Monday, August 10, 2015

Italy: The Michael McDonald of the West

Ahh, the European lifestyle.

I've just completed a two-week stay in Italy, where my lifestyle resembled that of the Euros — and tourists — around me. I'd have a continental breakfast with espresso, shower and then sing Michael McDonald songs.

Right after the shower, I'd involuntarily sing, "Takin' it to the Streets" because it was time for Dina and me to take it to the streets and explore. Our two-week path went to Rome, Sierra, Florence, Cinque Terre, Milan, Venice, Verona and back to Rome.

I quickly realized that Michael McDonald songs were relevant to nearly every Italian city.

Venice = "What a Fool Believes" The city is so winding and confusing with its hidden paths and layout. As I thought I figured out the paths, I'd be cocksure we were going the right direction. Oh, no, not all the time. What a fool believes. He sees. No wise man has the power. To reason away. 

Florence = "Sweet Freedom" The home of the Renaissance displays the freedom artists took in painting and sculpture. The song came out when I was in the Uffizi Gallery. Shine sweet freedom. Shine your light on me. You are the magic. You're right where you want to be.

Rome = "I Keep Forgettin'" I found Rome to be a more walkable city than expected. Dina and I "stumbled" across a few major sites that I had forgotten were in our path. The Pantheon was an obvious example of that. Plus, it's easy to forget the cultural significance of so much in Rome. I Keep Forgettin'. Things will never be the same again.

All Italian Cities = "Takin' it to the Streets"
Through intense Internet research, I have learned that Michael McDonald was absolutely huge to the Doobie Brothers. Yes, the band had "Listen to the Music" and "China Grove" before him, but he took the band in a much different direction and is the most famous member of the group by far.

Italy is to Western culture as Michael McDonald is to the Doobie Brothers.

The metaphor should be obvious to all who visit Italy. Of course, the comparison isn't perfect. Throughout our stay in Verona and the opera "Tosca," I was involuntarily humming "My Verona."

Friday, July 17, 2015

My grandma: The original bargainista

The best thing about comedy is that you can tackle taboo issues, important stuff that might not normally be talked about. And today, I am going to tackle an important taboo issue: Yachting.


The issue is money. Money is one of the biggest taboo issues in America today.

People spend money differently, and we tend to do it like our parents, whether we want to or not. Actually, I see a money evolution with each generation less cheap than the previous one. Each generation is less cheap — and less religious. We’re godless spenders.

My maternal grandma was by far the most frugal person I’ve ever encountered. It would be easy to call her the cheapest person I’ve met, but “cheap” is a negative word. She was a Pollack from Cleveland, Ohio, who turned frugality into an art form and obsession. She wasn’t a cheapskate. She was a bargainista.

Yes, bargainista — like fashionista. Fashionistas take style to a whole other level. My grandma took finding deals and being frugal to an elite place.

Her basement was filled with two-liter bottles of soda, huge boxes of laundry detergent, boxes of  Ivory soap and all the other things she ever owned in her life. Was she a packrat? Is Donald Trump a racist?

But my grandma was more than a packrat. I’m obviously an O.G. — an original gangsta. She’s the O.B. — the original bargainista.
Whenever I drink fizz-less, stale soda, it takes me back to grandma’s house. She would use a buy-one-get one coupon for soda, limit four, but she took that to the next level by having friends and family members use coupons for her. She was a coupon pimp. We were her coupon hookers.

There was no need to ever buy ketchup or salt or pepper. She had free packets from Burger King we’d use. Why would my mother ever buy me new clothes? She had some perfectly fine clothes I could use.

She had a depression mentality of saving that most of us in 2015 just can’t relate to. I have tried to cut the ties of my grandma’s bargainista ways, and I actually buy ketchup bottles in the store.

But the more I look back, I believe being a bargainista is something to be proud of. My grandma was a complex individual with many layers of wisdom, practicality and hidden baseball cards (somewhere in the attic, we thought).

For the longest time, I’d be slightly embarrassed by how she treated money. But now, I realize it’s something to be lauded — in my mandated clean underwear (if I ever were in an accident, the paramedics would know I came from good stock).

Either you know bargainistas, or maybe you yourself are a bargainista. The only problem is sometimes being so focused on getting a good deal, you end up getting a deal you don’t need or want— or end up buying a pack of 100 Slim Jims.
You might be a bargainista if:

• You’ve ever bought a Groupon for a massage, skydiving — or an adult magician. 

• You’ve argued to use coupons that you fully know are for a different product. I mean: How could there be a difference between Tartar Control with Brightening and Extra Brightening?

• Your first thought when receiving any gift card is: “OK, who can I re-gift this to?”

• You will only keep a Starbucks card because when using a Starbucks card, it completely takes off any pressure to tip the barista.

• You’ve ever cashed in a Subway card, coffee shop card or any disintegrating card in your wallet, where you only needed to purchase 10 things in order to get one free.

• You’ve specifically bought clothing with the intention of returning it after wearing it just once.

• You’ve seen two movies in one day at the same theater, but only paid for one. And in your mind, you consider it justice and a protest against the ridiculous prices of movies nowadays.

• You’ve ever smelled a carton of milk three weeks past its expiration date with the hopes that just maybe it will still be good.

• You’ve ever had an entire meal on free samples from Costco.

I must admit. Yes, indeed, I am a bargainista — just like my grandma. Time to run. Sushi happy hour ends at 6.

Monday, June 15, 2015

The top 10 comedians of all-time

The Snooze Button Generation (TM) released its list of the "10 Best Comedians of All-Time" today as the corporation's founder/CEO defended the list to much scrutiny.

"Look," Snooze Button Generation founder/CEO Joe Stevens said. "This is a subjective list by nature. But its picks are objective. These are the funniest people I've ever encountered."

Stevens has taken a lot of criticism for having eight white males on the list and one "token" black comedian and another "token" female. He denied that the list was flat-out racist or sexist.

"I respect that comedians and fans love Richard Pryor and Eddie Murphy and Chris Rock," Stevens said. "But those guys just don't do it for me as much as the others. I like them all on various levels, but they just didn't crack the top 10. They're no Monsignor Ciolek."

What about the females?

"Of course, there are plenty of incredible female comedians," he said. "But I just couldn't find a spot for Minnie Pearl or Dolly Parton."

