Wednesday, August 24, 2016

Crime and (Non) Punishment

    This is another autobiographical article, which I originally wrote back in 2003.  I submitted this one to "Morbid Curiosity" as well, but it wasn't accepted.  The reason given was that the accounts inside happened to friends of mine, with me as an observing bystander.  I was reading over this recently, and happened to recall a couple of more examples, from my stays in hotels.  Anyway, enjoy.

     Like a lot of students, I was fortunate enough to be able to live in off-campus housing for much of my college career.  Also like many others, I found it to be vastly superior to living in a dorm.  First off, there was the extra space; instead of being cooped up in a single small room, in the off-campus apartments and houses you had a kitchen, semiprivate bathroom, living room, and sometimes a basement and porch in addition to your bedroom, which occasionally you had to yourself.  Secondly, there was the freedom; unlike a dorm there wasn’t an upperclassman preceptor lurking about, with the power to write you up and toss you out of your room if they caught you with a beer.  Lastly, there was the responsibility; true, sometimes this was negative, with the unsupervised fights between housemates, tension over late payments of rent and bills, and such, but overall I think the experience led to as much maturing as the actual class work.  I certainly recommend it to anyone who can manage the cost.
     However, this is not to say there weren’t other problems associated with the off-campus housing experience.  All three years (1991-1994) of my apartment/house living were off the Douglas campus in New Brunswick, NJDouglas is one of many schools under the Rutgers University umbrella.  And, as it turns out, it’s surrounded by some pretty sketchy neighborhoods.
     Our first apartment, on Handy Street, proved to be fairly uneventful from a safety standpoint.  The only damage done to myself, my roommates, and the apartment itself was self-inflicted from overindulgence in alcohol or overzealous wrestling matches.  We did have an annoying elderly neighbor who called the cops on some of our parties, but this problem was solved when we learned the trick of guilting her into not calling by inviting her (a bit of no-risk etiquette not condoned by Miss Manners).  My Reservist roommate found a M-16 firing pin in the street, but that was all.
     The next place, a house on Comstock Street, only two blocks away, proved more unsettling.  It was located right on the border where the neighborhood began to get bad.  Our first clue about what the situation was came on the first day there, moving day.  One of my housemates had left his van open between unloading trips.  To our surprise, we looked out the window to see a guy in his van, lying underneath the steering wheel trying to hot wire it.  Fortunately yelling at and then chasing him frightened him off, and nothing was actually stolen or damaged.  Still, it was quite unexpected, especially since the van had been left unattended for only a minute or so, and it was broad daylight.
     But a month or two passed without much further happening.  We did have some tension with neighbors, particularly the house directly across the street.  They were mad that we didn’t mow our lawn in a timely fashion, and we hated them for their screaming matches and general rudeness.
     Then the next incident occurred.  At that time there were five of us living there—myself, my friends Nick, Mike, and Leon, and our sub letter Chuck (who was a nice fellow but kept to himself and his own room).  Leon was out of town with his girlfriend, and Chuck and Mike both left the house by ten or eleven a.m. (Chuck going to work, Mike going out with his girlfriend).  Nick was working the night shift at UPS and so he didn’t get up until noon or one p.m., and I normally arose somewhat earlier, but not that day because I’d been up partying until five a.m. the night before.  So, at around noon Nick and I came downstairs from our second floor bedroom to discover that we’d been robbed, again during daylight, obviously between eleven and twelve or so.
     It had been a simple job.  The burglars had broken the lock on the back door and had stolen Nick’s television, Leon’s VCR, and Nick’s mountain bike.  The police came and filled out the report, and even futilely dusted for prints on the remaining bike stand.  Our landlord was extremely unhelpful; he didn’t get around to fixing the broken lock for several days, apparently waiting for a relative to have some free time.  (This was our first clue to our landlord’s cheapness concerning repairs; he didn’t fix one of the toilets for over six months and didn’t replace a broken basement window for over a year after we moved out.)
     All in all, the robbery mainly affected our sense of safety rather than our wallets.  Nick wisely had insurance on his possessions, so he was able to get them replaced.  Leon didn’t have insurance on his VCR, but it wasn’t new and didn’t work that great, anyway (we hoped it ate all the thieves’ videotapes).  But it was jarring to think that we’d been robbed, in the day, while we were in the house sleeping upstairs.
     Then several more months passed.  Classes had started, and our lineup had changed, as different housemates and sub letters had moved in and out.  After the burglary we’d become more security conscious, and made sure the house and all our cars were securely locked.  Until one day…  My housemate Mike had just visited the grocery store, and had many bags of food.  During the thirty seconds or so between unloading trips, he’d left his pull-out stereo in his car, although behind locked doors.  Once again it was daylight, mid afternoon.  So of course he came out for another load of food to find his window smashed, and the stereo gone.  Alas, he had to pay for the repair and replacement on his own, as the total was below his insurance deductible.  A few days later one of our enemy neighbors came over and told Mike that she knew who’d done it.  She blamed her ex-boyfriend, who lived just down the street.  Ultimately her information was useless, as she wouldn’t speak to the police about this knowledge.  Since we weren’t exactly the vigilante types, coupled with the fact that our source was a questionable, possibly biased one, we didn’t hunt the neighbor down or anything
     Fortunately this was the last criminal act perpetrated on my group at the Comstock Street house.  Our final off-campus housing, a really nice condominium, was located about six or seven blocks away on Neilson Street.  After our experiences we were slightly concerned about our safety, especially given the new surroundings.  We were adjacent to a run-down housing project and several other shady areas.  However, despite its appearance, we had slightly less trouble here than on Comstock.  Vehicles had a rough time of it, though.  At least three times a car of ours or of a visiting friend was the subject of a hit and run, the worst being a friend of ours whose car was basically totaled.  Plus once again Mike had his car broken into, and like his previous vehicle, the thieves broke a window to gain access to it.  On this occasion his book bag was stolen, and with it several of his college textbooks and notebooks.  He was less upset about the loss of the possessions than the fact that he had wasted four hours on the lost homework inside one of the purloined books.  Other than these incidents, though, our property or persons were not assaulted.  Surprisingly, too, this final theft took place during the more traditional cover of darkness.
     These three years were my only brush with burglars.  My boyhood home has never been broken into, nor have I had anything stolen in the various hotel rooms I’ve called home since college (I live on the road for my business, contract archaeology).  Hell, to be accurate I never had anything of mine stolen, I just lived with people who were unfortunate enough to have this happen.  Nevertheless, it has made me conscious, some would say obsessive, about security.  I’m still amazed when I meet people (who usually come from other parts of the country, not the Northeast) who commonly leave their rooms, or cars open.  Or even more extremely, learning about households who never locked their doors, and sometimes didn’t even have locks on them!  That’s unthinkable to me, which I guess sort of sad in one way, realistic in another.  My residences may be broken into again, but I at least believe in making the perpetrators work at it at least a little
     (Update)  Since I wrote this piece, I’ve remembered a couple of more incidents concerning theft.  Like the others, these actually occurred to friends of mine, and not to me directly.  Both happened to archaeologist friends, while staying at a crew hotel.  Which, are sometimes a mixed bag, as you’ll see.  (See my April 7, 2012 post about bad hotels, for more on the lackluster or even horrible ones.)
     The first one occurred in 1995.  Since that was so long ago, I’m very hazy on the details.  But, anyway, my friend and coworker Kim was staying in a project hotel that seemed mediocre.  However, one day she reported she’d been robbed, almost certainly by the maid.  She’d (in my mind, somewhat foolishly) left cash in a box in a drawer on her nightstand while she was at work.  Since the maid had a key to her room, and had cleaned it, she was the obvious leading candidate (there was no sign of forced entry or anything else).  When Kim complained to the hotel owner, his response was to tell her which maid had cleaned her room (and may have even pointed her out), and told Kim to confront her.  So, kind of like my earlier story, he was encouraging vigilante justice, it seems.  (I don’t recall why Kim didn’t call the police.  Or perhaps she did but they couldn’t do much because it was a hotel.)  Whatever the exact details were, I think this was awfully strange. Kim chose not to get in a futile screaming match (or worse), so she didn’t get any justice or satisfaction.
     My final story took place in 1996.  I’ll use my coworker’s nickname, to protect the guilty.  (I should state that in the 20 years since this occurrence he’s married, has kids, and is a successful businessman and a landlord, so he’s undeniably gotten more responsible.)  “Dennis the Menace” enjoyed a certain smoke-able herb, and evidently his maid did too, as she stole his stash.  Clearly this type of theft isn’t one you can report to either the hotel or the police.  (Well, you could, I guess, but it would be really stupid.)  A day or too later we saw “Dennis” walking around at work with poison ivy leaves in a bag.  This was extremely weird behavior, of course, so we asked him what the hell he was doing.  His plan, he explained, was to rub it on the doorknob of one of his rooms (his girlfriend worked on the job too, so they each got a room.  But they mainly stayed in one, while using the other for storage.)  He also was going to rub it on that room’s toilet seat, in the hopes that the larcenous maid would use it and get the poison ivy rash on both her hands, and more sensitive areas as well.  All of us spent some time convincing him not to go through with this attempted revenge.  We pointed out that the odds of her using his toilet were slim to none, for starters.  Then we mentioned that the far more likely scenario was that he would forget about his actions and accidentally touch the doorknob and/or the toilet seat himself, perhaps while drunk (he enjoyed alcoholic beverages, sometimes to excess, as well).  Finally, what if the maids occasionally switched who cleaned particular rooms, or the marijuana thief was sick and a replacement did his room?  An innocent person might get a nasty, and unfair surprise.  “Dennis” grudgingly conceded our arguments, and thus his maid got away with her stealing with no consequences.  But at least “Dennis” didn’t compound his property loss with more itchy rashes, in way worse places than we field techs normally get.


