Sunday, December 31, 2017

Year's End

See you later, 2017!

Friday, December 29, 2017

Push 787 To Swing

Terrible news for my interest in the 2018 PGA Tour season.  I went to sign up for my 15th (give or take) year of Yahoo fantasy golf only to discover that the game is no longer offered.  Nooooooooo!  You might point out that, whereas fantasy football/hockey/baseball/basketball are respectfully nerdy mainstream activities, fantasy golf is taking things a bit too far.  You are entirely correct in this assessment, but still, I'm heartbroken at losing an activity that has taken up probably too much of my time over the last decade and a half.  

The premise --- you get to select eight golfers per week, divided into tiers of an A group, a B group, and a C group.  The groups were roughly divided by talent, though as the year progressed, there would always be a couple of weird outliers.  (For instance, I think Jordan Spieth was a B-player during his massive 2015 season.)  You could only start one of your two A players, two of your four B players and one of your two C players in each "foursome" per round, so there was some strategy in trying to figure out which of your guys would perform better.  There were few things more frustrating than leaving the lowest round of the day on your bench.  Points were allowed out of a possible 20, based on how far behind the leader a golfer finished.  Low round of the day for 20 points, one shot behind 18 points, two shots behind 16 points, and so on and so forth. 

The other catch was that you couldn't select a player for more than ten starts per year, so you had to be strategic about when you picked, say, Tiger Woods in his prime.  If you think this led to me actually studying golf statistics to gauge which players played best on particular courses, you're right!  In a related story, I'm single. 

You accumulated points during every tournament throughout the PGA Tour season, leading to a grand prize of....well, nothing.  Bragging rights, I suppose.  It's generally pretty boring to hear anyone talk about their fantasy sports teams, but it is ESPECIALLY boring to hear them talk about* a fantasy golf team since a) nobody plays it, b) nobody really gets it, leading to that paragraph-long description about the rules, c) nobody really cares in the first place.

* = um, but hopefully not boring to read about?

Without fantasy golf as my anchor, I guess there's a chance I could care less about actual golf in general, though I already feel like my interest has been vaguely waning over the last year or so.  I'd always harboured the secret hope that I'd be struck by lightning and gain superpowers, and since suddenly dominating any other sport would've been suspicious for secret identity purposes, I would've directed my powers to gain fame and fortune as a pro golfer.  As the years go by, however, I'm starting to think that this scenario is a little far-fetched.  Come to think of it, it might not even happen at all!  As such, keeping up on my future competition on Tour is now suddenly seeming less important. 

Or, the actual reason could be that the new wave of golfing talent just doesn't really get me excited.  Now, it bears noting that this year's Masters was crazy-exciting, and the final round of the Open Championship featuring Spieth's insane recovery shot from halfway off the course will be remembered for as long as my brain retains sports information.  But the US Open and PGA Championship were both just stultifying, possibly because Brooks Koepka and Justin Thomas are so aggressively uninteresting personalities.  Between these two, Spieth (who is a great player but also pretty bland), and Dustin Johnson (who is only interesting when he's hilariously blowing majors, not when he's actually winning them), it's not a very needle-moving crop of golfers.  Here I am hoping that Rory McIlroy starts caring about golf again, or even that Tiger Woods' various brittle body parts can keep him upright for four consecutive rounds.

And now I can't even enter a meaningless competition to compete against strangers?!  Nooooooooo!

n.b. The title of this post refers to my long-time fantasy golf team name.  It is, of course, a Simpsons reference.

