Monday, August 23, 2010

Why ESPN Sucks

From the day that I could walk, and probably before then, sports have been a huge part of who I am. One of the earliest memories of my childhood is walking across the street at dawn every morning during baseball season at my first home in rural New Hampshire to get the Boston Globe each day. I would look to see if the Red Sox had won the night before. On days after the Sox had a West Coast night game that didn't finish before the Globe went to press, I'd sigh and flip the page to the stats page, peering over the batting averages and ERAs of my heroes.

I can remember being four years old, hopelessly shooting at my neighbor's ten-foot basketball hoop alongside my older brother, praying to make my first basketball in front of him, but never coming within feet of the hoop. When I wasn't working on my two-handed heave of a jumper, I would take swings at teed-up tennis balls with my Fisher Price plastic baseball bat, hoping to put one over the "Blue Monster", a tarped wood pile on the outskirts of my family's yard.

For the past ten years, Sportscenter has been as much a part of my morning ritual as eating breakfast or showering. Over the past few years, however, I've found myself straying more and more from that ritual. The tiresome annual Favre storylines, which have unapologetically focused vast amounts of attention on one of football's most shamelessly arrogant figures, force me to change the channel daily throughout football preseason. The LeBron debacle, including ESPN's widely-criticized Decision, repelled me for much of July with its overanalysis and self-importance. Their insufferable NFL analysts such as Chris Mortensen, Ron Jaworski, and Jon Gruden, are no more than meat-headed old boys who spew machismo and cliches ad nauseum from the months of August until December, suffocating coverage of the MLB, NBA, and NHL during those months. While the channel still offers exclusive broadcasting of some of the biggest games of the major sports, the reporting has becoming downright atrocious and its play-by-play announcers are amongst some of the worst on television (with Jon Gruden and Mark Jackson leading the way).

One of the biggest issues with ESPN has been its lack of credibility in the way that it covers the stars of the sports that it covers. Take for instance, the LeBron and Favre stories. Rather than chastise these stars for their selfish, prima-donna tactics, the network plays right into their hands, giving them spotlights to masturbate their egos into, while refusing to acknowledge America's boredom with the story. In a sense, ESPN has a low opinion of the intelligence of its viewers. Besides the youngest of its viewers, anyone watching Sportscenter knows the absurd amount of money that the top players of the major sports are making and the sense of entitlement that comes along with their star power. Viewers don't need are fan-boy anchors and analysts like Stuart Scott and Chris Berman, who act like total lackeys to the stars, refusing to ask tough questions and challenge players to hold themselves accountable for the way that they act.

Beyond its "flagship" program, SportsCenter, ESPN has little credible non-event programming. While the 30 For 30 series has been a huge success and PTI benefits from decent interplay between Michael Wilbon and Tony Kornheiser, SportsNation is an abomination. Colin Cowherd might be the most obnoxious sports personality on television, and with Michelle Beadle as his playful minx, the show is an air-filled gimmick chockful of polls and YouTube videos. The Sports Reporters takes itself seriously, but is hardly more credible, with pompous assholes Mike Lupica, Mitch Albom, and Stephen A. Smith sucking the air out of the room and turning to studio into a vacuum of douche. Anything involving Jim Rome or Rick Reilly is, predictably, a flaming bag of shit. 1st and 10 showcases Skip Bayless, who makes Gary Busey's rational prowess seem Aristotelian. Most of the league-specific programs do little more than re-heat the days' top stories; even the excellent Baseball Tonight has started to crumble since the departure of Peter Gammons.

All that I ask is that ESPN make a bid to smarten up its programming and improve its credibility. ESPN clearly is in a power-position in the global sports broadcasting market and has had (and used) the power to withhold stories to maintain its relationship with stars and Disney image (ex. covering up the Harold Reynolds and Steve Phillips sex scandals). If ESPN can challenge itself to improve its reporting, over a more diverse array of stories, and avoid conflicts of interest in siding with the athletes that it reports on, it can make huge strides to improve its journalistic integrity. Until then, I'll be spending most of this fall watching NFL highlights with the TV on mute.

Wednesday, August 18, 2010

Ranking the Pizza in Westford

On November 21st, 1996, I moved to Westford, Massachusetts. Since then, several things have happened, including:
  • Getting kicked in the nuts by classmate Craig Gattel during after-school indoor soccer in 3rd grade
  • Witnessing Steve SicHenry poop his pants in the 8th grade hallway during 6th grade Scoail Studies
  • Hearing about Mandy Alino pooping his pants in the WA weight room during junior year
  • Eating a lot of pizza without pooping my pants
Westford has a good amount of pizza places for having a relatively low Italian-American population. The quality of this pizza ranges from pretty solid to AIDS. Being really hungry at the moment, with only Domino's open, I give you an ascending order ranking of Westford's finest slice.

