Sunday, December 9, 2012

Sir Patrick Moore — The Brightest Star in the Night Sky

Asteroid 2602 Moore is named after Sir Patrick Moore

Quick — name the longest running television show in history.

Nope: you’re wrong. It’s not a soap opera or Sesame Street or As The World Turns, even The Grand Old Opry.

It’s a program about astronomy from Britain called The Sky at Night, and it’s been running since 1957, practically the dawn of time, as far as television goes. It’s presenter, Sir Patrick Moore, is an amateur astronomer whose impact on the field of astronomy has been so profound that he is credited with producing an entire generation of star-gazers. He is also one of Great Britain’s most beloved eccentrics, and he died today at the age of 89.

If you like the idea of history being linked, one event or persona joining with another as if in a wondrous necklace, then Sir Patrick Moore forms one of those chains. His career spanned the history of man’s ability to foil gravity by taking to the skies — having met the Wright brothers and being well known to the astronauts and cosmonauts who ushered in the Space Age — he played an integral role as an advisor to both the US and Russian space programs.

Known for his shambolicly ill-fitting suits, his wild hair, and for his ever-present monocle, Moore was also a gifted Xylophone player and pianist — accompanying Einstein (who was playing violin) when they met, on “The Swan.” Ever an Englishman, Moore was also a fan of cricket and his home, in whose back garden he often filmed the show, staring through a giant telescope.

It’s hard to convince Americans of the extent to which Sir Patrick Moore was a beloved iconic figure, perhaps because the medium of television (especially in its early years) took such divergent paths. In Britain, it was a medium for entertainment based on facts and self-improvement, whereas in the US it was the venue for game shows.

Sir Patrick Moore was tall. His legacy is that whenever we lift our heads to look up, we will always see him winking back at us.

Perhaps he’s taken up residency on one of Saturn’s moons, Iepetus, from which he thought the most heavenly view in the universe could be seen.


Sunday, December 2, 2012

The Sweet Scent of Hell

Nature's hand-grenades

A madness descends on America in December — Xmas fever. I use the word “Xmas” deliberately: the X stands for anything dreamed up by marketers as having anything remotely to do with winter, or winteryness. We are used to the lights and carols, to trees and snowmen. But in recent years the moneymen have found a new sense to assault: our sense of smell. Try entering a supermarket without choking through a thick cloud of the monstrous odor emitted by sacks of “scented” pine cones — you have to hold your breath until you reach the safe confines of the fruit section.

This wintery fakery is the result of impregnating innocent pine cones with a hellish combination of cinnamon and “essential oils,” notably peppermint or nutmeg. The idea, it seems, is to infuse the air with the delightful hint of apple pie. The reality is like being sprayed in the face with mace.

Mace and nutmeg grow together.

Mace, by the way, comes form the outer layer of the nutmeg. We all know what mace does to the human olfactory system, which is why it is classified as a weapon. Too much nutmeg, is, in fact poisonous. And if you’ve ever seen some poor dull-witted person subject themselves to the “cinnamon challenge” by attempting to survive a mouthful of the cloying, hot spice…well, you can guess that it too can be a mightily persuasive irritant.

Pinecones in their natural silver state

In the 1970s, pine cones collectively shrugged beneath the indignity of being sprayed with silver paint, because that somehow made them prettier and more winterified.

Now, each and every one of them points an invisible gun at its head to blow its brains out because it’s been rendered into a faux-natural hand-grenade of overpowering sensory detail.

The only thing worse than holding your breath when running the scented pine cone gauntlet at the supermarket is letting your curiosity get the better of you when faced with the packet of “glaze” that comes with your spiral-sliced ham. “Mix with a quarter cup of water,” the directions say, “leave to cool, them pour over ham.”

On no account do this. The grotesque reconstituted molasses this vile concoction becomes smells exactly like the dreaded scented pine cones, only there’s no warning: the packet ingredients only list “cane sugar, canola oil and spices.” Do not trust anything that says “spices.” Remember, mace is a spice. The Spice Girls were a manifestation of the horror that spiciness can inflict upon your person.

