Thursday, June 30, 2005

Journalism: It's a Tough Racket!

** Opening title sequence inspired by David Mamet and The Tomb of The Unknown Journalist (Oh, you know who you are, Jerky!) **

I never wanted to be "a journalist." Really. I never found the world of journalism fascinating - because I never focused on the Watergate aspect of it - just, ironically enough, the obituaries side of it - which bored me to death ...and tears.

I remember being a youngin' at Willoughby South High School. I used to draw satirical cartoons of my friends in a "Dallas"-like parody. It was fun and I never searched for kudos (although subconsciously, hey, I probably did). My classmate Ken Arko used to say out on the porch, drinking cheap beer, as we sat around a makeshift bonfire: "Hey, can you imagine one day if McVetta got famous and did this for a living..."

When I took Introduction to Public Speaking at South, I got up and did my little routine. Not about airline peanuts and the such - I wasn't that well traveled yet. But I would riff about "G.I. Joe" (which was BIG in it's day) and imagined Cobra Commander in the most mundane - and preposterous - of awkward situations. This got big laughs by my classmates. And one day - one speech - when I strolled up to the podium, up the center aisle, and a classmate whispered on behalf of my upcoming speech to another fellow classmate: "Oh, this is going to be GREAT" - I knew I was hooked - on trading laughs for love.

I ended up getting an "A" in that class - a rarity for me. But when my English teacher, and God bless her I don't remember her name, just the memory of her soul - told me that I had a gift to embrace the masses, I cherished that until this very day...

After I graduated, my friends tried hard to persuade me to join them down at Ohio University: But I didn't have the grades or the SAT's - or the wisdom - to validate me going. If I knew now, what I knew then - that OU had a "top notch" film and journalism school, I might have done otherwise. But I didn't.

Instead, I tried my luck at Lakeland Community College without much fanfare. That is, until I ended up enrolling in another Public Speaking class. My first speech was on "The Oprah Eliminator 2000" - where I went out of my way to draw a diagram of a Twinkee under a 500 lb. weight to lure Ms. Winfrey into my web of sadistic satire. The crowd loved it - and lust like Oprah with the Twinkee, they ate it up. My "professor" - unfortunately - did not. He pulled me aside - despite the guffaws and applause of my classmates - to inform me I was "a disgrace to society." This was the first time when I had my greatest realization: Play for the masses, not the establishment.

"I can't stand this indecision - married with a lack of vision. Everybody wants to rule the world..."

Upon arriving at the concrete slab known as Cleveland State University, I started out as most: Taking the required classes and drinking with my standardized frat boy friends. That is, until they graduated, and I was left holding an empty bag of Labatt's Blue memories. I needed something more, and in the college paper, The Cauldron, I soon found it.

It started out innocently enough, me writing for the Sports section, making my "fairly routine observations" about Mike Ditka and the such - but it grew into so much more. Not to go "all Terrance Mann" on you, but the cosmic tumblers soon opened up a comedic karma universe I could only dream of upon arriving. My pitiful band of rebel friends and I took the small opening we had and turned that newspaper into a Wonka-like factory of savory chocolate journalism wonder.

When we got our hands on some compromsing photos of a CSU administrator in a diaper - chugging to a beer at a company Christmas party - we KNEW we had to run it. In an "Animal House" moment, where the "this could be the best day of our lives ...but YOU'RE gonna make it the worst!" media advisor strongly advised us against running the photo, because it "just wouldn't be proper" - we decided to go for the laughs. And from the reaction - and my own impulses - I'll go to my deathbed damn glad sure we did!

Things turned out ugly after that - pompous to say, but The Beatles of college journalism (and doesn't every staff of every college newspaper think of themselves this way, right, Kent State?) - and their egos, - eventually got in the way ...and we all went our separate ways. Even after my friend, Pete Chakerian, got voted off the island as the next editor of the paper - and I was left in limbo - the only place I had left to turn was the English department who wanted me to come and join their merry band in graduate Creative Writing studies.

I worked that summer in The Cauldron ad department (retained by pity) - forbidden to write for the paper ever again. Out of boredom, I sent my pitiful little resume to The Free Times - which was worshipped at the time as "a God" by the other staff members, but really had no context for me, other than a bunch of "liberal hippies" producing their version of a journalistic underground railroad.

It was then I caught "the call." The Free Times wanted to talk to me after I sent them some snarky cover letter, produced out of a fit of creative contempt. Hey, it was all good. One professor in the English department begged me not to go, stating: "How are you ever going to make a living writing for The Free Times...?"

"Hey, that's Kramer! Kramer's on 'Murphy Brown!!!'"

I soon landed my first "job" out of college: I was writing for The Free Times and later became an Editorial Assistant, which was way cool for a kid my age then. Some of my duties entailed decrypting Harvey Pekar's "chicken scratches" - his columns written in a No. 2 pencil. I was also, from what I remember, obligated to change Mr. Pekar's adult diaper, upon demand - but it was all good.

I didn't even realize it, nor did I foolishly appreciate it, but I was surrounded by a lot of amazing talent at that paper. Marc Jaffe wrote "The Quiz" - the same guy who wrote the "nipple Christmas card" for "Seinfeld." Mark Winegardner went on to write the next "Godfather" novel. Mark Naymik is pursuing his political passions at The Plain Dealer. And that sourpuss, Harvey, got his own movie (a good one!) made about his life.

But I'll always remember my days "slaving away" for the editor of the paper, Cindy Barber. Opening her mail, answering her unwanted phone calls, running her errands and the such. It's true: I was Murphy Brown's secretary - but it was GREAT, holy hell fun, baby! (Cindy is now running her own highly-touted rock'n'roll utopia concert hall, The Beachland Ballroom, which I hear has no television sets in the bar - What? Are they Amish there, or something...???).

