Tuesday, April 29, 2008

Review of Tonoharu: Part One

During a year-long stint teaching English as a Second Language (ESL) in China, I encountered innumerable strange, amusing and sometimes frustrating breakdowns in communication. My own difficulties with the Chinese language sometimes prevented me from reaching my intended destination by cab or ordering the right meal. On one occasion, I even lost my entire beard to a barber's sheers thanks to an ill-fated slip of the tongue.

Throughout my travels, I also encountered many experiencing similar struggles to communicate with me in English. A student once innocently dubbed me a "Native American," although it's probably more accurate to call me a native of America, and on a trip to Hainan Island, I was warned not to "swim to deep sea livings."

But, the lack of a common cultural context was often as much to blame for our challenges as a misuse of language, and I sometimes felt out of place.

This disorienting feeling of being lost in translation is the subject of Tonoharu: Part One, the first in a series of graphic novels by Lars Martinson. The beautifully illustrated story of Daniel Wells, a recent college graduate teaching ESL in Tonoharu, Japan, depicts all the awkward subtleties of life in a foreign land.

Although the work is more drama than comedy, I found myself laughing out loud as I read each page. Wells' uncomfortable experiences adapting to a new culture seem remarkably similar to my own, and Martinson does an excellent job illustrating the embarrassment inherent in using poor language skills and erratic gestures to communicate.

While the book is a good fit for anyone looking for a fish-out-of-water story, it has obvious appeal for anyone who has taught ESL in a foreign country.

"I wrote [Tonoharu] in the hopes that it could be enjoyed by a general audience, but I've noticed that people who have taught English abroad tend to find it more amusing," said Martinson in an e-mail.

But, whether you've lived in Japan for three years or have never left your home town, Tonoharu is well worth the read. The story of Daniel Wells is engaging and -- like life itself -- rife with ups and downs, while the accompanying illustrations reveal an impressive attention to detail.

Thursday, April 24, 2008

Me, Myself and I

In an earlier post, I described some of the strange friend requests many of us receive on Facebook. Today, I got a very peculiar invitation indeed. You can imagine my surprise when I received a friend request from, well, me.

At first, I thought it was some kind of technical glitch or Facebook SPAM. Turns out, it's a guy in the U.K. on a mission to befriend everyone with his (i.e., my) namesake. So far, there are eight of us. We're all about the same age, enjoy a cold beer, appreciate a good laugh and watch shows like The Family Guy and Intervention.

When asked what inspired him to friend everyone with the same name, he replied:

"Nothing much. Too much time on my hands I think. Came home after a day out watching the football [a] bit drunk and thought, 'lets find all the [people with my name].'"

Identity is a strange thing. I found myself feeling grateful that there are more of me out there. Wonder if my brothers-in-name-only also invite disaster or find the same public displays of idiocy annoying.

Well, time will tell. Our friendship has only just begun.

(Photo from Bilkent)

Tragic Pet Story

So, a few years ago, friends of the family are leaving on vacation and they ask grandma to watch their two cats while they're gone. They tell her the usual: Just make sure there's food and water in their bowls. Pretty straight forward stuff. Oh, and also, one cat is diabetic and the other one is not. Just give Mittens insulin once a day. Then, the family takes off for their holiday of sun, palm trees and strawberry daiquiris.

Meanwhile, back at home, grandma gives insulin to the wrong cat and they both meet a tragic demise.

Poor grandma.

(Photo from AboutUtila.com)

Monday, April 21, 2008

'Smart People,' Stupid Movie

Just saw Noam Murro's Smart People starring Dennis Quaid, Sarah Jessica Parker, Thomas Haden Church and Ellen Page. My friends, don't let anyone fool you. This is no Juno II, no matter how many snappy comebacks Page dishes out. Nope. Instead, this pretentious stinker is like purgatory, only a lot less fun.

