Thursday, December 25, 2008

A very merry (Muppet) Christmas to you

Merry Christmas! And what better gift could I give than the entire new Muppets special, courtesy of hulu.com?



May your days be merry and bright, and stay tuned for an important blog announcement by the first of the year!

Tuesday, December 23, 2008

Column: The dog who came in from the cold

It’s funny how dogs have their own personalities. Our 1-year-old yellow Lab Penny, for instance, is in possession of an unfettered wanderlust — she’ll take every possible opportunity to sneak out an open door. You tend to spot her for a second looking toward the heavens like Tim Robbins when he crawled out of the sewer pipe in “Shawshank Redemption,” and then, before you can get close enough to grab her, she hightails it off into the wild unknown.

Our 4-year-old black Lab Lilly, on the other hand, is our homebody dog. She seems to have picked up on the fact that if she sticks with us she gets two square meals a day, and there’s not a single couch in the house that’s off limits. Even when the others go galumphing off after squirrels or other people’s dogs, she’ll always give us that glance over her shoulder that says she’s still got our backs, or that she thinks we might be carrying bacon.

It’s Lilly’s penchant for staying close to home that has earned her the privilege of joining Annie, our 10-year-old golden, out the side of the house to do her nightly business, as poor Penny is relegated to the penned-in area in the front, yapping at the echo of her own bark, which sounds suspiciously like the dog she spots daily in the glass window of our entertainment center.

What we never counted on, though, was a sudden ice storm like we had Thursday night. One minute it seemed like regular rain; the next a branch that most people would consider an entire tree was crashing to the ground outside our door, right where the dogs tend to congregate. Within seconds the side of the house was a sea of limbs, branches and pine needles — and though Annie bolted right up on the porch, Lilly, our homebody dog who’d never left our sight for more than 10 minutes, was gone.

My wife, Theresa, went into the yard to call Lilly’s name — which she’d responded to every time before — but had to turn back when branches kept falling around her like bludgeons from the sky. This was around 11 p.m., and it didn’t take long for us to determine that our best avenue of behavior was to panic.

Still, I tried to remain calm. “Dogs have a survival instinct,” I told Theresa about two hours after Lilly disappeared, not having any idea what I was talking about. “She’s seeking shelter and she’ll be back when she feels safe.” Of course, I knew that Lilly knew the safest place was in our house with all the couches and the people who always forget to tie the trash up, not outside in the pouring, freezing rain. She wasn’t like Penny, who would clearly go with any family that had the same salty taste that we did.

Eventually we had to give up and go back to bed, if not to sleep, the whole time hearing the pounding rain and the crack-crack-crack of snapping tree limbs in the yard outside. Finally, the power went out, extinguishing any chance of spotting Lilly’s black fur against the rainy night. I was suddenly sorry for all those times I missed curfew back in high school, when my mother may have very likely been imagining me outside in the rain, trapped under a tree branch.

By the first light I think Theresa and I had resigned separately to ourselves that Lilly wasn’t coming back. I had visions of having to explain it to the kids — my son Tim, 7, had managed to sleep through the excitement, but my 9-year-old daughter, Jackie, had caught wind of Lilly’s departure and was panicking right along with us. And I felt guilty for every time I’d admonished Lilly for some slight or another she’d committed as a puppy, whether it was eating my shoes, or eating the new coffee table, or eating the wall. (Although really, what would make even a dog want to eat a wall?)

Then, at 5:30 in the morning, when my wife’s stepfather left his side of our two-family house to make his way to work, he heard a familiar jingle coming up the driveway. We were all lying awake in bed when we heard his voice coming up the stairwell: “Lilly’s home!”

Who knows where she’d been — she was moist, but not drenched, almost like she’d spent the night in a sauna. But she practically bowled us over as we ran down the stairs to see her. It’s a running family joke that of our three dogs, Lilly is “cheap with the love” — we think it has to do with her having to wear a retainer when she was a puppy (long story). But on Friday morning, her tongue was out and licking Jackie’s face like she hadn’t seen her in years. And that’s probably what it felt like, on both sides.

By the time the sun came out on Friday we had two smashed windshields, a crushed barbecue grill, a side door blocked by branches and enough wood to keep us in bark mulch through the next century. But somehow that’s all a little easier to take, because we also had our own early Christmas miracle, in the form of a pudgy black homebody dog who took a little longer than usual coming home.

A dog who, I might mention, will be doing her nightly business out front with her sister Penny from now on.

This column appeared originally in North Shore Sunday. Follow Peter Chianca on Twitter at twitter.com/pchianca. To receive At Large by e-mail, write to info@chianca-at-large.com, with the subject line “SUBSCRIBE.”

Tuesday, December 16, 2008

Column: Dreaming of a light Christmas

The Christmas season is upon us. I know this because my house is in the middle of its annual transformation into a festive holiday state, a process that unfortunately does not involve elves working in secret in the middle of the night.

Given my druthers, I’d prefer my holiday d├ęcor to be more Spartan, sort of like the actual North Pole. This is mainly because I know the alternative is lugging boxes of holiday tchotchkes up from the basement for distribution throughout the household, which is my wife’s preference. And if you think that’s a battle worth fighting, you haven’t been married very long.

The process starts with the tree. When we were first married, my wife and I would throw our tree into the trunk of my Chevy Cavalier outside the garden department at Ann & Hope. But then kids entered the picture, and we graduated to chopping down our own tree at a tree farm so our family could experience the true meaning of Christmas: jockeying for a perfectly shaped spruce with dozens of cranky people armed with saws.

There’s also the process of stringing lights, one of the two times a year when I’m asked to risk my life at a great height, the other of course being when I clean my gutters. (OK, so that’s once every other year.) It’s a well-known fact in my neighborhood that it’s not Christmas until you see me hanging off the ladder, straddling between the roof and an extension cord that’s come up about six inches short. (Note to self: This year, start on the outlet end.)

Incidentally, there are many more holiday light options these days. Tasteful white shag lights seem to be the trend, but sometimes when I’m around my neighbors I like to suggest that we’re thinking of giant blinking colored bulbs this year, just to watch the blood drain from their faces.

Inside, of course, there’s a fair and equal distribution of tchotchkes, including reindeer, snowmen, Santas, a menorah — we’re a complex family — and the Nativity scene, which I’d advise you to always put well above dog height. (Luckily for Mary and Joseph, the dogs always seem to go for the sheep first.)

As severe as that carnage can be, it’s still never been as bad as the scene in front of my childhood neighbor’s house — it featured life-sized light-up plastic Nativity characters that would get blown over by the wind every night, so that each morning they were strewn about the lawn like frat boys after a bender.

It’s all a fair amount of work, but I have to admit that at the end of the day — after each ceramic reindeer is placed and every strand of tinsel is laid carefully on the tree — there’s something to be said about sitting back on the couch in a darkened living room and looking at the tree and the blinking lights.

After all, it’s probably the one time during the otherwise frantic season when the whole family can sit together, even for a few minutes, wishing each other a Merry Christmas and meaning it. And that’s not to mention the genuine smiles on my kids’ faces when they look up and see me placing that light-up star on top of the tree.

Or at least straddling between the star and the extension cord.

Note: This column originally appeared in GoodLife magazine. Peter Chianca is a managing editor for Gatehouse Media New England. Follow him on Twitter at twitter.com/pchianca. To receive At Large by e-mail, write to info@chianca-at-large.com, with the subject line “SUBSCRIBE.”

Saturday, December 06, 2008

This week's column: Get a peek at your inner geek

Did you know that “geek” wasn’t always meant as an insult? In the old days, the word simply referred to a carnival performer who would bite the heads off live chickens. Just think, if there were no Internet, that’s probably what Perez Hilton would be doing.

