Thursday, October 22, 2009

Stats Ridiculous

Time was that TV and radio sportscasters had a statistician working with them who would thumb through record books to give them a bit of trivia that tied into something that happened during the game or related to a story one of them was telling. These days, massive tomes like The Baseball Encyclopedia have been replaced by a laptop with access to every bit of information ever collected, calculated, or crunched.

Often, the stat is interesting and you can understand the manager's thinking. How has a particular batter done against a particular pitcher over the years? (For example, if Alex Rodriguez has faced a pitcher seven times and has two home runs, two doubles and a single, you might want to play the odds and walk him. Or bring in a different pitcher.) How many inherited runners has a relief pitcher allowed to score? How has a pinch hitter performed with men on base? This type of information helps determine the strategy of the opposing teams.

Then again, some of the stats are just ridiculous. Last night, for example, one popped up late in the Dodgers - Phillies game. With Philadelphia ahead 10-4 in the eighth inning, we were advised that the last time the Dodgers came back from a six-run deficit to win a post-season game was in 1956. (Just for the record, it was Game 2 of the '56 World Series. The Yankees were up 6-0 after the top of the second and the Dodgers came back with six runs in the bottom of the inning. The Dodgers eventually won the game 13-8.) An interesting fact, but it is highly unlikely that Duke Snider, Jackie Robinson, Gil Hodges or any of their teammates were going to be coming to bat. And it's a safe bet it had no bearing on what Joe Torre or Charlie Manuel did last night.

Of course, all the stats in the world really don't determine what will happen in the current situation. Casey Stengel advised that "good pitching will stop good hitting and vice-versa." And Yogi Berra reminded us, "It ain't over till it's over." Perhaps, though, we need just remember the disclaimer in all the ads for investment firms: "Past performance does not guarantee future results."

Monday, October 19, 2009

And Now, a Word From Our Sponsor

"Mr. Clean gets rid of dirt and grime and grease in just a minute. Mr. Clean will clean your whole house and everything that's in it."
"Pepsi-Cola hits the spot. Twelve full ounces, that's a lot."
"See the U.S.A. in your Chevrolet."

It has been many years since any of these jingles have been broadcast, but I can still remember them...and the products they advertised. And there are plenty of other jingles and slogans rattling around in my memory, some for products and companies that are still around and others that have faded away.

Laurie and I are fans of Mad Men, which takes place at a Madison Avenue advertising agency in the early 1960s. And while much of the show is typical TV soap drama, I find the portions that relate to creating advertising campaigns the most interesting. In last night's episode, for example, the agency had to come up with a way to sell Western Union telegrams in an age when telephone use was quickly outpacing their usefulness. (This was an interesting parallel to the present day, where electronic media are replacing print.) The solution that the copywriters came up with was not dissimilar to Laurie's comment when I asked, "Gee, how would you promote something that is becoming obsolete?"

"B-O-N-O-M-O! O-O-O it's Bonomo Turkish Taffy."
"Winston tastes good like a cigarette should."
"Plop, plop, fizz, fizz, oh what a relief it is." (That one's for Alka-Seltzer, for those too young to remember it.)

In another part of last night's episode, the characters were discussing a commercial for hair spray. After hearing the proposal, the creative director tells them there was "too much story" and they come up with a quicker, cleaner way to get the point across.

That made me wonder what is going on in ad agencies today, where they seem to be coming up with campaigns that have me confused about what exactly they are trying to sell me.

Geico, for example, has gotten a lot of mileage out of the gecko, that little talking lizard with the British accent. Their "caveman" campaign, which I found tedious after awhile, has also been running a long time. Their most recent collection of ads, however, showing people being bothered by a singing wad of money with ping pong ball eyes, misses the mark. One, in which a woman keeps getting text messages from the wad of money, had me thinking it was a cellphone ad.
Allstate's commercials, with Dennis Haysbert as the spokesman, lack the creative gimmickry of Geico's, but at least I know what he's selling every time I see him.

Not so with others. There are a couple of commercials currently running that have a stern-voiced narrator reciting poetry over photos and footage that appear to be riots, war, and revolution. Only in the last seconds do you find out that it is an ad for Levi's jeans. Am I supposed to take away the idea that I need to be wearing jeans if I want to take over the world?

