Saturday, March 31, 2012

The 413, Blowing Up My Phone

I don't have reason to get a lot of calls from area code 413 (Western Massachusetts), though I suspect I'll get one in the next few days.

So Saturday afternoon I was lounging around, eating salmon for lunch and got a phone call from The 413. I picked it up and it wasn't who I thought it was. It was someone who wants to meet me for a job interview Monday -- one that is not located in The 413.

Less than 15 minutes later, I was still eating my salmon (it wouldn't have taken 15 minutes to eat but as stated earlier I found myself on the phone) and my phone rings again. Again it's from The 413. Again it's not The 413 call I might suspect. And again, it's another person wanting to meet me for a job interview Monday -- one that, again, is not located in The 413.

I'm dying to see what happens the next time my phone rings, especially if my caller ID shows that it's a phone number from The 413. Who knows who it'll be?

Friday, March 30, 2012

My Dream Job

After years of soul-searching, Friday night it dawned on me what my dream job is -- celebrity panelist on $100,000 Pyramid

It's a great gig. You work 30 minutes a day. You help ordinary people win lots of money. It's intellectually challenging.

I think I'd be pretty good at it too. For example, I was watching this Winner's Circle clip on YouTube, and the top-box category was "Things that are Enshrined," and the woman's having a tough time coming up with a clue, and I'm shouting at my laptop "A Hall of Fame quarterback! A HALL OF FAME QUARTERBACK!!!" And lo and behold, seconds later she says "A Hall of Fame" something-or-other and walks away with $100,000.

Clearly there are some barriers between me and my dream job. For one, Pyramid hasn't been on the air in years. Also, I'm not a celebrity. I'm as ordinary as it gets. (But hey if they're paying me I don't need to be a celebrity.) But if you're reading this, Hollywood show execs, I think this is a great idea. Particularly for me. And I think I can help others.

Wednesday, March 28, 2012

Are You There, Chelsea?

I enjoy Chelsea Handler. Her humor is sometimes cringe-worthy but she throws it out there without blinking, and oftentimes the cringe factor is what makes a joke.

So I was curious to see what would happen when her essay collection was turned into a sitcom with a slightly altered title -- Are You There, Chelsea? The show airs on NBC on Wednesdays at 8:30.

Normally I gravitate toward American Idol on Wednesday night, but I'm still reeling from Rhode Islander Erika Van Pelt getting voted off last week, so I figured it was as good a night as any to flip over to NBC and see if Chelsea was worth a look.

It's a decent setup -- a fictionalized version of Chelsea Handler out and about in her pre-fame world. In the episode I watched Wednesday, Chelsea tries to throw a surprise party for her sister Sloane, and a comedy of errors ensured involving over-drinking, waxing gone wild and male strippers.

Unfortunately, the payoff isn't there. Granted, I'm basing my thoughts on the strength of one episode, but I have to say I feel the show swings and misses.

There are some of the usual problem issues -- going to the well with the drinking/one-night-stand jokes one too many times, predictable plot twists, cardboard cutout characters. But these are issues in every sitcom and, with better writing, they can be ironed out.

The biggest problem I have is the execution of the casting. Chelsea Handler stars in her own sitcom. But she doesn't play Chelsea Handler. She throws on a redhead wig and plays Sloane, Chelsea's sister. The "real" Chelsea is played by Laura Prepon of That '70s Show fame.

Simply put, it's a bad idea.

Chelsea-as-Sloane doesn't work, because Sloane is supposed to be the straight-laced, uber-Christian sister with a husband and kid. Yet she can't avoid lapsing into the real Chelsea, swapping Chelsea Handler-esque insults and one-liners that seem straight out of a Chelsea Handler comedy routine, not the goody-two-shoes mouth of Sloane. Prepon, meanwhile, is supposed to be the alcoholic, sharp-tongued Chelsea Handler. But too often she defers to Chelsea/Sloane and acts like a timid, girly little sister. The result is that neither character is well defined enough to be what they're supposed to be and they end up as unrecognizable blurs.

Even if they could pull it off, it's a distraction to watch Chelsea Handler in a show where Chelsea Handler is a character, but the Chelsea Handler character isn't played by Chelsea Handler. (Confused? My point exactly.)

On the plus side, there are some decent supporting characters: most notably Lauren Lapkus, who you may recognize as the girl on the left in the Joe Pesci Snickers commercial, as Chelsea's naive roommate Dee Dee. I like Chelsea Handler and for that reason, I don't want to see this show fail (it's already been bludgeoned by TV critics). My advice: get rid of Sloane, kill her off or just write her out of the script. It'd free Chelsea Handler (the writer/executive producer) to work on developing herself into a better sitcom character.