1. Presti's: There's a lot of people out there who don't like Presti's. To me, it's everything that you want in a serviceable pizza joint. Good sauce (sweeter than most in Westford), a nice, soft crust that is rarely burned, and modest cheese-to-sauce ratio. Toppings are generally put on liberally. It doesn't taste like Jesus, but you'll be glad you did it. The train-tracks location is aesthetically unpleasing, but you might as well eat it in your post-yuppie Westford palace anyways.

2. Willow's: This is a good pie, in a similar vein to Presti's. However, this is the gambler's pizza. You order from Willow's and you're at the end of a Caesar's Palace craps table. On one hand, you could get a great pizza, save a puppy from a fire on your way there, and make out with a busty babe in the parking lot. But there's also an equally good chance that they'll burn your pizza or you'll witness a robbery in their ghetto lounge. You yourself might get robbed or carjacked in Nab. However, a good Willow's can match or better Presti's in its prime.

3. Westford House of Pizza: You go to WHOP, you're going service first. Sammy is the epitome of a professional. Everyone in Westford always goes, "OMG I luv WHOP, me and Sammy are BFF, he's so great yadda yadda." Sammy doesn't know your fucking name. Sure, he might recognize you and even know a few things about you, but the fact is that he's a stone-cold marketing genius. He saw that Westford pizza needed a Clooney and he filled the role.

Anyways the pizza is good, if you're into Greek-style crust, which most people around the country would think is an abortion. Sammy's charm and WHOP's ability to make calzones that taste like Bar Rafaeli bump the stock up.

4. Nashoba Pizza: Same exact food as WHOP minus the charm. This place is so boring, me and my buddy Andrew once ate a pizza here, left, drove home without paying, realized we didn't pay, and then were just bored thinking of it. Nashoba Pizza, do you really think you need 900 square feet of room for your dining lounge? WHOP's dining area is the size of a midget's broom closet and there's still more people in there at an off-hour than Nashoba has at rush. Pathetic.

5. Silver Palate: Now we're getting to the dogs. Close geographically to Willow's, but what it lacks in overbearing ghettoness, it makes up for in shitty eats and rude staff. Their pizza tastes like a cardboard bandade. The people there are always greasy and wear shorts that don't proportionally match their lower body. It's only saving grace is that you can get Slush Puppies at the convenience-store-formerly-known-as-Lil-Peach next door. You could also probably buy drugs off the staff here.

6. Pizza Express: If you've lived in Westford for more than 12 months and order from Pizza Express, you're either an invalid, a Filipino, or you have the culinary senses of a toddler. This pizza tastes like the Super Mario Bros. bukkaking onto a sheet of construction paper during an oil spill. The fact that this restaurant is still in business is one of the better arguments against capitalism. In fact, I'm almost certain that this business is a drug front because rational people wouldn't eat food that tastes this fucking horrible. But then again, Westford is a town where a Wendy's went out of business while a WacArnolds and a BK are still in business, so leave it to these morons to allow this offensive establishment to survive.

Saturday, January 2, 2010

A Kid in the Crowd Excerpts

Excerpts from a fictional screenplay based on infamous Westford punk band A Kid in the Crowd. The names have been changed for Google's sake.

Heralded rock producer/Westford scene historian Archie Zimmerman on A Kid in the Crowd.

“I mean, they were really just revolutionary in what they were doing for their time. The scene at the time…you had band like Goblin Tear Goblet…they were blazing the trail for pre-goth, post-emocore progressive funk. You had Scrotal Skid…they were the first death metal band that I’d ever seen utilize the bass sitar. Another seminal act was Philip Mayhem and the Handjobs. I’d heard of three-chord punk, but this band…some of their songs only had three notes in the whole thing. They were a very rest-heavy outfit. "

“The lyrics of Nixon Serby more or less changed the game in the Westford scene forever. Lines like “They wanna hurt you/Wanna bring you down/They’re gonna desert you/Gonna make you frown”…I mean, before that, you just didn’t see the ABAB rhyme scheme at all. Before that, it was all just a bunch of limerick punk, haiku death metal, and diamante jazz."