The Snooze Button Generation's 10 Best Comedians of All-Time:

10. Bill Cosby
It's definitely horrific that The Cos may be remembered as a rapist who repeatedly drugged women. That puts a slight damper on his comedy legacy. But as far as a comedian, he killed it. I recall watching "Fatherhood" in the mid-80s with my extended family going berserk to his humor.
9. Monsignor Casimir Ciolek
Not as popular as Cosby, Monsignor Ciolek was the pastor of my childhood church, SS. Peter and Paul in Garfield Heights, Ohio. When anyone accidentally called him "Father Ciolek," he would retort, "I'm a monsignor!!" He rarely cracked a smile and was a master of the deadpan.

8. Sarah Silverman
She's pretty crafty on the Twitter, and she talks hard — like a dude. Of course, there are other female comedians that others prefer, such as Tina Fey or Roseanne or Madeleine Albright, but Silverman wins it for being so bluntly funny.

7. Cato
I have known Cato since kindergarten, when I believe we had different classes but already had strangleholds as the funniest students in class. Seriously, Cato is one of the funniest people I know. He has the best Facebook updates I've seen, and I give him props.
6. Robin Williams
Of course, it's so sad what happened on Aug. 11. An awful ending to a bombastic comic career that boomed. I remember nearly crying from laughter, watching him on Letterman with the XMan and my mom. He could make this list for his arm hair alone.

5. Uncle Steve
I can't even begin to mention the catch phrases, stories and sensibility that came from my Uncle Steve. He was a major contributor to my sense of humor as well as my cousins and family. He worked in advertising in Cleveland, wrote books and will entertain anyone he encounters.

4. Norm MacDonald
Honestly, Norm is my favorite comedian of all-time, but he does not have the elite clout of Robin Williams, Bill Cosby and others on the list. I rarely see comedians in concert because they tend to have a lot of misses. I saw Norm recently. He rarely has a miss on stage, and I often find myself speaking in the same cadence as he does. What does that mean?
3. Jerry Seinfeld
I recommend Seinfeld's "Comedians in Cars Getting Coffee" to anybody. It makes me realize how incredibly insightful and witty the master is. Who knows more about Cocoa Puffs?

2. George Carlin
Carlin is on another plane when it comes to comedians. Not only was he influential, he was smart and hilarious and meaningful. His comedy will hold up forever. That can't be said for a lot of other influential comedians who's stuff becomes too dated or too overplayed.

1. Fred Stevens Jr.
My brother recently attended what I believe was his first country music concert ever. He embraced the vapid cultural experience by donning a cowboy hat and potentially wearing a confederate flag thong. If you give him a microphone, he makes Michael Scott look humorless. Here he is during a recent visit to California:

Friday, May 8, 2015

The Fight of the Century

Being a week removed from "The Fight of the Century," we can now take a calmer look at what it meant. We're not talking about the zillion dollar spectacle between Floyd Mayweather and Manny Pacquiao. We're talking about Keegan Bradley vs. Miguel Angel Jimenez.

As a youth, I was often confused by my father, the XMan, when he would watch golf on TV.

I would say: "Come on, Dad, let's go play catch."

He'd say, "After the golf."

"Why not now?"

"There could be a fight," he'd reply.

No lie. We had that same conversation, and joke, for decades. I never saw a fight on the PGA Tour — until last week.

No punches were thrown between Bradley and Jimenez. But Bradley was hard-core pissed, and so was his caddie, nicknamed "Pepsi." Honestly, I think Bradley and Pepsi were so angry because they were losing to a 51-year-old sophisticated gentleman and didn't know how to handle that.
One thing I love about the argument between the duo is that they were both 0-2 in their third match of the WGC-Cadillac Match Play Championship. In other words, neither could advance in the tournament, so the match really didn't mean anything. ... Love it!

For a golf addict, the current Match Play format was an orgy of goodness from Wednesday through Saturday. The field is 64 through Friday and then 16 and eight on Saturday. The tricky thing, though, is when the final four are left, there aren't enough players left for good TV on Sunday.

Two Match Play points: 1) We need more Match Play. 2) Somehow have more matches on Sunday.

But who cares, other than golf geeks? Two players nearly came to blows, and for God's sakes, golf needs more of this. I'd love to see Craig and/or Kevin Stadler sit on Tiger, or maybe Mickelson karate chop Louis Oosthuizen in the gap between his teeth.

Fight, guys, fight. It would be nice to see golfers getting a little more nasty. Go ahead. Take your cues from Elin Nordegren.

Tuesday, April 7, 2015

Steal these jokes

I am in the midst of a week-long trip to New Orleans. One thing I did not realize was this: A week in New Orleans is a lengthy time because of the reveling lifestyle all around me.

All thing considered — I'm inspired. I liken myself to a writer, and I have enjoyed reading "Poking a Dead Frog" by Mike Sacks. The book features "conversations with today's top comedy writers," and it's entertaining and informative.

When I was reading an interview with Carol Kolb and Will Tracy of "the Onion," I thought, "Wait a minute. I could write these headlines for the Onion."

So on the flight to New Orleans, I quickly came up with 20 possible headlines for the Onion, and here are my 10 favorite of those in no particular order:

Aunt repeatedly uses ‘FML’ to abbreviate family on Christmas newsletter

Redneck arrested for punching Jackson Pollack painting

One month ‘relationship’ ends over comfortable shoes comment

Area man screwed by accidentally buying organic lettuce 

Kanye to protest music industry by changing name to ‘Singer Formerly Known as Prince’
Local husband joins mile-high club — alone

Son flabbergasted by mom’s 47 open apps

Area boy memorizes pi to 1,000 places; virginity remains intact

Pete Townsend pissed as he finally gets fooled again

Man fails to clean Easter bunny costume for 12th consecutive year

Eh, I enjoy coming up with these and feel I may do this more often. It's easy and fun for me. Feel free to steal any of these jokes and have fun with your friends and family (FML).

Monday, March 23, 2015

Parenting & Teaching = Ashford & Simpson

Sophie Stevens officially became a "ten-ager" on Thursday as she officially celebrated her 10th birthday. A decade on the planet. Like!

I had a birthday party for Soph and am happy she's my daughter. In news that is actually related, I attended something called "The CUE Conference" in Palm Springs from Thursday to Saturday. It was a conference on teaching and technology, and it was the first time I ever went to any type of teaching conference.