Tuesday, August 16, 2016

Exotic/Disgusting Foods and Beverages Forum--Portuguese Soft Drinks, and a Short Discussion about the NFL Preseason

     Recently I found myself in Danbury, Connecticut.  The local supermarket had something surprising--a Portuguese food section in their ethnic foods aisle.  So evidently Danbury has a fairly sizable Portuguese population, or at least a large number of people who enjoy their food.  Most of the selections were things I'd had before, such as canned seafood, but they did have some soft drinks I'd never sampled.
     Sumol + Compal, S.A. is a major soft drink manufacturer in Portugal.  The company, which is a combination of two smaller companies, also markets juices/nectar, water, and beer.  It primarily sells to European and Northern African countries.  Soda flavors include orange, passion fruit, pineapple, and mango.  I was able to locate the first two kinds.
     The other drink I bought is a bit of a mystery.  The bottle says it's made by Kiki.  I wasn't able to discover much of anything about the company online, and the bottle only mentions it was manufactured for Miranda Imports, Inc.,, out of Massachusetts.  So that's all I have.  I tried the orangeade flavor, or "laranjada" in Portuguese.
     So here's my opinions, rated in the usual U.S. scholastic system.  "A" for excellent, "B" for good, "C" for average, "D" for unsatisfactory but barely passing, and "F" for failing, with pluses and minuses as necessary.

Kiki laranjada (orangeade): D-.  Orange color, came in a 12 ounce (355 ml.) bottle.  Really disappointing.  Very bland and dull.  Just a hint of orange taste.  Was it expired?  No expiration or "best by" date on bottle.

Sumol orange flavor: D.  Came in a huge, 1.5 liter bottle.  Has 10% orange juice and pulp.  Kind of like the Kiki, it was very dull and bland.  Just a hair better.  My father liked it, though.

Sumol passion fruit flavor: C+.  Is 6% juice, and came in a 330 ml. (11.15 ounce) can.  Yellow color.  Much better than the others.  Had a stronger taste.  Not strong overall, but improved.

     So, as you can see, I wasn't very impressed with the Portuguese soft drinks.  Even the one I liked was basically a tad better than average.  Obviously my main complaint is that these sodas didn't have very strong, distinctive tastes.  I wouldn't buy any of these again, except maybe the orange Sumol for my father.