There's also a car commercial that shows a man skiing down the hills of San Francisco despite the fact that there is no snow. The computer-generated "stuff" he is skiing on is supposed to be gravel or ball-bearings or I don't know what. At the end of the ad, he turns into a car. (I don't recall -- or care -- what kind.) What is the message here? Buy this car and you'll feel like you're skiing? Speeding down a hill on snow and ice at risk of running into a tree?!

"Call Roto-Rotor, that's the name, and away go troubles down the drain."
"Trust Sleepy's for the rest of your life."
"McDonald's is my kind of place. It's such a happy place."

Commercials for drugs are in a class by themselves. Does every man over the age of 35 suffer from erectile dysfunction? And an uncontrollable bladder? And high cholesterol? Based on the ads, all the women in the country seem to be suffering from depression, genital herpes, and restless leg syndrome.
One thing all these commercials have in common seems to be the lines, "Ask your doctor if this drug is right for you. And be sure to tell your doctor if you are taking medications for this, that, or the other thing." Shouldn't your doctor already know what medications you're taking? If not, who are you getting to write the prescriptions?!
Of course, the disclaimers that are recited in these commercials (and the pages of them that are appended to print ads) make me wonder why anyone would even consider taking these drugs, especially when I hear something like "possible side effects may include paralysis or death."

"And like a good neighbor, State Farm is there."
"From the valley of the = Ho Ho Ho = Green Giant."
"Let Hertz put you in the driver's seat."

There's a series of commercials for some alcoholic beverage in which a group of people do something outrageous like fill an empty swimming pool with foam rubber or stage a concert in an abandoned subway tunnel. It doesn't say much for the ads when I can't recall what alcoholic beverage they're promoting. I do remember that it advises me to "drink responsibly." Somehow, I don't think that if I was "drinking responsibly," I'd come up with the idea to fill a swimming pool with foam rubber and jump in!

There are a few ads that grab my attention and get the message across. One is the American Express commercial that shows "faces" in all sorts of everyday objects while recounting all the things that you can do with your card. It's clever and one that you watch more than once to see all the different ways they've depicted the frowns and smiles.
Commercials for Target are visually interesting. There is a subtle similarity to them all, utilizing colors and their target symbol, that makes them instantly recognizable.
And the Coor's commercials which mix beer drinkers asking questions with clips of football coaches apparently answering them are clever and amusing.

But will any of today's commercials make me run out and buy something I didn't know I needed or wanted? Because, after all, isn't that what they're supposed to do? Can't think of any that accomplish that...

Friday, October 16, 2009

Up, Up and (Not) Away

Getting lots of play in the news the past couple of days is the story of the 6-year-old Colorado boy who was thought to have been in the compartment of a runaway weather balloon, resulting in a major search as well as the temporary shutdown of the Denver airport. As it turns out, he was hiding in the rafters of the garage the entire time.

Once again, our tax dollars were at work as military helicopters chased the balloon across two counties. Plans were being considered to have either someone lowered onto the balloon or to somehow place weights on it and force it down. Shooting it down was not an option, since that would have been placed its supposed passenger at great risk.

When asked why he was hiding in the garage and did not respond when he heard his parents yelling his name, the boy said it was because he thought they "did this for a show." No one seems quite sure what the comment meant, though the father said that his son was just confused by the question.

Confused or not, the boy and the rest of the family were on the "reality" show, Wife Swap, and he may well have thought this had something to do with it. According to the AP news report, the program promoted the family as storm chasers who also spend time searching for extraterrestrials.

Given their inability to locate their own son in their garage, any Martians hiding in their neighborhood have nothing to worry about.

Tuesday, October 13, 2009

Into the Woods

This time of year always brings back memories of the years in which Chuck was a Boy Scout in Troop 601 and the annual camping trip upstate to a piece of property owned by Bill, the Scoutmaster. In my role as "Assistant Sidekick to the Assistant Scoutmaster," I went along on this particular adventure each fall.