But, as all good things, it sadly came to an end - piece by peace. The "Super Friends of local indie Cleveland journalism" each went their seperate ways - and I was content being the "Gleek the Super Monkey" of the bunch. Through my own blend of rampant immaturity and a nice showerstorm of journalistic politics, all I was left with were some clips of my work and fond memories - all good.

"I’ve got another confession to make - I’m your fool. Everyone’s got their chains to break -Holdin’ you! Were you born to resist or be abused? Is someone getting the best, the best, the best, the best of you? Is someone getting the best, the best, the best, the best of you?"

Things weren't all bleak: I later went on to write for SCENE magazine in Cleveland, after editor, Mark Holan, and Pete Chakerian brought me on board. And to this day, I'll always remember the story of Mr. Holan interviewing Nirvana's Kurt Cobain and asking his impressions on "Jim Thome's batting average." (McEditor's Note: Rumor has it, a gun shot was heard on the other end of the line a few minutes later...) Mark Holan was a good guy (but, like a lot of us, deserves better than what he got from this "profession") - and I believe, if I understand correctly, went on to obtain his Archaeology degree and is somewhere in Tunisia searching for The Lost Ark...

SCENE copy editor, Erich Burnett, was the ONE GUY who could take my prose - chop it up into little pieces - and actually MAKE IT BETTER. If I ever put down the Blue Moon Belgian Ale, and write my "book about nothing," I'll be sure to look up Mr. Burnett's services to come on board to edit my merry band on meaningless banter.

"Jack, this island brought us all here together for a reason. Some of the people on this island view it as a curse, but I view it as a wonderful thing..."

My TRUE passion is storytelling. The Force willing, maybe one day I'll wash up on the shores of Hawaii in my tattered Grady Sizemore Indians' jersey and my "Lost" screenplay in hand - and J.J. Abrams will have mercy on my tortured soul.

Other than that, I just have to laugh at it all, really. Friends and family are no substitute for writing - but it sure is a fun obsession to partake! As commentator Bill Needle once told me: "There's two kinds of people who go into this profession: One who truly LOVES what they are doing - and those who just want to get recognized at the grocery store."

Which one are you? Thanks for listening!

Monday, June 27, 2005

Do You, um, Wahoo? (Part Deux): The Id and I Strikes Back!

Alice in (Cleveland) Chains: "Here they come to snuff the rooster. Yeah, here comes the rooster, yeah! You know he ain't gonna die. No, no, no, ya know he ain't gonna die..."

You know, Cleveland, ya gotta cut Footloose! The Cleveland Indians shut down the Boston Redsox on Monday night faster than the Project Greenlight web site! Somewhere Matt Damon and Ben Affleck are spinning in their bloody sox graves!

Cleveland Indians, send all remittance (for services rendered) to:

The Golden Goose @
1313 Nostradamus Lane
Prognosticators Heights, Ohio 44115

Go on! Rub the McBuddha's belly for good luck - I don't bite!

Han Solo to The Id and I: "That's great, kid! Now don't get cocky!"

I'm sorry, but I'm excited, and not for the shameless self-glorification of my ego, either. I want the Cleveland Indians to succeed: It's one of the few thing in this town that brings all the citizens together on any given sunny day. Call me a hypocrite, call me a shill for the organization - it's all good - but these young brand of baseball hot shots are giving it their all, and what more could you ask for...?

Grady Sizemore popped one out of Fenway park! This kid is the real deal, for sure, for sure! I've got Tribe fever and there ain't no cure!

The Cleveland Indians stripped the Boston Red Sox of a victory faster than Sharon Reed shed clothes during sweeps week! (Hey, that's what happens when SOME of the Cleveland media nitwits step outside of their Cuyahoga County comfort zone, huh? 'Cause Dave Letterman is a God - and I am not - and I just thought, that you should know...)

Anyway, I'm standing by my predictions, right or wrong. I think this team has potential - and, hey, I'm the first one to point out the flaws of any Cleveland sports franchise.

And I'll even quote the snarky sarcasm of Newman from "Seinfeld" in regards to Ben Broussard: "Nice game, pretty boy!" (Hey, don't sour on Ben Broussard just yet - he has shown his own flashes of brilliance - despite having diapers to change. He's still a valuable commodity, despite all the naysayers...)

And additional kudos to Woody Paige of "Cold Pizza" for picking the Tribe to be in the World Series - my playful poking banter may have just rubbed off on "The Woodman" just yet - this guy knows his sports!

Good night, Cleveland! And get out your brooms for the Boston bean town sweep! Right or wrong, let's keep on enjoying the roller coaster ride!

McSeacrest OUT!

Sunday, June 26, 2005

Do You, um, Wahoo?

The Id and I - More fun than a barrel of journalists!

(Arf! Arf!) Email all your conspiracy theories and sizzling summertime recipes to:

I Zigged When I Shoud Have Zagged...

I'm still reeling from the aftermath of Ziglar's Follies. Someone mentioned to me that I missed "the king of comedy" - Jerry Lewis - and his motivational message to the masses last week. But you know what, all his humanitarian work aside, I chose not to watch them wheel out Mr. Lewis - in all his Jabba the Hutt glory - like some motivational Macy's Day parade muppet. I'll choose to remember Jerry Lewis from those cherished childhood films of my youth - and his brilliant performance in the celebrity-obsession-gone-mad movie of the same name ("The King of Comedy"). Other than that, I don't want to tarnish those memories before Jerry Lewis goes off to join Dean Martin in that "big variety show in the sky." Also, I'm not French.

The Cleveland Grand Prix for Dummies (tm): Or what's da Matta with you?

On Saturday, I ventured out under the Tuscan sun, and journeyed down to the qualifying matches of The Cleveland Grand Prix. I'll be honest: I don't like auto racing -at all. But there's something about the "roar by the shore" that just grabs you when you're down there in the pits.

To be honest, I don't know "Cristiano da Matta" from "Goggles Pizano" - but there's just something about those Jelly Belly-colored cars racing by on a hot day that reminds me of my old Mattel race track magically springing to life.