Are you listening, Chelsea?


Tuesday, March 27, 2012

Drivers' License

I had to be in the Pittsfield area Tuesday, and at the gas station in Leominster I realized I left my drivers' license at home.

So I had to decide: take 10 minutes and go back home and get my license, risking that I would be late on the two-hour drive to Pittsfield, or continue the drive onto Pittsfield, risking that I'd get pulled over without my license.

This decision overwhelmed me. Sometimes I sweat the small stuff. I get paralyzed by these decisions.

I got a hold of myself and said: "Stop. Figure out what you want to do and be decisive."

I went back home, picked up my license and headed back. It added 10 minutes to my trip, but I reassured myself that I always give myself plenty of time when I take longer trips.

I still got to Pittsfield with time to spare.   

Monday, March 26, 2012

Movie Serial Killer Convention

A few weeks back there was the annual AWP convention, where writers schmooze and exchange ideas. I would love to make a similar convention of movie serial killers happen.

It'd be a great opportunity for the top names in the genre to exchage ideas. Jason Voorhees and Michael Myers could cohost a seminar of whether it's easier to kill some clueless movie extras via hot poker iron or strangulation.

Freddy Krueger could lecture on how to become immortal so you can generate more income by appearin in sequels.

It'd be great to see a panel with those three and Chucky, and the Leprechaun dude. I can only imagine the audience questions.

I'm totally up for it for 2013. How do we make this happen?

Saturday, March 24, 2012

Pillow Dialing

Last night I slept on my cellphone.

I should clarify -- I slept with my head rested against a pillow. But this morning I woke up and couldn't find my cellphone and when I flung the pillow across the room in disgust there was my phone.

It wasn't an uncomfortable sleep. I actually feel well rested.

However, if I pillow-dialed anyone from 1:30 a.m. to 9 a.m., I apologize. It was an accident.

Wednesday, March 21, 2012

The Tao of Phil

I was in a situation that required me to write a thank-you note. Recently at the unemployment office I picked up a guide to thank-you notes.

And Wednesday, I misplaced it. I just had it a day ago.

I tore my house apart.

I get frustrated when these things happen, and it makes me not a nice person to be around. I start to get angry at people who I barely know, or people I know well. I start to get pissed about things I have no control over ("Why does TV suck on Tuesday nights?" "Why can't the Bruins play more consistent hockey?"). 

Finally, I got a hold of myself.

"Phil, this is stupid. You don't need a template to write a thank-you note. You know how to do this."

So I sat down and started to wing it. And within seconds, I found the guide, sitting in a folder I made for myself.

It's the Tao of Phil.

Tuesday, March 20, 2012

Fashion Star

Those of you who know me know that I have zero fashion sense. I'm a T-shirt and sweats type of guy. I wouldn't know a maxidress from a pair of shorts.

I do, however, watch a lot of reality TV -- American Idol, The Bachelor, Shark Tank. It's all good.

So when NBC launched Fashion Star I decided to give it a shot. Contestants compete with each other to create the next big brand. They're judged by Jessica Simpson, Nicole Ritchie and Some Guy I've Never Heard Of, and then representatives from H & M, Macy's and Saks Fifth Avenue decide whether to bid or pass on the design. Conceivably, this can lead to a bidding war with each other (on Tuesday's show, the bids started at $50K and got all way into six figures).

Like any reality TV show, Fashion Star is better when it's got divas. One contestant named Oscar, who didn't exactly wow the judges, had a bit of a tantrum when nobody bid on his dress. If Oscar were a writer, he'd use Calibri font. Watching melodramatic reality TV show contestants, of course, is always entertaining.

But Oscar ended up eliminated Tuesday, and the other contestants were pretty dull. Great for reality life, not so great for reality TV. And for someone like me, who's not much of a fashionista, that begins to be a problem.

I can't sing but I can watch Idol and know that one of the contestants can belt a tune. Being the sartorially challenged person that I am, it's tough for me to look at a dress and say, "Yeah, now that's got it going on." So I'm not sure how long Fashion Star will keep me engaged. 

Monday, March 19, 2012

The Roach Motel of Interviews

Just a thought, based on recent events....

Say you're waiting for a job interview at 10:30, and someone else, who has the 10:00 interview, is still waiting to get their turn.

