Wednesday, September 30, 2009

Blame in on "44"

There we were, sitting in a darkened corner of Shenanigans, a rather run-down-looking sports bar on the main drag of Belleville, Illinois. Donna had on one of her long-sleeved Browns t-shirts and her Browns football-helmet earrings. I had on my now-oversized Bernie Kosar jersey. The fragments of already-eaten chicken wings lay on a plate in front of us, along with her half-filled Diet Coke. I bounced the straw up and down inside the ice cubes in my glass of water, wishing that the contents could have been a beer. Several of them. Before us, one of the big screens displayed the ongoing massacre that ensued between the Browns and the Ravens. The carnage looked even worse in analog. You have to at least win a game to be worthy of high-definition, I guess. We left with 4 minutes to go. Driving home, I thought a good deal about the choices we make. And I could have kicked myself because with a little bit of prepubescent dexterity, the fiasco that I just witnessed could have been avoided.

I wasn't always a fan of Cleveland sports. My father was a Green Bay Packers fan, so early on, I, too, pretended that I was Bart Starr or Ray Nitschke. My dad even made us a lamp using a Packers helmet. But all that changed when I started watching NFL Highlights, the show hosted by Pat Summerall and Tom Brookshier. It was on Sundays at 11 o'clock, prior to the start of the football games, and I quickly fell in love with the Kansas City Chiefs. Quarterback Len Dawson was from nearby Alliance, Ohio, which was a good thing. But that wasn't the reason. It was the fancy offensive schemes and the strange huddle they used. Halfbacks and flankers always seemed to be in motion. There were loads of end-around plays and trickery abounded. Plus, I thought their colors were pretty cool.

This fixation with the out-of-the-ordinary played a huge role in the teams that I chose to follow as a youngster. The Indians? Who cared about them when you could follow a flashy team like the Oakland A's? I loved 'em! The "Moustache Gang" were a blast, especially with guys like Gene Tenace, Sal Bando, and Rollie Fingers. And I could have cared less about the expansion Cleveland Cavaliers when there was the always-in-contention New York Knicks! My favorite player was the one-and-only Walt "Clyde" Frazier. I would practice for hours his behind-the-back dribble and his peculiar jump shot. Yes, my teams were easy to spot and easy to follow because they were winners of Super Bowls and the World Series and NBA Championships. So what would possess a seemingly bright, intelligent kid to trade in all these gifts in exchange for the downtrodden squads from the city known as "The Mistake by the Lake"? I blame it on an autographed picture that I received in the mail.

In between playing sports with my friends, I decided sit in my room and draft letters to professional athletes requesting them to send an autographed picture. So I grabbed a handful of paper and started writing. I ended up sending a stack of notes to various teams and players that I had watched on NFL Highlights, as well as other games on television. And then I waited. And waited. Each day the mail would arrive but amidst the bills and other things there were no autographed pictures. Until one day a large, flat envelope came in the mail, a package that the mailman could barely fit through the slot on our front porch. My mother handed it to me saying, "It has your name on it". Indeed, it was addressed to me, and the return address on the envelope said "Cleveland Browns". I hurriedly ripped open the envelope and out popped an autographed picture of running back Leroy Kelly. I liked Kelly because I, too, had a shirt with the number "44" on it. "Wow," I thought, "my first autograph!" I grabbed some tape, ran upstairs, and plastered it to my wall.

In the upcoming days, I waited. No autographed picture from Walt Frazier or Earl Monroe. Nothing from Joe Rudi or Sal Bando. Zilch from Len Dawson, Mike Garrett, Buck Buchanan, or Elmo Wright. I was stunned and a bit bummed out. A friend then said to me, "Why don't ya just like Cleveland. Everyone else around here does".

Yep, it could have been avoided. But, no. Leroy Kelly had to send me an autographed picture. In reality, though, it's really all my fault. I'm the one who would later lay in bed at night listening to Joe Tait broadcast Cavs games. I'm the one who had to go to the Stadium and watch Rick Manning roam center field. And I'm the one who felt abject pain when Brian Sipe threw the interception into the end zone against the Raiders. The full understanding of my choices had not yet come to fruition in those early days. Why couldn't I have had the decision-making prowess of my friend Kyle in Nashville. His Cowboys have won multiple Super Bowls. His Lakers are the reigning NBA champs. And his Dodgers are on their way to the post-season.