Guess what this candle smells like. 

Likewise, avoid wintery candles whose wax or vegetable oil has been infused with the inexplicable aromas of things like “egg nog,” “pumpkin pie,” and “cloves.”

Remember: Xmas is a celebration of all that is toxic in nature: mistletoe, poinsettia, evergreens, and pine cones. Stick to the chocolate. And oranges. And chocolate oranges. 

The real smell of Christmas.

Thursday, November 29, 2012

F*cking Language

In the Fifty Shades of Grey series, everything is seen through the eyes of Anastasia Steele, who refers to her genitalia as “the apex of my thighs.” If she’s really being coy, she whispers “down…there” in italics. Readers are presumed to know to what she is referring, to fill in what writer E. L. James leaves as a giant blank.

For all the hype, these books present a profoundly stereotyped notion of sex and intimacy, honed to the standards of a contemporary romance, in which all sex is safe sex (unless we are informed that the Depo Provera shot has kicked in, every act of intercourse is preceded by the presumably erotic ripping of a “foil packet”).

Additional nails in the coffin of what is billed as a tale about liberatingly modern female sexuality include some predictable saws: oral sex as lavish precursor to intercourse, which is always vaginal, and always ends after a nominal bit of thrusting which causes Anastasia to get a “familiar” feeling (an earth-shattering orgasm), immediately followed by her partner’s orgasm (in which he “releases himself”), frequently while uttering her name. After this, singular, monumental episode of sexual satisfaction, the sex is (usually) over until next time, which might be later that day.

The result is that in a book whose ostensible claim to fame is kinkiness, all we have is a man ridding himself of bodily fluids in a place that shall not be named. Sexy!

The point, one supposes, is to reinforce the notion that Anastasia is an innocent virgin whose vocabulary, sexual and otherwise, is similarly devoid of experience. She cannot bring herself to name her genitalia — which we’re pointedly told she’s never explored — or her lover’s genitalia either, which suggests that she, like many women, either feel that sexual words are taboo or that by naming the parts, they become less so. Either way, there is a disconnect between anatomy and language that makes the characters feel juvenile and two-dimensional. Are we supposed to believe that Anastasia is that na├»ve about language or that shy? Are we supposed to buy that she works in literary publishing with such a handicap?

If, as has been suggested, these books are about female empowerment, then why do they perpetuate this most pervasive and damaging idea that the sexual anatomy is off-limits, verbally? Is the coyness on the part of the character or the author? We all know to what the “apex of my thighs” refers, and it has nothing to do with thighs. By locating the genitals as merely the point where our legs meet, we reduce them to the secret place to which one gains access through the gateway of the thighs. Similarly, if all a man’s orgasm is is ejaculation, are we not buying into an idea of sex as money shot, where the only goal is releasing oneself? Does this not also imply that the man has all the control during sex such that he can time when he lets go? And isn’t “himself” here just another way of saying “semen,” as if the man IS his semen?

The title of this series hints at the larger problem: that of only painting with a beggared palette of words. Is there not more than one word for “grey”? Must each shade be simply “grey”? It seems so.


Tuesday, November 6, 2012

The Lesser of Two Evels

Are you voting FOR something or AGAINST something in an election?

While we like to think that when we enter the voting booth we are selecting the candidate we would like to see win — as opposed to not selecting the candidate we would like to see lose. The act of voting is framed as a positive expression of our rights as citizens. Yet the campaign advertising is often geared towards making choices based on what we do not stand for, and voting as a way to ensure that what we fear doesn’t come to pass. Instead of an offensive act, it is a defensive act.

If you are confused, blame Jeopardy. Yes, the TV quiz show. On Jeopardy, you cannot answer a question; you must provide the question to an answer. Or rather, your answer must be framed as a question. It’s a gimmick that has served the game show well over the years. But it has also set the precedent for all sorts of reversals on television to enhance our entertainment. Viewer-voted talent shows, for example, either have you cast votes for a contestant or against one; you vote for the talent to stay on the show or you vote for them to go home. It’s often an unpopularity contest.

