Friday, March 4, 2011

Leading By Example In Fort Myers

As most spring training games move past the third or fourth inning, the younger and unproven ballplayers enter the game and the fans put their feet up. It's the middle of the magical six-week period when major-leaguers teach the young prospects how to be a professional. Kirby Puckett taught Torii Hunter, and Torii taught Denard Span. Now Denard teaches Ben Revere and Aaron Hicks. They'll talk strategy in the dugouts and behavior in the restaurants, though mostly the older pros will lead by example. Sometimes Denard tells Ben Revere to throw the ball with more authority, but it won't sink in until he watches the starting center fielder fire one from the track to nab a guy at third. Showing is better than telling, and teaching kids is the same way.

I get paid money to hang out with an 8-year-old kid. He supposedly has special needs, but he doesn't have any needs that any other 8-year-old doesn't. Basically, we just do fun stuff and I teach him proper behavior by modeling it. He learns by observing. One day we decided to go sledding at a small hill in south Minneapolis. I love sledding, or as non-Minnesotans call it, sliding, but I haven't properly dressed for the activity since I was 13 years old. At some point in our late adolescence, most of us forget how to dress for the cold winter. We outgrow bib-style snowpants and decide changing from boots to shoes at school in the morning is not cool. Wearing tennis shoes when it's negative ten fahrenheit is cool.

But tennis shoes were never good for sledding. So I was particularly excited to hit the slopes because I again had a pair of proper boots. My buddy had purchased them at a thrift store and then immediately forgot them at my house, so I claimed them as my own. They probably hadn't been worn in a couple decades, though they were everything a boot should be - comfortable, bargain-priced, smelly, and stylish in a 1970's kind of way - like a Chinese restaurant. My girlfriend's cats even liked them.

We parked on Bryant, just across the street from the hill. The kid got out to grab the sleds from the trunk while I sat in the drivers seat and pulled on my boots. But when I stuck my left leg in the boot, I felt something on the underside of my foot. It was small and soft, like a ball of leaves or scrap of fabric. My foot came out and my hand went in to explore. I grabbed it. I pulled it out. I watched as my fist opened and revealed a small, furry, dehydrated, balled-up dead mouse.

It's moments like these - unexpected, shocking, disgusting - that a man's soul is truly revealed. He has no time to calculate the situation and cover his inner thoughts. It's just pure reaction.

I freaked out. I screamed like a girl and jumped out of the seat as the mouse flew from my hand. I got out of the car wearing just socks, but I couldn't feel the cold pavement on my feet. I was shaking and screaming. The people and kids probably thought I'd lit myself on fire. This was no way to behave in public.

The kid understood completely. He didn't say a word as he climbed into the car, found the dead mouse, picked it up by its tail and tossed it into a snowy lawn.

I thought I was going to be the teacher that day, but the kid ended up showing me appropriate behavior. Hopefully, learning about baseball is a two-way street in Fort Myers as well. Maybe next time Scott Baker is afraid to pitch inside, he'll remember watching the fearless Kyle Gibson in March. When Aaron Hicks doesn't complain about the fences, hopefully Justin Morneau will notice and just hit. And maybe next time I'll react more appropriately when I find a dead mouse in my boot.

Monday, January 31, 2011

CraigsList is Pure Entertainment

I've bought and sold a few things on CraigsList, but the amount of transactions is pretty tiny compared to the amount of time I spend browsing the site. Holy cow wow I love browsing the site. It's a slice, nay, a snapshot of humanity, in all it's disgusting hypersexuality and materialism.

The job section can be very interesting, although it's overwhelming because there are so many different types of jobs in so many places. There are 31 different categories of jobs on CraigsList, not including a section just for part-time work. And I love that they included an et-cetera section, just in case a job listing doesn't fit into any of the others. I can imagine someone (in a cowboy hat) asking, "so, what line a work you in?" and I'd reply, "et-cetera."