Parenting and teaching. They're more closely related than Captain & Tennille, Penn & Teller and even Ashford & Simpson.

Honestly, the main reason I'm a teacher is because I thought it would help my parenting. And it has.

I'm on the same daily schedule as my girls, and how to act with people decades younger than me is important. So many skills are transferable between parenting and teaching that I see them as feeding off of each other. Of late, I've really taken in the following three skills as a parent and teacher:

1) Get out of their way. Kids have talents and interests, which are healthy. Let them do their thing. Try to open the world up to them as much as possible.
2) Feel genuinely happy. Kids have a sixth sense of knowing how adults feel, and, in turn, they often feel the same way. They feed off your energy. If you're not productive, they won't be. If you're not feeling happy, it makes it way harder for them to be.

3) Talk with them. Don't talk to them. Communication is the foundation of ALL relationships. While authority in parenting and teaching is a necessary component, the communication has to be open, fair and kind. If not, the kids will close off, and that's no good for anyone.

On this current day, as I look at my daughters, Sophie and Chloe, they look as happy as they've ever been. Perhaps it goes back to No. 2. I'm as happy as I've ever been.

Chloe got a bang trim. We each had a Jamba Juice, and I'm feeling good about being a teacher and parent. My conference was good and all, and I liken it to a golfer's conference on golf clubs.

Technology, to me, offers teachers great tools. But, in all reality, the necessary skills of a good teacher, or parent, predate all of our awesome technology and probably are not that closely related to technology.

Sure, someone could stumble across this blog and be inspired. But I still have a fear that some parents and teachers are trying to replace interpersonal skills with technology, instead of enhancing those skills with technology.

I see myself as a teacher and parent who understands the incredible options we have. I am a fan of iPhones, YouTube, iPads, iMovie, blogging, Yelp and much more. But, alas, I have to run now. It's time to play Sequence with Sophie and Chloe.

Monday, February 16, 2015

Just like daddy

"Father, where do babies come from?"

"Daddy, what is the Ku Klux Klan?

Every so often, a parent may face a difficult question, and the other day, I faced this doozie from Chloe: "Daddy, can I start a blog?"

At first glance, that could have been a tough thing to answer. But I quickly realized that it would be no problem to help Chloe get a blog titled Chloe Stevens' Blog on Tumblr.

Chloe has done four entries, and she put a brief video in her last one. Her entries may be even more innovative than the Snooze Button Generation. What!?

I know of no other 7-year-olds with blogs, and as she writes about finding flowers, her school day, pull-apart erasers and Hollywood, it is a way to show what life is like for a second grader in 2015.

Of course, Chloe may be no normal second grader. She has extremely high social and emotional intelligences for a girl of her age, and she has an excellent grasp of empathy and sympathy. She exhibits strengths in categories of well-being that I have learned are exceptionally important.

Chloe's 9-year-old sister, Sophie, is no slouch, either. Sophie's mind is a sponge, and it seems like she remembers everything. I especially like Sophie's penchant for art and music and that she is a meticulous student. I have suggested that she should do a blog, too.

The major problem I find with blogs, though, is that they are often short-lived or erratic. One positive about the Snooze Button Generation is that it has been around since August 2009. It started out with numerous fun 'n' ridiculous entries in 2009, having 69 posts in the final five months of the year and then 93 entries in 2010.

However, in a stark tone shift, the blog hit a major obstacle exactly four years ago today, when my dad, the XMan, passed away on Feb. 16, 2011. Each year on this date I've done a blog in remembrance of him, and this year is a slight deviation because of the focus on Chloe's blog.

The XMan is connected to the blog thing because he loved the Snooze Button Generation. In fact, I learned that he printed out the entries and kept them in a large envelope. He always supportive of me. That's how he was.

My plans are to continue to write entries for the Snooze Button Generation but only about once a month — at the minimum. I may do more if necessary. But right now, I am equally excited about Chloe Stevens' Blog.

We shall see how long Chloe sticks with the blog, and whatever she does, I will support her. That's how I am.

Tuesday, January 13, 2015

The Cavs need executive power — fast

I hope I'm wrong, but there is a good chance Cleveland will end up hating LeBron again.

Of course, we Clevelanders are happy he attempted to right his wrong of leaving Cleveland by coming back. But the current Cleveland Cavaliers have lost six consecutive games and have stumbled to a disappointing 19-20 record. They aren't even close to having a championship team. They have to make a major move.

By "major move," many might assume they need to make a trade or acquire more players that fulfill important roles — namely defense. That all might help. But, no, no, what Cavs owner Dan Gilbert must do is hire a championship-caliber executive to give the Cavs organization a chance at competing with other organizations.

The Cavs' general manager is a relatively obscure guy named David Griffin. He spent 17 years with the Phoenix Suns in various roles before coming to the Cavs. No offense to Griffin, but he certainly has no championship experience. He wasn't an NBA player and started his career in media relations.

The Cavs' coach is David Blatt, who is in his first year coaching in the NBA. Blatt does receive some criticism, but really, Blatt is not the Cavs' problem. The Cavs' problem is this: The people in their front office do not match the talent on the court, and there is no way the Cavs can win without proper personnel in place.


Unfairly for LeBron James, he is being forced into a role that is wrong for a player. He has to be the sole member of the organization for leadership on all levels. The Cavs need an obvious leader in the front office who has authority over LeBron, and they're not even close to having that.

In Miami, coach Erik Spoelstra had a similar role as Blatt. They're both "players' coaches" and understand their role as NBA coaches, which needs finesse because it typically is subservient to players. In their case, it sure is.
But what Miami had, and has, that Cleveland doesn't is Pat Riley. The buck stopped with Riley, who obviously had authority over LeBron. Right now, nobody in the Cavs' organization has authority over LeBron, and that recipe simply won't work for a championship.

If you look back at NBA championship teams since 1980, all of them either had a coach or executive that is a Hall of Famer in their respective job, or is debatable to be a Hall of Famer. Riley was with Miami and the Lakers. Gregg Popovich is a stalwart in San Antonio, and, of course, Phil Jackson accounts for 11 championships in that time period. The list continues after them.

The New York Knicks appear to fully understand the necessity of having an elite front-office person as they gave Jackson a five-year, $60 million contract in March. The problem with the 5-35 Knicks, though, is that their roster does not have potential to be a championship team, no matter what kind of Zen magic Jackson can pull.