Anyways, I got down there with one clear "Sideways"-mission-like-statement in mind: "I am NOT drinking any f@#king Pabst Blue Ribbon!" The Id and I is normally a "NASCAR-FREE zone" - and I know racing fans like Pabst Blue Ribbon and cheering on their favorite drivers like they were wrestlers in the WWE - but I have certain "beer standards" I have set myself since graduating from the 9th grade, and not drinking Pabst Blue Ribbon is one of them. Quite frankly, I'd rather suck on a urinal cake.

Again, I know nothing about auto racing. So when some lady in the crowd asked me who I was pulling for, I responded: "Uh, the Tide car...?" Was there even a Tide car in this race? I'm not sure but, damn it, there should be!

I stayed long enough in the haze, the malaise, and the scorching summer heat to see the first auto wreck. When the announcer - uh, announced - that: "Folks, he's got some liquid he left on the race track..." I thought, huh, that must be the Larry Brown car, shrugged my shoulders, and called it a day at the races.

"These boots are made for walking. And that's just what they'll do. One of these days, these boots are gonna walk ...all ...over ...YOU."

So on Sunday, I decided to beat the heat and watch the Indians game on television. That is, until an old "blast from my past" called: my agent, Dave Stafford.

"What are you doing?" he asked, without giving me time to reply. "I've got two tickets to the Tribe-Reds game today - and you're going! We've got some celebrating to do!"

Celebrating??? Did I get published in McSweeney's? Did the fine folks at "Cold Pizza" finally come to their senses and decide to bring my good-natured needling of the psuedo-eldery gay gentlemen who discuss sports (not that there's anything wrong with that!) on board full time to spar and banter with them? Did the Scientology Corporation finally find me a suitable hot date - hopefully Jennifer Garner! - to boost my sagging "Q rating"???

Nah, it was none of that. Dave Stafford had a "hot new client" and he wanted to brag about it. "I'll meet you at The Great Lakes Brewing Co.," he stated. "Know where it's at...?"

"No, I'm not sure," I responded. "Does the local media ever run any stories on it...?"

I'm just joshing - of couse I've heard of it - it's a Cleveland institution - like Super Host or Dennis The Phantom Kucinich Menace. I haven't been there in a while, so I was wondering in parched anticipation what new brew they had on tap for the summer: Perhaps a Les Roberts' Languished Lager?

Dave Stafford wanted to take a tour of the brewery - but, hey, that's for tourists! And the last thing I need to see is Dorothy Fuldheim - and her wig -"fermenting" in a giant vat of hops and barley to become the latest, greatest Great Lakes ale "with a Cleveland twist."

I know it seems like all I take about is The Tribe in this blog, but I'm really enjoying their season this year. My boy - Ben Broussard - has been on fire as of late and Grady Sizemore is going to be "the next big thing" on this young Indians squad - very fast and very soon. And it was worth roasting out in the sun for three hours (and looking like Dr. Zoidberg by the end of the day) to watch these guys play with passion - and bring home a 4-3 win over the Cincinnati Reds!

And all those national journalistic jugheads be damned! Mike Lupica and his "sudden praise" for The Chicago White Sox opitimizes the sychophant mentality his profession breeds - "no ones going to stop The White Sox," he babbled on ESPN that Sunday morning. This was the same guy who said Ohio State "had no chance" against Miami - the year OSU won The National Championship!

Well, I'm going to say it just to spite Lupica and his journalistic lemmings: The White Sox are going to DERAIL the second-half of the year and it will be The Cleveland Indians who sweep in and win the feeble AL Central - count on it! (And, uh, if any of the fine folks at The Indians organization would like to send me an authentic Grady Sizemore jersey to, um, "reward my efforts" - well, gosh, that would sure be swell!)

NEXT ISSUE: In "Action Blog Comics # 46," Krypto McSuperdog saves Jimmy Olsen who has fallen down the journalism well.

Tuesday, June 21, 2005

Zig Ziglar and The Temple of Doom

"You've achieved success in your field when you don't know whether what you are doing is work or play." - Warren Beatty

Who's the man in all the corporate land that makes yuppies swoon and shine to his inspirational go-go ideologies? Why, unless you've been living under a welfare rock for the past few years, it's Zig Ziglar, of course!

The Wizard of Zig blew into town today to "spread" his message of "peace, love ...dope" to his corporate cult-like masses at the Gund Arena. Although out of the rat race now, I had first stumbled upon this man and his manic minions many moons ago while toiling away down on the cublicle farm as "the prized platypus" in the Marketing Department of the Chase Financial corporate petting zoo.

Usually, I avoid any kind of corporate "networking event" like the proverbial plague because they give me the creeps - "The X-Files" kind of creeps. In fact, if forced to attend one of these, I find the best way to tolerate them is in the smallest of doses so as not to get carried away on a stretcher screaming: "Soylent Green is people! SOYLENT GREEN IS PEOPLE!!!"

As I awoke at dawn to make the commute to downtown Cleveland, rocking out to the Transplants, I wondered what "Dress for Success" passed for these days at a Zig Ziglar love-in? Perhaps a black monk's robe and matching purple Nikes? Nah, Tuesday is Hawaiian shirt day.

Parking down by The Cleveland Browns Stadium, I had a chance to "hoof it" up to The Gund and see our fair city of Cleveland, first hand. Throngs of homeless, sleeping under bridges, sleeping face down in the park - ah, it's summertime in Cleveland! Panhandlers hit me up at every turn, but I was ready for them: "Sorry," I apologized, showing my empty pockets, "MasterCard and Visa beat you to it..."

Then there was one left obstacle to hurdle before reaching the Ziglar mecca: The Homeless Grapevine guy. "Homeless Grapevine Newspaper, sir?" he asked insistently. Nah, I waived him away in a cordial fashion. What was I going to do with it - read the Hobo Society Page?

Zig Ziglar just ...likes talking salesmen.

