The Awesome, The Pathetic, The Hideous: A Cub House Journey through commercials

I don’t even know how to describe this collection. It’s mostly random. But all of these commercials spoke to me in some way. Some made me angry. Some made me laugh. Some made me embarrassed for mankind. Some even made me feel intellectually insulted.

I’ve put them into loosely defined categories.

Enough. Let’s roll.

Awesome (but obscure) music

Dockers


The song: Marlena Shaw’s “California Soul”

Geico

The song: The Sounds’ “Hurt You”

Racism

Schlitz malt liquor

I don’t think it’s the implication that black people like malt liquor that is offensive. I guess I can’t speak for black people, but I’ve never understood why stereotypes are absolutely, necessarily offensive. So what if black people prefer malt liquor to beer? It doesn’t imply that they drink more alcohol, or drink less responsibly than other races.

It’s not that. (Or at least it shouldn’t be.)

It’s that these Schlitz fanatics, all of whom are black, are essentially performing a minstrel show.

“Confederate Family”

Give credit to Confederate Family for one thing: At least it understands its audience, which, apparently, keeps black teenagers around the plantation home to stay out of the way until some work needs done.

Chicken Treats

Again, I don’t think the implication that black people like poultry should be offensive. It’s arbitrary. There is no way you can connect anything negative to eating poultry as opposed to red meat or fish.

The offensive thing is that Chicken Treats, a British fast food joint, decided to make the black guy a total buffoon. They also made him American, managing to insult an entire race and an entire nation all at once.

Douche bags

Actual douche

Somehow it took at least 80 years to figure out that cleaning vaginas with vinegar wasn’t such a good idea. Usually, when something sounds stupid, it actually is.

Cadillac “check mate” douche

This whole ad campaign drove me nuts. I’m convinced Cadillac is marketing these vehicles to poor people who want to feel rich by owning a car they cannot afford. If you’re actually wealthy, you don’t need a car company to explain to you what being wealthy is like.

Cadillac “graduate” douche

Let me revise. Cadillac is trying to sell these vehicles to poor 19-year-olds who want to feel rich by owning a car they cannot afford.

Cadillac “favorite things” douche

Let me revise again. Cadillac is a company of douchebags.

Unimpressive claim

Chevy Lumina won’t rust until 1999!

Back before the liberals made us stop using lead-based paints, we didn’t have this problem. I have a 45-year-old Ford Galaxie that has two tiny rust spots on it. The thing is covered in lead-based paint that you can barely even sand through.

Yeah, the mental retardation sucked, but it’s a small price to pay for five decades of rust-less motoring.

Cars

Camaro: For those confused about their sexuality

If anybody who’s at least 30 years old wants to write a guest post, here’s a topic: Why was androgeny so cool in the 1980s?

In honor of Pontiac, a dead company walking (1987)

Things in this video:

  • A power ballad
  • An unironic high-five
  • A white blazer
  • A trench coat
  • A guy at a phone booth in the rain
  • Outdoor foreplay
  • A blonde getting a speeding ticket.

Levis commercial featuring a car I own (’64 Ford Galaxie)

That’s all. I wish mine was a convertible. I also wish it ran.

Commercial cliche

Lawrence Memorial Hospital goes with one of the laziest commercial genres, the “have a bunch of different people say one phrase and splice it together” commercial. You can’t watch TV for an hour without seeing one of these, but LMH’s is one of the dumbest.

LMH

Sports

Jordan

As an 8th grader, I used to try that free-throw line dunk over and over again on an eight-foot goal. I think we all did.

Jordan “Frozen Moment”

I learned how to do a reverse pivot dribble by seeing this commercial and re-enacting it in my driveway. I learned almost every move I ever learned by watching Jordan.

Lil Penny “Frozen Moment”

A spoof of the above Jordan video, with Tyra Banks!

Charles Barkley “Role Model”

This was really controversial at the time, for some reason. People really, really did not like the idea that they should not tell their kids to be just like Charles Barkley.

Pete Rose for Aqua Velva

I love the floozy reporter. Clearly, the main reason women get into sports writing is to sleep with the athletes, and the main reason they want to is that the athletes wear Aqua Velva.

Baron Davis

I have no comment.

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A few streaming words about advertising, social networking and Mark Cuban

This poor woman just cannot get a date.

When I was 24, my Facebook profile would often display ads on the side, asking me, “24 and single?” (I wasn’t) and encouraging me to CLICK HERE for “hot, Christian singles,” in order to solve my (nonexistent) problem. On the link was a photo of three women who belonged in Playboy.