Of course, it’s since somehow come to denote a person with odd tastes, poor fashion sense and a certain dearth of social skills. (Not me. Other people.) But as the CW matchmaker show “Beauty and the Geek” has shown us, that doesn’t mean people from all walks of life can’t be brought together by their common interests: namely, to humiliate themselves on national television.

So with “Beauty and the Geek” currently putting out a call for new nerds, you might be wondering if you’d be eligible. That’s where this simple quiz comes in — to find out, get your Ticonderoga No.2 pencil ready, and … begin!

1) Do you know where “Alderaan” is? (2 points.) “Mordor”? (3 points.) “Xanth,” “Gor” and/or “Discworld”? (4 points each.) Bonus: Add 1 point for every Starbucks you can name with WiFi access.

2) Do you have a friend who leaks you details about upcoming Java updates? (Yes: 3 points.)

3) Which of the following is the best song: A) “Cygnus X-1 Duology,” by Rush; B) “Gates of Delirium,” by Yes; C) “Larks’ Tongues in Aspic (Part I),” by King Crimson; D) “Cygnus X-1 Duology” is actually two songs — duh! (“D,” 5 points.)

4) The term “wafer thin mint” brings to mind: A) A tasty snack; B) An obese man who explodes in a restaurant, leaving his entrails exposed. (“B,” 3 points; 5 points if you found “B” absolutely hilarious.)

5) Have the three “Star Wars” prequels or the “Clone Wars” cartoon movie ever made you want to kill George Lucas, not in an allegorical sense, but literally, to the point where you’ve actually planned the means and an escape route? (Yes: 5 points.)

6) An “Easter egg” is: A) A festive holiday treat; B) A hidden object in a DVD or video game; C) Stop bothering me, I’m trying to unlock the nookie scene in “Grand Theft Auto: San Andreas.” (“C,” 3 points.)

7) Not that I have any insider information, but if someone were to say that Trevor Horn was planning a Buggles reunion, would your heart start beating a little faster? (Yes: 5 points.)

8) “The City on the Edge of Forever” is: A) A Lynyrd Skynyrd song; B) A U2 song; C) The “Star Trek” episode where Kirk has to let his one true love, Joan Collins, get run over by a bus. Sniff … What? I have something in my eye. (“C,” 5 points.)

9) At any time during your academic career, were you held upside down by a varsity football player? Had your books knocked out of your hands and scattered down a stairwell? Had your underwear pulled up past the small of your back? (Yes to any: 10 points, and have yourself a beer on me, brother.)

10) Have you ever worn a Starfleet uniform, a cape or a Conan the Barbarian loincloth to a movie screening, convention or other gathering in a public building? (Yes: 10 points. True story: I was once covering a “Star Trek” convention when I saw a guy buying himself a “Next Generation” uniform. When asked what rank he wanted, he replied, “Um … Lieutenant Commander?” For crying out loud, man, it’s your money — go for Captain!)

OK, this is usually where I’d tell you to add up your points, but the fact of the matter is, if you got past the fourth question without giving up, you’re a geek. You should audition right away.

But even if you don’t make the cut, you shouldn’t give up — there’s still always the chance that you might be able to impress and even date a buxom blonde woman who makes Sarah Palin look like a Fulbright Scholar, just like the women in the show.

Just make sure your online avatar is really hot.

Peter Chianca is a managing editor for Gatehouse Media New England. Follow him on Twitter at twitter.com/pchianca. To receive At Large by e-mail, write to info@chianca-at-large.com, with the subject line “SUBSCRIBE.”

Sunday, November 30, 2008

COLUMN: Thankfully, my dear, I don't give a darn

As you may recall, around this time each year I like to take a moment to remind my readers why, even though things may get a little rough now and then, there are still plenty of reasons to be truly thankful. Even now, when the economy is tanking, stocks are falling and your corporation may, at any moment, blow away like a tumbleweed.

So, for those of you who aren’t too depressed to read on, here are this year’s reasons to give thanks:

· You didn’t run against Barack Obama.

· Tina Fey didn’t do a blistering imitation of you on national television. Six times.

· You weren’t the one who had to go in and face the Steinbrenners after the Yankees didn’t make the playoffs.

· Your failures weren’t so immense that they necessitated an act of Congress and $700 billion in tax dollars.

· You weren’t replaced as lead singer by an imitator your bandmates found on YouTube. Unless you are Steve Perry of Journey or Jon Anderson of Yes, in which case you have my condolences.

· Your sequel didn’t star Shia LaBeouf.

· You’re not out for the season.

· You, your car, your kid, your dog and your house have yet to be driven into by Britney Spears or Lindsay Lohan.

· Your wife didn’t go to jail for trying to kill your online avatar, like a woman in Japan. Actually, the Tokyo woman was just charged with hacking, not murder, since it’s still not illegal to kill a fake digital person, even in Japan.

· You weren’t trampled to death by teenage girls while shopping for Dockers at a mall hosting an appearance by somebody in the movie “Twilight.”

· Joe Biden is vice president of the United States and not a guest at your next dinner party.

· Ellen didn’t try to give you her dog.

· Your bunk bed hasn’t killed you yet, even though the journal Pediatrics recently concluded that bunk beds are more dangerous than regular beds. This apparently has something to do with placing a bed 6 feet in the air rather than on the ground, although it will probably take another million or so in grant money to confirm that.

· You’re not a Republican. Unless you are, in which case you have my condolences.

· Unlike the people behind “Speed Racer,” you didn’t spend $100 million on what wound up essentially being the world’s longest Mentos commercial.

· You, your car, your kid, your dog and your house have yet to be driven into by Jerry Seinfeld or Billy Joel.

· You didn’t work on your next album for 15 long years, only to have people say, “Eh. What else have you got?”

· You don’t have a show on the CW. The CW. You know, it’s a network.

· The Chinese government hasn’t recruited your 11-year-old daughter for its Olympic gymnastics team.

· Times may be a little tougher than usual this Thanksgiving, but at least you didn’t buy a house, car and/or TV that you can’t possibly actually pay for.

Oh, you did? Well, at least everybody else did, too.

Peter Chianca is a managing editor for Gatehouse Media New England. Follow him on Twitter at twitter.com/pchianca. To receive At Large by e-mail, write to info@chianca-at-large.com, with the subject line “SUBSCRIBE.”

Wednesday, November 26, 2008

Photographic proof of my bumpkinhood

When you move out to the suburbs, you're somehow able to convince yourself that your not really that far removed from your old life in the big city -- it's just a short jaunt down the highway, after all. Hit it during the right, low-traffic period and it's practically like you never left. And then one day, you look out your front door and you see this:


Yes, that was the view of my yard the other day, offering up sobering proof of my bumpkinhood. And they stuck around for quite a while, clearly comfortable with the thought that no one could possibly harm them while they were this deep in the wilderness. All I can say is, they were lucky they weren't in Sarah Palin's front yard, or they would have found themselves under blistering automatic weapon fire from her helicopter.

Anyway, I guess my city days really are truly behind me, and I'm OK with that -- the good news is, after you have kids you never go out anyway ... you might as well be in Iceland. And to keep with the spirit of this particular week, I'm thankful for my hearth and home, even if it's many miles from the nearest WiFi coffee shop.

Thanksgiving related note: Check out my Blogness on the Edge of Town blog for downloads of every song I could think of with "thanks" or "giving" in them.

Sunday, November 23, 2008

COLUMN: So this is the thanks dads get

I can’t help but wonder why, when Thanksgiving rolls around, no one ever asks us dads advice on the holiday meal. You’d think all we were capable of on Thanksgiving was stuffing our faces and lying on the couch with our distended bellies hanging over our loosened belts, which is patently untrue. We also watch football.

But some of us fathers just happen to know our way around a kitchen. For instance, I am recognized throughout my household for my expert preparation of the following meals:

1) Hot dogs;
2) Tacos, from box;
3) Salami sandwiches (note: does not technically involve cooking).