(Photo from Boston.com)

Essentially, Lawrence Wetherhold, a widowed , curmudgeonly professor played by Quaid, falls and suffers a seizure (too bad it wasn't fatal). While convalescing in the ER he meets Janet Hartigan, played by Parker, who has apparently had a crush on the joyless bastard since she took one of his joyless classes years prior. Throughout the movie, the two have joyless, awkward conversations set to corny upbeat music, which desperately attempts to mask their complete lack of chemistry. But, contrary to logic, the characters in this movie find painful, joyless dialogue intoxicating.

Woven into this clunky plot is the story of Lawrence's uptight daughter Vanessa, played by Page, and the professor's unreliable, freeloading adopted brother Chuck, played by Church. Lawrence's seizure prevents him from driving for six months, so Chuck decides to stay with the family and cart Lawrence around while he's off having his dreary romance. While Church offers a redeeming and genuinely funny performance, the subplot his character shares with Vanessa is fairly creepy as she reveals her crush on Chuck, her 50-something uncle.

Overall, Page's character is two-dimensional and boring, despite everyone's delusion that this is somehow Juno. In fact, her character is the embodiment of the bad screen writing that plagues the entire film, which is constantly telling you what motivates the characters rather than showing you with...well...acting.

Just when you think the movie can't get worse, all of sudden -- whoops! -- Janet gets pregnant but doesn't reveal her little secret until the very end in the midst of a joyless, awkward conversation. But, as Ken Hanke of the Mountain Xpress succinctly puts it, "Near as I can tell, the conclusion the film finally reaches is that it's OK to be smart, but not too smart, and that an unplanned pregnancy will fix everything. I remain skeptical on both counts."

The film does, however, provide a tour de force during the credits, depicting a cute montage of baby pictures to let you know that everything turns out just great!

But, to be honest, I would have felt like I got my money's worth if the photos depicted the family burning alive in the professor's battered car.

Friday, April 18, 2008

'The Orphans Are Counting on You'

In a recent post, Color. Me. BLAH. recounts a brush with a couple of con artists one dreary (just jammed that adjective in there for effect) night in Boston. In an ill-advised act of kindness all too familiar to the Park Street Rambler, she willingly handed over some cash despite the certainty she was being scammed.

She writes:
"They were out for dinner. Their car got towed. They needed $20 to get a train home so they could go get the car. (What train costs $20? I don't know. Stay with me here.) The woman had four teeth and had clearly spent too much time in the sun as a youth (which, from what I could tell, was a very long time ago). The gentleman was a little more put together but was wearing a Starter jacket. He also claimed he was a chef at the Legal Seafood in the airport. Chefs don't lie! He actually validated it by saying, "you probably think this is a con, but it's not." What a ridiculous line. Who would possibly fall for that? This girl.

"I tried to resist it. In my head, I even start to think 'this is such a con,' but out comes my wallet. I justify it afterwards by thinking, 'Hey, maybe these people needed this money more than I do right now....maybe they are in a dire situation and aren't just con artists...maybe they have a baby who needs formula?' Probably not. The more likely story is that I just enabled a drug habit. Still gives me the warm fuzzies though, I helped someone!"

Sadly, the Park Street Rambler can relate. For some reason, I was cursed with a gullibility so profoundly stupid that, like my counterpart, I fall for this nonsense even though I know it's a scam. I'm the idiot who says, "That Bob of Bob's Rip-Off Car Dealer is such a nice guy!"

Anyway, one night, I was headed to Rite Aid. This was in upstate New York, so there are like four on every corner sharing parking lots with a Stewart's. Anyway, this shabbily dressed man approaches me looking like one of the Others on Lost.

He tells me he's a bus driver for bunch of orphans on their way to the hospital to get emergency kidney transplants. Apparently, the bus (which is nowhere in sight) was struck by an errant S.C.U.D. missile that had been searching for a target since the first Gulf War.

To the bus driver's chagrin, the rocket had taken out their gas tank while they were cruisin' down I-890. But, with the exception of the tank and the bus driver's cell phone, which was lost to the secondary explosion, the bus remained intact. All it needed was a new gas tank, some super unleaded octane and a fresh coat of paint. The poor bus driver just needed about $20 from me to make it happen at like 9:30 p.m.

