February 26, 2010

AJ, Has It Stopped Snowing Yet? And How's the Book Coming?

ALL WORK AND NO PLAY MAKES AJ A DULL BOY ALL WORK AND NO PLAY MAKES AJ A DULL BOY ALL WORK AND NO PLAY MAKES AJ A DULL BOY ALL WORK AND NO PLAY MAKES AJ A DULL BOY ALL WORK AND NO PLAY MAKES AJ A DULL BOY ALL WORK AND NO PLAY MAKES AJ A DULL BOY ALL WORK AND NO PLAY

AND NO PLAY MAKES

AJ A DULL BOY ALL WORK AND NO PLAY MAKES AJ A DULL BOY

ALL WORK AND NO PLAY MAKES AJ A DULL BOY ALL WORK AND NO PLAY

MAKES AJ A DULL BOY ALL WORK AND NO PLAY MAKES AJ A DULL BOY ALL WORK

AND NO PLAY MAKES AJ A DULL BOY ALL WORK AND NO PLAY MAKES AJ A DULL BOY ALL WORK AND NO PLAY MAKES AJ A DULL BOY ALL WORK AND NO PLAY MAKES A DULL BOY ALL WORK AND NO PLAY MAKES AJ A DULL BOY ALL WORK AND NO PLAY MAKES AJ A DULL BOY ALL WORK AND NO PLAY MAKES AJ A DULL BOY ALL WORK AND NO PLAY

AND

NO PLAY MAKES

AJ A DULL BOY

ALL WORK AND NO PLAY MAKES AJ A DULL BOY ALL WORK AND NO PLAY MAKES AJ A DULL BOY ALL WORK AND NO PLAY MAKES AJ A DULL BOY ALL WORK AND NO PLAY

MAKES AJ A DULL BOY ALL WORK AND NO MAKES AJ A DULL BOY ALL WORK AND NO PLAY MAKES AJ A DULL BOY ALL WORK AND NO PLAY MAKES AJ AND NO PLAY MAKES

AJ A DULL BOY ALL WORK AND NO PLAY MAKES AJ A DULL BOY


February 25, 2010

Seriously, Neighbor?


The wheels on the bus don't go nowhere...

So, it's snowing AGAIN here in South Jersey. We've already had a Yao Ming's-worth of accumulation this winter, so why not shoot for Suleiman Ali Nashnush-ian heights.

Anyway, the weather forecast said we'd get snow from late last night all the way through Friday afternoon, and when I woke up this morning, there were three inches on the ground already and all schools had long since been declared closed. Now, because we have such a long driveway, my wife and I make sure to move our cars all the way down to curbside at times such as these to allow us to "escape" with a minimal amount of shoveling once the storm passes. Solid suburban strategy learned over time...

Now, across the street from us lives the local school bus driver and apparently, last night she decided to park the yellow beast ON THE STREET. Why did she do this? I mean, seriously! Either it was not going to snow enough to cancel classes, and she'd have no trouble getting the bus out of her driveway, or it would snow so hard that her services would not be needed.

All she's accomplished now is to provide a huge obstacle for the snowplow when it comes down our street. Now, my driveway is going to get further blocked in because of the re-direction of the plow. Not only that, but because of where she's parked, her bus is now going to be wedged in even more than if she'd simply left it in her driveway in the first place.

Thanks a lot, neighbor! Brilliant move!


How's the weather up there, Suleiman?

February 24, 2010

Brushes With Pre-Greatness (Volume 2)


Robert Sean Leonard

Back in 1996, my improv group was performing at the John Houseman Theatre, one of the premiere off-Broadway venues in the city at the time.

Well, I take that back - we weren't technically performing in the Houseman, but rather in one of the two studio spaces beneath the Houseman, right next door to Kenny Kramer, who was using the space to show his customers videos of episodes of Seinfeld before leading them out to a tour bus to take a sightseeing tour from "the Real Kramer."

We did a few seasons in this location, so we knew our weekend matinee performances were required to start with one of us standing at the top of the staircase making sure that our audience knew to descend, rather than follow the crowd into the mainstage space to see Sylvia with Sarah Jessica Parker pretending to be a dog. (I only wish I were making that up.)