But I know that not every dad can share my culinary prowess, which is nothing to be ashamed of. I’m sure those fathers can do plenty of things that I can’t, like swing a golf club without injuring themselves, or earn a living wage. So with that in mind, I thought I’d share the following Thanksgiving meal facts to help fathers stay up to date with their Turkey Day knowledge.

The turkey: Most of what I know about cooking a turkey I learned from my mother, who every Thanksgiving would get up at dawn to start stuffing that year’s partially defrosted specimen, get dizzy as soon as she put her hand in and have to go into her bedroom to faint, at which point my father would wake up and say, “Stuffing the turkey already?” This is a true story.

So that probably means if God wanted us sticking our hands up giant birds, he’d have made my mother less prone to nausea. Combine that theory with my daughter’s recent assignment to write a story from the point of view of a Thanksgiving turkey, which she empathetically entitled, “I’m Too Young to Die!,” and you have some serious ambivalence about the main course. On the other hand, what are we going to eat, pork loin? You see my dilemma.

So assuming you stick with the turkey, here are a few things to keep in mind: For one, even if you only have six people coming, you have to get at least a 30-pound bird. This will provide you with turkey sandwiches for weeks, and also make for a bigger target for the dog when you leave it unattended on the counter. Please don’t deny him his one chance to pounce on prey that’s already been basted.

Also, dads, even if you don’t take part in the actual cooking, don’t ever give up your traditional role as the carver. Carving is one of those universally approved manly cooking activities — for fathers, it’s the next best thing to pulling the turkey out of the oven, wrestling it to the ground and dismembering it with a machete.

The cranberry sauce: Cranberry sauce is one of those great dinner components that, in a pinch, could actually be a dessert (see also: glazed pecan rolls covered with cinnamon). And as an added bonus, it retains its shape out of the can, so you could, in theory, stick little plastic eyes and a nose on it and it would jiggle around like a gelatinous Mr. Potato Head. Just try that with creamy scalloped onions.

The vegetables: These are an important part of the Thanksgiving meal, given that they’re among the only components that can be easily baked in cheese sauce and/or cream of mushroom soup and then topped with little fried onions. If that doesn’t disguise the taste, there’s always more cranberry sauce.

The pies: You can’t help but wonder who was the first one, in the middle of making a Jack O’ Lantern, to look at the discarded innards and say, “Hey, that would make a great pie!” And yet pumpkin pies are a Thanksgiving staple, except among people who actually, you know, like pie. (True aficionados prefer pies made of chocolate pudding, like the ones introduced to the Pilgrims by Squanto.)

Most importantly, though, for dads, moms and kids alike, is to take a moment among all the bounty and recognize how lucky we are to have food on the table at all, much less enough to feed every Baldwin brother, should they happen to show up. So dads, if cooking isn’t your thing, you should still pitch in to show your gratitude — even if it means doing the dishes.

Just suck in your stomach and you may be able to reach the sink.

CNC managing editor Peter Chianca is busy shopping for the perfect turkey; this column is from 2006. Follow him on Twitter at twitter.com/pchianca. To receive At Large by e-mail, write to info@chianca-at-large.com, with the subject line “SUBSCRIBE.” See the column at North Shore Sunday.

Tuesday, November 18, 2008

Building a better (bio) beer

The good news is, they've finally created a beer that can help prolong life and prevent illness. I know, you thought regular beer could do that, but in actuality it only makes you feel like you're living longer.

The bad news is, the students at Rice University who developed "Bio-Beer" -- which, incidentally, sounds like something they'd be running tests on on the third floor of the Centers for Disease Control -- aren't old enough to drink it themselves.
"We started out with a strict policy that we aren't supposed to drink anything in the lab," said Peter Nguyen, the team's graduate adviser. "We do have a strain, and verified that it has the genes, and are in the process of brewing the beer."
The problem with not being able to taste the beer -- and as we all know, underage college students never let the stuff touch their lips, just like they never have unprotected sex or gain 15 pounds their freshman year -- is that you don't know if it tastes like, well, Bio-Beer. And as it turns out, it does.
Researcher Thomas Segall-Shapiro told The Sun: "No way would anyone drink this until it tastes better."
Buck up, chaps -- people used to say the same thing about Budweiser.

Sunday, November 16, 2008

COLUMN: Stick it to your kids this Christmas

My kids are 7 and 9, and I thought that by this point they’d be able to occupy themselves for long stretches at a time, writing in their journals, folding origami cranes and doing intricate woodcarvings. Of course, I also thought my dogs would be leaving me my slippers by now, and that only happens if my slippers happen to travel through at least one of their digestive systems.

In reality, it doesn’t take very long for my children, when left to their own devices, to become booooooored — the more bored they are, the more o’s they put in. This despite the hundreds and hundreds of dollars worth of toys and games we’ve purchased over the years; it’s enough to make you long for the old days, when if they got bored you could just send them out into the fields to work the thresher.

This is why I was so excited this week when I read that the Toy Hall of Fame in Rochester, N.Y., had added a very special item to its lineup, which includes only the most classic and revolutionary playthings: the stick. If you had any doubts that a Depression is coming, this news should put those to rest.

But it’s true; Christopher Bensch, the museum’s curator, told the Associated Press that the stick is “very open-ended, all-natural, the perfect price — [and] there aren’t any rules or instructions for its use.” What I want to know is, where was Christopher Bensch the year I pledged to give only Christmas gifts that were available in nature? I’m still trying to live down my much-maligned “rocks with googly eyes.”

This news comes at a great time, because it was starting to seem like the only way to keep the kids occupied was to buy more sophisticated and expensive toys and gadgets. When they were little you could at least get by with blocks or little plastic zoo animals, but as they get older it becomes increasingly obvious that little plastic zoo animals cannot play mp3 versions of the songs from “High School Musical,” no matter how long you try to sync them.

It would be one thing if toys didn’t become obsolete almost immediately, like PCs or Rod Stewart albums. For instance, I recently cleaned out the garage and found several pricey items that were must-haves as recently as last Christmas, such as a giant Darth Vader that, in 47 easy steps, transforms into a Death Star with Darth Vader’s head sticking out of it. It’s the type of thing George Lucas must see when he’s on mushrooms, which I’m starting to think is most of the time.

But those crazy toys can be a thing of the past now, because the stick is making a big comeback. Bensch goes so far as to point out that the stick is “so fantastic” that even dogs love it, which frankly undercuts his argument a little bit, since dogs love everything — I mean, look what they did with my slippers.

Still, it’s a good reminder that there was a time when you could have fun with something that didn’t have a microchip in it. (I’m talking about you, Elmo — stop laughing, dammit!) I’m reminded of a friend of mine who grew up with his father lamenting his and his siblings’ lack of playtime ingenuity, pointing out the neighbors who could occupy themselves for hours with a piece of string. I think pieces of string were what the families got that couldn’t afford a stick.

So this has inspired me to sit my children down this Christmas, share with them the wisdom of the Toy Hall of Fame and present them with, not a new iPod, portable DVD player or game for the Wii, but rather their very own Christmas stick, which they in turn can make into — wait, let me check my notes — “a Wild West horse, a medieval knight’s sword, a boat on a stream or a slingshot with a rubber band.”

And I won’t even blame them when they start taking turns whacking me with it.

To receive At Large by e-mail, write to info@chianca-at-large.com, with the subject line “SUBSCRIBE.”

Friday, November 14, 2008

Exclusive 'Twilight' footage!

As the crowds assemble at the Square One Mall in Saugus, Mass. to meet "Twilight" star Rob Pattinson, I thought you might like to see this exclusive footage from the upcoming film, based on the insanely popular book series by Stephenie Meyer. I can't tell you where I got this, but it's WILD, baby!

Wednesday, November 12, 2008

Another Muppet video that will horrify and amaze you

You're telling me people can do things like this on their home computers? I'm more out of touch than I thought.