With LeBron and Kevin Love and Kyrie Irving, the Cavs definitely have the makings of a championship roster. But until they also have a championship executive, it simply will not happen.

Do I have any bright ideas on whom to get? Not really. They can maybe try to get Don Nelson out of mothballs. Or they can try to poach an elite executive from a current team. Good luck with that!

I'm just hoping Cavs owner Dan Gilbert is taking this gaping hole in the front office seriously and makes a move before April that addresses this. If not, the Cavs' championship hopes will be gone —and so will LeBron.

Saturday, January 10, 2015

My breakfast with Tom Green

I have never been starstruck in my life — until this morning. What scares me is that I didn't think it were possible for me to be starstruck, but it happened when Dina and I had breakfast next to Tom Green and his girlfriend at Du-Par's in Studio City.

"Psst, look who's next to us," I said to Dina, a moment after we sat down.

Dina nonchalantly looked over and obviously knew who it was. She acted normally, but I clammed up, not knowing what to do. I opted to do absolutely nothing because I thought that would be the coolest move.

I must state that during my life as a journalist, I have met a boatload of celebrities, and some big names, including George Lucas, William Shatner, LeBron James, Kobe Bryant, Shaquille O'Neal, actually pretty much any basketball-related celebrity and the list goes on. I have never acted differently around any of them ad never had my heartbeat change in any of their presences. So why in the world did my heart skip a beat around Tom Green?

One factor is that it was a surprise to be going about my normal life and, bam, be right next to the guy. Another factor is that I am not into celebrity culture, but I do legitimately like how Tom Green has grown, going from goofy-ass comedian to thoughtful talk-show host.

What must be understood is that during the past year I have only watched three shows regularly: 1) "Top Chef", 2) "Tom Green Live" on AXS TV and 3) "Norm MacDonald Live" on YouTube.

Because Top Chef is a pop culture staple, I don't think I'd have any trouble running into Tom Colicchio, Padma Lakshmi or any of the Top Chef crew. For reasons I can't totally explain, I wouldn't be starstruck by them.

In my world, based on time spent watching them, my top two celebrities are Tom Green and Norm MacDonald.
Typically, Dina and I are the most attractive couple in any room. At Du-Par's, we still held that post. Tom Green's girlfriend was attractive, but Dina edged her out. I beat Tom Green, although he surprised me by his height. Usually, celebrities are extremely short. But Tom is listed as 6-foot-3. I'm 6-foot-1, and in real life, he might be taller than me, although it's close.

This past year, I watched every episode of "Tom Green Live," which may be an oddball thing because many people don't even know this show exists. Perhaps my devotion to Tom's AXS TV show explains why I was tongue-tied being right next to him. Had it been Brad Pitt, Johnny Depp, Robert De Niro or any other huge celebrity, I wouldn't have thought much about it because they're all regarded as huge celebrities.

Living in Studio City, Dina apparently runs into celebrities often. I suspect that I have with her as well, but, again, really the only two I know are Tom and Norm.

At Du-Par's, it wouldn't have been a stretch to look at me, Dina, Tom and has girlfriend and think we were together. Tom and I each wore hoodies, although mine had a little more style to it. We both were unshaven and were sitting so close that we heard each other's conversations.

Tom wasn't feeling well, and he and his gal were going to pick up cold stuff at Ralph's. Dina and I talked about getting a new bed frame and created a plan for the day because it was too rainy to hike. How interesting for all of us!

Monday, December 15, 2014

Laugh. Think. Cry.

Happy holidays!

By my count, nine days remain until Christmas Eve — and I am attempting to cry on each of those days

I think we may live in an a "it's wrong to cry" type of world, and "F" it, I'm crying.

See, the holidays bring up any, and all, memories connected to youth, family and good cheer, and it's the perfect time to weep. I have stifled that type of feeling in the past, and now I'm letting loose with the pouring of my tears.

I wish that I could claim this plan as my own, but in reality, it is former North Carolina State basketball coach Jimmy Valvano's plan. I recently watched Jimmy V's famous Espy speech from 1993, which can be seen below or by clicking here.

Valvano was diagnosed with cancer in June 1992. He gave this speech in March 1993 and passed away in April '93.

During the speech, he says that the three things everyone should do everyday is: Laugh. Think. Cry.

I subscribe to this plan and believe we would all be better off to do each of them daily. I usually laugh and think. The crying is more difficult. But, not really.

Why cry?

Of course, I desperately miss my father, the XMan, as I prepare for my fourth Christmas without him.  I also miss a lot of key family members, including my grandparents, Aunt Nancy and Mouse, and today I even heard the news that a close friend's dad passed away today. Apparently, death makes me cry.

But according to Jimmy V, tears of joy also count as a way to cry. When I think of the deep love I have for those close to me, it can bring out tears.

I think of this girl:
I also think of this girl:
And I feel like, yeah, I'll go ahead and cry. Why not?

Actually, the problem that one can run into with an attempt to weep for days on end is that at some point you feel dried up. So be it. I may put on "Terms of Endearment" and feel absolutely nothing.

Crying is an excellent thing. I enjoy being alive.

Wednesday, November 26, 2014

Pizza Hut: Not exactly for foodies

For those of a certain generation — the Snooze Button Generation — there was a time when Pizza Hut was wonderful. When we were youngsters who enjoyed syrupy soda and hot, cheesy pizza pie, Pizza Hut ruled.

Unfortunately, Pizza Hut has been sucking for about two decades, and hardly any of the "restaurants" have an actual hut for a roof anymore.

Pizza Hut is the Radio Shack of pie.

You might ask: Why bring up Pizza Hut now?

Well, it's important to educate the younger generation on how the place used to be. Also, I have recently announced that "I am a foodie." For an 11-year-old boy, Pizza Hut constituted upscale cuisine. And when a pitcher of soda arrived, it was food paradise. I am pretty sure Pizza Hut is no longer for foodies.
As Thanksgiving arrives tomorrow, many of us will overeat and mention things we are happy for. I am happy of the glee I felt at Pizza Hut. But I don't know how to react to decades long absences of the Hut. It is extremely reminiscent of the horrific decline of Subway.

One decade ago, Pizza Hut created something called "Pizza Hut Italian Bistro." It tried to be a classier Pizza Hut with actual hut roofs that were silver. I'm pretty sure they failed, but if I run across one, I'll probably pass.