Though he had a house on the property, we would trek about a quarter-mile uphill to a spot where Bill had constructed a small cabin and there was plenty of open space for the boys to pitch their tents. (We fathers got to sleep in the cabin and we were quite a collection of snorers, so that it must have sounded like we had a buzz saw running in there!) There was also an outhouse up there, so that we did not have to do in the woods what bears do.

We would usually depart at about 5:00 p.m. on Friday and make the three-hour trip as a caravan. As this was the mid-1990s, very few people had portable phones, so we made do with walkie-talkies, which, unfortunately had limited range and were of little help if someone got lost. We would all pack some sandwiches, etc. and eat dinner on the way.

On one of the trips one of the boys brought along a 2-liter bottle of soda to quench his thirst. In the course of the first half hour or so, he drank it all. Needless to say, it was not long before his bladder took note and we had to make an emergency stop on the side of the road. Even as the car was slowing down, he bolted out the door and ran up an incline in the dark.
We never quite figured out where it was we had stopped, but our soda-drinker managed to relieve himself all over a hunter who was lying just over the hill. He came running down the hill almost as fast as he had run up it.

Once we reached the property, we would fill canteens and water jugs at the spigot in Bill's house, then head up the hill and set up camp. Once everything was set, the boys would retire to their tents and the dads would head into the cabin.

On Saturday morning, we'd get the campfire going and everyone would have breakfast of bacon, sausage and eggs. Then we'd head down the hill to where Bill had a skeet-shooting area as well as a rifle range. Bill and John, the co-leader, were both Nassau County police officers and knew their way around guns.
Bill's philosophy about having the boys use rifles and shotguns was simple: If they learned about them properly, there would be no fascination and they would be less likely to try using one in an unsafe situation. The boys (and the dads, for that matter) were thoroughly drilled in the safety procedures before anyone even picked up one of the guns.

Along the way, we would have lunch, usually more of the sandwiches that had been packed the before. When the shooting was done, some of us would lead some of the boys on a hike around the property while others prepared dinner. The boys were on their own for this one, having been charged with working together in small groups to bring enough food for everyone. We fathers ate separately, usually a beef stew prepared by Karl, the father we dubbed our "gourmet chef of the woods."

The evening was spent around the campfire. Some of the boys would work on merit badges; others would play hide-and-seek in the dark. Often we would have a radio and tried to pick up a far away station.
In 1993, we listened to Game 6 of the World Series between the Philadelphia Phillies and the Toronto Blue Jays. I remember this in particular because the day before, just as Chuck and I were getting ready to leave for the trip, I got a call from Angelo Messina, the Ronalds Printing rep that I dealt with. "Use your Air Canada miles, " he said, "and meet me in Toronto tomorrow. I've got two tickets for the game." I explained that I was leaving on a Boy Scout camping trip and had to pass on the opportunity.
Well, as the baseball fans among you might remember, Game 6 was the one in which the Blue Jays won the Series on Joe Carter's ninth-inning walk-off home run, probably one of the most exciting Series conclusions ever. Listening to a broadcast that faded in and out -- at one point we had the radio hanging on a branch in a tree above us -- one of the other fathers told me, "If your son ever tells you that never sacrificed anything for him when he was growing up, just tell him how you were sitting on a rock in the woods when you could have been at the World Series."

Eventually, everyone would go to sleep. And the night quiet would be shattered by the snoring coming from the cabin. Hey, I'm sure it kept the bears away!

On Sunday morning, we had another communal breakfast of bacon, sausage and eggs. Then it was time to pack up, clean up the campsite, and head home. It was always surprising to the boys to discover just how much trash we generated in 36 hours! Of course, when we pointed out to them how much food they had consumed in that period, they understood a bit better.