"Hello, Hello! I'm at a place called Vertigo
It's everything I wish I didn't know
But you give me something I can feel
All this, all this can be yours..."

Upon entering The Gund, I am handed (i.e., forced to take or else) my official "Get Motivated" handbook. I couldn't help but notice all the business people here this morning loitering around in the halls (But, of course, it's Cleveland - so maybe they are all just unemployed).

Unfortunately, I was more than 45 minutes late and all the seats were filled unless I wanted to crawl over 20 people to get to one. Sensing my pain, the usher quickly made his way over and offered me V.I.P. seating on the floor - six rows away (striking distance!) from Ziglar and Friends. As the usher escorted me down there, I felt like Indiana Jones incognito after bumping into Hitler at the local book burning. Wow, I mused, my lateness got me $100-a-pop V.I.P. seating - doesn't this violate Zig's first rule of punctuality? Ironic.

"You've got a Buddy in the carpet business..."

Although Ziglar's "sermon" was not without it's merits, a lot of his message got lost in his Bible-thumping theatrics which simply turned my stomach. I'm all for spirituality, but not when it's forced down my throat - free with the price of admission. And for all his hot-winded hooplah, it's hard to take some guy seriously who looks like a cross between a test tube baby of Jerry Falwell and Buddy from "Buddy's Carpets." It's not Tom Cruise-Scientology crazy, but it's damn close.

Anyway, here are a few "Ziggy'isms" from the show:

"46% of people leave their jobs because they didn't feel valued or respected." (McEditor's Note: Yeah, Zig, it's called "journalism.")

"Your passion is born when you get a glimpse of your potential."

"The year the Denver Broncos beat the Green Bay Packers, 5% of all the NFL players who played on those teams came from Notre Dame and Penn State - both schools which don't put INDIVIDUAL names on their TEAM jerseys."

"Death: The greatest promotion from Planet Earth."

"The problem with 'pity parties' is few people attend and those who do seldom bring presents."

"It has been scientifically proven that people who attend church earn an average of $110 more a month ...and have better sex."

"Stressed spelled backwards is 'desserts.'" (McEditor's Note: Your anagrams are showing, Dr. Lecter.)

The only thing missing from Mr. Ziglar's inspired presentation was trotting out his Rainbow Brite (tm) and Harmony Smurf (tm) action figures for the cheering crowd of corporate lemmings.

"Gangst'ahs and Thugs. Criminals and Hoods. Some of my friends sell records. Some of my friends sell drugs..."

Okay, that was enough of these corporate crackpots and their wacky shenanigans. Fortunately for me, there was a designated breaktime: It was called "Dyan Cannon speaks." (McEditor's Note: Can't "the o.c." cast Dyan Cannon as someone's hot grandmother or something - just to keep her off the streets???)

I strolled out to the main lobby where Ziggy was autographing copies of our handcrafted and handsomely-bound "Get Motivated" manifesto from the Time-Life collection. I noticed some 15-year old Alex P. Keaton wannabe waiting eagerly in line when the Wayne Newtonesque announcer let out his "call of the wild" - summoning all coroporate cult members back to their seats - and the lava pit - for the next human sacrifice.

Peyton Manning came on later in the day to speak on overcoming any and all obstacles in your life (You mean, other than those that don't involve a Bill Belichick-devised defensive scheme?)

Sadly, I left before George Ross from "The Apprentice" could take the stage, but I didn't want the first day of summer to slip away. So I fired myself and went to the beach - there's only 3-4 months of good weather in Cleveland, and I didn't want to blink and miss it. (Sigh) So many outdoor Tiki-patio bars, so little time...

NEXT TIME ON "SPEED BUGGY": We hit the Cleveland Grand Prix! ("Big race, Tink! Yeah, yeah - Big race! Big race!")

Monday, June 20, 2005

I'm The "Pineapple" on Your Slice of Cold Pizza

The Id and I - The only Pedigree we have is "choice cuts in gravy."

Email your nasty comments, glowing rewiews, questions and sizzling summertime recipes to:

If you are a fan of sports, Cleveland sports, or pop culture in general (and you're an unemployed Liberal Arts college graduate working second-shift at Chuck E. Cheese), then you've probably had a chance to see ESPN2's morning show, "Cold Pizza: The Morning Show with Everything."

The usual standard format of the show is:

  1. A 45-minute-segment on Phil Jackson/The Lakers.
  2. A 30-minute-segment on Terrell Owens (who will be living in a refrigerator box soon if his contract with the Eagles is not restructured, if you haven't heard).
  3. A 40-minute-segment on The NY Yankees.
  4. (If they decide to "mix things up") - A 15-minute segement on George Steinbrenner.
  5. (If they decide to "throw the smaller markets a bone") - a 5 minute segment on the Boston Red Sox or The Chicago Cubs.
  6. Lather. Rinse. Repeat.

Anywho, on this morning's show, it took host - and local boy made good - Jay Crawford to finally get some mention for our red-hot Cleveland Indians on the show (because as everybody knows, nothing ever happens between Los Angeles and New York City). This "story" was put on the last 15 minutes of the show, however, just in case Phil Jackson was out buying new underwear at Target and the show's producers needed to bump it for Shaq's reaction to the guru's perference for"boxers or briefs?".

But kudos to Jay Crawford for recognizing - and celebrating - his roots as an Ohio guy and at least putting up a fight towards the "talking heads" from "The Sporting News" and some other "blah, blah" magazine I never read - who all but proclaimed our beloved Tribe DEAD in the water. It's pretty obvious that mathematically it would take a giant asteroid wiping out the entire Chicago White Sox team for the Indians to win the AL Central. But we are setting ourselves up for - at the very least - an exciting run at a playoff spot if The Tribe plays like they are now for the rest of the season.

The fine folks at "Cold Pizza" will never acknowledge this because, unfortunately, most journalists "like to play their little baby games" as Vince Vaughn suggested to Mikey in "Swingers."