Instead, I'll just turn my head toward the heavens and remember the restaurant on Turney Road in Garfield Heights, Ohio. I'm pretty sure it had tabletop Pac-Mac machine, too. Italian World closer to my house had better pie, and Tasty's could hold its own. But, man, Pizza Hut used to also hold its own. Not anymore.

Goodbye, Pizza Hut. Good luck with your unvisitable 11,000 "restaurants" worldwide.

Monday, October 27, 2014

Stop this clock madness!

The great thing about being a member of the Snooze Button Generation (TM) is that we can look back at past technology or fads or the way we did certain things and laugh.

We had VCR's. We used drawers of index cards in libraries. We did an M.C. Hammer dance, and some of us even wore Hammer pants.

So, what I'm hoping is that this whole spring forward/fall back boondoggle goes the way of Hammer pants. We need to keep Daylight Saving Time forever, and finally do away with fiddling with our clocks.

The vast majority of Americans are behind this plan, but, unfortunately, no one in Congress is spearheading a campaign to "stop this clock madness!" In Florida, a small push was made for the Sunshine Protection Act to keep that state on Daylight Saving Time. However, ROPA (the Regulatory Overreach Protection Act) would likely not allow that to happen on a state-by-state basis.

Stop this clock madness! Keep Daylight Saving Time forever! We need AMERICA TIME! Let's go national.

This column came out on a few days ago promoting the idea of keeping Daylight Saving Time intact. While the thesis of the column is correct, the argument is shoddy, and the suggestion to have states try to do it on their own wouldn't work because of ROPA.

Here are the top three reasons why we need to keep Daylight Saving Time permanent:
1) Energy will be saved.
2) Overall, the U.S. economy will be helped.
3) The general population is overwhelmingly for this.

I predict that Daylight Saving Time will be permanent in the United States within 20 years. I say it should happen ASAP.

Honestly, now would be a better time than ever. As partisan politics hinders Washington more than ever, this bipartisan issue would be perfect to bring Democrats and Republicans together.
Yes, it is true that people resist change. But it gets dark early enough. Let's save daylight, and — as the idea in the hackneyed CNN column suggested — let's save lives!

Monday, October 13, 2014

A completely 'Killer' collection of short stories

I truly enjoyed my four years at The Ohio State University from 1991 to 1995. And a big reason why was my college roommate — Ryan Kenealy.

Ryan had many nicknames. Initially, it was "Killer." Then, I started calling him "Big Bear" and then "Big Ass."

The name "Big Ass" didn't make any sense because he was not overweight, which might have made it funny. Eventually, I realized that maybe "Big Ass" wasn't the most flattering name, so I curtailed my usage of it. But damn it, a few others were using that name by then. Sorry.

Ryan was my roommate for three of my four years at OSU. We met at St. Ignatius High School, then we roomed at Baker Hall our freshman year. For sophomore year, we got an apartment at High Street and Frambes Avenue, and for junior year, we lived with Will, Greg and Zach at 48 Frambes Ave. Man, that was a fun year!

Ryan is an all-around good guy and cool dude. Because of the years we lived together, I am pretty sure he knows a bunch of embarrassing stories that could keep me out of the Supreme Court. I either have no comment or deny them all.

The main reason I'm writing about Ryan is that I just finished reading his debut book, "Animals in Peril" (Curbside Splendor). The book is a tour de force. It is a magnificent collection of short stories, and I think it should be read by all. It can be ordered by clicking here.

I went into "Animals in Peril" not knowing what to expect, and by the middle of the collection with a story called "It Can Take All That Talk Without Purpose," I realized that the book commanded attention not by just me, but perhaps all.

The stories until that one were all good, quirky and with unexpected paths and connected to animals. He wrote about an Uncle Dave bringing his sister discounted jewelry described as "gum ball jewelry." He talked about circus life, hinted at the possibilities of selling drugs, displayed the ins and outs of working at a flea market and put together an all-around worthwhile collection as is.

The book has so many unique and meaningful lines that it's a good read just for those alone. But as I read "It Can Take All That Talk Without Purpose," I got chills, and it made me realize Ryan's skills aren't just with the quirky one-liners of truth but to connect our 2014 existences with nature in ways that are totally true but hardly considered.
In "It Can Take All That Talk Without Purpose, " a divorced woman named Siobhan treats herself to a stay in a luxurious hotel and meets a hotel worker in her room described partly as "a Bears fan, Siobhan thought, but in the best possible way."

Siobhan is attracted to the man and remembers that "she'd once read how easy it was for a woman to get a man to have sex. All you had to do was laugh at his jokes then, at some point, take his hand in yours."

In an array of subtle, yet awkward, advances, Siobhan nervously chats to Paul — the Bears fan — and he responds, "You keep telling me how I feel about you. Do you usually tell people how they feel about you?"

Soon, Siobhan and Paul do indeed engage in sex. As both find their encounter meaningful, the story shifts to the hotel's valet who is talking about a bird called a junco, which was introduced to start the story.
The valet says, "Dis bird. Dis bird is very famous for it can take — if you are talking, you know, just like talking to talk — it can help you understand why you are talking to talk, and it can take all that talk without purpose and put it on its wings and fly it away from you."

I sometimes find myself talking to talk. I am that type of person, to fill in the silences, to do away with perceived awkwardness. I like smoothness— like on late night talk shows.

Maybe we all talk too much. Later in the story, the relatively quiet Paul says, "... I am a lucky man. And now I've met you."

In the story, Ryan then writes, "Siobhan smiled, but felt nervous about what Paul might be implying."

I feel we often forget we are walking animals. We think we are not connected to the junco, the squirrel, the skunk or the shih tzu, but we are.

I'm definitely connected to my college roommate Ryan. It seems like only yesterday that we'd stay up late, drink beer out of plastic cups and talk about how import art was to us. And now, his art is in print for all the world to see. Ryan, you da man!

Monday, October 6, 2014

Where the heck is Attack on Facebook?

Where the heck is Attack?

I've been asking myself that question for the past four years, and, finally today, I must admit this: Attack on Facebook is gone, and I'm getting the feeling that it's gone for good.

For those who don't know, Attack is an online version of the world-famous board game Risk. You know the one: You roll three red dice. I'll roll one white one. Let's fight!

Attack was featured on Facebook until 2010. I am actually uncertain when it debuted on Facebook, but I can tell you that Facebook debuted to the general public in September 2006.