The first year that I went on the trip, I had four boys (including Chuck) riding in my car. We were not far along on the drive home when one of them started complaining that his stomach hurt. Thinking that he might upchuck, I told him to roll down the window and to make sure to stick his head out if that was the case.
He continued to complain and I started questioning him about the pain. Was it sharp? Was it throbbing? Did it feel like he'd been punched? Suddenly, I had a thought. "When," I asked him, "was the last time you went?"
"Thursday," he replied.
"Thursday!? You realize that everything you have eaten since then -- and it has been a considerable amount of food -- is backed up in your digestive system?"
"Well, I didn't want to go in the woods!"
"You didn't have to. You could have used the outhouse like everyone else did."
"Yeah, but I also didn't want to wipe myself with leaves!"
"There was toilet paper in the outhouse."
I pulled into the first rest area I came to, followed by the other cars in our little caravan. He ran inside and was in the men's room quite awhile. The other dads and scouts wanted to know what the emergency was and I gave them a quick explanation of my "diagnosis."
We stood around waiting for awhile and I finally had to go inside and check on him. He was still in the stall. "How are you feeling? Was it what we thought it was?" I asked.
"Ooohhh yeah!" He replied, with great relief in his voice.
The postscript to the story? When I dropped him off at home and told his mother about his digestive adventure, she said, "I packed two rolls of toilet paper in has backpack! Didn't he even look?"

Did we learn from this particular misadventure? You bet we did. Bill added a new rule for the camping trips: "Bears $#!+ in the woods and so should you."

Thursday, October 8, 2009

Can I Pay to Have Your Autograph?

There is a discussion going on at one of the comics-related message boards about the cost of getting an autograph at a convention. Specifically, Adam West, who played Batman on TV in the 1960s, will be one of the guests at the Big Apple Convention in New York next weekend and a few of the folks were discussing what the charge would be. One person mentioned that he had gotten West to autograph a TV Guide some years back and it cost $25. Another responded that at more recent show, the charge was $50.

Such a practice is not new; it seems to be standard operating procedure at card shows when professional ballplayers are the guests and is becoming more common at comic book shows as well, particularly where movie and TV celebrities are involved. But is it justified?

On one hand, there are people who get books, photos. etc. autographed and immediately offer them for sale at a premium price. If it is my signature that is responsible for someone paying more, shouldn't I be entitled to a share of it?
On the other hand, if an individual buys something I've written and has no intention of selling it, why wouldn't I sign it for free? If it's a book, I presumably have a royalty deal and will get a percentage for every copy sold. If it's a comic book, I've been paid to write the script and the more people who buy it, the more likely it would be that the magazine would continue to be published.

Granted that Adam West is not making any money off an old issue of TV Guide, but the show promoters are presumably paying him something to appear, along with his expenses. Those promoters make their money from the admission they charge and one big way they attract more paying attendees is with the guests they line up.
If I am a dealer in collectibles and I want to make money on someone else's celebrity, I should be willing to share the profits and pay that person for each and every signature.
But if I am a fan of Adam West and am willing to pay $25 or more to get into the convention to see him, why should I then have to pay another $50 to have him autograph something for me?

Tuesday, October 6, 2009

Updates on This and That

For the record, Swimsover was October 5th this year. On Sunday, with the sun shining and the temps in the low 70s, I spent the afternoon poolside and in the water. But, acknowledging that the end was near, I put away the rafts and Robbie the Robot (the automatic vacuum). I also set out the cover for the pool guys when they come this afternoon.
Yesterday, after work and a gym workout, I came home and had one last swim. The last report from the "temperature team" before they were removed from the pool for the season, had the water at about 70 degrees.
Laurie, ever supportive, came out and proclaimed, "Look, everyone, there's a polar bear swimming in the pool!"


I commented a couple of weeks ago about a 67-year-old woman who disappeared from a cruise ship in Alaska and the ensuing search. A follow-up news story reported that video surveillance from the ship showed her jumping overboard, an apparent suicide. She suffered from an undisclosed illness and had wrapped up her affairs before going on the cruise.
The news report goes on to say that it is presumed she drowned and that the search by the U.S. and Canadian Coast Guards has been ended.
Presumably, there is no one to send a bill to for the cost of said search.


Following my revelations about Ted P. Skimmer, I received an email pointing out that a Google search leads to a book credited to him as well. Joe's Lost Home, published by McGraw Hill in 2001, is indeed the handiwork of "Ted."

For an educational project Laurie was working on, I wrote ten or twelve story books. The publisher, however, wanted different authors for each of them, so I had to come up with a dozen names. Among the others I used were Robert Harris, O.G. Smedley, and Chris Hobart (but not Bob Rozakis). And while the books still appear on school-approved reading lists, I have never seen any of them.