Thanks to Matt at Addicted to Vinyl for pointing this one out. Meanwhile, The Muppet Newsflash (yes, such a thing exists) reports that the Muppets will take over the Today show this Thursday, Nov. 13. Let's see if you can tell the difference.

Tuesday, November 11, 2008

COLUMN: E-mail's been Berry, Berry good to me

I tend to use my cell phone for two things, primarily:

1) Telling my wife I’m running late, which I believe is the end goal of all new technology; and

2) Ordering pizza so it will be waiting for me when I get home.

In other words, I’m not one of those people who is constantly yakking with his friends on his cell phone at all hours of the day, for one very deliberate reason: I have no friends.

Wait, I meant to say I don’t see a need for it. I offer this background as evidence that there was no reason to believe I could ever make a good BlackBerry guy. (For the uninformed, a BlackBerry is a handheld device that allows you to read your e-mail and browse the Web from anywhere, except underwater. Boy, did I find that out the hard way.)

In fact, when I was recently assigned one at work, I had an extremely averse reaction — it struck me as a way for them to get their claws into me 24/7, as opposed to just the 50-60 hours a week they’ve got me subjugated now. (I mean that in the nicest way possible.) Still, I decided to be mature and productive about the situation and hide it in my glove compartment, never to be seen again.

Well, as it turns out I didn’t do that, and after several months of evaluation, here is my assessment of my BlackBerry: I love it. I love it in the way my 7-year-old son says he loves hot dogs, namely, he wants to marry them (which, granted, shows a 7-year-old’s fundamental misunderstanding of marriage, not to mention hot dogs).

And when I say, “I love it,” I of course mean: I hate it. Sure, it’s an amazing device, but I hate how it’s turned me into the BlackBerry guy — the guy checking his e-mail at stoplights so he doesn’t notice when the light turns green, and who would get honked at mercilessly if the people behind him weren’t also checking their e-mail.

Of course, never once have I gotten an e-mail that couldn’t have waited until I got out of the car (“Attention, your muffler is on fire,” etc.). But I’m constantly haunted by the fact that such an e-mail could be there, right on the top of my queue, beckoning me to take my eyes off the road.

What’s worse, I’m also often tempted to answer my e-mails at such inopportune times (while driving, at an anniversary dinner with my wife, during funerals). This can of course cause no shortage of bodily and/or social and emotional harm, not to mention the fact that my stubby thumbs make said replies almost unreadable anyway. (“HOIJLDJKL, KLJOI. LOYPUOI, PETE.”)

I think what disturbs me is this pathological connection we all (meaning “I”) seem to have developed to our various forms of electronic connectedness. After all, what did we do before e-mail, cell phones and GPS? Besides get a lot more paper cuts from envelopes and drive aimlessly around strange neighborhoods swearing, I mean.

It seems to me there was something to be said for the days when people would carefully compose written letters, and then mail them and wait patiently for the reply. I’m afraid if Thomas Jefferson and John Adams had e-mail, their entire collected correspondence would have consisted of them flaming each other in all caps. (“TJ: NATURL ARISTOCRACY SUX - L8R JA >=( “)

So I guess the question becomes: In some ways, would we be better off as a people without these instant connections? And the answer becomes: No. Because then we wouldn’t be able to check our friends’ Facebook statuses 47 times a day, and know that Bill’s at work, Tom’s drinking yet more coffee and Julie has a hangover.

Also, I wouldn’t be able to e-mail myself column notes while driving. Which reminds me: HOIJLDJKL, KLJOI. LOYPUOI. (And I mean that in the nicest way possible.)

Peter Chianca is a CNC managing editor and the brains behind “The At Large Blog” (chianca-at-large.blogspot.com) and “The Shorelines Blog” (blogs.wickedlocal.com/shorelines). To receive At Large by e-mail, write to info@chianca-at-large.com, with the subject line “SUBSCRIBE.”

Monday, November 10, 2008

Spock's planet found -- thank you, President Obama!

I had a feeling everything was going to get better after Obama got elected, and here's the first sign of proof: Scientists have found Spock's home planet. Now it's only a matter of time before the entire universe is joined in a spirit of peace and harmony, and we're all wearing our pajamas to work and making out with green women.

Granted, they actually found the planet -- in the Epsilon Eridani solar system, the solar system closest to Earth and thus the one used by "Star Trek" writers to house Spock's Vulcan homeworld -- just before Obama got elected. But if President Obama doesn't announce plans for a manned spaceflight there by the end of his first term, then I'm a Gorn.

(By the way, why does everyone talk about how "Star Trek" shows a universe of peace and harmony, yet in every episode somebody gets phasered into oblivion? What's peaceful and harmonious about that? I'm just saying.)

Wednesday, November 05, 2008

Land of Hope and Dreams

Congratulations to President-elect Obama! Here's a song that seems appropriate for the occasion.

Monday, November 03, 2008

COLUMN: Election questions? Ask Professor Civics


With the election less than a week away, we turn this week’s column over to our resident expert, Professor Civics, to answer your last-minute voting questions.

***
Dear Professor Civics:

I notice there’s a ballot question asking to abolish the income tax. Could this possibly be a good idea?

Skeptical in Stoneham
Dear Skeptical:

Absolutely! The idea that we need an income tax to run government is one of those great legislative myths. In actuality, getting rid of the income tax would just force legislators to “trim the fat” from unnecessary programs like schools, roads and police.

In fact, if this initiative works like it’s supposed to, legislators will only have enough money left for their salaries and to pay the “escorts.”

Dear Professor Civics:

Another ballot question wants to “decriminalize” small amounts of marijuana. Couldn’t making it easier for people to smoke pot cause problems down the road?

Scared Straight in Saugus
Dear Scared:
Dude! That’s so … um … What was the question?
Dear Professor Civics:

I wanted to vote this year, but I missed the voter registration deadline! What should I do?

Dumbfounded in Duluth
Dear Dumbfounded:

Never fear. You can take the place of one of the people who won’t be showing up to vote, because they somehow got registered even though they are long deceased. E-mail me and I’ll put you in touch with a guy. We never had this conversation.

Dear Professor Civics:

I’ve read on blogs that the Republicans have rigged voting machines to benefit their candidates. Could this possibly be true?

Outraged in Orleans
Dear Outraged:

Ha ha! No, although blogs are usually extremely reliable sources of information, that particular rumor is completely untrue, except in Pennsylvania, Ohio, New Hampshire and Virginia. And also Florida, where old Jewish people have been known to walk into the voting booth, feel suddenly woozy and wake up the next day in a bar in Key West with a vague recollection of voting for Pat Buchanan.

Dear Professor Civics:

What will the cable news commentators do after the election is over?

Concerned in Colorado
Dear Concerned:

That’s still up in the air, but it’s expected that if McCain wins, Chris Matthews and Keith Olbermann’s heads will melt off their bodies like the Nazis at the end of “Raiders of the Lost Ark.”

Dear Professor Civics:

I wanted to dress as a candidate for Halloween. Which one would make the scariest costume?

Undecided in Uncasville
Dear Undecided:

Well, they are all fairly scary, what with Obama maybe being a secret terrorist whose entire public life has been a carefully conceived 30-year ruse, and McCain always looking like he might, at any moment, hit you in the knees with a shovel.

But recent surveys show that people find vice presidential candidate Sarah Palin by far the scariest. They said this because of her extreme right-wing views, her seeming lack of intellectual curiosity, and also because of the second little head that pops out of her mouth and tries to eat your face off.

Dear Professor Civics:

Do you think I should vote in favor of a ballot question that would ban dog racing?

Wondering in Wellesley
Dear Wondering:

Absolutely not! The last thing we need is a lot of out-of-work dogs competing with all the brokers for street scraps.

Dear Professor Civics:

Do you think it’s possible that we’ve been so focused on silly minutia during this election season that the vast majority of voters haven’t really been exposed to the actual positions on the issues that will affect us the most?