     Switching topics, I'd also like to get into the NFL preseason a little, since it just started.  First off, the NFL doesn't like the term "exhibition games" even though that's exactly what they are.  Kind of like the recent trend in dealers calling them "pre-owned cars" instead of the more honest and direct, "used cars."  Up until the NFL was founded in 1920, there was no real agreement on what were "real" games and what were exhibition ones.  The pro teams of the era simply scheduled games with whatever teams they thought would get them a decent paying crowd.  In 1921, the NFL enacted a rule that only sanctioned games between members of the NFL constituted official games, and these then counted in the standings.  But, teams could, and did continue to play other non-NFL teams until the end of the 1930's, even though they didn't count.  Even during the regular season, during "bye weeks," or weeks where they weren't scheduled to play anyone.  Now, of course, this seems ridiculous--why risk injuries, during the season, for games that didn't count?  It was a different time.
     By 1960, the NFL and the competitor American Football League (AFL) both played a 14 game regular season and 4-5 preseason games.  Then, when the AFL and the NFL merged (in 1970, into an NFL with two conferences, the NFC and the AFC), every team started playing 14 regular season games and 6 preseason games.  This didn't last too long, though.  When the NFL expanded its regular season to 16 games, the preseason schedule dropped to 4 games for most teams, and a fifth for the two teams that played in the preseason debut "Hall of Fame" game.  Aside from 1999-2001, when an odd number of total teams (31) meant that a few more teams had to play a fifth preseason game, this has been the same up until the present.
     There was a weird exception to the typical NFL preseason from 1934-76.  The first preseason game used to be between a team of college all star players versus the defending NFL champion team.  The college players even won 9 of these, while losing 31 and tying twice (the 1974 game wasn't played due to the player's strike that preseason).  By 1977 this College All Star Game was discontinued, after concerns about rising insurance costs and the fear that college prospects would get injured before they could be drafted by the NFL.  A strange rule was made by the NFL in 1963 in response to author/journalist George Plimpton's immersive book about playing football, in which he practiced with the Detroit Lions at quarterback.  Journalists were barred from playing in the preseason (or in the regular season, I assume) when it became apparent that the Lions might actually do so.
     Clearly, preseason games aren't much a barometer for how well a team will do in the regular season.  Much of the action is played by men who won't even make the final squad, or if they do it will probably be in a reserve role.  Teams limit their regular season starters' time for the very realistic fear of injury in a game that doesn't mean anything.  Typically the 3rd preseason game (or 4th for the 2 teams that played in the Hall of Fame game) is the one where the starters play the most, usually 2-3 quarters.  So, if you're wondering which game is most significant to view, that's the one.  And to illustrate just how little the preseason does predict teams' success, the 1972 Miami Dolphins, who had a perfect 17-0 season, lost 3 preseason games, and the 2008 winless (the only 0-16 team ever) Detroit Lions went 4-0 in that year's preseason.
     I'd end on some preseason game individual player records, but I couldn't find them (I didn't look especially hard, but still).  Apparently the NFL doesn't care much, and nor do the fans.  Including myself, really.  The NFL does, though, make season ticket holders pay for the 2 home preseason games a year as well as for the 8 regular season ones.  Several individual and class-action lawsuits haven't been able to change this.
     So, enjoy the completely unimportant August games.  Or don't.  At least the regular season starts pretty soon--September 8th sees a rematch of the previous Super Bowl participants (the Denver Broncos and the Carolina Panthers), while the rest of the league starts on September 11th (or the 12th for the 4 teams playing in the first Monday Night games).

Wednesday, August 10, 2016

Some More Multi-Talented Athletes

     Recently a friend of mine posted a snarky bit about Brian Jordan, who played in both the NFL and Major League Baseball.  This sparked me to look into the phenomenon of people who played in more than one sport on the highest levels a bit more. (Also included are a couple of guys who became famous for, or at least did some major acting.)  Any long time readers may even recall that my third ever blog post (February 19, 2012) was about this, so this is kind of a sequel, I suppose.  Some of the athletes mentioned were Olympic athletes, which is appropriate since the 2016 Summer Games are obviously underway.

1) Jim Brown.  Starting with one of the very best, Jim Brown is definitely one of the greatest football players ever.  In his 9 year career with the Cleveland Browns at running back, he led the league in rushing yards 8 times, and was a Pro Bowl pick 9 times.  All told, he accumulated a then-record 12,312 rushing yards (with a 5.2 average carry), 2499 receiving yards, 106 rushing touchdowns, and 20 more receiving touchdowns.  He was part of one NFL Championship winning team, for the 1964 season.  For all these reasons, he was a very deserving Pro Football Hall of Famer.  However, he was also an excellent lacrosse player in college, at Syracuse University.  So much so that he's in the Lacrosse Hall of Fame, too.  Finally, he became a successful actor after retiring from football.  He had at least supporting roles in films like "The Dirty Dozen (1967), "Ice Station Zebra" (1968), "100 Rifles" (1969), "The Running Man (1987), "I'm Gonna Git You Sucka" (1988), and "Mars Attacks!" (1996).

2) Tim Stoddard.  Stoddard was a mostly mediocre reliever for 6 clubs in the 1970's and 1980's, including stints with the Baltimore Orioles and New York Yankees.  Overall he had a won-loss record of 41-35, with a 3.95 ERA, 76 saves, a WHIP (walks and hits per inning) of 1.420, and an Adjusted ERA of 101 (100 is exactly average).  While with the Orioles he played in the 1979 World Series, and was awarded a ring for the winning 1983 Orioles team (although he didn't play in that series). However, he was also a very good basketball player.  In college, with the North Carolina State Wolfpack, he was a starting power forward on their NCAA title-winning 1973-74 squad.  The team that interrupted the UCLA juggernaut. As such, he's the only guy to play in a World Series and win a NCAA basketball title.  ( Kenny Lofton came close, but his University of Arizona team lost in the Final Four.)

3) Cumberland Posey (who went by the now embarrassing nickname of "Cum").  Posey was an excellent basketball player and a decent baseball player.  Alas, because of the racial barrier in most professional sports in the early 20th century in the U.S., the African-American Posey wasn't allowed in the big pro basketball leagues or Major League Baseball.  Instead he played for the segregated teams that he could.  Unfortunately, these leagues didn't keep extensive statistics, so I can't tell you his scoring average, slugging average, etc.  His basketball ability is mostly based on the opinions of competitors and audiences.  After a brief playing career in baseball, he became a manager, owner, and league official in the Negro Leagues, with the Homestead Grays, one of the best teams in the league (they won pennants from 1937-45).  Because of his accomplishments, he was elected to both the Baseball Hall of Fame (2006) and the Basketball Hall of Fame (2016).