Wednesday, December 27, 2017

That's A Big Penguin

This article led to my friend Meryl and I creating a movie based on the premise.  The film will star…

* The Rock as the Ultra Penguin, the benevolent ruler of the giant penguin kingdom.
* Kevin Hart plays a tall modern-day penguin who somehow time-travels back to the age of the giant penguins and is dismayed to learn that he's suddenly very short by comparison.
* Judi Dench as the Empress Penguin, the Rock’s mother.
* Tommy Wiseau and Greg Sestero play villainous penguins who are scheming to overthrow the Rock's character. (Technically, Tommy's character is the villain, Greg's character is just going along to make sure Tommy doesn't mess up too badly.)
* Greta Gerwig has an undefined role.  We really just want her involved with the project in any capacity, we’ll figure out her character later.
* Morgan Freeman as the narrator, naturally.

The film is, naturally, live-action with everyone wearing the cheapest-looking penguin costumes imaginable.

Our choices for director are either Gerwig, Ron Howard, the Wachowskis or (if things get desperate) Wiseau.  The Wachowskis are probably the best fit for the material, given that this premise is no more or less wacky than any of their other films. 

Your move, Star Wars franchise.

Friday, December 22, 2017

What's Going On

Oh, not much!  Home for the holidays, finished off my Xmas shopping today, had a great pasta-and-chicken dinner....

....ah, you just meant the song.  Stupid mistakenly conversational post titles!  U2's track record with cover songs isn't great, so it's a pleasure to hear that this one comes off well.

Thursday, December 21, 2017

Survivor Ratings: Ben

Be warned, this is going to be another “Mark rants about the current state of Survivor” post.  While the 35th season (the lazily-themed Heroes vs. Healers vs. Hustlers) made some interesting casting choices and did a better job than most recent seasons in establishing some unique personalities within its cast, this was yet another series undone by the producers believing that BIG MOVES and BLINDSIDES and BUILDING YOUR SURVIVOR RESUME are the factors that make their show popular, rather than those personalities.  Ben Driebergen’s story of victory encapsulates this entire issue with the show.

How He Won
: Idols and an out-of-nowhere final four twist.  Not to diminish the rest of Ben’s game, which I’ll cover later, but this is the clearest case in history of a Survivor win that simply couldn’t have happened in past seasons.  Forget about the idols, even — Ben literally couldn’t have won any other season than S35 since no other series eliminated the vote entirely in the final four and turned it into a fire-making challenge.
Since I’m someone who’d still prefer to see Survivor revert back to a final two, you can correctly guess that I hate this new F4 twist.  In any other season, Ben is easily voted out after losing the final immunity challenge.  Now, he not only got a lifeline, he had the game clinched the moment the producers decided to implement this twist; either he wins the final immunity and makes the F3 that way, or he easily beats any of Chrissy, Ryan, or Devon in making a fire.  (I’m not 100% sure Ben would’ve beaten Devon in a final vote, but I suspect he had enough support on his side.)  I don’t buy for a minute Jeff Probst’s spiel about how now the players can “control their own fate when it comes to reaching the final tribal council” — what the hell else were they doing the previous five weeks?!  If you’ve played the game poorly enough that you’re dead meat in the final four vote, you don’t deserve that last chance.

In fact, anyone who plays so poorly that he needs three straight idol plays to save himself probably also doesn’t deserve a last chance.  After S34 was ruined by an overload of idols and advantages, S35 was unfortunately more of the same.  At first it seemed like the show had wised up in the sense that some of the idols and advantages had expiry dates (i.e. they were only good for that night’s tribal council), but in the end, it just became another edition of Survivor: Scavenger Hunt, where the person with the most toys wins.  Fair play to Ben for finding the idols, and particularly keeping them secret, but it doesn’t make for a very satisfying victory.

: That secrecy really served Ben well since his fellow players couldn’t help but spill the beans about every idol and advantage that came their way.  This is where being a superfan and wanting to make sure you get credit on your “Survivor resume” can bite the likes of Chrissy or Ryan in the ass, whereas Ben deployed simply common sense and kept his idols to himself.  He also deserves credit for his wonderful “spy” performance within the Chrissy/Ryan/JP alliance, which was easily the season’s highlight.  That was something I’d never seen on the show before,* and it was a simple yet ingenious move.  Credit to Devon for thinking the idea up, and credit to Ben for executing the deception so well.