Winning a vote in these instances actually means losing. Shirley Jackson’s disturbing short story “The Lottery” features a prize no-one wants — death by stoning. But what if her lottery was to win the chance NOT to die? In that case, there are many winners, and only one loser.

A vote has historically involved making your mark on a slip of paper which is then counted. The act is a positive, indelible one. The evidence of your vote — the mark — remains on the paper long after you go home and the votes are counted. But the machinery of voting has changed — sometimes for the better, and sometimes not. The 2000 Presidential election, for example, was complicated by the imperfect method of having a machine translate your votes into holes punched from a pre-printed card. The chads — the tiny bits of card which were supposed to be punched out — didn’t always separate from the ballot, which meant that the machine which read them mis-counted.


In this case, the vote itself was represented by a hole — a space, a gap, that wasn’t there. The mark was an absence rather than a presence.

Some people are motivated to vote for a candidate because they want to ensure the other guy loses. This can happen when your choice appears to be between the best of two evils.

In a perfect world, this would be a contest between two Evels — Knievels, that is. Evel Knievel was America personified: he dressed in a glorified flag jumpsuit, a bit like a funky astronaut; he sought to assert man’s dominance over the best nature has to offer by way of impressive scenery by using fast-moving vehicles; and he broke every bone in his body doing so for the questionable reward of fame. His achievements are notably memorialized in wind-up children’s games and defunct lunch boxes. And although everything he ever did clearly demonstrated the contrary, he always gave the impression he didn’t give a fuck.

Bionic Man

If you think that the segue I made between a rather serious article on voting and the symbolic value of Evel Knievel was jarring, consider the feats for which he is known: leaping from one thing to another. He crafted his magic out of thin air. The empty space between one thing and another was his canvas and his clay. He made the air something more special than it was when he passed through it.

When I think of American politics, I am reminded of Evel Knievel, hawking his signature knick-knacks at motor fairs, to punters surprised to find him still alive. Robert Craig didn’t want to be associated with actual Evil, hence the oddly spelled name. He understood something significant about being a public figure — and that was the power of alliteration in a name. He also understood that in order to be a superhero you need a costume, a cape, and a snazzy set of wheels.

The sad truth about our democracy is that more people vote for their favorite American Idol contestant than they do for President. We are quite happy to click away if it means adding your thumbs-up to a running tally of “likes” on a Facebook post, but can’t get off our asses to press an actual button in a voting booth.

If you’re one of the half of Americans eligible to vote who actually voted: good for you. If you’re not, and you had no good excuse not to: don’t complain about the result. You have not earned the right. 

Wednesday, October 31, 2012

Movember — The Bushiest Month of the Year

Mo Money, Less Problems

My eight year-old son is convinced he is growing a moustache, despite a rather obvious lack of evidence in the form of actual facial hair. But even at this tender age, he knows that a sign of manliness is a whiskery face — and that he can’t wait to be a man. He also proudly asks me to feel his muscles, flexing his tiny biceps while straining his face, because men have muscular arms, and he constantly wants to be measured against the wall that records the last two years of his growth in penciled lines and dates, because men are also tall.

My son showing his appreciation for one of the best 'stache wearers of all time: his Grandpa Mikey 

But what he doesn’t know is that the very thing that will make him a man — his hormones — will put into play other parts of his body he doesn’t even know exist. Like his prostate gland, for example. Nice when it works; not so nice when it doesn’t. He knows his Mommy had breast cancer and got really sick, but he doesn’t know that men can get really sick from prostate cancer — and I hope he never does.

That is why I support the Movember organization — the folks who are slowly but surely turning the month we have always known as “November” into “Movember” by sponsoring a man you know and love (or even one who is a total stranger) to grow themselves a fabulous moustache. It’s easy to do: you simply stop shaving it off every morning. Meanwhile, your friends encourage your efforts by donating to your page. At the end of the month, if you don’t like the way your new moustache looks or feels, you can get rid of it. Or you can keep it: whatever.