On my 25th birthday, that same ad appeared. Only this time it asked me, “25 and single?” (I still wasn’t) and displayed the three Playboy girls. Such is modern life.

By clicking on all my tabs, I can tell that Facebook believes:

  • I drink coffee (yes)
  • I am attending this year’s Kentucky Derby (yes)
  • I am an environmentalist (no)
  • I would like a job in the technology field (yes, but also no)
  • I would derive ironic pleasure from owning Sex Panther cologne (yes)
  • I am interested in how smart I am compared to celebrities (yes, but also no)*

*One day it displayed an ad suggesting that Barack Obama’s IQ was 125. That’s a good IQ, I suppose (the average is 100). But, unless you live in Missouri, you probably know a lot of people with a higher IQ than 125. And I’m guessing that if you happen to know Barack Obama, he is one of them. I doubt his IQ is within 10 points of Akon’s (117, according to the ad).

And now, a terrible seque, or, not a seque at all:

Mark Cuban.

Cuban.

Cuban, baby.

Cuban is the owner of the Dallas Mavericks and is generally awesome by almost any definition other than that of NBA Commissioner David Stern. Today on Twitter, Cuban argues the following: “The lessons of twitter, facebook and social networks..The Medium is No Longer the Message. The Network defines the message.”

I see what he’s saying, here, and I’m not sure if I agree or not. I think he’s saying that Marshall McLuhan’s assertion that “the medium is the message” (1964) is not specific enough anymore, i.e. that while Twitter, Facebook and other networks share the same medium (the Internet), they don’t share the same effect on the experience of the user.

I agree that the Internet is too versatile to be viewed as just one medium. That would be like saying paper is its own medium, only even more ridiculous than that. The way a user experiences a newspaper’s Web site is totally different than the way a user experiences Facebook or Twitter, for example. But the differences in the way users experience Facebook and Twitter are, in my opinion, negligible. So, if he’s breaking down each network as its own medium (I can’t tell if he is), I disagree.

Anyway, I think the difference (speaking only of the Internet, here) lies primarily in the difference between broadcasting and narrowcasting. Newspapers are broadcasters. They construct a product for everybody within a certain geographical area and put it out there for all of those people, which, by itself, has not proven to be a particularly profitable way for specific content to reach the people who would most likely be interested in it. That’s  where the narrowcasters — Twitter, Facebook, message boards, etc. — come in, albeit with one important disconnect: The narrowcasters are the ones who know your age, religion, how you entertain yourself and what kind of girls you like (Playmates, who happen to be Christian/Muslim/Secular Humanist/whatever you are), and they’re the ones selling corresponding advertisements.

The content producers (broadcasters) are the farmers. The narrowcasters are the grocery stores, and they’re making all the money selling tabloids and Toblerone in the checkout isle.  I have no idea how to change this or even, philosophically, if it should change, although for self-serving reasons I wish it would.

And that only speaks to the advertising. What people tweet and post on your Facebook wall is an even more effective narrowcast. These are people who know you intimately. That relationship, and the medium by which it is expressed, absolutely affects the message. The message is secondary*.

*Which is part of the reason you should not form, develop or end relationships via text message. Modern man has no less effective medium for conveying feelings than the text message.

So I’m going to end this stream of consciousness with two thoughts:

1) I did not sit down planning to write about Marshall McLuhan or Mark Cuban or anything of the kind. I’m sorry. It just kind of happened.

2) By all means, post this blog on somebody’s Facebook wall.

The Royals are bringing me back

Seriously? Um, yes.

Seriously? Um, yes.

The great thing was Bob Dutton’s lead.

I woke up on a Saturday morning, flipped open my laptop, checked my work e-mail, checked Facebook, checked Gmail, read some fans’ thoughts about C.J. Henry, and then I went to kcstar.com to see what if my competitor on the KU beat, Brady McCollough, had written anything for the Saturday edition.

I still don’t know, because when I clicked the sports tab, there was a photo of Zack Greinke and a cutline describing how awesome he had been Friday night against the Detroit Tigers.

Then I did something I haven’t done in, I don’t know, four years. I clicked on a Kansas City Royals game story. This was Dutton’s lead:

Is this the night, after more than a generation, that baseball truly became relevant again in Kansas City? Maybe. Just maybe.

It’s not a dazzlingly clever or funny lead, but it struck me as perfect. It is the most relevant question he possibly could have explored, and he asked it at the right time. Not too soon, but not after everybody was already talking about it.*

*Perspective like this is part of the the value of a good beat writer, and it is why fans should read their local writers instead of (or at least in addition to) the national outlets. ESPN.com, for example, is just going to run the AP story from that game, which, by design, will be less developed.