Troubled in Trenton
Dear Troubled:
Dude! That’s so … um … What was the question?
Peter Chianca is a CNC managing editor and the brains behind “The At Large Blog” (chianca-at-large.blogspot.com) and “The Shorelines Blog” (blogs.townonline.com/shorelines). To receive At Large by e-mail, write to info@chianca-at-large.com, with the subject line “SUBSCRIBE.”

Saturday, October 25, 2008

COLUMN: Wii didn't start the fire

It would be hard to overstate the profound social and technological impact the Atari 2600 game system had on my childhood. Prior to that I’d spent most of my formative years throwing balls at my sister and pushing little plastic game pieces around various slabs of cardboard. Now, suddenly, I had the ability to direct slivers of light into a phalanx of bulbous alien spaceships.

It was alarmingly satisfying — I felt like a frontier child who’d just stoned his first beaver.

Unfortunately, once the joystick concept evolved beyond the little pole and single red button, my interest waned. I’ve known people who swear by the Xboxes and Playstations, but every time I’ve picked up one of those high-tech controllers, I’ve been completely flummoxed — frankly, I can’t imagine how 11-year-olds manage the dexterity you’d need to effectively rough up the hookers and pizza delivery men in “Grand Theft Auto.”

So my wife and I decided to keep videogames out of our house, explaining to our children, calmly and logically, that videogames were imaginary, like unicorns. This worked until they went to school and their friends let the Nintendo out of the bag, along with several other things we were trying to keep under wraps, like Barney the Dinosaur, and allowance.

Still we resisted, until they came to us recently in a united front.

“We need a Wii,” they said, practically in unison.

“It’s exercise,” my daughter added. I knew if we didn’t give in it wouldn’t be long before they were claiming it was made entirely of broccoli, and that immediately after playing they would consume it in its entirety.

So thanks to some generous grandparents, we became owners of a Wii game system, known for its wireless controller with motion sensors. I wasn’t sure what this meant until the first time I got my hands on one, and immediately noticed the difference between it and the controllers festooned with an arcane combination of knobs and buttons.

For instance, in Wii baseball, the ball comes at you and you … swing your arm. That’s it. Bowling? Swing your arm. Tennis? Swing your arm. Now, this was a game system I could understand — if I’d had one of these in 1982, I’d still be in my parents’ basement, clubbing Donkey Kong with my little wrench.

And the best part is, you can create a little game character that looks like you. Or, in my case, like Brad Pitt with my glasses and goatee.

Yes, that’s right … at first I was ostensibly taking part to help the kids learn how to play, but it wasn’t long before they would leave the room and I’d still be there, swinging the remote wildly through the air like a man literally battling his inner demons. In fact, it wasn’t until I tried Wii boxing that I realized I’m someone who really, really needs to slug somebody, in particular without the chance of being hit back.

So once we figured out the best way to share the device (Dad first, then whoever can pry it out of my fingers), I have to say that not only has the Wii added a little more exercise into our lives — I’m thinking soon we’ll all have gigantic forearms, like Popeye — it’s also brought the family closer together, in that way that only a marvel of modern technology can do. Particularly a marvel of modern technology that, according to the product warning, may cause seizures, eyestrain, electric shock and motion sickness.

Just try that, Boggle!

Note: This column appeared originally in GoodLife magazine. Visit GoodLife on the Web at wickedlocal.com/goodlife. Peter Chianca is a CNC managing editor and the brains behind “The At Large Blog” (chianca-at-large.blogspot.com) and “The Shorelines Blog” (blogs.townonline.com/shorelines).

Friday, October 24, 2008

One more reason there should be a 5-day waiting period on magic flaming swords

Bizarre 21st century headline of the week: "Woman Jailed for Murdering Avatar."

Turns out the Tokyo woman wasn't charged with murder, since it's still not illegal to kill a fake digital person, even in Japan. Instead she's in trouble for hacking into an online game as her ex-husband (or was it her fake digital ex-husband -- I can't keep up) in order to kill him off.

I don't know ... Those Grand Theft Auto guys seem to get away with a lot more than that.

Happy Days are here again

Even if Obama doesn't win, his entire candidacy would have been worth it for this:



Quickie evaluation:
Andy and Opie: Vaguely creepy.
Richie and Fonzie: Heeeeeeyyyyyyy!!!! Cool.

Now if only the Sweathogs would get back together for Obama. Come on guys, there's 11 days left!

Thursday, October 23, 2008

Expect taco riots

Yes, the Red Sox may not have made it to the World Series this year, but look at the bright side, Boston fans: You can still get a free taco. See, don't you feel better?

I'm referring of course to the unfortunately named "Steal a Base, Steal a Taco" promotion, in which Taco Bell will give out a free taco to all comers after a base is stolen in the series. Apparently this happened last night -- I wasn't watching because, well, Phillies-Rays, come on -- so you can pull in to Taco Bell between 2 and 6 p.m. next Tuesday, Oct. 28, for your free grub.

But beware: You may recall that last year, voracious free taco seekers were spilling out onto the highway in their quest for the spicy (and free) delicacy. And let's face it, the economy's a lot worse this year -- don't be surprised if you see your broker in line.

Sunday, October 12, 2008

Column: Take the undecided voters quiz


Despite the candidates guide I wrote not too long ago, it seems there are some people who still have not decided who to vote for in the upcoming presidential election. I suppose this could have something to do with the candidates guide being completely made up, but in my defense, I was just following the new mainstream media motto: “The Mainstream Media: We Make Stuff Up.”

I’m told the undecided people are typically not Democrats or Republicans, who have known who to vote for since they emerged from their mother’s wombs with an innate affection for social welfare programs and tax rebates, respectively. Instead we’re talking about, at last count, about 40 uncommitted people in Ohio and/or Florida who never get asked out to dinner because they wind up just staring at the menu for hours, paralyzed. (“Darn it … I should have ordered the McGovern.”)

These are the people the candidates are truly trying to woo. Obama’s doing it by offering them change, primarily in the form of rolled quarters dumped into their driveways by Chicago teamsters. As for McCain, he’s promised to make each and every one of them vice president of the United States.

So I’m here to help make their decision a little easier by offering them a simple quiz that will determine who they should vote for. All they need to do is answer the following questions, and if they don’t know the answers, they should probably just give up and move to Finland, where they choose their leaders through Cow Pie Bingo.

Question 1: Are you a fan of change? If so, you’re in luck, since both candidates are planning to change everything they possibly can, including the drapes.

So the question then becomes, what kind of change do you like? You should vote for McCain if you like the kind of change that involves pretty much what was going on before, but coming from an older, balder person. But you should vote for Obama if you like the kind of extensive change that requires a serious commitment of time and resources, and possibly magic beans.

Question 2: Are you a maverick? You can tell if you are by whether you often order extra sugar in your iced coffee, or drive a Mini Cooper, or hang steadfastly on to your boot cut jeans in the hopes they will come back in style. If the answer is yes, you should vote for McCain, who regularly, when asked to vote with his fellow Republicans on controversial issues, strangled them to death with their own suspenders.

Question 3: Are you concerned with America’s standing in the world? If you are, you should vote for Obama, who has Joe Biden standing by to deliver edible fruit arrangements to dozens of world leaders, without preconditions.

But if you’re more of an America-first kind of guy, you should vote for McCain, who is not going to give other nations an inch, even though we owe them trillions of dollars. He’s also not going to make out with the leaders of Saudi Arabia to get their oil like Bush did, probably.

Question 4: Do you like to “shoot from the hip”? If so, you should vote for McCain, who’s always doing spontaneous things; for instance, suspending his campaign for no reason, and choosing his vice president from the Hot Governors 2008 calendar. He’s also willing to stay in Iraq for 100 years, but has already pulled out of Michigan.

Meanwhile, if anyone has ever asked you if you have a pole stuck in any of your bodily orifices, Obama is your man.