My brother Jay Jay Burridge got involved last year — and this year has partnered with Movember through his company Lucky Seven, to produce a range of very stylish hats you can design yourself. Half the proceeds go to their charity which raises money for men’s health issues — such as prostate cancer. Stylish no matter what time of year it is.

Jay Jay Burridge's Movember Page can be found HERE

Mr. Oliver sporting a Lucky Seven hat and paper 'stache

The Lucky Seven Team's Movember Page can be found HERE

It’s easy to get involved: all you have to do is sign up and grow a ‘stache — or you can donate to a chap who’s growing one instead of you. Or, if you’re a female woman, you can register as a Mo Sista and raise awareness. It’s a sexy way of keeping your men sexy. If you want to continue to support testicular cancer research, but no longer feel comfortable donating to Lance Armstrong’s Livestrong Foundation, then this is a great place to re-direct your giving.

Major General Ambrose Burnside. From whom we get "sideburns." Rather obviously.  
Do YOU have the balls to grow a glorious moustache? 'Course you do. Sign up now.

Movember USA:

Sunday, October 14, 2012


Atta Boy

The word supersonic — beyond hearing — was coined in 1919 and described sound waves which were beyond the range of normal human hearing. A dog whistle is supersonic. In 1919, the idea of aircraft capable of breaking the sound barrier was still a long way off.

But this is the 20th century we’re talking about, so not that far off. By 1934, supersonic meant exceeding the speed of sound. At sea level, this happens at 768 mph, and is known as Mach 1.

Chuck Yeager

The first supersonic flight was made on October 14th, 1947 by Chuck Yeager, and ushered in the space age. He achieved this feat in an experimental aircraft with two freshly broken ribs.

Today, exactly 65 years later, Brigadier General Chuck Yeager re-created his history-making flight in the same spot above the Mojave desert. He’s 89 years old. Think about that. 

Also Chuck Yeager

Today, by chance, another man sought to break the sound barrier not far away in Roswell, New Mexico. Felix Baumgartner leapt out of a balloon-borne capsule 24 miles above the earth and succeeded in making a running landing as if he’d jumped off his porch. On his way down, he achieved a speed of 833 mph, or Mach 1.24.

Both men pushed barriers beyond sound: they pushed past what was thought possible for human beings to accomplish or endure. As such, they reached for the symbolic, as opposed to the literal stars and became gods for a little while.

Icarus tried to fly and his ambition raised him too close to the sun, which melted the wax that held his wings together, and he came crashing down.

Icarus. Without wings or a spacesuit. 

He probably could not have imagined a man would say that “Flying is flying. You can’t add a lot to it.” But this is what the humble Chuck Yeager said about his achievement. Baumgartner was similarly circumspect when it came to describing his experience: travelling faster than the speed of sound “is hard to describe because you don’t feel it,” he said.

Yeager flew with the aid of a supersonic engine in a jet plane. Baumgartner did it with nothing but a spacesuit and a parachute. Neither actually flew — but that’s not the point.

Our imaginations did.

Wednesday, October 3, 2012

The Sun Also Rises Over Manhattan

Hemingway’s Mad Men

If you feel yourself getting a little drunk while watching Mad Men, it’s because you’re mostly watching people drinking. It’s hard to believe that America was gripped by Prohibition just 30-odd years before Don Draper et al operated, seemingly successfully, amid a haze of cigarette smoke and alcohol fumes.

The good folks at Slackstory have put together a fine little film featuring every drink consumed by a character on Mad Men — and even with mind-bogglingly rapid cuts it runs to five minutes long. It’s the sort of meme project you’d expect to be made from Mad Men — not just because the constant drinking is a nostalgic glimpse into a world most of us never inhabited (or would have survived), but because the writers have dipped into Hemingway’s bag of narrative tricks.