I bring this up not just to praise Bob Dutton (who I’ve never met), but to say that the Royals are bringing me back (for the first time).  As I’ve written here before, I don’t care about baseball, and the main reason for that is the Kansas City Royals, who have been an embarrassment for the entire time I cared about sports.

Tonight, I will be at Kauffman Stadium to see Kyle Davies pitch against Zach Miner. This is the first time I can remember that I bothered to look at who was pitching in the game I was going to watch. This sometimes applied even during the game.

And it has almost everything to do with Zack Greinke, who is not only awesome, but also weird. Even if the Royals don’t make the playoffs this year or any year of Greinke’s $38 million contract, it was still a good decision, because they Royals matter now. Thirty-six thousand people turned out last night. It was the kind of decision the Royals haven’t made many times in my lifetime, and the more they make them, the harder they’ll be to ignore.

The Bad Movie Writer

Sometimes I feel sorry for Abby, my girlfriend who is constantly bombarded by questions and theories and comments from me that neither pertain to her, nor interest her.

One such instance occurred recently after watching, in succession, a movie starring Ryan Reynolds called “Just Friends” and a movie starring Dane Cook called “Employee of the Month.”*

*Before I go any further, I want to point out that Ryan Reynolds and Dane Cook, for acting purposes, are the same guy. They are completely interchangeable. Both always play the male lead who’s kind of a jerk (usually on purpose) but comes around in the end, while making lots of pithy insults along the way and pretending not to care.

This was the thought that “Just Friends” and “Employee of the Month” inspired: Who is writing all these bad movies, do they know they’re bad while they’re writing them, and, if so, why not just write a good one?

To be clear, I’m not including movies made by nobodies, here. I’m not suggesting it’s easy to make a good movie. Most people can’t do it. But these are major studios with big budgets and access to the best writers, producers and directors in the world. They could make a better movie than “Just Friends” (I think).

That was the thought.

These are the facts:

“Just Friends” was written by a guy named Adam “Tex” Davis, who has not written anything else I’ve heard of (although according to Wikipedia he did write a movie called “Spring Break Lawyer”). This in no way means he is a bad writer. It’s just that the only thing of his I’ve seen isn’t very good. (Heaven knows I’ve written a lot of bad stories that could be used against me.)

“Employee of the Month” was co-written by Don Calame and Chris Conroy, neither of which has written anything I’ve heard of, both of which also co-wrote something on television called “Hounded” (2001). Again, same rules apply. In fact, it turns out that Calame is a published book author.

Out of curiosity, I looked up some other bad comedies on IMDB to see who wrote them. Here is a list:

Blades of Glory

Plot (courtesy IMDB): “In 2002, two rival Olympic ice skaters were stripped of their gold medals and permanently banned from men’s single competition. Presently, however, they’ve found a loophole that will allow them to qualify as a pairs team.”

Writer: Jeff Cox

Other work: None.

Lead actor(s): Will Ferrell, Jon Heder

Nacho Libre

Plot (courtesy IMDB): “Berated all his life by those around him, a monk follows his dream and dons a mask to moonlight as a Luchador (Mexican wrestler).”

Writer: Jared Hess

Other work: Napoleon Dynamite

Lead actor(s): Jack Black

The House Bunny

Plot (courtesy IMDB): “When Shelly, a Playboy bunny, is tossed out of the mansion, she has nowhere to go until she falls in with the sorority girls from Zeta Alpha Zeta. The members of the sorority – who also have got to be the seven most socially clueless women on the planet – are about to lose their house. They need a dose of what only the eternally bubbly Shelley can provide… but they will each learn on their own to stop pretending to be what others want them to be and start being themselves.”

Writer(s): Karen McCullah Lutz, Kirsten Smith

Other work: “She’s the Man,” “Legally Blonde,” “10 Things I Hate About You”; Same.

Lead actor(s): Anna Faris, Hugh Hefner.

Anna Faris has made some really terrible movies over the years.

Anna Faris has made some really terrible movies over the years.

Who’s Your Caddy?

Plot (courtesy IMDB): “When a rap mogul from Atlanta tries to join a conservative country club in the Carolinas he runs into fierce opposition from the board President- but it’s nothing that he and his entourage can’t handle.”

Writer: Don Michael Paul

Other work: Half Past Dead, Half Past Dead 2

Lead actor(s): Big Boi, Faizon Love, Finesse Mitchell

This is obviously a very scientific study I’ve conducted here. But two things jump out at me:

1) It is likely that the writer of a bad comedy has either not written anything else of note, or specializes in writing bad comedies.