Question 5: Do you like celebrities? Then you should definitely vote for Obama, who has promised a cabinet made up of Oprah, Barbra Streisand, Bruce Springsteen, Leonardo DiCaprio and the original Broadway cast of “The Wiz.”

Of course, if your main goal is just to have somebody who wants what’s best for America, whether that person is belligerent and doddering or has the executive experience of a turnip, then the most important thing is simply that you vote for somebody.

But if you want to know who to vote for in Finland, I’m stumped. You’ll have to ask the cow.

To receive At Large by e-mail, write to info@chianca-at-large.com, with the subject line “SUBSCRIBE.”

Wednesday, October 08, 2008

Sigh ... I miss the '80s

If you were paying any attention at all in the '80s, you will find this "literal version" of Ah-ha's "Take On Me" video absolutely hilarious:



Remember back when a song could be a hit based almost solely on its video? I'd argue that this song would fall into that category -- who knows what it's even about, but no one ever forgets that crazy black and white comic book guy. It's the best 1980s cartoon video ever, with the possible exception of this one:

Tuesday, October 07, 2008

If the next series has them all playing shuffleboard, count me in

For some reason I find these paintings by artist Andy Thomas fascinating:




It gets the brain reeling to think about what would happen could these scenarios actually exist in real life. A few things come to mind:
  1. At some point during this poker game, Andrew Jackson is definitely going to shoot somebody.
  2. The Democrats seem much more likely to go out after the game and pick up women. And not just Clinton and Kennedy -- I think Woodrow Wilson could get pretty freaky with the ladies. ("Hey baby ... Did I mention I created the League of Nations?" etc.)
  3. Is it me, or is W. in way over his head with this crowd? I think Eisenhower is getting ready to give him a wedgie.
  4. Clinton is cheating.
  5. Suggested thought balloon for Lincoln: "How the heck did I get stuck in here with this group of yahoos?"

Tuesday, September 30, 2008

The lesson: Get a bigger dog or a smaller shark

I love my dogs, even the dumb one (no need to name names -- she knows who she is, and besides, she can't read), but would I dive into the ocean to rescue them from a shark? I hope I never have to find out, but just in case I'm thinking of starting to carry shark repellent on my utility belt.

I'm referring of course to the story out of Florida in which a man punched -- punched! -- a shark to rescue his 14-pound rat terrier from its jaws. Yes, I know what you're thinking: Who would want to own a 14-pound rat terrier?

Greg LeNoir, a carpenter in the Florida Keys, that's who. After his dog was pulled under by a shark at a local marina, he sprung in to action, reports the Miami Herald:
''I clenched my fists and dove straight in with all my strength, like a battering ram,'' LeNoir, 53, said Sunday, reliving the frightening ordeal. "I hit the back of the shark's neck. It was like hitting concrete.''
To his credit, he succeeded and the dog is fine, although he is still a rat terrier. Meanwhile, if this doesn't become the source of a Dave Barry column, I will be very disappointed.

Monday, September 29, 2008

Springsteen at the Super Bowl!

Today is my birthday, and I got a nice present from Mr. Bruce Springsteen: The announcement that he is going to come to my house and sing highlights from "The River." Wait, no, he's actually going to play the Super Bowl Halftime Show. Which is the next best thing.

Still, I have my concerns. I thought this excerpt from the report at EW.com summed up my thinking:
As a bigger music fan than football fan, I wish I could say that Bruce Springsteen is bigger than the Super Bowl, that he should have better things to do than play a hasty 12-minute medley of his hits, as a sideshow to a sporting event, for an audience that didn't show up just to see him.
It goes on to say that given the appearances by U2, Paul McCartney and the like, Bruce isn't really bigger than the Bowl -- but I still put Springsteen in a different class. Even U2 did that iPod commercial, even if they didn't get paid.

That said, I'm certainly psyched to see Bruce and the band play for such a huge audience on national TV. And if it turns out to be in support of a new album, all the better. What's your opinion? Take the Blogness on the Edge of Town poll:

Sunday, September 28, 2008

COLUMN: Psssst ... Wanna buy some popcorn?



When I was a kid, some under-funded organization I was involved with assigned me the task of selling tremendous chocolate bars for $1 apiece. My strategy was to leave them on the kitchen counter at our house, whereupon they would eventually disappear (not a small number of them into me while I sat on the couch watching Scooby-Doo cartoons), requiring my parents to write a check to cover their cost. This plan never fails — I think there’s a class on it at Wharton now.

Today I am a parent, and I have discovered that there’s been a very important change in fundraising since then: The candy bars have gotten smaller. Other than that, it’s pretty much the same.

Actually, I should give my kids more credit. For instance my son, a freshly minted Cub Scout, has already taken to his task of peddling popcorn, adopting a have-order-sheet-will-travel mentality and cornering friends and family wherever he goes. So far he’s accosted people at the park, his sister’s soccer games and at least one funeral (or at the meal afterwards, anyway). He wants to know what he needs to do to get you into a gigantic tin of popcorn today.

It’s tough though, because as we all know people don’t have the expendable income they used to, and also there’s a lot of competition — at this rate it won’t be long before the Treasury Department is out canning. So the majority of the purchases tend to fall to a young salesperson’s family, which speaks to one of the great truisms of parenting: Don’t have kids unless you really, really like Yankee Candles.

Of course, there are some people whose eyes light up when your child asks them to shell out for whatever they’re peddling, because it means that they can then ask you to buy something from their kid without feeling guilty. Let’s face it, when you come down to it we’re all passing the same $20 around town to each other over and over again. OK, $200.

Now, so far my kids, age 7 and 9, have sold candles, cookies, cookie dough, popcorn, wrapping paper and housewares, not to mention soliciting pledges for miles walked, home runs hit and cartwheels, er, cartwheeled. And I’m sure soon someone will have them out there holding cans for passing cars; some people object to this practice because it’s like begging, but I like it because when the smoke clears, you’re not left holding another Yankee Candle.

And even if you get paying customers, there are other hazards. This is particularly true when you have a daughter who sells Girl Scout cookies, since the customers inevitably pay cash, which you then put into an envelope labeled “cookie money.” Then, you need some cash for takeout, your wife needs to get gas, your kid needs lunch money, etc., and suddenly it’s time to turn in the cookie money and you discover that you’ve indirectly purchased enough Thin Mints to cover the down payment on a Saturn L200.

I’m tempted to suggest that we all just make a pact to put aside a few hundred dollars a year to donate to these various organizations flat-out, in exchange for the abolition of fundraising drives that involve selling things people don’t really need or want. (Say, a raffle chance to win $1,500 in scratch tickets. Wait, no, that one I need and want.) But I look at my son peddling his popcorn, and I can’t help but think maybe these efforts are teaching him some usable skills or even building character — which is what these organizations are supposed to be about anyway.

At the very least, it might give him a future in retail. Or at the Treasury Department.

Tuesday, September 23, 2008

It beats crawling into the washing machine

I'll admit it: I was starting to get worried that science would not be able to develop a suit that you could wear in the shower during my lifetime. Oh, me of little faith! Apparently, scientists in Australia have cracked the shower-suit code. And here I thought everyone down there just wore khakis.

According to Ananova.com, the suit can be "cleaned under the shower head with no soaking, dry cleaning -- or even soap." But, you ask, who could possibly need such an item?
Australian Wool Innovation says it has already received 170,000 orders from Japan for its revolutionary shower suit.
OK, memo to the Japanese: Take a day off to do some laundry, for crying out loud! You're far enough ahead of us already.

Monday, September 22, 2008

Somewhere in an underground lair, cranky baristas are plotting their revenge

I remember getting a tour of McDonald's with my Cub Scout troop as a kid, and they explained to us how their french fries are cooked in the hottest grease in the world, and if they're accidentally left in the grease for even a second too long, they're thrown away and they make a new batch. Then, as soon as we left, they recommenced to picking old french fries out of the trash. I'm just assuming.

