Shock the Monkey.

Monday night, Vidna and his wife accompanied us to the orchestra. Not just any orchestra, mind you - but the New Blood orchestra, fronted by none other than Mr. Peter Gabriel.

It was a thoroughly amazing show, and while a little too political in places for my simple tastes, I accept that with Peter. He puts his money and his heart where his mouth is, and there is no doubt that the man has a passion for his work and is still at the top of his game.

I have never had tears in my eyes at a concert before, unless you count that one Click Five concert where I realized I was the oldest person in the audience and was forced to weep silently into my coke because I discovered that they did not, in fact, serve alcohol on the premises. No, these were a different sort of tears.

The first song that really hit me was "Wallflower" - one of my all-time favorites. I always thought it was either about someone in a mental institution, or a song about political prisoners. I guess from what he was saying, it's the latter. I think I got the mental institution idea from the movie "Birdy" for which Peter did the soundtrack. A weirdass movie to be sure, but one worth watching. There was just something about that song and the orchestra backing him... the raw emotion of the song was somehow multiplied ten-fold. If you've never heard it, here's a non-orchestral version. The orchestral arrangement made it truly haunting.

For me, the standout of the concert was the story he told about a yoga retreat he went on with his elderly father. It was a type of yoga where you use the other person's body weight to aid you in your stretching. He said it was the most intimate physical contact he'd had with his dad in years. When the trip was over, he said his father hugged him like he hadn't since he was a small boy.

Then he said, "This next song is a reminder to cherish the time you have with your friends and family, and let them know how much you love them, because you never know how long you're going to have each other." Then he played the song "Father, Son."

Until I heard that yoga story, I never really understood what that song was about -- but now it's brilliantly clear. Those words, combined with the orchestral arrangement and the black and white film of Peter and his dad walking side by side almost had me bawling like a little kid. I kept it together though, because I'm a mean, heartless son-of-a-bitch with no feelings.

That you know of.

Here's a video of that particular song, directed by Anna, his daughter. Go watch it now. I'll wait.

Added bonus -- We almost got to see a drunk chick climb over a row of seats and start a fight with a girl behind her who apparently told her to shut up. The shushing was warranted though, because for some reason the drunk chick had decided that an orchestral concert was the best place to have a loud, personal conversation with her friend. Security finally had to get involved and calm her down. I love people.

Also, this cracked me up. We parked next to this mobile dumpster:

Of course I had to get a picture, because number one, it was disgusting, and number two, I knew you bastards wouldn't believe me when I told you how bad it was unless I had proof. So there you go.

The funny part? When I was converting the picture file for this post, I noticed the name of the magazine floating on the waves of crap:

Mission: Fail.

(If that car belongs to anyone reading this -- Sorry. You really are a slob, though.)

Anyway, if you get the chance, go see Peter on this tour. Yeah, it's a little weird, and yeah, you might wonder if you should maybe wear a tux, but one thing is for sure. You won't regret it.


Tight and Firm.

Interested? Go here to check it out. You guys get first dibs, but don't blame me if you hurt your ass.

[Believe it or not, it's gone already! About three minutes after I posted it. Apparently, ass-blasting is all the rage.]

Also, this is pretty awesome. Thanks for all the great reviews!


Capitalism at its worst.

A couple of weeks ago we joined a group of our friends in Philly for a 5K cancer walk. We were doing it in memory of a friend who recently lost her fight against breast cancer. It was a pretty short one-day event, not like one of those three-day marathon deals where you end up doing sixty miles or something, but we wanted to be there for it.

She never let her disease define her, and she lived her life to the fullest every day. She was one of the best people I've ever known, and the memory of her laughter, her sense of humor and her simple every day kindness will be with me forever. We were honored to be a part of it, even though we had to wear bright pink shirts her husband supplied. On the front they had our "team name," and on the back, a picture of our friend sporting the mohawk she had for a few minutes before she shaved her head. Pink isn't really my color, but there sure was a lot of it on the walk, so I learned to live with it.

The crowd was pretty amazing, but there was one thing I didn't expect -- I didn't expect the freelance vendors using the event to sell their crap to the crowd. Like I'm gonna buy some sketchy pretzel from a dude selling them out of a ratty box sitting in a shopping cart. "Yeah, give me one of those $5 bubonic pretzels. No, I don't mind that you look like you haven't taken a shower in two weeks and you aren't even wearing gloves. Can I have one from the pile you just coughed on? Thanks."

At one point during the walk, my buddy Pete's wife (who is Australian) said, "Oh look! Fairy floss!" I immediately turned to see what the hell she was talking about, and I saw nothing resembling either end of that odd combination of words.