We also knew that because the signage for whatever the "big show" above was at the time would be far superior to ours, we always set out to do a huge postering of the local businesses to get the word of our show out into the public eye - or ear or any other organ that got them to buy a ticket. In 1996, I was in charge of this campaign, and on a cold and rainy weekend morning, I played point-man as I sent my postering charges out into the neighborhood in teams of two making sure we got as much coverage as possible until all the posters were gone.

At the time, the show preparing to open "above us" was ironically called Below the Belt and as it turns out, they were doing a dress rehearsal that morning. So, while I sat and read a book, every so often, into the small hallway came Judd Hirsch and Robert Sean Leonard wearing a lot of blue terry cloth. At this time, everyone knew Hirsch from his days on Taxi, but although he had been in Dead Poets Society, Leonard was not quite yet a household name. He was getting there, but it's not like Swing Kids - guilty pleasure as I think it to be - had been a box office smash.

Anyway, the postering campaign was a three-hour tour, so when the cast broke for lunch, I was still sitting there waiting for the last team to report back to home base, and as far as Robert Sean Leonard knew, I had been sitting there by myself the whole time - he had never been in the hallway when any of my teams had been there.

Slowly, he came over and excused himself, and asked if I was OK. He seemed genuinely concerned that I might be in need of help, but it was clear that he was also, at heart, a very shy individual, and was leaving his comfort zone to do so.

I explained to him why I was there, and showed him a copy of our poster. He immediately relaxed and brightened up. "I was worried you were either in trouble or a stalker. Thank goodness!" I invited him to be a guest judge, or just stop by and see the show if he had the time, and he said he would try to drop in. I don't think he actually ever did, but I do believe that when he said it, he meant it.

Anyway, it's an example of the "person" being as likable as the "actor" persona they've created. That's not always the case, so I'm always happy to encounter it and spread the word.

February 23, 2010

Brushes With Pre-Greatness (Volume 1)


Nathan Fillion as Captain Hammer

I've never been someone who gets starstruck when encountering celebrities. Perhaps that's because I grew up in New York City, where it is not at all uncommon to cross paths with television personalities on a semi-regular basis simply by walking down the street. In addition, I used to perform with an improv group that frequently invited "famous people" to participate in our shows, so it was not uncommon to have encounters with the likes of Linda Ellerbee, Austin Pendleton or Avery Schreiber.

Of course, not every "celebrity" who came into our theater had immediate name recognition. One night, I was captaining a Theatresports team (a competitive form of "Whose Line Is It Anyway?") and was told that one of the judges for that night's show was a former member of Edmonton Theatresports. Well, we get visiting fellow-improvisers as judges all the time, so I didn't think anything of it... until we were on stage, and our judges were introduced by name - the Canadian in question was Nathan Fillion.

Now if this story took place in 2010, I'd have been flabbergasted - Mal from Firefly? Captain Hammer himself? Holy cow! However, this was like 1994 or 95. Nathan hadn't even been in Two Guys, a Girl and a Pizza Place yet. He'd only recently started portraying Joey Buchanan on the soap opera One Life to Live so essentially, nobody knew who the heck he was... but I did.

A few years prior, when I was in college, I had to write something called an ethnography, where you observe a group of people over a few months as they engage in a regular, repeated activity, and write about any consistent behaviors that you witness. Since I was going to school at Syracuse, and it was winter time, I selected a group in my very own residence hall to avoid going outside: the girls who sat in the lobby and commandeered the TV set each morning to watch "their stories."

In other words, I watched them as they watched One Life to Live... and of course, as time went on (as this was a lengthy assignment) by sheer osmosis, I got sucked into the storyline. While I didn't become a regular viewer from that point on by any means, I did check in with the show from time to time over the years to see what the latest plots were.

Back to the Theatresports stage... I knew who Nathan Fillion was, simply because I had seen him on his soap. Though he had not been on the show too long, I knew some current storylines and some of the biography of his character, so for one of the challenges during the show, I decided to do a "scene in the style of soap operas" and went on stage playing my take on Joey Buchanan.