Read a Hemingway story and see how much he tells us about the setting, the mood, and the character’s internal lives by the way they handle drinks. They’re either ordering one, or cupping one, or sipping one, or swigging one or contemplating one. A drink is a perfect prop to cut to when two characters are interacting because it’s a way to take a look at their hands. In “Hills Like White Elephants,” the couple wait for a train and have a subdued spat while drinking. They talk about drinking. They kill time by drinking some more. Who knows? Maybe they’re still sitting on that platform cracking open beers to this day.

One could, if one were being a smarty-pants, argue that Mad Men is a version of The Sun Also Rises, in which every man is a facet of Jake Barnes and every woman a version of Brett Ashley. Sure, we can imagine Jake Barnes looks like Don Draper — but he also has Bert Cooper’s balls (that is to say, none). Betty Draper looks as much like Brett as you could imagine an irresistible, neurotic blonde could be — but she also has Joan’s sexual confidence and Peggy’s grit. The dashing matador Pedro Romero is Henry Francis, sweeping Betty / Brett off her feet, but whom she is only superficially infatuated with. Roger plays the role of sidekick, a combination of Bill Gorton and Mike Campbell — a wealthy, charming, funny, drunk war veteran type who feeds Don / Jake his best lines. Pete Campbell, with his ambition and insecurity, is Robert Cohn, always on the verge of being punched in the face until he really is punched in the face. Manhattan is one big fiesta, Wall Street provides the bulls. The matadors are the admen in general, creating and dodging drama for the crowd, selling them adventure. Alcohol is a driving force in the novel’s narrative, with the characters moving from one drinking occasion to another. Eventually, the drinking catches up with them, and violence ensues — much as it does in Mad Men. It has to: alcohol is both a facilitator and a show-stopper.

Take a look at the film. Imagine you’re in a Hemingway novel. Easy, right?

Sunday, September 30, 2012

Ssshhhh: I’m Teaching.

The Sounds of Silence

Courtesy xkcd, of course

Any typesetter worth his or her salt will tell you that the space on a page that has not been inked is just as important as the space containing words. White space is as necessary to being able to read as words are.

Imagine, if you will, how hard it would be to read withoutthespecebetweenwords. Imagine how hard it would be without a space between lines. Or without margins. Or, in a newspaper, columns.

Negative space is vital to speech, too: we hear pauses that convey a great deal. A good reader modulates the pace of what they read so as to indicate to the audience where sentences begin and end.

When teaching writing, it is a factor that is often overlooked in our rush to produce content — and how to read and use punctuation which creates space — such as the em dash — is not considered as important as the period or comma. Teachers also do not teach layout, and how to maximize legibility with white space. Perhaps teachers have not been taught that themselves, even though they notice it when it has not been utilized well.

Caslon specimen sheet. Use it sometime at 12 pt, with 16 point leading

The same goes for learning how to use the “white space” of silence when teaching. Some teachers feel that they only have control of the student’s attention when they are actively speaking: the result is that the teacher never shuts up. Learning how to maintain control of the room while not speaking — to create a charged atmosphere with the absence of sound — is a great tool. A good, engaging teacher can convey much with their body language and eyebrows without having to say a thing.

It is necessary during every class period for the students to have time to gather their thoughts and to compose speech of their own. When asking a question, teachers often rush in to fill the silence of an answer doesn’t come quickly enough. It is important, sometimes, to let your words hang in the air for effect.

Only appropriate if you're an auctioneer. Not so much if you're teaching. 

When students read, it is easy to hear when they miss the temporal cues which govern the pace of the text. We’ve all heard that kid who reads in one long stream, ignoring sentence structure in an effort to race to the end. In this case, they are not reading, so much as gobbling type. Reading aloud is not the same as reading, silently, to ourselves. Teaching aloud is likewise different. Sometimes, we must teach — and learn — silently, in order to understand. 

Wednesday, September 26, 2012

Replacement Google and Hamlet

Thank the Lord Bard! 