In other news, the word of the street is that Danny Ferry is now being considered for the new general manager of The Cleveland Cavaliers. A lot of fans are miffed at Ferry because of the Ron Harper trade, but that's the least of my concerns. Ferry is now in charge of baskteball operations with The San Antonio Spurs, which is all well and good, but how many "novices" are the Cavaliers going to hire during their current rebuilding process?

Well, maybe Larry "Sprinkles" Brown can clear all this up if and when The Messiah ever comes down from the mountain...

NEXT ISSUE: The Id and I goes to the Zig Ziglar "motivational seminar" to enlighten Ziggy with Successories Tip # 236: "Please don't piss in my face and tell me it's raining."

Saturday, June 18, 2005

Ray's Place: Another One Tank(ed) Trip

**Action Id News Alert! The Cleveland Indians have just swept the Arizona Diamondbacks, winning their 9th game in a row. Somebody go find Eddie Murray and talk him OFF THE LEDGE... (Action Id News: "Honest. Fair. Out of clean underwear!")**

I made the executive decision that Saturday was going to be a day of rest. Even though there was a lot going on this weekend, I was thoroughly spent. I rewarded myself with some Blue Moon Belgian Ale - after all, I earned it for my "Cleveland coverage" ...because "putting Ziggy up on a pedestal" all week is thirsty work!

The day started out innocently - and uneventful - enough. I was busy doing spring cleaning (uh, in mid-June) in my modest townhome apartment. Tiger Woods playing in The U.S. Open was on the TV. The Foo Fighters latest - In Your Honor - was playing at an above-modest tone. I had my fave group - The Fighters of Foo - playing over the stench of local radio as to not stumble upon another tiresome "American Idol" update (even though the season finale ended approximately 35 days ago - I'm sure the local stations would still be swooning over their 24/7 coverage of some adorable slack-jawed ragamuffin with the voice of a nightengale.) But, hey, I'm probably just jealous about their exposure and talent - and. um, the utter lack of mine.

And I was enjoying several slices of Rascal House pizza secured from the downtown location - after having to fight off Cleveland panhandlers (either down-on-their luck hobos, or liberal arts graduates from Cleveland State, I'll never be sure) in the process. Downtown Rascal House pizza is worth the trip because the outlet stores always seem to botch the original Wonka secret recipe. Ooops, should I have not said that? Will my advertisers pull their endorsements in a heated fit of rage??? Oh, wait, that's right - I have no sponsors!

It was then and there I noticed a startling development: My autographed Ben Broussard ball was tilted slightly off-kilter on the top-shelf of my display case, exposing the "Ben" and "B-r-o-u" - but at just the wrong angle, the "s-a-r-d" was eclipsed behind my Jango Fett action figure and that simply would never do. So I began the slow climb up the creaky step-ladder to fix this problem that would be ignored by lesser men...

And that's when IT happened: Either a cosmic twist of fate or just a convenient story-arc to appease all the M.A.D.D. mothers out there, the ladder gave way as I stretched just a wee-bit too far and I came tumbling down like a proverbial house of cards. That last thing I remember before blacking out was the bottle of Blue Moon clunking me on the McCranium...

The Parallax Pub at The Crossroads of the Universe?

Whether it was playing on a nearby jukebox - or just in my head - the soothing sounds of "Africa" by Toto washes over me like a wave washing up dead carp onto the scenic shores of Lake Erie...

Upon "awakening" I find myself in a gazebo aligned along a cobble-stoned street. The bricks of this road ain't yellow and there's certainly no Elton John theme song of the same name playing in the background, so it's safe to assume I'm not in Kansas anymore. Although I'm obviously "Lost" there seems to be no signs of wreckage from Oceanic Flight 815, no scattered bodies of emotionally-scarred survivors, no polar bears, nor rampaging island monsters invisible to the untrained eye and the such. And as I stand onto my own two still-shaky feet, it is apparent this eerily quiet downtown street - although reminiscent of the show "Ed" - is quite Stuckeybowl-free.

So, guys, where AM I?

The sign-post up ahead reads "Franklin Avenue" but the overall aura of the area shouts: "No place you've ever been before, sailor!" As I hazily stumble across the crimson-bricked road, I come upon a house - no, wait, a hotel located in the center of the street. A hotel turned haven - a pub where cold brew is pouring - named: "Ray's Place."

As I swing open the massive front door with the remaining energy I have left, I enter a small wooden "holding area" that resembles some kind of ancient air lock on a spaceshift. Ahead of me are two large wooden doors worn with history and ravished by time, with only two small glass windows - possibly serving as windows into another dimension. Taking a deep browth, I swing open one of the doors, accepting the fact that if The Black Monolith from "2001: A Space Odyssey" is awaiting me on the other side, I'm pretty much screwed.

But this Place called "Ray's" is anything but frightening. As far as hotels turned sports bars go, it's more warm and inviting (hey, that rhymed - somebody buy me a beer!). The patrons are an eclectic mix of "townies" and college kids resembling nothing of the clientele at the Star Wars cantina.

I hastily make my way down a side hallway past a cigarette machine where I'm sure - if moved - lies a secret portal into the land of Narnia. Adorned along the walls are newspaper clippings of various "moments" in Ray's Place history like snipets and tears in the space-time continuum. I trace my finger along them - carefully reading each one - like I'm Indiana Jones translating hieroglyphics while searching for the lost ark.

"You know, W.C. Fields once stayed here years ago," a voice from a phantom-like-figure named "John Haymaker" informs me. "Back when this was The Old Central Hotel and Fields was down on his luck and just passing through town."

"Kind of like the celebrity crossroads of the universe, huh?" I inquire, spinning around, only to find this Haymaker fellow has vanished into thin air.

Startled by this stunning turn-of-events, I conveniently decide I need a drink to calm my frazzled nerves. I quickly move my carcass into the main dining room area, without a compass to find my "true north," using only my wits - and, uh, the giant, stuffed moosehead with beer can earrings (and matching black squirrel) hanging over the bar - as my only guide.