"What did you say?" I asked. "Fairy what? Floss?"

She pointed and said, "Yes, fairy floss, right over there." I looked where she was pointing and saw a guy selling cotton candy.

"You mean the cotton candy?" I asked.

"Yeah, we call it fairy floss in Australia. We have lots of different slang terms for stuff," she added.

I saw someone with a full-sized poodle on a leash, so to bust her balls, I pointed at the dog and asked, "So, what do you call those in Australia?"

Before she could reply, Pete says, "Those are Barkie Sheep."

I don't know why that struck me so funny, but I swear I almost had to stop walking I was laughing so hard. I still laugh when I picture that. Yeah, I know. I'm easily amused.

The worst example of capitalistic idiocy we saw was some d-bag loudmouth New Yorker selling tee-shirts right before the finish line.

The shirts had an American flag overlaid with a picture of Osama Bin Laden with the words "REST IN PISS" written below the picture. And of course he's screaming like a carnival barker. "GETCHER OSAMA SHIRTS HERE! REST IN PISS! RIGHT HERE! REST IN PISS! FIVE BUCKS EACH!" Ridiculous. I'm as happy as the next guy that OBL got what he deserved, but this wasn't the time or the place to be selling such trash. Some people have no sense of decency, I guess. I hope he bought 10,000 of those shirts and paid for them by borrowing the money from Vinnie Kneecaps, because I'm pretty sure he has about 9,990 left that he can't get rid of. Sometimes bad things happen to bad people.

And now for something completely different.

I recently went looking for a particular .jpg file on my hard drive at work and found a cache of temporary files stored by our instant messaging program. Apparently, every time you send a screen shot to another user, a temporary jpg file is created on your local drive. Some of these jpg files were a complete mystery to me, but I know I sent them to someone at some point in the past.

I discovered that I have a tendency to make fun of the stock photos they use in some of our computer-based compliance training. The training courses are required, and are usually about scams, phishing, diversity, privacy or security -- basically all the things a large corporation has to worry about. Thanks to a little program called Snag-it, it's very easy to grab some of the graphics and add a little text balloon to them, which I apparently have a tendency to do. For your enjoyment, I pasted them below:

This next one is the result of a co-worker's misspelling of the word "ominous."

This one? No idea:

I'm just including this because it was in there and it's still funny:

Do all the evil villains who try to sell you fake passports look like this? According to BigStockPhoto.com, they do:

My hands are HUGE. They can touch anything but themselves...

Just cuz:

I think this next one had to do with customer relations, but I added the last three lines so now I think it's about sexual harassment.

Anyway, enjoy your weekend. And rest in piss. If that's your thing, I mean.


Put on your smoking jacket and join me for a brandy.

A while ago I submitted my book to this site that interviews Kindle authors, and apparently it passed some sort of muster and I was deemed worthy to be "interviewed." I have no idea if that means I'm one out of a hundred, or simply the only one who stood still while everyone else took a step back. Either way, it was fun.

I wasn't interviewed in person, but that's ok with me -- that way I didn't have to change out of my Batman pajamas. They e-mailed me a set of questions and I e-mailed the answers back.

It just hit today, so if you want to know what makes my depraved little mind tick, head on over and check it out.



Goodreads Book Giveaway

The Snitch, Houdini and Me by Johnny Virgil

The Snitch, Houdini and Me

by Johnny Virgil

Giveaway ends July 11, 2011.

See the giveaway details
at Goodreads.

Enter to win


Anyone on goodreads.com?

I just joined this not too long ago, but have sort of stalled on it. If anyone reading this is a member, I could use a few new "goodreads friends" to share book lists with.

Check it out if you get a chance and join up if you haven't already. It's pretty cool.


Walk it off.

I'm on pager duty this week, and I'm hoping it's not as bad as it was when I had it a few weeks ago, but I'm not counting on it. I know it's part of the job, but it doesn't mean I have to like it. There's a few of us in the rotation now, so we only have it for about one week out of every four. I dread getting it, when I have it I'm cranky, I can't sleep, and all I want is for it to be over. I guess it could be worse. At least I'm not all bloated and crampy.

I've probably mentioned this before, but every place I've ever worked, right up until I was hired at my current place of employment, has gone out of business -- and every time I've managed to jump ship just before said ship sank to the bottom of the ocean. A few posts back I told you about one of the first jobs I had -- the one that involved cleaning rotten vegetation out of some guy's back yard -- but that wasn't my only pre-paycheck job. As far as regular "paycheck jobs" go, I've delivered newspapers, stocked shelves at a small supermarket, worked as a delivery boy for a local pharmacy (where I learned how to drive a stick on a POS Volkswagen beetle with no heat or air conditioning), worked as a pump jockey at a gas station, a sales clerk at a record store, a sales clerk at a tobacco store, and even worked at a music warehouse one summer putting stickers on LPs. Every single one of these places went tits up. After college, I put three more companies out of business. So, yeah. My kung fu is strong.

