Zeppelin Had Coda

I apologize for my recent absence from Blogville. Work has been kicking my ass lately. We’ve been busy for months, but that has really ramped up these past few weeks. Considering that the company has tripled in size in the nearly three years I have been there, this isn’t exactly a shock. Sadly, they are unwilling to invest in another copywriter at this point, choosing instead to hire more marketing staff and focus on increasing membership. Of course, more marketing staff + increasing membership = more content to write. This has all the makings of what the old-timers call a “vicious circle.” As a result, I’ve been under the gun and stressed out quite a bit over the work that has been piling up and the deadlines that are falling by the wayside. But as I told my junior content specialist, there is no use complaining about something we have no control over. If it takes a few missed deadlines to get management to acknowledge the need for help, so be it.

Fortunately, the company is still investing in fun activities for its employees, and Friday was no exception. We shut down the office at 1 PM for our annual picnic. Busy or not, there was no way I was going to miss out on the opportunity to get paid to drink down by the river on a Friday afternoon. We had reserved a picnic shelter at Cottonwood Beach in Washougal and the plan had been to barbecue, play some volleyball and kickball, and socialize. It turned out to be really hot and muggy, so most of us congregated beneath the shelter instead. We had good food, lively conversation, and plenty of booze.

And then the cops showed up.

I hadn’t given much thought to all the No Alcohol Allowed Under Penalty of Death! signs posted all over the place, figuring whoever organized the picnic surely must have gotten a permit or special exception. After all, there were cases of beer right out in plain sight. I am not a beer drinker myself, but came prepared with a flask full of vodka. It wouldn’t be a {Insert Company Name} party without a little booze, after all!

Shit just got real.

Surprise, surprise. There had been no special deal brokered, no temporary liquor license granted for our group, so when four police cruisers showed up and a bunch of sallow-looking uniformed fellas stepped out of their vehicles, the jig was up. I nervously worried about getting patted down, but luckily my flask went undiscovered. We were asked to remove all alcohol from the premises and issued a citation, and after that the party pretty much petered out. Tara and I left around 4, and ended up at our favorite bar in downtown VanWA for more (legal) drinks. We’d invited a bunch of friends to stop by, but nobody did. Lame! Fortunately, we enjoy each other’s company best of all, and had a great time anyway.

At one point we started talking about music. Tara asked me whether I thought Nirvana would still be as revered today if Kurt hadn’t killed himself. No, I replied. They would have eventually made a bad album. It happens to all bands – even Led Zeppelin had “Coda” – and that would have diminished their legacy. And then she asked about other untimely rock ‘n roll deaths. What if Jim Morrison hadn’t died so tragically young?

“It’s probably a good thing he did,” I replied (though not really). “Because you know The Doors would have gone on to release the inevitable disco album, and that would have forever tainted them.”

It’s funny, the conversations you have after downing a few drinks.

Yesterday, summer came to an abrupt end. We had a big windstorm move through, with some pretty heavy rain in the morning. Since it’s still only August I’m sure this is temporary and we will soon return to our Regularly Scheduled Program (warm + dry), but it was a nice break from the monotony and the perfect excuse to spend the day holed up inside. We made meatloaf and watched Boyhood. Usually our weekends are go-go-go, so it’s nice to chill out for a change.

It’s beginning to look like fall out there.

What’s the 411?

Last week, we paid Audrey to catalogue* our record collection.

*As an aside, I realize that “catalog” is the more common spelling of this word in American English, but I prefer the European version. I also favor favour and find colour more colorful than color. However, I refuse to belabor the point and call our holiday Labour Day. I’m funny when it comes to language. 

Anyway. Our record collection continues to grow, and this was becoming a problem. Case in point: we hit our favorite record store in Portland recently and ended up buying an album we already owned. As much as I like Ozzy Osbourne, one copy of “Blizzard of Ozz” is plenty. This has happened on more than one occasion, so we figured it was time to actually come up with a list we can refer to in order to avoid duplicates. Only, the idea of sitting down and going through all those albums one by one seemed far too onerous a task to deal with, so we bribed my daughter to do it. The grand total? 411. That’s a lot of vinyl! Some of those albums we bought nine days ago, while others I have had for almost 40 years.