I was a little surprised that not a single soul had a quarter to call his charitable organization or the ER to get some help, but then again, who was I to judge? So, I quickly reached into my wallet and pulled out the $20. "Here you go, kind sir," I said with a joy that caused my heart to grow to the size of 10 Park Street Ramblers, plus two.

I sure hope they made to the hospital in time.

In an effort to be transparent, I should note that some of the above events have been exaggerated for the purposes of comedy, but it's all based on a true story. What I can't quite wrap my mind around is how we can be so easily duped. Sometimes, I think my altruistic hardwiring short circuits my better sense.

Let me know if you can relate.

Wednesday, April 16, 2008

Don't Be That Guy


Not a big fan of Bluetooth-elevator guy. He's easy to spot. He's the idiot in the corner holding everyone hostage while he squawks about his stock options or the Jones report. For one, nobody is so desperate they can't wait until the parking garage to chat. Second, absolutely nobody cares to listen to you pontificate into their eardrum.

Had my own run-in with that guy once. Here's a direct quote:

"Hey. Hey. Haha... You know I am! Actually, I'm on the elevator right now, so I might cut out. Yeah. Anyway, what I wanted to say is that we are gonna rock and roll tomorrow. Seriously! But, what we need to be sure to convey is that we can offer value..."

Um... what?! Thank all that's holy you were able to fire off that mission-critical message, and with only seconds to spare. Amazing how Bluetooth-elevator guy can say so much without saying anything at all.

Also, beware his twin brother: Blackberry-order-a-coffee guy. He'll be sure to bring an awkward experience to a coffee stand near you.

Monday, April 14, 2008

Landlords: Are They All Nuts?

Starting to think landlords need a PhD in crazy before they're allowed to rent property to the rest of us. Sure, I know there must be some decent ones out there. But, so far, every single one I've encountered has been bat-shit crazy in his or her own unique way. Over the years, my landlords have ranged from eccentric and utterly incompetent to deceptive and hostile. The following are a few of the more memorable landlord issues I've had.

1. Sorry, which one are you? - One landlord had at least two personalities. One was a sweet just-made-a-batch-o'-cookies type. She was like a grandmother away from home. So, when she was busy being my Nana, I was all like "she's so sweet; can I keep her?" But then, as quickly as the weather changes in New England, her voice would drop about nine octaves, flames would emanate from her forehead and she would suddenly be gnawing on a puppy that had the misfortune of wandering into her yard. Absolutely nuts!! One time, she said she'd be thrilled to take care of our cat if we ever left for the weekend. A few months later we were leaving for a little Christmas break. We had other arrangements in mind for our cat, but her offer just seemed a lot more convenient. So, we reluctantly took her up on on it. We're gone for two days, a whole three states over, and we get a frantic voice-mail message from the queen of darkness herself saying we had best come home quick because she refuses to endure the cruel climb up "our" stairs. Sweet lady. When we got home, our cat was performing an exorcism in a desperate attempt to banish the foul beast from whence she came.

2. I think I hear your mom calling - This other landlord lived with his mom, rocked short shorts and the ol' knee-high socks and apparently had not a single friend in the whole Northern Hemisphere. While some landlords are nowhere to be found, this guy was perpetually dropping by to "check in." Initially, I welcomed the visits, thinking he was just very conscientious. But, when he started watching T.V. with us and asking a bit too often how my girlfriend and other female friends were doing, I got a little creeped out.

3. Know a good lawyer? - Retired lawyer. Affable guy. Kind of a Mark Twain type: quiet and introspective with a great sense of humor. Should have known better than to trust him, but seconds before we signed the lease, I pointed out that the fridge was super nasty. He said, "We both know you guys had nothing to do with that and I will never hold it against you." Encouraged by his kindness, I slapped my name on the paper. Now, fast forward a year, and the bastard uses the fridge as a reason to take all $900 of our security deposit. Sadly, there wasn't a thing I could do about it. He was like the Darth Vader of law, using his powers for evil.