Since I've been at my current job for more than a decade, I think it's safe to say that either the curse has been lifted, or the company is so big it's like a redwood tree and I'm a lowly powder-post beetle. There was one other pre-paycheck job, and I'm going to tell you about it. I had almost forgotten about the whole thing because I only had it for about 30 minutes, and really, in the grand scheme of things, it probably shouldn't be considered a job since I never officially got paid for it.

When I was a kid, I played baseball. If you're a regular reader here, you probably already know I'm not really into sports, so this news may come as a shock to you. Even as a fair to middling player at best, I eventually worked my way up from standing around avoiding bees in center field to actively playing first base on a winning team. I was a lefty, so it worked out well -- I could snap the ball to second and third without turning my body first, and those precious seconds resulted in many an out. This position also resulted in my left foot being punctured by a fat-ass, cleat-wearing catcher who decided I was a little too high up on the bag. I think that bloody hole in my foot signaled the beginning of the end for any interest in baseball I may have had.

One benefit they bestowed upon us older players was that we could act as umpires at the intermediate kids' games for extra money. These were usually very boring affairs because nobody had invented Tee-ball yet, so most of the time the game consisted of 8-year-old kids getting walked around the bases, one bad pitch at a time. A few of my friends had done the umping thing, and they'd received nine bucks a game. That wasn't chump change, and it was totally worth it, even though the games were slow as death and got called half the time because of darkness. They should have been called because of suckness, but unfortunately, that never happened.

Every parent thought that their kid should play no matter how bad he was, and generally the team coaches tried to do a little of that. If one team had a giant lead, they'd start playing their shitty kids until the other team started to catch up, and then the first string went back in. This wasn't a league rule of course, so you had the occasional asshole who would run up the score just to make some sort of statement. Usually, these particular coaches were called "Dad" by a couple of kids on the team, and almost without fail their kids were little assholes too.

So I got a gig as an umpire. I was pretty excited, and a little scared. Unfortunately, there was one thing I hadn't foreseen, and that one thing was that I would be incredibly bad at it, and would never do it again as long as I lived.

It was a hot Sunday afternoon and I rode my bike to the park. It was a big park, and there were about four or five baseball diamonds, all with different games going on. I had forgotten the slip of paper that told me which game I was supposed to be officiating, so I had to ride around to each field until I found the two teams waiting impatiently for their ump. I introduced myself to the coaches, and they handed me a big pile of equipment. I had never umped before, and this stuff was a little daunting. I looked at the mask, the chest protector, the neck protector, the big, apple-shaped chest pad (which was different from the protector) and the shin pads -- and had no idea where to start.

I randomly began strapping stuff on, starting with mask and chest pad. At first I thought I had stepped in dog shit on my way to the field but almost immediately realized that it was the mask I was smelling. I pulled it off my face and looked at it. The backside was padded leather and apparently, I wasn't the first ump to use it that day. It was dank with some other person's face sweat. I could see the salty white marks near the edges where it was beginning to dry. I put the mask down temporarily and tried to put on the chest pad. The buckles were messed up on that one, and the last guy who had worn it must have been twice my size. The game was already starting late because I hadn't been able to find the right playing field, and now everyone was watching and waiting impatiently for me to dress myself in all this happy horse shit. I was getting more nervous by the second. I could hear a few muttered comments, a couple of exasperated sighs, and a few snickers from some of the kids. By the time I strapped on the neck protector, the shin guards and replaced the stinky mask, I felt like a blind, smelly turtle. I could barely move. I couldn't see much through the bars on the mask, and the shin guards were so long I couldn't really squat down without my legs feeling like they were going to separate at the knees.

Finally, I was ready. Or at least as ready as I'd ever be -- nervous, blind, sweating, and clueless. Right before they officially started the game, I got some bad news. Due to unforeseen circumstances, I would be the only umpire. Normally, there would be an infield ump too, for the runners on base, but I was informed I was going to have to do double duty and call those as well. No pressure.

The thing about having no infield ump was that I was clearly in no position to see what was going on out there. Additionally, each team not only had a regular coach, but also a first base coach and a third base coach, each of whom had some skin in the game because their kids were clearly legends in their own minds, and this shit was as serious as a heart attack.