Luckily, Nathan had a sense of humor about my portrayal, and after the show, he was very gracious, but I think also a little bit frightened that I had so much awareness of Joey's backstory. So while we didn't suddenly become best friends, nor did he come out for drinks with the cast, I still walked away from the brief encounter with a positive impression of Mr. Fillion.

Since that time, he has been more than a little bit successful and now boasts over 500,000 followers on Twitter (which is only about 499,000 more than I have) and I couldn't be happier for him. And one of these days, I just might watch an episode of Castle (you know, if Nathan personally asked me to give it a try) but to me, he'll always be "the judge who gave me a perfect score in Theatresports."

February 22, 2010

Curl Your Enthusiasm

Wacky pants and swiffers - all part of the game.

I'm fascinated by curling, and have enjoyed watching it during the Winter Olympics. I can't quite explain why I am so enthralled by watching what my buddy PK is calling "Shuffleboard on Ice... What's next? Bingo on skis?"

And yet, I watch. But is it a sport? To answer that question, I go back to the criteria I spelled out in my very first post on this blog. How to classify curling? Hmmmm....

All athletic endeavors fall into one of the following four categories: A race, a game, a sport, or a judged exhibition.

It's not a race, although there is an element of time in curling - a team must complete all of its shots before their allotted time expires. Still, you get no advantage to finishing before your opponent, so curling fails to be included in this category.

Mercifully, it's not a judged exhibition either. It's hard enough to get those big stones to stop exactly where you want them too all the way on the other side of a sheet of ice without having to worry about style points. Curling is many things, but "artistic interpretation" doesn't enter into it.

So, we're down to a game or a sport. Since there is a highest possible score that can be reached, curling is a game. You can't get more than 8 points in an end, and even though that feat is nigh on impossible at this level of play, it still gives a ceiling to the competition. There reaches a point in many matches where one team's score is simply too high to beat, and as such, the trailing team simply concedes.

As unlikely as it is that a hockey team trailing 18-0 to Canada with ten minutes to go would be able to mount a comeback, the fact remains that they conceivably could pull off a true miracle on ice. That's what makes hockey a sport, but curling a game.

But so what if it's only a game... it's still fun to watch.

February 19, 2010

Are You Stupid?

Normally, I like athletes to be gracious and humble when they are interviewed after a big victory. I have no interest in hearing any trash talking and "look how great I am" or even the old tired cliche "Nobody believed in us and we shocked the world!"

I also don't like when athletes decide not to talk at all. After all, dealing with the media is part of the job. Do it, and be polite about it. However, in the case of Sven Kramer, I'm fully behind his being discourteous to the NBC reporter interviewing him right after he won the gold medal in speed skating.

She apparently wanted Kramer to state his name and medal won in order to ID the tape and the Dutch athlete took this to mean she had no clue who he was or even why she was interviewing him. And I tend to agree with his assessment. After all, how hard would it have been for her to simply say, "I'm here with Sven Kramer, who just won gold in the Men's 5000..."

See for yourself below, as he recounts the tale in a interview for Dutch TV.


February 18, 2010

Separated at Birth?


Shaun White, USA and Mirjam Ott, SUI

Welcome to AJ's blog, those of you checking in from Google's image search. Feel free to browse around my other posts - including this curling related one.

The Luckiest Man In The World


KEEP THE MOVEMENT ALIVE:
JOIN THE AJ TO SNL CAMPAIGN NOW!!!



John Shuster, US Curling Skip

I love the Winter Olympics for one reason and one reason alone - curling. For one thing, it's almost the only event with a truly level playing field, and I'm not just talking about the sheet of ice upon which it is played.

Too many other events are decided by the opinion of unseen judges. From figure skating to moguls racing to ski jumping, part of each competitor's score is a totally skewed "style factor" or some other form of wiggle room that takes those events out of having an indisputable victor.

Then there's the events like luge and speed skating, in which the difference between gold and silver might be as little as 0.001 of a second. While those events are races, the winner may not be the "best" at the actual event, but merely the one with the most wind-resistant equipment. Perhaps Shani Davis' gold medal should go to whomever Colbert Nation got to design his aerodynamic tights.