4. Don't pee on my leg and tell me it's raining
- This guy was classic. He had one eye fixated on your wallet, while the other eye was always looking around for an excuse not to live up to his responsibilities. One time, water started running out of the base of our toilet. He tried to convince us that the toilet was "sweating." My roommate's response: "It's sweating pretty profusely, Dick." When we graduated college, rumors surfaced that he had been caught with a prostitute in one of his many dilapidated properties.


Where do these idiots come from? If you've got a great landlord story, I'd be anxious to hear it. Keep your comments coming!

Saturday, April 12, 2008

Dunkin' Donuts and The Bacon Incident

In high school I worked at a coffee shop where I encountered a veritable rainbow of rude and irritating customers. The experience taught me to appreciate service folks. To this day, I try to be very polite and patient when ordering because -- let's face it -- they have a tough job trying to keep all of us happy. But every now and then I have a customer experience so frustrating I feel compelled to poke fun. Today offered such an opportunity.

You be the judge, but I think the following dialogue speaks for itself. I should point out in advance that a Number 6 is a coffee and a breakfast sandwich called a "Supreme Omelet."

Cashier #1: Welcome to Dunkin' Donuts. How can I help you?

Me: I'd like a Number 6, as well as a Supreme Omelet.

Cashier #1: So you want a Number 6?

Me: Yes. And a Supreme Omelet.

Cashier #1: How do you like your coffee?

Me: Cream and a little bit of sugar would be great.

Cashier #1
[to me]: Here's your coffee.
[to Cashier #2]: One Supreme Omelet.

Me: Ok. So a Number 6 is a coffee and a Supreme Omelet. I would like to add ANOTHER Supreme Omelet by itself.

Cashier #1: So, no bacon?

Me: No. Bacon is great. I love bacon. You could say I'm a huge fan of bacon. I would like bacon on both.

Cashier #1: So, no cheese?

Me: No. I would also like cheese.

Cashier #1 [to Cashier #2]: Another Supreme Omelet, plain.

Me: Sorry, could you please tell her that I would like cheese and bacon on both? I would just like one of the two sandwiches by itself, or in other words, without the coffee that comes with a Number 6.

Cashier #1: Ok. You're all set. That will be $8.02.

Me: [Handing her the money] Ok. Here. Did you tell her?

Cashier #1: [Nods]

Cashier #2: Here you are, sir. Two Supreme Omelets, one plain.

Me: I would like bacon and cheese on both.

Cashier #2: Yes. Here you go.

Me: So you're saying there is bacon and cheese...on both?

Cashier #2: Yes.

Me [Checking]: This one doesn't have bacon.

Cashier #2: I'm sorry. I thought you wanted it plain. I'll put bacon on it.

Cashier #2 [to Cashier #1]: He wanted bacon.


....[sigh]


Have you guys had a similar experience, or am I the only one who runs into this kind of stuff?

Wednesday, April 9, 2008

JACKPOT!!

So I'm rushing out to meet some friends at a pub in downtown Boston and, per usual, I'm running a little late...

As an aside, I have problems with time. I admit it. Never quite figured it out, that whole leaving BEFORE you actually need to be some place...

Anyway, the minute I make it to the "T" stop (that's "metro" for you folks living outside of Beantown), I hear the train coming. I rush to get a "T" pass, pulling out what I think is a $5 bill. I insert the money into the machine and select the option to add $5 to the ticket. I'm tapping my foot and saying, "come on, come on" through clenched teeth.

Rolling my eyes and sighing loudly, I hear the train getting closer and closer. Now it's screeching to a halt. But at that very second, I'm startled by another more immediate and disorienting sound: the clamor of a slot machine hitting the jackpot.

SHHHHhhhhhhhhhhhhhhhhh-ching-ching-ching-ching

But this is no casino. Turns out, I had fed a $20 bill in the ticket machine. Now, giant, golden Sacajaweas are raining down and each is laughing at me. Even her tiny papooses are mocking me with tiny condescending grins.

I scoop up the doubloons and Scrooge-McDuck my way over to the turnstile. At that moment, an army of the roundest, slowest people ever to inhabit the earth saw fit to crowd in front of me forming a mini-Macy's Parade.