* = Shambo pulled a variation of this on her old Galu tribemates back in S19, though Shambo was clearly on the bottom of the Galu alliance and they suspected she had turned anyway.

Ben generally came across as a loyal, honest guy that you’d want to be in an alliance with, even if his paranoia eventually burned bridges in the later stages of the game.  It is very true that Ben had a pretty curt personality with people he didn’t like, though as always in Survivor, it’s okay if people don’t like you much as long as you’re in the F3 with two people the jury likes even less.  In the big picture, everyone respected Ben’s military service, and admired him for using Survivor as a platform to let veterans know that it was okay to be open with PTSD and other issues.  That carried a lot more weight than Chrissy and Ryan’s too-rehearsed jury speeches that they’d been composing in their heads for years.

Could He Do It Again?
: As mentioned earlier, Ben could only have won S35, given the unique twist that allowed him to escape certain doom at the final four.  Since this twist will apparently (ugh) be an ongoing feature of Survivor for the foreseeable future, I guess he could do it again?  You’d think future casts would know this guy was an idol magnet and would do a much better job of shadowing him at all hours, so really, I don’t have much faith in Ben performing too well in a theoretical repeat visit. 

Tuesday, December 12, 2017

Songs Of Experience

I wanted to give this one time, to listen to it over and over in multiple different scenarios.  There was the “get home from the record store and listen to it twice in a row, start to finish” initial rush, then I went back and re-listened to just the eight songs that were totally fresh to me, as in the ones that U2 didn’t release beforehand as singles or whatnot.  Over the next week or so, there was the “car listen,” when I had the album in my car’s CD player* for multiple days and listened to it on a stop-and-start basis.  Then there was the ‘“two-stop listen,” when I had to do a couple of chores, thus making two stops and getting to listen the whole album in one more only partially-broken up stream.  Then there was the “encore” listen of the whole thing start to finish again.  In between you also had the all-important single-track listens, when I went into the disc to seek out specific songs that caught my fancy.

* = it occurs to me that my car, a 2013 model, may be the last vehicle I ever own with an actual physical CD player installed.  Oh man that makes me feel old.

In a way, that’s actually the best way of judging an album — how many tracks can I easily bear to skip?  Perhaps the biggest compliment I can give Songs Of Experience is that, after almost two weeks of constantly listening to it, there aren’t any duds.  There are some songs I like more than others, yet there aren’t any meandering ‘album tracks’ that musicians sometimes include to ‘help the album flow better’ since they ‘couldn’t come up wth anything interesting with an actual melody or chorus.’

The flip side of this is that SOE is lacking in those singular, “this is an instant U2 classic” type of songs.  (There are two of them that immediately stand out to me at the moment, which I’ll get to soon.)  But what the record may be lacking in a high ceiling, it makes up for with the highest floor of any U2 album outside of Achtung Baby and Joshua Tree.  It’s all killer, no filler.

The track-by-track breakdown…

* Love Is All We Have Left: Okay, so I’ll instantly contradict myself by saying that both the opening and closing songs basically are “album tracks” that don’t really work in the context of stand-alone songs, but they work great as bookends for the record’s theme.  (A mediation of morality, as filtered through the idea of Bono writing the songs as letters to important people in his life after he has passed on.)  LIAWHL is basically unlike any other U2 album opener, a slow-burn autotune-heavy short number lacking in any instant build.

* Lights Of Home: Aw man, do I have to like Haim now?  Can’t I just go on recognizing them as a thoroughly unremarkable band?  Can’t I just give them credit for this one riff that the Edge sampled/borrowed as the backbone of this song and keep on ignoring them?