So as I read the forums in The Plain Dealer and the Beacon Journal online, commiserating with other bad decision-makers, I think about what could have been...and I do find some amount of solace, even amongst a pathetic 0-3 start. The Chiefs are also 0-3. The A's will finish last in the American League West. And the Knicks are one of the most chaotic organizations in sports. The only thing that would comfort me more is to be able to sit at Shenanigans and watch the Browns squeeze out a win against the Bengals. That, and to be able to trade in my water for a beer when they don't.

-30-

* Why not grab your favorite beverage, cop a squat, and groove to some DEMOS at www.mattmultimedia.com

Tuesday, September 22, 2009

Mean People Suck

As I was growing up in Canton, Ohio, there was a boy in our neighborhood named Ronald. Ronald was our age but he seemed to have a bit more "bulk". He was stronger. He rode his bike a little faster than everyone else. He tackled a little harder in football and he seemed to hit the baseball just a little further than the rest of us. He was also, well, more mean than the rest of our friends. He was the kind of person who would catch a bug, take a magnifying glass, hold it up to the sun, and use the bright, hot rays to sizzle that bug right there on the concrete. Ronald was also the kind of person that you didn't want to fight. Once, for no apparent reason, he flipped me on my back, thrust his knees down on my shoulders, and proceeded to pound me, hard, on the chest. Repeatedly. Being the pacifist, I writhed back and forth and begged him to stop, but he continued to pound on me because he was....just a mean kid.

That same feeling that engulfed us in the old neighborhood when Ronald would show up is the same kind of feeling I've been getting lately with many things. It's a creeping, enveloping sense of dread, a kind of existential angst that permeates things, not unlike some mutant, toxic form of The Force. Robin Meade gives me the bad news about more job loss within our economy in the morning as I sip on my Teeccino. Clients tell me of cutbacks, and guys who once gave me instructions as Program Directors are now emailing me asking me if I know of anyone to whom they can send their packages because they've been down-sized. Disinterested voices from insurance companies on the other end of the phone inform us that they can't underwrite a policy for us because of pre-existing conditions. But the feeling of dread is more than just recurring bad news about the overall state of things. Perhaps the general malaise caused by double-digit unemployment and the health-care debate has allowed some of us to vent in unpredictable ways. And some of those ways have demonstrated behavior that has been, interestingly enough, quite mean.

I have found the health-care situation to be both fascinating and disgusting. Lately, we've been on the "front lines" of this debate. Our insurance premiums over the past two years have been stratospheric, similar to A-Rod numbers. So, Donna embarked on this long, drawn-out journey to do something about it. What we discovered is what most people already know, that insurance is: a) really expensive and b)intent on not covering anything. Because we have been between policies, we've also had to pay "sticker price" for some of our prescriptions. $246.00 for a 30-day supply? Are you kidding? That's a piece of studio gear. Or 7 cases of Weyerbacher Blithering Idiot. Talk about dread setting in.

But even though I'm absolutely aghast at the price-tag on one prescription, I couldn't bring myself to stand there in Wal-Mart and sling a profanity-laced tirade at the pharmacy assistant. That would have been pretty...mean. Not to mention fairly embarrassing to my wife. But that's what some people at town-hall meetings do. Some of the footage of irate Pennsylvanians standing there in front of Arlen Specter screaming at the top of their lungs and spraying him with saliva was simply unbelievable. It's as if our anger has given us carte blanche to say or do anything in the name of protest.

How about some of the signs at the rally in Washington, DC last week? Believe me, I'm the first to say that it's our duty to speak out against waste, hypocrisy, over-spending, injustice...or just plain political stupidity. However, I found some of the signs at that rally to be outright vile. I didn't vote for Barack Obama and I don't toe the line on all of his policies. And as Donna will tell you, I'm not the most patriotic person in the world. I'm much more quick to point out our country's faults than she is. But he is the President and he does deserve some modicum of respect. Call him a Socialist? Fine. That's your right. Super-imposing Obama's face, though, on to the body of some Islamic terrorist surrounded my machine guns and ammunition is just...mean. And this rally, and others like it, have given some a clean getaway on expressing their own racism. I saw the signs depicting Obama being hung from a tree with a noose around his neck. That's hardly a protest about the price of Prozac.

Perhaps that's the cause of my overall feeling of occasional angst. The freedom and the anonymity of the internet has allowed us to, in a way, say anything we want, whenever we want, and, more importantly, however we want. We've dispensed with the "nod and a wink" and have gone straight to the jugular. We've traded in the deftly-written op-ed piece for a expletive-laced burst on Facebook. And the cleverly-drawn political cartoon has been replaced with an anything-goes sign at a rally. It's epidemic. Robbers just don't take the money; they also have to shoot the clerk. It scares me sometimes, and it detracts just a little bit from the feelings I have about my own country.