So, yeah, I missed the train. But my friends had a hearty laugh that night every time I bought a round of drinks with me pot o' gold.

Me: "Five pale ales, please."

Bartender: "That'll be $30 dollars."

Me: "Here you go...no, they're real. Yunno, they're Sacajaweas."

[Sliding them across the counter]

Shhhhhhhhhhhhhhhhhiiiiiinnnk

Monday, April 7, 2008

Elmo Taunts a Baby

This Unnecessary Censorship clip from the Jimmy Kimmel show is easily one of the funniest things I've ever seen!



And if you generally find Elmo annoying, check out Elmodemon, a blog dedicated to the thousands of parents whose lives have been temporarily stolen by the Devil’s very own squeaky red toy pet.

Sunday, April 6, 2008

With "Friends" Like These...

The advent of social networking sites like Facebook and LinkedIn has brought unrivaled connectivity between people of all ages, backgrounds and interests. But with these services comes the dreaded unwanted "friend" request -- an invitation from someone you wished had never entered your time zone, much less your circle of online companions. And you know there's no going back! Once you click "accept," they'll forever taunt you from the privacy of their desktop.

There are at least three kinds of these unwanted friends:

1. The Who-The-Hell-Is-This Friend: You've never met this person in your whole life. They may work at the same company or know someone who knows someone who used to know your roommate. But a complete lack of connection doesn't stop them from adding you to their burgeoning online network. The real annoyance is that they seem motivated by a desire to tell the world: "Look at me! I have more online friends than you!!" Really??! You must be awesome! Never mind that at least half of the "buddies" you so proudly display have absolutely no clue who you are.

2. The Annoying Pest: With messages like, "Saw you guys were going out tonight... have room for one more??? ;)" and invitations to join the "Yanni Sings for Peace" group, this person gradually wears down your will to live, much like Malaria or the Ebola virus. This is usually the type of person who ends up with a nickname like "That Guy."

3. The Spy: This person's sudden interest in your life gives you every reason to question their motives. Whether they're quietly judging you from afar, or reporting your alleged bad behavior back to your enemies for a good laugh, they're eager to exploit their friend status. It could be someone who is tight with an ex-girlfriend or a co-worker who's vying for your job. Either way, you know you're in their crosshairs.

Oh, but no matter which type of unwanted friend it happens to be, once you've let them into your circle of trust, they aren't going anywhere. It's simply too complicated to un-friend them, if that's even possible. That's why I think we all need to take very serious and proactive measures.

Upon receiving any friend request, you would be given the following options:

- ACCEPT
- NASTY-GRAM


In the event that one resorts to "nasty-gram," the unwanted friend will receive the following message, which leaves no doubt about your feelings:

Park Street Rambler has declined your request, as he finds you obnoxious and/or untrustworthy. Should you have any questions or concerns, please save them for someone who cares. This decision is final. Enjoy your day.

This new accept/reject policy is guaranteed to reduce unwelcome requests and ensure your circle of trust remains unbroken. Imagine! Such a clear message would allow for a world in which your friends are more likely to be your friends.

Without naming names, please let me know if you've had a similar experience. Comments are always welcome.

Friday, April 4, 2008

10 Worst Songs of All Time

While taste in music varies, the following songs are unequivocally 10 of the worst ever recorded. Each one has been known to induce nausea, ear drum damage and self-punching. Woe unto anyone who has the misfortune of getting one of these atrocities stuck in their head all day.

10. "All Star" - Smash Mouth
“Hey now, you’re has-been, strap some weights on, go swim!” This song literally makes me feel physically ill, and I LOVE the cute guitar riffs they weave throughout this mess.



9. "Hole in the World Tonight" – Eagles
They begin by breaking the terrible news that there is a hole in the world tonight and admonish us to fill the hole by tomorrow. But it’s a big freakin’ hole --- in the world --- and it’s going to take more than a night to fix. Sorry! And there's really no need to keep reminding us.



8. "My Humps" – Black Eye Peas
With lyrics like, “My hump, my hump, my hump, my hump, my hump,” how can you go wrong? It’s sure to be a timeless classic.