“Corey Sullivan…now that was a lunch pail, clock-punching bassist right there. Find me another man in the scene who could keep time on the sausage strings like that…you just couldn’t. Of course, most people just hear the name and think of his later political career, taking the Krist Novoselic, bassist-turned-politician route. Some call it selling out, but just think…where would we be today with him presiding over the Pumo Resolution of 2005. Those Graniteville drug wars had gone on for too long…all that young blood flowing down River Street, a damn shame…”

“Ah yes…(chuckles)…Benji D. on the keys. You know, I talked to the old sound guy at the Mosh Mosque…guy by the name of Antony Teejadero. Anyways, guy told me out of all their shows they played there, not once was Benji D’s Casio plugged in. Legend has it if you’d done just enough blotters, you could hear the soft clicks of his fingers jamming the keys in tune to the beat. Truth be told though, Benji’s bloodstream was such a traffic jam of chemicals at all those shows, he couldn’t have care either way. And the band knew it. He was really their own sort of “Bez” figure…go out there, work the crowd, get the girls dancing, cash his paycheck, blow it up his nose, repeat.”

“What a lot of people didn’t realize with A Kid in the Crowd is that they actually used a drum machine on their debut album. But when they were playing their first shows at the Mosque, things just didn’t feel right…the crowd wasn’t getting into it…let’s face it, it’s not rock and roll if you don’t have someone mashing drumheads. Anyways, there was this little punk at these shows who called himself “TK the Dream” and would do some sort of B-Boy freestyle shit on the mic between sets, getting bottles and syringes thrown at him from the pit…he mostly just did it to piss off the junkheads. Before the Mr. Lucas Rehab Benefit Show, the band saw this kid shotgun a can of Surge and start raging on a kit in the practice room backstage. He was doing fills that made Buddy Rich look like Meg White. Benji D dropped his bowl of Cup Noodles on the floor right then and there...probably because he was loaded, but he had to have been shocked by the carnal kitwork, too. Serby swears to this day TK was doing something like 500 beats per minute. Right then and there, they all looked at each other and agreed, they had to get this kid on stage.

They went on stage ten minute later, TK, real name was Thom Kenneary…Christ, he was shit. The Surge wore off and TK lost his rhythm…he sounded like a series of car crashes in a china store. After that they kept him full of Yellow 6 and caffeine for shows and the rest is history. You don’t end up as Nickelback’s touring drummer if you don’t have natural talent.”

Thursday, July 30, 2009

Horribly Named Technology

Via Wikipedia: "The vCard is a file format standard for electronic business cards. vCards are often attached to e-mail messages, but can be exchanged in other ways, such as on the World Wide Web. They can contain name and address information, phone numbers, URLs, logos, photographs, and even audio clips."

Hands down, the vCard is the most poorly-named piece of tech in human history. The double entendre of the name must create for incredibly awkward business scenarios:

Guy 1: But really...great meeting you, Rich.
Guy 2: My pleasure, Bill...say, do you have a vCard?
Guy 1: Excuse me?
Guy 2: I was just wondering if you had a vCard I could take down.
Guy 1: I'm not really you even know what you're asking me right now?
Guy 2: Um...well I mean I saw your BlackBerry, you seem like a tech-savvy guy...
Guy 1: What, a straight man can't keep up with the times? And why would you even think I'm never gotten...I have a wife and kids, goddamn it. You disgust me.

There's gotta be legions of young guys out there, black-suited, slick-back hair, bursting at the seams to gush out how many vCards they've taken in their careers.

But the vCard also brings on deeper issues, which I fear for greatly.

I can't even imagine the shmorgasbord of emotions that a man must feel in leaving a convention, realizing that he's just had his vCard taken by two men.

The thought of a young lady leaving her BlackBerry unattended, only to find a man stealing her vCard from her...her eyes well up into tears in front of the detective...the echo of the gavel sounding through the county courtroom...her blank stares into the distance at the dinner table until she finally comes to as her husband asks her what's wrong.

The vCard must be stopped. We cannot allow thousands of people to be forced to repeated re-live the forfeit of their innoncence. It is a violence against mankind. And just fucking terrible marketing.

Thursday, July 23, 2009

Bathroom Blunders

The men's bathroom in my office has only two toilet seats, one tight traditional stall and one more spacious handicap stall. While on the john, I enjoy a certain environment condusive to tranquilty and solitude. The claustrophobia of the smaller, tighter stall does not provide this in the same way that the open terrain of the handicap stall does.

The past two days at work, when I've entered the men's room to conduct my daily business, I've found the handicap stall occupied, with the smaller stall left open. Dejected but nonetheless resolute, I've settled for the smaller stall. However, each time, perhaps rushed by my presence, within thirty seconds, the adjacent occupant has finished up, flushed, and left quickly before I've even finished sanitizing the toilet seat for contact. And being the strange character that I am, I've gotten bold and made moves.