Anyway, McDonald's is still etched in my mind as the one place where you could be assured good, cheap, average-Joe, special-sauce greasiness. So it is with a heavy heart that I announce that McDonald's has taken another giant step on the road to (shudder) respectability, adding several “gourmet coffee” drinks to its menu. The chain will now serve cappuccinos, mochas, iced lattes and iced mochas. Whither the Shamrock Shake???

Anyway, to take the sting out, from Sept. 22 (that's today!) through 28 between 7 a.m. and 7 p.m., McDonald's will be giving away free samples of the above in Massachusetts stores. So check it out, but please, also get one of those machine-pressed apple pies while you're there, for old time's sake. (If they still sell them.)

Sunday, September 21, 2008

Column: Gigi’s passing offers food for thought


My grandmother, Betty Rothstein, passed away last week at the age of 91 1/2. For a while now she’d been admonishing pretty much anyone who would listen not to feel bad for her when she was gone; she’d had a wonderful life — “not one tragedy!” — and she was ready to go. In fact, lately she’d been wondering why she was still here — not mournfully, but sort of matter of factly, like someone wondering why her train was still sitting in the depot when it was scheduled to leave four minutes ago.

I’ve written about my late grandfather in these pages before, but not so much my grandmother — my grandfather was definitely the more colorful figure, having been a stand-up comic who shared stages with the likes of Henny Youngman in the ’40s and ’50s. My grandmother’s main claim to fame was that as a young woman she had sung on the radio, and though we never saw any evidence of this (or of any actual singing ability, for that matter), her genes are always cited whenever someone in the family actually manages to carry a tune.

My memories of her, though, center on something else: her cooking. Which may be odd, since she and my grandfather had a reputation for eating out almost incessantly. (Youngman: “My wife said she’d like to go somewhere she’s never been for our anniversary. I said, try the kitchen.”) They were constantly switching regular restaurants after the wait staffs became so familiar they’d start pulling up chairs and joining the conversation during appetizers.

But she did have her specialties: For one, she introduced me to the joys of chopped liver, which as a kid repulsed and frightened me (Agh! It’s brown!) but which eventually won a place in my heart like only a mixture of chicken livers, eggs, onions and pure rendered fat can do. It’s terrible for you, of course, except that everybody who eats it seems to live to 91 1/2.

Then there was “Aunt Didi’s Spaghetti” (although it might have been Aunt Edie’s — I was never quite sure), which was essentially spaghetti and meatballs mixed with several cans of cream of mushroom soup. Well, not “essentially” — that’s exactly what it was. I loved this meal so much that I once tried to recreate it for my roommates in college, an experiment that resulted in something that looked like a janitor should be covering it with sawdust. But they loved it once I convinced them to give it a shot. (“Eat! Eat! You’re too skinny anyway.”)

I sometimes torture my kids with tales of the snacks their “Gigi” served me when she was babysitting. Their faces become noticeably contorted as I tell them — “Why would anyone mix bananas and sour cream!” they ask, plausibly, but it turns out that anything can be good if you put enough sugar on top of it. Then there was the time she gave me a tongue sandwich — she told me it was tongue, but I just assumed that was another one of those cold cut names that didn’t really mean anything, like “salami.”

But the thing I’ll always remember about the bowls of matzo ball soup and trays of Hamentashen was that they, along with most of her interactions with us, represented the sheer joy she seemed to get from being a grandparent — “If you’re happy, I’m happy,” she would tell us, and I think she actually meant it. A smile from one of us over a bowl of soup was truly all this woman needed to be content. Although to beat Alma and Lillian at Mahjong once in a while certainly wouldn’t hurt.

The family is getting together for a memorial service this week, and afterwards we’ll be — what else? — going out to dinner. There’s a particular deli near where I grew up in New York that I’m hoping we pick, because I know they serve chopped liver, and I might just give my heart a conniption by having some in her honor.

And here’s the toast I’ll give as I hoist it off my plate: Grandma, thanks for the meals and the memories. You may have been ready to go … But that doesn’t mean we were ready for you to leave.

Tuesday, September 16, 2008

We Wish You a Merry Truthiness

Move over, Charlie Brown. Stephen Colbert is about to kick your ass. Reports Reuters:
Comedy Central star Stephen Colbert is getting an early start on Christmas, enlisting musicians Elvis Costello, Feist, Toby Keith, John Legend and Willie Nelson for a one-hour holiday special that will air November 23 on the cable network. "A Colbert Christmas: The Greatest Gift of All!" has something of a narrative arc: Colbert will be snowed in at his cabin in upstate New York and will pass the time with his musically inclined friends.
The real "get" there in my book is Costello, although between this and his new Sundance Channel talk show, it seems that Elvis is becoming the new millennium's answer to Glen Campbell.

Saturday, September 13, 2008

They don’t look like Presbyterians to me

The funny thing is, I have a feeling a real Hold Steady concert is almost exactly like this:



In related news: A new Muppet Christmas movie is coming. Unfortunately only featuring the Muppeteers who are not deceased.

Thursday, September 11, 2008

35 years later, and I'm still a little creeped out by it

All I remember about "Sigmund and the Sea Monsters" is that some poor short person in the worst sea monster suit you've ever seen wound up living with a couple of kids, who had to hide it from various authority figures and keep it from getting into trouble, as sea monsters are wont to do. Oh, and one more thing: I loved it with all my heart.

Well, maybe that's a bit strong. Still, it was one of those Saturday morning crapfests that left an indelible mark on my childhood, and now (natch) it's going to become a major motion picture. The question is, will the high-tech, CGI sea monster live up to the version we remember from our youth? And the answer is: No it will not. Still, it should make for a fine starring vehicle for Jason Lee, Breckin Meyer or someone else looking to collect a paycheck.

P.S.: They're also planning a movie of H.R. Pufnstuf, the scariest children's show ever.

Tuesday, September 09, 2008

Column: Meet the candidates ... If you dare!


A lot of people have been asking me why I haven’t written about the presidential election, and what I tell them is, I haven’t as yet felt informed enough to do so. That’s mainly because whenever anybody starts talking about it I put my hands over my ears and start humming to myself.

But every man has a breaking point, and mine came a few weeks ago when for some reason I decided to watch large chunks of both the Democratic and Republican national conventions, leaving me with the following two conclusions:

1.) It’s a good thing they have two separate conventions, because if they shared one the Republicans would spend the entire time stealing the Democrats’ lunch money and giving them noogies right through their donkey hats.

2.) George W. Bush is even scarier in IMAX.

But the other thing it made me realize is that there might be other people out there who until now have managed to tune out the election-season buzz, and who may be in need of solid information about the candidates. Those people are out of luck. However, in lieu of that you can reference the following candidates guide, which outlines almost everything you need to know.

Click here for the At Large Candidates Guide.

Monday, September 08, 2008

Best. Commercial. EVER.

I love it.



Almost makes me forgive Microsoft for making me miserable on a daily basis. I said almost.

Friday, September 05, 2008

Don't cross the streams!

Three things we need to see in the new Ghostbusters movie:
  1. Slime
  2. Sigourney Weaver
  3. The Stay-Puft Marshmallow Man
Three things we don't need to see in the new Ghostbusters movie:
  1. Slimer (the green ghost -- yes, he had a name)
  2. Rick Moranis and/or Annie Potts
  3. Shia LaBeouf
What I predict we will see in the new Ghostbusters movie:
  1. This lady.

Thursday, August 21, 2008

When nerds go bad ...

Another sign of the decline of humanity ... No, not the violence, I'm talking about the movie. [Originally on CAP News]

George Lucas Look-A-Like Beaten To Death

MODESTO, Calif. (CAP) - In what appears to be a tragic case of mistaken identity, a man resembling Star Wars creator George Lucas was beaten to death yesterday by an angry mob of fans leaving a screening of Star Wars: The Clone Wars.