In fact, I still own the very first record I ever bought. And there’s a great story to go along with it.


In August of 1977, we were on vacation in Texas, staying with some friends of the family in Wichita Falls. I was eight years old and not nearly as worldly as I am these days. One afternoon the adults walked into the living room, and I could tell immediately that something was wrong. Their eyes were downcast and brimming with tears, and they spoke in the same hushed tones usually reserved for the recounting of Bad News.

“What’s wrong?” I asked nervously.

“Elvis is dead,” my mom answered sadly.

“Oh, no!” I cried. And then, after a long pause, “Who’s Elvis?”

I feel pretty stupid about the whole thing now, of course. I may have only been a kid, but you’d think I’d at least have some knowledge of the King of Rock ‘n Roll! Nope. I’d never heard of the guy before. It’s rare that you can point to any random, particular day and assign it significance, but for me, August 16, 1977 is monumental. It’s not just the day that Elvis died – it’s also the day I discovered rock ‘n roll.

elvis headlines

News of Elvis’s death was all over television for the next few days. It made me want to learn more about this fat man in a white sequined jumpsuit whose death stunned the nation. A few weeks later, I walked into a record store and bought my very first album ever. C’mon, Everybody. Because I did not know any of Elvis’s music I chose that one randomly. It was a compilation album containing songs from a number of his movies (another revelation: Elvis made movies!). Aside from “Follow That Dream” there weren’t even any songs that I would consider classic Elvis, but it was enough to whet my appetite and ignited a love affair with popular music in general, and vinyl in particular, that continues unabated to this day. 411 records and counting, remember? (And a handy Excel spreadsheet so we don’t double dip further).

Rock and roll music, if you like it, if you feel it, you can’t help but move to it. That’s what happens to me. I can’t help it. ~ Elvis Presley

I am reminded of this story not just because the 38th anniversary of his passing was Sunday (did you realize Elvis would be 80 now?), but also because the King has a significant role in my novel-in-progress. In case you’re wondering, it’s set in the present day. Anything more than that is a spoiler, and my virtual lips are sealed. But I’ve had to do some research in order to flesh out the character and portray him convincingly. I was hoping to avoid cliches such as fried peanut butter and banana sandwiches, but guess what? Elvis really did eat fried peanut butter and banana sandwiches. All the damn time. So, fine. Fried peanut butter and banana sandwiches will make a guest appearance in my book, too.

In the meantime, I’ve been listening to his music a lot lately. Trying to get into the right frame of mind, if you will. My favorite Elvis songs, in order, are:

  1. Burning Love
  2. Kentucky Rain
  3. Suspicious Minds
  4. Don’t Be Cruel
  5. Mystery Train

What about you? Favorite Elvis song? First album you ever bought? Is there a celebrity whose death significantly affected your life?

Sofa King Brilliant

I’ve been watching a lot of Shark Tank lately. In case you are unaware, this is a reality television show in which entrepreneurs pitch ideas to a group of well-known billionaire investors in the hopes of landing a business deal. It’s entertaining as hell and highly addictive. Most of the proposals are silly (an alarm clock that awakens you with sizzling bacon, a fart-scented “Man Candle”) or ludicrous – how about that vortex generator that uses the earth’s rotation to create electricity and, in the process, solid gold? – but a few are home runs. Naturally, the allure of a million-dollar business deal has piqued my interest. Don’t get me wrong, I love my job, but you know what I like even better?

Independent wealth.

Shark Tank

So I have been trying to develop ideas for my own great invention to pitch to the Sharks. After much deliberation, I think I’ve got something. (And no, it’s not my chain of Vietnamese restaurants cleverly named Pho Q or my furniture empire, Sofa King (“Our prices are Sofa King low! Our couches are Sofa King durable!”). Endless tongue-in-cheek advertising possibilities aside, I am aiming for something higher than a sixth-grade maturity level).

Tara and I were discussing Drumsticks recently. The ice cream kind, as opposed to chicken legs. I mentioned how that last little bite – the solid chunk of chocolate in the bottom tip of the cone – is the best part. She wrinkled her nose in disgust, but I knew a thousand happy bites (I used to be fat, remember?) could not have been misleading, so I quizzed a few people.

“Do you like the solid chunk of chocolate in the bottom tip of a Drumstick cone?” I asked a coworker.