Facebook, when you think about it, was (or is) freaking incredible. I felt I got on Facebook slightly late when I added my account in April 2008. But that was less than two years after it existed. I have friends who held out to, like, a year or two ago.

But enough about Facebook and Zuckerberg's Caucasian Jerry curls.  I'm reminiscing about Attack, which I played intensely for a year or so. Then — poof! — it was gone.

Reasons as why Attack vanished are hard to find on the Interwebs, but my theory is that Facebook didn't think it was worth focusing on gaming as part of its empire. Zynga, which created Attack, is a mega-gaming company, and so I imagine there was some sort of no fit with Attack. But who knows? Attack is gone! Damn!

Perhaps the real question is what is the deal with games that deal with world domination and war? When my daughters were 4, I taught them an important card game called "War"? I mean, seriously, a 4-year-old can play that one.

Another favorite of mine was Combat on Atari, and I realize that maybe there is a little Hitler in all of us. Maybe we want to dominate the world and have horribly ridiculous facial hair.
Yeah, you could look at "War Games" with a youthful Matthew Broderick and Ally Sheedy, and you could look at Battleship, and Electronic Battleship, and wonder why we, as youngsters, play so many games of war.

I am completely out of loop with modern-day video games and what "the kids" are playing today. I've heard of things called "Call of Duty" and "Grand Theft Auto," but I haven't really played them because of me being a member of the Snooze Button Generation and all.

I'm wondering if Attack on Facebook was the last time I really pretended to be a faux dictator and try to take over the world. Something in me desperately wants to say, "OK. I'm attacking Madagascar. Three on one. Let's roll."

Attack, where are you?

Tuesday, September 16, 2014

Zen and the Art of Browns watching

I have become Zen when it comes to life — and especially when it comes to the Cleveland Browns.

Growing up in Northeast Ohio, the Browns came into my life extremely early— earlier than even my First Holy Communion as a second grader. You may ask: What are you saying? Are the Browns a religion in Cleveland?

No, no, they're not a religion. They're bigger than that.

The Browns are our passion, our way of life, our reason for being. They bring back memories of yesteryear and are our conversation starters and conversation enders. This year, they've got a lot of hype because of the crafty drafting of Heisman Trophy winner Johnny Manziel, and with the return of LeBron James to his homeland, a lot of sports hype surrounds our city.

The problem is this, however. The Browns have been absolutely horrible for the past five years. They have not made the playoffs since 2002 and have not won a playoff game since 1994. For the past five years, their best record has been 5-11, and so frustration abounds when it comes to this franchise.

As a new season has started, I have taken a Zen approach to watching them. In past years, my strategy of Browns watching in Long Beach, Calif., was this: I would keep tabs on them, and if they had a chance to win in the fourth quarter, I would go to a public establishment to watch them. ... I didn't go to many establishments.

This year, I took a different approach in Week 1. When the Browns vigorously fought back to have a chance against the Steelers, my girls and I went to the beach. I followed Browns updates on my phone, and when they tied the score 27-27, only to lose 30-27, the girls and I took the above selfie.

For Week 2, I took a similar approach. I went golfing during the game. However, I couldn't help myself and followed the game a bit on my phone during the round.

As I saw the Browns were marching down the field in the final minute, I had an excellent couple of shots and put the golf ball five feet from the hole for birdie. As I walked to the green, my friend Don texted me, "Browns!" I knew what that meant, confirmed it with a score check and realized the Browns won for the first time since Nov. 3, 2013 (They lost their final seven games last year).

I converted my birdie putt, finished with an 83, which is the second lowest score of my life, and took the below selfie at that moment:
Due to the recent Browns success, however, things will be changing this Sunday as the Browns take on arch-nemesis Baltimore. DirectTV will be installed in my house this week, and the Browns will be on my Californian television.

Might I still go to the beach or golf during Browns games? Heck, yeah. But could the Browns be back? ... Here we go again.

Saturday, August 23, 2014

Mouse will be missed

What the 'F' is going on here?

Death is all around me this summer. Life is all around me this summer.

I might as well tweak that: Death is all around us this summer. Life is all around us this summer.

I am no Buddhist, for I am a Pollack. But I'm trying to wrap my head around why so many people connected to me have passed away this summer. All, but one, were a generation older than me and not in the Snooze Button Generation (TM), but this is forcing me to come to some conclusions that may be Buddhist-esque.

Perhaps this is what happens when a sophisticated gentleman, like myself, turns 40. Perhaps it's granted that those in a higher generation move on, but as I wasn't prepared for the XMan's inexplicable demise in 2011, perhaps I was not prepared for today either.

Mouse passed away today (Saturday). She was 71.

That is Mouse of "Uncle Steve and Mouse." She was the stepmother of The World's Most Dependable Man and Carlos, AKA "Know It All." She was a good-hearted, kind woman.

Mouse, AKA Maryann Fitzpatrick, officially married my Uncle Steve on the day I graduated from college in March 1995. She was with Uncle Steve since I was approximately 8, so I have known her for about 32 of my 40 years. She will be missed.

I just saw Uncle Steve and Mouse on the Fourth of July, in which we took the above photo. Although I have known Mouse's health was not superb, she looked far away from dying six weeks ago. I have no idea what to feel and/or think about what transpired today except to say that I loved Mouse and am sad this happened.

I especially feel for Uncle Steve, who lost such a huge part of him. I have no words for him, except to say that many people love him. By the way, during a recent visit to Cleveland, I ran across his picture in the regionally famous Harbor Inn. He is closest to me in this photo on a team of mega-dart champions in the late 1970s:
Y'know, with Robin Williams passing away from suicide/depression at 63 less than two weeks ago and with Mouse passing away today, I must point out some misconceptions many people have about certain deaths and human beings.

Mental illness and alcoholism remain taboos in modern-day America. They are both diseases. However, many of the general public do not view them that way. Mental illness and alcoholism, for some reason, are subjects that people believe are controllable. If either mental illness or alcoholism hits a loved one, many think it is because the person foolishly chooses to self-destruct. Simply put, that idea is ludicrous.

Bluntly, Mouse was an alcoholic. When she ordered "Mouse Water" at an array of Cleveland establishments, the bartenders knew that was straight vodka. Most people will read those previous two sentences and immediately judge her. Why?