I know that some people bemoan the computer and how ubiquitous it has become in our daily lives. It has become the tool by and through which we conduct most transactions — whether it be business, communications, shopping, study, or our social (or sex) lives. Sure, you can end up spending all day in front of a screen if you’re not careful, but occasionally, the internet provides a very nice counterpoint to real life that makes me like it a little more.

The very epitome of random: type in any search term and see what comes up....

Such is the case with the quick-witted parody site, which sprung up via the NFL replacement refs debacle. The point is satire — to demonstrate, through humor, how important it is that the tools we use and rely on function the way they’re supposed to. What would happen if Google broke down? Chaos would ensue.

Because I am a nerd, this reminds me of Shakespeare. In particular, it calls to mind the prescience of Hamlet’s speech about the importance of acting — or playacting — as a means to reveal real truths. Football players and refs as actors on a 100-yard green stage? Yep. Us sitting at home as an audience watching drama onscreen? Yep. Go on — you can take it from here.

Suit the action to the word, the word to the action, with this
 special observance, that you o'erstep not the modesty of nature:
 for any thing so o'erdone is from the purpose of playing, whose
 end, both at the first and now, was and is, to hold as 'twere the
 mirror up to nature: to show virtue her feature, scorn her own 
image, and the very age and body of the time his form and
Hamlet Act 3, scene 2, 17–24

Monday, September 17, 2012

Put Your Phone Down, Already.

Call me stupid (stupid!), but when I am at a concert — a live music experience I paid good money to enjoy — I like to pay attention to what’s going on on the stage. I even like to pay attention to what’s going on in the audience, because that’s part of the live experience too; the conversation the musician has with the crowd. I like to sing along to every word, loudly (no-one can hear), and dance my ass off. I want to immerse myself in the heady physicality that a concert is — the way you can feel the bass drum thump in your chest. It’s a glorious escape from the mundane, non-music-filled life outside the venue.

What I do not want to do is text my friends and check out the internet.

And yet, that’s what people do. Mostly girls. I don’t get it. OK; that’s a lie — I do get it — they’re addicted to the digital extension of their hand and can’t bear to be out of the loop for a second. They simply cannot bear to slip it in a pocket, or (gasp!) turn the damn thing off for a couple of hours.

The other night I was at a concert that rocked my face off — yet one side of me there was a young guy, clearly a fan, who sang along about 50% of the time, and the rest of the time he was tapping away at his phone with his thumbs. On the other side, a girl who never smiled, busied herself with her phone 98% of the time. She seemed really bummed out by the dim lighting and dancing people making it difficult for her to concentrate on the screen. Next to her sat four other girls doing exactly the same thing. Maybe they were all there together; it was hard to tell. They didn’t interact with anyone at all, not even each other.

The only thing that distracted them from their incessant scrolling was when a fight broke out in the seats up to our left, and the security had a hard time getting one of the drunken participants out of the arena. She then texted her friends about this. 

I’d provide a photo of her, but I didn’t have a phone on me. And my phone doesn’t have a camera on it, anyway.

Damn, people.

Friday, September 14, 2012

Paperless Ticket Blues

I am attending a concert tomorrow at Pittsburgh’s CONSOL Energy Center. In order to get into the building, I will have to present the credit card with which I purchased the ticket, along with a state-issued ID. To be perfectly honest, I bought the ticket a while ago, and have no idea whether the “paperless ticket” is standard for either the venue, the ticketing agency (Ticketmaster) for this specific venue, or the artist (Eric Church, who is known to want to crack down on scalping).

Sure, a “paperless ticket” that pops you into the building instantly (with no possibility for re-entry) gets rid of scalpers — but at what cost? In Economics 101, we learn that certain actions have an “opportunity cost,” or the actual cost, when one factors in esoteric values involved in making the purchase. In other words, “collateral damage to your rights as a consumer.”