Basically, every single job listing is written in such a way that makes their position sound absolutely wonderful. Like this one, under the vague heading Project Manager:

A fast growing wholesale business is looking for the right individual to  make a huge impact and to help lead the company in growth. Specific  responsibilities are: strategic sourcing and vendor relations, accurate  fulfilling of custom orders and managing all operations. Other job  duties could include margin analysis and pricing and special projects.

Grow with the company. Sounds so loving and co-operative. Also, these ads never tell you how hard the job will be. Sure, they list job responsibilities, but they always sound so simple and easy. Strategic sourcing? Great, combines two of my favorite activities. Vendor relations? Sure, whenever I see the guy refilling the coke machine, I say hello and ask him for a free coke. Managing all operations? How hard can that be?
Must have a strong project management background with excellent organization skills. Must love details, analysis, decision making and  getting things done. Must have strong software skills and be a quick  learner in all Microsoft products.

If they're looking for someone who LOVES details, analysis, decision making and getting things done, they might as well just build a robot. Seriously, some poor sap who needs this job is going to walk in there babbling on and on about how he's loved details and analysis since he was a little kid. Can you even imagine the kind of environment that values those lame characteristics so ridiculously high? The employees probably cut loose after work by rigidly cleaning their cubicles.

Friday, January 21, 2011

Alright Hamilton update and bonus Lost Post

It's not very warm outside, and to make matters worse, (or better?) the Twins are officially without Nick Punto. No, worse. Once again, we've hit a lull at Alright Hamilton. That's just how it goes. To brighten the mood, I've dug up a very short and unpublished piece about how my room mate is driving me LOCO. Originally penned in October, so some of the references to tropical temperatures may seem especially dated.

What does a squirrel eat? What is my roommate? The answer to both these questions is nuts. She always has her electric space heater running. Today is October. It's warm in October. Yet she still has it blasting away every. minute. she's. home. Yes, that includes OVERNIGHT.

Her space-heater love affair drives me crazy for two reasons. The first is because this behavior makes no fucking sense whatsoever. It's not cold outside. It hasn't dipped below 55 degrees overnight since last March, for pete's sake. The behavior makes even less sense when you consider that she is a fairly environmentally conscious person. She uses her bicycle a lot, she's a crazy-good recycler and she watches wild conspiracy theory environmental documentaries. So you'd think she'd be into energy conservation. Her misuse of her space heater runs counter to her personality, at least as I see it.

I'm convinced it's just some OCD tic or some odd psychological dependence thing. And her nuttiness is rubbing off on me. Now I pace the kitchen asking myself how to solve this problem and how to bring it up to her. Which leads me to the other reason it's driving me nuts: I have no idea how to solve this problem. I'm a reasonable man. I believe that every problem has a solution, even if it involves some tough decision making. This problem has no solution, which is probably on a count of how the problem is ludicrous in the first place. I shouldn't be bothered by this, but I am. I can't talk to her about it, because she has every right to run that thing all the time.

Anyway, here's my solution: a fake flyer, which I'll place in our front door, as if some environmental agency is out spreading their message. I designed it, but only wrote two of the bullet points. See if you can tell which two are mine:

Friday, December 10, 2010

Summing up the Wonder of the Internet

This is what happens when CraigsList, Google and Twitter work together in brilliant harmony.

Step 1: Stumble on a ridiculously overpriced item on CraigsList:

Step 2: Call them out by writing them a secretly snarky e-mail: (the other ornament mentioned in this message is a 1987 edition, listed here for $20.)

Step 3: Tweet about the amazingly high price and the inaccurate date of the items in the CraigsList ad.

Step 4: Receive two replies from the CraigsList ornament seller:

In between messages, the seller googles my e-mail handle, and replies with this:

Thursday, November 25, 2010

AH! Turkey Coloring Contest IV

Do you guys feel like doing this again? I suppose it's a tradition at this point. Like wearing pants outside or giving the finger to Mike Rowe while explaining to no one in particular that people can't honesty come up to him all the time and ask, "Why Chevy, why now?"