Mouse had the disease of alcoholism, and her drinking was not in her control. I wish it were, but it wasn't. For lack of a better word, she had cancer, and she succumbed to it today. ... Heck, she made it to 71. She was happy, a good spirt and why not celebrate the positive impact that Mouse had on many people? I will celebrate her life, and I expect everyone who knew her to do this same. ... It is rough to see Mouse pass, but as the Indigo Girls say, "It's only life, after all ... yeah."

Monday, August 11, 2014

Taking it out and chopping it up

My "Summer of Cleveland" officially will end tomorrow when I fly back to Los Angeles with my daughters and the World's Most Dependable Man.

Tomorrow also will be my 33rd day in Cleveland this summer, by far the most in this land since 1996 when I had a summer job at The Plain Dealer. There were two stints this summer, one without kids when the power of THE RAM was discovered and this current stay in which we attacked Cleveland.

We took it out, and we chopped it up. We followed advice from Royal Tenenbaum in the "The Royal Tenenbaums," who said, "You can't raise kids to be scared of life. You got to brew some recklessness into them. ... I'm not talking about dance lessons. I'm talking about putting a brick through the other guy's windshield. I'm talking about taking it out and chopping it up."

We did that, metaphorically of course, as we repeatedly swam in Gary's pool, visited Chippewa Lake several times, explored the woods, went to Swings 'n' Things, golfed the Buzzard's Nest, navigated a boat through downtown and saw a game-tying home run by the Tribe in the ninth inning land three rows in front of us. In this video, by the way, you can see my brother Fred lifting up the lady who got the home-run ball and me dancing.

Why did we do all of this? Well, I enjoyed my childhood in Northeast Ohio, and I try to give a glimpse of that to my daughters. I simply like going back to my homeland, and I'm pretty sure the air in Cleveland has healing powers. Chloe likely believes this, too.
Perhaps the most shocking thing about my "Summer of Cleveland" was the bombastically high 33 days spent here. I have loved nearly all of them, but I'm wondering if some relatives are sick of me by now.

Me: "What do you mean you're busy now? So what if it's 2 p.m. on a Wednesday? ... Forget about work. Shut off your phone, and we'll meet at the Burntwood Tavern pronto."

As a sophisticated gentleman and teacher, I must accept the fact that being on a powerboat roaring through Cleveland on a Tuesday afternoon is not that common for a lot of folks. Is it common to beat your chest like Matthew McConaughey in "The Wolf of Wall Street" with children ages 6-9?

I actually don't care if it's common or not. The girls and I had some unforgettable experiences that took them out of their California comfort zone and made us smile, and I'm hoping that happened to the many important people in our lives that we visited. We took it out and chopped it up.

Monday, July 14, 2014

Praise THE RAM. Hallelujah!

The Ram has healing powers.

I am not into voodoo, witchcraft, scientology or Catholicism, but I am into the mystical support The Ram gives me.

A few weeks ago, the Wolf Pack saddled up at the Winking Lizard in Independence, Ohio. Cato, a key member of the Pack, has a specific goal in mind: Drink 100 different beers at the Lizard and earn a T-shirt.

As the Wolf Pack helped Catonio work through his lengthy list of brews, Jeff — AKA Hefner, AKA the Heffman — ordered a beer that made me do a double take. He ordered something called the Celebrator Doppelbock from Ayinger Brewery in Germany. The beer came with two rams on its label and a trinket of a ram draped around the neck. I had never seen any beer that came with a trinket.

The next day it was time for a showdown. Cato and I faced off against Dave and the Heffman in golf at Astorhurst Country Club. At the beginning of the round, the Heffman hung The Ram on his golf cart with twine, and it dangled majestically.

Dave and the Heffman basically annihilated us on the front nine. While facing a deficit on the back nine, Catonio and I devised a plan to steal The Ram and see if our luck would change. We successfully stole The Ram, and mojo came to our side. We slowly got back into the match and had it all square going into the final hole.
Of course, Dave is a little too good for all of us. He and Jeff birdied the last hole to take the crown, but, scientifically, The Ram proved its worth.

I then tried to wear The Ram as a necklace, but due to the twine, I found it too itchy. Because of my intelligence and handyman skills, I transferred The Ram from the twine to a shoelace, thus making it wearable as a necklace.

We have since gone back to the Winking Lizard and have slightly hurt Cato's 100 beer plan by ordering more Ram beers. I have suggested that each member of the Wolf Pack wears The Ram to ward off demons. Jeff recently wore one dangling from his wristwatch.
Jeff also suggested that The Ram is likely the reason why LeBron James has returned to Cleveland. He is correct. Have I gone mad, putting my faith in a plastic trinket that comes with a beer? Of course not. At a certain point, you just have to throw logic out the window and take a leap of faith, like all good religions say. Guide me, Ram. Make me a channel of your peace.

Friday, July 11, 2014

The GREATEST day in Cleveland sports history?

As a self-appointed spokesman for the city of Cleveland, I must tell LeBron James this:

In my life, there's been heartache and pain.
I don't know if I can face it again.

LeBron, one more thing:

I wanna know what love is.
I want you to show me.
I wanna feel what love is.
I know you can show me.

Just like my brethren in Northeast Ohio, I had a giddy day of goodness as King James announced his return to our underrated and much-maligned city. I strangely got chills writing that sentence. Talk about drama! Talk about excitement!

There's excitement in the air come and watch them play — Cavs! Taking on the best in the NBA. Cavs! Cavs! Cavs!

(That was a jingle from back in the '80s when Mark Price dished many a pretty pass to Brad Daugherty, Larry Nance, Ron Harper or even John "Hot Rod" Williams.)

For four grueling years of hopelessness, I have loathed LeBron James more than any living human being. Come to think of it, he was the only human I've loathed. For my own emotional health, I have tried to forgive him for his stupid-a$$ "Decision," but I could not. I was stuck in the anger mode of healing for four years and just couldn't get out that mode.

As a news alert from the New York Times came on my iPhone, my whole emotionality turned upside down in an instant. This was the opposite of a trauma. This was shocking, amazing, smiley face time, bona fide glee. I somehow even broke the news to my brother and mother. Throughout the day, I put my fingers in the air and rubbed them like Johnny Manziel. My daughters and I repeatedly did the finger rub in Souplantation.

A flurry of emotion hit when the news struck, and I simply surmise this is what Andre 3000 means when he sings:

I think I'm in love again.
Baby, you are the prototype.
Do sumn' outta the ordinary. 