4) Chris Bahr.  Bahr is best known for being a long time kicker in the NFL, playing 14 seasons  with the Cincinnati Bengals, Oakland Raiders, and San Diego Chargers from 1976-89.  He converted 63% of his field goal attempts, 94% of his extra point attempts, and finished with 1213 points.  He also kicked for two Super Bowl winning teams with the Raiders, Super Bowls 15 and 18.  However, he was also an accomplished soccer player (or football player, to readers in pretty much every country but the U.S.).  In fact, he was Rookie of the Year for the 1975 NASL season, with the Philadelphia Atoms.  He scored 11 goals in 22 games.  (I realize this league wasn't on par with the best leagues in other countries, like Europe, but still.)

5) Michael Carter.  Carter had a very successful NFL career as a nosetackle with the San Francisco 49ers from 1984-92.  He started 97 of 121 games, got 22.5 sacks, was named to 3 Pro Bowls, and was rated All-Pro 3 times as well.  Continuing the "3's" he was part of 3 Super Bowl winners, in Super Bowls 19, 23, and 24.  But, he was also an excellent shot-putter.  He won the Silver Medal for the U.S. in the 1984 games.

6) Ollie Matson.  Like Carter, Matson was a great football player and Olympian.  In the 1952 Summer Games he won a Bronze Medal in the 400 meter run, and then a Silver as part of the 4X400 relay team.  From 1952-66 he played in the NFL, with the Chicago Cardinals, Los Angeles Rams, Detroit Lions, and the Philadelphia Eagles.  A halfback, he accumulated 5173 rushing yards (4.4 average) with 40 touchdowns, and then 3285 receiving yards, and 23 more touchdowns.  He was elected to the Pro Football Hall of Fame in 1972.

7) Eddie Eagan.  Eagan has the distinction of being the only person to win gold medals in both the Summer and Winter Olympics in different events.  In the 1920 Summer Games Eagan won gold for the U.S. in boxing, as a light heavyweight.  Then, in the 1932 Winter Games, he again won gold, this time as part of the 4 man bobsled team.  He later became a lawyer, and then a Colonel in the army.

8) Sammy Byrd.  Byrd started out as a baseball player, as an outfielder.  Largely a reserve player, he played 8 years, accumulating a .274 batting average, .350 on base percentage, .412 slugging average, with 465 hits, 38 homers, and 220 rbi.  He played for the New York Yankees and Cincinnati Reds.  As a Yankee, he earned the nickname "Babe Ruth's Legs," as he often replaced Ruth late in games on the bases as a pinch runner or in the field (the rotund Ruth was neither a fast runner nor a good fielder at this point in his career).  He played in the 1932 World Series with the victorious Yankees.  However, he cut his baseball career short to concentrate on golf.  He had good success as a pro too, winning 6 PGA events.  In golf Majors he finished 3rd (1941) and 4th (1942) in the Masters, and 2nd in the 1945 PGA Championship.  He's the only man to play in both a World Series and a Masters.

9) Katie Taylor.  Taylor is mostly known as a boxer, in the lightweight division.  She won a gold medal at the 2012 Games for Ireland.  She also was good enough at association football (soccer to Americans) to make the Irish national team from 2006-9, playing midfielder/forward.  She's currently competing in the Summer Games, so she may well add to her medal total.

10) Sir George Thomas.  This one is a bit of a stretch, since it involves a game rather than a sport.  But, Thomas was presumably the best badminton player England ever saw, as he was the champion in singles, doubles, or mixed doubles from 1906-28.  He also played tennis, reaching the semifinals in doubles at Wimbledon in 1911.  He was the inaugural member of the Badminton Hall of Fame.  Additionally, he was the British Chess champion in 1923 and 1934.

11) Charlie Ward.  Ward won the Heisman Trophy playing quarterback at Florida State University in 1993.  However, it became known that most scouts predicted he would be a 3rd to 5th round NFL draft pick.  There were concerns about his height, among other things (he was 6'2", which is on the short side for a quarterback). Ward said he would play basketball if he wasn't picked in the 1st round.  Subsequently he wasn't chosen at all in the NFL draft.  The NBA's New York Knicks, though, did draft him in the first round of their draft.  Charlie went on to a solid 11 year career at guard, averaging 6.3 points a game, 2.6 rebounds, 4.0 assists, and 1.2 steals, mostly as a starter.  He also played for the San Antonio Spurs and Houston Rockets.

12) James Jett.  Jett won a gold medal as part of the 4X100 relay in the 1992 Olympics.  After that, he began his 10 year career in the NFL, playing wide receiver.  He started 75 of 140 games, and caught 256 passes for 4417 yards (17.3 average) and 30 touchdowns.  And along with Usain Bolt he probably has the most appropriate name for a fast runner.

13) Rebecca Romero.  Romero won a silver medal in the 2004 Olympics in the quadruple sculls (rowing) for England.  Unfortunately, injuries forced her to retire.  However, she went into cycling instead.  And became good enough to win a gold medal in individual pursuit cycling in the 2008 Summer Games.

14) Charley Powell.  Powell had a 7 year career in the NFL, with the San Francisco 49ers and Oakland Raiders in the late 1950's/early 60's.  He played Defensive End, Linebacker, and End.  Alas, defensive stats weren't well recorded in those days, so I can't provide much detail.  He is alleged to have sacked Hall of Famer Bobby Layne 10 times in one game (sacks weren't officially recorded until the early 1980's).  Powell also was a professional boxer, competing in the heavyweight division.  His final record was 25-11-3, with 17 knockouts.  He did knockout the then #2 contender, Nino Valdes, in 1959.  He was ranked as high as #4 himself.  Included in his career were losses to such notables as Floyd Patterson and Muhammad Ali (then Cassius Clay).  In addition to these accomplishments, he also played minor league baseball and was offered a tryout with the Harlem Globetrotters basketball team.

15)  Chuck Connors.  Connors is best known for starring on the television series "The Rifle Man," from 1958-63.  However, he was also quite the athlete.  He played 2 years with the Boston Celtics at forward/center, back when the team was in the Basketball Association of America (they were absorbed in the NBA in 1949).  He played in 53 games, and averaged 4.5 points a game, and 0.8 assists (rebounds weren't tabulated back then).  Moving to Major League Baseball, Chuck played 2 seasons, with the Brooklyn Dodgers and Chicago Cubs.  His batting average was .239, his lifetime on base percentage was .280, and his slugging average was .302.  He hit 2 homers, and drove in 18 runs, and finished with an OPS adjusted of 55 (or not very good at all--100 is average).  As an actor, in addition to "The Rifle Man" he had roles in 1957's "Old Yeller," 1963's "Flipper," 1971's "Support Your Local Gunfighter," 1973's "Soylent Green," 1979's "Tourist Trap,"  as well as in the famous television series "Roots" (1977).