“Duh,” she replied. “It’s the only reason to eat one!”

And just like that, I knew I had struck upon a golden idea. Audrey agreed with me. Everybody I asked said the same thing. Sorry, dear! You’re in the minority on this issue. So I decided that my ticket to riches is…drumroll, please…

Drumstick Bites.

It’s kind of like Elaine’s “muffin tops” idea on Seinfeld, only in reverse. We’re using the bottom of the product instead of the top. We’ll slice off the chocolate tips of the cones, package them up (I’m thinking 10 or so per bag), and market them as a decadent summertime treat. It’s so simple, and yet, Sofa King brilliant. I have no doubt it will singlehandedly pay for that winter home in Park City.PhotoGrid_1437093413581

I realize Drumstick is a proprietary product and I can’t very well just buy a truckload of ice cream cones and a trusty pair of scissors, but here’s the beauty of my plan: I don’t need to lift a finger. All I’ve gotta do is sell the idea to Nestle, sit back, and rake in the dough. It’s a simple licensing deal. I’m thinking Kevin O’Leary, “Mr. Wonderful” himself, might be the best Shark to help me broker that deal, though he’s a bit prickly (with an emphasis on the first syllable) so I would be happy to work with Robert Herjavec instead. Then again, Mark Cuban‘s got mad connections with concession vendors and could get my product into stadiums and arenas nationwide. Hmm…

What do you think, guys? Do you like that solid chunk of chocolate in the bottom tip of a Drumstick cone? You’d love a bag full, wouldn’t you? Should I get to work perfecting my pitch, or start shopping for real estate first?

As they say on the show…are you in?

TV is Like a Cookie

Last week, Tara accused me of being a music snob.

“What do you mean, a music snob?!” I demanded, incensed by this allegation of music snobbery. I pass no judgment, whether you listen to Neil Young or Neil Diamond. Or even Neil Sedaka, for crying out loud (but you’re way cooler if you listen to Neil Young).

Oh, shit. Maybe I am a music snob…

Tara, who enjoys two of the three Neils, then accused me of having an affinity for “the deep tracks.” In other words, album cuts – songs that have not been played to death on the radio. And I have to admit, she’s right about that. No matter how great a song is, it begins to wear out its welcome by about the 30th listen. Look, I love “Another Brick in the Wall,” but for god’s sake I wish that teacher would just leave those damn kids alone already. It doesn’t stop there. We’ve all heard the tale of Billie Jean, claiming she got knocked up despite our protagonist’s insistence that the kid is not his son. A simple paternity test could have resolved this issue thirty years ago! The longer the song, the more excruciatingly painful and drawn out it seems, too. Three minutes would have been plenty of time for Jude to take a sad song and make it better, but we have to put up with seven minutes and about a hundred “na na na na”s first. By then I’m kinda wishing the rumors of Paul’s demise hadn’t been mere rumor.


Maybe that explains why I’m drawn to those lesser-known songs. I’ll take “Lost in the Flood” over “Born in the USA,” “Sister Morphine” over “(I Can’t Get No) Satisfaction,” and “Frances Farmer Will Have Her Revenge on Seattle” over “Smells Like Teen Spirit” any day of the week.

I even went so far as to say that should my favorite obscure local band, The Moondoggies, ever get one of their songs played on the radio I’d have to stop listening to them. Admittedly, that declaration veered a bit too close to blasphemy, so I added a quick

Oh, I’d still listen to them. I’d just skip over the popular song.

OK, fine. Tara was right. I am a music snob. Destroying any last shred of doubt, I came across an article titled “11 Signs You’re a Music Snob” and didn’t even make it past #1 (“You hate everything on the radio”). Yes, I think live shows are better. Yes, I like Pitchfork. Yes, I judge artists by how they look. Yes, I regularly use vinyl. Yes, I’m a music snob. musicsnob2

Yes. Yes. Yes.

And yes, I think Yes is pretentious.