You see them led off to speak with the interviewer, and then they're gone for awhile. You're a little annoyed that the entire interview schedule is running long, but whatevs. It happens.

You see the interviewer come out and call you in. Which is great. Except you never saw the other candidate leave.

Should this concern you? (i.e., a la the Roach Motel, "Interviewers check in, but they don't check out.")

Or is this to your advantage? (i.e., one of your potential competitors has been ELIMINATED).


Friday, March 16, 2012

You vs. Cat

Thanks to some well placed NCAA Men's D-I Basketball Tournament commercials, I've stumbled upon You vs. Cat, which, in an interspecies tablet game challenge, seems to prove a theory of mine.

As I write this, the cats lead humans 826,150 to 708,370. Cats win 53.84 percent of games. Not a huge advantage, but statistically significant, similar to white's advantage in making the first move in chess.

I've always suspected that humans are not the most advanced life form on the planet. Now I have proof.

Wednesday, March 14, 2012

Encyclopedia Brittanica

I remember having a set of Encyclopedia Brittanica when I was a kid.

Even back then it was dated -- this was the early 80s and the 23-volume set (not including the two-volume index and Book of the Year) was from the 60s, when my dad apparently had it for college. It had 1960 Census results for the states and barely mentioned the first Super Bowl in the football section, focusing more on the old NFL Championship.

The days of the bound behemoth encyclopedia are over. The folks over at Brittanica announced that they will no longer print bound copies of the encyclopedia.

It will be missed. I have to admit, even though the one I had was pretty outdated, it was fun to look at. If you stacked the volumes on top of one another they were taller than me. The gold lettering on the binding was sexy. It was part of what kept me in touch with my inner nerd growing up.

Still, I'm surprised it's taken this long. There were occasional updates every couple of years but nobody wants to buy an encyclopedia again if at most only 5 or 10 percent of the compilation is revised. It seems like it'd be awfully expensive to print. With the advent of Wikipedia, every encyclopedia would be better served by going exclusively online.

I'm sure many old print editions (the Brittanica has now gone to 30 volumes) will become collector's items. But on the bright side, the encyclopedia industry won't be killing as many trees.


Tuesday, March 13, 2012

The Small Stuff

Sometimes I worry too much about small stuff.

I've been dragging my feet about getting all my tax info onto my CPA. I've had it all in a pile on my microwave oven for about a month. Obviously I still have time. There are other things I have to worry about, and some of those are more time-sensitive, but I feel like I'm putting out my CPA. I should've gotten it to him sooner.

So when I went over Tuesday, I cringed at the thought of walking in there. I worried about scowls. Angry stares. This is their busy time of year and I'm just prancing in whenever I feel like it, without any consideration to them. It was stressing me out as I walked up the stairs to his office.

I walked through the door. His daughter was at his desk. She looked up.

"Oh, you coming in with you paperwork?" she asked.

"Yep," I said sheepishly.

She smiled. "Great! I'll get your folder. Thanks for coming in."

They'll let me know when the taxes are done or if they have questions. I stress way too much about this stuff.

Sunday, March 11, 2012


Since Desperate Housewives is about to go to that upscale neighborhood in the sky, ABC is doing a lot of promoting its midseason replacement, GCB, which immediately follows the housewives on Sunday nights. The trailers have looked moderately interesting, and I couldn't figure out what GCB stood for until I looked it up on Wikipedia (Good Christian Bitches). So I figured I'd check it out.

Amanda Vaughn returns to her hometown of Dallas in disgrace, moving back in with mom, after her Ponzi scheme-concocting husband dies in a fiery car crash with his mistress in tow (and not in the passengers' seat). It's a comeuppance for her, since her former high school classmates -- Carlene, Sharon, Cricket and Heather -- are relishing her return so they can exact revenge for all the misery she put them through. Despite her checkered past she's the sympathetic character as we hope that she can put her life back together.

We love to watch hypocrisy, and the ladies do a lots of prosthelytizing in public, while acting in a not-so-do-unto-others way in private. Lots of attractive people wearing not so much (Amanda is forced to get a job at Bootie-licious, a fictitious version of Hooters; shirtless guys; one of the queen bee's daughter's top flies open during a cheerleader routine).

Housewives was pretty good in its first season and then followed that up with a miserable second season, and I never really tuned in after that (accelerating that was the fact that 2004-05 was when Family Guy really began to hit its stride).

And clearly ABC has a Dixie Desperate Housewives in mind. The danger is that GCB proves so derivative that it just looks like Wisteria Lane with a Southern twang. Still, the first two episodes set up the characters and conflict well, so it could be a pretty good recipe for success.