As I slide onto the safety of my barstool, I notice a bumper sticker stating "All talk, more action" pasted on one of the barely post-civil war beer coolers. All "Trading Spaces" knowledge aside, I'm assuming it fits in nicely with the authentic Woolworth's cash register and the jar on the counter that proclaims: ".75 cent nuts - ask a server."

As I nervously tap on the bar in anticipation of my mug of cold, liquid courage, I overhear one of the bartenders named Chris telling patrons about his adventures as a back-up musician with Bruce Springsteen and the E. Street Band many moons ago: "I toured with Bruce back in the day. But after awhile, you see one two many hotel rooms, and enough is enough. I wanted to spend more time with my family."

As I patiently wait for a break in this story, to quiz this E. Streeter from another era, a second bartender named "Spence" asks me for my drink order. Journalistic investigations will have to wait, I decide, as the love of a good beer becomes my top priority and NEVER takes a back seat to any story, big or small.

With more than 150 bottled beers available, and over forty (count 'em, FORTY!) beers on tap, I find myself salivating like Homer Simpson on holiday. Call it karma, Kramer, but after ordering a Sierra Nevada Bigfoot Ale and a double Atomic Cheeseburger with vinegar-soaked fries - I find I am finally as one with the universe.

While I wait, one of the "regulars" takes a seat next to me at the bar. After giving him a poke to make sure he's real, I find to his annoyance, that he is indeed not a spook - just a lunch patron named Jim in need of a spirit. Jim, who has spent equal time working and studying in this Area 51 of fun, knows the local lore of Ray's Place as well as anyone. "Drew Carey has come in on several occassions over the years," he enlightens me. "It's not uncommon for Drew to throw his credit card down on the bar and buy the rounds for everybody the whole night."

Huh, another cosmic connection, I muse. As I look around this mystical house of hops, a wave of sudden realization washes over me: When I die, would it be too much to ask to bury me under the floorboards here at Ray's...?

"How's everything?" a young lady asks from behind the bar. "The burger good?"

"It's great," I respond like a ravenous wolverine. "And this Bigfoot Ale is damn tasty!"

And then, the kind-hearted barmaid moved in for the kill: "If you want, you can take some home with you. We can put it in a brown paper bag."

And then, in a "Field of Dreams" fashion, I ask: "Is this heaven...?"

"No," the server from Ray's Place responds with a likeable laugh. "It's Kent, Ohio."

** The 12th Annual Ray's/Loft Golf Outing**
When: Sunday, July 31st (12:00 p.m. tee time)
Where: Oak Nnolls EAST Golf Course
What: Four-person scramble (You must sign up as a complete foursome).
Cost: $300/foursome ($75.00/person)
Includes: 18 holes of golf/a cart/FREE BEER/lunch/MORE FREE BEER/A steak dinner/prizes
CALL Ray's Place at (330) 673-2233 for more information.

Friday, June 17, 2005

"If You Build It, They Will Come..."

Ray Kinsella: "I'm 36 years old, I love my family, I love baseball, and I'm about to become a (blogger). But until I heard the voice, I'd never done a crazy thing in my whole life."

Well, I was now entering the second-half of my day-night doubleheader at "Cosmo Kramer's Fantasy Sports Journalism Camp" as I was invited to throw out the opening pitch at tonight's Cleveland Indians/Colorado Rockies game on Wednesday, June 15th, 2005, 7:05 p.m.

I was just coming off an incredible high from the afternoon luncheon at Landerhaven - feeling good about Mark Shapiro and the general direction of The 2005 Cleveland Indians. If the 1995 Tribe team was the baseball equivalent of "The Empire Strikes Back" in the Star Wars trilogy, then these current crop of Indians were "The Revenge of the Sith."

Upon arrival at Jacob's Field, I was greeted by one of the team's marketing personnel, Brian Howard. It turns out Mr. Howard was actually on the 2001 Kent State men's basketball team - THE TEAM, kids, that went all the way to the "elite 8" that year - THE TEAM that toppled the "evil empire" known as the Indiana Hoosiers before losing to the Cincinnati Bearcats that season (What a GREAT run in Cleveland sports that was - and, yes, Kent State is close enough to Cleveland to be considered "Cleveland sports" - or, at the worst, we're just kissin' cousins...).

Anyway, after presenting me with my honorary Chief Wahoo cap and opening pitch baseball, Howard and I proceed to do THE WALK down the catacombs of Jacob's Field, past the underground batting cages and other areas where "all the magic happens."

Brian Howard and I talked extensively on his Cinderella year with the Kent State Golden Flashes: "Man, I remember going to Indiana that year and seeing nothing but a SEA OF RED. Way up in the corner of the rafters, you could faintly see a glimmer of blue and gold..."

I was also pleasantly surprised to find that Brian was good friends with fellow Kent State alumnus, Antonio Gates. Gates is now playing tight end for The San Diego Chargers and had a career-breaking year in 2004 with 13 touchdowns (as any fantasy football junkie - or his widow - worth their salt can tell you...).

"I just got an email from Antonio a few weeks ago. Believe me," Howard said with a chuckle, "Antonio is as surprised as ANYONE on how well he's doing in the NFL. But he's the hardest working guy I know, and he truly deserves all his success."

Finally, the moment of truth: We walked up THE TUNNEL and broke into the warm sunlight of Jacob's Field. After emerging, I was out on the diamond, only a few feet away from the Rockies players in the visitor dugout - and the actual Indians players warming up in the outfield.

Brian handed me off to another "baseball bomb squad" prepared to diffuse any temperamental journalists from having a hissy-fit meltdown at the last minute. "Slider will be escorting you to the mound," the Madonna-like-man with the headset informed me.

What was Slider - besides the Indians' fuzzy purple and yellow mascot - anyway? Was he a man? A Muppet? Or a metrosexual...? Damn, I should have asked Mark Shapiro that at the luncheon. The one that got away, my friends...

