everybody!
Benvolio83: Just talking, chillin-n-illin like a villain.
Romeo24: Yeah, not much happening here, You call Sampson about the game yet?
Juliet16: Who's Romeo24?
Romeo24: Who wants to know?
Benvolio83: Hey man, I gotta scam, my old man is yelling at me to get off the comp. See you tomorrow.

Server:[Benvolio83 has left the chat]

Juliet16: Who are you?
Romeo24: You tell first.
Juliet16: Whatever. What kind of name is Romeo? R U Cap or Monty?
Romeo24: Hey, you like poems?
Juliet16: Maybe…:
Juliet16: You got a girlfriend?
Juliet16:You want one?
Juliet16 :Gotta go, my Nurse's calling me, you know the "Go toward your books and I mean quick! Not the way your schoolboys go toward love. Get thee off, missy."
Romeo24: Yeah, I know what you mean. That one's the worst. I hope I didn't dream this.
Juliet16: lol. Me 2. Hey! I.M. me later k?
Romeo24: Yeah yeah, I will.
Juliet16: See ya!

(Romeo and Juliet have done their little romance balcony thing, and now they're off to see the Friar)

Online Site: Tuesday May 6th

Friarinthehood: You sure you want to go through with this right? NO second chances!
Romeo24: What? Of course I'm sure, err. We're sure!
Juliet16: Yeah! Let's get married!
Friarinthehood: Very well, maybe this will end that stupid fighting game that your two families are soo fond of playing. It slows down the whole darn server!
Juliet16: Marry, just marry us already!
Friarinthehood: Fine…Let's see. Ok, just click the OK button on your screen.
Romeo24: Ok, now what?
Friarinthehood: Ok, now you should hear a sound


Romeo24:Alright! :
Juliet16: Whoo-hooo! : : :

(So now, Romeo has been banished and Juliet has taken the potion, and the Friar has sent the runner to Romeo about the plan. Ohhh, can't you just feel the suspense?).

Friarinthehood's online mailbox: - Wednesday May 7th

JohntheFriar: Hey dude, what's up?
Friarinthehood: Not much, you send that E-mail I told you to?
JohntheFriar: Yeah, but a weird thing happened. Here, I forwarded it to your Mailbox.
Friarinthehood: Ok…Lemme check.


The message you sent to Romeo24:
Romeo! Don't do anything drastic about hearing Juliet's death. She's not really dead! I gave her a potion so that she would appear to be dead, but she's not! Just wait for a little while, and I'll get her out to you pronto ok? Great! Oh, and your Credit Card number was rejected on the site. Don't try to be cute, Romeo. OK, see ya!
-Friar Lawrence

The above message was not received by: Romeo24, because of technical problems with our service. VOL, Verona On Line, would like to apologize for the inconvenience. Thank you, and have a nice day.

(The end is near…)

Online Chat: Montague Server- Wednesday May 7th

Server:[Romeo24 has entered the chat]

Romeo24: Juliet?
Romeo24: Juliet?
Romeo24: Hey! Juliet! Wherefor art thou?
Romeo24: Whatever, I'll just search for you.
Romeo24: C:// Search online name://Juliet16


Server:[Juliet16 is no longer online]

Romeo24: WHY!
Romeo24: Juliet!!!

Server:[Paris75 has entered the chat]

Paris75: A Montague! Leave this chat immediately! I am here to see Juliet!
Romeo24: Leave me alone…I have done nothing to you. Don't tempt a desperate man!
Paris75: I said leave Romeo, don't make me I.M. the prince!
Romeo24: That's it, Whatever, get outta here.

Server:[Paris75 has been blocked from the chat room]

Romeo24:Juliet, oh my sweet Juliet! Where are you! That's it! I have no reason to IM!
Romeo24: Here's to my love!

Server:[Romeo24 has deleted his online account. Romeo24 is no longer online]

Server:[Juliet16 has entered the chat]

Juliet16: Hello?
Juliet16: O Romeo, Romeo, wherefore art thou Romeo?
Juliet16: C:// Search online name://Romeo24

Server:[Romeo24 is no longer a Screen Name]

Juliet16:Oh NO!