The acid test is -- will I flip over to NBC at 10:30 to see who gets cut from Celebrity Apprentice? It's fun to see who Donald Trump fires, but the GCBs are more fun to look at than The Donald. Thus far, it looks as though I'll probably be flipping back and forth between the two shows.

Saturday, March 10, 2012

Calibri: The Official Font of Melodramatic Writing

I'm wary whenever I see a piece of writing in Calibri font. It's only partially because I find it to be kind of an ugly font.

This is totally unscientific, but I feel like a disproportionally large number of melodramatic pieces of writing are typed in Calibri.

I bring this up because I read one such piece last night. I've brought this up before to friends and they always kind of look at me funny. Some of these friends like Calibri. They're probably pissed at me.

No matter. For a variety of reasons I won't be giving any examples of Calibri melodrama here, but I stand behind my opinion. And I think if you scroll through some Calibri writing, you'll agree. Going forward, every time I see a piece in Calibri, I'm going to cringe a little.

Friday, March 9, 2012

Bullshit Rate

WASHINGTON (AP) -- The nation's bullshit rate in February increased to 52.7 percent, a whopping 11.6 percent increase over January.

Experts cited the rapidly heating presidential race, another Academy Awards ceremony fraught with fake people lying through their teeth on the red carpet and in their award speeches, and Snooki's pregnancy and impending nuptials as primary factors.

"We usually see a bump in February, but this past month was just off the charts," said Kathy Shlabotnik, executive director of the Bureau of Statistics. She noted this is the highest the bullshit rate has been since 1987, when Iran-Contra was at its peak and a second incarnation of The Newlywed Game was in syndication.

"This is pretty unprecedented," she added. "Think about it, more than half of what people say is utter bullshit now. Usually only a third of what people tell you is crap."

On the street, people treated the new with a mix of resignation and skepticism.

"Just another sign of the times," said Joan Johnson, who was enjoying a night out at at Mohegan Sun. "You can't trust anything anybody tells you these days."

Her husband, Brice Johnson, disagreed. He had just returned from the casino slots, where he claimed he had just won $5,000. "Are there some bullshit artists out there? Sure. But for everyone who feel you a crock of shit, there's a nice Nigerian emperor's son who's letting honest folks like you and me know we've inherited millions."

Thursday, March 8, 2012

Courageous Learning

If you're looking for some more reading material, check out Fairfield MFA faculty member Bill Patrick and co-author John Ebersole's Courageous Learning.

The book is available at the link above, and, if you happen to be currently incarcerated, it's going to be in six prison libraries in Connecticut and two in Massachusetts.

The book's premise is to encourage adults to finish their BAs through online learning. There are five really interesting stories, one being about a man who finished his BA while incarcerated.

Check it out if you get a chance.

Wednesday, March 7, 2012


Ten years ago, I was preparing to leave the newspaper world and enter the financial services industry. I had to study for my Series 7 and 66 licensing exams and it made for some late nights. And I developed an addiction.

I became hooked on cheesy dating game shows. Channel 56 would air the following shows back-to-back: Blind Date (self-explanatory), Change of Heart (couple going through problems each get set up on dates with someone else, decide whether to stay together or move on), Shipmates (blind date on a cruise ship), 5th Wheel  (single, good-looking person crashes a double-blind-date), another episode of Blind Date, and the night would be topped off with my personal favorite, Elimidate (someone goes out simultaneously with four suitors, gradually eliminates three of them over the course of the night). Dating shows nonstop from 11 p.m. until 2 a.m.

I barely passed my licensing exams.

As the 2000s continued, though, the dating-reality-show became passe and by 2006 each show had been canceled. Life went on. I forgot about dating TV.

The other night, I couldn't sleep and was flipping through the channels and I stumbled upon Baggage  on Game Show Network. Cheesy dating game shows are back!

On Baggage, a single is introduced to three suitors, each of whom has quite of bit of personal baggage (i.e., "I still sleep with my childhood pillow," "I don't reciprocate oral sex," "I've done time."), each nugget of which is placed in a title card into three suitcases. The bigger the suitcase, the bigger the piece of baggage. The single gradually eliminates the suitors based on how much they feel they can tolerate the baggage, until only one suitor remains. Then, the single has to reveal a piece of baggage of his/her own, and the winning suitor gets the final say over whether the love connection will actually happen.