This is a really interesting song, since even after LIAWHL’s slow opening, you’d expect Lights Of Home to be this big-chorus classic U2-sounding type of number.  There’s certainly a big chorus and a sing-along quality, though it’s there in a way that sounds unlike pretty much anything U2 has ever done.  Of the two versions on the disc (the proper album version and then the strings version bonus track), I actually think the ideal mix has yet to be done — a version that has both the strings and the Edge busting out his acid guitar for the opening riff.  If you’ve got these big fat rock chords, no need to use the acoustic guitar, Edge…rock it up!  I realize that this could make the song sound a bit like Hold Me Thrill Me Kiss Me Kill Me, but in what world is that a bad thing?  As it is, Lights Of Home actually sounds a bit like the infamous Stand Up Comedy, which wasn’t technically a bad song but just stood out like a sore thumb on the atmosphere No Line On The Horizon album.

* You’re The Best Thing About Me: Speaking of a song that needed another mix, maybe U2 could’ve just gone with the Kygo version?  Or the “sci-fi soul mix” (available on YouTube) that smooths out the melody while keeping some electronic and beach rock flavour?  This one is pretty good yet a little frustrating in its not-quite-there nature since this feels like it might’ve been an actual massive hit for the band.  That said, wow do I ever love Edge’s vocal bridge.  That might be my single favourite moment on the entire record.

* Get Out Of Your Own Way: Probably my de facto least-favourite song on the disc, just because it really does come off as a poor man’s Beautiful Day.  It might even be a poor man’s Always, the b-side from the ATYCLB sessions that was essentially a Beautiful Day dress rehearsal.  Still, not a bad song, and it goes to what I was noting earlier about the album having a high floor.  When all you can say about the “worst” track is that is sounds like a diet Beautiful Day, that’s not exactly harsh.

* American Soul: Whereas the previous track just sounded like an old song, here U2 quite directly takes the guitar part and chorus from both Glastonbury and Volcano and re-uses it once more.  Frankly, I think it works better here than in either of those previous songs.  I do enjoy how U2 took probably the two weakest tracks on Songs Of Innocence (Volcano and Song For Someone) and reworked them into superior versions on Songs Of Experience.  Awesome work from Larry and Adam in the rhythm section here, really driving this song and giving it the urgency that Volcano lacked.

* Summer Of Love: A complete classic.  Such a beautiful song, with a deceptively-casual beach vibe laid over a serious message about the Syrian refugee crisis.  I try to avoid U2 album reviews since they’re almost uniformly terribly misguided or loaded with bias, but I can’t help but note that several reviewers had an instant “Bono + politics = vomit emoji” reaction to this track.  These people, better known as morons, would also fall all over themselves in praising a modern musician if they were capable of making such a political statement within the context of a pop song.  I don’t want to say that all of U2’s critics are ageist fools, but maybe, 92% of them?  Fun fact: Lady Gaga does backup vocals on this song yet is almost invisible within the vocal mix.  U2 had three major star cameos (Gaga, Haim, Kendrick Lamar) on this record yet reduced them to just imperceptible backup vocals and a tacked-on spoken word intro.  There are no “feat.” credits in U2’s world!

* Red Flag Day: The political argument redux, as it’s a “baby, let’s get in the water” laid-back chorus about….Syrian refugees preferring to take their chances trying to survive swimming in the Mediterranean Sea rather than stay in their war-torn homeland.  U2 turning the entire idea of a beach album on its head is one of the more creative ideas the band has ever done.  This song has the vibe of a War-era protest song made with modern sounds.

* The Showman (Much More Better): U2 at their most casual and least-insistent upon themselves, which is a look that the band doesn’t often pull off to great effect.  It’s funny to me that U2 has this image of being a pompous band, when they literally can’t get through an interview without making fun of a) each other, or b) the entire idea of U2, or c) the entire idea of being in a band itself.  This doesn’t always translate well to actual songs, however, like how U2’s attempts at creating light, throwaway pop-rock numbers often sound like the most laboured songs on any album.  But, not Showman!  Dare I say it sounds a bit like Billy Joel?  Is it weird to write a whole “hey, it’s not pompous!” paragraph and then compare the song to Billy Joel’s work?