Today could have possibly been "THE GREATEST DAY IN CLEVELAND SPORTS HISTORY" (since 1964). Hyperbole? Maybe. But even if the Cavs never win a championship, or even if they do, the scales of justice balanced out today. That could better than a championship.

Of course, analyzing today as potentially THE GREATEST DAY IN CLEVELAND SPORTS HISTORY also underscores how horrible our city's sports history has been in my lifetime. Yes, we nearly won the World Series in 1997 with one of the glorious Tribe teams of the '90s, but they coughed up the lead in the bottom of the ninth in Game 7 and then lost in extra innings. Ouch!

I've always said that you learn more in making mistakes and in losing than you do with winning, and that is why Northeast Ohio has the most self-knowlegeable people on the planet. Seriously, through years of being a gamer and a fierce competitor, I know that competition is not about the end result. It's about the ride.

LeBron's return is going to put my beloved Cleveland on an internationally envied ride. Yeah, it would be nice if he and the Cavs sealed the deal with a championship. I do yearn to have just one Cleveland championship in my lifetime, and if that happens before I'm 50, it will be 28 years earlier than I thought it might happen (I used an abacus for that calculation).

But, really, goodness is in the air. I feel great. I feel alive. My trip to Cleveland last week helped, reading the book "Did I Ever Tell You How Lucky You Are?" by Dr. Seuss to my daughters also helped.

Yes, LeBron was an Outkast for the past four years. We viewed him as a Foreigner. 

LeBron, as Andre 3000 also sings in "Prototype," I must say:

Girl, right now I wanna say, I wanna say
I wanna say stank you very much
For picking me up
And bringing me back to this world...
I wanna say stank you, stank you.

Saturday, July 5, 2014

Cleveland: More beautiful than Spain

I am leaving heaven today, but I'll be back in a few weeks.

Now, some friends I have from California may not believe that my own personal Valhalla Cleveland, Ohio is as majestic as I say it is. My suggestion to them: Go there in the summer.

Every night I spent in Cleveland got to be a running joke because I'd behold the twilight and remark, "Oh my god. This is beautiful. This is more beautiful than Spain."

I wasn't exaggerating. The twilight in Cleveland puts a godlike glow on the many trees there, and the sky remains lit until about 9:45 p.m. The sun will officially go down at 9:04 p.m. today, but it really doesn't go down until another 40 minutes of wonder.

The weather was absolutely gorgeous each day I was here, and this land has two key natural things that Southern California does not have — clear, fresh air and fertile ground that needs no artificial watering.

For me, Cleveland also has a support system of family and friends that makes me identify Cleveland as home. My Wolfpack, which dates back to grade school, reunited, and that was especially impressive because a critical Pack member traveled all the way in from North Carolina.

I also played six (yes, six) rounds of golf. That's 108 holes. I played Sleepy Hollow, Astorhurst, Ironwood, Fox Meadow, Creekwood and Ridge Top. All of those courses are beautiful. They're all carved out around trees that have been around for centuries, and I hadn't played Astorhurst and Ridge Top since I was a kid. It simply felt right to be out there.

But beyond that, the big reason I was in Cleveland and, in total, will be there for more than a month this summer is the relationships. I have my mom and brother and cousins, who are like brothers, plus an extended family that felt good to see. 

Yesterday, on the Fourth of July, I went to Chippewa Lake, where the Stevens family now has three cottages at the circle. My idea is that I should buy a fourth one, and then we'll be allowed to tear them all down and build a hotel.
Chippewa always will hold a lot of memories for me, and with all these cottages now, many family members will be there much more now. Things evolve, and I — and perhaps many in the Snooze Button Generation
— look to the past with nostalgia, whether it be the Apple IIe, dial-up Internet or blowing off firecrackers at age 10.

Sometimes it's nice to look back to the past to enhance the present. Hopefully, that's what I was doing in Cleveland, which is growing and thriving and the most beautiful place I've ever been to in the summer.


Sunday, June 15, 2014

A 'perfect' Father's Day

"It's a perfect day. The Indians won."

My dad used to say that whenever anyone asked him how he was, and when it happened to be one of the approximate 80 times a year when the Cleveland Indians shined bright like a diamond. I realize, mathematically, that approximately 22 percent of my dad's days were perfect.

Today, the Tribe did win in extra innings against Boston, and the girls and I tore it up on Father's Day. We actually blew it out this entire weekend (their first without school!). Sophie had her first round with the Long Beach Golf Academy on Friday night and had a blast with her peers, then we had a rip-roaring birthday party for Chloe on Saturday. Today, we went to both a water park and played nine holes on a par-3 course. Winning!

My goal with the girls and golf is to play every Father's Day for the next 40 years. I would like us to take a picture every year and see how we progress. The interesting thing about the above picture is that I said we should each hold our favorite clubs. Sophie chose driver. Chloe had her 7-iron, and I grabbed my putter. ... We would be perfect in a scramble.

I shot lights out with the girls at Heartwell Golf Course, where the average length of a hole is 125 yards. I only had two bad shots. I missed a 3-foot putt on the first hole and had a bad chip on another hole for my only bogeys of the day. I birdied one hole to finish with a 1-over 28. Unfortunately, the par-3 course is extremely short and plays into my strengths, but I still am bragging about my score.

I expect Father's Day to always bring up various emotions because my dad is no longer here. For God's sakes, I am living for him. I am trying to do everything I can to be the best dad I can be. Indeed, life is short, and I'm trying to have as much fun with my girls as he had with me and my family.

The one thing that I am taking to the next level is my parenting, which is evolving. My big push now is to give the girls appropriate independence, even though that is difficult for me because I only have them 50 percent of the time. My gut says I should smother them, but I'm pretty sure that's not the best plan.

Recently, I have presented the girls with various "adventures" that they have loved and gained some sort of "ain't nothin' gonna break-a my stride" feelings. The big one they like to do nowadays is to take their bikes or scooters to the corner store and purchase Gatorades and/or Vitamin Water.
Man, I love my girls, and they love me back. It is quite fulfilling to watch them becoming fierce. I love in the way I do, like my dad did, and like his dad, Coach Stevens, did. We play a lot of games. We compete. We love each other.

"You can't raise (girls) to be scared of life," Royal Tenenbaum said. "You got to brew some recklessness into them."