Jerry Springer hosts (good to see him moving on from lesbian-paternity-test talk shows with chair-throwing brawls). The show tries too hard to give him some canned one-liners. And sometimes the contestants' reactions to getting cut is also a little too scripted.

But, hey, all things considered, it's pretty entertaining. I asked myself what it is about these shows that I've always enjoyed, both 10 years ago and now. I guess it's a number of things -- maybe it serves as a primer on what not to do on dates, or it reinforces my already skeptical thoughts about relationships, or maybe I'm captivated by the eye many of the female contestants provide.

Wednesday night there's been a marathon on from 6:30 to midnight. This means I am enthralled. The news season premieres with another marathon next Wednesday. Apparently Baggage has been on since 2010. How did I not know this was on the air before now?

I can only hope this will lead to the return of Blind Date and Shipmates and Elimidate.

Tuesday, March 6, 2012

Massachusetts Primary

I like to vote. It's nice to live in a country where I can do so, do so with a ballot that has more than one candidate on it, and do so without a gun pointed to my head. So while today's Massachusetts primary really was a taffy-pull at best, I wanted to participate.

I'm a registered independent. This meant that Tuesday I had to decide whether to pick up the Democratic or Republican ballot. Apparently the Green Party had a ballot, too, but the folks at the polling place didn't ask me if I wanted one. President Obama, as the incumbent, is the only Democrat on the ballot. So it made more sense to me to be a Republican-for-a-day.

There were several candidates on the ballot -- some of whom have already dropped out of the race -- but I was struck at what a groundbreaking group of candidates this was.

For the first time I can recall, a chameleon is running for president.

Also on the ballot was someone who has trouble making a list.

And someone who won't stay out of my bedroom.

And someone whom nobody's heard of.

And someone who flunked history.

And someone who throws stones in glass houses.

This sucks. I take voting seriously. I'm not one of these people who the crosses party lines in the primary to pick the worst possible candidate and stack the deck for the general election. I think Obama has done yeoman's work considering the hand he was dealt. But to be honest, I don't like either political party very much and when November rolls around, I would much prefer to have a choice between two candidates that I can tolerate than have to pray that one candidate wins.

There was one candidate on the Republican ballot whom I think I could stomach as president, so I cast my ballot accordingly. It's probably a losing cause. I can't say it was a great day for democracy. But I did the best I could with the resources I had available.

Monday, March 5, 2012

I Write Like...

I feel like this is somewhat familiar, so I'm sorry if this is repetitive, but I stumbled upon a website that claims to analyze your writing style.

So I went on and pasted a couple of paragraphs from some of my writing (and also a random list that I wrote).

I came back with three pieces that said I write like David Foster Wallace, one James Joyce, one Chuck Palahniuk and one Cory Doctorow.

It's somewhat flattering, though I take it with a grain of salt. It's pretty randomly generated and who knows how accurate. (Especially since the random list was supposedly reminiscent of David Foster Wallace, though I suppose footnotes and lists are somewhat similar.)

Sunday, March 4, 2012

My 1,000th Tweet

I've had a Twitter account since 2009, but for a long time I really didn't fully understand it. First I thought it was Facebook if Facebook was only the status update. Then I discovered it was a convenient place to post a link to my blog.

Over the past six months or so I've gotten the hang of Twitter a little more -- to the chagrin of those who follow me, who have discovered that I livetweet TV a lot. I think the turning point was one night when the Saints kicked the shit out of the Colts, 62-7, on Sunday Night Football. Rather than do the normal, sane thing (change the channel), I livetweeted every time the Saints piled on to their already gargantuan lead.

Now I try to tweet five times a day. And though some days I don't tweet at all, I more than make up for that on nights that The Bachelor or NFL football are on.

So as I found myself getting close to 1,000 career tweets, I started to think if there was something profound or clever or earthshattering I could say in my 1,000th tweet.

And then this morning I noticed that I just reached 1,000 with the following tweet:

"I like those lyrics better."

The content was OK. But I feel like that's an epic fail of a 1,000th tweet. Oh, well. I can only hope that five years from now I'll be composing my 10,000th tweet and it'll be more profound.

Saturday, March 3, 2012

This Techie Thing Is Beyond My Competency Level

Once again, my icon has disappeared.

This has been a trend of late. I keep deleting my icon and repasting it, or some similar facsimile thereof, but it keeps happening.

Clearly this is an issue beyond my core competency level. I don't want to repost my icon every time I blog. So if anyone can shed any light on this, if it's happened to them, f they have any tips, I would greatly appreciate it.