I will state right now, in the interests of disclosure, that I am of that generation which treasured the ticket stub as a valuable memento of a concert experience. That small thick stub imprinted with the band’s name and date provided authoritative proof that you had been there, done that. Some folks slip the stub into the band’s CD (or if they’re older, the record sleeve); others stick them to their bedroom door in a kind of awesome mosaic dedicated to losing one’s hearing. The “print-your-own” tickets were an affront to the entire aesthetic, but at least you arrived at the turnstile armed with proof of payment and the welcome confidence you’d be admitted.

A paperless ticket? Not so much.

In fact, now that I’ve read the instructions / rules / warnings I was just sent in an email about how to proceed, I am downright nervous. I am now so unsure I will get in that I was moved to print a copy of my emailed receipt (which sort of negates the “paperless” part). Here’s why: I no longer have the card I used to purchase the ticket.

I cannot be alone. This has got me thinking about the cornucopia of horror that potentially awaits the crowd hustling to get into the arena tomorrow night, most of whom will be drunk (you’re refused entry if “visibly intoxicated”) due to tailgating for several hours in the parking lot.

For one thing, your entire party must be present along with the cardholder for anyone to gain entry. What if JimBob couldn’t make it? What if he’s passed out drunk in his truck in the parking garage? What if he forgot to bring his wallet? What if his dog ate the card? What if he lent it to his teenage daughter to buy school supplies (*cough*) for college? What if his wife MaryLou is caught in traffic or can’t find a parking space and the rest of the party is waiting in an angry and resentful mob by the gate?

What if you got married and you’re a woman and your surname changed and it’s on your brand new driver’s license, but not yet on your credit card?

What if you bought the ticket on a gift card and now that it’s all used up and you’ve tossed it, it no longer exists? Gift cards don’t have names on. What if you want to see a show but do not have a credit card? What if you’d prefer to pay in cash? What if you’re a teenager?

What if your Mom bought you the ticket for a birthday gift, but you don’t want to bring your Mom, kicking and screaming, to an Eric Church Show? In this case, the CONSOL Energy Center advises, have your Mom give you her credit card for the night so you can get in. How this works with the state-issued ID thing, they fail to address. Good luck reading about this today in the email they just sent you, and having her send you her card from Colorado in time for the show. What if Mom doesn’t want to give up her credit card for the night because she needs it?

What if the person who bought the ticket is now sadly deceased? Or out of the country? What if the ticket was bought by your ex-boyfriend and now he takes someone else because you can’t show up with your ticket?

If you can’t bring the actual card, the CONSOL Energy Center asks you to write all of the card’s details down so it can be given to the ticket schmuck and he or she can check it out to see if it’s legit. Don’t even say the word “security” to me. Shhtp. Don’t even.

What if the ticket schmucks are so incredibly overwhelmed with issues that the lines go back all the way to downtown and you miss half the show? Will they offer to refund your paperless ticket and wipe away your tears?

You are not allowed to bring a camera or gun into the CONSOL Energy Center. This is probably a good thing. After all, you don't want angry folks who can't get in shooting up the place. But if I don’t have a camera, how am I going to take a picture of Justin Moore’s crotch from the great seat I have up front?

Assuming, that is, I can even get in.

UPDATE: Sept 16, 2012

Well, the whole “paperless ticket” approach was a debacle. A disaster. A don’t-you-ever-do-it-again. Here’s what went down:

The email customers were sent said that we could use any of the venue’s three entrances. That is not so. After lining up to get in at the Verizon Gate (yes, gates are sponsored now too), hapless paperless folks were told by harried staff that they could not be processed there, so had to turn back and weave our way through a giant throng of incoming concert-goers to try another entrance. This meant having to cut in to the line of hustling concert-goers at another gate. (I know, I know, bad behavior — but hey, we’d already spent an hour in line at a different gate.) Once in the door, everyone had to file past a guy with a barcode scanner who scanned tickets and let people in. What? I hear you say — people had tickets? Yes, I thought that was odd too. It seems a third of the 13,000 had traditional tickets, a third had print-your-own tickets and a third had sod-all. Who knows. Conspiracy theories ran wild: it seemed only those who’d paid top dollar for floor seats had to go through this particular hell.