2) Although I cannot demonstrate this with facts, it seems to me that, somewhere along the way, the people in charge probably have conversations like this:

Studio Suit: “Will Ferrell, he’s so hot right now. Do we have anything we could put him in?”

Lower Level Suit: “Not at the moment. Let me call Bad Comedy Writer and see if he can whip something up.”

30 minutes Later, on conference call …

Bad Comedy Writer: “What if I wrote something where we could put Will Ferrell and Mike Ditka together in a standard sports movie plot, only with lots of yelling, often at little kids, and shots to the package?”

Studio Suit: “Sure, whatever. Why did I need to be on this conference call? Just have it done by tomorrow morning.”

Being a bad comedy writer seems like a terrific gig to me. Perhaps I’m wrong, but it seems like almost anybody could write a movie as good as “Just Friends” or “The House Bunny,” partially because some variation of those movies have been written 1,000 times already. I imagine these writers leaning back in their desk chairs after sending off the script and thinking, “I can’t believe somebody is going to pay money to see that” and then cashing a check for $100,000.

I’m assuming these people are good enough to write better movies, but generally choose not to because there’s  no incentive.

11 rap songs from the last 11 years you (almost) forgot about, and their explanations

This is a little bit embarrassing, and I have no explanation for it, but I thought of Lil Zane today. Who knows?

I had almost forgotten about Lil Zane and his one hit, “Callin’ Me” from 1999, and remembering him made me remember a bunch of other songs from the last 10 or so years I had almost forgotten.

11. “Callin’ me”, Lil Zane

Lil Zane has a lot of money because he’s a rapper. That’s pretty much it.

Visual highlight: That the entire video is virtually indistinguishable from “Hypnotize” (1997) or “Big Pimpin'” (1999).

Musical highlight: “My homies call me on my mobile, wanna hang, we still close too.”

10. “Hey Ma”, Cam’ron

This song is about Cam’ron trying to get laid. The problem is, girls think he’s a bad guy because he’s a criminal. But no worries! He’s rich now, so it all works out in the end.

Visual highlight: The one-legged guy doing the C-walk.

Musical highlight: “I told her, I’m 18 and live a crazy life, plus I tell you what the 80s like.”

9. Rosa Parks, Outkast

From the title, you infer a song about the civil rights movement, or public transportation. Wrong. It’s really about how Outkast is awesome, or at least more awesome than whatever group you like.

Visual highlight: Andre 3000 inexplicably wearing zoombas and a catcher’s gear.

Musical highlight: The harmonica solo.

8. “Pass the Courvoisier ” Busta Rhymes, Puff Daddy, Pharrell

Apparently things get really wild when you drink courvoisier, although this not explained. It is just accepted.

Visual highlight: Obviously Mr. T’s appearance or Busta Rhymes punching out a short asian man, and looking exactly like Lennox Lewis while doing it.

Musical highlight: Pharrell’s portion of the chorus.

7. “Lean Back” Terror Squad feat. Fat Joe

If you are a faker, you will dance. Otherwise you will just pull up your pants and lean back. Also, Nelly sucks.

Visual highlight: The unidentifiable girl rapper throwing money at the camera, like she wasn’t going to need that in, oh, 15 minutes when her fame was out.

Musical highlight: When Fat Joe says “Yeeuh” at the very beginning.

6. “Tipsy” J-Kwon (2004)

Everybody is getting tipsy.

http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=5Li6MCWIWgw&feature=related

Visual highlight: The cameo appearance from Murphy Lee of the St. Lunatics, as if anybody is going to know who he is. I do, but that’s because I actually purchased a St. Lunatics album.

Musical highlight: “She say she got a kid but she got her tubes tied.”

5. “Midwest Swing”, St. Lunatics

Despite living in a major U.S. city, the St. Lunatics describe themselves as “country boys” and assume that most people believe St. Louis to be a colony of farms.

Missouri rocks!

Visual highlight: Nelly wearing his visor upside down and forward.

Musical highlight: “We country boys that ride V-12 horses. Saddle up and put spurs on my Air Forces.”

Fun fact: The St. Lunatics official site still exists, and upon opening it, still plays “Midwest Swing” whether you want it to or not.

4. “Area codes”,  Ludacris

Ludacris never has to dial long distance to contact a hoe.

Visual highlight: The hoes being loaded into the baggage compartment of the airplane. The metaphor (which might not even be intentional) is tremendous.

Musical highlight: Substituting “pros” for “hoes” on the radio edit. Also, Nate Dogg (obviously).

3. “Saturday”,  Ludacris

Saturdays are great if you have money and marijuana, but man, wouldn’t it be nice to have sex with a woman with a large butt?