I don't think I'm the only one who senses it. The other day, a cop pulled Donna over because Matt forgot to renew the license tags on the car. Now, $75.00 poorer, I journeyed to the DMV, which, as any red-blooded American will tell you, is the perfect storm for volatile transactions to occur. I had spent the better part of an hour waiting, and the woman who helped take care of the "Car Tags" department kept looking in my direction, seemingly sensing my growing impatience. I kept waiting to hear my name called from her clipboard. Finally, she got to me. I must have had that "I-could-spit-in-Arlen-Specter's-face" look because after explaining why I was there, she said, "Honey, you just look like this is the last place you want to be right now". I chuckled and so did she, and while she was retrieving my new plates I thought, "Hmmm....someone at the DMV not being...mean? That's a switch".

So, I thought of Ronald today. And though I don't spend a large amount of time anymore trying to figure out what made him so mean, I do give pause and reflect on myself and others. Somewhere amidst the chaos and uncertainty, I wish we'd step back and dial it down a notch. If someone at the DMV can be nice, isn't there hope for us yet?

-30-

* Why not grab your favorite beverage, cop a squat, and groove to some DEMOS at www.mattmultimedia.com

Tuesday, September 15, 2009

Your approximate wait time is...

That great Gainesville, Florida philosopher, Tom Petty, said it best, I think: "The waiting is the hardest part". Lately, it seems like the patience-game has been the only one I've been playing.

We've been waiting for somebody to make an offer on our home here. Like most places in the Midwest, it has not been going well. We put our house up for sale in March and had an immediate rush of prospective buyers. Many liked it, but similar to most locales in our nation's mid-section, it's a buyer's market and there's lots of inventory from which to choose. So, I guess they didn't like it that much. It's too bad. We've made a ton of modifications on it in the almost-2-and-a-half years that we've been here: new windows, Gutter-Monster, new paint throughout, a state-of-the-art filtration system on the furnace, a beautiful deck, and more. Apparently, these additions haven't been enough to entice someone to fax over an offer. So we wait.

I went to see my family doctor for an annual check-up. I cease to understand what the value is in making an appointment. I'm seemingly alone in the reception area and yet I wait. And wait. Finally, 30 minutes after my arrival, I'm called in. Of course, there's the perfunctory weigh-in, which is always a boost to the ego. Then, there's the blood pressure-check. She reels off the numbers as if I fully comprehend their meaning. I don't, though I'm assured that I won't keel over anytime during the office visit. Then, I'm shown to my room. Where I wait. And wait. The waiting gives me time to read all the pamphlets about high blood-pressure (which I don't think I have), acid-reflux (which I KNOW I have), diabetes, stroke, heart attack, and asthma. I skip the pamphlet on menopause. And I still wait. I play air-drums on the tops of my thighs and I convince myself that I could give Neil Peart a run for his money. And I wait some more. 40 minutes later, my doctor arrives and apologizes for me having to wait. Great.

We're told by the pundits to be proactive, to make things happen. But how do you make your doctor finish his lunch early? It seems as if many of these things are out of our hands. For instance, I have a prospective client who has been a prospective client for over a year now. She told me that she wanted to hire me as the voice of one of the stations in their cluster, but that she wasn't quite ready to concentrate fully on the station-in-question yet because of some problems with one of the other stations that needed addressed first. Fine. No problem. I wait, and agree to stay in touch. And I do. For the next 6 months, she tells me in emails that she's almost ready to dive into the format-flip but that a transmitter issue with one of the other stations has set her time-line back a bit. "Can you wait just a little while longer?", she asks. Sure, I think to myself. I have this waiting thing down cold. No worries. Another 6 months passes and now I hear nothing from her. So, I reach out, remind her who I am, and inquire about the status of the station format-flip again. She finally responds, thanks me for waiting...and then promptly tells me to wait a little while longer "while some call-letter adjustments get taken care of".

"Waiting", so it seems, has been elevated to an art-form. If so, then I have a Ph.D. Early in the week, I wait on the line to talk to an insurance broker about a replacement policy that I've been waiting to have activated. Later in the week, I'm having issues getting my laptop to connect to the network here at home, so I wait for it to repair itself. When it doesn't, I wait on the phone for a service technician from Netgear to help me. Once I finally get a tech on the line, I wait a bit more for him to find another technician because I was incapable of understanding the first technician. And don't even get me started on Sam's Club. Ever try to check out on a Saturday afternoon? And, of course, I wait for my acid-reflux to tame down by not having any beer. Who knows how long I'll be waiting to have one of those again.