7. "Hey There Delilah" – Plain White T’s
The formula for this ruthlessly self-indulgent song is one guitar and the sounds of a man crying after sex.



6. "Don’t Cha" – Pussy Cat Dolls
Actually, I just wish my girlfriend would jab a screwdriver in my ear.



5. "I Would Do Anything for Love" - Meat Loaf
Begs the question: What exactly won’t you do for love? Lose a few pounds, shave, practice hygiene and write better songs?? Touché, Mr. Meat Loaf, you are a man of conviction.



4. "We Built this City" - Starship
Whatever happened to Jefferson Airplane?? Maybe they could also use rock n' roll to help fill the hole in the world the Eagles were kind enough to point out.



3. "I Need a New Drug" - Huey Lewis and the News
I need about eight new drugs every time I hear this song on the radio.



2. "Trapped in the Closet" - R. Kelly
So terrible it defies words. It's off, off, off Broadway meets Cop Rock (ABC), the miserable prime time cop musical that bombed in the early 90s. How anyone can actually see all 39 chapters of R. Kelly's nightmare and live is nothing short of miraculous.



1. "Forward" – Dane Cook (that’s right, the comedian)
SHAME! A comedian should know better than to subject himself to ridicule with such awful crap! Not only is this a cheap rip-off of Chicago’s “Hard to Say I’m Sorry,” it’s also Dane’s biggest joke. Too bad he’s not kidding.




Please leave a comment if you agree, disagree or if there are any abominations I missed.

Wednesday, April 2, 2008

No Sleep....ughh!

For whatever reason, I couldn't shut my mind down last night. Just kept thinking about work and creative projects I want to finish. So, I tossed and turned and thrashed. You always know you're at the breaking point when you start getting upset at inanimate objects:

"Damn you, pillow! If you weren't so lumpy, maybe I could actually get some sleep. I have a big day tomorrow.... don't you give me that look!"

Anyway, I got no more than three hours of sleep the whole night, which is a little less than the eight hours you apparently must have to be a healthy and contributing member of society. This according to the scientist talking heads on most morning shows.

Wish I could say I was up all night watching the game like fellow Sox fan Red Sox Chick.

Wish me luck, as today is going to be a hoot. Just put the cereal in the fridge.

Image courtesy of lwpillows

Tuesday, April 1, 2008

A Tribute to April Fools'

One of the best April Fools' pranks I ever witnessed first hand occurred while I was living and teaching in China a few years ago. A friend of mine effectively convinced nearly half of the State of Alabama that he had eloped with a woman from Shanghai. This elicited dozens of e-mails congratulating him with kind words:

"I'm sooooo glad you found happiness!!!! You deserve it!!!"

Of course, when the jig was up and he had admitted it was all a joke, these same people sent equally passionate responses, including one that still has be laughing today:

"I hope you die alone, you bastard!!!!!"

The following are a few April Fools' pranks I found online. They range from the cerebral to the inane. Enjoy!

1. Newton Virus Dislodges Your Desktop Icons-- London-based company Troika has produced a "virus" targeted at the most obsessive compulsive among us. Essentially, the so-called bug causes your icons to slide all over your desktop as if they are responding to gravity.




2. "Will You Marry Me" Prank
-- Ok. So this isn't quite an April Fools' Day prank, but it's so good I had to include it in my list. This is the culmination of a prank war carried out by a few of the masterminds behind College Humor. It is truly incredible that someone would have the rocks to pull this off.




3. Google Invents a Time Machine
-- Google now allows you to send e-mail to the past with its new Google Custom Time (TM) application. According to Google, "Any e-mail you send to the past appears in the proper chronological order in your recipient's inbox."



4. Household Hacker Offers a Few Roommate Pranks -- The following video takes you step-by-step through a few pranks you can unleash on your poor, unsuspecting roommate.



5. Post-it Cubicle -- A great office prank courtesy of Mathmandan.



Happy April Fools' Day, everyone! If you have a few pranks you're proud of, leave a comment.