They knew All The Rules, too. And if there was one thing you didn't want to get involved with, it was a fight between two douchebag dads who each thought they were Alexander Cartwright reincarnated. You'd hear them saying shit like, "No! A pitch is a ball delivered to the batter by the pitcher. It doesn't matter how it gets to the batter! No, Goddammit, he can try to hit it if he wants to. The batter can hit any pitch thrown! It doesn't matter if it bounced! Oh, yeah? Get a life, you stupid asshole!" (Note to all parents or prospective parents: Don't live your life vicariously through your children, OK? It makes everyone around you think you are an insufferable tool, and is completely embarrassing to your kids. It's just a game. Really, take it from me -- nobody will think less of you if your little Stevie doesn't get to pitch the last inning because the coach took pity on the other team and put in that slow kid who couldn't hit home plate with a conversion van.)

Anyway, this essentially meant that I was screwed from inning one. Oh, and have I mentioned that I had only the most rudimentary grasp on the rules of baseball? No? OK, stick that in there, too. I didn't really know a balk from a bunt when it came down to it.

Things started out OK. The first team had a good pitcher. And by good, I mean he really had no business being on the plate. This was good for me because (a) he never came remotely close to the strike zone, so I was pretty confident. It's easy to yell "Ball!" when you saw the baseball kick up a puff of dust five feet before the plate, and (b) the coach had basically told all the kids on his team to never swing unless they were three balls or two strikes down. Every single one of them walked. This umping stuff is easy money, I thought. After the pitcher walked three guys and the bases were loaded, the coach decided to change him out and things immediately went downhill. Not for them, but for me.

I had grown complacent. I got used to looking for the puff of dust, or seeing the ball sail over the catcher's head and yelling "Ball one! Ball two! Ball three!" over and over. Unfortunately an eight-year-old has a strike zone the size of a frigging postage stamp, and I hadn't been counting on this new guy and his ability to actually pitch.

The bases were loaded, and the pitches were coming in without the tell-tale dust cloud. I began to think that some of them were close to being actual strikes, so I called them as such. I was having a hard time of it, though. I started hearing things like "C'mon Ump! That was a horrible call!" and "Jesus, that almost hit him! Strike my ass!" and "Hey Ump, did you forget your glasses?" (Yes, I sucked, but also yes, these were grown men taunting a 14 year old trying to make nine dollars. My only solace is that most of them will be dead soon, and the ones that aren't will probably be eating jello cups in a nursing home and cursing their asshole kids who never visit. I'm not bitter.)

Anyway, all this taunting was really starting to get to me. I was badly flustered. I could barely remember to yell out what it was I thought I saw, let alone yell it out with any authority or accuracy. At one point, I watched a pitch come in and I didn't say anything. I suddenly realized that they were all waiting on me, so I yelled "BALL THREE!" and someone yelled back "The count was already three and one!" I immediately corrected myself. "I MEAN BALL FOUR!" I yelled. "BALL FOUR! Take your base, runner." So sue me. I had lost track. After we sorted out the confusion and a run walked in, at least one team was happy about the job I was doing. The next batter up was a big, hefty kid who looked like he would be stepping on first basemen in a couple of years.

The first pitch was right down the middle. The kid just stood there like he was waiting for a bus. "STRIKE ONE!" I yelled confidently. The pitcher wound up and threw the next pitch. According to my practiced eye, this one was just on the inside corner of the strike zone, so I called it. "STRIKE TWO!" I got a few groans on that call, mostly because the hefty kid had backed up trying to make it look like the pitch was closer to him than it really had been. Even so, I was reasonably confident about it. If this kid threw strikes, I had nothing to worry about until people started actually hitting the ball and making people run directly at me. That caused me to worry even more. Calling people safe or out at the plate? That sounded like a nightmare.

My worrying caused my mind to wander a bit from the task at hand. I still wasn't any better at envisioning the tiny little strike zone between the tiny elbows to the tiny knees. At least this big-boned son-of-a-bitch was making my job a little easier. The next pitch came in really high, so in my best ump voice, I confidently yelled, "BALL ONE!"

This was immediately greeted by a chorus of dissent. "OH, FOR THE LOVE OF GOD!" "WHAT IS WRONG WITH YOU, UMP?" "COME ON! ARE YOU BLIND?" I heard all these and worse.

Then the chanting started.

"UMP GO HOME! UMP GO HOME! UMP GO HOME!" Kids, parents, coaches -- it seemed like the whole world wanted my head on a stick. A few of the wives were telling their husbands to shut up and leave me alone, but it didn't seem to be working.