* The Little Things That Give You Away: Classic #2.  It’s funny, when I first heard the song so many months ago when U2 surprisingly busted out a brand new song on the Joshua Tree tour, I liked TLTTYA but literally said “if it’s the best song on the album, that’s probably not a good sign.”  Well, now I think it is the best song on the album, and it’s a great sign.  I can tell why the band chose this one for the live debut —it’s a great somber, reflection of the album’s dark themes yet it builds into that climax that can only be described as the vintage U2 sound.  Within the context of Bono’s yet-unexplained health scare from two years, this song can be summed up as “life is so full of uncertainty, yet ultimately, all we can be is ourselves, U2, and that’s good enough…sometimes.”  I’m torn as to whether I prefer the keyboard version on the album to the piano version from the live performances.

* Landlady: Another song that seems like a beefed-up version of an older track, this one “Promenade” from the Unforgettable Fire album.  Whereas Promenade was gorgeously incomplete, Landlady feels a bit too overstuffed (Bono could’ve used a word or two fewer in every verse) but it also kind of fits the idea that Bono is just overflowing with love for his wife.  The title refers to how Bono’s wife was both literally his landlady in that she paid the bills when they were young so Bono could focus on the band, and also she’s his “land lady” in the sense that she keeps him grounded.  I must admit, this is a lovely song and it’s a delightful sentiment, but out of context, that whole explanation strikes me as hilarious.  Like the Oscar Wilde sketch from Monty Python, it’s like Bono was put on the spot to explain something nonsensical.  “Hey honey, I wrote a song about you, it’s called Landlady!”  “Wait, what?  Why is that the title?”  “Uh…well, you see….um, it’s because…you keep…me…grounded?”  “Is there a line in there about me paying the rent?”  “For sure.”  “You know that the landlady is the one that takes the rent, not pays it, right?”  “See, this is why you were in charge of the finances!  When I try to handle money, I end up owing back tax in Lithuanian shopping malls.”

* The Blackout: Given how the rest of the album sounds, Blackout really should stand out more than it does as a weird oddball of a track, yet it fits pretty well.  I’m not sure I’d put it right here in my ideal SOE track listing, but I’m also not sure where else you can slot it elsewhere.  It might be kind of a late wakeup-call kind of number — it’s fun song about being in a band, powerful number about overcoming fear, love song about the wife, and then boom, dance-rock number about how the world’s going to hell.  Nobody gets off easy!  Another great Adam Clayton bass line here.

* Love Is Bigger Than Anything In Its Way: This is the one that took the most listens for me.  At first, it was like “who put this Killers b-side on the U2 album?” and now I find myself humming the chorus and/or the lyric in the bridge about Killiney Bay.  Dare I say that this will be the closer for the Experience & Innocence Tour, or will they go with TLTTGYA again?  Weirdly, I can also see this song not being played live at all, since I feel it’d be hell on Bono’s voice to do it night after night.

* 13 (There Is A Light): The other good bookend, and I do wonder if I’d like this more as a song unto itself if I’d never heard Song For Someone.  13 drains all of the syrup from the original and just retains its nice melodic spine.

BONUS TRACKS!  For the first time in a long while, U2 apparently relegate one of the sessions’ best songs to b-side status, as “Book Of Your Heart” is nothing special.  I think it actually was no better than the 14th-best song that U2 came up with during recording.  It’s kind of an Unforgettable Fire/Joshua Tree-type of atmospheric song, so I’m sure some probably love it, though those tracks (the Boomerang II or Deep In The Heart kind of stuff) never did anything for me……I’ve already discussed the Kygo YTBTAM remix and the strings version of Lights Of Home….the SOE tracks seem so well-connected that having Ordinary Love in here really makes it seem out of place.  This mix of Ordinary Love is the best of the bunch, though it doesn’t fix the song’s biggest issue, which is that it seems one verse and one bridge short.  I get the feeling that U2 really like this track and think of it as something of a missed opportunity, and the Edge will put it through a million mixes until he’s satisfied.