Sticky, icky, icky

Visual highlight: Probably the only video to ever include chickens having sex.

Musical highlight: “It’s (censored) but the plants in my backyard grow, that’s my (dog barks), (censored, censored) til you pass out, that’s my love. Keep a couple (censored) then I hit the club. In the back door? (bark, bark) what?”

2. “Hot Girl”, Hot Boyz

It is not only your physical beauty that makes you attractive, but also your willingness to commit felonies on my behalf.

Visual highlight: Any moment when Manny Fresh is on camera.

Fresh

Fresh

Musical highlights:

  • “The police takin’ the dope, she take the charge. If a n*gga go to jail, she run for her n*gga.”
  • A young Lil Wayne completely stealing the show at the end of the song.

1. “Way of Life”, Lil Wayne

Because I have lots of money, I can do whatever I want.

Visual highlight: The jerseys.

  • 1996 Allen Iverson
  • 1995 Jerry Rice
  • Joe Namath
  • Loy Vaught (?), Clippers
  • Lance Alworth (1963)
  • 1994 Jim Everett (Saints)
  • John Elway
  • Kareem Abdul-Jabar
  • Shaquille O’neal
  • Warrick Dunn
  • Ronnie Lott (Raiders)
  • Seattle Mariners #9
  • Andre Rison (?)
  • Drew Bledsoe
  • Reggie Miller (?)
  • Pete Rose

Musical highlight: “All these naked women that pop champagne and these marble floors, stay high as Rick James.”

The top 10 reasons I don’t care about baseball

It gets a quizzical look most of the time, almost like the way a dog cocks its head when you look at it and make a weird noise. People don’t quite understand a normal, red-blooded, nostalgic, T-shirts-and-jeans-wearing, sunflower-seed-chewing American man who doesn’t care about Major League Baseball.

Sometimes, people even act offended, as if, by not liking Major League Baseball, I am not liking them. Or America.

So, today, I explain. The top 10 reasons I don’t care about baseball.

10. Too much parity (on a day-to-day basis).

I don’t like that, on a given day, there is about a 30 percent chance that the best team in baseball would lose to the worst team in baseball. One time in three (I don’t know if that’s accurate, but it feels about right to me). It takes all the excitement out of a Royals win over the Yankees (or whoever).

It’s obviously going to be this way because MLB uses a 162-game season (about 100 games too many), which means that mediocre pitchers are tossing most of those games. If they made it an 82-game season and spaced out the games a little, then the best pitchers could work a greater percentage of the games, thereby improving the overall quality of the game, thereby increasing the relevance of each win.

9. Too numbery.

It’s impossible these days to talk about baseball without it feeling like a conversation about math. I hate math. I blame Bill James for all this.

Pictured: A conversation about baseball.

Pictured: A conversation about baseball.

8. The players are too interchangeable, and too often interchanged.

It’s true that NBA players and NFL players both switch teams often, and for all the same reasons. But when Major League Baseball players change teams, it’s less intriguing because baseball is the most individualized major team sport. It’s almost like subbing in a new sprinter on the 4-x-100 team. You say Manny Ramirez is going to Los Angeles, well then just plug in his numbersnumbersnumbersnumbersnumbersnumbersnumbersnumnersnum

7. Baseball players themselves

They’re jerks.

6. The Kansas City Royals

The truth is, I would probably like Major League Baseball if it weren’t for the Kansas City Royals, specifically the 1994 Kansas City Royals.

Some time in 1993, I became cognizant as a sports fan. I vaguely remember the Final Four that year, and I remember the Chiefs trading for Joe Montana and I remember Joe Montana being a Zeus in my mind. I also remember going to my first Royals game that year, seeing Tom Gordon pitch against the Yankees and believing that I would one day pitch against the Yankees at Kauffman Stadium.

So I’m excited for the 1994 season to begin*.

*There is little doubt that this is incorrect, but this is how I remember the Royals ad campaign for the 1994 season: A highlight package ran as a sort of B-footage for a music video of a guy singing and playing guitar. I don’t remember if the singer ever appeared on screen or not, but my mind does recall a lyric from that song, sung with the oddly placed passion of a Rod Stewart song: “this year, they are playing games.”

I was not yet 11 years old at the time, so there is a great chance I never did know exactly what the man was singing, but that lyric has stuck with me as one of the most unfortunate and ironic pieces of advertising I’ve ever seen. As you know, a lot happened in baseball in 1994, but the one thing that did not happen was the playing of all the games, which was the only thing the Royals were even advertising.