Monday, October 5, 2009


Laurie and I saw "Zombieland" on Saturday night and, as she says over on her blog, it is no "Shaun of the Dead." Reduced to the basics, it is the standard "boy meets girl, boy loses girl, boy gets girl" plot...with zombies. There is an amusing cameo, which reviewers -- and yours truly -- have been keeping secret, but it's not enough to earn more than a "Rental" on our review scale.

[We watch the coming attractions and rate the forthcoming movies as "See it in the Theater," "Rental," "Get it From the Library," and "No Way." Occasionally, I will add "11:30 on a Saturday Night if Nothing Else is on."
As with "Zombieland," some movies get downgraded after we've seen them.]

One amusing sidelight of the movie, however, was Woody Harrelson's character's obsession with Hostess Twinkies and the fact that they do indeed have a shelf-life.
We found this out during Chuck's years at Princeton because Laurie had gotten him a box to keep in his dorm room. Well, Chuck was not much of a fan of golden sponge cake and creme filling, so the box sat for a long, long time.
Many months after the expiration date on the box, he finally opened it...and discovered that the golden cake was turning green!


Back in 1976, DC Comics hosted a convention in New York City to celebrate Superman's birthday. At the time, Hostess was one of the major advertisers in the books, so DC president Sol Harrison asked them if they would provide some of their product as giveaways at the show.

The Hostess folks responded with hundreds of boxes of Twinkies. (Alas, no Cupcakes, Sno-Balls, or Fruit Pies, all of which I prefer to the Twinkies.) Just how many? I have no idea, but the boxes completely filled two 3'x6'x4' bins...and then some.
At the start of the con, we handed out a Twinkie to each person who came in. By the end, we still had a tremendous number left and started handing a box to each departing guest. The comics dealers who had set up tables all left with as many boxes as they could handle.
And there was still a load of them that were taken back to the DC offices, where we had a supply that lasted far longer than anyone's desire to eat any more of them. I can't speak for my fellow staffers, but I don't think I ate another Twinkie for 25 years!

The Hostess ads that ran in the DC books were single page comics starring the heroes and their methods of stopping crime and catastrophe by using Twinkies, Fruit Pies and Cupcakes. I wrote a handful of these ads, including ones in which Aquaman stops underwater treasure hunters and Wonder Woman defeats the Robot Master. ( and
There were a number of rules we had to follow in scripting these pages, one of which was that the hero, though pitching the "golden sponge cake" and "creme filling" to others, was not allowed to be shown eating the product!
Clearly, the superheroes were supposed to know something the rest of us didn't!

Friday, October 2, 2009


While the opening of the pool is celebrated as First Dunk on whichever April day the temperatures push high enough for a swim, the closing is that sad day known as Swimsover.

A couple of years ago, it was warm enough on Columbus Day that Laurie joined me for a last swim, but she has usually given up getting into the water long before I do. This year, with September temps topping out only in the mid-70s, it has been a couple of weeks since she has been in. Thanks to the solar heating panels on the roof, the pool has stayed fairly warm and last Saturday, with both water and air temperatures around 75, I was able to enjoy an autumn afternoon poolside.

It's been down in the 40s the past couple of nights, so, despite the solar assistance, the pool has cooled to the upper 60s. (Snorkel Duck, the supreme optimist among our pool thermometers, said 69 yesterday; Swanee and Ducky were at about 67; Tommy Turtle, remaining the pessimist he has been all year, said the water was 50!) Refusing to give up until the cover is on, I did take a very brief dip yesterday when I got home from the gym. The water might best be described as "bracing."

Unless the long range forecast is for a substantial heat wave, the pool is scheduled to be closed next Tuesday. (Temperatures this weekend are expected to be in the 70s, warm enough for me to venture into the water again, but the autumn sunshine is not strong enough to pump the temp back up that quickly.) We are usually among the last ones on the list of closings that our pool guys handle. A couple of years ago, they showed up and said, "We are shutting down for the winter and yours is the only pool still open. We have to close it today or you'll have to wait till next spring."

So, while I have to sadly acknowledge Swimsover this week, I can look forward to First Dunk sometime next April.

And with the way time has been flying by, that's just around the corner.