So that’s Songs Of Experience.  It was well worth the wait, even if I did have to pay for this one and not get it for free.  I was getting used to this whole iTunes sudden release thing!*  It’s too early to say where I rank this one within U2’s discography, since the lack of true standout individual tracks may keep it from the top five.  But I’m certainly open to hearing an argument for it being #6 at worst, since it is just so deep in quality music.  It’s a wonderful artistic statement about mortality and remembrance from a band that is over 40 years deep into its career and is, quite logically, now taking some looks back at themselves.

* = part of me wishes U2 and Apple had released this album into everyone’s iTunes again, just as a complete troll move to bask in everyone’s outrage.  

The music, however, is not.  It’s easy to criticize U2 for being too open to exploring fresh sounds rather than just rely on their classic chiming guitar rock, though if they did the latter, then The Band That Can’t Win No Matter What They Do would be criticized just as much for repeating themselves.  On this album literally all about life experience, U2 touches on their past for song structures or ideas that breathes new life into them.  It’d be one thing if they were rehashing their hits (uh, ignore that whole “GOOYOW is like Beautiful Day” thing!) but if you told me that U2 was presenting re-imagined versions of the likes of Volcano, Promenade, Song For Someone, Stand Up Comedy, and maybe even a touch of A Man And A Woman in Summer Of Love…man, that’s just fascinating.

Also, yikes, I’m glad Bono didn’t die two years ago.  I kind of don’t want to know any more details about that situation, other than to just be thankful that he’s alive and well.  To be clear, this is apparently a separate incident than his infamous Central Park bike accident, which left him “only” badly injured.  What a run of bad luck for this poor guy.  Beyond his loving family, the iconic music career and the millions of dollars, Bono simply can’t catch a break.

Monday, December 11, 2017

Red Rise

Winning a league title in just 11 years of existence, even in a smaller league like MLS, is still a pretty good achievement on paper.  There are multiple clubs, in fact, that have yet to win the MLS Cup despite being in the league since day one — let’s all give a big LOL to the New England Revolution, FC Dallas, and the New York City Red Bulls.

But for Toronto FC, that 11 years just seemed way longer.  The club packed about 50 years of incompetence and drama into that first eight seasons of non-playoff soccer, with coaching changes and roster shakeups and the losing, the losing, my god, the losing!  It was just over three years ago that TFC went through the ‘bloody big deal’ nonsense with Jermain Defoe and yet another fired head coach in Ryan Nelsen, which once again seemed to put the team back at square one.

This time, however, things were different.  Toronto had one actual proper building block in place (Michael Bradley) and then replaced Defoe’s zero-cares-given and Gilberto’s unspectacular decentness with two Designated Players that proceeded to blow the doors off the league (Sebastian Giovinco and Jozy Altidore).  Around these cornerstones, TFC then acquired actual talented secondary players that didn’t require the stars to carry the entire team.  I realize that I’m simplifying the failures of the first eight years but man, this doesn’t have to be rocket science.  Once you achieve basic tasks like, say, hiring a GM and coach who don’t hate each other, or hiring a GM that hasn’t alienated half the coach, or hiring a coach that knows the rules of MLS, it tends to make things a bit easier on yourself.

Even after getting on track, I must admit to be being constantly surprised by TFC’s rise from “hey, they’re finally pretty decent” to “wow, they’re really good” to “wait, is this the best team in MLS history?!”  TFC, when at full strength, was just destroying teams all season long.  Even at less than 100%, they still usually managed to win, which was a key difference from the house-of-cards rosters from years past. 