Fortunately, I’m much less of a television snob. I have about twenty episodes combined of Shark Tank and Naked And Afraid on the DVR, stacked up like planes on the tarmac waiting to be cleared for takeoff. Don’t get me wrong, I also enjoy quote/unquote “quality” television. We just finished watching all five seasons of The Wire, a show that came highly recommended by – well, everybody – and yeah, it lived up to the hype. And we just started the third season of Orange is the New Black, only we don’t binge watch like so many other people. To be frank, I don’t get the appeal. Sure, it satisfies your craving for Instant Gratification, but wouldn’t you prefer to savor something, drawing it out and enjoying it slowly? If somebody handed me a chocolate chip cookie I wouldn’t shove the whole thing in my mouth – I’d take little bites and chew them slowly in order to make the whole thing last longer. TV is like a cookie.

I’m not saying binge watching is wrong. Hey, if that’s what floats your boat, go for it! I just personally think if you knock out a whole season of something – anything – in one fell swoop, you are preventing suspense from building. I like to let the details of something I have been watching sink in slowly so I can reflect upon tiny plot intricacies and maybe better understand a character’s motivations. Hard to do so when resolution is just a remote control click away. I looked at my Netflix queue to see when we started The Wire and had to laugh. The first disc of Season 1 arrived November 16. 2013. We are the very antithesis of binge-watchers.


So, I’m curious. If given the opportunity, would you binge watch a favorite television show, or would you rather take a break between each episode? There are no right or wrong answers here. I could very well be in the minority. Hell, I probably am. And while I’m askin’, do you consider yourself a music snob, or are you okay hearing “Stairway to Heaven” for the millionth time? Oh, and if you are a music snob, tell me about a band I should be listening to.

Ornery Little Rascal

Midway through my morning walk today, I surprised a raccoon. He was in the act of climbing a fence and froze when he spotted me. We were just a few feet apart, staring each other down. Sensing a perfect photo opportunity, I grabbed my phone, fumbling for the camera in the hopes of capturing the moment for posterity.

raccoon fence

Unfortunately, the above photo is not mine. I’d love to take credit, but I wasn’t quick enough on the draw. Instead, I ended up with this shot.

2338Kinda pales in comparison, but that’s the fleeting nature of existence, right? Fortunately, getting up at 4:30 every morning for a three-mile walk around the neighborhood presents plenty of opportunities for wildlife encounters. So long as those encounters do not involve bears, I’m okay. We see rabbits every day. Earlier this week, there was a deer. I hear there are coyotes around. Walk long enough, and you’re bound to be rewarded.

rascalRaccoons, though. When I was eight years old and living in Ohio, my family took up camping. In the evenings when the sun went down and we gathered around the campfire, raccoons would show up as if on cue, passing through our campsite. I quickly developed a fascination for the animals, and when I picked up a copy of Rascal, Sterling North’s memoir about growing up in Wisconsin and the raccoon he adopted as a pet, I decided that I, too, should have a pet raccoon. Oddly enough my parents did not agree, but gave me a stuffed animal, which I named Bandit, for Christmas instead. Which is probably just as well; North eventually had to release Rascal into the woods as the animal grew older and became more ornery. Still, every time I see a raccoon, even to this day – (and today, on this day) – I am transported back to my own childhood and can instantly recall the wonder and innocence of my halcyon youth and the belief that all things are possible.

My friends and coworkers think Tara and I are crazy to get up so early every day for those walks. I say they keep us young, in more ways than one.

Happy Friday.

See You in 364 Days, Chewbacca

I am so glad it’s May 5th. Not because I have a special affinity for Cinco de Mayo (though, hello nacho bar at work!). It’s just that, if I see one more lame May the 4th be with you post on social media, I am going to scream.

It’s not that I’m anti-Star Wars. I like Yoda as much as the next person. Hell, I once dressed up like C3PO for fun Halloween. (My brother was Darth Vader that year, proving that he was much cooler than me back in the day). But this pun has been so beaten to death, it makes me want to jab a lightsaber in my eye. I chuckled the first time I heard it…but that was three years ago. I haven’t even cracked a smile since.

In case you don’t get it, “May the 4th be with you” is a play on the famous Jedi line, “May the force be with you.” If you don’t know what a Jedi is, clearly your pop culture skills need work. Every May 4th, people take up the rallying cry ad nauseum.

More like, ad nausea.