Well, the scanner guy had a credit card swiper, and try as he might, my card kept coming up “invalid.” So he sent me to another guy across the way to see if his swiper worked. It didn’t. So he sent me to the Guest Services desk.

The Guest Services desk by this time was completely swamped by people just like me: all of us had the same problem. I know, because I asked, and everyone there was holding a credit card and driver’s license in their angry hands. By the time I reached the window, the show was about to start. The ticketless were a seething, confused and pissed off mob. Luckily, they printed me a ticket. Here it is. Some weren’t so fortunate, and whole groups were turned away. I cannot say what happened to them, but it seems they were the victims of the “entire party present before anyone gets inside” rule.

Sure enough, after cutting in line yet again (I know! sorry, sorry), I made it through the scanner and in. The lights had gone down and Kip Moore had taken the stage.

Dear Eric Church and anyone wanting to sell “paperless tickets” ever again:

If you truly love your fans like you say you do, DON’T.

Here is a review of the show at The Inky Jukebox

Tuesday, September 11, 2012

That’s Nuts!

Conkers Are The Dog's Bollocks

Fruit of the Horse Chestnut tree, AKA conkers. (See note below.)

Wikipedia, the People’s Font of Knowledge, helpfully informs readers that bollocks appear between prick and arsehole. For those with a passing familiarity with human anatomy, this might seem like an overstatement of the obvious, which it would be if it were about actual genitals. But the reference is to the words “prick,” “bollocks,” and “arsehole” as profanities, and how they are perceived by the British public in terms of severity (according to a study for the BBC). “Bollocks” ranked 8th (you can figure out where “prick” and “arsehole” placed).

In Britain, “bollocks” is a treasured bit of language that has meant more than testicles for several hundred years. Let’s face it: “bollocks” is a more descriptive word, isn’t it? It’s suggestion of the swing and heft of a man’s balls is onomatopoeic in a way that “testicles” just isn’t. Americans use the completely inadequate word “balls,” which is misleading, because they aren’t; they’re more oblate. As a swear word, “balls” lacks the tongue action of the word “bollocks,” which is more emphatic and sounds funnier when the speaker is drunk. A “ball” could be anything; a “bollock,” on the other hand, is a bollock.

The Wiki page will tell you everything you ever wanted to know and more about the way the Brits, Scots and Irish use the word. Most of them call to mind that other great British expression for something that has gone terribly wrong: a “cock-up.” The British people have a great affinity for references to a man’s wedding tackle, something that makes the language both tremendously exciting to use and also somewhat dangerous, as one trips among a verbal minefield in polite company. To have “bollixed” something up means the same thing, but with more inventive spelling.

If one has a cock up, it is possible to receive a “right bollocking.” Although it sounds terrifying, it only involves a lot of rather fierce shouting.

Though the word “bollocks” usually refers to a mistake, by Man or nature, or nonsense along the lines of “bullshit,” it can also (confusingly for non-native speakers), be a positive thing. When something is “the dog’s bollocks,” it means brilliant, the best, unsurpassed. Why? Because a dog can lick it’s own scrotum, which according to many gents, is an admirable talent. Being able to do so would be “the dog’s bollocks.”

If you use the English language — if you love the English language, then it behooves you to become fluent in its genitalia-related profanity. Doing so will not only expand your vocabulary in endlessly entertaining ways, but you will be practicing an ancient tongue that predates the fastidious censorship of dictionaries which have looked the other way when flashed the goods. 

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NOTE: In the autumn, British schoolchildren play a particularly vicious game called "conkers," which involves skewering a shiny horse chestnut, threading it with string, and smashing it against an opponent's conker. The one whose conker is smashed loses. Conkers, with their prickly exterior and twin nuts bear an uncanny resemblance to testicles. Watch the helpful video below and try not to imagine substituting the word "bollocks" for "conkers" throughout.