It all culminated in last Saturday’s MLS Cup final, when Toronto FC pretty much dominated the Seattle Sounders from start to finish, totally erasing their bitter loss to Seattle in last year’s Cup final.  I’m not sure I’ve ever heard a sporting crowd roar as they did when Altidore scored what was eventually the game-winning goal — the pavilion was literally shaking.  It was 11 years of frustration* coming out in one kick of the ball.

* = not to mention another MLS Cup final of frustration, given how Stefan Frei had been absolutely standing on his head to hold TFC scoreless and keep the overmatched Sounders in the game. 

So now Toronto FC has finally become the “sleeping giant” that so many people predicted the franchise would become if it ever got a clue.  Huge financial resources, a rabid fanbase, sold-out crowds, and the all-important winning culture in place…the sky is really the limit now.  It is very difficult to build a dynasty in as parity-driven a league as MLS, yet the Reds are in excellent shape for the coming years.

To be fair, eight straight MLS Cups is probably overcompensating for the eight losing seasons to begin the franchise’s history.  Can’t hurt to try, right?

Saturday, December 09, 2017

Forever Queue

There are 37 items in my Netflix queue, and it’s beginning to dawn on me that this list will never, ever be empty.  It will take significant work for it to ever drop into the 20-25 range.  I could be technical about this, and develop a strict viewing schedule (at least one item every one or two days until everything is complete), though even this has tons of complications.  Even my schedule doesn’t allow for THIS much viewing….especially since I have so many other things to watch on normal TV.  Plus, you know, life and stuff.  On top of that, several of the items here are shows rather than movies, in some cases programs with multiple seasons of content; I can’t just rifle through those when I have a spare 90 minutes to kill one night.

Some positives…

* seven of the items are films I’ve seen before but haven’t watched in years.  So technically, I don’t pressingly *need* to watch them again, and could delete them if I really wanted to make a serious queue purge.  A couple of the movies I actually own on DVD, in case I ever wanted to go old school and see if the DVD player in my parents’ basement still works properly.

* I’ve gotten much less tolerant of stuff that fails to capture my interest within the first, say, 20 minutes.  Sometimes it’s simply a slow-moving program, sometime I can immediately tell it’s not very good, or something it’s just something that I “get” quickly and realize that I don’t need to see any more of it.  For instance, the pilot of Lemony Snicket’s Series Of Unfortunate Events was quite well done and entertaining, yet that single episode totally filled my appetite for anything Lemony-related.  It could be that when I sit down and check out some of these other items on the list, I’ll check out just as quickly, thus opening my schedule to watch something else and perhaps knock out two queue entries in a single evening.

One lesson I’ve learned in clearing out a queue is to always focus on the non-original programming first.  Netflix will have its own content available forever; it might only have a certain movie or show for a few months, and since there’s no set schedule for when that program might disappear, it’s best to watch it ASAP.

Maybe the other lesson was that online streaming is just overwhelming.  I pitched the idea of getting my folks a Netflix account but they turned down the offer since, to quote my dad, “there’s just too much.”  I think my folks like getting a weekly dose of a single episode of one of their favourite shows rather than binging a season at a time, and then another season, and then another show, and so on and so forth.  Once you get into that habit, that’s how you rack up 37 shows with no end in sight.  Like a fool!

Wednesday, December 06, 2017

The Smooth $20

There we were, four guys fresh out of high school, let loose in Montreal’s world-class nightlife.  We were just days away from starting university and the next stage of our lives, so what better time for one boys’ trip to La Belle Province for a few days of wild tomfoolery.  On our very first night in town, a tip from our hotel’s concierge led us to standing in line at one of the city’s hottest nightspots…

…okay, I’ll add in the corrections now.  The “hottest nightspot” was basically just a pub.  A busy pub, but a pub nonetheless.  And rather than a night of clubbing and bottle service, we were going to see a WWE pay-per-view.  (This was so many years ago that it was actually a ‘WWF’ pay-per-view, in fact.)  I’ll give it to that concierge, however — the man was a total pro.  A good concierge has to be prepared to find any information for any guest, so even when four dorky teenagers ask you if any local bars are showing Summerslam, you need to be at the ready.