It started when I arrived at work…


…and was a steady barrage the rest of the day. Every time I scrolled through my Facebook newsfeed to see photos of people’s dogs and lunches and find out the color of their aura or which Game of Thrones character they embody most, I was assaulted with May the 4th nonsense. This trivial fluff was getting in the way of really important matters! Because of the clutter, I almost missed the invitation to “like” my friends’ uncle’s cousin’s neighbor’s daughter-in-law’s nail salon page. Close call, people! And I nearly overlooked the hilarious George Takei meme that was sandwiched between a picture of Bad White Police Officers and that Timehop shot of my friend from one year ago (but God loves me, so it’s all good).

timehopMay the 4th is just too stressful these days. May 5th? Much better.

Or should I say mucho better? After all, it’s Cinco de Mayo, and my newsfeed is going crazy with that topic…

And also Bernie Sanders. He’s running for President. Too bad he’s a Socialist. You just know he’s going to take away all our guns and privatize healthcare.

Ooh, a baby picture.

GREAT headline, The Onion.

My buddy from Wisconsin’s sister is holding a Scentsy party and I’m invited!

What am I doing here, still blogging?! Gotta go……………

Armadillos in Our Trousers

Saturday evening was weird, but fun.

Weird because we went back to our old condominium complex, a year after moving away. It was remarkable how little things had changed. It’s still next to impossible to find parking, because the residents all use the guest spots, so we ended up parking roughly eight miles away. Fun because we met up with our old neighbors, David and Andrea, for the first time since our impromptu drunken Super Bowl party in 2014. They recently learned that Tara and I had never seen This Is Spinal Tap and declared this a grievous cultural omission that must be corrected. So they invited us over for dinner and the movie.

After our long hike to their front door (in which I had to force myself to turn left when I reached their front porch rather than right, where my old door is located), we rang their bell and quickly commenced on catching up. There isn’t much I miss about the townhouse (especially after hearing that the HOA fees have gone up to $250/month), but D & A are good people and I do miss having them as neighbors. And, well, the covered back porch was nice. But that is it. Ironically, this was the first time they’d ever had us over for dinner. It only took us moving away and a year to pass before it finally happened.

This pretentious ponderous collection of religious rock psalms is enough to prompt the question: ‘What day did the Lord create Spinal Tap and couldn’t he have rested on that day, too?’

Dinner was awesome. Andrea showed off by whipping up a spinach salad with a balsamic vinaigrette, a Moroccan chicken with garbanzo beans and quinoa, and fresh berries for dessert. Man, if I knew she could cook like that, I’d have invited myself over years ago. And the movie? Loved it. It’s very Christopher Guest-ish, which is a good thing, especially if you’re into Best In Show. Funny stuff, and very quotable. The movie does for rock ‘n roll what The Sound of Music did for hills. We had a great evening.

Friday wasn’t too shabby, either. Tara and I had tickets to see Pigs On The Wing, a Pink Floyd cover band we had seen perform Dark Side of the Rainbow soon after she moved out here. The show as at the Doug Fir Lounge, a favorite Portland venue, which gave us an excuse to grab a few drinks and settle in for a fun night of rock ‘n roll. They played the Animals album in its entirety (my favorite – awesome!) and followed that up with tracks from Dark Side of the Moon, The Wall, and Wish You Were Here. There’s nothing like a great rock ‘n roll show to set the tone for the weekend.


Squeaky Shoes

I recently picked up a new pair of walking shoes. With as many miles as I’m logging lately, the Vans – fashionable as they are – were no longer cutting it. Even without a fancy little swoosh, these new shoes offer an improved walking experience.

Except at work. Because every time I walk across the bare concrete floor, they squeak.

Jenny was the first one to bring this to my attention. And by “bring this to my attention,” I mean, tease me mercilessly. ‘Cause that’s what she proceeded to do, giving me a complex about my footwear. When I posted about what a big meanie she was being on my Facebook page, did I get sympathy from my friends? Nope. But I did get a brand new nickname.

“Squeaky Shoes Petruska.”

This, courtesy of my mother-in-law. Thanks a lot, Tracy. Should I consider it an early birthday gift?

As far as nicknames go, this one did not appeal to me much. It kind of sounds like the world’s worst mob nickname. But then my sister-in-law came to the rescue with the following comment.

You could always say you got that name because “even though they can hear you comin it don’t mean sh*t.” But you have to say that very “thug -like” while making a gun gesture with your hand.