Which leaves pretty much curling, where every team has to use identical equipment in a true head-to-head, round robin competition to decide matters "on the field of play." But of course, in this country, there is no "National Curling League" paying its athletes millions of dollars. Very few people know the rules of curling, and as a result, it gets relegated to NBC's auxiliary channels. American curlers do their stuff in relative anonymity... which is why John Shuster is the luckiest man in the world.

The US men are now 0-3, and all but eliminated from medal contention with six matches left to go. And Shuster has performed way below expectations, and has missed three game-winning shots. But in all likelihood, you haven't heard about it. The highlight won't be shown on your local news. His name is not being plastered all over the newspapers and Buckner-ized in shame.

Shuster's performance at these Olympic Games are on the par with Scott Norwood and Jean Van de Velde. If a guy like Anthony Parker of the Cleveland Cavaliers missed buzzer-beaters in the first three games of the NBA Finals, he'd carry a scarlet letter with him that would have fans running him out of town. He'd be the butt of jokes from Letterman to Kimmel and all points in-between.

Shuster? He's got six games left. Not a lot of time for redemption, dear Skip - and yet, we're still pulling for you. U-S-A! U-S-A!

UPDATE: In the Thursday morning game against Denmark, Shuster missed the last shot AGAIN! USA is now the sole winless team in the competition.

February 16, 2010

What About Me?



I think Betty White is quite funny, and yes, it would be lovely to see her host Saturday Night Live - an honor that is well past overdue. But does someone of her stature really need a grass roots campaign to attempt to make it happen? She has an agent. She knows how to work a phone.

What about me? I performed improv comedy just like most of the current cast of the show- in New York City, no less. That makes me far more qualified to host SNL than many of the sports figures and politicians who have painfully meandered their way through 90 minutes of lousy cue-card reading with nary a chuckle to be heard from the live studio audience along the way.

So let's make it happen, folks!

Click on this link, join the cause and then spread the word to as many friends as you can, asking them to do the same. If Facebook can give a random dung beetle its 15 minutes of fame by comparing it favorably to Glenn Beck, certainly we can make me a household name by the end of February, can't we?

Thanks in advance,

AJ

Not Quite Live


What do you have in your hand, Manuel?

OK, NBC. I get it.

The Olympics are on the West Coast, and you want the freedom to do a little "scouting out" the most interesting storylines for your primetime coverage of the Games. To that end, I don't really mind the fact you are tape delaying some events for a few hours in order to get better ratings.

Having said that, don't pretend you're not doing it and don't milk it. There's no need to announce that you'll be showing Apolo Anton Ohno's next race "in six minutes" and instead show a lengthy minute "Up Close and Personal" profile on the skater, which then leads into said race. The race itself was twenty minutes later. That's false advertising that can easily be avoided.

Also, if you know you're time shifting an event, then you need to do a far better job of editing the coverage. I tuned into the luge, and watched the American slider who went first make his run. Obviously, as the first competitor to go, he was in the lead. Without any hesitation, we then watched the "next up" - a German luger - take his turn at the course... and I couldn't help but be horribly confused as the "time to beat" had a Swiss flag next to it. Exactly how many competitors did we miss in the interim, NBC?

Oh, and one more thing - can we have a little sense of humor? How can you go through two whole days of Austrian luger Manuel Pfister and his good friend Martins Rubenis (pronounced repeatedly as RUB-anus) and not snicker even once?

I'm not sure what the coverage would be like if I went overseas, but I have to imagine they'd be far more respectful to the endeavors of some of these athletes. I have no plans to travel Europe anytime soon, but if I did make it to Austria or Latvia or any other of these countries that enter the American sports consciousness but once every Olympiad, I'd make it my business to not take my cue from the Peacock Network and avoid being as dismissive as possible.

Of course, I'd also hope my own personal Eurotrip would be as entertaining as this one:



February 15, 2010

"Hello, Pot. It's Me... Kettle."


BOO!

Just throwing this out there...