I took off my mask and threw it to the ground and yelled "IT WAS UP AROUND HIS EYES!" I was pretty much hysterical, and tears were about ready to start streaming from my eyes. "WHAT WAS WRONG WITH THAT CALL? WHAT WAS WRONG WITH IT?" I kicked at some dirt, and stood there defiantly, trying to maintain some semblance of dignity.

The chanting died down and everyone was staring at me.

One of the coaches said, "Uh, kid...he actually swung at that pitch."

I didn't say anything, but I could feel my face turning beet red. He had swung at the pitch. He had swung at the pitch, and somehow I had missed it. Fighting tears, I slowly took off all the smelly umpire equipment and stacked it into a neat pile next to home plate. Without another word, I got on my bike and rode home, thus ending my short-lived career as an umpire.

I don't think I even told my parents this story, so there you go. As you probably figured out, I wasn't asked to umpire any future games.

At least now when people ask me why I hate baseball, I can just point them to this post.

Suck it, baseball.


Should I be freezing my ass off in June?

Just curious. It was 91 degrees yesterday and today I have a coat on. I need to move to a place that doesn't have 4 seasons a week. I feel like I should be making an appointment to get my snow tires put on soon.

Speaking of tires, has anyone ever ordered from Tirerack.com? I used them a few times, and so far I like them. You can have your new tires shipped to a installation center near you, and then just drive there and they slap them on. You can also order wheel and tire combinations, and that's what I did. I finally got tired of paying $72 bucks every time I needed to switch from my regular tires to my snows and another $72 to switch them back. I figured if I purchased some cheap wheels, I could just leave the tires mounted, change them over myself and in two seasons I'd have made my money back.

Things never work out the way you'd like them to with automobiles, at least in my experience.

I went to their website and punched in my make and model, and then picked a good performance summer tire and the cheapest wheel they said would fit. They also told me I needed four tire pressure sensors, and that I would have to have my dealer activate them for me to make the big orange TPMS light on the dashboard go out. So I pulled the trigger on those as well, for another $138 bucks.

When the tires showed up, they looked pretty good. I jacked up the car, stuck them on and everything was great. They were quiet, the car handled much better and I was happy -- until I got another person in the car and happened to drive over a railroad track. The first time the tires were forced up inside the wheel-well, I thought I ran over a cat. There was a huge screeching-scraping noise as the tires and the outside edge of the wheel-well fought it out. The metal wheel-wells won handily, and the tires got pretty scraped up.

I also managed to find time to stop by the dealer and they told me it would cost $95 to switch over the new sensors, and that the computer could only store one set of numbers at a time. That meant I had traded a (2 x $72) expense a year for a (2 x $95) expense. So far so good. This idea was really starting to pan out for me.

I started researching that little issue, because that was bullshit right there. I found a little device that cost $150 and would allow me to program my own car computer, and switch between two sets of TPMS sensors. So for those of you keeping score at home, I would now break even in three years instead of two.

When I received the device, it was supposed to first suck the codes out from my winter tires, and store those in a "winter" setting, then allow me to input my "summer" values. I followed the directions, and the device wiped out my existing codes just like it was not supposed to do, and so now I have no way of knowing what codes are assigned to my winter tires without having someone take them off the rim and write the numbers down. There's an additional fifty bucks come November. Oh, and add another six months to my break-even. I'm clearly doing this wrong.

I called up Tire Rack, and told them that the tires were committing suicide on my wheel-wells, and they went away for a while and consulted their computer, then came back and said "Oh yeah, there should have been a warning on those wheels. They don't really work with your car. If you have an alignment done, they can add some camber to them so they might not rub. Or I can get you into a wheel with the right offset." I figured an alignment would cost me another 70 bucks, and I didn't want to go down the road with my tires looking like / \ because it would affect my mileage, and they'd obviously wear out faster, so I asked him what other wheels they had.

The only ones they had with the right offset (a) looked like rice-boy wheels, and (b) were twice the price of the ones I had originally purchased. I bent over and placed my order even though the wheels were butt-ugly. I didn't care anymore. I just wanted something that I could take on the highway without having to worry about the tires turning into grated cheese at 75 mph.

They did agree to refund my entire purchase price, including shipping both ways, so I can't fault them for their customer service, even though it was a huge pain in the ass and completely their fault.

So now I figure with the price of the new fancy rice-boy wheels, I'm up to about 4.5 years before I break even, which is probably about a year longer than I'll actually own the stupid car. To add insult to injury, the new wheels are much closer to the body of the car, which means it doesn't handle nearly as well as it did with the first set I bought. I was thinking of tinting the windows and adding a spoiler and one of those really loud exhaust systems that sounds like a swarm of bees, but then I'd have to buy a shitload of polo shirts so I could pop the collars, and really, who needs that added expense?