And the Royals were actually pretty good to start the 1994 season, 64-51, actually, before the strike. I remember a lot of talk about Greg Gagne and Gary Gaetti for some reason. Plus, they had David Cone! I was going to be David Cone! And then they pulled the rug right out from under me, right when I first stepped onto it.

In fairness, who wouldnt be excited about this guy?

Other than a neighbor with small children, who wouldn't be excited about this guy?

The Royals have stunk ever since. It’s hard to care about a crappy team.

5. It’s hot outside.

About 30 percent of the time you’re at a Major League Baseball game, you will be physically unfomfortable, and about 80 percent of that 30 percent, there will be nothing happening on the field to distract you from that discomfort.

4. Baseball fans

So far as I can tell, this is the only group of fans who treats its sport like its grandmother’s fried chicken recipe.

You don’t like it? Whaddya mean you don’t like it? This is great stuff, man. How could anybody not love this as much as I do? I do not understand any worldview other than my own.

If you’re a baseball fan, don’t take it personally. I understand that you like baseball, and that doesn’t bother me. I just ask that you take a step back, examine the world around you, and see that there is nothing everyone agrees upon, not even Derek Jeter.

Besides, no group of fans in sports collectively gives less effort than fans at a Major League Baseball game, with the possibly exception of Atlanta Hawks fans.

There are some exceptions.

There are exceptions to every rule.

3. It’s hardly any different than the NBA, but nobody wants to acknowledge this.

Possibly because baseball is dominated by whites and latinos, and for whatever reason we like to imagine whites and latinos as generally hard-working, blue-collar types, and the NBA is dominated by blacks, who for whatever reason we like to imagine as naturally gifted but motivationally stunted, the sports-watching culture at large complains loudly about the lack of effort expended during regular-season NBA games (of which there are 82) and never peeps about the same issue in regular-season Major League Baseball games (of which there are 162), unless Manny Ramirez is involved, and even then, his laziness is painted as charming.

People want to believe that these guys are playing balls out for all 1,458 (or so) innings of the regular season. I just don’t believe that, except in the case of David Eckstein, who actually plays four outs per inning.

MLB is exciting in the playoffs, just like the NBA is, and isn’t in the regular season, just like the NBA isn’t.

2. I didn’t have cable as a kid.

Believe me, if we had TBS, I would have devoured every facial tick of a Greg Maddux game. He was the pitcher I wanted to be. He wasn’t overpowering, but he was cunning and accurate and he would throw pitches four feet off the outside corner and the umpires would call them strikes.

Baseball was my favorite sport to play as a kid, and I would have watched it on TV religiously if I had access to it. But all I had access to were the local broadcats of the Kansas City Royals, who we’ve already discussed. Hipolito Pichardo just didn’t have that same effect on me.

I was 16 the first baseball season we had cable, and by then it was too late to feel the mystique of it all. And I had realized that I could play baseball pretty well without imitating Fred McGriff’s follow through.

1. The Kansas City Royals.

At various stages of life, I have tried to care about the Royals. In 2003, I started to care a little when they had that 15-game lead in their division. They blew it, of course, and that was one thing. But not only did they blow it, they traded away their best player because they didn’t want to pay him what he was worth, which was a pretty loud message to me:

“WE’RE JUST HOPING TO GET LUCKY!”

What? Make the product better? Thats for those crazy big city teams. We just want to survive.

What? Make the product better? That's for those crazy big city teams. We just want to survive.

I tried again last year, although my motivation was slightly different. Since I’m a sportswriter, I don’t really watch college football or college basketball the way fans do. It’s too closely related to work. And one year of covering the Kansas City Chiefs was enough to change the way I feel about the NFL. I don’t want to get into it here, because it’s complex and difficult to understand (that may be another blog altogether), but something happens to you when you cover a team that makes the game taste a little worse. Since I’ve never covered the NBA or MLB, I think it might be fun to have a team to follow. I’ll never be the screaming fan with all the gear on, but I can appreciate the slow-moving drama of a team’s season.

So last year I kind of followed the Royals early in the year. They had some young guys who everybody seemed to think were going to be stars. And they stunk, of course. Again.

The Internet: “People are messed up”

grabscreen

Pictured: The human condition.

Above is a screen grab from a page that shows me the words typed into a search engine that led people to my blog.

I think all of my readers (thanks to both of you) can tell you that I’ve never explored the cultural relevance of  “preteen latin bitches” in this space, but that somebody out there typed that into Google and went enough pages deep to find this blog (I would think at least 30 pages), and then clicked on the link to this blog is almost mind blowing. Not to mention illegal.