Server:[Friarinthehood has entered the chat]

Friarinthehood: Juliet! Wait! It's not all bad! You can still be a nun!
Friarinthehood: You can still be a nun!

Server:[Juliet16 is no longer a Screen Name]

Friarinthehood: crap
Friarinthehood: Whatever

Server:[PrinceCharming15 has entered the chat]

Friarinthehood: I dare no longer stay!
PrinceCharming15: Why? Stay good Friar, why do you hasten so?
Friarinthehood: Uhh….

Server: [Friarinthehood has left the chat]

PrinceCharming15:Guys? Hello?
PrinceCharming15: Aww man! What a lame chat, I'm outta here.

Server:[PrinceCharming15 has left the chat]

Server: [The Verona Server has shut down]

Saturday, November 05, 2005

The Exorcism of Christina

The first thing Jenni talked me about as she picked me up from the airport was Christina. She was irritated about the amount of noise she made and how much she walked around at night.

I was puzzled. “I didn’t think you had a roommate.”

“Oh, I don’t,” she said. “Christina is the ghost that lives in my apartment. You & Kate are going to help me get rid of her.”

Over dinner that first night, Kate & I discussed upping Jenni’s prescriptions.

Jenni was so convinced that Christina was among us that she had already looked into an exorcism ritual which we were going to do after Primanti’s sandwiches the next day.

I don’t think Jenni is a heavy sleeper. Every noise or creak had her shouting from her pillow, “Did you hear that?” On my 3 AM bathroom run, I was greeted with a “Steve, is that you?....
or is it you, Christina?”

Now we tried to explain to Jenni the next morning that her building was old; it most likely had pipes and boards that were adjusting in their old age. Buildings will settle into their foundations over time. Plus, most of the other tenants were right out of college and stayed up to all hours.

Jenni would have no part of this and reported the plan. “Tomorrow, we will buy the exorcism supplies and drive that bitch out.”

“What supplies are we getting?” I asked.

Jenni consulted her list. “Sage and Lemon Grass.”

“Umm, are we exorcising a demon or making stuffing?” Kate asked. For the record, I opted for stuffing.

Later that afternoon, we found ourselves in the Penzey’s spice store. If you don’t know already, Penzey’s has some of the best spices. We buy all our seasonings from there, for cooking and well, now exorcisms too.

“Can you please show me where the whole leaf sage is?” Jenni asked. For some reason, I had pictured this scene to take place in a dark alley of a backstreet market with some 80-year Asian woman helping us. Instead, we have Scott, clad in his green apron, walking us through carefully organized displays.

Jenni grabbed a large bag indicating that it would need a lot of rid ourselves of Christina. “I don’t know how fast it will burn and we have to go through each room with the burning leaves.” I begin formulating my story for the fire department.

As she checked out, I asked Jenni about the small bottle of lemon grass on the counter. She turned around and said quietly that the lemon grass is to welcome the good spirits. (And with 17 boxes of pharmaceutical supplies in your neighbor’s lobby, this is needed for good spirits.)

On a way out, Scott asked if we wanted a catalog. I looked back at him. “Probably not. Trust me when I say that these are not being used for you think they are.”

Scott looked around to make sure none of his colleagues were listening. “Dude, there are some bizarre people out there.”

If he only knew.


Thursday, November 03, 2005

Dancing Waters

The Bellagio in Las Vegas has the most amazing display out front called the Dancing Waters. Hundreds of jet streams that shoot water into the air, all timed to music.

Far be it that the Bellagio corner the market on this technology. Station Square, in the heart of downtown Pittsburgh, has now entered the scene …on a much lesser scale.

For dinner, Jenni took Kate & I from her apartment, down the Duquesne Incline to Station Square. We wandered the shops and restaurants trying to find just the right place to sample the Pittsburgh cuisine when off in the distance, we heard a sound that made all three sets of ears perk up.

80’s hair band rock!

I’m not going to kid you; we’re all freaks when it comes to Def Leppard, Bon Jovi and Dokken. We know all the words and if we didn’t look so stupid in our concert tees, we’d be dressed in Poison’s finest garb.

We turned the corner and there was a slightly pathetic, but colorful display of lights and shooting water, all synced in time to Van Halen’s “Jump.”