According to witnesses, Larry Finkelstein, 58, a bearded, burly man wearing a flannel shirt and round, wire-rimmed glasses, was eating an ice cream cone in a park immediately across the street from the Modesto AMC Loews Theatre when he was spotted by members of the angry crowd.

"They were already seething," said one witness who declined to be named. "Several of them were so upset they had literally torn their vintage Admiral Akbar t-shirts off their bodies and were burning them on the sidewalk. That's when they saw the guy."

According to police reports, one member of the crowd cried "Oh my God, it's Lucas! Get him!", and within seconds dozens of moviegoers were in the park, beating Finkelstein with makeshift weapons and their bare fists.

"He was probably dead before his ice cream cone even hit the ground," said Modesto Police Chief Frank Reynolds, who added that the crowd continued to pummel Finkelstein's inert body for a full 20 minutes before SWAT team officers in riot gear were able to restrain them.

Amateur video footage captured two assailants - both unkempt, overweight men apparently in their late 30s - screaming "This one's for Jar-Jar!" and "This one's for the &%$#! Ewoks!" as they kicked Finkelstein's head back and forth like a soccer ball. It took four SWAT officers armed with tasers and tear gas to subdue them.
The Clone Wars, an animated film that takes place between Star Wars Episodes II and III - and which serves as the launching pad for a new TV show, along with an extensive line of toys, clothing and video games - has been poorly received by critics, who have disparaged its confusing storyline, jerky animation techniques and complete lack of humor, dramatic tension or character development.

"It's the worst piece of garbage put on film since - well, since the last Star Wars movie," said Salon.com critic Andrew O'Hehir, who punctuated his comments by snapping his fingers in a Z formation.

The real George Lucas, meanwhile, has been holed up at his Skywalker Ranch in Marin County, Calif., surrounded by a contingent of armed security guards. He had no public comment, but according to a source close to the filmmaker, he's starting to wonder if, as "executive producer" of The Clone Wars, he should have spent more than eight minutes on it.

"He's also thinking that revolving the whole storyline around Jabba the Hutt's baby son 'Stinky,' which is an idea he had scrawled on a cocktail napkin while drunk, maybe wasn't such a great idea, in retrospect," said the source.

Since Clone Wars opened, a growing crowd of angry fans has gathered outside the ranch property with signs reading "Lucas sucks!", "George Lucas raped my childhood" and "George Lucas should be taken to the Dune Sea and cast into the pit of Carkoon, the nesting place of the all-powerful Sarlacc!", although you had to get up very close to read that last one.

It is unknown whether Finkelstein's death will have an affect on other upcoming Star Wars projects, including a planned live-action TV series featuring minor characters from the movies who've nonetheless had action figures made of them, and re-releases of the original six films in 3-D, animated, musical and silent versions.

Meanwhile, Finkelstein's friends and relatives mourn his tragic loss, one that they had feared could come to pass. Given his resemblance to Lucas, "We'd been afraid something like this might happen ever since The Phantom Menace came out," said his cousin, Nancy Schroedburg. "Whenever he left the house wearing that flannel shirt he was taking his life in his hands."

Saturday, August 09, 2008

Column: Your face may be almost famous


Do you ever get the sense that society would be better off if it weren’t so hard for people to find a celebrity who looked like them? Yes, me too. It’s enough to make you miss the days, back in the ’70s, when it was very easy to find a celebrity you resembled: Ernest Borgnine.

But somewhere along the line that changed, and it seems like there are no longer any celebrities who look like real people. For some reason Hollywood has determined that we want our celebrities to be so unnaturally attractive that, if they ever happened to run into us, the viewing public, they would assume we were trolls and rub our wizened faces for good luck.

Fortunately, someone is doing something about this situation. The Web site Myheritage.com has developed an online program to show us that, no matter how plain we may think we look, somewhere out there we all have a celebrity doppelganger — that famous person for whom we might be mistaken, even if only in twilight by drunken people.

Granted, I had reservations before I tried it. For one thing, the only celebrity I’ve ever been told I look like is Fozzie Bear, who is (A) a bear and (B) not even a real bear. Still, I steeled myself and uploaded my photo. Things didn’t start off well, though, unless you consider it a good sign that the program failed to find anything it could identify as a human face. (I started to think maybe I’d be better off trying to find a Web site that could identify the brand of tire I most resembled.)

Finally, though, it spat out my celebrity look-alikes, with the closest match being … Elvis! Unfortunately it was Elvis Costello, and it wasn’t even “Alison”-era angry-young-man Costello — it was old, scraggly, collaborate-with-Burt-Bacharach Costello. On the plus side, I do own all his albums, which is more than I can say about Ernest Borgnine.

The other matches were a little more palatable, though — they included Roy Scheider and, probably the best of the bunch, Aidan Quinn (who I have it on good authority once played Brad Pitt’s less attractive brother). Of course, it would be nice if their pictures on the site didn’t look like they were taken by paparazzi immediately after a car crash; I was starting to worry that if I kept clicking through my gallery of look-alikes I would eventually get to the Nick Nolte mug shot.

Then, just when I started to think the whole experiment might not be completely demoralizing, who pops up but … Turkish Prime Minister Bulent Ecevit. For those of you not up on your Turkish prime ministers, Bulent Ecevit looks sort of like a cross between Groucho Marx and Hitler. And not in a good way. On the plus side, though, I figure if Eastern Bloc politicians can now be counted as celebrities, that seriously lowers the attractiveness curve — even Gabby Hayes would be beautiful people under that scenario.

Of course, there’s no denying the whole concept is incredibly superficial. What would really be helpful is a Web site that matches up your personality to that of a famous celebrity. For instance, if you put in a list of your personality traits and it spat out a picture of Mel Gibson, you would know it’s probably time to make a public apology.

I should mention, though, that my visit to Myheritage.com wasn’t all bad news. When I uploaded my wife’s picture, the program popped up both Salma Hayek and Penelope Cruz, so you know what that means. Yes, that my wife may secretly be Latino, but also that when she agreed to marry me I definitely got the better end of that deal.

On the other hand, I bet my looks will come in handy if we’re ever looking to get a good table in Istanbul.

CNC Managing Editor Peter Chianca is on hiatus until September; this column first appeared in 2006. To receive At Large by e-mail, write to info@chianca-at-large.com, with the subject line “SUBSCRIBE.”

Tuesday, August 05, 2008

Miley single-handedly rescues the Muppets from obscurity

Back from hiatus (long story, but here's a little piece of advice: never try to smuggle hashish out of Turkey), and eager to comment on an important development about which I have extremely mixed emotions. Last night I watched "Studio DC," the new Disney Channel show that takes Miley Cyrus, Ashley Tisdale, those Zack and Cody twins and all the other tween stars they keep locked up in boxes in the Disney studio and pairs them with everyone's favorite Muppets. Sacrilege, or a clever marketing ploy? I'm thinking a little of both.

Until now, the Muppets have been kept mercifully separate from most of the pap Disney has produced of late, despite having been under the Disney umbrella for years. But now it seems full integration has begun. The quality of "Studio DC" was about on par with a "Muppet Wizard of Oz" (and if you saw that and lived to tell about it, you know what I'm talking about). But I have to admit it's a good way to introduce the Muppets to a generation of kids who probably don't know Kermit from Lamb Chop from an old sock.

Anthony Strand at Tough Pigs has a great post on the subject, and seems to agree with me. I'd add that my kids (who admittedly are more Muppet-familiar than the average 6- and 9-year-old, thanks to my tutelage and their excellent tastes) laughed heartily through the entire production, in marked contrast to their usual reaction to Disney Channel shows, which is to stare at the screen in a slack-jawed stupor. (Well, except when there's a fart joke -- then my son laughs his head off.)