"The waiting is the hardest part". Don't I know it. So while trying to enact some Zen stoicism, I wait. The next chapter can't start until the current one ends, right? In the meantime, we wait for the Indians pathetic season to draw to a close and we wait for the Browns to win their first game of 2009. Heck, we might sell our house before that happens.

-30-

* Why not grab your favorite beverage, cop a squat, and groove to some DEMOS at www.mattmultimedia.com

Tuesday, September 1, 2009

She's a Wallflower

She was once majestic, virile, a bit gritty but always one happenin' place! Attractive bedroom communities like Barberton, Manchester and Cuyahoga Falls once adorned her. Hundreds of thousands were employed and rubber and polymer ruled. Yep, Akron was a dominant industrial city with a great future. But more on Akron in a bit.

It's been awhile since I posted a new entry. Two weeks ago I headed down to Nashville on an invitation from Jeff. We enjoyed some fine ales and also took in a Sounds game with the family. It was fun. Afterwards, I kept telling myself that I was going to take a few days off before stations began to settle in on the start of the Fall ratings period. And although business has been up, funds have been depleted. So, once again, we opted for a trip home to northeast Ohio via automobile as opposed to a flight to some tropical locale. Heck, you can drink margaritas anywhere, can't you? So, yes, we backed up the blue X-Terra, loaded it up, and headed down I-70.

While home in Akron, we stayed in Donna's mom's house. Pretty spartan digs, let me tell you. We did have running water and electricity. The toilets worked, too. We had a small refrigerator that held copious amounts of Great Lakes Burning River Pale Ale and a few small cans of Diet Coke. And we had a radio, which seemed to sit on either classical WKSU or Smooth Jazz WNWV, "The Wave". Our sleeping quarters consisted of an air-mattress and a small table on which to set my CPAP machine. Oh, and we had a bag of Golden Krisp potato chips. That's it. Like I said, definitely not some swanky hotel in a sub-tropical paradise.

Akron, Ohio is a bit of an enigma. You will not likely see Akron in a Kiplinger's list of "Best Towns in America in Which to Live". At first glance, she's a poster-child for decaying rust-belt cities. There's nothing particularly attractive about her. She's a girl in jeans and a faded t-shirt with her hair pulled back and without make-up. She's a bit rough-edged with a hard demeanor and a wary glance, somewhat distrustful. Her un-trimmed median strips on I-76 are proof-positive that she doesn't sweat the details. The neighborhoods that surround the Central Interchange look as if they've been rode hard and put away wet. Hell, our old house in Kenmore is now boarded up...and Irene's house, next-door, isn't even there any more!

But it's real. What you see is what you get. The complexities and nuances are many and the niceties take awhile to find. So between visiting the folks for their birthdays and getting together with my brothers, we peeled back some layers of our old adopted hometown and found out some pretty interesting things about the former Rubber Capital of the World. We found out that people in stores are, for the most part, still pretty helpful. We found out that Akron has a jewel of a public library... clean, expansive, and new. We also drove past the new Infocision Stadium, which has replaced the Rubber Bowl, and discovered a world-class facility, at least from the front-seat of the X-Terra as we drove around the block. We also realized that the University of Akron has grown from a small commuter school to a big, bold urban university, one that dominates downtown.

We also re-discovered some things that we already knew: that Canal Park, the home of the Aeros, is as good as any minor league park in baseball...and the beer selection isn't half-bad! We also found out that West Point Market can still rival any similar store that Jeff and I could have visited a couple of weeks earlier in Nashville...that Primos Deli still has one of the best beer selections and some of the best sandwiches in northeast Ohio...that the Akron Museum of Art has a fairly impressive modern art collection. (even if I still don't completely understand how most of what I saw qualifies as "art")...and that right down the street from Donna's Mom's house sits the beautiful Goodyear MetroPark, a hop, skip, and a jump away.

No, cities such as Nashville, Charlotte, Austin, and Portland will always get the publicity. And once the economy turns around, they will probably get the jobs, too, when they return. The "niceties" are easy to see in these cities. They're chic, pretty, pampered, and cool. They're not wallflowers, like Akron. They jump on to the dance-floor quickly and with fanfare. I guess that's why they're attractive, even to people like me. But sometimes the qualities that are deep-down inside just need time to rise to the surface. Or, better yet, maybe the person doing the searching just needs to have the patience to let them rise to the surface. After all, the wallflower does eventually want to dance. You just have to ask.

-30-

* Why not grab your favorite beverage, cop a squat, and groove to some DEMOS at www.mattmultimedia.com