Dick Cheney has been quite vocal lately, appearing on TV and in print, telling all who will listen that he is convinced there is a high probability that another 9/11-style attack is surely forthcoming, and that it is "dead wrong" to think otherwise. He further focuses blame on the current administration, stating that Obama's policies increase the attackers' chances of a successful attack.

In other words, Cheney is imploring the American people to get on board with the idea that there needs to be a change in leadership in our country, lest there will be some sort of nuclear attack that claims the lives of millions of innocent citizens.

So what is terrorism, Mr. Cheney? Certainly flying planes into buildings qualifies as a terrorist act, but the definition of the word is not exclusive to actual violence. Terrorism can also be verbal threats intended to intimidate or coerce, especially for political purposes.

You know, like someone who might be thinking of mounting a 2012 presidential campaign trying desperately to scare the electorate into thinking he's the only one who can save them from getting nuked.

"Vote for me, or you will surely die!" That slogan will look good on a button, don't you think?

February 12, 2010

The Lost Interest



I just finished Dan Brown's latest novel, and I have to say... ZZZZZZZZZZZZzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzz!

I'm afraid that Brown, whose previous books I've enjoyed, has become too predictable and there were no surprises to be had in this novel. Not only that, but the story falls back on too many of the same cliches from Angels and Demons and The DaVinci Code.

I won't spoil the plot, for those of you still planning to read The Lost Symbol, but I will provide for you here the exclusive, hot off the presses (OK, fresh out of my imagination) summary of the first half of Brown's next novel... The Forgotten King.

Robert Langdon gets a call waking him in the middle of the night. He needs to come to the campus of Texas A&M immediately. There's an incident that only a symbologist can assist with.

Reluctantly, he arrives at the school where the mascot, a dog named Reveille, has been murdered and covered with what appear to be ancient Egyptian hieroglyphs, in the shape of a serpent. Langdon is also given a tour of the school by a single, female grad student who has studied abroad, and shares the outlandish rumors about the school - that some believe it to be part of grand conspiracy, due to its connections to NASA, cloning and George W. Bush.

Meanwhile, one of the cadets, with a bizarre physical deformity, watches from a distance, swearing that he will kill Langdon if he gets too close to the truth...

Langdon suddenly has a revelation while looking at a picture of Wen Ho Lee on the alumni wall and realizes the hieroglyphs stand for "misunderstood spy." Obviously, this points to an anagram. And when Langdon figures out the anagram, he is stunned at what he discovers. But before he can inform the reader, shots ring out and Langdon and his tour guide are forced to flee.

"Where should we go?"

"The airport. We have to get to Memphis!"

While on the plane, Langdon explains that taking the letters from SPY and REVEILLE and mixing them together with an extra S, the shape of the serpent, you get ELVIS PRESLEY. And, of course, as they approach the airport, he is sure to point out the Pyramid in the skyline...



Then the next 100-200 pages involve trips to Graceland, Beale Street (where B.B. King's is located) and the site of the Martin Luther King assassination. Somehow these "three Kings" are tied to a secret treasure - the Gift of the Magi - a heretofore hidden stash of gold still guarded by Lisa Marie Presley, who herself, it is proven is actually a female clone of Elvis.

Coming to a bookstore near you in 2012, and a movie theater near you in 2013.


February 11, 2010

The Weather Outside Is Frightful



While I spend most of the day digging out from the latest snowstorm, my thoughts turn to baseball season and the spring that is to come... To that end, here's a link to an article that posted on ESPN.com just a few weeks back - our first ESPN Experts Mock Draft of 2010.

Grab a nice hot cup of cocoa and think warm thoughts!

Click on this link to read my ESPN.com article.

February 10, 2010

The Jim Lange Defense


The creepy man in the picture above is 66-year-old Rodney James Alcala, currently on trial for the murders of five people back in the late 1970's.

In spite of the fact that the prosecution has plenty of evidence to make it pretty darn likely that Alcala is indeed guilty, they made the mistake of over-emphasizing one piece of evidence in one of the murders - to wit: a pair of gold earrings that police say belonged to one of Alcala's victims that was subsequently found in his possession - a "trophy" of the crime.