16) Jim Riley.  I'll end on the most obscure one.  Riley played several years of professional hockey, mostly with teams in the Pacific Coast Hockey League in the years before and after World War I.  He was even on a Stanley Cup winning squad, the Seattle Metropolitans in 1916-17, back when the Cup was awarded to teams in other pro leagues if they beat the National Hockey League champion squad, in a playoff series, as happened here.  Later, Riley did play briefly in the NHL, with the Detroit Red Wings and Chicago Blackhawks in 1926-27.  He played in either 9 or 17 games (the sources differ), and had 2 assists.  He also had a very brief MLB career, playing with the St. Louis Browns in 1921, and the Washington Senators in 1923.  He played in 6 games, accumulating 0 hits in 14 at bats.  (He did score 1 run ,and walk 3 times.)  So his batting average was .000. his on base percentage .176, and his slugging average .000, for a total adjusted OPS of -52!  But, to give Riley credit, to date he's the only man to play in both the NHL and MLB.

Wednesday, August 3, 2016

A Bit of Autobiographical Non-Fiction About Hallucinations

     Thought I'd try something different and share one of my old stories.  This one was published in   "Morbid Curiosity," a magazine that unfortunately isn't printed anymore.  Specifically the issue published in May, 2005.  Morbid Curiosity was a collection of weird personal experiences, all nonfiction.  They ended up publishing three of my accounts--one about my worker's comp injuries, one about exhuming graves (see October 23, 2013 post), and this one about fever nightmares.  Enjoy!

                                                      A Natural (But Sick) High

      I can recall being quite surprised when I first learned that many of the body’s discomforts are actually caused by it as defense mechanisms.  Pain, for example, designed to alert the body of injuries; an extreme reminder to cease certain activities or get something fixed immediately.  Or the many symptoms of illnesses—serving again as warnings, but also directly fighting invading bodies.  The extra phlegm which engulfs particles in its stickiness, and then expels them, either directly, itself, or in conjunction with two other symptoms, namely by coughing or sneezing.
     And then there’s the fever, the raising of the body’s temperature to bake the enemy germs.  This is one of the more extreme measures, since fevers can actually go too high and actually kill the person.  It’s kind of reminiscent of the infamous quote about Vietnam which holds, “In order to save the village we had to destroy it.”
     But sometimes another phenomenon accompanies a fever, and this is the point of my account; the fever hallucination.  I only had them a few times, and not past the age of ten or so, and my memory of them is rather spotty and incomplete.  (For example, it is possible that one or more of my fever highs was augmented by an adrenaline injection done to stop a bad asthma attack; unfortunately no one in my family can remember for sure.)  But the vestiges that have remained are still oddly intense and clear, over twenty years later.
     For the best remembered fever high, I need to explain a little background first.  Since I or someone else in the house was allergic to all furry animals, we couldn’t have the typical dog or cat as a pet.  Therefore, we had to make do with fish, hermit crabs, salamanders, newts, and even insects and bugs.  The latter were mainly represented by wood lice, the common critters also called, “armadillos,” or, “pillbugs,”; they’re the tiny, segmented, many legged bugs which curl up into a ball when they feel threatened.  They were easy to keep, as they required no exotic foods, didn’t bite, and weren’t extremely disgusting or disease-spreading like flies or cockroaches.  Anyway, I kept them in empty margarine containers packed with dirt, leaves, and pieces of wood, and occasionally would run them through mazes that I made with Legos.
     Then the sickness hit, accompanied by the fever.  I awakened a few hours after going to sleep.  I was hysterical with fear; terrified that some nameless persons or entities were going to come into our house and murder my pillbugs.  I went downstairs and talked with my mom and dad about my acute worries, and somehow they were able to convince me that everything would be okay, and eventually I was able to go back upstairs and get back to sleep.  As I write this I’m aware of how silly and absurd my fears sound; I’m confident that the day after it must have sounded incredibly stupid and paranoid even to a seven or eight-year-old.  But, at the time, it made perfect sense.  It’s weird, too, because while I liked the wood lice, I wasn’t that attached to them.  When they died I just picked up a rock and got some more—it didn’t have the same impact that the death of a fish or reptile did.  I don't recall even naming them.  So the wood lices’ part in my delusion is bizarre.  Why I wasn’t concerned about the safety of myself or my family is beyond me.  My heat-addled brain sure thought their tiny lives were vitally important and valuable that night.
     The second fever incident was not as specific, but just as (if not more) terrifying.  Once again, it happened at night, while I was either trying to go to sleep or perhaps awakened from sleep.  It felt as if some tremendous force was pressing against me, causing my hands to be pushed open.  I perceived some nameless and malevolent power exhibiting its strength before me.  For this one I didn’t even have the energy to get out of bed.  I just lay there, feeling utterly insignificant.  This fear of being overwhelmed was like nothing I’d experienced, before or since.  It was simply raw and hopelessly intense.  I felt so worthless and weak as to be beyond thoughts of a suicidal nature.  Years later, when I first read some of H. P. Lovecraft’s horror stories, I found that they struck a chord.  His accounts of people struck dumb with terror at witnessing huge, powerful, and impossibly ancient god-like beings seemed similar to how I felt at that time.  After a while the feeling must have passed enough to allow me to fall asleep again.
     I talked to other people about these experiences, and some of them mentioned having fever highs, but they usually consisted of them feeling weird but not necessarily afraid.  The Pink Floyd song, “Comfortably Numb,” apparently describes such an event, with hands described as feeling like balloons, and other strange feelings which were neutral or even positive.  I myself place value on the fever highs because the intensity of emotion was an experience, but I can’t say that I’d like to repeat them.  If the fever hallucinations had been just trippy yet happy, or even simply interesting and amusing, maybe I’d feel differently.  But, this argument is probably moot, since this phenomenon seems to affect mostly children.

     I’ve never taken chemical hallucinogens like LSD or magic mushrooms.  Partly this is because of concerns about suffering negative health or legal issues.  But I think part of it also stems from the negative fever experiences.  What if the powerful, impossibly evil (yet absurd) entities that my brain concocted took the opportunity that the drugs provided to haunt me once again?  I think an experience like that would be somehow worse as an adult. 