Past winners: 2007, 2008, 2009.

email (haasertime at them or post a link in the comments section. Good luck!

Thursday, November 11, 2010

How Not to Display Your World Series Trophy

The Twins announced a few planned improvements to their not-quite-new ballpark yesterday, including a big video board in right-field, more radiant heating and wireless. They will also try to eradicate some of the glare issues from the batters eye that the Twins constantly complained about, as if that were the reason Michael Cuddyer had a sub-par year. Still, it will probably have a greater impact on the teams performance than any other offseason move. (*hack*coughEricHacker)

What's most disappointing about all this is how Twins missed the opportunity to right a wrong. They should move the World Series trophy out of the exclusive Champions Club and into a public area. The only tangible items from Minnesota's only professional championships rest in a plush club reserved for the beautiful people. I bet Les Straker can't even afford to see the '87 trophy, and he helped win the damn thing. When the Twins were in the Metrodome, they had them in the lobby of their front office, which was accessible to anyone who wandered in from Puckett Place or the stadium concourse. But this was when the Twins were cool and didn't pander to the rich folk. It's kinda silly. It's like if the Declaration of Independence was the center piece of some la-ti-da restaurant for American financial barons and capitol lobbyists.

I wondered if this were standard practice around Major League Baseball. So I called and asked every club that had won a title since they began awarding the Commissioner's Trophy in 1967.

Diamondbacks ('01) - Lobby of front office.
Red Sox ('04, '07) - "Front office reception area"
Braves ('95) - Museum
White Sox ('05) - "Case by gate 4"
Reds ('75, '76, '90) - Hall of Fame
Royals ('85) - Hall of Fame
Marlins ('97, '03) - "Front office gate 4"
Angels ('02) - Display in main concourse
Yankees ('77, '78, '96, '98, '99, '00, '09) - Hall of Fame
A's ('72, '73, '74, '89) - Front office lobby
Mets ('69, '86) - Museum
Pirates ('71, '79) - Admin lobby - but "only one of them is here."
Cardinals ('67, '82, '06) - The trophies are currently in boxes, or something. They have no official home while they await construction of the Cardinals Hall of Fame in the adjacent Ballpark Village.
Giants ('10) - The only team I couldn't get a hold of. They probably haven't even decided yet.

These five teams don't care about their fans -
Dodgers ('81, '88) - Front office. Sounds like you'd have to take a tour to see them.
Tigers ('68, '84) - Champions club
Orioles ('83, '70) - Club Level
Blue Jays ('92, '93) - Admin lobby "but probably need a club level ticket to get there during a game"
Phillies ( '80, '08)- "In an office, not available to public."

So the Twins are definitely in the minority. If you want to see the 1987 and 1991 trophies, you'll need to be well connected, or rich, or stupid. Probably all three.

Or you could take a tour or check them out at TwinsFest, but that would defeat the point of this "research article."

Saturday, November 6, 2010

Ryan Adams & the Art of Challenging Your Audience

In the history of music, there has never been an artist as skilled and musically erratic as Ryan Adams. When a popular music figure makes music unlike an earlier and more popular release, the critics always say they are "challenging their audience." And Ryan Adams is the king of that phenomenon, to the point that his fans have either accepted the challenge or turned away confused and jaded, like a NASA scientist who couldn't quite cut it.

Every time a band releases something like Pinkerton or Music from the Elder, there are two inevitable questions. 1) Is it any good? and 2) What's the meaning of this? That second question is almost more important than the first, because music listeners tend to take their favorite artists direction very personally. Everyone wonders what the hell they're thinking, even if it's actually decent music. They question the motivation of putting something out that doesn't sound anything like the successful hit album from two years ago. Is it a joke? Have they gone crazy? Am I seriously expected to enjoy this?