“Is this Heaven,” I asked aloud.

Jenni looked over as if to answer the question made famous by Kevin Costner. “Seriously, you’re a butthead.”

The waters begin dancing to Livin’ On a Prayer and both girls sang the lyrics about Johnny working on the docks, while Gina toiled away in some crappy diner. (Amateurs! We all know Tommy was the dock man.)

The sign surrounding the fountains indicated that 8:00 – 8:30 was the 80’s Metal theme and the waters continued to dance as we screamed out lyrics…some of us more accurately than others.

At 8:25, we were exhausted and exhilarated. The final song filled the air and Jenni yelped in delight. Three morons, all in their late 30’s all began air-guitaring Welcome to the Jungle.

As we departed, I begged to return at 10:00 PM. Jenni turned and read the sign. She looked back at me in disgust.

“I don’t care how gay you are, we not coming back for the Celine Dion theme.”

And they say there is no culture in Pittsburgh.


Wednesday, November 02, 2005

The Window of Opportunity

Last weekend, my friend Kate & I went to Pittsburgh to visit our friend Jenni. The three of us have been friends for over 10 years and when we get together, well it’s pretty stupid and crazy, but a lot of fun. Our times together are a lot like that old TV Show “Sisters”… well, except there were four of them and I’m not a woman.

The main reason we were visiting was to help Jenni organize her new Melrose Place apartment. While Kate & I are poster children for the Container Store, Jenni is the complete opposite. Our job was to help organize furniture, hang pictures, toss crap and bring a better karma to the place.

Helping someone throw out junk takes a special talent. You can’t just look at someone and say, “What is the shit? Toss it.” Alright, maybe you can, but you can dump about one box before they get suspicious. So Kate and I crafted a distraction model to assist us.

“You tell her how beautiful those pumpkin gourd soup tureens are, while I throw out this box of half used candles.” Seemed like a good plan.

Midway through our day of unpacking, Jenni chimes in, “Hey, do you want to take the Barney tour?” Barney, it turns out, was the man who broke into her apartment the week before.

The previous Friday, Jenni was awakened at 3:30 in the morning by a loud noise coming from her bathroom. Having just bought and assembled a towel rack, she was convinced it had fallen over. In the dark, she nervously approached the door of the bathroom and meekly whispered, “Hello?”

“Hello,” A deep male voice answered.


She flipped on the light switch and there was a man holding her shower curtain in front of him. Shampoo bottles were strewn across the room. The beautiful IKEA towel rack, however, remained intact.

Please notice that the window above the tub is a good 7 feet above the floor and only two feet square. Did I also mention that Jenni lives on the third floor?

With grace under pressure, Jenni looks at him and shouted, “What the fuck are you doing here?”

“My friends used to live here,” he said.


(Jenni, though completely disorganized when packing boxes, is amazingly gifted with words in a crisis.)

The intruder apologized, made his way to the front door and walked out into the hallway. Jenni locked the door behind him and just whimpered as she assessed the situation.

A scratch at the door.

“Mister, seriously… you have to go away.”

The scratching turned out to be Michelle, the pharmaceutical rep across the hall, whose many samples line the outer hallway like Halloween treats for adults. (I make a mental note to check for Percocet.)

Jenni let her in and Michelle comforted her as she relayed the evening’s activities. “Describe him for me,” she says.

After a few defining characteristics, Michelle said, “Hmm, I’ll bet it was Barney. Let me check.”

Michelle picked up the phone. “Hey Susan, have you seen Barney recently? Really, about two hours ago? Well, it would take him 45 minutes to make it Jake’s old place. He just climbed through the window of the new tenant. Cool, thanks.”

She hung up and looked at Jenni. “Yep, it was Barney.”

(Barney was a heroine addict who crashed in the apartment when the former tenants would go away.)

That evening continued with a police report, a mug shot review in which Jenni was convinced Ty Pennington was amongst the photos, and a review of Barney’s former crimes, including male prostitution.

Kate and I just looked back and forth in amazement as we realize we are spending the next two nights in Barney apartment.

Jenni tries to break our silence. “So that’s the tour. A lot like the Jack the Ripper tour, only shorter, no gift shop and I don’t wear a period piece costume.”