The Madonna Man with the headset was back: "Ben Broussard will be catching for you."

Ben Broussard! Well, I was kind of hoping for Grady Sizemore ...or Jhonny Peralta ...or Victor Martinez. But Ben Broussard was good! I held back my "George Costanza" like urges to say anything stupid. "Ben Broussard!" I responded like the ice cube on the pitching mound that I was destined to become tonight at The Jake. I mean, heck, it wasn't like they were "handing me off" to Juan Gonzalez or something...

Before my ceremonial stroll to the mound with my man-muppet escort, Slider, Ben Broussard came over to the mound to introduce himself. "Hi, I'm Ben Broussard," he said, shaking my hand.

"Dad...?" I wanted to babble. But, no, I'm kidding. I said nothing that would have set the world of broadcasting soundbites on fire other than: "Hi, I'm Chris. Nice to meet you, Ben."

"Now don't be nervous, Chris. Just get it over the mound as best you can," Ben reassured me. Those were the last words of wisdom he had for me before Slider took my hand and we walked arm in arm to the mound - a moment about as awkward as my prom night, if I remember correctly.

The rest is a wavy blank. My friends later told me they were screaming encouraging words for me from their seats but I didn't hear a thing. I think the announcer said my name - but who the hell knows! I didn't even know I was up on the JumboTron - otherwise I'm sure I would have curled up in the fetal position, right there on the mound, and began to suck my thumb.

All I remember is Ben Broussard gently waving his mit at me - his subtle way to signal me: "Just throw it, dumbass!" I'm sure. And, so, I let it rip - and it went right down the middle! I would have jumped for joy, but my spinal cavity had gone numb. I stumbled off the mound in my "Dawn of the Dead" haze as Ben Broussard was there waiting to reel me in.

"Nice job, Chris," Broussard said smiling, autographing my opening pitch baseball.

"Thanks, Ben," I exhaled with a sigh of interstellar relief. "Thanks so much! That was so great..."

My friend - and pitching coach - Mike was waiting for me by the dugout with camera in hand: "Sooo, you probably wanna hit the beer stand now, right?"

"Definitely," I responded in parched desperation - and jubilation.

The Indians went on to win that night with a heroic extra-inning home run by Aaron Boone. The Cleveland Indians have, in fact, won their last six in a row and are finally looking like the contending team that was promised to us by management for the 2005 season.

Did my "opening pitch presence of the mound" have anything do with it? Well, I know for starters I pitched better than C.C. Sabathia that night. (I kept waiting for the call from the bullpen that sadly - and curiously - never came.)

But as my good friend from college, Peter Chakerian, would probably muse: "You might, rabbit, you might!" And since he likes to "paint me" as some diabolical Dr. Doom-ish character who sits up in my secluded fortress playing chess with his Fantastic Four pawn pieces (Mr. Fantastic, Invisible Girl, The Human Torch and The Thing each sold separately!) ...then, hell ya, I'd like to think my kooky Communications-major karma finally rubbed off a little on this city! (Pete, you know I'm just joshing you in my psuedo-journalism manner ...put the keyboard down and step away from the computer!)

Thanks for the memories - and giving me the chance to build "my little ballpark" out in my cyber-cornfield in the middle of nowhere (Even though the fine folks at National City Bank strongly advised me against it!).

Special thanks to the class-act known as Ben Broussard - and congratulations to Ben and his wife on the birth of their daughter, Mia!

The Id and I - Official sponsor of Hoegaarden Belgian Ale.

NEXT ISSUE: In "Amazing Journalism Stories # 22" - My favorite uncle, Dick Feagler, and I pack up the Mystery Machine and drive cross-country in search of "Nessie" ...and a cheap happy hour!

Thursday, June 16, 2005

"(Jacob's) Field of Dreams"

Cleveland Indians' General Manager, Mark Shapiro, was at Landerhaven Corporate Club on June 15th to speak on "The State of The Indians." WEWS Newschannel 5 sports anchor, Chris Miller, was the moderator of this catered affair which was filled almost to capacity with many local faces and luminaries on the Cleveland sports - and business - scene. So, like the "Scooby-Doo'ish" fool that I am, I decided to investigate...

Although not my usual swimming hole, I have been to Landerhaven Country Club on a few other occassions and it was not a new experience to me. However, this catered affair - complete with mutton - took me by surprise. When I, representing the atypical Tribe fan - dressed in my cargo shorts, Cleveland Indians' T-shirst and looking like one of "The Katzenjammer Kids" - walked into a sea of swanky suits, I knew I was in trouble.

Eerie shades of "Caddyshack" and its motto, "The snobs versus the slobs," creeped into my cranium as I made my way to the registration table. I felt like a modern-day Jimmy Olsen as I picked up my "gee whiz" press credentials and proceeded into the main ball room. I sat at the "singles table" located all the way in the back of the room - (sigh) always a journalism bridesmaid, never a V.I.P. bride.

In the beginning, there was the usual generic brand of networking gibberish. Everyone carefully manipulating every sentence as "not to offend," and comparing resumes and other such soul-sucking nonsense. Sorry, kids, not interested in your Chutes and Ladders-climbing - I've been around the Cleveland Monopoly Board (tm). Been there, done that.

As salads and lunch were served, however, the atmosphere turned from so-so - to laid back and fun. I talked with Michael Trabert (aka "Mr. Ballpark") about his adventures in baseball, including travelling to every ballbark in the United States ...and beyond.

On the other side of me, I assumed another "friendly neighborhood businessman" had slipped into the empty seat as he watched me curiously jotting down notes into my pad. "Mind if I sit here," the Voice asked. "Not at all," I replied, self-involved (as usual) in my own thoughts.

"I think I'm going to steal one of these salads," he stated innocently, before shaking my hand and introducing himself: "Hi. Bob DiBiasio - Cleveland Indians Media Relations."