The two aforementioned albums represent good examples of the whole challenging your audience vibe. KISS's Music from the Elder wasn't a very good album. It wasn't good at all. It was, in fact, awful. The motivation behind it only made the ordeal worse. KISS was fading out of the 70's pretty fast - losing their devoted fans by softening up in order to reach a broader fan base. All the kids took a long enough break from trying to sew cow tongues into their friends mouths to notice that the band cared more about merchandising than making rock n' roll. Gene and company knew their album sales were slipping because of the softened image and music of the band, so he decided to do something drastic - a concept album written and recorded with the help of a symphony orchestra and a manager who later admitted that many of the disastrous creative decisions were due to his severe cocaine addiction.

The mark of a true artist is to work their craft from the inside out, without thinking of the audience. That KISS album clearly demonstrated that the band (Gene and Paul) motivations were not of an artistic nature. But the same can't be said for Rivers Cuomo and Weezers' follow-up to their break-through debut album. Everyone hated Pinkerton when it came out, citing Cuomo's emotional lyrics about sexual longing and half-Japanese girls, which stood in contrast to the Blue Albums' fun and nerdy vibe. He must have taken the criticism to heart, because Weezer hasn't released anything as heartfelt or honest (or half-way decent) since. When people look back at the album, they realize it was Cuomo making the music he felt at the time.

The problem with Ryan Adams is that he's consistently, absurdly erratic. No one could possibly enjoy all of his music. His accessible albums are pretty musically diverse, but the outliers are so far out there that they make those regular albums feel as predictable as a hipster scoffing at your bicycle. Is there another musician as wildly diverse as Adams? Prince has done a lot of different things over the years, but not that different. (though it would be hard to find, even among the hard-core Prince faithful, anyone who enjoyed Hot Summer or Purple and Gold.) Bob Dylan and the Rolling Stones have both had inevitable phases and flops, but they generally stuck to one genre. Ryan Adams is different.

He started out in the band Whiskeytown in the mid-90's, which Rolling Stone called "the Nirvana of alt-country." Without really listening to much of it, I'll just describe it as country soft with a punk punch. That's where he started. Now let's look at a bunch of songs that illustrate his song output since then. We'll move chronologically, but just remember that Adams didn't move from soft to hard, he bounced all over the place - last year he released sweet acoustic songs and satanic metal.

To completely over-generalize, I'd call this song pretty typical of 70% of his catalog. He's singing slowly and beautifully to a girl, but there's definitely an edge.

I wish you would
Come pick me up
Take me out
Fuck me up
Steal my records
Screw all my friends
Behind my back
With a smile on your face
And then do it again
I wish you would

This is rockn'roll, but there's no distortion or anything. That's why folks were fairly shocked when Adams came out with Rock N Roll. I guess they could ignore his very low-key punk side project with Jesse Malin, The Finger. But they couldn't ignore this:

This album received very mixed reviews from critics and fans, but Adams reputation as a great alt-country songwriter certainly took a hit. He calmed down for the next five years with the his backing band, the Cardinals, but then word came out that he was releasing his first "fully-realized sci-fi metal concept album."

And the thing is, you can't exactly tell why he's making that amazing piece of art or, say, a satanic, pizza-oriented black metal project with a debut album entitled, "Feel the Laser." Is he fucking with us? Does he really like it? Does he really expect us to like it? Is this some sort of jab at his record label?

Luckily, Adams has been doing this for so long that people have stopped asking those questions. (they're still asking about Metal Machine Music, though.) We've come to understand that he has a real interest in many types of music, and he enjoys playing different stuff. Not only that, but Adams has a really silly sense of humor, as evidenced by his website that opens with this message:

Welcome to the new PAX•AM Records site

My Name is Bongo the Snowman – I’ll be updating you on new releases and news related the PAX•AM roster – with bands such as Ryan Adams, Ryan Adams & The Cardinals and more eclectic tastes such as Ryan Adams. I live on an invisible mountain in the sky. Good Morning
Or the time he hijacked his wife's Twitter account: (click for large)

This is what makes him fun to follow. He has to be having fun making music. And the results can fall anywhere from terrible to amazing, from hilarious to sincere, and everywhere in between. Ryan Adams can challenge me anytime.