Which made the nickname not-so-bad. Thanks, Esther. But it did nothing to alleviate the constant squeaking occurring with every step. Fortunately, I’m good at thinking outside of the box. Or in this case, outside of the shoebox. The next day, I showed up at work wearing slippers.

slippersOne thing about Squeaky Shoes Petruska: the guy’s a problem solver. And he don’t take no shit.

About those slippers, by the way…

When I was in the hospital, I brought them along with me. And I am not kidding when I say how badly all the male employees coveted them. Doctors, nurses, you name it – they all really liked those slippers. Even when I’m on my deathbed (ever-so-slight exaggeration), I’m apparently a fashion icon. Good to know. They are pretty cool slippers, as far as slippers go. I’ve had ’em for years and couldn’t tell you where I bought them to save my life. But they put an end to all the squeaky shoe talk in real short order.

Have you ever had shoes that squeaked? How’d you solve the problem? And do you, or have you ever, had a nickname that you either loved or loathed? Feel free to bare all in the comments!

Wojo Goes Mobile

I was watching Barney Miller this morning, as is habit. And yes, I am aware it is no longer 1978. Whatever. My AM routine includes the local news, a cup of coffee, and an episode of the aforementioned sitcom featuring the antics of the men (and occasional women) of the 12th Precinct.

Thank you, Antenna TV, for your perpetual reruns of this great show.

Today’s episode made me laugh out loud. Wojo, Dietrich, and Yemana were marveling over “a phone without wires!” They thought it was the coolest thing ever, and couldn’t believe how advanced technology had become. Here they are, fawning over this thoroughly modern 20th-century engineering feat.

Wireless Phone

You think that’s something? Just wait, fellas.

And by the way, is this thing even real? Did such technology exist in the 70s? This is a regular ol’ telephone, minus the cord, with an antenna attached. And they were walking around the police station using it to make calls. According to my research (and by that I mean reading the “history of mobile phones” Wikipedia page), while the technology dates back to 1946, the first true handheld mobile phone was produced in 1973 and looked like the so-called “brick” we have all seen and laughed at in old photographs and movies. Hell, I was just joking about these primitive phones in my last post.

Martin Cooper showing off the first handheld mobile phone, released in 1973.
Martin Cooper showing off the first handheld mobile phone, released in 1973.

Which leads me to Conclusion A: Barney Miller took creative liberties with the whole “wireless phone” thing. Sure, they had existed for a few years by the time this episode originally aired, but I doubt anybody had ever actually seen one. And that leads inevitably to Conclusion B: Barney Miller was ahead of its time.

This got me thinking about other television shows that were ahead of their time, for one reason or another. These are not necessarily critically acclaimed shows that never found an audience (Pushing Daisies, Arrested Development) and may, in fact, have had long and successful runs – they just did things differently, or did them first. In addition to Barney Miller, which makes my list not just because of the futuristic look at mobile communications but also due to its forward-thinking, realistic depictions of homosexual relationships, I offer you the following (in no particular order).

  1. Star Trek. In 1968, this sci-fi classic boldly went where no man had before, at least on primetime television, and broke the color barrier by featuring an interracial kiss between Captain Kirk and Uhura. Despite occasional missteps (tribbles, anyone?), the franchise continues to live long and prosper.
  2. My So-Called Life. This short-lived drama became a cult classic and launched the careers of Claire Danes and Jared Leto. Though its main characters were high school students – nothing original there – their daily struggles with realistic hot-button social issues of the day were far more realistic than those experienced by their peers in the 90210 zip code who were more concerned with saving The Peach Pit.
  3. The Honeymooners. The Kramdens were the antithesis of all those other cheerful, well-dressed couples featured so prominently in the early days of television: they argued, they got into ill-advised schemes, and they were decidedly blue collar. All was not domestic bliss, but at the end of the day, you never doubted Ralph’s sincerity when he said to Alice, “baby, you’re the greatest.”
  4. Seinfeld. No other show spotlighted the flaws and idiosyncrasies of its main characters so perfectly. It succeeded in making a group of whiny, apathetic, self-absorbed New Yorkers likable, no small feat. Let’s not forget all the great catchphrases (yada-yada, spongeworthy, master of your domain). But the most compelling reason for being ahead of its time: in one episode, Elaine is dating a guy with the same name as a serial killer. She is flipping through Sports Illustrated and suggests he change his name to O.J. This episode aired seven months before Nicole Simpson was murdered.
  5. Lost. Love it or loathe it, odds are you talked about it (and those conversations inevitably contained the phrase “WTF?!”). This head-scratcher heaped layer upon layer of unresolved mystery upon you and the whole thing was a mishmash of unconventional plots that included time travel, flashbacks, flash-forwards, obscure references to 18th-century philosophers, and polar bears on desert islands. It never made much sense and the finale was infuriatingly dense, but it was completely original and strangely engrossing. Networks are still trying to come up with the next Lost, years after it went off the air.