"Hi," I introduced myself. "I'm with North Coast Voice Magazine." I suddenly felt that sinking feeling - like Han Solo after Darth Vader had sent Boba Fett to fetch him.

Mr. DiBiasio must not have remembered - or chose to dimsiss - an "awkward altercation" we had years earlier - while I was the sports editor of The Cleveland State Cauldron. One of my cub reporters nicknamed "Skippy" referred to Albert Belle as a "sphincter" in one of his articles while covering spring training down in Winter Haven. Needless to say, Mr. DiBiasio was most displeased with me - and yanked our press credentials like a lawn mower cord.

That water under the bridge uneasiness aside, Bob DiBiasio was nothing but charming and gracious to me as we sat next together at the luncheon - maybe it was the nurturing "Perry White" side of him. Whatever the case, I never called him "chief."

Now on to Mark Shapiro: I have gone from not being much of a fan - to being absolutely amazed at his General Manager prowess for The Cleveland Indians. This guy was shooting from the hip - and wasn't afraid of pulling any punches with the media OR the fans. And believe-you-me, the fans were not shy about putting Shapiro's feet to the fire. Here are some highlights from "The Quotable Shapiro Sampler":

On the payroll: "Every dollar we make, every penny we make, goes right back into the team."

On why the Indians traded Bartolo Colon to acquire young players: "What good is a #1 starter, without a team around him? Fruits of trading great players are Grady Sizemore and Cliff Lee."

On some of his "questionable" free agent acquisitions (i.e., Juan Gonzalez, Aaron Boone): "I've got to look painstakingly at a free agency market because of the Matt Lawton decision. I made a mistake with that."

On saying goodbye to Omar Vizquel: "We wanted to keep Omar. But this job is full of tough decisions. It's time for the next generation. I'm excited about Jhonny Peralta."

On the Indians' arch-enemies in the AL Central: "I don't view the White Sox as a long-term threat. The Minnesota Twins are the real threat. The Twins are a great organization from top to bottom."

On The Grand Plan: "I wasn't worried about the plan not working. I was worried about the plan taking a DETOUR..."

On the sometimes-semi-struggling up-and-coming players: "Development is not a straight line, it's up and down with young players. Sometimes it's a roller coaster ride."

On just winning, baby: "My job is to find a way to win with what we've got. Anything else is an excuse. If we win, everything will work itself out. Fans will come out and our payroll will go up."

It was an enjoyable and enlightening afternoon, especially after watching shameless sports gurus ("...who just like talking to salesmen") on TV - "The Self-Heralded Return of Phil Jackson" to the Lakers comes to mind. Phil Jackson is a shameless schmuck - and he and continuous crybaby, Kobe Bryant, deserve one another.

As for myself, and the rest of Cleveland, I guess will just have to be "stuck" with scrappy underdog, Mark Shapiro, and The Tribe.

COMING SOON in "Action Blog Comics #27": I play a game of catch with Ben Broussard!

Wednesday, June 15, 2005

"Looks like our nemesis, The Riddler, is back in town, old chum. Sirius(ly)."

I am off this afternoon to listen to Mark Shapiro speak on "The State of The Indians" at Landerhaven ("It's the snobs versus the slobs") for one of the magazines I write for, North Coast Voice. I am anticipating seeing "the usual suspects" of Cleveland sports journalism in attendance, cackling, plotting, and scheming together like an assorted hodgepodge of Batman villians from the campy '60's television show.

Should be interesting considering The Tribe has been playing well as of late. Albeit pounding bad teams, at least they are winning, but it sadly means little if we cannot beat The White Sox or The Twins.

I have totally redefined myself financially since leaving the corporate rat-race (which is ironic that I had to work for one of the companies, Arthur Andersen, that got squashed by The Universe because it was "involved" in one of the biggest business scandals in U.S. history to wake me up inside, but so be it, Jedi...).

I just got my purchase order from this morning: I am now a (wee tiny) minority owner in TIVO, Inc.!!! I have been buying shares of Sirius Satellite Radio, as well, which has been a dog as of late, but it'll come around when the "rebel music hippies" complete their revolution and topple The Clear Channel Empire. (If it's anything Gordon Gekko has taught me, it's buy low, sell HIGH...)

I am also admiring - and resisting the urge to rip open - my authentic Darth Vader and Clone Trooper ("Star Wars: Revenge of The Sith") action figures sitting atop a book shelf in my living room. I am keeping them perfectly preserved (in Carbonite?) for future generations to enjoy long after I'm gone - and my bones are buried beneath the creaky floorboards at Ray's Place in Kent, Ohio.

Tonight, I'm throwing out the opening pitch at The Tribe/Rockies game at Jacob's Field. I just hope I don't throw the ball like Olive Oil across the plate...

Tuesday, June 14, 2005

McBatman Begins...

George Costanza: "I'm neurotic! I'm insecure! I'm inadequate! I've got it ALL!"

Welcome to Cleveland, Ohio! Home of the Rock N' Roll Hall of Fame (or as New York likes to refer to it ..."U-Store It.")

Yes, ladies and gentlemen, you heard me correct: Cleveland, Ohio! We've got LeBron James! (Um, before he books to the bright lights of a big city.)

We've got Kellen "Crash Into Me" Winslow, Jr.!

We've got Paul Giamatti look-a-like and "American Splendor" star, Harvey Pekar (who never met a free buffet line he didn't like...)!

We've got a professional baseball team with an owner who often impersonates that guy from Monopoly and holds out his empty pockets in embarassment on the "Pay $15 Poor Tax" Community Chest card!

And, finally, folks ...the Cleveland fishbowl has me. Who am I ...? Who cares! I'm just some pop culture schmuck with a couple of worthless degrees under his utility belt (Communications from Cleveland State; Creative Writing from The Second City) and a whole lot of spunk! (At least on my non-hangover days...)

McBatman: "As a man, a journalist, I'm vulnerable. But as a SYMBOL - I could be everlasting..."