Wednesday, July 27, 2016

Exotic/Disgusting Foods and Beverages Forum--Nigerian Candy, Plus a Brief Discussion of Fast Versus Slow Zombies

     Like the Santos candy I talked about in the post on Ghanaian candy (see April 13, 2016 post), the Nigerian candy I got is multipurpose.  It's kind of a combination of a cough drop/sore throat soother medicine and a sweet treat.  In fact, the Facebook profile for it goes even further; it claims that Tom Tom candies also freshen one's breath.  Could one product actually do all these things, be the Leonardo Da Vinci of candies?!
     Tom Tom comes in three varieties--regular menthol, honey/lemon, and strawberry.  They're all manufactured by Cadbury Nigeria, out of Lagos.  Cadbury, of course, is a giant English confection maker, which distributes world wide.  And yes, once again, this candy was purchased at the wonderful Union Market area in our nation's capital (thanks Keith).
     The kind I was able to find was the regular menthol one.  It's a dark brown lozenge, with white stripes.  As advertised it has a strong menthol taste.  It reminded me of the Santos candies I referenced already, very much like a cough drop/sore throat soother.  However, it was better.  I didn't love it, but it was alright.  I was recovering from a minor cold when I had some, and maybe that helped.  I didn't test this, but maybe it did improve my breath, too.  I was amused to see that the Tom Tom has capsicum in it.  This is derived from the chili pepper family of plants.  Most capsicum also has capsaicin in it, which is the chemical that gives hot peppers their burn (see June 6, 2015 post for more on food spiciness).  As I mentioned, the Tom Toms weren't incredibly spicy--they didn't make me tear up or have to run for some water to quench the burn, but still, kind of a weird ingredient for a candy.  So, to sum up, the Tom Toms were okay--I wouldn't buy this kind again, but I might consider trying the other flavors.

     Also wanted to get into the fast versus slow zombie debate.  I first began to hear about this about ten to twelve years ago, after "28 Days Later" and the "Dawn of the Dead" remake were released (in 2002 and 2004, respectively).  Now, to be fair, I enjoyed both of these films.  (Although the enemies in "28 Days Later" weren't technically zombies, since they were still alive, but they were certainly zombie-ish at least.)  But, I definitely lean towards the slower zombie.
     I'm quite the aficionado of the living dead in films, so I've seen quite a few.  As far as I can tell, the first movie with fast zombies was 1985's "The Return of the Living Dead" (which is great--satiric, certainly, yet also frightening at times).  Although, funnily enough, if you go back and watch the Granddaddy of the modern zombie, 1968's "Night of the Living Dead," you'll notice that the actual first zombie seen (played by Bill Hinzman), moves fairly quickly, too.  Maybe not running, but noticeably faster than most of his cohorts in that movie, and the rest of the series.   I guess they decided to slow them down after that initial scene.
     The idea of the dead coming back and walking around is admittedly absurd.  But, I'm willing to suspend my disbelief, just as I am willing to "believe" in werewolves, vampires, ghosts, demons, etc. for the duration of a movie.  But, that said, a reanimated corpse moving slowly rather than quickly seems to make more sense.  Decay would surely result in ligaments, tendons, and muscles being less efficient.  So how does a rotting body run like an Olympic sprinter?  Also, my other point is less practical, and physical.  In slow living dead movies, one individual zombie usually isn't that dangerous, unless it's in a confined space, its potential victim(s) are unarmed, or weak, etc.  The real threat is the (usually) overwhelming number of zombies.  And that every living person is a potential future zombie themselves, sometimes in an instant.  I think slower zombies lead to a slower sense of inescapable dread.  You can barricade yourself in a secure building, but they're still out there, waiting for you.  Waiting for your food and water supplies to be exhausted.  Waiting for the living to attack themselves for various (usually foolish) reasons.  Having the horde also be fast seems a little like cheating.
     But, that said, as I mentioned, I still have enjoyed several fast zombie films.  But I think the slower version is more realistic, and ultimately a little more disturbing and effective.

Wednesday, July 20, 2016

Exotic/Disgusting Foods and Beverages Forum--German Soft Drinks

     Right off the bat I should admit that I'm not positive about the true home of the soda I'll be discussing in this post (Burg).  The bottle states, "Made in Germany," and "burg," of course, is a German word which informally means "town" or "city."  (Formally it means a medieval fortress or walled city, I just learned.)  However, the company that makes it, IMI International, appears to be based in England.  I wasn't able to learn whether IMI bought out a German soft drink company, or if it's purely English, and just has a subsidiary plant in Germany.  Also, to add to the fun, Burg is distributed by a Canadian company, Agt Clic, out of Montreal.  Additionally, on the bottle there is Arabic script (to go along with the French and English).  As I noted in my posts about Lebanese soft drinks (see August 15, 2015 post) and the one about Danish health beverages (see March 23, 2016 post), non-alcoholic malt beverages tend to be popular in predominantly Muslim countries, since consumption of alcohol isn't permitted.  So I'm guessing the Arabic script is because people who read this writing are one of Burg's main target audiences.  But, as I said, I'm not 100% sure about Burg's real home, and if any readers can provide me info about this I'd appreciate it.  But Burg sodas seem to be truly an international product.
     Burg is evidently different from other typical non-alcoholic malt beverages.  One website noted that unlike these, the manufacturing process is different.  It's not brewed, with the alcohol later removed in various ways.  No alcohol is even made in their process.
     Burg comes in multiple flavors.  There's Burg Classic, and then apple, lemon/mint, peach, strawberry, and even an energy drink variant.  I was able to score the first three kinds.  They came from the Union Market in D.C. once more.  (Almost, but not quite out of these, and thanks again to Keith.)  As I often do, I'll use the U.S. scholastic grading method, of "A" for excellent, "B" for good, "C" for average, "D" for unsatisfactory but barely passing, and "F" for failing, with pluses and minuses as necessary.

Burg Classic:  D-.  Weird, flat, unpleasant taste.  Like a regular non-alcoholic beer, or most light beers (Zing!)

Burg apple flavor:  C-.  Okay, but not awesome.  Tastes like apples, but a little weak.

Burg lemon/mint flavor:  B+. Much better than the others.  You can pick up the lemon and the mint flavors.  These combine pretty well.  And the overall taste is strong enough.