So with information in hand, there we were at the bar.  It was a packed house, possibly due in part to the wrestling (2000 was more or less the height of modern WWF/WWE popularity) and also due to it being just a weekend in Montreal.  We were facing a long line just to get into the place, and the show was just minutes from starting.  What to do, what to do.

Picture it: 18-year-old Mark, on a big-city trip with his buddies, feeling like a true big shot.  I had some cash in hand thanks to a good summer of tips from my pizza delivery job, and it was burning a hole in my pocket.  Rather than actually spend the money inside the bar, however, I would go one further.

“Hold my spot,” I said to my friends in line,* as I stepped out to approach the doorman.  There were actually two doormen, one at the bar’s entrance itself and one sort of halfway on the landing facing the sidewalk, keeping general surveillance of the line and crowd.  It was this second guy who I approached, since he seemingly had more of an air of being in charge.  Anyone can open a door and check IDs, but surely the more experienced head bouncer would have the more difficult task of surveying an entire section of public street.

* = this was pretty needless since, duh, of course they’d watch my spot.  I was in their group.  They weren’t just going to abandon me.  I definitely lost that round of “did this need to be said?”

I sidled up to him, though in a completely non-threatening way.  (Not a good idea to just sidle up to a bouncer out of his blind spot, lest one wants a punch in the stomach.)  I leaned in and said something to the effect of “hey, is there anything you can do to get my friends and I in a bit quicker?” while slipping him a $20 bill with a casual handshake.

Of the all-time self-satisfied moments in my life, this had to be top ten.  Here I was in Montreal, going to a bar, seeing a line, thinking “not today,” and then slipping the doorman a few bucks to let us leave the rest of the plebeians behind, waiting like suckers.  I even removed the twenty before even leaving the line in the first place, then palmed it and coolly passed it to the doorman without even making eye contact.  This was before Ocean’s Eleven was released, so George Clooney was still mostly just the guy from ER and a series of largely unsuccessful films…and so at this moment, I was clearly cooler than Clooney in my own mind.  ‘Out Of Sight’ notwithstanding.

The bouncer accepted the bill, glanced at the door and said he’d see what he could do.  I said thanks with all the sincerity my virtual-adult voice could muster, and strolled back to my friends in line, ready to accept plaudits as the coolest man in Montreal…

…only to see them on the way into the bar, along with basically the rest of the line.  You see, while I was busy being Mr. Smooth, a group of at least 30 people all exited the pub en masse.  It was clearly some huge party that was letting out, and thus the bar went from standing-room-only to “no, actually, quite a fair amount of space.”  We ended up getting a prime table to watch the matches, even.  I don’t totally recall the bar being too packed the rest of the evening, so it could be that the entire line was seated at that very moment, and, if anything, it was kind of an average Sunday night in terms of business for the pub.

The moral of the story is, when you’re going to slip the bouncer a $20, maybe make *entirely* certain that the line isn’t moving.  Maybe wait a bit longer than, say, five minutes before deciding that the wait is interminable.  Also, maybe make sure you’re actually “flush with cash” before just giving away twenty bucks when you’re an 18-year-old dolt, since I think I had barely enough still on me to cover my bill.  Really, giving the guy $10 probably would’ve been sufficient. 

But still, after this first night, the REST of the trip….oh ho ho ho, now THOSE were some real crazy adventures….

…or, we just went to see baseball games every other night and were always in bed by midnight since the long subway ride from the Big O tends to just suck the life out of you.  It’s times like this, as I dangerously approach middle age, that I realize that I’ve basically been middle-aged my whole life.

Saturday, December 02, 2017


I once applied to be on Jeopardy and made it through the audition process, though I was never selected to be on the actual show.  Probably should've changed my name.