Today’s search engine terms are tame compared to the stuff that normally pops up. Searches for beastiality, gay porn, gay beastiality (no joke) and all kinds of inexplicable fetishes have led people to a blog by a sportswriter who writes about sitcoms and gas stations.*

*

(Usually)

If my blog is any indication — and it most certainly is not — the Internet is primarily used to find the following:

  • Information about Michael Jordan
  • Pornography
  • Photos of Debbie Dunning

I am reminded of author Chuck Klosterman’s prediction for the year 2041, in his piece “A brief history of the 21st century” in Esquire:

JUNE 11, 2041: In a matter of weeks, the entire Internet is replaced by “news blow,” a granular microbe that allows information to be snorted, injected, or smoked. Data can now be synthesized into a water-soluble powder and absorbed directly into the cranial bloodstream, providing users with an instantaneous visual portrait of whatever information they are interested in consuming (Sadly, this tends to be slow-motion images of minor celebrities going to the bathroom.)

I’m not sure how much different that is from “Rock of Love,” really. Klosterman has a lot of interesting ideas about the Internet, many of which I tend to agree with. For example, everyone likes to call the Internet a meritocracy, wherein the best (most meritorious) content wins. This argument is especially prominent when discussing the so-called “old media’s” current problems. But Klosterman points out (I believe this was on a podcast with Bill Simmons) that isn’t really true, and I think this blog is a good example for Klosterman’s argument.

If I started posting pictures of naked women on this blog, is there any doubt that my traffic would increase? I don’t think there is. It would probably double within two days and who knows where it might go from there. If all I did on this blog was post pictures of naked women,  it would be even more popular.

Is that merit? Does that mean the Internet is a meritocracy?

Obviously not. What people are primarily seeking on the Internet is not sustenance. It’s sugar. It’s kind of like the beverage business. Sure, you can make plenty of money selling healthy smoothies that are expensive to produce and buy, but Coca-Cola is the most recognizable word in the world, and it’s just selling useless, carbonated sugar water.

I don’t think meritocracies exist within any realm in which people are free to consume whatever they like, and might not exist anywhere at all. Perhaps academia is close to a meritocracy, but there are a lot of politics at work in academia that pollute the idea.

With that all said, I think I’ll try to generate a few more hits, using the one word I’m sure will do it:

Boobs.

Coming of age: Thoughts about service stations and newspapers

Ferguson Service looked just like this.

Ferguson Service looked just like this, right down to the curved front window.

The wrenches would come skidding across the floor like a flat rock on a smooth lake, clanging on the concrete to make a noise not unlike the sound of ice cubes rattling in an empty class, only with a metallic tone to it. When they came to rest, they rang for another second or two.

Delmar Ferguson hated seeing the work pile up, the cluster of cars angled into his small parking lot in downtown Hutchinson, Kansas, indicating that either business was up, or efficiency was down. It was always hard to say.

Delmar, a quick-walking, quiet man in his early 70s, would walk into his shop in his white Amoco shirt — the owner was the only one who wore white — and blue trousers that never quite reached his ankles. The mechanic, Carl Zwyckl, he of the rare all-consonant last name, would invariably be at one stage or another in burning a Marlboro Red — lighting, dangling or flicking — with grease up to his elbows, sweat beading on his shiny forehead and dripping down the chest he always left exposed by one extra button’s worth. His blue, short-sleeved uniform shirt would be smeared with the carnage of a head gasket on a Chrysler, a U-joint on a Silverado, maybe a CV shaft on a Nissan. Sometimes, the cigarette butts littering the shop floor would have little greasy fingerprints on them.

I’d be in the back, fixing a tire. Once a tire was off the rim, and before I put on the glue and patch, I would reach inside the tire and grind away the smoothness of the rubber. Tiny burned specs of warm rubber would fly onto my arms, sticking to the leftover oil from the last water pump job, and I would squint and turn my head to shield my eyes from the spattering gore. Occasionally, a drop of sweat would drip off my nose and land inside the tire. That back room got awfully hot.

On days like this, there was no way we were getting everything done by 6 p.m., which was the kind of thing that irritated Delmar. You could just tell, even though he never said much. So he would walk into his shop, probably after a round of golf he’d played in his white shirt and blue trousers, and without saying a word, would take matters into his own hands.

He would grab a handful of wrenches — he always knew which ones he’d need before he even started — and crawl under one of the injured cars littering the drive. That’s when the wrenches started skidding. Each tool he was finished using, he discarded with an irritated fling, sending them 30, 40 feet across the floor. Getting the car fixed and the customer on its way immediately was the only mission. Let the tools rest where they may. He got this way when he didn’t think Carl and I had accomplished enough that day.