     So, as you can see, I wasn't that impressed with the Burgs overall.  One was terrible, one was "meh" (as the expression goes),  and one was good.  I might try some of the other flavors if/when I get the chance, and I would buy the lemon/mint one again.  They were at least reasonably priced--about $1 for each 11 ounce (330 ml.) bottle.
     I was intrigued by the "classic" name of the original Burg flavor.  I was sort of hoping it was like the New Coke debacle in 1985, when Coke changed their formula, and called it "New Coke," and then restored the original formula under the "Classic Coke" name after American consumers basically lost their minds.  (Even though, interestingly enough, significant amounts of these same consumers preferred New Coke to Coke Classic in blind taste tests leading up, and even after, the soda's release.)  But, alas, I don't think there was any drama or semi-rioting in Burg's case.

Wednesday, July 13, 2016

Underrated Horror Films--"Pumpkinhead"

     Because of its rather absurd, memorable name, I'm guessing many horror fans have heard of the movie "Pumpkinhead."  But, I'm guessing not as many have actually sat down and watched it.  It's kind of been the situation since its creation, in 1988.  "Pumpkinhead" was released in theaters in late 1988 (and also in early 1989), but it was extremely limited.  Most of its viewers saw it on television, or on video.  The movie clearly fits into the cult film category.
     To give a brief, spoiler-free recap, "Pumpkinhead" is set in an unnamed, back country place.  A single parent named Ed Harley runs a small grocery, while he raises his young son, Billy.  Three young couples--Joel and Kim, Tracey and Chris, and Maggie and Steve, have rented a local cabin for a vacation.  Steve and Joel are also motorcycle enthusiasts.  However, an accident happens, and a tragic event occurs.  Remembering an event from his childhood, Ed Harley visits one of his neighbors, the Wallaces, for help and information.  One of the Wallace kids, Bunt, agrees to lead Ed to a local witch, Haggis.  She helps summon an avenging monster, Pumpkinhead.  As the bodies start to pile up, Ed has second thoughts, and want to stop Pumpkinhead.  But is it even possible to stop the huge, murderous demon?
     (SPOILERS AHEAD UNTIL NOTED)  In some ways, "Pumpkinhead" is a typical "slasher" horror movie.  The killer is cruel, strong, and resistant to normal weapons.  The victims are mostly partying teens/young adults.  The victims are dispatched because of misdeeds--the killer is motivated by revenge.  The violence and gore are plentiful, and the body count is fairly high.  However, there are also some significant differences.  The avenging killer wasn't wronged itself--it's killing for the wrongs inflicted on someone else.  Also, the killer, while roughly humanoid, is also monstrous--7.5 feet tall, vaguely insectoid/reptilian, with a tail and clawed "hands."  Furthermore, the teens actually did something wrong themselves, and are not the descendants or stand ins for say, a 20 year old crime.  While the teen couples presumably have sexual relationships, none of this is seen.  There are no gratuitous shower nude scenes, and there are no cliche, the-teenagers-start-having-sex-and-the-killer-sneaks-up-and-murders-them-both scenes.  Finally, while it is a separate creature, the killer does have a clear link with the person who called it up, Ed Harley.
     One of the obvious themes in "Pumpkinhead" is rich vs. poor.  The area where it takes places is obviously destitute.  Ed Harley and his son appear to be doing pretty good for their community, but even so they're still struggling, and are lower class.  Their neighbors, the Wallaces, are a half step above homelessness.  The entire, multi-generational clan lives in a shanty town, in shacks cobbled together from whatever materials are available.  Every Wallace is dressed in ragged, old, dirty clothes, and their last bath appears to have happened weeks ago.  The witch, Haggis, lives even further back in the woods, in a home near a swamp.  Her hovel is literally being overgrown by the surrounding trees and vines.  Most of the folks we see don't have electricity nor (presumably) indoor plumbing.  Contrast this with the visiting young people.  They're well scrubbed, have clean, new clothes, undamaged vehicles, and can afford luxuries like recreational motorcycles and vacations.  Even without the tragic death of Billy Harley there's palpable tension between the locals and the visitors.
     Along the same lines, there's rural vs. city.  Witness the characters' reactions to the traumatic evens in the film.  Ed doesn't bring Billy to a hospital (he probably would have died before they got there, but still), doesn't even notify the local police/sheriff, and buries his son in the local cemetery without informing any authorities.  He doesn't notify the police, a lawyer, the courts, anything like that.  Instead, he decides to track down a witch who's even more rural than him, to use a supernatural monster for justice!  The vacationing kids try to involve the authorities, to no avail.  Joel disables probably the only phone in the area.  The survivors are forced to flee on foot, in remote countryside at night.  The local people are (mostly) completely unhelpful.  The city folk (or suburbanites?) are completely out of their element.  A few survive, but by relying mostly on their own wits and inner strength.
     The movie also touches on both personal and group responsibility.  Joel, clearly, is the bad apple in the vacationing group.  While his killing of Billy was accidental, his reaction is deplorable.  He flees, along with his protesting girlfriend Kim.  We learn that he previously hurt another person in another drunken vehicular accident, so he has a history.  Which didn't stop him from drinking and driving on the way to the grocery/cabin, and then operating a motorcycle under the influence.  Of the remaining four kids, Maggie (girlfriend of Steve) suffers some kind of mental breakdown upon viewing Billy's severe wounding.  So Chris and Tracey drive her to the cabin, to separate her from the accident and to contact help for her and Billy via the cabin's phone.  Steve does the right thing, too, and stays behind to tell Ed what happened, and to offer assistance (Ed doesn't listen to him, and is actively hostile, so this doesn't work out, but Steve did at least try).  At the cabin, Joel continues his villainous ways by disabling the phone, and then locking Tracey and Chris up in a closet (after a brief fight) to prevent them driving off and getting help.  So, to sum up, Joel is clearly responsible, and you could easily make the case that he deserves to die.  He admits his guilt, and seems to try to own up and fix the situation later, but by then it's far too late.  But the other five people are innocent, and therefore we sympathize with them as they're picked off one by one.  Ed doesn't know the whole story (and refused to listen, in fact, in his interaction with Steve), and, in his grief-stricken state probably wouldn't have cared even if he did.  It's only later that he realizes that what his choice to invoke Pumpkinhead was wrong.