I call this move the Chamberlain Right Wheel. With belt buckle dangling down, fly open, and hands holding my pants above my backside, I quickly force open my stall down, flank 90 degrees to the right, throw open the handicap stall, and lock it before anyone else can enter the bathroom and wonder what the hell's going on. So far I'm 2-for-2 on not embarassing myself on the manuveur.

However today, I was forced to retreat by an enemy presence. Following digging into the trenches in the handicap stall, I released that the TP had run-out at a particularly inopportune time. I scampered back to the smaller quarters in the next stall over, fortunately avoiding giving away my position to foreign invaders who could have entered at any time.

It was shitty in general.

Friday, July 10, 2009

Friday Fragments

Today is Friday. While Friday is technically 20% of the working week, I'd say I'm not too far off in estimating that it provides for about 4-5% of weekly productivity. After a moderately productive morning (I read 50 pages of an e-book and did about a solid hours' worth of work), I'm gonna give myself some "me" time this afternoon and go on auto-pilot. Since auto-pilot requires a lack of focus that doesn't allow a cohesive thought to exceed a paragraph, here's a couple of brief stories that have kept me entertained:

  • I spent most of the morning believing this story that a friend sent to me about Coors inventing a new can with an extra tab for shotgunning. Way too good to be true. This would surely be the defining invention of the 21st century and the greatest thing to happen to college since the latex condom.
  • Last night, in the continuation of a suspended Pirates/Nats game from May 5th, Joel Hanrahan got the win for the Nats despite having been traded from to the Pirates in the time since the game began. Nyjer Morgan, who started the game for the Pirates on May 5th, scored the winning for the Nats. Thank God for baseball.

Someone posted a note on the microwave in the break room this morning that reads "Do not leave unattended. Possible fire hazard." But when I took lunch break, no one was in the room. Looks like I'll have to spend the rest of the day keeping it company.

Wednesday, July 8, 2009

My Awful Start to the Morning

There are few worse feelings than the pit in your stomach that erupts when your alarm goes off in the morning on a weekday. In my case, this feeling reaches extreme levels during the summer months, when I generally run off 6 hours of sleep and have to be up at the crack of dawn for my summer job. While I'm usually reasonably pleasant when I wake up later in the morning, all bets are off before 8 A.M. My parents have learned to just leave me alone before I go to work or expect curt, dismissive responses to whatever conversation they try to start.

While much of the 45 minutes that I spend prior to leaving for work is devoted to my daily routine, I find solace in the 5-10 minutes that I spend eating breakfast in front of the tube. Its my time to wet my palate, perform one of my three favorite bodily functions, and get lost in SportsCenter for a few brief moments before sliding in the dark chasm of the daily grind of the real world.

But like clockwork, ESPN chooses to take away this pleasure from me for one week each year. Every summer, they choose to fill my morning with agony and guilt, topped with the syrupy-sweetness of fleeting hope. Every summer, my morning breakfast collides with each of the five segments of SportsCenter's week-long My Wish series.

The My Wish segment is a week-long SportsCenter special that shows terminally-ill children having their sports-related dreams fulfilled with their favorite pro athletes/teams via the Make-a-Wish Foundation. ESPN does a great job milking the melodramatic and using cheesy, obnoxious music to help paint the tale of these young tikes who get to live their sports fantasy, such as playing catch with Marion Barber, betting on pit bulls with Michael Vick, or taking a highway booze-cruise with Charles Barkley.

Don't get me wrong: I do have a soul. Do these kids deserve to have an awesome day in between chemo treatments? Absolutely. Is it great that this program for the kids exists? Certainly. Do I applaud the athletes for participating in it? Of course. Does it make for this make for good television? Well...

I'm sure there's an audience for this kind of fluff, namely the soap opera crowd or those who relish in having a good cry or heart-wrenching Holocaust film. But goddamn it, that's not the target market for SportsCenter. That market is young-to-middle-aged males looking for sassy commentary over sports highlights. Great ESPN, you get to improve your imagine. Meanwhile, I have a stomach ache because I just saw a kid get to walk out of Cowboy Stadium knowing that he just lived the best day of his life at age 6. That's not what I need in the morning. That makes me feel like shit. What I need is more Name That Molina or jokes about Livan Hernandez being fat. Sure, I could change the channel over to NESN for five minutes, but that's like trading in a Corvette with a engine trouble for a Toyota Camry.

So come on, ESPN. Hock this thing off to the Hallmark Channel. Let SportsCenter be for sports and give me my mindless sanctuary of box scores and Bottom Lines back.