These days were dirty. They were July in southern Kansas. They were busting open a knuckle and wrapping it with a shop rag. They were leaving oily residue on the invoices because you didn’t have time to wash your hands before you signed one and moved on to the next job.

I loved them.

Starting when I was 18 and ending when I was 20, I was a grease monkey, a pump jockey, a quasi-mechanic for a full-service gas station and mechanic shop called Ferguson Service in Hutchinson. I learned a lot about cars, a little about business, and a lot about life in those two years.

One of our customers was Rexann. She had been a single mother most of her adult life; her ex-husband was in jail most of that time. She lived in  a little apartment with her teenage daughter. Rexann loved chocolate and cats. She hated driving and was afraid to go as far as Wichita. She worked two or three jobs most of the time. When she came to buy gas — $10 every two weeks — she brought chocolate for Carl and me, and wanted to make sure all her fluids were full and tires aired up.

She knew we’d make sure she was OK. Seemed like there weren’t too many people that did.

Another customer was Rosemary. She drove a 1974 LTD as big as a parade float, and about as fast. It had a hole rusted in the roof, so Rosemary never drove on rainy days. When she did drive, it was to the grocery store or Taco Tico. Rosemary was too old for much else. She had a son, but she said he never called. Rosemary was sad and angry, and sometimes she would take it out on us. She would curse and blame us for what went wrong with her calcifying car. She would accuse us of overcharging her. She was awful.

But she kept coming back. She kept calling to have us come to her house to jumpstart her (damn) Ford (that we were supposed to fix the last time). Maybe she just wanted to see a familiar face.

There was Kendi. She was a hairdresser who owned her own salon. She wore trendy glasses and drove this huge SUV that hauled her young kids to (no joke) soccer tournaments.

One time, after a particularly disastrous chopping of my bangs, I removed my hat and asked her for advice.

“You’d better just stick with the hat for a while,” she said.

She was always in a hurry and never got her oil changed on time. Maybe she liked that when she came in for gas, we’d remind her. We always knew who’d been around and who hadn’t.

There were the high school girls, too. I think they came because college guys in uniform worked there.

Ferguson Service is gone now. Delmar sold it a couple years after I left and the new owner stopped fixing cars and started selling cigarettes and candy bars. I don’t know who checks Rexann’s coolant or who Rosemary calls for a jump or who reminds Kendi to get her oil changed. The high school girls have probably adjusted just fine.

Those two years were in many ways a coming-of-age time for me. And while I was only 20 when I left to become a journalist in Topeka, I don’t have that same type of relationship with journalism, or the newspaper where I work. It’s not better or worse, just different. I was a different person when I started at both places.

But I think some things hold true for both the full-service gas station and the newspaper. Both offer an experience, a relationship.

Think about all the reasons you’ve ever heard someone give for subscribing to a newspaper. They like to sit down and read with with their coffee. They like the feel of the newspaper in their hands. It reminds them of their fathers. It’s about sitting and feeling and experiencing more than it is about the actual words on the page.Yeah, it’s 50 cents a day they don’t have to pay, but they want to.

I think, to some degree, the full-service gas station was like that. I think people like seeing the same faces, liked knowing that the washer fluid was getting topped off, even if it didn’t need it, liked to chat with the pump jockey (or get flirted with by the pump jockey). Yeah, the gas was 10 or 20 cents more per gallon than it was anywhere else, but that wasn’t the point.

Sadly, both are dying out, often as their customer base does. The newspaper’s fate is much less certain — a lot of people who should know will tell you it’s not as bad as it looks — but a lot of newspapers have closed their doors for good. Maybe the experience wasn’t good enough anymore. Maybe people just want different experiences.

I don’t know why I tell you all this, exactly. I’ve been thinking about my life and my work a lot recently, I guess. Maybe that’s just something you do in your mid-20s, maybe not. I don’t know. It struck me that all of the work I’ve done since I graduated for high school has been for businesses that have been making less and less money almost that whole time. Maybe it’s all my fault.

I began all this describing what were some of the worst days being a grease monkey, and how when I look back, they were kind of the best days. I feel that same way about journalism. The nights on deadline, cranking out a 22-inch lead and a 12-inch sidebar with no good quotes in 45 minutes aren’t all that unlike grinding out a tire in the 110-degree back room at Ferguson Service while intermittently sweet talking old ladies on the 102-degree drive. You get to look back and say, “Yeah, I did that” and feel proud of the work.

You just hope there are enough Rexanns and Rosemarys and Kendis out there who appreciate it.