     The character of Haggis is an interesting one, too.  At a glance she seems like a person willing to do a nasty, but arguably necessary chore.  Ed seeks her out, pays her, goes out and retrieves Pumpkinhead's "fetal," inactive body, and then asks for vengeance.  She doesn't activate Pumpkinhead on her own, or find Ed and offer her services--he had a choice.  But it's not that simple.  She knows he's incredibly traumatized, and not thinking straight, but calls up Pumpkinhead anyway.  She also doesn't tell Ed that invoking Pumpkinhead results in that person being damned until after the ceremony is done.  Finally, she seems positively gleeful, laughing uproariously when Ed comes back and tries to call off Pumpkinhead after the first couple of murders.  True, he did pay her (and from the looks of her home, she probably can use the money), but her main motivation seems evil.  I get the feeling that she enjoys tempting normal people into damning themselves, and also the horrific violence she knows Pumpkinhead will wreak.  Also, for a woman of her age, going out and carrying around corpses and reburying them seems like a lot of work.  Maybe she gets some sort of kickback from Satan or the demons for every person that Pumpkinhead kills, or something.
     The duality of Pumpkinhead and Ed Harley is another major theme in the film.  Ed's blood (and his son's) literally helps Pumpkinhead "awaken" from his dormant state.  And clearly there's a link--there's no scene where Ed says the names of the kids he wants killed (he probably doesn't even know their names), or writes down where he thinks they're staying, or anything like that.  Pumpkinhead just knows, because Ed knows (what they look like, at least).  Then, whenever Pumpkinhead kills somebody, Ed has a weird type of seizure, in which he feels the victim's pain, and hears their screams.  Later we see that the two are physically linked, too, as injuries to Ed cause Pumpkinhead to exhibit an identical wound.  Ed starts to transform into Pumpkinhead as the story progresses.  First it's just his eyes temporarily, but at the end it's more evident.  He, and Tracey, realize that this is the only way to stop Pumpkinhead, as shooting Ed fatally deactivates the monster.  But, in the epilogue, we see Haggis reburying the Pumpkinhead "fetal" form in the pumpkin patch elevated grave, but now it's Ed's mutated body, evidenced by a necklace that Billy made for him previously.  Pumpkinhead can even be interpreted as a physical manifestation of Ed's id, similar to the monster in the 1956 classic, "Forbidden Planet."  Pumpkinhead's nature does lead to some questions.  If Ed hadn't had regrets, what would have happened?  Pumpkinhead would have almost certainly killed all the kids (and Bunt, for helping), but then would Ed have died anyway?  Is that the bitter joke about invoking Pumpkinhead, that the invoker dies right after their last victim is dispatched by their monster?  Or taking it to a ridiculous extreme, what if Ed had crashed his car and died right after invoking Pumpkinhead?  Presumably our large friend would have collapsed in Haggis's yard, and no revenge would have happened.
     Pumpkinhead is a little different from the typical slasher killer, too.  He (the monster doesn't show any sex organs, but it is apparently made from the bodies of men, so I'll use the masculine form) doesn't usually kill people right away.  Instead, victims are dragged off, then usually brought back to die more spectacular deaths, in front of future victims.  Pumpkinhead seems to enjoy his work, and loves an audience.  Victim Kim is even hauled up a tree, probably 40-50 feet in the air, so that Pumpkinhead can dramatically drop her on a boulder.  Bunt, and especially Chris, could easily have been dispatched right away.  But Pumpkinhead, ever the showman, carts them around until there's more people to watch.  (And he pays for his arrogance, as both guys survive.)  Also, Pumpkinhead appears to be a demon, or evil spirit of some sort, but his resistance to Good and holy objects seems stronger than most.  Bunt takes Chris and Tracey to the ruins of a burned down church, but Pumpkinhead has no problem walking through it.  He even grabs and breaks a cross while he's doing so.  He makes fun of Maggie's religious belief--before he kills her he carves a cross shape in her face.  He apparently is at least somewhat intelligent, as well.  At one point he lays a trap, by leaving a motorcycle out for the kids to find (and hope to use to get away), but surprise!  he's removed the drive chain so it doesn't run.  Which makes me wonder--did he disable the kid's two cars, too?  They don't really try, the survivors panic and flee on foot.  Was Pumpkinhead secretly disappointed that this ruined another mean joke?
     (END SPOILERS--SAFE FOR EVERYONE)  Oddly, this movie was based on a poem (also titled, "Pumpkinhead," by Ed Justin, which won the Steinbeck award for best poem in 1988).  Aside from maybe some Edgar Allen Poe adaptations, I can't think of too many other examples of this.  "Pumpkinhead" was the directing debut of Stan Winston, the special effects wizard responsible for the effects in "The Thing" (1982), "The Terminator" (1984), "Aliens" (1986), "Predator" (1987), "Jurassic Park" (1993), and "Avatar" (2009), among others.  Sadly, he's deceased.  Star Lance Henriksen (Ed Harley) has had a long career, especially in the sci-fi/horror genres.  Highlights include "Dog Day Afternoon" (1975). "Close Encounters of the Third Kind" (1977), "The Terminator" (1984), "Aliens" (1986), "Near Dark" (1987), and the "Millenium" TV series (1996-99).  Jeff East (Chris) is probably best known for playing the young Clark Kent in 1978's "Superman."  The head of the Wallace family, (Mr. Wallace) was played by Buck Flower, who had a long career.  Among his movies were roles in "Ilsa: She-Wolf of the S.S." (1975), "Escape From New York" (1981), "Back to the Future" (1985), and "They Live" (1988).  Lee de Broux portrayed Ed Harley's father in the prologue.  He's probably best known for "Chinatown" (1974), the TV series "Roots" (1977), "Norma Rae" (1979), and "Robocop" (1987).  Of the remaining actors, especially the young actors, most either had short careers, or had longer ones mostly in low budget horror movies or on television.  Billy's dog, (Gypsy) was played by Mushroom, who also was the lead character's pet in 1984's "Gremlins."  Aside from Henriksen, probably the most famous actor was the girl who played one of Wallace's daughters (and was credited as such, with no character name), Mayim Bialik.  She went on to play the titular role in the TV sitcom "Blossom," and is currently a co-star on "The Big Bang Theory."
     "Pumpkinhead" went on to have 3 sequels.  Although, the second one was direct-to-video, and the third and fourth ones were direct-to-cable-television,  Specifically, the SyFy Channel, home of many terrible sci-fi and horror movies, with the "best" being "so bad they're good" fare like "Sharknado."  I haven't seen any of the sequels, and their reviews aren't promising.  Although apparently YouTube has at least the second one, so I'll try to give it a look and report back.