So, what kind of defense is Alcala mounting? He showed five seconds of video from a 1978 episode of "The Dating Game" during which, he claims, you can see as he blows the "goodbye kiss" to the audience - yes, the man must have been a charmer back in the day as he won a date - he is wearing said pair of earrings. (The show was taped a full year before this particular murder.)

"You'll have to watch closely ... you'll see a flash of gold,'' Alcala told jurors.

I think this actually has a chance of working as a defense, after all, juries have believed far more outlandish things, especially when one piece of evidence is lauded as "proof positive"and then comes into even the slightest doubt: O.J.'s gloves, anyone?

Perhaps the prosecution could counter with the following clip, in an attempt to show that sometimes what we see on TV isn't necessarily the whole truth and nothing but the truth... after all, Andy Kaufman was a genius - and not the simpleton this clip might cause you to believe.


February 9, 2010

Elmo's World of Pain

As those of you who are parents are well aware, most shows aimed at a pre-school audience are painful for adults to watch, especially those like Max and Ruby - Where are their parents? - and Little Bear - cloying and over-the-top saccharine garbage. However, tried and true Sesame Street still comes up aces in my book.

Sure, it's a little bit weird to see Ernie and Bert now in claymation for a good chunk each episode, and the overexposure of Elmo is a little bit much, but all in all, it's still something that adults can find some humor in. This is all the more true when a special guest star from the grown-up world comes to call on the cast, as was the case here in this absolutely hilarious clip.

Enjoy!


February 8, 2010

I’m Not Snickering

Fox News has a poll up on their website where people can vote on their favorite Super Bowl ad. About the only thing honest about this poll is the disclaimer at the bottom: This is not a scientific poll. That’s an understatement.


For one, they don’t list all of the ads- only a select few. In addition, guess which ad they put at the top of their list of possible options? That’s right, the Focus on the Family's pro-life ad featuring Tim Tebow. What a shock that 34 percent of all respondents claimed that as “the best” commercial! Compare that to USA Today’s ad meter ratings, which include ALL the commercials and saw the spot rank 54th out of 63 overall.

In fact, the number one spot on USA Today’s ad meter was the Snickers spot with Betty White and Abe Vigoda, which I’m surprised didn’t generate an outpouring of outrage for its endorsement of violence and physical abuse of senior citizens.


Still, with the Fox News zombified followers upset that there were so many beer commercials that *shock* seemed to be encouraging beer drinking, they fail to realize that a) the Tebow spot doesn’t actually reference the issue at the core of Focus on the Family’s raison d’ĂȘtre at all, and b) in fact, uses a much lamer version of the same exact “hit an old person” joke that was why the Snickers ad was so popular.

But then again, I’m not surprised that an ad which doesn’t really have anything of substance to say is incredibly popular with Fox News viewers and being praised as “a step in the right direction.” After all, these are Sarah Palin’s people.

February 5, 2010

Adopting Hypocrisy?


So, Republicans in the state of Tennessee are attempting to pass a law that would prohibit gay couples from adopting children.

Of course, they are smart enough to know that if they were that blatant about it, such legislation would fail… since that’s exactly what they attempted to pass in 2006. But now they’re being a bit broader in their language: “Any individual who is living with another person and is involved in a sexual relationship with that person (“cohabiting”) outside of a marriage that is valid under the constitution would not be allowed to adopt a minor child.”

In other words, if you’re 36 and living with your Mom and her 50 cats - you can adopt. If you’re living alone and merely inviting random sexual partner after random sexual partner home with you for a good time, but they don’t reside with you – you can adopt. If you’re in a long-term committed relationship with someone for twenty years, but simply don’t want to (or can’t legally) get married – you’re out of luck.

What makes this all the more ridiculous is the fact that this bill is being introduced at the same time these very politicians are doing whatever they can to help speed along the adoption process for Haitian children left parentless by the disaster in their country.

Yes, let’s cut through all the red tape to make sure we take care of all these poor children, but let’s also make sure that we also narrow the field of potential adoptive families out of small-mindedness first.

Way to put the "hate" in Haiti.

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