That’s my list! What television shows would you consider groundbreaking or ahead of their time?



I Know Why the Caged Bird Sings

We watched Reality Bites over the weekend, and it made me realize how much I miss the 90s.

If you’ve never seen this movie, first off: why not!? Reality Bites, much like Singles, is the quintessential 90s movie. It is an excellent snapshot into what life was like moments before the Internet changed everything, and perfectly defines a generation. My generation. Generation X.


The movie already feels dated, beginning with the cast. Winona Ryder? She shoplifted her way right out of the spotlight. Ethan Hawke? He’s chosen to write novels and take roles in critically acclaimed but little seen films. Janeane Garofalo? Her political activism scared away the big studios. Only Ben Stiller has had a “conventional” acting career, though judging by the trailers for Night At The Museum 27, he really should slow it down a bit.

There’s no point to any of this. It’s all just a random lottery of meaningless tragedy and a series of near escapes.

The other things that date the movie are the things I love most about it, and miss the most about the 90s. There was both an innocence and a backlash against “selling out.” If you were an alternative rock musician and one of your songs started receiving radio airplay, you were shunned. I’m talking about you, Soul Asylum and Gin Blossoms. In the movie, Lelaina’s documentary is picked up by In Your Face (a thinly disguised MTV knockoff), and then corporatized to death, much to her horror. People felt that way back then. The creative soul of an artist was more valuable than any type of currency.

Your integrity mattered a hell of a lot more than a BMW.

old cell phone*304The year Reality Bites came out (1994) computers already existed, but were much simpler, mainly functioning as word processors or very heavy paper weights. Printing was of the dot matrix variety and took roughly twelve days per page. Email was a novelty. It wasn’t until the following year that the last restrictions on Internet traffic were removed and it went mainstream. Ben Stiller’s character owns a cellular phone in the movie, but it’s ridiculously large and impractical. People didn’t sit across from each other in restaurants holding a 4″ glowing screen in front of their faces. Instead, they had actual conversations. “Streaming” entailed wading through water.

I remember the first time I ever went online. I started chatting with somebody on the east coast, and thought that was the coolest thing ever. I remember telling my wife, “I’m talking to some girl in Pennsylvania RIGHT NOW. How cool is that?” Because the only words she heard were some girl she did not find it nearly as cool as I did. Go figure. It was innocent, though! I also recall buying my first mobile phone. This had to be 2003 or 2004, and the truth is, I didn’t know what the hell we were supposed to do with them. There was no texting then. I justified $80 a month to the wife by saying they’d be great to have in an emergency, but no emergency ever materialized. A few years and a couple of upgrades later, I got mad at the Sprint salesman because he was trying to sell me a phone with a camera.

Lelaina: Can you define “irony”?
Troy Dyer: It’s when the actual meaning is the complete opposite from the literal meaning.

“I have a camera,” I told him. “Why on earth would I want one on my phone?!”

Clearly, I was living in a pre-Instagram world. Turns out they didn’t have any phones that didn’t come with built-in cameras anyway, so I bit my tongue and made the purchase. And complained bitterly about it afterwards. Looking back on it now, I can only laugh at the absurdity of my reaction.

The first website ever.

I am not under any orders to make the world a better place.

Technology has improved my life in many ways, I cannot deny that. It has made me smarter, and definitely makes my job easier.

And yet, I still long for those days right before everything changed. For that Reality Bites world where idealistic quotes like “the only thing you have to be at age 23 is yourself” still rang true.